Survey research shows that most Americans know little, and understand even less, about the doctrines and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That condition should change as the Church increasingly becomes a topic of scholarly study. Demonstrating the legitimacy of Mormonism as a serious subject of academic investigation, two respected secular universities have adopted Mormon Studies programs: the Claremont Graduate University and Utah State University. This is a welcome development for two reasons — the Church encourages a deeper and broader examination of its theology, history and culture on an intellectual level, and this is a wonderful opportunity to expand open dialogue and conversation between the Latter-day Saints and various scholarly and religious communities.
This academic interest in Mormonism builds on various symposia and conferences that have taken place in recent years. For example, symposia about Joseph Smith on the 200th anniversary of his birth were hosted by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; by the New South Wales Parliament in Sydney, Australia; and by the National University of Taiwan in Taipei. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life hosted the recent conference on Mormonism and Politics, and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission has endorsed the Joseph Smith Papers project, which will be the most comprehensive collection ever published of historical material related to Joseph Smith.
These developments illustrate that Mormonism has a depth and breadth of substance that can hold up under academic scrutiny. Moreover, the Church not only values but espouses education. Church President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) declared:
This Church came about as a result of intellectual curiosity. We believe in education, and we spend a substantial part of our budget on the education of our young people. We expect them to think. We expect them to investigate. We expect them to use their minds and dig deeply for knowledge in all fields. If we have a motto, it is this, "The glory of God is intelligence." (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 127)
Thus, the lifelong pursuit of knowledge and education by Latter-day Saints is both a spiritual mandate as well as a secular necessity.