Religion scholar Mark Juergensmeyer boycotts BYU conference to protest university policy; cites religious freedom

This week, Brigham Young University has convened its annual International Law and Religion Symposium, featuring around ninety scholars, political leaders and jurists from more than three dozen different nations. However, that number will not include Mark Juergensmeyer, a distinguished professor from UC Santa Barbara who is a past president of the American Academy of Religion and the author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, along with many other books. Juergensmeyer was scheduled to speak at the conference today, but withdrew for reasons of conscience.

In 2008, there was a student who had completed all the requirements for a degree from BYU. But in the month between completing the requirements and the formal graduation date, he was excommunicated from the Mormon church, and BYU refused to give him his diploma.

Religious freedom, at BYU, means non-Mormons are welcome, but Mormons must always be Mormons. More than a few Mormon students hide their disaffection with Mormonism, in order to not be expelled.

While Chad Hardy did violate the school’s moral code, he also completed the degree program. While some sort of reprimand or note on his record can be understood, the refusal to grant him his earned degree was unconscionable. I haven’t heard if his attorneys were successful in getting BYU to grant the degree.

Mark Juergensmeyer’s perspective on religion is decidedly on the negative side - religious violence (not religious peace-making), conflicts, interviews with interviews with individuals convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, leaders of Hamas, abortion clinic bombers. He writes on the rise of religious activism and its confrontation with, rather than its positive influence upon, secular modernity.

We find what we look for. If Juergensmeyer looked for the good in BYU’s International Law and Religion Symposium, rather than condemning that Symposium because of the history of the church that its organizers belong to, I’m sure he would be happy to attend, be able to speak to the gathering in a way to influence them away from what he sees as their evil, violent qualities, and possibly, if his mind were open, to learn something himself about other religions and the different - and peaceful - sorts of people who are members of those religions. But he doesn’t want to do that. It’s hard to face a person after you’ve written a book telling the world how violent and nasty they are.

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