Introductory religion courses acquaint non-LDS students with the religious culture of BYU

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Joseph Smith’s statue is located in the Joseph Smith Building on campus where many religion classes are held. Joseph Smith was the first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but his name may be unfamiliar to those who are not LDS. (Kylie Swann)

BYU students who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to enroll in BYU’s religion courses geared specifically to those who may not be familiar with the Church.

According to Todd Hollingshead, Media Relations and Information Manager at BYU, about 98.5% of the student population identifies as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to these statistics, less than 2% of the BYU student population either identifies with a different religion or no religion at all.

All BYU students, regardless of religious denomination, are required to take 14 credit hours of religion over the course of their college career in order to graduate from BYU. For the majority of BYU students who are members of the Church, these course requirements are not unusual after years of participation in church services and seminary classes. However, for students who do not identify as members of the Church, the content and language of these religion classes can be unfamiliar.

Because of this, BYU offers a number of introductory religion courses for students who come to BYU without an understanding of the Church’s theology.

According to University Chaplain James Slaughter, BYUSA’s Student Advisory Council proposed the creation of non-LDS religion classes several times before the classes were approved by the President’s Council and were implemented just before the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. These classes build upon the Religion 100 course and offer non-LDS-specific sections for required religion courses such as Book of Mormon and Foundations of the Restoration.

Professor Lloyd Newell has taught Religion 100: Introduction to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for about 10 years. The purpose of Religion 100, Newell said, is to be a preliminary first step to expose students to who and what BYU is all about.

“It’s meant to cover the history and the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Newell said.

Newell explained the curriculum as fairly basic and introductory because most of the students are unfamiliar with the Church.

In addition to the factual aspect of Church education, Newell gives students the opportunity to experience the culture and community of the religion. As part of the coursework, Newell has his students attend a church meeting and attend BYU’s Tuesday morning devotional as well as watch a session of General Conference.

Newell expressed many of his students come from all over the world, and said some of the reasons non-LDS students decide to study at BYU include its well-known positive reputation, specific programs they have an interest in, the safe campus and scholarship opportunities. 

Emilie Mikkelsen, a 22-year-old BYU junior from Denmark studying marketing, is one such student. 

Mikkelsen came to BYU through a scholarship established in her hometown. As a non-LDS BYU student, she said the new religion courses have been helpful in explaining terms that may be unfamiliar to those outside of the Church.

“The vocabulary just within the Church is so big,” Mikkelsen said. “There were so many words that I didn’t even know … when I first got here.”

Mikkelsen said although she is in the minority, she has always felt welcomed by the BYU community. She expressed love and appreciation for BYU and Utah, but said her favorite part of her BYU experience has been the relationships she has formed.

“Most of all it’s been the people that have been the best part,” Mikkelsen said.

Newell emphasized the courses are not intended to preach or proselyte to students, but rather to simply teach the doctrine of the Church. He appreciates the meaningful relationships that form within the non-LDS student classes as they are introduced to the Church and grow accustomed to BYU culture.

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