What has Mormon Studies to do with Curriculum Vitaes?

By February 5, 2013

Over at The Junto Blog, there is a solid discussion on cover letters and CVs. (Go join the discussion!) Lots of good suggestions about how to prepare oneself for the captivity of the academic job market, which is good because there are a lot of obstacles to hurdle. Beyond the philosophical issues of how to present yourself, there are also lots of technical minutia that seem trivial but maintain a significant role in how you are presented to hiring committees. 

(Also, as a graduate student a little over a year away from graduation and terrified of the job market, my entire life—beyond family and dissertation, of course—revolves around firming up my vita, so this topic is always close to my mind.)

But I’m curious on some specific Mormon studies issues related to this topic. Instead of elucidating all the particulars of this tension, I’ll relate my own experience and thoughts in hope that others will do the same and we can tease out some of the universal tensions and provide some practical advice.

Put simply, I am probably going to cut out a majority of my Mormon history content from my CV when I apply for jobs, and my work in LDS studies will probably receive minimal attention in my cover letter and related applicant packaging. This is a tough decision, because it always helps to have publications, and so I am remiss to remove any from my vita. But I am currently leaning this way for at least a few reasons:

  1. I honestly and sincerely feel myself more interested in, and more likely to do future scholarship related to, early American cultural and religious history more generally. My dissertation (on the cultivations of nationalism) ends in 1832 and has absolutely nothing to do with Mormonism. Likewise, most of my recent and forthcoming articles and side projects (on Theodore Parker, on Emerson, on Atlantic history, on Benjamin Franklin) don’t merge with the Latter-day Saints’ history at all. (Though tensions and questions that prevail in these works also dominate my approach to Mormon history.) So it would make sense that I would emphasize the topics that are at the center of my current and research project; while I plan to continue and interest in Mormon studies, at the moment I don’t plan for that to be a major component of my research and writing agenda.
  2. Related to the first point: I don’t want to be compartmentalized as a “Mormon studies scholar.” Like I said, I have lots of other things that interest me, and while being a “Mormon studies” person may be “hot” right now (a debatable point), in the long run it might have some limitations. Thus, removing much of the Mormon themed articles and presentations that dominated my academic timeline prior to the last few years would help alleviate that risk.
  3. Most of my Mormon studies material has appeared in Mormon studies journals, with articles in both Journal of Mormon History and Dialogue. Now, these are great journals with growing respect, but they likely don’t carry much weight with hiring committees. In fact, too many publications in those types of journals may be seen a detriment.
  4. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, I feel that there still is a risk to go on the market, as a Mormon, who publishes on Mormonism, for the reasons I outlined in a previous post. I have had advisors (both Mormon and non-) who have warned me to take every shred of Mormonism off of my CV.

Now, I am not ashamed of my work in Mormon studies; indeed, it is where I learned the ropes of historical research, and as I have said many times I feel the subfield is poised to make an important contributions to many larger fields. I am also not “hiding” my work, as today’s internet will readily bring up anything from a candidate’s past. (Hi, hiring committee members!) I will be willing and anxious to answer questions on my work in Mormon studies, and explain that Mormons serve as tools in my questions of broader significance, just like the Congregationalist ministers in 1790s Boston that I’m currently looking at. But it will still not be a central focus in my “packaging.”

What do other people think? What are your own experiences/thoughts? How do you package your work for the terror that is the job market?

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. My situation is a little different, as I’m not Mormon, and Mormon studies is a legitimate area for me in that sense. But it’s too much of a niche field (especially within American Studies, especially if I want to stay in Europe), so I’m careful to balance it out. For every blatantly Mormon Studies course I teach, I teach something in which Mormons are at best peripheral. And my habilitation might be in the field of religion, but definitely not in the field of Mormon studies (I’m thinking American Catholicism for a second project).

    I think my best hope (in Europe at least) is to get hired by an American Studies department as someone who can teach a variety of things, from literature to a bit of history, perhaps with a focus on religion if I’m lucky. And I would be okay with that.

    Comment by Saskia — February 5, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

  2. Yeah, I’m worried about this. Even though none of my work is in Mormon studies, a lot of it has come about by association with MSH and in LDS creative writing circles. So I worry about this. I don’t know that I should. It is what it is at this point, and for me to remove anything that made overt reference to Mormonism would strip the last several years of my c.v. down to the point of absurdity.

    Comment by Jonathon — February 5, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

  3. One thing that I do is frame my publications in Dialogue, Women of Faith, etc. and my participation in JI as part of an effort to be “engaged” with the community I study. On fellowship apps, I talk a bit about my history with Mormonism (non-member raised in a half-Mormon household with pioneer ancestry and believing siblings) and frame my dissertation as a commitment to feminist politics and the community in which I grew up. I do, however, stress that I am historian of imperialism, American religion, and gender studies, and that I don’t plan to focus all of my research on Mormonism. I’m still a graduate student, and though I’ve done well on the fellowship market, the job market may be a different story.

    Comment by Amanda HK — February 5, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

  4. Thanks for chiming in, all.

    Comment by Ben P — February 5, 2013 @ 3:05 pm

  5. To some extent, this is a discussion more about the difference between how this crowd might package themselves (or have to decide to package themselves) as they’re deciding between jobs which are in religious studies and jobs which are history-straight-up.

    I can’t speak to how this works in religious studies, but I know when I was applying for my history job, I needed to demonstrate that I was broader than my topic (which was grounded in religion). Positioning is thus gesturing towards BOTH breadth and relevance. Just by the numbers, the majority of jobs out there will require of their candidates to teach outside (sometimes FAR outside) their fields of doctoral work, and a candidate needs to show that capability in the cover letter, express genuine enthusiasm about that reality and have thought about that in their sample syllabi and in the interview, and make their work accessible to their future colleagues and students in the on-campus talk, where your audience will almost surely not be versed in the ongoing arguments, issues, salient concepts, etc, of your field/subdiscipline.

    It’s a bitter irony of “teaching-centered institutions” like mine that the research may qualify you for the job, but that your time and resources for research may diminish significantly once you take the job. I was surprised to discover all the *other* things that went into a faculty position, and at how little grad school had prepared me for them. (This is NOT to blame grad programs, who I think are getting far better at this) – but just to observe that when the rare TT position opens up, there are competing stakeholders who are looking not just for a strong scholar but a genial colleague on college-wide committees, an academic advisor for all their students, and a workhorse of the departmental (and possibly general education) teaching load. If a candidate’s package looks like all s/he want to do is disappear into the archives and be brilliant, it will not get far.

    Recommended reading (which I may have mentioned here before): Donald Hall, The Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual.

    Comment by Tona H — February 5, 2013 @ 3:54 pm

  6. Just a note of caution – leaving scholarly publications off your CV will strike some SC members as an act of willful dishonesty. Tread cautiously.

    Comment by D. Martin — February 5, 2013 @ 6:54 pm

  7. Number 6 is notable. I am hoping it’s a matter of framing. In my case, I’ve been worked to the bone doing all of those “extra things” Tona mentioned, and there just hasn’t been time or stimulus to hit my really exciting projects with anything like the attention they deserve. But I’ve been very active creatively and have taken advantage of what opportunities have presented themselves. That’s got to count for something.

    In applying for religious-leaning universities that I think might be nervous about the Mormon stuff, I note that this is where the opportunities have been, and they’ve kept me afloat, but little of what I’ve done has had anything to do with Mormonism, and that it has been a placeholder merely. For other institutions, I list everything on the c.v., but save space in the cover letter for the stuff that will be most interesting/relevant to them. My research statement, where one is requested, just focuses on the broader strand of religion and literature, and how I plan to focus it in upcoming projects.

    I hope it works. Stay tuned.

    Comment by Jonathon — February 5, 2013 @ 8:18 pm

  8. D: that’s why you label it a “condensed CV” 🙂

    Comment by Ben P — February 6, 2013 @ 10:11 am

  9. A condensed CV submitted by an ABD or new Ph.D. job candidate might raise the suspicion that the applicant feels like he or she needs to hide something. Recent grads usually have too few publications, not too many. Tread cautiously.

    Comment by D. Martin — February 6, 2013 @ 11:07 am

  10. Duly noted; thanks.

    Comment by Ben P — February 6, 2013 @ 11:29 am

  11. I’m not LDS but my dissertation is on Mormon identity from a Communication/media studies perspective. Even though I’m not LDS, I worry about pidgeonholing myself. Most of my presentations and both of my publications are on Mormonism so I can’t and wouldn’t want to scrub it. In my cover letters I have to show why my interest in Mormonism “matters” beyond Mormonism, what it tells us about the field, what it tells us about modernity, etc. I do think its even more difficult for a Mormon scholar, especially if you’ve published in Mormon venues (and gone to BYU!). Remember, too, that a quick google search of your name and degree granting institution can tell a committee a lot about your research and interests, and they may be confused if they see a lot of LDS stuff there but not on your CV. Not that they would think you’re being dishonest (they might, I really have no idea), but they would wonder who they’re getting.

    Comment by Rosemary — February 6, 2013 @ 12:22 pm


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