Religion department’s new podcast has global reach

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This week Brad Wilcox interviewed professor Kerry Mulestein for an upcoming “Y Religion” episode. (Preston Crawley)

Last month BYU’s Religion Department released “Y Religion,” a new podcast featuring research produced by BYU religion professors. The podcast is reaching thousands of people around the globe.

So far three episodes are out and a new one will be released every two weeks. Episode topics range from dreams as revelation to women and the priesthood.

“Y Religion” is currently in the top 20% of podcasts according to The Podcast Host, with almost 1,500 downloads of the most recent episode after just a day and a half said executive producer Anthony Sweat. If episode three is downloaded more than 3,200 times before April 2, “Y Religion” will rise to the top 10% of podcasts, according to The Podcast Host’s rankings.

Sweat didn’t anticipate reaching an international audience when the podcast first came out because there had been no outreach to other countries. Within the first week of publishing the first episode, they had listeners in Mexico and France. “I had no idea how they heard of it,” Sweat said. “I love it, that there’s people everywhere listening.”

“Y Religion” is currently being downloaded by people in 43 different countries. (Emily Andersen)

The podcast features BYU religion faculty research from 2019 and will move into 2020 research as it is published. “We’re trying to take really good academic research and make it digestible for the average BYU student and the average saint,” Sweat said.

The first podcast was about John Hilton III’s study on the atoning crucifixion of Jesus Christ. “John Hilton’s article on the crucifixion is fascinating, just fascinating, and his article is really well done, and it might be read by a few hundred people,” Sweat said. “But when we put it in this podcast, it gets downloaded by a few thousand people really fast, and all over the world.

Shortly after the episode was released, a member of the Church in Denmark, Andreas Leit, emailed Hilton III, thanking him for his research. In the email, Leit explained how his Greek Orthodox extended family use crosses and crucifixes to express their faith. 

“I myself wore a cross for many years on a necklace and did not at all find this conflicting with my doctrinal understanding of the Atonement, the role of the Savior in my life and its symbolic meaning,” Leit said. “It reminded me of what he had done for me, and I loved the fact that others could see it and immediately associate my religious affiliation by it, namely that I’m a Christian.”

For Andreas Leit, wearing a cross symbolizes his belief in Jesus Christ. (Andreas Leit)

Leit explained that friends and church members sometimes questioned why he wore the necklace, and Hilton’s research meant a lot to him. “It made me feel like this part of me could also fit beautifully within the church, my testimony and our doctrine,” Leit said.

A few hundred publications are produced by the religion department each year, Sweat said, with the department currently comprised of 74 full-time faculty, one visiting faculty, 25 part-time faculty, and eight seminary and institute faculty. Hilton is currently on research leave and is working on a book on the crucifixion of Christ. He said that his research consists of studying what the scriptures, general conference talks and academic texts teach about crucifixion.

Sweat said the problem is that people aren’t aware of what religion professors are publishing. He said when he was first hired at BYU, people would ask him if religion professors even did research. “I thought a podcast would be a great way to bring all this research into one location and to package it in a way so that the average latter-day saint can access or grasp some of the main concepts of what religion professors are researching and writing and producing.” 

The goal of the podcast to enlighten minds and strengthen faith, Sweat said. “I want someone to listen to an episode and go, ‘Wow, I learned something that was really insightful, and that strengthened me in the gospel in some way,'” he said. Faith is grown in the mind and in the heart, and so research complements faith he said. “I want people to see how those are coming together.”

Sweat first pitched the idea for the podcast three years ago. The religion department approved the idea, and he put together a team of faculty and students together. Though Sweat and his team had no prior experience producing podcasts, they got to work creating pilot episodes. “Most of us aren’t experts in what we’re doing,” he said. “We are learning on the fly.”

The faculty assisting in production are Ryan Sharp, Casey Griffiths and Brad Wilcox. They read the research and conduct interviews with their colleagues for the podcast. Sweat said he wanted listeners to hear the religion department interviewing each other because professors can serve to link the research world to the average person. “I want people to see just all the cool things that the religion department is publishing and doing that could benefit the kingdom,” he said.

Sweat said he always wanted to include others in the creation of “Y Religion,” especially students. “I wanted students to have the experience of being involved,” he said. “I want them helping with the interviews, recording them, mixing them, doing the music for it, doing the marketing for it. I had a student design the logo for it. I had students submit their suggestions for the name of the podcast.”

BYU student Bridger Tower designed the graphic; Alastair Scheuermann, Sam Clawson, Grant Cagle, Collette Jones created the music; and Mitchell Bashford and Connor Miller do the mixing and recording.  

“Y Religion” can be streamed on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts and Stitcher.

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