Though blind from his youth, Richard O. Cowan is known for his ability to see with spiritual eyes. He recently retired as a professor of church history and doctrine after 50 years of teaching, researching, writing and mentoring at Brigham Young University, where he had a monumental effect on the 40,000 students he taught as well as the dozens of colleagues he worked with over the years.
In Cowan’s honor, 20 of his colleagues participated in a centuries-old academic tradition, creating a “collection of writings published in honor of a scholar.” Called a Festschrift, from the German “celebration of writing,” the collection, edited by Kenneth L. Alford and Richard E. Bennett, who are also in BYU's church history department, is titled "An Eye of Faith: Essays in Honor of Richard O. Cowan.”
The book begins with an interview by Lloyd Newell, a professor of church history and doctrine, that provides an inspirational look at Cowan’s life, his service, his love for the Lord and feelings about his blindness. “Perhaps out of necessity, I came to rely more and more on the Lord for direction and support,” he told Newell. “Involvement in programs of the church and my study of the scriptures gave me a more hopeful perspective and outlook toward life.”
Each chapter stands alone; each begins with the author sharing something about his or her involvement with Cowan.
Several essays focus on aspects of the temple, because, as Terry B. Ball, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU, writes at the beginning of a contribution titled “Isaiah and the Latter-day Temple,” “Dr. Richard O. Cowan has devoted much of his research and teaching life to the topic of temples” and their significance.
Ann N. Madsen, who served with Cowan on the Gospel Doctrine Writing Committee, compares Solomon’s Temple to the Salt Lake Temple in her essay. Alexander Baugh writes about baptism and confirmation of the dead, as does Bennett. Other writings discuss the Salt Lake City Olympics (J.B. Haws), the Mormon Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair (Brent L. Top) and the Monument to Women Memorial Garden (Susan Easton Black).
While each is self-contained, taken together, these chapters create a complete picture of what meant the most to Richard Cowan and why his life, indeed, deserved to be honored with the Festschrift, "An Eye of Faith."
Cecily Markland is a freelance writer, book editor, publicist and author of "Hope: One Mile Ahead" and the children’s book "If I Made a Bug." She owns Inglestone Publishing and produces cecilymarkland.com, a calendar of LDS events in Arizona.