By Jana Cunningham
In 2010 the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah launched an initiative to support the study of Mormonism on campus and in the wider community. This initiative encourages, in all facets, the exploration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its people, values, history, culture and institutions.
“In the last two decades, there has been a resurgence of interest and effort in telling the Mormon story,” said Tanner Center Director Bob Goldberg. “Meetings of the Mormon History Association have seen a sharp increase in panels offered and numbers attending. Many presses like Oxford, Utah, and Illinois offer a wide selection of book choices on LDS topics.”
The U is ideally situated as a home for Mormon Studies. The J. Willard Marriott Library on campus houses a Special Collections Department that focuses on Utah and Western history and culture. The Genealogical and History Departments of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, key archives for research, are close by. The U is also centrally located and within easy driving distance of other rich research archives at Utah State University, the Utah State Historical Society and Brigham Young University.
The centerpiece of the initiative is the center’s graduate research fellowship in Mormon Studies. This fellowship is open to all dissertation level students of the Mormon experience from any university in the United States and from around the world. Areas of focus include, but are not limited to: religious studies, history, communication, sociology, economics, literature, philosophy, film studies and political science.
In partnership with the departments of sociology, film studies, gender studies, world languages and cultures, philosophy and writing and rhetoric studies, the center supports diverse classes in Mormonism. U students have enrolled in such classes as: The Book of Mormon as Literature, Mormonism and Film, Mormon Society and Culture, Mormonism and Gender and Mormon Theology and Christianity.
Recently, the center named its first fellow in the Marlin K. Jensen Scholar and Artist in Residence Program. U alumnus Brian Birch is a professor of philosophy, director of the Religious Studies Program, and director of the Center for the Study of Ethics at Utah Valley University. His fellowship will consist of a semester-long residency at the center beginning fall 2016.
Birch will serve as a research mentor for students, host public lectures, teach a class for U students and lifelong learners and contribute to Mormon Studies curriculum planning and program development. His course, The Intellectual Life of Mormonism: Reason, Faith, & Science Among the Latter-day Saints, will be offered in the fall and will include a public companion lecture series featuring prominent Mormon studies scholars who will bring their expertise to different areas of the curriculum.
“Our hope is that these classes and programs will support research and engage campus and community in the study of Mormonism. In this, we seek to encourage diversity, further understanding and foster respect across campus and in our Utah community,” added Goldberg.
Click here to learn more about the Mormon Studies Initiative.