Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Philip Barlow to Fill Mormon Studies Position
USU prof breaks new ground in the study of Mormonism
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune
Philip Barlow, a Harvard-trained professor of theology and American
religious history, has been named the country's first full-time
professor of Mormon studies at a secular university.
After a nationwide search, Utah State University chose Barlow for
the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture, a
significant addition to the school's burgeoning department of
Though a Utah native, Barlow has not lived in the state for
decades. After graduating from Weber State College, he earned graduate
degrees from Harvard in religion and American culture and the history
of Christianity. For more than a decade, he has taught an introductory
course in theology and suffering as well as upper-level courses in
Christian history, American religion, and theological explorations of
time, silence, and film at Hanover College in Indiana.
As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
Barlow intended his graduate studies to focus on everything but
Mormonism. His Harvard professors were intrigued, however, and he
ended up exploring the place of the LDS Church in American religion
for his dissertation. Since then, he has worked on a historical atlas
of American religion and a look at religion and public life in the
Midwest. He is currently the president of the Mormon History
"I was something of a curiosity and a sensation when I first
arrived at Hanover, which has Presbyterian roots," Barlow said in a
phone interview. "I've been operating within theological studies,
which I construe as a rigorous examination of theology. We see
ourselves as thinking critically within a Christian context which has
been broad enough to include me."
At USU, Barlow will not be discussing or promoting his faith.
"We are not teaching Mormon doctrine or theology . . . or testing
the truth of it," said Norman L. Jones, history department chairman.
"We are looking at what people do because they believe certain
USU's religious studies program, the first of its kind in the
Intermountain West, looks at religion from three different angles:
cultural, historical and artistic; social scientific aspects of
anthropology, sociology and psychology; and philosophical.
About a dozen students enrolled in the program last fall, and the
first one will graduate this spring, having completed all the
requirements by putting together classes from several departments,
Barlow joins Charles Prebish, an internationally known expert on
Buddhism, who was hired last year as the Charles Redd Chair of
Religious Studies. Eventually, the school hopes to add a chair on
Islam and another one on Judaism.
"One of the things we believe strongly is that this is not just
about the local situation; it's a global conversation," Jones said.
"How on earth do you have peace in the world that's so religiously
If the university doesn't step up and help students think about
religion in the context of its practice, we've got a problem."
Barlow is optimistic about his new assignment.
"I hope to erode boundaries of all sorts with this study," he
said. "I want to make USU a welcoming place for not only the outside
world to recognize Mormonism as an important topic and for Latter-day
Saints themselves to find a safe place where all questions are
Meanwhile, the Claremont Graduate University School of Religion in
Southern California is also soliciting qualified applicants to fill
the newly created Howard W. Hunter Chair in Mormon Studies. The school
hopes to review applications later this month.
* Position: Utah State University's new Leonard J. Arrington Chair of
Mormon History and Culture
* Education: Bachelor of arts Weber State College, master of
theological studies and doctor of theology, Harvard University
* Previous position: Professor of theological studies, Hanover College