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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
Changes to religious education graduation requirements will affect students attending universities and institutes, including the Salt Lake Institute adjacent to the University of Utah campus, pictured above.

Beginning fall 2015, changes to religious education graduation requirements for students attending universities and institutes owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will include four new “cornerstone” courses created to enhance the religious education of LDS young adults.

Officially announced during a Church Educational System devotional for young adults on Sunday, talk of the new courses began nearly two years ago.

“These new courses are intended to be cornerstones of your religious education experiences,” said Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy and commissioner of education for the LDS Church, during the broadcast. “They are centered in the scriptures and the teachings of latter-day prophets.”

These changes come amid a list of recent changes in curriculum for the LDS Church. In October 2012, changes in the youth curriculum for the Young Women and Young Men programs of the church were announced. A change came to the Seminary curriculum earlier this year and a change to the adult’s curriculum is said to be in the works.

“The church board of education and the boards of trustees for BYU, BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii and LDS Business College have approved four new courses which will be offered beginning in the fall of 2015,” Elder Johnson said.

This change to the religious education at church-owned universities and institutes around the world comes as an opportunity to “build on what they already know” and is in response to the expanded knowledge of the student body.

“Many of our students have already had extensive personal and family study in the scriptures,” said Chad H Webb, an administer in the Church Educational System. “They have gone through seminary and have served missions and they have a pretty good foundational understanding of the scriptures after studying them sequentially. The intent is to build on that previous gospel study experience.”

Although the same number of credit hours will be required for graduation at church-owned universities and institutes, incoming students will need to take the four new cornerstone classes — “Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel,” “Foundations of the Restoration,” “The Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon” and “The Eternal Family.” These classes will make up eight of the 14 credit hours needed to graduate.

“Current students will be able to graduate with existing requirements, but these courses will be available to them and they will be able to exchange former requirements with new cornerstone courses to meet the new requirements,” Webb said.

The required classes will base their study in the scriptures — the Old Testament and New Testament, the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants — and draw from the words of prophets. For new students, current classes will still be available to take as elective credit. But rather than focusing on only one book of scripture for an entire semester, the new cornerstone classes will draw from the teaching found in all of the standard works.

“As the scriptures become one in a young person’s hand they are going to understand the scriptures better and they are going to love the individual scriptures even more,” said Webb. “There is power in studying the scriptures together. The scriptures are woven together and as they grow together there are insights and understanding and strength that comes from a study across all the standard works.”

The class “Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel” will focus on the Savior’s premortal, mortal and post-mortal ministry drawing from key scriptural sections in all of the books of scripture.

One key component to the “Foundations of the Restoration” class will be a study of the Doctrine and Covenants, but “there are other important events in church history and teachings of modern prophets that will also be included to help them understand the breadth of the restoration,” Webb said.

“The Teachings and Doctrine of the Book of Mormon” class will focus on the key sermons and doctrine taught in the Book of Mormon.

“Most of our students know the history, they know the key events and people of the Book of Mormon, and so we’ll build on that previous study and knowledge to be able to focus on the sermons and doctrine taught in the Book of Mormon,” Webb said.

The class titled “The Eternal Family” will be very doctrinally based, Webb said, focusing on the “plan of salvation, words of living prophets and the doctrine of Heavenly Father’s family and earthly families.” It will be rooted primarily in the Family Proclamation, as well as words of living prophets and the scriptures.

The major emphasis of the courses have been determined and approved by the church’s board of education, but the development of the curriculum — the selection of scripture blocks, experiences, time allotment — will come from the instructors teaching the course.

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“There are some things that have been decided, but we would be unwise not to benefit from the experience of hundreds of really great institute and religion professors,” Webb said. “We want to have this unified direction in what we are doing and at the same time benefit from the expertise of our professors and their experience and thinking. And allow for the Holy Ghost to fulfill his role in the process of preparation and teaching these classes.”

Visit education.lds.org for more information.

mholman@desnews.com @marianne_holman