Continuing Contributions: 2000–Present

Richard O. Cowan, "Continuing Contributions," Teaching the Word: Religious Education at Brigham Young University (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2008), 81–101.

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, Religious Education had become an important part of the BYU educational experience. Additionally, Religious Education continued to reach out beyond the classroom walls to bless the lives of countless others who could never attend BYU.

Religious Educator Launched

For some time Dean Millet and others had felt the need for creating a journal to provide an additional outlet for the scholarly writings of ­Religious Education faculty members. At the same time, they hoped it could be a resource to those teaching religion at BYU, in the Church Educational System, and in the quorums and auxiliaries of the Church. The first edition of the Religious Educator appeared in the year 2000.

The editors acknowledged that there were other journals catering to a scholarly Latter-day Saint readership but noted that the Religious Educator focused on “teaching the gospel, publishing studies on scripture, doctrine, and LDS Church history, and sharing the messages of outstanding devotional essays.”[1]

Millet replaced the temporary editorial board in 2001 with Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, who became the full-time editor in chief. Holzapfel asked Ted D. Stoddard, a writing professor in the Marriott School of Business, to explore design and content issues and prepare guidelines that would enhance the scholarly basis of this new publication. Within a short time, rigorous standards, including a thorough blind peer-review process, were implemented, qualifying the Religious Educator as a first-rank scholarly journal.

Holzapfel clarified the purpose of this new venture. “Our hope is to provide readers with carefully prepared, inspirational, and information-packed writings on a wide range of subjects explicitly associated with the Restoration. Teachers, authors, researchers, and students of Latter-day Saint studies at every level will appreciate discussions of relevant ideas and issues from a perspective of faith.”[2]

While only one issue of seven hundred copies was released in 2000, two issues were published the following year. The pattern of publishing three issues per year was established in 2002. By 2008 the circulation had reached 1,700. During the early years, contributors were drawn heavily from the Religious Education faculty at BYU. In the second issue during 2002, however, the editors announced that BYU would “join as partners with CES” to publish some of the outstanding presentations from the annual August CES religious educators’ conference.[3]

During this period of development, the Religious Educator added a group of non-BYU advisory board members in an effort to ensure that the publication met the needs of its audience beyond the university. The board included Tad R. Callister (Glendale, California), Kathy K. Clayton (Salt Lake City), Milly Day (Indianapolis, Indiana), and Victor L. Walch (Wilsonville, Oregon). Representing Religious Education’s commitment to be a blessing to the Church worldwide, not just a BYU audience, this advisory board continues to provide significant review and feedback to the RSC. Fortunately, the Religious Educator has been blessed with General Authority contributions, beginning with Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s piece “The Faith of a Prophet: Brigham Young’s Life and Service.”[4] As the audience expanded so did the pool of contributors. About half the articles have come from the BYU faculty, the remainder being contributed by CES personnel and others, including a well-known non-LDS distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, Philip Jenkins.

Andrew C. Skinner became dean of Religious Education in September 2000. A native of Colorado, he earned his master’s degrees in Jew­ish studies and biblical Hebrew at the Iliff School of Theology and Harvard University, studying also at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He received his PhD in Near Eastern and European history at the University of Denver. After teaching at Ricks College for four years, he joined the BYU faculty in 1992. He had been serving as chair of the Department of Ancient Scripture for three years when he was appointed as dean.

Publishing Efforts Increased

From the beginning, the Religious Studies Center director was responsible for publication and other business decisions as well as for final editing. To meet the needs of the RSC’s expanding publication agenda, R. Devan Jensen joined the staff as executive editor in 2001; he brought significant experience from his editorial work with Deseret Book and the Ensign. In the past the RSC had published about two to three books per year, but by 2003 output increased to nine books and three issues of the RSC Newsletter.

In 2004 the RSC released a landmark book by Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews, Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, a complete transcription of all the changes made in the biblical text by the Prophet, together with explanatory essays.

Also in 2004, Richard D. Draper was appointed an associate dean in Religious Education, leaving a vacancy in the RSC, where Draper had served as director since 2001. Richard Neitzel Holzapfel was asked to take the position as well as to continue as editor in chief of the Religious Educator in 2004 until someone could be called take over the journal. A variety of circumstances arose that prevented the appointment of a new editor in chief. As a result, the RSC was reorganized, merging the two positions, RSC director over books and newsletters and editor-in-chief of the Religious Educator, into director of publications, overseeing the publication of all RSC products.

Highlighting not only the increased publication activity at the RSC but also the continuing effort to raise the quality of publications, the RSC was awarded the Christensen Best Documentary Award at the annual meeting of the Mormon History Association in 2007 for The Diaries of Charles Ora Card: The Utah Years, 1871–1886 (2006).

New Audiences, New Technology

In 2008, the RSC took steps to increase its presence by creating a Web page specifically dedicated to posting the complete RSC library in English and selections in Spanish and Portuguese, the second and third most spoken languages in the Church. Also in 2008, the RSC published in English and Spanish a special volume featuring some of the best articles from the first ten years of the Religious Educator. These giant steps will ensure the continuing relevance of the research and writing of the Religious Education faculty to the Church at large.

Fundraising Efforts Expanded

Traditionally, most university programs were funded through appropriations from the tithes of the Church. However, as the Church began to grow worldwide, and demands on these sacred funds for needed chapels and temples increased, more emphasis was placed on Brigham Young University and its units seeking to raise more of their own funding. Religious educators, with the assistance of individuals appointed by the university’s Development Office, sought to identify potential donors interested in supporting various religion-oriented programs.

These efforts intensified under the leadership of Dean Skinner as evidenced by the 2003 appointment of Ken McCarty as assistant to the dean for development. With his help, Religious Education developed an endowment fund of nearly five million dollars. Proceeds from this endowment have helped to fund the full-time editing position for the RSC and the master’s program for CES teachers and U.S. military chaplains. They also have supported the Religious Education Professorship in Moral Education; Brent L. Top was the first to hold this professorship in 2001. Furthermore, funds from the endowment have also provided an additional source of support for Religious Education research projects through what became known as the Dean’s Discretionary Fund.

From 2004 to 2008, Douglas E. Brinley held the Professorship of Moral Education. His service focused on reminding the campus community to incorporate honesty and integrity in their professional lives. He organized a symposium in February 2007 cosponsored by Religious Education and the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology that was titled “The Gospel: The Foundation for a Professional Career.” In the keynote address, Elder Richard G. Scott offered a formula for success in professional life and spoke of the importance of integrity as he and his colleagues pioneered the field of nuclear studies. In 2008 the RSC published the proceedings in a book titled Moral Foundations: Standing Firm in a World of Shifting Values.

Annual Easter Conference Inaugurated

In 2003, the Religious Education Administrative Council approved a proposal by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment to host a conference on the Saturday before Easter which would focus on the Savior’s last twenty-four hours and Resurrection. The conference was held and rebroadcast on KBYU Television, helping Religious Education expand their audience.

The response to this Easter conference was so positive that the university decided that this should be an annual event held on the day before Easter (Saturday) each year, cosponsored by Religious Education and the RSC. Nearly one thousand attendees heard Elder D. Todd Christofferson give the keynote address at the second annual conference, “The Atonement and the Resurrection,” which was later published in the Religious Educator.[5] In subsequent years, keynote addresses were delivered by President Cecil O. Samuelson in 2006, Elder F. Enzio Busche in 2007, and President Merrill J. Bateman in 2008. Additionally, the conference provides an opportunity to address current issues about Jesus and the New Testament that seem to surface each Easter season, including The Da Vinci Code (2005), the so-called Gospel of Judas (2006), and the Lost Tomb of Jesus (2007).

The BYU Easter Conference has become a permanent feature of Religious Education’s efforts to teach the gospel to students and to a much larger audience. In addition to the publication of selections from the conference, BYU-TV and KBYU broadcast the event to an even larger audience today.

Ancient Near Eastern Studies Program Initiated

Following extensive work by a cross-campus committee headed by Dana M. Pike, professor of ancient scripture, university leaders approved a new program allowing students to major or minor in Ancient Near Eastern Studies beginning in 2005. Courses are taught by faculty members from ancient scripture, anthropology, classics, history, and languages. Students can focus either on the Hebrew Old Testament or Greek New Testament. This Bible-centered program encompasses multiple facets of ancient Near Eastern culture. One objective is to provide a rigorous preparation for students going on to challenging graduate work in this field.

Pike became the first coordinator of this interdepartmental program, and Dean Skinner was named agent dean. This was the first time a dean of Religious Education had administrative stewardship over a program granting undergraduate majors.

Changes at the University Announced

During the fall of 2005, Dean Skinner was invited to become the director of the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (later renamed the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship). Terry B. Ball succeeded him as the dean of ­Religious Education in 2006. Ball received his bachelor’s degree in botany and earned a master’s degree in ancient Near Eastern studies. His PhD at BYU in 1992 combined both of these areas, focusing on the archaeobotany of the Near East. He had started his career with CES in 1979, accepting an assignment to teach seminary. He joined the full-time faculty at BYU in 1992, the same year he received his doctorate.

Important changes were taking place at BYU when Ball became dean. The Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History was disbanded in 2005, and many of its members moved to Salt Lake City to work in the Family and Church History Department (see appendix C).

During that same year, S. Kent Brown, professor of ancient scripture, was named director of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), and in the following year, Ancient Studies (which he had been directing) was formally dissolved. As a result, members of the Religious Education faculty continued the research that had been focused through these other organizations.

Early in 2006, two new research directors were added to the RSC: Richard E. Bennett for Church history and doctrine and Kent P. Jackson for ancient scripture. Both were productive scholars who were widely respected throughout the university and beyond. With increased funding, each director reached out to faculty colleagues to encourage, give direction to, and support worthy research ventures.

BYU Religious Education Review

The RSC began publishing a newsletter in 1986. Former RSC directors S. Kent Brown, Charles D. Tate Jr., Kent P. Jackson, and Richard D. Draper all served as editors in their turn. In 2008 the administrative council approved a proposal to update the newsletter in a brand-new format that would make it possible to “increase exposure to many more facets of Religious Education and of the RSC.”[6] The full-color semiannual magazine, christened the BYU Religious Education Review, featured articles on the original Joseph Smith Building built in 1941, the teaching legacy of Paul H. Peterson (1941–2007), the Saints in World War II Germany, outreach efforts by the Richard L. Evans Chair, RSC internships, and spotlights on donors to Religious Education in the inaugural issue in 2008.The magazine incorporated sections from the old newsletter, such as awards and advancements, interviews with faculty members, a calendar of upcoming events, reports on recent
symposia, and new publications. The magazine remains an important vehicle to share news about Religious Education and the RSC.

Contributions Continue

Because most students take a religion class each semester, teachers in Religious Education come in contact with a larger proportion of the student body at a given time than does any other faculty. Religion teachers view this as a great opportunity and solemn responsibility. They are pleased, therefore, that student surveys consistently rank teaching in Religious Education very highly. Various special BYU awards have also reflected the quality of this teaching. Of the first eleven who were named BYU professor of the year, five taught in Religious Education: Daniel H. Ludlow in 1960, Chauncey C. Riddle in 1962, Richard O. Cowan in 1965, Walter D. Bowen in 1966, and Leon R. Hartshorn in 1967. Susan Easton Black was invited to give the annual Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecture in 2000, the most prestigious award given by the university. In 2003, Dr. Cowan was chosen to give the annual Phi Kappa Phi lecture.

Religion faculty members continue to teach beyond their core courses in Religious Education based on their areas of expertise, including classes in the Classics, History, and Marriage, Family, and Human Development departments, and also ancient Near Eastern studies and honors classes. Even in these courses, Religious Education faculty have been acknowledged for their significant contributions. For example, eight faculty members have been recognized as Honors Teacher of the Year: Truman G. Madsen in 1966, Chauncey C. Riddle in 1967, C. Wilfred Griggs in 1975, Richard L. Anderson in 1978, Vern D. Sommerfeldt in 1997, Victor L. Ludlow in 2003, David R. Seely in 2006 (also honored was his wife, Jo Ann, a part-time ancient scripture faculty member who cotaught with David in Honors), and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel in 2008.

Continuing Education is another area where Religious Education makes an important contribution. Evening classes in religion have been among the most in demand. Religious subjects have also been very popular at Education Week. BYU’s first Travel Study offering was a Church history tour led by Alma P. Burton in 1951. Two years later, the first tour to the Holy Land was led by Sidney B. Sperry.[7] The first semester in Jerusalem was conducted by Daniel H. Ludlow in 1968, and members of the Religious Education faculty have played a key role there ever since. Several members have also presented radio and television programs.

Like other faculty members in the BYU community, members of the Religious Education faculty have served in a variety of ecclesiastical callings, including bishoprics, stake auxiliary presidencies, stake presidencies, and general board assignments in Salt Lake City. An unusually large number have been called to serve in student stakes and wards. Others have been members of auxiliary general boards or of Churchwide writing and correlation review committees. Twelve were called as mission presidents while serving on the faculty: Ivan J. Barrett, Spencer J. Palmer, Reid E. Bankhead, Truman G. Madsen, Paul R. Cheesman, Walter D. Bowen, Leon R. Hartshorn, Joseph F. McConkie, C. Max Caldwell, H. Dean Garrett, Brent L. Top, and D. Kelly Ogden. In addition, M. Catherine Thomas left to serve with her husband, who was also called as a mission president. Roy W. Doxey was called as a regional representative while serving as college dean. Three faculty members have been called as General Authorities while serving on the faculty: Spencer J. Condie in 1989 and C. Max Caldwell and John M. Madsen in 1992. In 1953, former faculty member Hugh B. Brown was called to be an Assistant to the Twelve, eventually becoming a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and a counselor in the First Presidency. Former dean Jeffrey R. Holland became a member of the Seventy in 1989 and a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles five years later. In 2004, Daniel K Judd was called as a counselor in the general Sunday School presidency.

Although everyone recognizes his distinct voice as the announcer of general conferences and Music and the Spoken Word, few may know that Lloyd D. Newell is a Religious Education faculty member. Invariably, on the first day of class each semester, when new students recognize his voice, he is required by them to repeat the famous words, “From the crossroads of the West, we welcome you to a program of inspirational music and spoken word,” and, “Again we leave you from within the shadow of the everlasting hills. May peace be with you, this day and always.”

Continuing Impact of Gospel Scholarship

Religious Education faculty have burned the midnight oil researching, writing, and publishing important contributions to LDS gospel scholarship and beyond. Many Latter-day Saints can find the works of such notable scholars as Richard L. Anderson, Milton V. Backman Jr., LaMar C. Barrett, Kent P. Jackson, Daniel H. Ludlow, Truman G. Madsen, Robert J. Matthews, Robert L. Millet, Hugh W. Nibley, Stephen E. Robinson, and Sidney B. Sperry on their shelves.

Of course, such activity has a greater impact than simply adding to a professor’s curriculum vita. Members of the Church and friends of other faiths have had questions answered and new vistas opened to them by this important aspect of their university assignment, helping us all to fulfill the Lord’s command, “Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118).

Additionally, involvement in scholarly activity helps faculty members to sharpen and clarify their thinking on the things that matter most. Finally, thoughtful gospel scholarship always infuses a sense of excitement in the classroom as teachers share with their students new insights and discoveries based on solid academic research and writing.

Focus on Teaching

Undoubtedly, Religious Education’s greatest and longest lasting contribution will be found in the lives of hundreds of thousands of students who sat in the classrooms across campus learning from faculty members.

Faculty members know by personal experience that teaching and learning take place in a variety of settings beyond official class time. This process also occurs just before and after a class ends, during a student consultation in the professor’s office in the Joseph Smith Building, in conversations via the telephone and through e-mails. Teaching the word is the heart and soul of Religious Education at BYU.


[1] Religious Educator 1 (2000): i.

[2] Religious Educator 3, no. 2 (2002): vi.

[3] Religious Educator 2, no. 1 (2001): vi.

[4] Religious Educator 2, no. 1 (2001): 1–14.

[5] Religious Educator 7, no. 1 (2006): 1–12.

[6] Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, “A Small Step Forward,” BYU Religious Education Review 1, no. 1 (2008): 3.

[7] Keith L. Smith, “An Historical Study of Adult Education Programs of the Brigham Young University from 1921 to 1966” (PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1968), 95–96.