Students and professors discuss whether BYU needs theology department

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BYU professors and students shared different opinions about the university’s lack of a theology department. While students felt such a department would be beneficial for their future careers and religious understanding, professors didn’t see a need and referenced other ways students can be engaged in theology. (Sydnee Gonzalez)

BYU professors and students shared different opinions about the university’s lack of a theology department.

BYU currently does not have a theology department or religious major for undergraduates but offers a religious education graduate program. Students interested in philosophy and religion liked the idea of a theology department.

While students felt such a department would be beneficial for their future careers and religious understanding, professors didn’t see a need and referenced other ways students can be engaged in theology.

Josh Johnson, a junior at BYU, said a theology department would help him in his goal to become a seminary teacher.

“Knowing there was a degree specifically to help me do that, I would take advantage of that,” he said.

Garrett Maxwell, another junior, said he created his own theology program by majoring in both Middle East studies and Arabic and comparative literature. He said a theology department would enable students to better process other religions.

“If we really think the Restoration is God’s call to the world, then we ought to invest in students with a predisposition to do theology and religious studies and get them into the larger world of scholarship and academic religious studies,” Maxwell said.

J. Spencer Fluhman, BYU history professor, said theology training is meant for members of a clergy. He said job opportunities for BYU theology majors would be few since leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not hired or trained.

While professors and students disagreed on the need for a theology department, they agreed on the importance of theological discussions on campus.

“I don’t know if I see a need yet for anything like a theology department,” ancient scripture professor Joseph Spencer said. “However, I would personally like to see more theology classes.”

Both Spencer and Fluhman apply their theological backgrounds when teaching classes in the religious education, history or philosophy departments.

“We still do theology all over the place, and should and must,” Spencer said. “There are lots of places on campus to engage in theological texts and theological reasoning.”

BYU campus offers other resources for students interested in theology. One is the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship where Fluhman is the executive director.

“There are professors all over campus who have little armies of researchers in theology, so that’s another way students can get involved,” Fluhman said.

Maxwell is one of the students involved with the institute. “I do research for the Maxwell Institute. The student body ought to be more engaged in that,” he said. He suggested students read books published by the institute to learn more about theology.

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