I recently talked to a US theologian, who just got a job in a really difficult market. He was reflecting on the challenges facing theologians. You can either work in a secular university, in a religious studies department. Those jobs generally discourage you from making any normative claims, or recognizing religious authorities. Or you can work in a religious college (a so-called confessional college, which is founded upon a confession or creed - in practice almost always some Christian denomination). This sort of job does encourage you to make normative religious claims, but polices those claims to preserve their particular religious identity. There are a few university divinity schools that successfully avoid confronting theologians with this dilemma, but such jobs are far and few between. So jobs at confessional colleges are a theologian's most realistic shot at stable employment.
A theologian needs to be careful about the views she's exploring. My interlocutor's new employer was interdenominational, which typically means they'll have a more liberal stance toward doctrinal issues since they can't follow one particular line. But still, he said, you've got to be cautious - test the waters, consult with other faculty members, to see how far you can go.
This suggests that the case of infringements on academic freedom where people are fired because they say Adam and Eve aren't historical people, or the case of Thomas Oord* more recently (see here and here) aren't just outliers, but part of a greater problem of lack of academic freedom for the majority of US theologians. How can theologians do cutting-edge work if they have to fear for repercussions all the time?
The authors of the report note on the basis of qualitative interviews: "A significant number of faculty expressed a felt need to avoid pursuing particular subjects in [science and religion] because they were concerned that such explorations would not be acceptable. Some participants were concerned that pursuing controversial issues would harm their opportunities for career advancement, while others actually feared dismissal. A few participants also cited a reluctance to engage with certain contentious issues that conflicted with their own personal faith. Two particular issues, human sexuality and human origins, were cited most as areas of inquiry least tolerated by their institutional cultures."
So what is to be done? One problem seems to be the ignorance of administrators of what the doctrinal commitments of the schools actually are (this is something Burdett et al aim to address). Another problematic influence is religious, conservative wealthy donors, who might withdraw their support from the school if they don't like what faculty members write (regardless of whether it conforms to doctrine). Unsurprisingly, human evolution and sexuality are two topics that received a lot of attention in the general media.
Will educating administrators help the problem? Perhaps. As one dismissed faculty member (dismissed for claiming Adam and Eve weren't historical people) told me, there is a growing polarization in the intellectual public sphere which makes this difficult. While in the 1980s, his students were merely unaware about evolution, his most recent cohorts were ready with Ken Ham-style young creationist arguments. Most of his colleagues who taught biblical studies just did not broach the subjects of evolution and geology anymore with the students - he was one of the remaining few. Due to this polarization, which undoubtedly also influences donors and administrators, it will be difficult to, say, convince them that it is a matter of debate on whether the Genesis narratives were meant to be taken literally, and whether Irenaean views (as opposed to the usual Augustinian interpretation) on human evolution might harmonize - to some extent - religious and biblical views.
I'm curious about the extent to which these issues affect philosophers.
*While I am not a specialist on the Tom Oord case, my understanding of the case is that his work *was* actually within the doctrinal limits of Nazarene doctrine, and ignorant administrators, not being able to fire him on those grounds, proceeded with some unconvincing financial reasons for the dismissal. The doctrinal dispute was not about evolution as so many assumed, but about his open theism views. I guess "Professor dismissed because of open theism" doesn't make for such a great headline.