“Religious Values in Literature to Be Studied,” Ensign, Jan. 1981, 78
Brigham Young University has established a new center to study and stimulate interest in the religious, Christian, and moral content of great literature. Funding comes from a $25,000 grant from the Marguerite Eyer Wilbur Foundation of Santa Barbara, California.
BYU President Jeffrey R. Holland said this center will conduct “fresh research, instruction, and publication in a vast body of literature that is rich in religious values but virtually untouched as yet by serious scholarship.
“We intend to stimulate interest among literary scholars nationally as well as here within the BYU faculty,” he stated. “Such a center is symbolic of the unique opportunity we have at BYU to examine and espouse under the light of rigorous scholarship the moral values inherent in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The director is Sister Marilyn Arnold, English professor and assistant to former President Dallin H. Oaks for several years. “Until now there has been some hesitancy to employ values and morals in literary criticism, feeling that the art of the literature would be lost,” she said. “But we feel that high morals and high art go hand in hand. We intend to make a very valid case for approaching literature through its religious implications.”
She said current literary trends tend to emphasize technical creativity, sometimes at the expense of solid content.
“We are looking for a blending of content and form,” Dr. Arnold said, adding that content in great works has always involved moral values. “I suspect you would be hard pressed to find a great piece of literature that didn’t have some religious content.”
In addition to trying to influence literary trends, Dr. Arnold said the center will work to generate interest in good literature among the general public.
“We would like to get people reading and understanding great literature,” Dr. Arnold said. “At the same time, we would hope to educate people who now only look at content and think that because a story makes them feel good it is good literature.”
Among its activities, the center will sponsor an annual lecture at BYU and writing contests that emphasize quality writing on subjects of moral value. The center will also publish a journal and participate in BYU’s College of Humanities’ annual symposium to bring recognized scholars in Christianity and literature to campus.