The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship seeks to build bridges of understanding, to increase religious literacy, and to explore and experience the relationship between faith and reason, religion and scholarship.
In this new film directed by Sterling Van Wagenen, scholars from a variety of backgrounds discuss how these values are manifest in the Institute’s scholarship. Below you’ll also find a few excerpts to give you a clearer sense of our mission and work.
On helping others better understand
the Latter-day Saint faith
Cecil O. Samuelson: “President Hinckley gave me the charge to help BYU be the best it could be. And it is with that understanding that he and the brethren approved the naming of the Maxwell Institute. Both to honor Neal Maxwell for the tremendous contributions he had made—not only the church and to BYU, and to academics generally. But also to highlight the intent that we would be broadening, and we would be seeking academic excellence as we think about Elder Maxwell and his role as our progenitor there.
“Sometimes we’ve had the tendency to think that because we’re so poorly understood we don’t have a responsibility to understand others. And I think Elder Maxwell was one who understood that innately and intuitively and maybe from the very beginning. Because he was such a good listener, then when he spoke he was listened to. And I think that is an important thing for us all to try to do at the Maxwell Institute.”
Laurie Maffly-Kipp: “The Maxwell Institute’s Mormon Studies Review is a fabulous opportunity to begin conversations around some of these issues—and conversations, I think, among people who might not otherwise talk to one another. I had a lot of—especially at Carolina—a lot of Evangelical students who came in knowing that they didn’t like Mormons and just wanting ammunition to figure out why. The best example I have of this is a student who, on the last day when she handed in her exam to me, she thanked me. She said, ‘I just want you to know how grateful I am for this course, because not only do I feel like I learned a lot about Mormons and I don’t have a hatred the way that I used to, but I also learned a lot about my own tradition as a result.’
“And that, to me, was the best kind of result that you could have because not only does studying something else give you a perspective on another world that you might not have had access to, but it also lets you see your own world in a different way. At the most philosophical level, I suppose, that, for me, is the value of any kind of comparative work in religion. It lets you see things that you might overlook or just don’t notice because they seem so natural to you.”
Kevin J Worthen: “As the Church has continued to progress and grow in terms of numbers and influence, there’s a growing segment of people in between. They really aren’t necessarily out to attack us, they’re not necessarily out to defend us, they just want to understand us. That presents a wonderful opportunity. I think an area where we can provide not only help to them, but to also members of the church who themselves have questions as they encounter things that don’t necessarily fit inside this black and white world—that’s one of the primary functions of the Maxwell Institute that it’s not only positioned to do, but charged with doing.”
On helping Latter-day Saints
better understand ourselves
Kathleen Flake: “I believe that there are things that we cannot appreciate about Mormonism because we are simply too close to it. That happens in every other area in our lives. Why would it not happen here? I have to say, in my own work, I’ve learned some things I didn’t expect to learn. So at the very least, the academy gives us the benefit of that perspective which illuminates what we can’t see because we’re too close to it.”
Richard L. Bushman: “This link may not be obvious to everyone that research in esoteric sources, coming out with scholarly work, has any bearing on our faith, you know, our devotion, our commitment to the Gospel. But the scriptures seem to point in the other direction. One of my favorites—and one of Joseph’s favorites because he quoted it a number of times—is in the 88th section of the Doctrine and covenants where it says, ‘And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.’
“That’s an interesting scripture because it assumes that there will be people in the church who do not have faith, or who are struggling with their faith, and that the remedy for their aliments is to study. To seek out of the best books and to teach one another. And it seems to me that’s the spirit of the Maxwell Institute.”
Terryl L. Givens: “It’s never a question of either/or: do we go with reason or do we go with faith? With Joseph Smith it was always we go with both. We find a way to reconcile both. My favorite photograph in all of church history is the photograph of Orson Pratt’s observatory, which he builds right up—it abuts the rising Salt Lake Temple. So you’ve got the temple in the background and in the foreground you have this adobe mud hut with a telescope. It’s the temple and the observatory. We can find a way to combine both of these approaches to learning and build the kingdom along that model.”
Rosalynde Welch: “The Lord relies on us to find a way to reach his children in every generation. And that means recreating our language and our approach every generation. And I think the Maxwell Institute is right here and perfectly positioned to midwife these new voices out into the world. I’m convinced that it is going to revitalize the lived experience of Mormonism for many of our young people.”
On learning more about other faiths
Morgan Davis: Joseph Smith taught us that truth is truth no matter where it comes from, no matter where it’s found, and that the gospel of Jesus Christ is prepared to embrace all truth no matter where it comes from. Joseph Smith was fearless in his quest for truth, and he was prepared to ask hard questions and follow wherever God’s inspiration led him in answering those questions. We should cultivate that same courage of being willing to embrace truth wherever we find it, beauty wherever we find it. Even if it’s something very different with what we’re used to and what we were brought up with.
On loving God with all our mind
Spencer Fluhman: “To be meaningful, our conversations must be rigorous, accurate, candid, and those are values for scholarship, and they’re not antithetical to values we have as Latter-day Saints.
“I’m struck by the language of the closing chapter of the Book of Mormon—that to ‘come unto Christ’ is to love God with all our ‘mind.’ Latter-day Saint scholars care about language like that and we think about it. What would that mean? What does that look like, to love God with all our mind? And certainly it demands our best effort, our highest priority, our highest work.”