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For week ended March 19, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
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Sent on Mormon-News: 20Mar00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

UVSC To Study Mormons; College to pioneer LDS cultural program
Salt Lake Tribune 19Mar00 N1
By Brooke Adams: Salt Lake Tribune

OREM, UTAH -- Utah Valley State College will kick-off a new Mormon Cultural Studies program tomorrow, starting with a day-long conference on Mormonism. The program is unique at colleges and universities in Utah, and makes UVSC the first to embrace Mormonism as a subject worthy of study. The program will be part of a new religious-studies program to be housed in the college's Center for the Study of Ethics.

The program will fit nicely with the college's plans for the religious-studies program, which the school hopes to expand into a formal religious-studies curriculum, according to the program's associate director Biran Birch. Eugene England, who will head the new Mormon cultural studies program says, "Our program engages in a variety of scholarly studies of the culture of Mormons in order to help both Mormons and others understand the way Mormons think and express themselves in their arts and the lives they live." England was recently named UVSC's first writer-in-residence.

Until now, studies of Mormonism were left to Sunstone, which sponsors annual conferences at which scholarly papers are presented on Mormonism, the University of Durham, England , which has a Mormon studies center, and independently written scholarly articles which appeared in a variety of publications, a handful of which are devoted to the study of Mormonism. LDS Church-owned BYU does not have a Mormon studies program, but does offer graduate-level minors in Church History and in Ancient Scripture.

UVSC's program to study religion is also unique among state-owned schools in Utah, none of which offer an undergraduate degree in religious studies, one of few states in the U.S. that do not. Even the University of Utah only offers a variety of unrelated courses on aspects of religion, and no one there has ever proposed Mormon culture as a focus of study.

But the study of Mormonism in Utah has often been seen as too touchy for Utah's colleges and universities. Public schools like the University of Utah and UVSC don't want to be perceived as endorsing a religion, or being too critical of the dominant religion. Scholars at BYU, on the other hand, don't want to be perceived as critical of church teachings. "We have to tread carefully," Birch said. "We're aware that religion is a difficult topic and that academic study of religion is controversial in Utah and other places."

Some of this touchiness may be behind a recent debate in the Salt Lake Tribune's editorial pages, in which the University of Utah has been called "anti-mormon." Writing in an editorial in the Tribune, England says that the debate misses the point. He says that the schools in Utah have missed an educational opportunity by not studying Mormonism, unlike an increasing number of non-Mormon scholars, including Thomas O'Dea, Harold Bloom, and Martin Marty. He notes that many state universities around the country have understood that local culture is worth studying. "I'm simply suggesting they apply the same principle to Mormon culture studies -- not to teach Mormon theology, as some seem to fear, but to engage in the scientific study of religious culture, a proven and valuable academic subject."

But England is also careful to note that the UVSC program isn't either pro or anti-mormon. "We're studying the culture, not the church," he said. "The main intent is not to be critical, but to understand. This is precisely the kind of study of our culture -- frank and open -- that could make our culture better."

The keynote speaker for Tuesday's conference will be Wayne C. Booth, emeritus dean at the University of Chicago. The program will also include a panel on "Why Study Mormon Culture?" and England himself will speak on the topic "Being Mormon and Human." Other participants include William A. (Bert) Wilson, a professor emeritus from BYU and prominent national folklorist; Brian Birch, UVSC assistant professor of philosophy; Lyndon Cook, UVSC professor of history; Sharon Staples, UVSC professor of philosophy; and LDS writers Lee Mortensen, Karin Anderson England, Barbara Bannon, Chris Hicks, Tim Slover and BYU assistant professor Sharon Swenson.

See also:

Conference at UVSC on Mormon culture
Deseret News 19Mar00 N1

The Issue Isn't 'Anti-Mormonism' At U., But a Neglected Opportunity
Salt Lake Tribune 19Mar00 D6
By Eugene England


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