By EMILY CANNON
Some BYU students are studying other religions to increase their testimonies.
People might be concerned when a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints intensively examines different religions, but students of The Gospel and World Religions class at BYU find their personal beliefs are strengthened and viewpoints expand from such study.
Amber Allen, 20, a senior from Denver, Colo., majoring in social work, said she enrolled in the class because she was interested in becoming aware of world religions, even beyond those covered in the class. She has found such learning to be helpful in talking about religion with a friend of a different faith.
“Studying all of these religions helps me to understand where she is coming from,” Allen said.
Roger R. Keller, BYU’s Richard L. Evans professor of religious understanding, is one of several professors that teach the class.
“I think the broadest reaction is ‘wow, I wish I knew this before I went on my mission,'” Keller said. “I think that students realize that they are citizens of the world and really want to know what other people believe.”
Chantelle Komm, 22, a senior from Vancouver, Canada, majoring in music, said she thinks the class should be a BYU General Education requirement.
“It is important to understand other people’s religions, especially when we are trying to share our beliefs,” Komm said. “This knowledge helps us build bridges with others as we work to build up the kingdom.”
Keller’s class syllabus specifically defines the purpose of the class.
“The purpose of this course, as with all religion courses, is to help students love the Lord more fully,” it says. “The vehicle will be the study of the religions of the world. As the world shrinks and the missionary effort grows, we cannot close out eyes to the beliefs of our neighbors.”
In the course of the semester, students study 11 major religions, such as Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Taoism. Professors bring in LDS perspectives when they correspond to other religions.
One of Keller’s recent lectures focused on Hinduism. The Hindu doctrine of karma is a belief that this life is a chain of other lives and each is a result of a man’s actions in previous lives, according to the text for the class “Religions of the World.”
Keller asked students if Latter-day Saints believe in the doctrine of karma. They concluded that Latter-day Saints do, referring to consequences from a pre-mortal existence. The LDS Church believes that spirits are eternal and that those who were more valiant in the pre-mortal life are living in the latter days, Keller said.
“Everyone who is on this earth and has been on this earth was valiant, otherwise they would not be here,” Keller said.
Keller reminded students that Latter-day Saints do not believe in the doctrine of karma as fully as Hindus do.
Individuals practice the religion that they believe so that they can grow; whether they are a Mormon, Muslim or Buddhist, Keller said.
“Being LDS does not mean that we are better than any other person,” Keller said.
“It simply means that we have a unique vocation. We have a responsibility to share the gospel with everyone we meet.”
The Gospel and World Religions is the only three-credit class offered by Religious Education. Since it is an upper-level elective class, many students may only hear about it through the recommendations of peers or if they are pursuing a degree in International Studies.