BYU Hiring Ancient Scrip Prof

BYU is looking to hire a professor of ancient scripture in their department of Religious Education. For the entire posting go here.

Here is an excerpt from the listing. Below it are some thoughts.


Brigham Young University Religious Education is dedicated to teaching and preserving the doctrine and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Because our highest priority is spiritually uplifting classroom instruction, we are always eager to identify men and women who are effective gospel teachers and who have a special interest in strengthening the faith and commitment of college-age Latter-day Saints. More specifically, we welcome applications from persons who meet the following qualifications:

1. Orientation: One with a proper orientation has a firm testimony of God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ, an unquestioned loyalty to Joseph Smith and the restored gospel, and a commitment to the prophetic destiny of Brigham Young University.

2. Broad Gospel Scholarship: Although we are eager to identify faculty members who are carefully trained in specific disciplines or particular books of scripture, we desire all faculty members to be “perceptive generalists,” well acquainted with all the Standard Works and with the teachings of modern apostles and prophets. A solid foundation in the doctrines of the gospel is critical to our work.

3. Teaching Effectiveness: Classroom instruction in Religious Education is to be substantive and inspirational. Students should become familiar with the text studied in each course and learn the implications of the text for daily living. Teachers should be models of the disciple/scholar, affirming that one can be well trained in a discipline, intellectually rigorous, honest, critical, and articulate, and at the same time be knowledgeable and fully committed to the restored gospel and the Living Church. Students will thereby acquire a witness that is as satisfying to the mind as it is soothing and settling to the heart; students should come away from our classes with a reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15).

4. Academic Preparation: Full-time faculty are to be trained at the doctoral level. Ancient Scripture Religious welcomes candidates competent in a number of disciplines, including but not limited to Bible, History, ancient languages, Near Eastern Studies, Comparative Religion, doctrine, and Restoration scriptures. The hiring process strives to maintain a balanced faculty with expertise in various areas.

5. Citizenship: To be a good citizen is to work harmoniously, happily, and effectively with the administration, staff, and faculty. It includes attending appropriate meetings; accepting committee assignments and serving well; reviewing others’ teaching and written work when requested; and being willing to mentor junior faculty. It entails sharing ideas and sources that help others to improve their performance, and treating students, visitors, staff, and colleagues with respect and courtesy. Good citizenship also involves abiding by the guidelines necessary to efficient, cost-effective administration within Religious Education. In short, it means being a good team player, both within and beyond Religious Education.

Frequently-Asked Questions:

1. What is a typical teaching load? While teaching loads may vary, depending upon special department needs or individual assignments, most faculty are expected to teach nine semester hours (two-hour classes) in the Fall and Winter semesters and two two-hour courses in either the Spring or Summer terms.

2. Is a faculty member expected to be an expert in all fields of study in Religious Education? While one may in fact have specialized training and background in the New Testament, for example, he or she would be expected to deepen their understanding and teaching skills in Old Testament, Book of Mormon, or Pearl of Great Price, inasmuch as they may be called upon to teach those subjects. Individuals will be expected to be teaching generalists and research specialists.

3. What are the research and publishing expectations? Faculty are expected to be effective presenters in the classroom and, further, to expand their classroom through focused research and meaningful writing and publication. Their written work should be properly evaluated through an appropriate peer review process. Articles and books written to a Latter-day Saint readership (in Ancient Scripture and doctrinal/devotional fields), as well as research published in non-LDS forums, should demonstrate clear thinking, articulate expression, and well-reasoned conclusions. Excellent scholarship is an important facet of our work.

4. How is one promoted in Religious Education? Faculty are evaluated each year in terms of their teaching, citizenship, and scholarship. During a faculty member’s third year, they are evaluated to see if they are on track with department expectations. Those who pass this initial review become candidates for continuing faculty status. After one’s fifth year they are evaluated again to determine whether their work is acceptable enough to receive continuing faculty status and promotion to associate professor. Promotion to the rank of professor, the highest honor the university can bestow upon faculty members, may take place through a successful evaluation of the candidate’s work at least five years since the promotion to associate professor. Even after one is promoted to professor, he or she is expected to maintain an ongoing and rigorous program of improvement and productivity.

5. What kinds of professional support may a new hire expect? Each faculty member is entitled to a part-time secretary, a research assistant, and research funds from the department or the Religious Studies Center (which may be applied for each year) for supplies, travel, and conferences. In addition, members of the faculty are provided with a computer and excellent computer support.

6. Can one expect to receive adequate compensation at a private, Church-owned university? BYU consults with several educational institutions to insure that faculty in given fields of study are paid in a manner that is fair, equitable, and competitive.

There are a few interesting things I would like to mention; and then I’d love to hear others’ thoughts.

Three positive points:

1) Preference is given to someone actually trained in “ancient scripture” (although I’m not entirely sure what someone trained in “Comparative Religion”, “doctrine”, or “Restoration scriptures” would be like in relation to “ancient scripture”). This opens the door to anyone, CES or not, who meets the criteria. What this means in all practicality is that the new hiree will be someone unlike the majority of the current faculty body; which would (ideally) add to the ways in which the material is approached.

2) The candidate is to be a “disciple/scholar” who is someone “well trained in a discipline, intellectually rigorous, honest, critical, and articulate, and at the same time… fully committed to the restored gospel….”

3) The professional support in terms of a secretary, a research assistant, and funds for conference attendance/presentation is generous.

Three not-so-positive points:

1) I’m struck by the length of the post. I’ve not only never seen a faculty job posting this long before, but none of the other BYU listings come remotely close. This isn’t to say an academic job posting shouldn’t be this long (although I wouldn’t be suprised if other institutions considered it a bit awkward); but why include common-sense portions such as “Citizenship”–isn’t this an obvious expectation? (Although I do have to admit that the use of “cost-effective” is mildly entertaining.) And does “Orientation” say anything more than the applicant must have a temple recommend? (If so, who judges their “unquestioned loyalty”?) Incidentally, this posting is much longer than BYU-I’s, who is also hiring in the Religious Education department (see here).

2) Given the teaching load (11 classes a year; but they are of course only 2 credit hour classes), can they legitimately expect their professors to be “research specialists” who produce “excellent scholarship”?

3) Is the Religious Education department looking for an academic (someone “trained at the doctoral level” in “ancient scripture”)? Or in the words of a friend of mine, are they looking for someone with the brand, but not the bite? Personally, the way this post comes across is that the candidate should be someone with an academic degree in the field of Biblical studies (broadly conceived); but in the end he or she should function like a CES instructor. Not that there’s anything wrong with the CES, but I’m wondering if this post isn’t over simplistically conflating someone trained in Biblical studies with the expectations of a CES teacher (emphasis on “teacher”, because that is their primary purpose; and for the most part, they do it very well). I found it especially revealing that question #3 concerning “researching and publishing expectations” begins with an explanation that the candidate is to be an “effective presenter in the classroom”. I also can’t help but feel that question #4 is an ordering of priority of sorts–“teaching, citizenship, and scholarship”. IMO the implicit emphasis on the term “disciple/scholar” is still on the “disciple” side of the term; despite the fact that the posting calls for a “scholar”.

16 Replies to “BYU Hiring Ancient Scrip Prof”

  1. As a holder of a graduate degree in Biblical Studies, I wonder just exactly what they think they get with someone who has that degree. To be a true-blue, wing-tip shoe wearing, Jell-O eating Mormon and earn a Biblical Studies degree in a non-Mormon environment requires a lot, A LOT of suspended belief in all Mormonalia to get good grades. And most of the other Mormon BS graduates I know don’t ever want to go back to putting the blinders on fully. And NES graduates are even more removed than BS graduates. And in my opinion, religion graduates are more removed than that. It seems like the best fit would be someone with an Ed.D. Only then is the person truly a “teacher,” and not just some nerd who knows every ancient semitic language, because honestly, BS and NES training doesn’t help much with the proliferation of the modern gospel (in many cases, they stand in stark contrast to it).

  2. Two of the best prof in the dept. that I know don’t have degrees specifically in religion. One has an Ed.D and the other was in counseling/psychology.

    I was struck by the length of this as well, and I suspect it’s because this is a unique kind of position…one with a bit more breadth of possible candidates, with the need to articulate clearly the balance of things they are looking for (which seems to be less about a speciality and more about testimony and teaching ability).

  3. I agree they should hire someone like me with an ED.D. In fact maybe they should just quit advertising and hire me since I am a great researcher and teacher. In all honesty I wonder why they would have advertised in the Mormon Bloggernacle when that is where the most liberal and conservatives hang out. You would think they would want people in the center.

  4. Given the teaching load (11 classes a year; but they are of course only 2 credit hour classes), can they legitimately expect their professors to be “research specialists” who produce “excellent scholarship”?

    That’s the big problem if they do more than the “fill in the blank” seminary styled religion classes. (Which frankly many did when I was there)

    But my friends who were there not only had to deal with the teaching load, they were often put in Bishoprics and then expected to do research. That’s kind of ridiculous in my opinion.

  5. David, what do you mean by “blinders?” I suspect many folks don’t have blinders but are able to teach faithfully. Unless you meant something more extreme. (Which is what I suspect)

  6. Clark,
    Do you think that the weight of callings is unique to BYU religion professors, and therefore they should be subject to a lower standard of research?

  7. No, my personal feeling is that the problem at BYU is that professors who are expected to do research are also expected to be Bishops, Stake Presidence and be available as “mentors” to students and maintain their family. It’s simply too much. The addition of church service simply complicates things too much.

    But I certainly have had many friends who’ve become professors bemoan the lack of time for research due to teaching schedule – although that varies from university to university.

  8. I don’t see what the big deal is. When I worked at four universities in tenure track positions you have to do all three things:teaching, service and scholarship. In addition in your personal life you might have callings like being a stake executive secretary, ward mission leader, high priest group leader or whatever. Plus you have home teaching, family home evening etc. You need to attend conferences each year which could take two or three weeks and an occasional workshop. When I taught at the undergraduate level I actually met personally once or twice a semester with every student in all of my classes which sometimes had around thirty students. Now if you work at the graduate level you might only have six or nine credits but you might have twenty or thirty master and or doctrinal candidates. You might do what I did and be the California Faculty Union Representative and serve on the SDSU faculty senate. I am droning on because I don’t see much difference between that and what they are doing. In fact I find very few BYU people in national organizations like in the library world I have never seen one run for election to the ALA. In my nine years as technology editor of the Multicultural Review I have only seen two submissions from BYU ever from one female english professor. I think we should discuss their publication records. They have a few stars but how many really publish beyond their own campus.

  9. re: 8

    Is there something about BYU professors that makes their church service more burdensome than LDS professors at other schools who also serve in the church, even in time consuming positions? What’s the difference between a BYU prof who happens to be a stake president and, say, Richard Bushman, who I believe did both at Columbia? While Bushman was simultaneously a prof and stake president was his burden lighter because he was at Columbia instead of BYU? Please elaborate.

    Church service is an unrelenting balancing act while walking on a tightrope, particularly with parents of small or teenage children. What makes BYU profs different from the rest of us mere mortals?

    From my cursory reading of various Mormon themed blogs, like this one, I have to think there are a lot of very good candidates for this position. I would think that BYU is in an enviable position and should have a lot of talent to draw from to fill this position, notwithstanding the ridiculously long vacancy announcement.

  10. rc,
    The difference between BYU and other schools is that BYU professors in the Religion department all have very high teacher loads; higher than the other departments at BYU and higher than those is most religious studies departments elsewhere (which I know isn’t comparable, but what can you do). Therefore, Bushman, while he did simultaneously serve as a Columbia professor and in high church callings while accomplishing meaningful research, never had to do so while also teaching and grading 150-200 students a semester.

    The reason why it is easier for CES types to integrate into the BYU Religious Education department is because they are used to such high teaching loads. The requirements for publication for such teachers are minimal (they are basically instructors). However, the requirements for teaching are no less for those hired and expected to contribute research. It is a tough job.

  11. Is there something about BYU professors that makes their church service more burdensome than LDS professors at other schools who also serve in the church, even in time consuming positions?

    No. It’s just the fact that BYU singles wards tend to draw their leadership from professors in a well above average way. I bet if you took the number of non-BYU LDS profs and compared it to BYU profs you’d find that BYU has a vastly disproportionate number in high pressure time consuming leadership positions.

  12. To add, lest there be confusion. I’m not saying calling a professor to a Bishopric or Stake Presidency is bad. Far from it. I’ve had some amazing leaders who were professors. I am saying that when it seems like the vast majority of professors are in some leadership position this is going to affect the quality and quality of publication and teaching at BYU. Something has to give. There is, in a certain way, a zero sum game.

    Add in that some classes at BYU are almost ridiculously large and you end up with superficial teaching or vastly overworked professors. Note that I know researchers at many universities tend to end up teaching poorly or diverting a lot of the work to their grad students (less of an option at BYU). However I think that is bad as well.

  13. Was anyone else struck by the glaring problems in the following two sentences?

    “and a commitment to the prophetic destiny of Brigham Young University” (what exactly is that destiny, and isn’t it a conflict of interest to have BYU religion profs writing themselves into that prophetic destiny? Why don’t other departments require this kind of commitment?)

    “Students will thereby acquire a witness that is as satisfying to the mind as it is soothing and settling to the heart.” (Who said that the witness was supposed to satisfy the mind and especially to settle the heart? Many of Jesus’ teachings, for example, were specifically meant to upend, unsettle, disquiet…)

    Not to mention the deliberate use of “unquestioned loyalty”–I guess you’re out the minute someone questions your loyalty…

  14. While Jesus’ statements were typically unsettling – as were Joseph’s – I think the goal or a religious university ought be to understand. That tends to entail reconciling heart and mind. I believe it can and should be done.

    The issue about prophetic destiny is an interesting one. I’m just guessing but I suspect it relates to this talk by Pres. Oaks from back when he was in charge of BYU. Pres. Oaks, quotes Pres. Kimball as saying, “Then, in the process of time this will become a fully anointed university of the Lord about which so much has been spoken in the past.” Oaks expands on this taking the School of the Prophets as the blueprint for BYU. Of course there’s a huge gap between that and BYU.

    I’d say that applies to all departments. And indeed professors from many departments teach religion classes. (Indeed when I was at BYU the best classes were the non-religion department classes) But obviously if there is a religious destiny for BYU in terms of education one would hope the religion department would be in the forefront of it. That the religion department has been so embarrassing through most of BYU’s history demonstrates the problem of its achieving its destiny. Although I’m told by people at BYU that the situation is much better now than it was when I was there in the early 90’s.

  15. BTW – “unquestioned loyalty” is a bit of hyperbole, but a fairly common one. I don’t think anyone takes “unquestioned loyalty” to entail no one questioning loyalty but rather than ones loyalty can’t rationally and with the facts be taken to be faulty.

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