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FAQs: AAR-Luce Fellowships in Religion and International Affairs

Read First this First Paragraph about the Dual Application Process Required

If you seek fellowship funding, there are two separate application processes:

  • one to seek approval for funding as an AAR-Luce Fellow, followed by
  • one to seek acceptance as a Franklin Fellow at the Department of State

The application process for AAR-Luce Fellowship funding ends March 31. Finalists will later be instructed to apply to the Department of State’s Franklin Fellows program, and their applications will be reviewed by the Department of State. The Franklin Fellowship application process involves substantial inputting of information, exactly as required, into a jobs application website used by the Department of State, called The Franklin Fellowship application process is expected to occur in May. To be eligible for AAR-Luce Fellowship funding, you must complete both processes by their deadlines.


Why is the AAR providing fellowships for work at the US Department of State?

For more than two decades, one of the goals of the American Academy of Religion has been to enhance the public understanding of religion. That work has included being responsive to various institutions needing insight from religion scholars in order to better inform and serve the public. Among these institutions have been news media, K-12 public schools, law enforcement, and prison chaplaincy. More recently, the AAR is in the process of providing some fellowships at the US Department of State.

In addition to enhancing public understanding of religion, the AAR has also sought to demonstrate the public value of academic expertise on religion. Much of the support that religion scholars directly or indirectly receive comes from public or private funders; as, for example, research grant funding or tuition payments. In the face of declining job prospects for religion scholars, the AAR has endeavored to provide programs whose aims include demonstrating to those who are not religion scholars the value and the wide range of applicability of the work that religion scholars do.

Each of these initiatives into the public arena has arisen out of AAR members’ concerns. The AAR initiative in facilitating journalist access to religion scholars arose in the 1990s out of a concern that journalists had too often not been informing the public well in their newswriting about religion. The AAR publishing of curriculum guidelines for K-12 educators arose out of concern that public schools were slighting religion in their curricula because they were unsure how to teach about it. Educational efforts with the FBI began in 1995 in response to religion scholars advocating that their expertise be called upon when law enforcement is engaged in confrontations with less familiar religious groups. The initiative to educate government directors of prison chaplaincy programs about religious pluralism arose when an AAR member who was also a prison chaplain pointed out how much prison chaplaincy officials struggled with understanding some of the unfamiliar requests made by inmates, whose  religious practices the officials are tasked with trying to accommodate.

Our current initiative, the AAR-Luce Fellows Program, arose out of awareness that religion is increasingly important in international affairs and that the Department of State would like to work more closely, on a regular basis, with scholars who have grappled with the complexity of religion in a wide range of contexts and situations. The Fellows Program is designed to facilitate lines of communication so that scholarship and critical, analytical perspectives are more readily accessible to policymakers attempting to address issues in parts of the world where the role of religion may be unclear, and so that scholars have the opportunity to affect policy and learn how foreign policy is developed.

Now seems a particularly opportune time for there to be fellowships for religion scholars to work at State. Secretary of State John Kerry publicly stated: “If I went back to college today, I think I would probably major in comparative religion, because that’s how integrated it is in everything that we are working on and deciding and thinking about in life today.”

The AAR respects that not all scholars feel it is their role to apply their expertise outside the academy or more specifically within the federal government. However, it is vital to the field and valuable to society that many scholars do. The AAR is pleased to support that effort and encourages applications for the fellowship.

Eligibility and Application Requirements

Do I have to be a US citizen to be eligible for the AAR-Luce Fellowship? Yes, the US Department of State requires that for fellows who serve there.

Why is five years of professional work experience required, and what is meant by that? The fellowship placement opportunities that the Department of State offers and are most suitable for religion scholars are Franklin Fellowships, and for these the Department requires at least five years of professional experience. The Franklin Fellows program is intended for mid- to upper-level professionals, not people in the early stage of their professional work life. Internships or part-time and short-term employment does not count as part of the five-year minimum.

Do I have to be an AAR member to apply? No, you do not have to be an AAR member.

Do I need to be available to work on site full-time in Washington for a full twelve months? Yes. For this type of fellowship, the Department of State does not permit telecommuting or part-time work. On-site availability for less than a year would only be considered in the extraordinary circumstance that your skills or expertise meets a pressing Department of State need that otherwise could not be met by a suitably qualified candidate who’s available for a full year. The reason for being so strict about this is that there tends to be a substantial learning curve involved in fellows settling into the Department of State and becoming effective.

Am I eligible if I don’t have a PhD per se but a comparable degree? The only terminal degree acceptable other than a PhD is a ThD degree.

What if I’m close to receiving my PhD or ThD degree but don’t actually have it in hand yet? You need to have successfully defended your dissertation no later than the AAR-Luce Fellows application deadline.

Regarding the PhD degree, the eligibility criteria refer to having a PhD in the “humanities or related social sciences.” What exactly is meant by that? As relevant for this fellowship, we see the humanities and related social sciences as including but not necessarily being limited to anthropology; communication; cultural studies; economics; ethnic studies; gender studies; geography; history; languages and literatures; legal studies; linguistics; media studies; philosophy; political science; psychology; rhetoric; regional studies; religious studies; sociology; theological studies; and related inter- or cross-disciplinary studies.

I know your deadline was March 31. But I just found out about the call for applications; or, I ran into an unavoidable delay in submitting my application materials. Can my candidacy still be considered? You can ask, but probably not. Because there needs to be two separate, sequential candidate-vetting processes (one by the AAR and one by the Department of State) as well as a lengthy Department security-clearance process, there’s a very tight calendar that needs to be followed to get candidates selected and placed within a reasonable time and with respect to the academic calendar.

I’ve got a nicely done CV. Can I submit that in lieu of a resume? No. CVs are formatted and detailed in a way that’s specifically intended for academic positions. In this case, it’s not an academic work setting that you’re applying to. What’s required is a resume; it should be no more than two pages.

What are you looking for in a writing sample? An ability to convey academically sound information clearly and concisely to a nonacademic audience. The sample should not exceed 4 pages.

Who should write my recommendation letters? Get letters from people who can speak specifically to your potential to be effective in the ways the call for applications highlights. Ideally, one letter would come from someone familiar with you and your work academically and one from a non-academic professional. But if that’s not feasible, it’s fine to have both letters come from academics. Note that the AAR would like to receive exactly two letters of recommendation; if you provide more than two letters of recommendation, the AAR selection committee may review only the first two received.

How should my recommendation letters be submitted? Ask each of the persons writing your letters of recommendation to upload the letter at the AAR-Luce Fellow application form at, and to let you know when they have done so. Note that two (and no more than two) letters of recommendation should be submitted.

I don’t have any background in international relations, can I still be a viable candidate for a fellowship at the Department of State? Absolutely. A background in international relations is not expected; it’s anticipated that many viable candidates will not have it. What’s important is that you have substantial academic expertise in religion in an area outside of North America.

Am I still eligible to be considered for a Franklin Fellowship, even if I’m not funded by an AAR-Luce Fellowship? Yes, provided that you have followed all the requirements of the Department of State for its Franklin Fellows program, including careful completion of an application through the website. Note, however, that the Department of State itself provides no funding for Franklin Fellows.

Can I apply to be a Department of State Franklin Fellow without being an AAR-Luce fellow? Yes. But you won’t have AAR-Luce funding, and you won’t have been identified to the State Department as having been selected as an AAR-Luce finalist.

The application process seems pretty complex. If needed, can I get help navigating it? Definitely! Once you’ve carefully read through the FAQs, we’re eager to help you through the process. To contact us, please refer to the contact information at the end of the FAQs.

Candidate-Selection Process

How many fellowships are being funded? For this cohort, we are anticipating from one to four. The exact number will depend on the particular expertise and skills of the candidate pool, and the specific needs of the Department of State at the time that applications are reviewed.

What’s the process used for review of applications?

Applications undergo a multi-stage review. Although the initial deadline for application submission is definite, note that the subsequent time line is approximate and subject to unanticipated delays due to evolving global demands on State Department staff.

1. AAR-Luce Fellowship Application Submitted. Upon submitting application materials, applicants will be sent an email confirming the AAR’s receipt. The deadline for application submission is March 31.

2. AAR Selection Panel Reviews Applications. A peer-review panel will review all eligible applications. The panel’s expertise includes religious studies, regions outside North America, and non-academic experience. Based on application materials, the panel will identify the more qualified applicants.

3. The More Qualified Applicants Interviewed by the AAR. The AAR will contact the more qualified applicants to schedule a phone interview, likely to occur in May. Those passing the interview will be recommended to the Department of State. At this stage, all applicants will be notified of their status.

4. Finalists Apply for Franklin Fellowships. Finalists will be asked to apply to the Department of State Franklin Fellows Program. The Department of State will review Franklin applications and interview its top choices. It’s anticipated that interviews will be completed by July 15. Note that it is possible that the Department of State may accept as Franklin Fellows more AAR-Luce finalists than the AAR can fund.

5. AAR Decides Whom It Can Fund. The AAR aims to place one to four fellows. The number varies depending on strength of candidate qualifications vis-à-vis State Department needs. In addition, among the top choices of the State Department may be some candidates who bring sabbatical funding. When additional funding is brought, additional AAR-Luce Fellowships may be able to be offered.

6. State Department Makes a Contingent Offer of Placement. Offers are expected to be made by July 30. They are contingent on passing security and ethics clearances. (The Department of State may also make offers to finalists who are acceptable as Franklin Fellows but whom the AAR cannot afford to fund as AAR-Luce Fellows. In that case, finalists may choose to self-fund or come up with other means of funding, though any alternate means of funding must first be cleared by the Department of State.)

7. Those Accepting Contingent Offers Apply for Security Clearance. Department of State security clearances usually take at least four months and sometimes as long as eight months or more. Ethics clearances require much less time. Those passing security and ethics clearances will be contacted to work out a mutually agreeable time to start work, which in some cases could be within a few weeks after notification of security clearance but in any event should be no later than June 2017.

What’s involved in getting “security and ethics clearances”? You will apply for these only if you make it through to the last few steps of the candidate-vetting process. Both the AAR and the State Department will have completed their review of your candidacy. You will have been notified that the AAR is prepared to award you fellowship funding and the State Department is prepared to accept you as a fellow, contingent on your passing these clearances. The Department of State will guide you through the process.

How long does a security clearance take? The length of time can vary widely. It’s usually at least four months and sometimes as long as eight months or more.

If accepted as an AAR-Luce Fellow, may I defer the start date of the fellowship? Fellowships are intended to be twelve months in duration, and no funding is available for fellowship time that extends beyond June 2018. A selection based on needs at the time may not necessarily be applicable to a future time.

Fellowship Work

If selected to be a Fellow, what kind of work would I be doing? AAR-Luce Fellows will be part of the State Department’s Franklin Fellows program. Franklin Fellows provide perspective on policy as well as independent analysis. In the past, Franklin Fellows have engaged in such work as writing analytical papers, participating in official US delegations, arranging conferences, and advising senior officials. It may also be helpful for you to understand the kind of work you would not be doing. Fellows will be working in a pragmatic environment involving the application of scholarly expertise about religion; it is not an environment conducive to building your research portfolio for tenure in academia.

At the Department of State website, it mentions that Franklin Fellows may serve as fellows at USAID. Does that apply to AAR-Luce Fellows as well? No. All AAR-Luce Fellowships are reserved for placements at the Department of State, not USAID.

If selected as a fellow, how much say will I have in my specific work placement within the State Department? In completing your application to the Franklin Fellows program of the Department of State, you will be asked to name bureaus or offices in the State Department “in which you are interested and may possess qualifications to serve in, along with a brief explanation of how your expertise fits.” The Department of State will take this into consideration in making your placement. But of course, depending on the Department’s needs, it may or may not be able to honor your preferences. There’s a list of bureaus and offices on the Department of State website. Among those you may find to be of interest are the Office of Religion and Global Affairs, Policy Planning Staff, one of the regional bureaus, or the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Office of International Religious Freedom, which hosts the International Religious Freedom Ambassador-at-Large.

If I am accepted as a Fellow at the State Department, what are the chances I can stay on and become a State Department employee? The Fellowships are temporary positions, not intended as a gateway to Department of State employment. Fellows are welcome to apply to vacancies, and many do, but the program is not a career entry program and does not assist with job searches.

If I’m placed at the State Department, how much travel should I anticipate? Depending on the role in which you are placed, occasional travel may be required. Once a Fellow has begun service, if the Department of State directs the Fellow to undertake specific official travel, the Department of State will pay transportation, lodging and per diem necessary for the official travel.

What would be my employment status? You would be an employee of the Department of State, albeit uncompensated. You would be working as an independent consultant according to 5 USC 3019. As such, you would not receive benefits. The AAR would pay you monthly. But you would not be an employee of the American Academy of Religion (nor of Emory University, with which the AAR is affiliated). No employment-related taxes would be withheld from the payments the AAR makes to you; you would be responsible for payment of your own taxes. The AAR would report to the IRS applicable payments made to you on an IRS Form 1099.

Income, Costs, and Relocation

What’s meant in your saying that fellows will receive a stipend of “up to $6,500/month”? The payment is intended to subsidize those who would not otherwise receive remuneration during their fellowship period. It is not intended for scholars who will be on paid sabbatical leave, for example, except to subsidize the extent to which sabbatical payments would fall short of $6,500/month.

What’s meant by “up to $1,500 in relocation subsidy”? For fellows who relocate from outside the Washington metropolitan area, the AAR will reimburse for qualified relocation expenses based on sales receipts. Qualified expenses include shipping possessions to and from Washington and/or putting them in storage, and getting yourself to and from Washington (once). Travel must be at coach rate, and lodging at less than $200/night (including tax) while en route; and mileage is reimbursable at $.25/mile (the same rate the IRS specifies as deductible for job-relocation expense). Qualified expenses do not include things like security deposits and utility activation fees. We recognize that relocation costs for many potential fellows could be far higher; the subsidy is meant to make temporary relocation less burdensome, not necessarily to fully cover the cost.

What other costs do I have to be prepared to cover? If you are selected by the Department of State as a Franklin Fellow, contingent on passing its security and ethics clearances, you will need to cover costs for fingerprinting, document preparation, and mailing related to the security clearance process. The Department of State will cover the expense for the security clearance process itself.

Is there any assistance in locating housing in the Washington metropolitan area? Unfortunately, no, and the metro area can be a challenging place to find affordable housing. If you are accepted as a Fellow, pending passing a security and ethics clearances, we recommend that you start looking into the housing market at that point (though we would strongly caution against putting down a housing security deposit until you have passed your security and ethics clearances and indeed been awarded a fellowship).

Whom can I contact if I still have questions?

For questions about the process overall or about the AAR-Luce Fellow application process specifically: Contact . This can be a complex application process. We’re eager to help you understand what’s involved.

For questions about the Franklin Fellows application process specifically: Contact Mary Daly or Michael Wolfe at .

To return to the call for AAR-Luce Fellowship applications, click here.