Students present religious research for 15th annual symposium

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Students who wish they could spend their Sunday School classes digging deep into the history and principles of the Church felt right at home at the 15th annual Religious Education Student Symposium.

The symposium was organized in 1999 in response to a comment from President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor of the Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to Patty Smith of the Religious Education department, President Eyring said that students needed a symposium experience before they graduated.

Trevor Wright won top honors for his research about religious excitement among Joseph Smith’s teenage peers.

Top honors at this year’s event went to Trevor Wright, who researched the context of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. He added to the conventional understanding of the religious excitement in New York at the time.

“What many people don’t understand is that this was largely a youth movement,” Wright said. On the slide behind him he had written a succinct explanation.

“Many newspapers, magazines and tracts specifically targeted youth and were filled with dramatic accounts of conversion narratives, urging youth to seek God on their own.”

Wright’s scholarship provides helpful information about the context of Joseph Smith’s first vision.

Students in the College of Religious Education and the History and Ancient Near Eastern Studies departments participate more than other colleges and departments, but students from all disciplines are welcome.

About 200 people attended, and 32 students presented research. Students were free to submit research on whatever topic they desired, so long as it was related to the LDS Church. This year included presentations such as “Spiritual Stones: Instruments of Seership” and “The Role of Wealth in the Kingdom.”

J.B. Haws, assistant professor of Church history, helped plan and publicize this year’s symposium.

Stephen O. Smoot giving his presentation entitled “Council, Chaos and Creation in the Book of Abraham.”

He believes that presenting in an academic symposium is a good experience for students and said that such experience helps graduate school applications stand out. He pointed out that there are more direct benefits, too.

“A lot of organizations are anxious to reward students (for religious research),” said Haws.

Fourteen students won cash awards, the majority of which were for $250.  Wright won $1,200. Each of the winning students received offers to publish with organizations like the Maxwell Institute or the Mormon History Association.

“We want students to know about this symposium and to take advantage of this opportunity,” Haws said. “We want to continue putting students’ best thinking about religion on display.”

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