Institutes of Religion
Author: Peterson, Stanley A.
Institutes of religion in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refer to weekday religious instruction for students attending colleges, universities, and other postsecondary institutions where sufficient LDS students are enrolled. Together with the seminaries for high school students, institutes provide those students an opportunity for organized religious study in connection with their secular studies. The Church funds and administers the institutes of religion as part of its comprehensive Church Educational System (CES).
The institute program offers courses in the scriptures and related religious topics such as marriage, Church history, and world religions. Institutes also provide opportunities for students to associate socially, spiritually, and culturally with others who have similar ideals through the Latter-day Saint Student Association (LDSSA), which provides LDS student activities on and off campus.
The Church has established a general regulation that all full-time institute instructors should hold at least a master's degree. A majority hold a doctorate degree. Such degrees are generally not in religion, but in related fields such as education, counseling, or history. The Church expects institute faculty to possess scholarly competence in religion and related fields comparable to that of teachers at adjacent academic institutions, and to be exemplary in all aspects of their lives.
In 1989-1990, there were 317 full-time and several hundred part-time and volunteer instructors in LDS institutes throughout the world, with many full-time instructors serving more than one institute. In the same year, 125,534 students were enrolled in 1,273 institutes serving 1,711 non-LDS college and university campuses internationally.
Historically the rise of public higher education in the United States led to the elimination of religious education from most university and college curriculums. Beginning in 1894, in response to the need for religious education on these campuses, various student organizations were established, including the Roman Catholic Newman Club, full-time Baptist ministries by campus chaplains, the Jewish B'nai B'rith Hillel, and others. LDS leaders addressed the need for weekday religious education for their college students as early as 1912. As the Church's junior colleges closed (see Academies; Schools), requests came to establish weekday religious education for LDS students on non-LDS college campuses.
To meet this need, in 1926 the Church initiated a program for LDS students attending the University of Idaho at Moscow, Idaho. University officials welcomed the institute adjacent to the campus. Initially called a college "seminary," the program was renamed the "institute of religion," which established a precedent for subsequent institutes.
In 1935, John A. Widtsoe of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles outlined the purposes of the institutes of religion: During University years students meeting much new knowledge frequently have difficulty, unaided, in reconciling their religious beliefs with their academic studies . LDS Institutes have been established to meet this situation. They offer studies in religion on the college level, in college terms, dealing with the profound questions which every thinking individual has a right to ask. At the Institute students discuss these questions freely and frankly with the Institute Directors, either in classes or in private consultation ["Why Institutes," Announcement of the LDS Institutes: 1935 -1936, Department of Education, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ].
The Church soon constructed a building adjacent to the University of Idaho that became the headquarters for LDS students at the university. The principle of separation of church and state guided the development of the project and the direction of institute activities. The institute developed a cultural and social activities program providing fellowship for LDS students in the area. This fellowship extended beyond LDS students to faculty and other students on campus.
Institutes in Logan, Utah, at Utah State Agricultural College and in Salt Lake City at the University of Utah soon followed the Moscow institute. Shortly thereafter, the Church established institutes at other universities and colleges in Utah, Arizona, and Washington.
Before there were enough students to establish full-time institute programs on southern California campuses, Deseret Clubs were organized. These became the prototype for small LDS student organizations. These clubs continued until 1971, when the Church formally established the LDSSA as the official LDS student group on university and college campuses.
The first international LDS institute program was established in 1969 in Australia and was soon duplicated in New Zealand and Great Britain. The Church has since established institutes in sixty additional countries. These have become a source of support and training for new Church leadership in those areas.
Anderson, A. Gary. "A Historical Survey of the Full-Time Institutes of Religion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1926-1966." Ph.D. diss., Brigham Young University, 1968.
Arrington, Leonard J. "The Founding of the LDS Institutes of Religion." Dialogue 2 (Summer 1967):137-47.
Berrett, William E. A Miracle in Weekday Religious Education. Salt Lake City, 1988.
STANLEY A. PETERSON