University Announces Endowed Chair in Mormon Studies
“This announcement is a formal response to the emerging interest in Mormon studies from multiple disciplines, including American history, philosophy, sociology, and literature.” —Richard Lyman Bushman, Church member and author of Rough Stone Rolling
The University of Virginia is renowned for its rich history (it was conceived by Thomas Jefferson) and a lofty level of academia that places the school among the top public universities in the United States.
Now the university, located in Charlottesville, Virginia, has secured a prominent spot in Latter-day Saint history. The university recently announced a new endowed chair in Mormon studies, making it the first university in the eastern United States to have such a position. The chair will be named for Richard Lyman Bushman, a Church member and respected historian who authored the Joseph Smith biography Rough Stone Rolling.
In a statement released by the school, Brother Bushman expressed his enthusiasm for the chair and the university’s interest in Mormon studies.
“This announcement is a formal response to the emerging interest in Mormon studies from multiple disciplines, including American history, philosophy, sociology, and literature,” he said. “UV’s commitment underscores the value of studying this tenacious American-born religious movement and its now global impact.”
The school noted Brother Bushman’s past service as the Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor of Mormon Studies at California’s Claremont Graduate University, the first graduate program of its kind.
“When I accepted the position at Claremont, I knew we were experiencing a fundamental shift in the academic community’s interest in the Mormon experience and perspective. That interest has grown exponentially, especially among those not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Now we will have a center for study here in the East, where the Mormon movement had its genesis.”
The chair will be supported by a $3 million endowment from anonymous donors and be attached to the school’s religious studies department. The department is the largest of its kind among American public universities and is highly respected, according to the university. It offers study in the five major world religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism.
The occupant of the UV Mormon studies chair has yet to be selected.
In a statement issued by the university, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, a professor and chairwoman of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, spoke of the rising academic curiosity about the Mormon experience.
“Over the years, interest has only increased,” said Professor Maffly-Kipp in the press release. “Graduate students also have become intrigued and are doing serious research—working comparatively and weaving a wider, more interrelated intellectual tapestry.”