The 23rd annual BYU Religious Education Student Symposium will be streamed on YouTube Feb. 19 to comply with COVID-19 restrictions.
BYU students write research papers related to any gospel topic to submit to the symposium. Committee members then choose the best papers to present and potentially win cash prizes.
Student presentations normally take place at a formal event in the Wilkinson Student Center. This year students have already pre-recorded their presentations, which will be streamed on the religious education YouTube channel at 9 a.m. that day.
BYU religion professor Daniel Becerra presented in the symposium as a student and recently served on the symposium committee. He assisted in reviewing proposals, deciding which papers to publish and voting on who received cash awards.
Becerra said the symposium is an important opportunity for students to apply their academic skills and interests to explore religious topics.
“I think it’s important because it allows them to stretch their wings. It allows them to talk about things that they’re passionate about and study more deeply than perhaps they’re used to at home and in church,” he said.
Students choose a topic they find interesting and apply it to the gospel in a paper. Topics range from how the gospel helps with eating disorders to the history of Atonement prints, symposium committee chair Brad Farnsworth said.
The committee spends Christmas break blindly reading all student papers, Farnsworth said. It then places each submission in a ranking system, and the top papers’ authors are asked to present at the symposium. This year there were 67 submissions total.
“I actually scan every one of the 67,” Farnsworth said. “I look at the purpose of it, I look at the summary, and then I scan the paper. Some of them look so good I go ahead and read them. I end up reading probably 15 or 20.”
Farnsworth said only 23 students will present this year to keep the YouTube stream short. “It’s like anything else we do in COVID times,” he said. “It’s an adventure.”
Jackson Abhau, a senior studying ancient Near Eastern studies, submitted a 15-page report on the word repentance last year. He had written the paper for his job as a research assistant for a BYU professor. When he didn’t need to publish the paper for his job, he submitted it to the symposium instead.
Abhau also presented at the live symposium last year. “It was really cool to work with the professors and get their feedback,” he said.
Students like Abhau impress committee members every year with what Becerra called “thoughtful discipleship” in their papers.
“I’ve just been continually surprised and pleased at how thoughtful and insightful and intelligent students are,” Becerra said.