By Scott C. Esplin
Associate professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU
By Study and Also by Faith: One Hundred Years of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2015. Notes, black-and-white illustrations, 654 pp. with index. ISBN-13: 978-1-4651-1878-3, US $33.50.
“In the history of the Church,” President Boyd K. Packer taught, “there is no better illustration of the prophetic preparation of this people than the beginnings of the seminary and institute program. These programs were started when they were nice but were not critically needed. They were granted a season to flourish and to grow into a bulwark for the Church. They now become a godsend for the salvation of modern Israel.” Seeking to chronicle this history, the recent volume, By Study and Also by Faith: One Hundred Years of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, captures the system’s rise from a humble beginning of seventy students in 1912 to become a worldwide organization that provides religious education to over 700,000 students a year.
In the volume’s foreword, Elder Paul V. Johnson, former Commissioner of the Church Educational System, outlines the book’s purpose: “We were in danger of losing a great deal of knowledge of our history. Some other organizations cut their connections to their roots and begin to drift. This organization could not afford this,” he warned. “Our history doesn’t limit us, but like a plant’s roots it anchors and nourishes us and is crucial for growth. Our history helps us grasp our identity and protects us” (viii).
The prologue adeptly overviews the foundation of education in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Drawing from the words of modern revelation and the practices of the early Saints, it outlines the groundwork laid for Seminaries and Institutes by educational endeavors in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Utah. Importantly, the prologue connects the Church’s earlier academies and religion classes to the modern Church Educational System, helping the reader recognize that the seminary and institute programs were the continuation of larger efforts to nurture faith in the hearts of youth and young adults. While some readers might wish this and later parts of the book were strengthened by a discussion of religious instruction beyond Mormonism or a deeper examination of the alternatives to released-time religious education, the prologue nicely places the formation of the seminary and institute system within a larger Church context.
Following the prologue, the book focuses its remaining nearly six hundred pages specifically on the history of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. In chapters that are as long as one hundred pages each, the book details the operations of programs that grew beyond their Wasatch Front beginnings to their current reach around the world.
The authors, who, it appears from the acknowledgments, all have backgrounds in Church education, seem to grapple with a challenge faced by every teacher: too much material to cover and a reluctance to leave anything out. As one who has tried to talk more quickly in a class in order to teach more material, I resonate with the difficulty, or even the reluctance, they faced to “reduce and simplify.” However, the words of Elder Packer quoted earlier regarding the history of the program might apply to the volume specifically. From a reader’s perspective, some of the information the book contains is “nice but . . . not critically needed.” For example, a general readership likely does not need details of the Alpine summer school from 1927 and 1928 (48–50), a listing of extracurricular activities by teachers and students in the 1930s (62), the development of choirs at the Logan and Salt Lake City institutes in the 1940s and ’50s (111), a reference to William E. Berrett constructing a coffin for his deceased child (141), or the listing of computer reporting programs in the 1990s (418–19). The challenge of too much detail is especially evident in the latter half of the volume, where the authors write about events that they and some of their readers personally experienced. Of course, this difficulty is faced by anyone who attempts to write in an historical way about events of the recent past involving living subjects. The challenge increases when the writing is done by committee. Though the volume is well researched and seeks to be exhaustive, some of its information might better be placed in a footnote or in a separate collection altogether.
Admittedly, the book maintains its detailed focus on the seminary and institute systems. Therefore, beyond the prologue, which touches on other Church education endeavors that were foundational to the programs in question, the bulk of the book makes little mention of related religious education programs like those at BYU, BYU–Idaho, and BYU–Hawaii. To the authors’ credit, when the other Church universities are mentioned, it is always in the context of their connection to the history of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. This is the case with the discussion of BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson, as his role as chancellor of the Unified Church School System is emphasized, and with the overview of BYU–Idaho’s Pathways Program, as the book draws connections to the larger Institute of Religion system.
As an institutional history, the book is heavily organized around people. This may be appropriate because teaching is, first and foremost, a people-oriented profession. From the beginning of each chapter, which, with the exception of the prologue, starts with a full-page picture of a person central to the story (Thomas J. Yates, first seminary teacher; President Henry B. Eyring, two-time commissioner of the Church Educational System; Stanley A. Peterson, associate commissioner/administrator of religious education and Church schools; and so forth), to appendix 7, which contains twenty-three pages of administrator biographies, the book is people-dominated. Page after page contains interesting pictures of people important to the history. Even when the expansion of the program internationally is discussed, it is in conjunction with people. For example, when the first international programs are examined, they are introduced with headings that include both a location and a person: Great Britain—John M. Madsen, Australia—J. L. Jaussi, and New Zealand—Rhett James (184–91). This pattern of discussing a building, program, or country in conjunction with people important to the story is consistent throughout the text.
The focus on people comes at a cost, however—one that Elder Johnson acknowledges in his foreword. “Despite this volume’s relatively large size, it cannot be comprehensive. There are too many people, too many powerful accounts, and too many miracles and blessings to squeeze into one volume” (ix). Therefore, the emphasis on certain people, most often those with connections to central administration, exacerbates a challenge, especially for a program that is no longer limited to the Wasatch Front. The problem of selectivity is especially evident in the aforementioned appendix of administrator biographies, as the book does not clearly identify the criteria used for determining inclusion. With more than 3,000 current employees and over 44,000 volunteers worldwide, prominent people are going to be missed, even in a book of over six hundred pages. For example, Joseph M. Tanner is only mentioned in a passing sentence as a bridge between Karl G. Maeser and Horace H. Cummings, though Tanner served as superintendent of Church schools for five pivotal years (25). Additionally, a personal introduction in the text to nearly every central-office administrator, coupled with detailed biographies of these leaders in an appendix, subtly brands the book as an institutional production, though system-wide non-administrators and volunteers outnumber full-time administrators dramatically. Therefore, thousands of current and former full-time employees and volunteers who dedicated many years to the work of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion may feel their history was neglected. While the book will resonate with those who know and love the leadership of the Seminary and Institute systems, much remains to be written from the perspectives of women (443–47), students (453–56), and volunteers (456–59). In fact, institutionally, as many pages are dedicated to employment practices including compensation and contracts (541–44) as are specifically dedicated to the voices of women, students, and volunteers. Furthermore, perspectives from non-English-speaking areas of the world are limited.
These observations are not intended to be criticisms of what is a remarkable product. In fact, President Packer’s observation that the program had become “a godsend for the salvation of modern Israel” is also evident in the history. The tone of the volume is admittedly and unapologetically positive, as a volume dealing with this topic and published by the Church should be. “The history of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion is one of faith, sacrifice, and devotion,” writes Chad H Webb, administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. “It is a history of commitment to and love for our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ. It is a history of love for the sacred word of God, of love for youth and young adults and of lives dedicated to teaching, lifting, preparing, and protecting them” (xi–xii).
While the book outlines challenges faced by Seminaries and Institutes of Religion over time, it openly asserts that God’s hand coupled with the sacrifice of loyal employees advanced the program. For example, describing the challenges faced in expanding beyond Mormonism’s traditional intermountain region, the book concludes, “As in Church education’s infant days, the right leaders and teachers came forward to overcome each obstacle” (93). This volume ascribes to the perspective voiced by President Joseph F. Smith: “The hand of the Lord may not be visible to all. There may be many who cannot discern the workings of God’s will in the progress and development of this great latter-day work, but there are those who see in every hour and in every moment of the existence of the Church, from its beginning until now, the overruling, almighty hand of Him who sent His Only Begotten Son.” While not flawless, By Study and also By Faith succeeds in chronicling the divine hand in the history of Seminaries and Institutes.
 Boyd K. Packer, “Teach the Scriptures” (address to Church Educational System religious educators, 1977), 4.
 For example, additional detail could be added to clarify Elder David O. McKay’s initial opposition to the seminary program (41).
 These voices do emerge occasionally in other portions of the book, but not as separate sections.
 Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, April 1904, 2.
Review of Alexander L. Baugh and Reid L. Neilson, eds., Conversations with Mormon Historians, Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in cooperation with Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 2015. pp.580 + xv, including index. $34.99.
Abstract: Conversations with Mormon Historians is a compilation of interviews with sixteen Latter-day Saint scholars. The book reveals why they went into their chosen professions, their rise to prominence as historians, and their thoughts regarding important topics such as the Prophet Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Part of understanding history is to understand the historians who wrote it. In other words, to truly grasp historical interpretations and perspectives, we need to know the historians behind the works of historical writing. Only then can we recognize how and why various historical events and people are being portrayed. . . .
See the full review here.
To buy the book, visit here.
“The Religious Studies Center has been an important part of my professional success. At the RSC I received professional job training while I was a student and was able to work on professional projects, which prepared me for employment as an editor after I graduated. Learning from professionals there was invaluable, and I was able to hone the skills I gained in class by working on real-world projects. I could also see that knowledge in action and broaden its scope. In my editing work I have relied on the knowledge of the publishing process I gained at the RSC. I also made lifelong friends and associates there. I am incredibly grateful for all the RSC taught me.”
—Elizabeth Pinborough, former RSC editing intern and now writer at Church Publishing Services Department
Job training at the RSC is made possible through your donation. To donate to the Friends of Religious Education, click here.
Join us for the 2016 MHA Conference June 9–12 at Snowbird Resort’s beautiful Cliff Lodge. To register, click this link. Sign up soon because the Early Bird discount ends on Saturday, May 7. The following RSC authors will speak:
Jonathan A. Stapley, “Mormon Ordination: Texts, Powers, and Priesthoods”
Clinton D. Christensen, “Racial Perception and the Priesthood: Practice Among Latin American and Caribbean Saints”
Matthew C. Godfrey, “A Season of Blessings: What We Learn about Ordination and Patriarchal Blessings in Kirtland, Ohio, from the Joseph Smith Papers”
Jill Mulvey Derr, “How Women Created and Negotiated Their Institutional Presence: Emergent Narratives from Key Documents in The First Fifty Years of Relief Society”
John C. Thomas, “Ambivalence Lost? Remembering and Forgetting Unknown Tongues”
Brant W. Ellsworth, “Portals to the Past: Reflexivity and the Study of Memories”
Casey Paul Griffiths, “Young, Progressive, and in Love: Joseph F. Merrill, Laura Hyde, and the Origins of Latter-day Saint and PR Man”
Richard E. Turley Jr., Roundtable and Audience Discussion: Global Practice
Richard L. Bushman, “The Council of Fifty Minutes—An Initial Scholarly Appraisal”
Richard E. Bennett, “The Council of Fifty Minutes—An Initial Scholarly Appraisal”
Tona Hangen, “Performing Trek: Becoming ‘Pioneer Children’ in the Digital Age”
Laura Harris Hales, “Legal Briefs or Pastorals? The LDS Church’s Three Official Statements on Marriage and Family”
Barbara E. Morgan and R. Devan Jensen, “Line Upon Line: Joseph Smith’s Growing Understanding of Families and Heaven”
Jennifer Brinkerhoff-Platt, “A Cultural Perspective on Latter-day Saint Eternal Family Discourse”
Brett D. Dowdle, “Promised Gatherings to Promised Lands: Mormon Gatherings, Early Zionism, and Orson Hyde’s 1840 Mission to Jerusalem”
Samuel Brown, “‘To Read the Sound of Eternity’: Speech, Text, and Scripture in the Book of Mormon”
Terryl Givens, “The Book of Mormon and the Reshaping of Covenant Theology”
Ugo Perego, “Was Joseph Smith the Biological Father of Josephine Lyon? The Genetic Evidence”
Brian Hales, “Polyandry and the ‘Offer’ Mentioned in D&C 132:51”
Kenneth L. Alford, “The Utah War’s 1858 Move South Viewed through Women’s Eyes”
William P. MacKinnon, “Rescued or Kidnapped: The Trans-Atlantic Saga of Henrietta Polydore”
Patrick Q. Mason, “Twentieth-Century Environmental Politics in the Mormon Culture Region”
Kate Holbrook, “Mothers at Work: A Look at the 1970s”
Dave Hall, “Changing Realities for Mormon Women: The Gospel Literacy Effort During the Presidency of Elaine L. Jack”
Stephen J. Fleming, “When Did Joseph Smith Know What He Knew? Hints at Pre-Existence, Deification, and Eternal Marriage in the Book of Mormon”
Janiece Johnson, “Becoming A People of the Books: Early Mormon Converts and the New Word of the Lord”
Scott C. Esplin, “Changing Their Practice: Latter-day Saint and Reorganized Church Approaches to Historical”
Andrew H. Hedges, “Practice in the Papers: News from Utah, 1847–49”
Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, “Agriculture, Adversaries, and Apostasy: Joseph Smith’s Unpublished Revelation and the Conflict over Frederick G. Williams’ Consecrated Farm”
Justin R. Bray, “The Nose Knows: Mormons, Smell, and Sensory History”
Reid L. Neilson, “‘A Fine Intellectual and Spiritual Opportunity’: Church Historian Leonard J. Arrington’s Tour of the LDS Church’s Asian Area General Conferences, August 1975
Ardis E. Parshall, “‘The Matter is Having My Close Attention’: Discoveries into Winston Churchill’s Investigation of Mormonism in Britain”
Find RSC material from these authors by clicking here.
In a new book titled The Worldwide Church: Mormonism as a Global Religion, noted authors discuss the history and challenges inherent to the growing global nature of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ranging from India to Taiwan to Africa, the Czech Republic, Mexico, and Russia. The volume is bookended by keynote addresses by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, and Terryl Givens, professor at the University of Richmond. The book is edited by Michael A. Goodman and Mauro Properzi, professors of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, and copublished by the BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book.
The book features stories of pioneering members worldwide. Rosemarie Howard, reviewer for the Deseret News, writes, “This kaleidoscopic collection of papers offers insights as well as faith-promoting stories and experiences illustrating the multifaceted and expanding international nature of the LDS Church.” To see the complete review, click here. To buy a copy, visit here.
His Excellency Peter Wittig, German ambassador to the United States, presented a lecture on April 6, 2016, hosted by the Kennedy Center for International Studies at Brigham Young University. On behalf of the university, author LeGrand (Buddy) Richards presented Ambassador Wittig with a copy of Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser at a luncheon hosted by BYU president Kevin J Worthen. The book was published by the Religious Studies Center.
Karl G. Maeser has rightfully been called the spiritual architect not only of Brigham Young University but also of the Church Educational System. As the first superintendent of Church Education, he helped found and maintain over fifty academies and schools from Canada to Mexico. He helped develop the public education system in Utah and helped establish the Utah Teachers Association. The students he taught personally included future United States senators and members of the House of Representatives, a United States Supreme Court justice, university presidents, and many General Authorities. He translated twenty-nine hymns and about a third of the Doctrine and Covenants into German and founded Der Stern, the Church’s German magazine (now called the Liahona).
To learn about more about the book, click here.
After being here [at the RSC] for about two and a half years, my time here is soon coming to an end. During that time, I’ve participated in five different internships, several of which were quite competitive, and published several articles and one award-winning children’s book. After looking back, I can comfortably say that I couldn’t have accomplished even a fraction of what I did without the opportunities, experiences, and knowledge that I gained here at the RSC.
I’m certain I could not have learned as much as I did in any class offered at BYU. I learned things about editing that they didn’t cover in the copyediting classes, and I was able to master InDesign and become incredibly proficient with Photoshop. I learned so much about publishing and academia in general, and I got the opportunity to digitize maps, which I’ve found I really enjoy. For all these things, again I have all of you to thank, along with some of the other students.
Most of you probably already know, but I just got a job as a technical writer for Entrata. I will be very sad to leave. My last official day will be sometime in May (depending how long it takes to finish Zion’s Trumpet). But I just wanted you to know the difference your opportunities make in the lives of the students.
Thanks again for all you do!
What do readers think of Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World? Following is an exempt of a review by Kurt Manwaring:
“The . . . book is intimidating, yet richly rewarding, with its broad range and nuanced makeup of applicable disciplines.
“The table of contents introduces readers to topics both general and specific, from prophets and antiquity in early America to Joseph’s interests in and efforts to touch various manifestations of antiquity, to deeper looks at subjects such as Joseph’s study of ancient Egypt, the Bible and ancient languages.
“As impressive as the topics written about are the authors who have chosen to write. Richard J. Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, anchors the book with an exhausting yet approachable chapter titled ‘Joseph Smith and the Study of Antiquity.’”
The book is edited by Brigham Young University professors Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges.
See the full review here. Do you agree with it? What do you think of the book?
Order a copy here.
Dear Friends and Colleagues:
You have by now received your copies of A Firm Foundation. Arnold Garr and I are very happy with the final package and we hope that you are also. We feel that this volume makes an important contribution to the study of Mormon history and that it suggests new lines of research and writing. Mormon history is endlessly fascinating, and we feel that our volume adds new insights and information to this unfolding story.
We write to communicate a final “thank you” for your important contribution to this volume. We hope that this group effort will serve the historical needs of all people interested in Mormon studies for years to come.
We have enjoyed working with all of you both during the conference last year and then though the editing and publishing process. We feel that the Religious Studies Center has done a great job in the editing and printing phase of this project. Our hats are off to Devan and Brent for their continued and professional work on this project.
Best wishes to you in all your work, especially in your efforts to continuing building on the firm foundation laid by the Prophet Joseph Smith all those years ago.
David J. Whittaker
Arnold K. Garr
“I have published several books with the Religious Studies Center and have had a consistently good experience. Most recently it was a joy to work with Devan Jensen and his student crew of editors as they helped make what I hoped was already a good manuscript become even better. Brent Nordgren assisted with graphics and, as the marketing specialist, helped us reach both the scholarly as well as general Latter-day Saint audiences. Thom Wayment provided important direction and valued advice. Joany Pinegar was always there to help with a variety of needs. I highly recommend that authors consider working with this excellent team.”—Richard O. Cowan, professor emeritus of Church history and doctrine, Brigham Young University, and most recently author of Provo’s Two Temples.
Originally from Los Angeles, California, Richard O. Cowan is a professor emeritus of Church history and doctrine, Brigham Young University. He received a doctorate in history at Stanford University in 1961 and has been a member of the BYU Religious Education faculty since that time. Cowan is the author of nine books and numerous articles. He served as chair of committees preparing Gospel Doctrine lessons for the Church from 1981 to 1993. He served as Church History Department chair from 1994 to 1997. He taught at the BYU Jerusalem Center during fall 1989 and at BYU–Hawaii during Spring 2007. He was named BYU Professor of the Year, 1964–65, and received the Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Teaching Award in 1969. He received the Phi Kappa Phi award in 2003 and was chosen to give a devotional assembly address on April 3, 2007. He received the Emeriti Distinguished Service Award in 2015. He and his wife, Dawn, have six children and many grandchildren.