The main problem with Duke is, well, Duke. The Ph.D. program is run through the university’s department of religion, not the divinity school, and this has tended to restrict artificially the number of students admitted.As I pointed out last time, this is incorrect. The PhD program is actually run by the Graduate Program in Religion, and not by the Religion Department. The Graduate Program in Religion is a collaborative venture involving both the Department of Religion and the Divinity School. To illustrate the point, I might add that the current director, Grant Wacker, is housed in the Divinity School, and there are more Divinity School faculty in the program than there are Religion Department faculty.
The limited number of admissions to the PhD program is indeed disappointing, but this has nothing to do with the Religion Department but is related, rather, to the kind of pressures that are felt nationally (and internationally) at present, pressures shared by other great strong institutions and programs. Nevertheless, one of the results of the highly competitive nature of the program is that it continues to produce the strongest students around. A Duke PhD in Religion is a Rolls-Royce qualification.
As a member of the here maligned Religion Department, as well as of the Graduate Program in Religion, I would like to add that the collaboration between the Divinity School and us is one of the things that makes the program so strong. It is not just that colleagues from the different entities get to work together, something that I value hugely, but it is also that the students get the best kind of experience because they are studying and working across the boundaries. PhD students in the Graduate Program in Religion will often teach or teaching-assist in the Department of Religion, thereby gaining valuable experience in working with university undergraduates in the Arts and Sciences. The same people also get the chance to teach and precept in the Divinity School, so working with students who are training for the ministry.