Viewpoint: Behind the scenes


    I was very disappointed with the content and tone of your article entitled, “UVSC religious studies major doesn’t phase Y.” First, one might wonder why your article takes such a defensive stance. The title itself is obviously defensive, invoking a metaphor often used in describing athletic competition. That is, it seems to assume that the purpose of the UVSC Religious Studies program is to rival (and trump) BYU’s very important, but very different, religious education program. Of course, that is not the purpose of the Religious Studies Program at UVSC. The purpose of the Religious Studies Emphasis is provide students in Utah with the opportunity to pursue an academic study of religion. The purpose of the Religion Department at BYU is stated very clearly on the department’s web page:

    Religious Education at Brigham Young University builds the Kingdom of God by teaching and preserving doctrine and history of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We spread the light of the Restoration through classroom instruction, gospel scholarship, and outreach to the larger community. …. Religious Education provides instruction that is doctrinally sound, spiritually inspiring, and intellectually stimulating. We use teaching methods that are loyal to the Restoration and that engage the students, build faith, and strengthen testimony.

    Clearly the purpose of the BYU Religion Department is not primarily academic. Instead, its purpose is primarily spiritual, devotional, and inspirational. Anyone who had done the requisite research for a respectable article on UVSC’s Religious Studies Program would immediately see that its purposes are not devotional or spiritual. It is supposed to be a rigorous academic program along the lines of those at non-denominational universities such as Florida State University So, the defensive attitude of the article seems entirely misplaced. It seems to us that there are important reasons for both types of study of religion. Those faithful to a certain religious tradition certainly need devotional and spiritual religious instruction. My first-hand experience tells me that BYU’s Religion Department does a wonderful job at accomplishing this task. But others who are interested in understanding religion from an academic standpoint need something different. This is what UVSC wants to provide.

    Since you seem to misunderstand the difference between an academic and a devotional study of religion, you also make the error of thinking that UVSC’s program is supposed to give an edge to students who pursue a career in the CES. This is wrong, of course. In fact, the Religious Studies Program has nothing to do with the LDS Church Educational System, and is not geared in any way to help students who pursue that line of work. Again, the CES provides one with a devotional/spiritual education. The Religious Studies program, like any other academic discipline, is for students with an academic interest in religion. We hope that some of our students will go on to pursue graduate degrees in Religious Studies at prestigious universities. Although we have a friendly relationship with the UVSC LDS Institute and keep them informed about what we are doing, they are well aware of our academic purposes and are not mislead into thinking that Religious Studies is supposed to be an alternative route for a CES career.

    Furthermore, you state “Not all BYU students feel UVSC’s program could benefit them.” And then you go on to give one example. It would truly be astonishing if you couldn’t find at least one BYU student who would not be benefited by a UVSC degree. After all, for any program of study at BYU, there is at least one student (if not thousands) who will not benefit from it. So, your claim is vacuous. Why make it? It is clearly an attempt to disparage UVSC’s program. Such a claim is in the spirit of the competition that you apparently see between the two schools. But the competition doesn’t exist. And your claim is so trivial that it does not merit mentioning.

    Dennis Potter

    Program Coordinator for Religious Studies

    The Center for the Study of Ethics

    Utah Valley State College

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