J. Spencer Fluhman was appointed the new executive director of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. The Maxwell Institute is a research unit on campus that functions to support academic work on religious topics.
Fluhman’s goals as the new executive director include cultivating a rich intellectual and spiritual community, where each can benefit from the other’s perspective.
“I foresee the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at BYU ultimately as a hub for LDS intellectual life, where we can provide support for the exciting research in all sorts of areas,” Fluhman said.
Fluhman was interested in applying for the executive director position partly because of Neal A. Maxwell’s name.
“He set such an incredible example of faith and commitment and engagement with the broader world,” Fluhman said. “He was so well read and loved the world of ideas and words, and so do I.”
As executive director of the Maxwell Institute, Fluhman oversees the work of all the Institute’s programs and initiatives, including the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts, translation of Islamic texts and a publication program. Fluhman also helps make partnerships for the Institute with other institutions and scholars, as well as make sure the Institute is integrated well on campus.
“Part of the Institute’s work is to better understand and better explain and better contextualize the Latter-day Saint experience,” Fluhman said. “But the other side of that is to involve scholars and Latter-day Saints studying other traditions, as well.”
Because of this scholarly work, Fluhman said bridges are being built outside the LDS community to members of other faiths.
The hallmark of Fluhman’s career is experiencing that great exchange between his own experiences as a person of faith and this broader world of ideas, research and inquiry.
Prior to his appointment, Fluhman was an associate professor of history at BYU, where he taught American religious history, LDS history and U.S. history. He started his career at BYU teaching courses on Doctrine and Covenants and LDS history.
Also prior to his appointment, Fluhman worked as an editor for one of the Institute’s academic journals, the Mormon Studies Review. He had been actively engaged in the Institute’s work and was able to meet a lot of the people he works with now.
Fluhman served as a visiting professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University, teaching courses in American religious liberalism and on LDS history. Fluhman said teaching LDS history to a majority of non-LDS students was absolutely fascinating. He saw it as an opportunity to better contextualize the LDS experience, to have the LDS experience better understood by others and to enrich his own understanding of his religious past.
“Latter-day Saints don’t exist in a vacuum, and so I’m fascinated in making those connections between the LDS experience and other religious traditions and experiences,” Fluhman said.
Fluhman was raised as a Latter-day Saint and attended BYU as an undergraduate, majoring in near eastern studies and minoring in history. Upon graduation, Fluhman attended the University of Wisconsin for graduate school, where he studied American history and American religion.