The U’s Tanner Humanities Center changed the Mormon Studies Programming Initiative fundraising goal after a $20,000 pledge from Peter and Brynn Huntsman tipped the organization past their initial $100,000 goal.
Bob Goldberg, director of the Tanner Humanities Center, said the money will go to programming, lectures and classes to further their goal of fostering respect and understanding between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and non-members.
“In our communities we … live in tribes where our friends are the same, where our community is the same and we rarely reach out to people who are different from [our]selves,” Goldberg said.
Brenna Asplund, a senior in English and a member of the LDS church, said she hasn’t taken any classes in the program, but she’s glad it exists.
“Salt Lake City is the center of the Mormon faith,” Asplund said. “It just makes sense for it to happen here.”
The program began five years ago with the Mormon Studies Fellowship, which provided funds for doctoral students to study the beliefs, history and culture of the LDS church. This program has attracted students from the U and as far away as Dortmund University in Germany.
Goldberg said when he came to the U in 1980 he was surprised there wasn’t a Mormon studies program because several universities have programs studying the local dominant religions.
Asplund said she thinks the courses could be valuable to those who are already familiar with the LDS faith.
“I’d say most people’s knowledge [about Mormonism] is actually pretty shallow and informed by a lot of biases one way or the other,” Asplund said.
Goldberg said next year they plan to use funds to provide three or four Mormon studies classes. Programs will include “Black, White and Mormon,” which “explores matters of race and Mormonism.” In addition, courses will be offered that examine the sociological perspective of Mormonism.
The Tanner Humanities Center cannot directly offer classes — instead they provide funding for professors in other departments to teach the courses.
Goldberg said when he started the program, former university president Michael K. Young said the U would help provide financial assistance. Goldberg said while they are grateful for the support, they didn’t “want to be dependent on the U — this is a broader community activity.” Funding comes from community donors and grants from the LDS Foundation, a department in the LDS church that promotes charitable contribution to the Church Educational System and other charities in the church.
The Mormon Studies Programming Initiative is currently under the Religious Studies Program. Goldberg said there are current discussions to create minors in Mormon and Jewish studies.