Mormon studies minor has potential

N-Mormon-Studies-Minor Colby Patterson
Students congregate and study in the atrium of the LDS Institute of Religion. Photo by Chris Samuels.

Students congregate and study in the atrium of the LDS Institute of Religion. Photo by Chris Samuels.

The U’s College of Humanities is looking to add a minor in Mormon studies in addition to the religious studies program.

Paul Reeve, professor in history at the U, teaches a course titled “Mormonism and the American Experience,” and he thinks the U has been missing out on a prime opportunity to take advantage of Utah’s unique resources.

“[The U] can be a player and should be a player in Mormon studies,” Reeve said. “We have very few courses on a faith that’s in our backyard.”

The initiative to start a Mormon studies minor began a few years ago when money was raised to start a Ph.D. fellowship in the area. Since then, three students from across the country and one from Germany have traveled to Salt Lake in order to study for a year and take advantage of Utah’s resources in the field. Reeve thinks the timing is perfect to add this course of study to the U’s catalog and attributes the general interest in the subject to a growth in academic religious programs in general.

“A rise of religious studies in academia in general is probably the [reason this is happening now],” he said.

Bob Goldberg, history professor and director of the Carolyn Tanner Irish Humanities Center, thinks it is unusual that the U does not already have a Mormon studies program. Other Utah schools, such as Utah Valley University and Utah State University, have had the program for years. In addition, schools across the country have religious programs for other faith sects, such as Judaism, Catholicism and Baptist studies.

The minor is already in the process of  becoming an official program using coursework Goldberg has already set into place like the one Reeve teaches.

“[We hope to] offer courses that are intellectually sophisticated but sensitive to students’ beliefs,” Goldberg said.

Ideally, Goldberg would like the program to be in place for the Fall 2015 semester, but Reeve wanted to clarify that the program is still in its early phases.

“It’s only a proposal. It’s potential. I don’t want to make it sound like a done deal because I don’t know that that’s the case,” Reeve said.

Reeve believes that the program would be popular due to the growing interest in Mormonism outside of Utah, as evidenced by former Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential bid and the Broadway hit “The Book of Mormon.”

“Mormonism as the quintessential American faith is growing,” Reeve said.

Goldberg believes the most important thing a Mormon studies minor could bring to the U is a sense of community among what he describes as a state divided into religious “tribes.”

“We live in tribes,” Goldberg said. “[Academic programs like this] can get people to understand each other and break down those tribal barriers. We’re all kind of similar under the skin.”

ivy.smith@chronicle.utah.edu