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In the Summer 2004 issue of Utah State Magazine, Jane Koerner wrote: "When history department chairman Norm Jones and his colleagues proposed a religious studies program for Utah State University, one skeptic after another said the idea could never fly in a state where politics mirrors deep religious fault lines. They were wrong." The Religious Studies Program was approved by the university's Institutional Board of Trustees on April 8, 2005, and opened its doors to students for Fall Semester 2006.

On its way to official status, in addition to internal planning, Utah State University consulted well-known religious studies scholars: Professor Robert Orsi, former Chair of the Committee for the Study of Religion at Harvard University, now at Northwestern; Professor Peter Kaufman, from the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina; and Professor Jan Shipps, a USU alum and emeritus professor at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

The Religious Studies Program, which is the first such degree program in the Intermountain West, was enhanced by a number of generous endowments. Initially, a $1.5 million gift from the Charles and Annaley Redd Foundation established the university's first chair in Religious Studies and first appointment solely in Religious Studies. The Charles Redd Chair in Religious Studies was quickly augmented by the Leonard J. Arrington Chair in Mormon History and Culture, sponsored by more than forty-five donors. In addition, a $600,000 gift from the Tanner Charitable Trust has provided the new Religious Studies Program with an endowment for purchasing library materials to support the new program.

In 2006, the Charles Redd Chair was filled by the appointment of Charles S. Prebish, a well-known Buddhist Studies scholar who had taught at Pennsylvania State University for more than thirty-five years and had recently been honored by his Buddhist Studies colleagues with a festschrift volume titled Buddhist Studies from India to America: Essays in Honor of Charles S. Prebish. Prebish joined the faculty at USU in January 2007. The Arrington Chair was filled by Harvard-educated Philip Barlow, a Utah native and LDS Church member who has carved out a highly productive career at Hanover College, Indiana, where he has taught since 1990. Barlow joined the USU faculty in Fall 2007. By accepting the Arrington Chair, Barlow becomes the first person in a public institution to be specifically hired to study the history and culture of Mormonism.

The interdisciplinary Religious Studies major consists of 36 credits, six of which are earned by taking two required courses: Introduction to Religious Studies and a Religious Studies Capstone seminar. The remaining 30 credits are earned by taking new and existing courses in three areas: Cultural Inquiry, Scientific Inquiry, and Doctrinal Inquiry. In addition, a Religious Studies Minor is being offered, consisting of 15 credits, and requiring the first of the two required courses listed above for the major. It is expected that students completing the Religious Studies Major will understand the influence upon culture and the influence of culture upon religion; analyze the influence of religious value systems on individuals; apply appropriate methods of research and argumentation to questions concerning religion and culture; communicate their findings in clear well-reasoned writing; and express cultural literacy concerning the major religions of the world.

Since the Religious Studies Program began with courses already in existence in the university curriculum, it graduated its first major, Trevor Alvord, a 26 year old student from Ogden, Utah, in May 2007. Alvord came to USU because of the Folklore and Religious Studies Programs. He has said, "I think religious studies will be the best thing that has happened to Utah State in a long time. The community here is so passionate about religion, and this will add an academic level to it."

Because religion is such a profoundly sensitive issue in Utah, Gary Kiger, Dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and university president Stan Albrecht sought and received much input from the local religious communities and surrounding universities prior to beginning the movement to launch the Religious Studies Program. Virtually everyone was enthusiastic and supportive of the endeavor, leading Kiger to remark, "Utah State is the perfect place for a religious studies program. We have the credibility, the resources, and the reputation." Enrollments have been packed to the limit for Religious Studies courses, and the demand for future courses is overwhelming. The unit has already gained many majors, and students enrolled in the university's honors program have chosen to select Religious Studies courses as part of their curriculum.

Although the new program has its two endowed chairholders as its current core faculty, additional funding is currently being sought to provide additional endowed chairs in Judaism and the Hebrew Bible, Islamic Studies, Hindu Studies, Catholic Studies, and Christian Studies. Because Religious Studies regularly draws on faculty from within the disciplines of Sociology, Languages, Art History, English, Philosophy, History, Psychology, and Anthropology, the university already provides a wide range of courses in these disciplines, staffed by a group of nationally and internationally acclaimed scholars, including such individuals as Norman Jones, Richard Sherlock, Richley Crapo, and Bonnie Glass-Coffin. Utilizing all facilities and faculty currently available to it, the Religious Studies Program is offering an incredibly balanced and comprehensive study of religion.

Hardy Redd, trustee of the Charles and Annaley Redd Foundation and a 1961 Utah State graduate has said, "A well-educated person ought to have a basic understanding of each of the world's religions. Historically, the religious impulse to believe in a supernatural or divine being and to construct a purpose for human existence is found in all peoples throughout all of recorded history. This impulse is deeply felt by many today, both for good and ill. A religious studies program will begin the process of asking why we believe and act as we do." To that end, we hope that Utah State University's new Religious Studies Program will continue to be an exciting place of inquiry, learning, and sharing.

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