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A History of the Founding of the Institutes of Religion, 1926-1936: A Case Study of a Religious Education Movement in American Higher Education


This study examines the founding of the Institutes of Religion, a supplementary religious education movement designed for college students sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). In 1926 the first Institute of Religion was founded at the University of Idaho in Moscow. The study examines the socio-cultural milieu of American society from 1910 through 1920, a period in which the Progressive Movement attempted to reform society. The leaders of the LDS Church were concerned with the ills of society. To help its youth, the Church expanded its private school system and emphasized its religious education programs. The next decade, 1920-1929, brought even greater concerns for the Church leaders. With the "revolution of morals and manners," they took steps to curb what they perceived as evil influences on youth and the corrupting influences upon their moral values. Two of the LDS Church's major concerns were the secularization of American society and higher education with its accompanying decline in religious faith and activity; the second concern was the increase of hedonism and materialism, which I am framing as worldliness. Another factor was the financial status of the Church and the economic recession that began in the 1920s. The Church leaders realized that they could no longer support their system of private secondary schools, the stake academies. They abandoned secular education below the college level and focused their resources on supplementary religious education programs. It was more cost effective to divest themselves of the academies and replace them with Institutes of Religion near college campuses. I trace the establishment of the first five institutes, illustrating how the movement evolved during its first decade, 1926-1936. This case study examines how at the local level the University of Idaho, in Moscow and Pocatello, the Utah State Agricultural College in Logan, the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, each reacted to the presence of the Institute. It examines how each Institute adapted to the socio-cultural context of each town and university.

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