The BYU Religious Education website’s FAQ section says students will be “stretched and strengthened both intellectually and spiritually” and “challenged to learn new truths” throughout their religious coursework while partaking in an enjoyable and uplifting experience.
Indeed, some students feel BYU’s required 14 credit hours of religious education both “challenge” and “stretch” them, as the courses can be difficult.
According to Dana Pike, associate dean of religious education at BYU, keeping the right level of difficulty in religion courses is a top consideration.
“We encourage our faculty to find the balance between being rigorous without being unreasonably hard,” Pike said. “Likewise, we do not want any courses that are overly easy.”
Some feel religion courses at BYU should be graded on a pass-or-fail basis. According to Pike, the BYU Board of Trustees and Administration shut down a debate several years ago about formatting religion classes with a pass-or-fail model. Pike said he believes human nature would dictate a less intense and focused approach to classwork if a course were graded by pass or fail.
The criteria of BYU religious education is based on an expectation to align with the rest of the university’s academic standards.
“Courses in religion at BYU are expected to be credible, rigorous, university-level experiences in learning, with assignments, examinations and grading as important elements of that experience,” the religious education website FAQ section reads.
Because religion classes are graded, Pike said, the university has high expectations for both professors and students.
Some students said they feel there is a discrepancy in difficulty from teacher to teacher when it comes to religion classes. Kyle Angelos, a junior from Ohio studying finance, said he feels the department of religion needs to more effectively standardize courses.
“Some teachers just want you to feel the Spirit, so you get an A as long as class runs smooth; other teachers want you to memorize dates, place, scriptures and other things,” Angelos said. “I could put in way more work than the other kid but have a different teacher, and he will come out with the better grade.”
BYU’s religion department is home to almost 100 professors with expertise in topics ranging from ancient scriptures to pioneer heritage to marital relationships. Associate dean of Faculty Development Kelly Patterson said it is difficult to ensure consistency across such a broad range of professors and courses.
“It is never easy to incorporate so many faculty and teaching styles into a series of courses and expect that the workload will be constant between them,” he said. “It is a real challenge that I know the College of Religion takes seriously.”
Pike said most faculty members fall within the broad perimeters set up by the department. Those who do not are addressed by department chair members to alter their curriculum to meet the standards of the religion department.
However, he said each individual faculty member brings a unique set of experiences, different training background and personality to their teaching.
“I do not expect that faculty in religious education, or any other college on campus, will ever teach the same course exactly the same way with exactly the same requirements and expectations,” Pike said.
Junior entrepreneurship major Jason Wade said he would like to see a system that mirrors the Church’s format. He said the gospel focuses on simple eternal truths, not on small facts.
Wade believes if religion classes were optional, they would be more student centric, inviting an engaging and uplifting spirit.
“To me it’s simple: religion classes at BYU should be optional,” Wade said. “The gospel invites us to participate; it is not mandatory.”
For now and the foreseeable future, religion courses will remain an often challenging, but integral, part of BYU’s curriculum.
“My personal opinion is that there is truth to the old saying that where much is expected, much, or at least more, is given,” Pike said.