About the John A.
Expanding the Global Reach of Latter-day Saint Studies
The Widtsoe Foundation is taking Latter-day Saint Studies into the future, with an emphasis on where the Church is going as an institution. While most Latter-day Saint Studies programs emphasize an historical approach, the Widtsoe Foundation is emphasizing how the Church and its members engage the modern world, with a focus on where the Church is going and how its doctrines and programs meet the needs of a world in transition.
To engage the world today, Latter-day Saint Studies scholarship must be forward-looking. It needs to explore the modern reach of the Church, its institutions, and its resources throughout the world – how the Church engages the world today and how its members incorporate their religion into their lives and communities, and make a difference. A current Latter-day Saint Studies program thus should be a place where scholars, students, journalists, religious leaders, teachers of theology, media and interested government and civic leaders can go to find answers to current and future religious and cultural questions from an LDS perspective.
The Chair: We are endowing the John A. Widtsoe Chair of Latter-day Saint Studies as a part of a comparative religion Ph.D. program at a world-renowned university as the center for the international expansion of LDS scholarship.
The Center: The Foundation is the center through which visiting scholars, graduate students, interfaith initiatives, scholarly symposia, and media and publication will bring the systematic study of Modern Mormonism out of obscurity and into the vast world of religious thought. A Latter-day Saint Studies Center at USC is being acquired for that purpose.
A Place to Train the Next Generation of Latter-day Saint Scholars: The Foundation also has as a fundamental goal the creation of a place where the next generation of Latter-day Saint scholars can come, can earn their Ph.D., and then take their place at other leading universities in the U.S. and the world.
As a leading internationally respected private university, USC understands the centrality of religious and spiritual values in the daily life of nations, and has made a commitment to support and encourage institutions like the Foundation where most public universities cannot. USC’s Office of Religious Life, for example, has over 80 affiliated religious organizations on campus – something unheard of at comparable universities.
USC also has the largest international student body in America today, with over 4,000 Chinese students, just as one example. Combined with the Ph.D. program emphasis in three areas – Comparative Christianities, International Islam and Eastern Religions – this diverse, international student body provides a unique venue to study the LDS Church and its people along with people of faith from around the world. Thus, the Widtsoe Foundation, as an affiliated organization at USC, can bring together an international group scholars and students from multiple universities to join in the research, archiving, indexing and study of Modern Mormonism.
Examples of Our Initiatives
The Foundation is developing scholarly initiatives with worldwide application.
Religion in Action Symposia: The Foundation sponsors an annual symposium on how religion impacts and reacts to issues in the modern world, including the Latter-day Saint perspective on current topics such as Religious Freedom in America, Religious Refugees in a Changing World, and Religion and the Modern Family. It has already sponsored six symposia in the past two years, with more on the coming year’s calendar, each of which will be streamed live internationally as well as archived and made available to the global audience.
Latter-day Saint Scholars Archive. Latter-day Saint Scholars Archive is the most comprehensive assemblage of the great Latter-day Saint scholars’ works in digital form and indexed for ease of research. It includes all the books, articles, conference talks, speeches, letters and other documents of each scholar beginning with John A. Widtsoe. Although it is now in its early stages, there will follow others including such scholars as James E. Talmage, B.H. Roberts and Truman Madsen.
New Testament Commentary. As the publication sponsor of the 18-volume New Testament Commentary Series, this will add immeasurably to the base of knowledge about the life and teachings of our Lord and Savior and His disciples. Each volume contains a “new rendition” or translation of each book of the New Testament by an Latter-day Saint scholar, set side-by-side with the King James Translation. Together, with verse by verse commentaries, this provides an Latter-day Saint perspective on each book.
New Testament Comparative Passages Series. Based on a survey of leading Biblical scholars, this series will begin with identifying the most important Bible passages with the widest variety of views on their meaning from differing theological perspectives and religious traditions. It will utilize the most authoritative English translations accepted by the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Church of England/Episcopal, Mainline Protestant, Evangelical and Latter-day Saint churches. Respected scholars of each tradition will provide the meaning of each passage from their own theological interpretation.
Conferences & Symposia. Our conferences and symposia at USC are now reaching more than 10 countries, and are being viewed by more than 1,500 major sites across the globe. Our social media reach is growing rapidly as we create interest and information aimed at the new generation of religiously awakening young adults. Because USC is the world leader in media and communication technology in the visual world, JAWF is uniquely positioned to expand the messages of all it does to places around the world where no other Latter-day Saint Studies Program has the ability to reach.
The Foundation’s endowment goal will secure the Chair, fund the acquisition of the center/headquarters, permanently fund the initiatives, provide scholarships and fellowships, and provide resources for scholars, graduate students and visiting professors to add to the richness of their study of Modern Mormonism. LDS scholars in many disciplines at other universities will be welcomed as Visiting Fellows to advance their knowledge of how a specific issue or aspect of Mormon Studies will add to their curriculum where they teach.