BYU’s center for religious study in literature gets a new name and purpose.
Founded in 1980, the Faith & Imagination Institute has been a haven for scholarly religious inquiry. Recently administrators changed the institute’s name from the Center for the Study of Christian Values in Literature and updated its mission in light of shifting attitudes toward religion in literature and academia.
Coordinator of the institute and editor of the journal Literature and Belief, Associate Professor Ed Cutler (Critical Theory and Literature) says, “In those days, literary criticism had become overly secular and not a place for faith and belief, so the center was created to promote something positive and moral about literature.”
However, Cutler notes, “In the intervening 40 plus years, a lot has changed. There has been a growing trend toward the post-secular age in humanities, with a strong interest in religion, spirituality, and faith.” In 2022, Cutler realized that it was time to reevaluate the center’s mission.
As the Faith & Imagination Institute, the organization recognizes that “belief, spirituality, and religion are deeply tied to imagination and art.” Cutler says the institute’s goal is to serve as a “hub for exploring identity, faith, spirituality, and religion and how they intersect in the humanities.”
The institute’s ongoing projects will continue to serve the BYU community and support the organization’s new goals. The Faith & Imagination Institute will continue sponsoring the David O. McKay Essay Contest and publishing the associated journal, The Restored Gospel and Applied Christianity: Student Essays in Honor of President David O. McKay. The institute’s academic journal, Literature and Belief, will increasingly focus on writers in other languages and those from non-Christian faiths.
In lieu of the annual conference the center previously held, the institute will hold an annual symposium in May on mind and imagination. Additionally, Professor Matthew Wickman (Scottish Literature, Interdisciplinary Literary Studies) will join the institute as associate coordinator and associate editor. His podcast, Faith and Imagination, will be part of the institute’s outreach.
Cutler anticipates the future of the institute will include “expanding its reach, thinking about diverse faith traditions and spirituality as these relate to imaginative, critical expression, and using the institute to bring out voices that wouldn’t otherwise be heard.”