"The humanities ask the question, `What does it mean to be human?' " says Steven Epperson. "And they take that question very seriously."
Just as Epperson, the new program coordinator for the Utah Humanities Council, takes his job very seriously. Dry-eyed and studious, the Salt Lake native brings top-flight credentials to the job (degrees from Brown University, The University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Temple) to go with his writing and organizational skills.When he discusses his duties, for instance, he ticks them off like a military strategist.
"Principally, I have three kinds of tasks here," he says. "I review grant applications and help people prepare and write grants. I do special research projects. And third, and most important, I'm responsible for the council's outreach program for the state.
If you're a ladies literary club in Paragonah, Epperson's your man to help you fashion a reading list.
If you're a USU scholar looking to study the ways folklore and religion play off each other, give Epperson a call about grant money.
Let him know if you're a non-profit organization sponsoring an essay contest.
"We want to be midwives," Epperson says. And the offspring is an understanding of "where we have been, where we are and where we're going."
On a personal note, if - as historians point out - the past is only a prologue, then Epperson has written an impressive prologue to his current vocation. He is the author of the award-winning book "Mormons and Jews: Early Mormon Theologies of Israel." He was designated one of 10 "Young Scholars in American Religious History" by the Center for Study of Religion and American Culture 1995-97. He has taught philosophy, history and ethics at Brigham Young University, Salt Lake Community College and Weber State University and he has been published widely and often.
Many still associate his name with struggles between institutional rights and individual rights, though he prefers not to dwell on - or even discuss - past battles.
What interests him is the battle at hand - getting funds and information from the UHC and into the hands of the residents of Utah.
"Steve's academic background will be important in helping us develop programs," says Cynthia Buckingham, executive director of the Utah Humanities Council. "He has a real sense for how to connect the campus and community. Since he'll be traveling the state, we're calling him our `Road Scholar.' "