BYU Religious Education Dean Brent Top discusses new curriculum

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BYU Religious Education Dean Brent Top answered questions from The Universe on Monday, Nov. 3, about changes in the religious education curriculum. The complete interview follows.

How will these changes be incorporated at BYU?

Starting in the Fall Semester 2015, there will be four new cornerstone courses offered  —Foundations of the Restoration, Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel, Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon and The Eternal Family — to fulfill the eight-credit cornerstone requirement in Religious Education.

These new courses will be offered to all students. All current BYU students will be under the present requirements. Incoming freshmen beginning Fall Semester 2015 will need to choose the new courses to complete their cornerstone requirements. Further details will be forthcoming as they are approved by the university.

We aren’t taking anything away; we are adding flexibility. We trust that students can make the best class choices to meet their needs.

What is the desired outcome or benefit for students?

Several years ago, Elder David A. Bednar gave a CES Fireside address called “A Reservoir of Living Water.”

In that address he talked about the different ways we can study the scriptures. They are all important and valuable, some at different times in our lives.

The first is sequential; the second is to look at the doctrines and concepts taught in the scriptures.

Then the third, perhaps the deepest level, is to see the relationships and connections throughout all of the standard works.

This was an intriguing concept to us at BYU. We are not abandoning scripture classes. Our hope is that these new courses will cultivate even greater skills of serious scripture study.

What adjustments will faculty need to make, if any?

We certainly have the right faculty members to develop and teach these courses.

These changes will give us the opportunity to focus more on helping students develop skills of scriptural study that have been more implicit than in the past.

How have religion faculty been involved in the process of change thus far and how will they continue in the process of creating new curriculum?

In Religious Education we’ve been talking for five years or more on how we can better meet the needs of students. We’ve discussed many ideas, talked about how to incorporate new ideas into classes and ways to strengthen and improve our teaching.

With the change in missionary age and increased expectations in the Seminary program, we realized that our students would come to BYU and religion classes with a stronger foundation in the scriptures.

Based on our discussions and research, we developed and have been offering three experimental classes: Foundations of the Restoration, Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel, Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon. As part of our ongoing interaction with Seminaries and Institutes, we shared what we learned from teaching those classes and the students’ experience. Those experiments are the basis of three of the four classes now being developed.

Our faculty members are in the process of course development for this new curriculum, which will be approved through established university processes. The faculty have in-depth training on these very topics and will use their experience in building and teaching these courses.

There are reports of some who may not agree with the changes. How would you respond to these outspoken opinions? Do they represent others on the current faculty?

We are pleased with the open discussion that is taking place on this important initiative. Our whole intent is to increase and improve gospel scholarship. We anticipate that these new required courses will promote deep scripture study. In some ways, they may lend to more in-depth scripture study than in the broad survey-type courses of the past. We will continue to offer traditional classes focusing on the sequential study of the scriptures. One of the purposes for this new curriculum is to provide greater opportunity and flexibility for students. We believe this will be a great blessing to them.

 

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