Friday, November 03, 2006

What to do with BYU Religion

On analogy with a recent post by Clark Goble on M*, and in the spirit of Sweeps, I want to bring up an honest question, without being sarcastic, demeaning, or combative:

What is the purpose of Religious Education at BYU? I realize that they define it on their home page, but I specifically want to take a more functional look. Does having a faculty concerned with "preserving the doctrine" fill a role fundamentally different from that of the LDS Institutes? If so, what is that role? If not, why is Religious Ed housed at BYU and not in an adjacent institute? Is it only so that the University can require participation of its students in such a system? Although it seems that I can only seem to write about BYU and BYU religion, I'm really less interested in BYU RelEd and more interested in its role in the wider Church.

What say ye?

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

You got it right in your last question. There are of course historical reasons for having religious education on campus, but practical reasons as well. Religious Education (RE) has the largest faculty on campus, but because it has to teach so many classes for all students to fulfill the mandatory religion requirement, they also must use many transfer faculty from other depts to cover classes. This is very cost effective. If RE were simply an off-campus institute of religion, a separate entity, it would require a much larger permanent staff. Not so cost effective. But more important than cost, religious instruction is an established part of the core curriculum at all LDS schools (cf. BYU-I and BYU-H). Academic demands can be placed on students in RE classes, which are for credit of course, that could not be placed on them in non-academic institute classes. Learning religion curriculum is highly incentivized at BYU because it involves graded credits; no so at an institute. Remove this incentive, and how could BYU even mandate institute attendance and make it stick? Besides, on other campuses, institute is as much a place to network socially with other LDS students as a place of gospel instruction. That's why many attend. At least, that's been my experience. No need for this at church schools.

As for RE's place in the wider church, I really don't that so much. It exists 95% to fill a campus need. But it's influence is perhaps becoming more broad through some newer vehicles, esp. BYU TV (our religion guys are on there all the time, it seems) and the Religious Educator, a periodical issuing from RE's Religious Studies Center and distributed to all CES employees. They write some for church periodicals too, of course. I don't think most popular books published by faculty are much read, but there are occasional exceptions. I don't personally know any religion faculty who see themselves as having a mission to the whole church, though they naturally hope their popular writing makes some small difference.

Anonymous said...

You got it right in your last question. There are of course historical reasons for having religious education on campus, but practical reasons as well. Religious Education (RE) has the largest faculty on campus, but because it has to teach so many classes for all students to fulfill the mandatory religion requirement, they also must use many transfer faculty from other depts to cover classes. This is very cost effective. If RE were simply an off-campus institute of religion, a separate entity, it would require a much larger permanent staff. Not so cost effective. But more important than cost, religious instruction is an established part of the core curriculum at all LDS schools (cf. BYU-I and BYU-H). Academic demands can be placed on students in RE classes, which are for credit of course, that could not be placed on them in non-academic institute classes. Learning religion curriculum is highly incentivized at BYU because it involves graded credits; no so at an institute. Remove this incentive, and how could BYU even mandate institute attendance and make it stick? Besides, on other campuses, institute is as much a place to network socially with other LDS students as a place of gospel instruction. That's why many attend. At least, that's been my experience. No need for this at church schools.

As for RE's place in the wider church, I really don't that so much. It exists 95% to fill a campus need. But it's influence is perhaps becoming more broad through some newer vehicles, esp. BYU TV (our religion guys are on there all the time, it seems) and the Religious Educator, a periodical issuing from RE's Religious Studies Center and distributed to all CES employees. They write some for church periodicals too, of course. I don't think most popular books published by faculty are much read, but there are occasional exceptions. I don't personally know any religion faculty who see themselves as having a mission to the whole church, though they naturally hope their popular writing makes some small difference.

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