An Epic Year at the RSC

By Devan Jensen

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaks during program for 40th anniversary of BYU’s Religious Studies Center. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd, Deseret News.

Here is a brief video introduction to the Religious Studies Center (RSC). Established by Jeffrey R. Holland in 1975, the RSC is a vital research and publications arm of Religious Education. It exists to seek out, encourage, and publish faithful gospel scholarship through sponsoring symposia and seminars; awarding research grants; and producing and disseminating high quality, peer-reviewed works. These include monographs, journals, compilations, and other publications in print and electronic formats pertaining to the content and context of Latter-day Saint scripture, the doctrines and history of the Restoration, and the restored Church including its relationship to other cultures, religions, and the behavioral sciences. The RSC also seeks to further improve gospel instruction by publishing pedagogically related books and articles.

Over the years, each publications director from the faculty has added his stamp of excellence to the RSC. In 2001 Richard D. Draper, the faculty publications director, recruited Richard Neitzel Holzapfel as editor of the Religious Educator and then Devan Jensen as executive editor. Our team increased annual production from two books to eight, and we have kept the pace going strong ever since, including posting over 3,000 articles or chapters on our website, rsc.byu.edu. We hired Joany O. Pinegar as an administrative assistant/publications coordinator and Brent R. Nordgren as a production supervisor. Thomas A. Wayment, our current publications director, has been working carefully with authors to produce quality manuscript submissions. For more about the RSC and our award-winning books, click here.

We had a particularly epic year in 2016. We hired or mentored six student editors (Leah Welker, Kimball Gardner, Tyler Balli, Jessica Neilson, Allyson Jones, and Shannon Taylor) and two publicity interns (Felix Lara and Angela Lee). Training them and helping them succeed in their chosen careers is a vital part of our mission. BYU immortalized our team in this fun video (see my Forrest Gump bench scene), which was created in connection with the President’s Appreciation Award. Last year two interns (Leah Welker and Angela Lee) were appointed to board positions with LDS Publishing Professionals, and they worked with a professional board to plan and publicize a major conference with speakers such as Brandon Mull and Brad Wilcox (see summary). Five of our students (Felix Lara, Alison Brimley, Shanna D’Avila, Hadley Griggs, and Leah Welker) scored competitive internships with Church publications, and they are preparing for promising careers.

As a team, we made big strides in building the RSC brand and community. We learned publicity techniques from leading social media expert Fauzia Burke. We worked with our media specialist, Deseret News, Maxwell Institute, the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and LDS Perspectives Podcast to cross-promote RSC products. We helped increase our outreach and sales through Facebook and Twitter. The team achieved two Deseret Book best sellers in 2016.

Our small team juggled complex projects, including the BYU Religious Education Review (two issues), Religious Educator (three issues of a peer-reviewed journal), our e-Newsletter (12), Studia Antiqua (a peer-reviewed journal), and twenty-five books: The Worldwide Church: Mormonism as a Global Religion; Sacred Space: Exploring the Birthplace of Mormonism; A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History; A Historian in Zion: The Autobiography of Andrew Jenson (800 pages; three-month publishing schedule); Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones; Foundations of the Restoration; A Bible Reader’s History of the Ancient World (many maps); BYU Religious Education Student Symposium, 2017; LDPPA Conference Program (with ads); Mormons in the Piazza (600 pages); Kalaupapa: The Mormon Experience in an Exiled Community; Zion’s Trumpet: 1856 & 1857 Welsh Mormon Periodical (1,000 pages); His Majesty and Mission (three-month schedule); Pioneer Women of Arizona; No Other Success: The Parenting Practices of David O. McKay; Religious Freedom: Building Faith, Family, and Society; The Field Is White: Harvest in the Three Counties of England; The Voice of the Saints in Taiwan;  An Introduction to the Book of Abraham; Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith: Two Nineteenth-Century Restorationists; Dixie Saints: Laborers in the Field; In Their Footsteps: Pioneers of Faith; Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective (ebook); The Keystone Scripture (ebook); and Sacred and Historical Places: Hawai‘i (I moonlighted for this one).

On a personal note, last year I pursued my writing passion, making several presentations: “Decolonizing Micronesia after the Pacific War” (Pacific History Association in Guam); “Magazines and Journals: Seven Steps in the Thousand-Mile Journey” (Independent Book Publishers Association national conference in Salt Lake City); “Line upon Line: Joseph Smith’s Growing Understanding of Families and Heaven” (MHA Conference, mentioned in Church News); “Cynthia Jane Stowell: Wife of a Utah War POW” (Utah State Historical Society); and “‘We Rang the Bell’: Olonzo D. Merrill & the Introduction of Nineteenth-Century Mormon Missionary Work in Tonga” (Mormon Pacific Historical Society, mentioned in Church News). I published four papers in peer-reviewed journals or magazines: “Micronesia’s Coming of Age,” Pacific Asia Inquiry (University of Guam), December 2016; “Mormons Who Guided Micronesia’s Return to Self-Rule,” Mormon Historical Studies, Fall 2016; “Keeping Faith Afloat,” New Era, December 2016; and “The RSC as a Training Ground,” BYU Religious Education Review, Fall 2016, 26–27.

This year at the RSC promises to be just as challenging and productive, as we have completed about half our books already! To keep with our progress, sign up for our e-Newsletter at rsc.byu.edu (bottom of that page).