They come from different locales and disparate academic disciplines. Male or female, they may be freshmen, graduate students or somewhere in between. The common denominator among them is a scholarly interest as well as an abiding faith in the restored gospel of Christ. They are participants in the annual Religious Education Student Symposium at BYU.
For 13 years now the university has showcased the work of its students at the event, in which students submit papers to be judged by faculty and perhaps be invited to present their work before peers, professors, friends and family. Some are awarded cash prizes ranging from $250 to $1,000. But even non-prize winners gain valuable experience and a résumé credit for having undertaken the effort.
At this year's symposium luncheon Feb. 18, the man who started it all and who today is associate dean of the College of Religious Education, shared his vision that gave rise to the symposium 13 years ago.
"It was my conviction and it is still my conviction that writing is the highest form of communication," Richard E. Bennett said. "You don't know what you're thinking, you don't even know what you're saying and you don't even know what you're teaching until you write it."
The written word has power that transcends any other form of communication, he said, adding that when one writes something, especially in this day and age, one never knows how far it will go.
"May I be so bold as to say that this church needs you," he declared. "This generation sees our mission in a different light than, say, James E. Talmage saw it a century ago, or even Joseph Fielding Smith 30 or 40 years ago. We desperately need your interpretation of what this gospel is all about. You're on the front lines of this generation. None of us can speak for you. You must speak for yourself, and we desperately need that."
It's an uphill struggle in many ways, Brother Bennett said, "We're up against it all over the world, in terms of philosophy, in terms of research, in terms of writing, in terms of presenting our story.
"And so that's why we applaud you. That's why we started this. This is going to continue on, because we need it. We talk about our basketball teams, and we talk about our football teams, but we need our writing and research teams even more — desperately, even more."
On these pages are summaries of a sampling of the papers delivered at this year's symposium. These and additional summaries will appear on the Church News website at www.ldschurcnews.com.