J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Yes, There Really are Mormon Studies Programs Outside of Utah: A Peek Inside the Program at Claremont Graduate University

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true: There really are Mormon Studies programs at universities outside of Utah. The first such program—at California’s Claremont Graduate University (CGU)—is centered on training graduate students to become Mormon Studies scholars.

CGU’s Mormon Studies mission is to expand the world’s appreciation for Mormon religion and culture while offering Mormon perspectives on resolving some of the world’s greatest challenges. Organized in 2006, the Howard W. Hunter Foundation and CGU’s Mormon Studies Council have fulfilled this mission by sponsoring a wide range of courses, lectures, conferences, and other events, in addition to raising funds for an endowed professorship and graduate student fellowships.
Elder Oaks spoke at a  Religious Freedom Conference sponsored by the Mormon Studies Council in Claremont on March 25th-26th.

J. Reuben Clark Law Society (JRCLS) members have figured prominently in the establishment of CGU’s program. They include (i) two of the three Howard W. Hunter Foundation chairmen who have overseen CGU’s Mormon Studies efforts -- John Dalton (a former area seventy and mission president) and now Randy Huff (a former area seventy, mission president and Los Angeles Temple president), and (ii) all four of the Mormon Studies Council chairmen who have implemented the Hunter Foundation’s fundraising, public outreach and Mormon Studies initiatives -- Clay Smith (a state court judge), Joe Bentley (a former JRCLS international chair and current Newport Beach Temple president), Randy Huff, and now Steve Bradford (a former JRCLS Los Angeles chapter chair). Other JRCLS lawyers on the Hunter Foundation/Mormon Studies Council have included President Hunter’s two sons (John and Richard) and grandson (Scott), along with United States Ninth Circuit Appeals Court Judge Milan Smith.

The Foundation and Council reached a major milestone in 2008 with the establishment of the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies, first occupied by Dr. Richard L. Bushman and since 2011 by Dr. Patrick Q. Mason. Inspired by CGU’s success, a Mormon Studies program honoring Dr. Bushman is now underway at the University of Virginia, and initial steps have been taken to organize Mormon Studies programs at USC and Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union.

The Howard W. Hunter Foundation and Mormon Studies Chair are named after the longtime Pasadena Stake president and lawyer who later became an apostle and president of the LDS Church. The then dean of CGU’s Religion Department, Karen Jo Torjesen, in collaboration with her graduate student, Amy Hoyt, conceived of CGU’s Mormon Studies program.  Amy’s father, Blair Hoyt, served as the Hunter Foundation’s first chair before his call to serve as a mission president.  The First Presidency has approved the use of President Hunter’s name and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has given his endorsement.  According to Steve Bradford, “It’s thrilling to see the name of Howard W. Hunter -- one of our church’s great legal minds and our 14th president -- linked into the nation’s premiere graduate only research university. This has fostered unprecedented academic interest in our church, our people, and what we can offer to a troubled world.”

CGU’s Mormon Studies program is part of a broader initiative of its Religion Department to advance the serious academic study of global religious traditions while engaging in meaningful interaction with the adherents of those religions. Founded in 1925, CGU is unique in American higher education for its exclusive devotion to graduate studies. CGU is part of the prestigious Claremont University Consortium, which includes five undergraduate colleges (Pomona, Claremont McKenna, Scripps, Harvey Mudd, and Pitzer) and the Keck Graduate Institute.

To learn more about the Howard W. Hunter Foundation and its Mormon Studies program at CGU, including videos of past events or to make a tax-deductible contribution to graduate student fellowships, visit www.claremontmormonstudies.org or contact Hunter Foundation vice chair/Mormon Studies Council chair Steve Bradford at stephenlbradford@gmail.com.

Posted: May 27, 2016