Religious Education for the Modern World

Religious Education for the Modern World November 3, 2014

The situation regarding the new CES/Religious Education curriculum at BYU has got me thinking about the purpose of religious education at BYU (and throughout CES generally). The instructors and professors have the difficult task of ensuring that students acquire an understanding of Mormonism in a context of faith. One place where I think the current approach falls short is in preparing LDS students to think about (and live) our faith in a broader context. Students ought to understand what it means to be Mormon in a global intellectual and cultural world. This got me thinking, if I were to redo the curriculum for Religious Education (and perhaps CES), how would I take this into account? In that light, I put forth the following.

The current Summary Statement of Student Learning Outcomes for RelEd states:

A BYU education should be spiritually strengthening, intellectually enlarging and character building, leading to lifelong learning and service. As part of obtaining a BYU education students who successfully complete the required Doctrinal Foundation core in Religious Education will be able to demonstrate that they have acquired an understanding of LDS scripture, doctrine and history through the process of rigorous study and personal faith (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118).

Inherent in the process of learning by study and by faith is the responsibility each student assumes for their part in the learning process. Therefore, students who apply themselves will be able to demonstrate competence in the following areas:

  • The ability to demonstrate an understanding of the foundational or factual information essential for a basic understanding of LDS scripture, doctrine, and history.
  • The ability to comprehend, analyze, and interpret LDS scripture, doctrine, and history.
  • The ability to use foundational knowledge and conceptual understanding of LDS scripture, doctrine, and history to problem solve.
  • The ability to receive the Holy Ghost as an aid in studying and pondering LDS scripture, doctrine, and history.

My revised Summary Statement of Student Learning Outcomes would read as follows:

A BYU education should be spiritually strengthening, intellectually enlarging and character building; leading to lifelong learning and service. As part of obtaining a BYU education, students who successfully complete the required core in Religious Education will be able to demonstrate that they have acquired an understanding of LDS religiosity through processes of rigorous study and personal faith (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118).

Students who actively participate in these processes will be able to demonstrate competence in the following areas:

1)    The ability to demonstrate a basic factual understanding of religion, LDS scripture, and history.

2)    The ability to thoughtfully comprehend, analyze, and interpret scripture, history, and other aspects of LDS and non-LDS religion.

3)    The ability to accurately represent (critically and empathetically) the point of view of someone whose convictions are different from one’s own.

4)    The ability to conceptualize the application of scripture, history, and religion to one’s personal life and the broader world.

In facilitating these outcomes, I would replace the current curriculum (and the new Cornerstone Curriculum) with a curriculum I would call By Study and also by Faith.

Similar to the current curriculum and the Cornerstone Curriculum, By Study and also by Faith has four two-credit hour requirements, and three electives. The four requirements come from four areas, where students would be required to take one class from each area (alternatively, these areas could each become one class, with the exception of the first where the BoM or NT could become the one class):

Area One: Scripture. The purpose of this area is to assist students in learning how to read and understand scripture as inspired text. Students who take these courses should gain a basic factual understanding of the contents and contexts of scripture. They should also learn elements of close reading and personal application. This area emphasizes outcomes 1, 2, and 4.

Courses in this area might include the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, etc.

Area Two: Church History. The purpose of this area is to assist students in gaining a basic understanding of LDS church history. The focus of student learning is not simply on factual content, but also on processes of discovering meaning in history and critically engaging these meaning-making processes. This area emphasizes outcomes 1, 2, and 4.

Courses in this area might include courses on church history from 1805-1845, 1846-1899, 1900 to the present, etc.

Area Three: Religions of the World. The purpose of this area is to provide students with a broader context to conceptualize LDS religiosity. As Max Muller famously said, “He who knows one [religion], knows none.” This area emphasizes outcomes 1, 2, and 3.

Courses in this area might include a survey of religions other than Christianity, a course on Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc.

Religion and the Public Sphere. The purpose of this area is to assist students in understanding how religion is conceptualized in a pluralistic society such as the United States. It focuses on how religion can inform our public identity as citizens of countries where Mormonism is but one of many faiths. This area emphasizes outcomes 3 and 4.

Courses in this area might include religion and the American public life, introduction to religious studies, Supreme Court rulings on religion, etc.

Courses that do not fit into any of these areas could be grouped into a fifth area called Additional Electives, and students could choose from these courses as a part of their six elective hours.

In my opinion, By Study and also by Faith strikes a better balance between scholastic and devotional approaches to Mormonism and better prepares LDS students to make sense of their faith in the contemporary world.

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