BYU law professor teaches as Scholar in Residence at USC

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John W. “Jack” Welch (left) shakes hands with Larry Eastland, chairman and president of the Widtsoe Foundation, and Edina Lekovic, former public policy director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, at a two-day conference at USC. (Jan Hemming)

BYU law professor John W. “Jack” Welch is known for his contributions to Mormon scholarship and is seen as an influential scholar and professor by many of his colleagues.

Welch was named Distinguished Scholar in Residence at University of Southern California by USC’s Office of Religious Life and the John A. Widtsoe Foundation. Welch started teaching Spring Semester 2017.

Welch directs research and guest lectures as the Scholar in Residence at USC and the Widstoe Foundation. He will speak at LDS firesides and community gatherings in southern California.

Welch said he sees this honor as a great opportunity for interfaith dialogue and rigorous discussions with people from different religions.

“Having grown up in southern California and then having practiced law in downtown Los Angeles, I grew up knowing quite a bit about the University of Southern California, the Trojans, the USC Tax Institute and an awesome place that university is,” Welch said. “So my first thought on being offered the opportunity of having a passport to work, study and teach there was only to hope that I could do the quality of work that I knew their high standards all is expected.”

Welch said he has already organized a two-day conference on temple studies, which focuses on the importance of sacred temples, sanctuaries, synagogues and holy spaces in the traditions of various religions. Welch said he will be going back and forth between Los Angeles and Provo through April.

“I will be attending lectures and seminars at USC, and I will be a guest lecturer or team teacher there in courses involving the study of the cultural world of the Hebrew Bible, world religions, the variety of Christianities and iconography in Renaissance art,” Welch said.

Welch said USC undergraduate students were interested in Mormons and LDS missionaries after a class he taught.

“One professor, who is a Hindu, was eager to have me teach the unit in his world religion class on the history of Christianity, so we hope to give the students in that large class an unusually dynamic view of Christianity, seen through the eyes of a Hindu and a Mormon,” Welch said.

BYU ancient near eastern studies student Jessica Smith said Welch is an excellent instructor who helps students engage in discussion.

“Not only does he help you to learn, he also creates a class discussion space where students can feel respected while sharing their real opinions on readings, topics and engaging in dialogue with each other,” Smith said.

Smith believes USC students can benefit from Professor Welch’s knowledge.

“They’ll have an opportunity to be expertly guided in analysis of that information to uncover the world behind the Bible,” Smith said.

Welch has degrees in history, classical Greek and Latin languages and law from BYU and Duke University School of Law.

Daniel Peterson, a BYU professor of Islamic studies and Arabic, believes Welch has been one of the most influential and productive scholars in Mormon studies.

“Jack is a good friend, and he is someone I admired for years,” Peterson said. “He knows how to organize, study and research and makes good use of his time.”

John W. “Jack” Welch is a law professor at J. Reuben Clark Law School. (Jan Hemming)

Peterson said he is astonished by Welch’s energy and involvement in everything. Peterson compared Welch to former BYU professor Hugh Nibley and said both scholars have very similar experiences with ancient scriptures and knowledge in many languages.

“No single person is going to replace Hugh Nibley, but Jack comes as close to it as anybody,” Peterson said.

Hugh Nibley was known for his contribution to Book of Mormon scholarship.

“Hugh Nibley was an independent operator but Jack has formed institutions and has organized projects, so he has really helped Hugh Nibley’s style of scholarship to live on and grow,” Peterson said.

Welch said he is motivated by his good parents, excellent teachers and colleagues who helped him learn valuable things to contribute to academic scholarship.

“I believe that I have been taught these things for more than my personal amusement or idle curiosity, and so I love to teach, to share and to watch lights go on in the eyes of students when the aha moment hits and they get it,” Welch said. “In a sense, I am driven by a dimension of duty that comes by seeing gifts as a stewardship.”

BYU alumna Ruth Schmidt earned a doctorate in law in 1984 and took a class from Welch while she was at the J. Reuben Clark Law School. Schmidt said she remembers Welch as unassuming, kind and patient. She said he is always happy to see his students get excited about learning something new.

“Professor Welch made the material interesting and easy to comprehend,” Schmidt said. “He showed students how to methodically break down complex concepts to arrive at logical and reasoned legal conclusions.”