Baylor's Religion Department Program Receives Notice in Recent Rankings

Nov. 22, 2010

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The doctoral program in the department of religion at Baylor University has risen significantly in the recent National Research Council rankings, making major strides in several areas, including faculty productivity.

The NRC assessment, which was released in September, collected data from the 2005-2006 academic year on more than 5,000 doctoral programs in 62 fields at 212 universities in the United States.

"The graduate program of the religion department has a history of being well regarded on Baylor's campus, but that recognition is now being seen on a national level," said Dr. Bill Bellinger, chair of the religion department, which is housed in the College of Arts and Sciences at Baylor. "It is now clear from both the NRC data and from Academic Analytics data that the program continues on a strong upward trajectory to find its place among the top programs in the country."

Historical perspective

Dr. Mikeal Parsons, professor of religion and The Kidd L. and Buna Hitchcock Macon Chair in Religion, who was involved in both the 1995 and 2005 studies, evaluated the data and put the survey results in historical perspective.

Parsons said in the last survey, released in 1995, Baylor's graduate program in religion showed the second greatest gain in program quality (behind only Emory) since the 1981 survey.

"While it is difficult to make direct comparisons between the 1995 and 2010 surveys [because of variability in metrics], it is clear that the religion doctoral program continues to climb in the rankings," Parsons said.

Parsons noted that the NRC study claims that the success of American doctoral education in all fields is closely tied to the health of the large, public universities.

"While this is certainly true in a general sense, in the field of religion, only six of the 40 programs are at public universities. The rest, and in many cases the best, of the doctoral programs are housed at private institutions. This fact bodes well for Baylor's doctoral program in religion as it seeks to improve its quality and contribute to the university's distinctive mission," Parsons said.

Books, citations in top 10

The NRC data is significant because it parallels the information provided to Baylor during the summer by Academic Analytics, which also showed high rankings for Baylor's doctoral program in religion. Founded in 2005, Academic Analytics produces the FSP Database, which measures faculty research activity in 27 separate areas. According to these metrics, Baylor's doctoral program in religion ranked in the top 10 nationally in books publications, citations per publication and citations per faculty member, which placed Baylor at the same general levels as programs such as Duke and North Carolina.

Dr. Larry Lyon, dean of Baylor's Graduate School, noted that a strong religion department is especially important at Baylor.

"Given our Christian and Baptist heritage, religion has historically been among Baylor's largest and strongest Ph.D. programs," Lyon said. "These new data from the NRC and Academic Analytics confirm that the religion department continues to play a key role in doctoral education and scholarship at Baylor."

These improvements also have had an effect upon the recruitment of high quality graduate students. As with Baylor's faculty, the graduate students have become increasingly involved in presentations and publications.

Last year, 25 students made presentations at 16 different professional meetings and 15 students had articles or book reviews accepted for publication.

"The interaction between students and faculty that leads to this level of professional engagement does not escape attention of prospective students," said Dr. James D. Nogalski, professor of religion at Baylor.

Commitment to students

Baylor doctoral candidate Anna Sieges, who came to campus for an interview in 2009, indicated as much. "The Baylor religion department is outfitted with dedicated and honest scholars with a strong voice in the academy. When I visited Baylor in 2009, my hunch about these individuals was confirmed. Not only were they enthusiastic about contributing to the field through dialogue and publications, but they were also committed to the students," Sieges said.

Another doctoral candidate, Lindsey Trozzo, said the atmosphere at Baylor was an important factor in her decision to choose from among several doctoral programs in religion. "With its high academic standards, collegial atmosphere, comprehensive preparation and hands-on field experience, Baylor stood out among the rest as the place that I could trust to shape me into the scholar and professor I hoped to be," Trozzo said.

Bellinger said the future looks bright as the religion department continues to build upon the progress it has made in the last decade.

Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275

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