A commenter on another post said “To think that a couple years ago I envisioned myself wanting to work in the BYU Religious Department. For some reason however, I see myself more and more hoping to never do so. Hopefully smb is right and this will pass with the next generation.” I’m not picking on him, it’s a common enough sentiment, but he reminded me of this.
BYU Religion hires from two tracks- CES and the academic track, ie. people who get PhD’s in Bible and Religion and so on. Most of the academics I know, myself included, have some… issues with the Religious Education department at BYU. Many of those in the academic track have, at some time in the past, wanted to work at BYU, but for whatever reasons, have now essentially said “I really hope I have some other options than BYU.”
But now hear the parable of the non-standard magazine and the GA statement. A certain GA spoke about how unorthodox the non-standard magazine was, and forbade orthodox-ers from contributing to it. And lo, how unorthodox it became because there was no one to provide balance!
If all the academics refuse to go to the Religious Education department, who will they hire? CES people excitedly queuing up to get in, that’s who. And there will be no next generation that refuses to pass on the racial “folklore” of the past, because they’ll all be CES folks with degrees in Education, Counseling, and Psychology. Administration in the department has flatly told me in the past that people from the CES track have excellent teaching skills, but they don’t do very good research nor know as much as those from the academic track. (Those in the academic track, meanwhile, are advised to get some teaching experience.)
I’ve known some very good CES people whom I respect, but even so, they are simply not trained to teach students how to understand the Bible on its own terms, in its own context, or to deal with its complexities and difficulties. Often they lack broad perspective and are quite insular.
I think we need to maintain a balance in the department, at very least so students can choose what kind of course they want. Most importantly, it is useful from time to time for academics-in-training like me to be reminded by a good CES-type teacher that scripture reduced to Historical Context and Critical Theory frequently lacks transformative power one’s life.
So consider, dear reader, what will happen, if none but CES want to go into the Religious Education department. Consider how the department’s reputation will cling to BYU students trying to get into graduate religious studies. Consider the effect on students struggling with budding awareness of the messiness of scripture. Consider the effect on future “scholarly” scriptural publications from BYU, which for all intents and purposes, set the tone for many North American LDS’ perceptions of doctrine and scripture. Consider.