Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What's the best way to write a statement of faith?

If you'd like to find out about writing a statement of faith if you're thinking about applying for a faculty position at a religiously-affiliated school, feel free to read more. In this case, it's a Christian institution. If you aren't interested, I understand.

UPDATE: Anon731A makes a very good point: "Please don't assume that if a college has a religious affiliation, that a statement of faith is required."

I asked an old friend of mine about how they successfully applied for a tenure-track position at a religiously-affiliated institution. They generously shared their full application for the position, which included their statement of faith (which, I presume, was required for the application.) Amusingly, they admitted out how to write this portion by Googling "statement of faith."

I won't quote from it directly to preserve its privacy, but it's a medium-length document, approximately 900 words. As one might imagine, it's a very personal document, talking about their childhood religious upbringing, formative spiritual experiences during adolescence, their faith practice during their undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral times as well as their current faith life. There is a short paragraph on how their ideal spiritual life might mesh well with the potential institution's vision for Christian community. Finally, there is a short (one sentence per line) reflection on the Apostle's Creed.

I recognize that this is just one example - I hope this helps folks who are interested in applying for positions at religious institutions. Readers who are professors at church-based colleges and universities, any thoughts? 

16 comments:

  1. Please don't assume that if a college has a religious affiliation, that a statement of faith is required.

    There is a huge spectrum of religion in US colleges,

    some explicitly requiring statements of faiths and a strong religious component woven through every aspect of campus life,

    others with strong active ties to a church but who seeking people of all (or no) faiths and voluntary participation in a "firewalled" campus religious culture where large swathes of the campus have nothing to do with the religious culture

    and others with just nominal/historical connection to a religious order.

    Do your homework before applying!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a very good point, Anon, and one that I missed - thank you!

      Delete
    2. My undergrad college was officially affiliated with some Christian denomination. I couldn't even tell you which denomination it was; it was basically some long-forgotten arrangement that was still technically in effect.

      Delete
    3. I think part of the issue here is that I was using the broad term "religiously affiliated", and I suspect there is a set of phrases that more clearly define what I meant, e.g. Anon's those requiring statements of faiths, etc. above.

      Delete
  2. I found statements of faith the most awkward part of the my job search a couple years ago. I did write a similar statement to the one CJ described about my formative faith experiences and its evolution over the years. As a scientist, faith is always something I've kept separated from my scientific background so I continued to keep it separate in the statement of faith. For most of the schools that required such a statement, this was fine. They wanted to make sure I had a Christian background that fit with the general background of the school. They want to know are you generally supportive of students who are embracing their faith, etc. The more awkward part for me when was when I was asked in a phone interview at one school how I would integrate my faith in the classroom. As a scientist, I said I wouldn't because those two areas of my life don't really mix. As you would expect I did not get asked for an on-site interview there, but I knew from the phone interview that it wouldn't be a good fit for me. Now I'm happily an assistant professor at a state school where I don't have to worry about these statements, but they are definitely a little tricky to write well. Good luck to anyone applying where they are required!

    ReplyDelete
  3. As a non-American...I'm shocked that this is legally allowed.

    Surely faith is completely irrelevant to ability to teach/research chemistry, and as such this is discrimination based on religion? Is religious discrimination not illegal in the US?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In America you enter medical school once you have received your undergraduate degree. Also, we all know that chemistry is very much not a thing any longer, and that the overwhelming majority of students at non-top-25 universities go up to college with the goal of getting into medical school.

      With that background you can believe that it doesn't matter what's being taught as science to the kids. Combine that with the fact that American society can be very insular in places and that parents want to shield their children from outside influences (the line from that joke with the Soviet leaders on a broken-down train and Brezhnev pulling the curtains shut and declaring the train moving comes to mind), and you understand the appeal of colleges with a religious party line.

      Religious insularism seems to have increased in recent years. Colorado CHristian University was just another struggling Baptist college until it took a sharp crazy turn in the mid-2000s under their new president. With that, enrollment took off.

      It's telling that Baylor University, the flagship university of the Southern Baptists, has a statement on their website endorsing evolution so that the students and especially their parents won't get a bad surprise. The Southern Baptists are not the worst, they are very conservative but have degrees of introspection and integration into wider society. The Evangelicals on the other hand (or "non-denominational Christian") on the other hand are just to be despised.

      In the South there's another facet, namely that during desegregation the Apartheid supporters formed "Christian" schools and sent their children there so that they would not have to attend the recently integrated public schools.

      The history of Christian denominations and their influence on the public sphere in the US is a fascinating subject. I recommend picking up any good book on the Monkey Trials and delving into the footnotes.

      Delete
    2. In the US, schools generally fall under one of two broad categories: public or private. Public schools, many of which are large R1 universities (think University of X, where XX is a state), receive significant amounts of tax support (although much less significant than they used to) and as such are essentially an extension of the government. It absolutely would be illegal for a public school to do this.

      Private schools, on the other hand, have much more leeway in what they can do since they don't receive anywhere near the level of tax support as public schools. Many private schools aren't religiously affiliated at all - such as most/all of the Ivy League - but some are, typically much smaller schools. Pretty much the only time you'll see statements of faith as an application requirement are at small religious schools like this - you won't see it at a place like Harvard, for example, even though it is private and they probably could do that if they wanted (legally speaking).

      Delete
    3. Anon 10:03: There are a number of legal provisions that come into play if *any* federal funding is accepted (Title IX comes to mind). Exceptions to federal funding-triggered rules would have to be constructed around a church-and-state carve-out, not number of dollars accepted.

      Of course, you could go the Liberty University route and accept no direct federal funding (i.e., not financial aid to students). That gets you off the hook for a number of these pesky rules.

      Delete
  4. Private schools are not required to be equal opportunity employers afaik

    ReplyDelete
  5. I taught chemistry for seven years in the secular university system here in Canada and won tenure and promotion at a flagship provincial university. I then decided to join a Christian liberal arts university that was starting a science program and I have since then sat on a number of Science faculty hiring committees and I have seen it all.

    In short, your faith statement has to be personal, authentic and intellectual. I have seen too many "Paris is worth a mass" applications from desperate people. It is very clear very early if people consider themselves "spiritual" in a way that has not affected a single decision that they have ever made. It is very clear very early if people on the phone are reading from the university statement of faith and claiming it as their own. In the response to questions (the simplest and most obvious is "what books are you currently reading?") it becomes clear if the candidate has simply adopted a denominational affiliation because they were born Presbyterian not because they were seeking an intellectually satisfying faith that balanced reason.

    Why is the faith statement relevant in hiring a chemistry professor? If the reason why you are hired is simply to teach four courses a semester and sit on committees then a faith statement has no place in the interview. If however, the intent of the hire is to find a person that will join an integrated faith and learning institution in the liberal arts tradition, then the creation of community is very important and a faith statement is very relevant to how the candidate will interact with the faculty, staff and students of the hiring institution.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Professor Schriver, thank you for your contribution.

      Delete
  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'd like to encourage everyone to stay on topic ("how to write a statement of faith") here.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I feel like this is one of those questions that if you have to ask how, you're probably not a good fit. Applying to a religious school that requires a statement of faith if you don't know what one is is like applying to the community college in order to do research or applying to a faculty position at Berkeley in order to teach. It really is not that difficult to write a statement of faith if you actually are interested in one of these institutions. You look up their statement of faith on their website, and if it is compatible with what you believe than you write one about how your personal life, experience, teaching, and/or research fits into the community and your faith. I have not taken one of these positions, but have had interviews from several of these institutions. I have turned down offers from two of them, one because it clearly wasn't a good fit and one because the timing wouldn't have worked at the time.

    ReplyDelete