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November, 10, 2011

The Rise of Seminaries and Institutes

Joseph F. Merrill

The subtitle of a recent article in the Daily Universe read: “Statistics show young adults moving away from religion.”1 A similar trend was also observed in the early 1900s and it inspired Church leaders to establish seminary and institute programs.2
The seminary program was first instituted in 1912 by Joseph F. Merrill. He was greatly inspired by his wife’s solid foundation of gospel understanding, which she had obtained by attending classes taught by James E. Talmage.4 Recognizing the value of such instruction, he sought to implement a program that would provide similar opportunities to other students. The seminary program began as an experiment in Salt Lake City’s Granite Stake but has spread throughout the Church and has blessed countless lives, domestically and internationally. (BYU Studies recently published an article about the seminary experiment, and an abstract can be found here.)
Seeing the success of the growing seminary program, institutes began to be established in the years that followed. The timing of the establishment of these programs is truly divine. Elder Boyd K. Packer has said: “In the history of the Church there is no better illustration of the prophetic preparation of this people than the beginnings of the seminary and institute program[s]. These programs were started when they were nice but were not critically needed. They were granted a season to flourish and to grow into a bulwark for the Church. They now become a godsend for the salvation of modern Israel in a most challenging hour.”5

Footnotes

  1. Josh Bolding, “Faith Among College Students,” The Daily Universe, October 18, 2011,
  2. Minutes of the meeting of the General Board of Education, May 12, 1912, Scott G. Kenney Research Collection, MSS 2022, box 10, folder 4; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; [CHD: Please check as we cannot copy original.]* Minutes of the meeting of the General Board of Education, November 23, 1917, Scott G. Kenney Research Collection, MSS 2022, box 10, folder 4; L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.
  3. Joseph F. Merrill, “A New Institution in Religious Education,” Improvement Era 41, no. 1 (January 1938): 12.
  4. [A. Theodore Tuttle], interview by Joseph F. Merrill, May 27, 1948, typescript, 1, copy on file at Education in Zion exhibit project; A. Theodore Tuttle, “Released Time Religious Education Program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” master’s thesis, Stanford University, 1949, 56.
  5. Boyd K. Packer, “Teach the Scriptures,” address to CES religious educators, Salt Lake City, October 14, 1977, reprinted in Church Educational System, Charge to Religious Educators, 3rd ed. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1994), 88.
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