Along with most of my colleagues here at the CSID, I’m re-reading Crisis on Campus in anticipation of Prof. Taylor’s upcoming visit.
In the opening pages, he presented an anecdote in which a student told him about the difficulty she experienced in pursuing an interdisciplinary research project connecting the study of religion to modern psychology. She wrote to him that both Harvard and Chicago told her that she would “have to pave the interdisciplinary path”, and said she still could not “find any advisor who studies something quite like this.” Faced with the current problems of connecting academic work to social relevance, and producing graduates for whom there are no jobs, Taylor said “What she is proposing is the kind of work we should be encouraging rather than discouraging.”
I found this choice of anecdote rather ironic; the program in which I earned my doctorate specialized in the cognitive science of religion. I could have directed her to any number of advisers who could at least have pointed her in the right direction: Luther Martin at the University of Vermont, Tom Lawson at W. Michigan, Pascal Boyer at St. Louis, not to mention all the other closely related multidisciplinary work, e.g., Buss on Evolutionary Psychology; Brune on Evolutionary Psychiatry.
So, I would (naturally!) agree that interdisciplinary approaches are extremely valuable. But it’s not that this kind of work should be done; some of us are already doing it. Unfortunately, the job market for us is even more limited than for the mainstream disciplinarians. Departments almost always want someone who specializes in A religion, not someone who studies the underpinnings of religion generally.
Perhaps finding a solution to the higher-ed crisis isn’t going to be as hard as getting higher-ed to accept it.