Do all job seekers, academic or otherwise, share Mitt Romneyâ€™s “Mormon problem?” Where do you list your religion on your CV? Nowhere. Everywhere.
Not everybody has a conspicuous two-year or eighteen-month gap during their undergrad years, an unusual level of familiarity with an odd corner of the country (or of some other country), or a bachelor’s degree from BYU. But for those of us with all three, there’s no point in trying to scrub all traces of our religion from our biographies. While itâ€™s in poor taste to list religious affiliation on an American rÃ©sumÃ©, those with eyes to read won’t need to have it spelled out for them. Even for people unfamiliar with the institutions of Mormonism, my religion can become a potentially awkward answer to entirely appropriate and relevant questions, like why I chose my field of study. I’ve resolved to retire the humorous story I used to believe about a computer glitch in my brother’s high school course registration. I am where I am today because of choices and events earlier in my life, and that life is a Mormon life.
I’m happy with the choices I’ve made. I don’t want to be pushy or put personal information where it’s out of place, but I don’t want to hide my religion, either. I want people to know I’m a Mormon.
I also don’t think it matters all that much in an academic job search. Search committees, I believe, are accustomed to receiving applications from real people with human biographies. Mormon lives are human lives, and Mormons aren’t even the only people whose lives include missionary service. There are probably people and places with irrational prejudices against Mormons (or other returned missionaries), but I don’t think it’s actually all that common, or that prejudice against Mormons is over-represented in the world of illogical biases. I can’t prevent someone from seeing BYU on my CV and setting it aside with a sneer, but I can hone the rest of my CV so that the disdain is tempered by regret.
The Mormon problem of the moment is a subspecies of identity management in the Internet age. I choose to blog under my own name. A lot of people advise against that, but I’ve decided that the academic job search is too long, and the outcome too uncertain, to postpone other important things only for its sake. The sad fact is that the job market may not actually be able to bestow that which it threatens to withhold. While it’s waiting to make up its mind about me, I want to take advantage of what time I have to be a Mormon academic. If there are vital, interesting conversations going on that have a bearing on me, I not only want to take part, but I want to participate as an identifiable representative of a particular set of choices and allegiances. I try to be a positive representative of all the people and institutions with whom I am or have been associated, and I think the world is better off without me telling tales out of school, or heaping scorn and slander on other anonymous Internet presences. I am also not overly concerned if I disagree with someone else, or if someone else disagrees with me. I am, after all, seeking a stable home in a profession that entails staking out positions and defending them. Life’s too short to put off telling a couple dozen BYU professors that their book stunk, but I’d also be happy to discuss my position with those same people face to face. (For anyone I may have offended by past criticism, I can point you towards secondary literature that should substantiate to your satisfaction that what goes around, comes around.)
This is my solution to being a Mormon in search of an academic job. People in different situations may find that other strategies better suit their needs. However, no strategy of representation can entirely resolve what is, in the end, a problem of identity.
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This should conclude the series of posts on the academic job market. Thanks to all those who have read and responded. For those of you who will be sending out applications this year: it’s nearly April, the job list will be out soon, and the hiring conference is coming up. (My advice: share a room with a friend or two to cut down on costs and give you a chance to vent; my first visit to MLA turned into a multi-day road trip to New Orleans that cost me all of $200 this way.) Whether you’re ABD or already defended, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. Good luck.