Matt Bowman appears to be the new guest blogger at BCC. He has a masters’ in history from the University of Utah and is currently preparing to take PhD exams in American history at Georgetown. He occasionally presents papers on things like Bigfoot at MHA. Thanks to Ronan for the invitation to appear in this space.
This school is bound into the web of my family. My sister attended and two cousins graduated. I have relatives both on the board and active in the alumni association. Additionally, a couple of friends from graduate school have held positions on the faculty.
The reports I have received are mixed. Practically, SVU seems to suffer from financial and organizational problems that can be found in any fledging institution, exacerbated by bad luck in management. The tenure of Rodney Smith, however, seems to have begun righting the ship. Despite what strikes me as a rather quixotic and resource-draining attempt to field a football team, I think the school might now be at a point where it can address President Smith’s confidence that there is “something special” which the Mormon tradition can offer the liberal arts.
My problem is that, at this point, I am not entirely sure what this means. I was mildly surprised to hear that very little in the way of formal Mormon studies exists at SVU currently, though President Smith tells us that this is something that will be addressed in the future. But what, exactly, might it be that Mormoniana brings to the liberal arts; or vice versa, what might the liberal arts tradition bring to Mormon studies?
I have a couple of ideas. Lack of formal affiliation with the Church may allow faculty there to push whatever boundaries, perceived or otherwise (note; I am not the ‘Matt’ of that thread), might exist for those at BYU who wish to research Mormonism. Specifically, I think SVU could provide a home for real investigation into Mormon theology, the sort of systematic speculation which BYU’s quasi-official status and reliance upon CES may make difficult.
Additionally, I think the size and integration of a liberal arts college might allow for the sort of interdisciplinary work in Mormon studies that is difficult at larger schools. The ability to populate upper division classes with a variety of majors, self-conscious focus on the humanities and strong interdepartmental faculty dialogues are all advantages that a school of SVU’s size can lean upon. Currently, “Mormon studies” often seems a euphemism for “Mormon history,” and occasionally, “Mormon literature.” In addition to the traditional liberal arts emphasis upon these subjects, SVU is already pursuing strong philosophy, theatre, and art departments. There is the possibility here, I think, for a holistic investigation into the Mormon experience.
At this point, SVU farms out religious studies to CES. I think they can do better, and hopefully their goal of a Mormon-informed liberal arts education becomes a reality sooner than later.