In 1975, the dean of religious education at Brigham Young University, Jeffrey R. Holland, approached university President Dallin H. Oaks with an idea for a bold new venture, a publishing outlet to showcase the sterling work of the school’s religion faculty. President Oaks enthusiastically embraced the idea.
Forty years later, Elder Oaks and Elder Holland are both members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Though they have each moved on after serving in turn as university president, they have not left BYU behind. And the entity they created, the Religious Studies Center, has flourished into the research and publishing arm of religious education at BYU.
This year alone, the center will have published 14 books, an output nearly doubling the average of the past five years. In addition, the center puts out two periodicals (BYU Religious Education Review and the Religious Educator) and sponsors or co-sponsors frequent symposia.
Though in a sense the Religious Studies Center might be regarded today as a flowering tree, “really we are just barely sprouting out of the ground,” Elder Holland said on a video produced for showing at the center’s 40th anniversary celebration held at BYU on May 14.
Elder Holland was the keynote speaker at a dinner in the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni and Visitors Center on the campus.
“We are gradually coming out of obscurity and out of darkness as a Church,” Elder Holland said on the video, an allusion to Doctrine and Covenants 11:21. “At the center we will always want to write to Latter-day Saints. But clearly, as scholars come who are ambidextrous and can write equally well and equally effectively to a non-LDS audience, we will not only see more of that but we will need more of that.”
He added, “Substantial research will not only bless Latter-day Saints, but it will also bless those who are not of our faith, those who are curious about us, interested in us — maybe they will join the Church at a future date, maybe they don’t — but be that as it may, we will further the work of the Lord by reaching out to a wider audience.”
Earlier in the video, he spoke of the origins of the center: “There was a need to have some sort of place, some sort of sponsorship, a center, if you will, where our faculty could publish. There always has been and there always will be at universities an emphasis on doing research and writing in order that our teaching stay fresh. You learn in order to teach, and you teach in order to learn.”
He said he took the idea to President Oaks. “He embraced it instantly. The next thing I knew, it went to the Board of Trustees, and we had a Religious Studies Center. It was a good thing then, and it has been a good thing ever since.”
In his dinner speech, Elder Holland said, “We’re in an era in which we need the contributions of the very best personal examples and the very best professional scholarship from every Latter-day Saint educator on the team.”
Speaking to a gathering of current and past center directors, authors, donors, student assistants, and others, Elder Holland said the Church will triumph in the world, “but to get the final victory in that very last hour in this dispensation will require the God-given talent of persuasive, orthodox people like you.”
He said the present day is not unlike other times in gospel history in which good and evil have been at war. “It’s just that today, the pace is steadily quickening, and the technology of the 21st century is making communication and counter-communication so immediate and so persuasive.”
Such communication capability is “at our fingertips,” he said, “but in our case, our fingertips are on a host of keyboards ranging from desktop computers to handheld tablets to smartphones.
“We’ve always been at war with the adversary in our efforts to win the hearts of men and women. But now, more and more, partly because of technological access, we must be vigilant in the battle for the minds of the human family. Fortunately, what you do at the RSC is focused on both the mind and the heart, which is the divine formula.”
He pronounced an apostolic blessing “on every man and woman and student who contributes to the great on-rolling of the Kingdom, particularly at BYU and particularly for our purposes here tonight through religious education and the Religious Studies Center.”
“I bless you that ideas will continue to come, that truth will always shine, that projects will take form, that the Spirit will lead you to insights and discoveries, that your voice will be articulate and powerful, first in the classroom, and later, perhaps, as you publish those words on the printed page.”
Speaking to the audience, Brent L. Top, current dean of religious education, read from a letter he received from Elder Oaks: “I send to you and, through you, your associates, my congratulations on the notable accomplishments of the Religious Studies Center. I do so with deep appreciation for your many publications and accomplishments in enriching Brigham Young University and the work of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Noting the quality of the content in the output of the center was always good, Brother Top contrasted the early publications with the current ones to show a dramatic improvement in visual appeal and graphic design.
“In the next 40 years, the Religious Studies Center intends to build something incredible, to raise the bar, to do more, to do it better, and to extend our influence for good to a wider audience worldwide.”
Thomas A. Wayment, current publications director of the center, in speaking to the audience, said that in the next 40 years, “we need to move beyond the interest to prove the Restoration to a place where we resolutely believe the Restoration while at the same time demonstrating an awareness of what cannot be proven and humility to accept the limitations of our understanding and the courage to build upon the truth and light that we do and have received.”