In October, 2012, the University of Virginia announced the first chair of Mormon studies ever to be created in the eastern United States. It is to be named for Richard Lyman Bushman, a Mormon scholar and author who is widely respected both within and outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormon is merely a nickname for the people of that faith.
Bushman is noted for his scholarly work in Mormon studies and has written books widely acclaimed outside the Mormon world. He is best known for Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, a book that explored Joseph Smith in-depth and met the high academic standards required of scholars.
The chair was first proposed three years ago as the university noted that the faith was garnering increased attention and should be studied in an academic way along with other major religions. It is establishing the chair as part of its Department of Religious Studies, a department that is not associated with any religion.
Laurie Maffly-Kipp, a professor and chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says that students in her school’s program come to her classes because they’re told at church that Mormonism is a cult, but when they meet actual Mormons, they don’t seem to fit the description of a cult-member. This often leads them to seek out further information (U.Va. Creates Richard Lyman Bushman Chair of Mormon Studies).
Bushman is noted for his openness in answering questions and has often been utilized as a voice for the Mormons to the media. He effectively balances faith and scholarly knowledge and is not afraid of the difficult questions or issues that arise in the study of Mormonism.
The creation of this chair is part of a larger movement in which the Church has consistently made more research available and engaged in its own scholarly research. It welcomes accurate research from other institutions as well, and creating a chair with Bushman demonstrates a desire to get it right as it pursues the goal of learning about Mormons and helping others to do the same.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.