CLAREMONT, California — Claremont Graduate University has appointed distinguished Latter-day Saints scholar Richard Lyman Bushman as the Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor in Mormon Studies in its School of Religion. The announcement was made on Friday, October 19, following final approval of the action by the CGU Board of Trustees. The appointment will begin in fall 2008.
Dr. Bushman, emeritus from the Gouverneur Morris Chair of American History at Columbia University, will play a key role in establishing at Claremont the first permanent, graduate-level study of Mormonism at a secular university.
“We consider him to be the single most widely known and highly regarded historian of Mormonism,” said Karen Torjesen, dean of the Claremont School of Religion. “Here, we are committed to studying the full breadth of religious experience. With his broad background in American cultural and religious history, Professor Bushman will make a vitally important contribution to our mission.”
Dr. Bushman’s appointment as visiting professor is named after President Howard W. Hunter, the fourteenth president of the Church.
Elder Holland Comments
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles noted the appropriateness of eventually establishing a chair in Mormon studies at Claremont in the name of President Hunter. Because of his ties to Southern California and knowledge of Claremont’s academic reputation, President Hunter knew that Claremont “would influence some of the most impressive thinkers of our time.”
He was aware, Elder Holland continued, “that a Mormon studies program in just such an environment could greatly impact scholars, opinion leaders and public policy makers, ultimately from all over the world.”
Elder Holland recalled that President Hunter encouraged us to “talk with those beyond our own circle.” He urged us to “communicate first and foremost in our language of faith.” But, Elder Holland reminded, President Hunter also urged that wherever possible we should “add the language of scholarship, which would expand our circle of influence even further.”
A Prolific Author
Dr. Bushman is the author of twelve books, receiving such recognitions as the Bancroft Prize in American History and the Phi Alpha Theta Prize. In Mormon studies he has published Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism , which received the best biography award from the Mormon History Association in 1985. In 2005, he published his award-winning Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling . It has received wide praise from Mormons and non-Mormons alike.
In addition to his career at Columbia, Dr. Bushman has taught at Boston University, Harvard, Brown, the University of Delaware and Brigham Young University.
Dr. Bushman expressed his deep satisfaction at the appointment. “It is an honor to hold a position named after President Hunter, a man whom I greatly admired. Establishing a program in Mormon studies at a university of Claremont’s stature is a thrilling challenge,” he said. “I want to do whatever it takes to get the program going.”
During the academic year 2007-2008, Dr. Bushman will hold a Huntington Library fellowship while residing at nearby Pasadena. His presence in southern California will allow him to begin development of the Claremont program. His wife, Dr. Claudia Lauper Bushman, herself a distinguished scholar in American history at Columbia University, will also teach courses at Claremont as an adjunct professor.
President Robert Klitgaard of CGU has previously observed that in addressing the problem of religious intolerance and misunderstanding, the Claremont School of Religion is tackling one of the biggest problems in the world today. At April 2006, at the time of the formal agreement inaugurating the funding drive to establish the Hunter Chair, he noted that the Hunter Chair in Mormon Studies is “absolutely pivotal” to the school’s mission.
“God willing,” he observed, in a few years hence, “we will be a world leader in creating religious tolerance and understanding.”
Dean Torjesen has echoed those sentiments and foresees a particular Mormon application. “ We believe that we are creating a place that can make a great deal of difference for the understanding of Mormonism in contemporary American society.”
According to Dr. Bushman, the significance of inaugurating Mormon studies at Claremont lies in the opportunity for M ormons will “enter into conversation with people of other faiths about the deep issues of human life in a way that has never been possible before.” He continued, “We’ve been observed and thought about. But we have not been part of the conversation. Here [at Claremont] we will be.”
The School of Religion at CGU was founded in 2000, although it existed as a department since 1925. Preparations to establish the Mormon studies program have been underway since 2000, under the direction of Dean Torjesen and the Mormon Studies Council at Claremont, one of eight advisory councils to the School of Religion. Activities have included courses taught by Dr. Armand L. Mauss and several conferences and public lectures by nationally renowned scholars.
Momentum increased when the university and the Howard W. Hunter Foundation publicly announced in April 2006 a multi-million dollar endowment campaign to fund the Howard W. Hunter Chair and accompanying programs.
Dr. Bushman will hold the position of Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor until the endowed chair is fully funded. Fundraising for the chair named after President Hunter is ongoing. “These funds will enable the establishment of the first permanent, graduate-level study of the Church anywhere in the world,” said Joseph Bentley, chair of the Mormon Studies Council at Claremont. He encouraged all advocates of Mormon studies in a university setting and friends of President Hunter to donate to the Howard W. Hunter Foundation.
Dr. Mauss, a prominent scholar in Mormon studies in his own right, chose not to be a candidate for the appointment. “ The Claremont program will be in excellent hands with Richard Bushman as its founder, ” he observed. “No other scholar in the field can match his stature and accomplishment.”