Two American universities with no ties to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have plans to endow professorships in Mormon studies, making them the first secular schools to establish chairs in the academic study of Mormonism.
The programs, scholars say, could help push Mormonism and its academic study further into the mainstream.
Utah State University at Logan plans to launch the Leonard J. Arrington Chair in Mormon History and Culture in fall 2007, and the School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California plans a fall 2008 start for its Howard W. Hunter Chair for Mormon Studies.
Mormon studies, a field focused on comparative and analytical study rather than on encouraging belief, has been limited. “There is a lot of ignorance and superstition and fear of the Mormon religion, and so what is needed, really, is a serious understanding,” said Karen Torjesen, dean of Claremont’s School of Religion.