BYU Student Symposium, art and the written word express religious ideas

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The BYU Religious Education Student Symposium, held Feb. 17, focused on religious perspective and expression of students through academic papers and, for the first time this year, art. 

For over 20 years, the annual student symposium has been a place for students to present research papers on a variety of gospel subjects. In a new development this year, however, the Visual Learning Art Exhibit, where BYU students enter art created in their religion classes, was a part of the event. 

Friday morning students presented their papers and artwork. Throughout the three hour presentation block, students, professors, friends and family visited the displays.

Mark Ellison, a BYU religious education professor and member of the art exhibit committee, commented on the combining of the symposium and exhibit, describing how it was a “natural fit.”  

He said art, like writing, is a very intellectual process, “but it also is tapping on other deeply rooted human instincts, like aesthetic expression and creativity.”

BYU student Madison Tenney was inspired by her Women in the Scriptures class and created a number of ceramic vessels that each represent a priestess or prophetess in scripture. Her piece reflected the religious experiences of women in scripture, but Tenney explained how it also told a part of her personal story. 

Each ceramic vessel contains a personal seal made up of a rainbow and a sun, which Tenney said “represents my faith and my queerness and how as (the woman represented in the vessels) held their identity, I’ve had to hold mine.”

Beverly Yellowhorse, full-time symposium committee member, described the symposium as an opportunity for students to strengthen testimony, deepen understanding and share something that will bless “you in your classes and your life.”

A number of religious studies leaders from organizations such as BYU Studies, the Maxwell Institute, the Mormon History Association and Scripture Central, were present.

John Thompson, a representative from Scripture Central, spoke to the students involved in the symposium and exhibit and encouraged them to continue on from this experience and “keep your Latter-day Saint voice … you can use that to help the world discover greater truths.” 

Many past participants in the symposium have gone on to become involved in these types of organizations or even become members of the BYU religious education faculty, according to the symposium committee. 

A variety of topics, ranging from grace to memory to philosophy, and a variety of art modalities were captured in the lens of religion for this event.

One of the symposium presenters, Natalie Brower, a BYU human development major, wrote about receiving personal revelation using an equation involving light, faith and truth. She said what began as a meaningful idea led to this paper she wrote for a class assignment. Brower submitted it for the symposium and although she was not expecting her paper to be chosen, she said she enjoyed the opportunity to share her work with others.

Another example was a self-portrait made by BYU freshman Rachel Lopez entitled “Phantasmagoria.” The “dream-like” and “disconnected state” portrayed in this piece represents, according to Lopez, how “we don’t really feel like a whole self until we have Christ to come in and … fill in our spaces …  and stick us together.”

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