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U. of Virginia's Bushman honor gives Mormon studies another boost

Published October 15, 2012 12:46 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Interest in Mormon studies seems to be on the rise across America.

First came Utah State University, with its Leonard J. Arrington Chair in Mormon History and Culture. Next up was Claremont Graduate University, which has the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies. Meanwhile, the University of Utah offers a Mormon studies research fellowship, Utah Valley University includes the topic in its interdisciplinary religious studies program, and the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., offers a courses on Mormonism.

Now, University of Virginia is taking up the topic, too.

Last week, the school founded by Thomas Jefferson announced the creation of the Richard Lyman Bushman Chair of Mormon Studies.

Bushman, an emeritus history professor at Columbia University, is one of the most respected Mormon historians. He wrote a critically acclaimed biography of Mormon founder Joseph Smith — "Rough Stone Rolling" — and led Claremont's groundbreaking LDS studies programs for its first three years.

For Mormon scholars, the Virginia announcement is big news.

"Not only is UVA the first school outside regions that have large Mormon populations, its prestige as one of the top universities in the nation — and, specifically, one of the top religious studies programs in existence — further confirms the growth and establishment of Mormon studies as a discipline," Ben Park writes at Juvenile Instructor. "The importance of such an elite institution placing a stamp of approval on a still-developing subfield cannot be overstated."

The hunt will be on for a scholar to fill the position, so speculation is rampant among the small cadre of historians and writers in the field.

These are, Park writes, "fantastic times for the field of Mormon studies, indeed."

Peggy Fletcher Stack