SFL 200: The Eternal Family, a Fusion of Religion and Science



Registration is here. You go to add your major classes, an elective, and then the dreaded G.E. The latter is often the hardest to fit into your schedule and many times the required classes are ones you don’t want to take. However, the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences at BYU is offering a new class that will fulfill either an SFL credit (SFL 100) or a G.E. Religion requirement (REL C 200): SFL 200: The Eternal Family.

Taught by Family Life professor Dr. Larry Nelson, the class is offered during the Spring, Fall, and Winter semesters. During the upcoming semester, it will be held in room 222 of the Martin Building (MARB) on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30-10:45 a.m.

One of a Kind

This is a unique class as it blends two departments together: the Religion Department and the School of Family Life. Dr. Nelson explained that the texts for the class will be the scriptures, teachings of general authorities, and social science research. In that sense, it is  a mesh of science and religion.  This is what makes this class so different; there are no others like it at BYU.


“The purpose of the class is to raise awareness of the importance of both the School of Family Life and the social sciences in general,” says Dr. Nelson. He hopes that fusing the scientific and religious elements will bring these studies to a wider audience. This class will showcase that the two often-opposing subjects can be taught together- and even used to support one another.

How Does it Work?

Beyond the texts, there will also be a variety of assignments that will test students’ abilities to combine both the religious and scientific elements. photographs-1209751__180For example, students will be asked to research their ancestors and identify themes within them that are representative of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” They will then list areas in which they need to improve in order to have a healthy, gospel-oriented family.

If you need to fulfill a GE, are curious about or interested in the SFL or the social sciences, or simply need an elective, then consider taking this class.

What other fusion classes do think BYU should offer?


BYU Student Uses Microscope to Find Origin of Ancient Looted Textiles

microscope-275984_1280In 2014, the Museum of peoples and Cultures at BYU acquired a collection of Pre-Columbian Peruvian textiles. Similar to many ancient textiles, these were originally obtained by looters rather than archaeologists. As a result, the textiles came to the museum like a solitary puzzle piece – out of context, with no instructions or explanation attached.

Taralea Foster, student of anthropology at BYU, put the textiles under a microscope to determine their cultural origins, as well as ways the textiles were likely used in the past.

To determine the origins of the textiles, one might expect an anthropologist to simply compare their designs and colors to similar textiles, and then make an educated guess. However, taking the analysis to a microscopic level made it possible to link the textiles to a more specific region. Under the microscope, the materials in the textiles were discovered to be a combination of cotton and camelid wool. Foster also determined that the spin of the thread fibers, the textiles’ thread count, and the weaving techniques used to make them were all representative of textiles from a specific Peruvian region.

Coast of Huanchaco, Peru – a city in the region the textiles were made

Taralea concluded that each of the five textiles she analyzed were probably from the northern or central coastal regions of Peru. They were woven by people of the Chancay or Chimu cultures, likely during the Late Intermediate Period (1000-1500 AD), and were likely used in tapestries or as garments.

Comparing the technical aspects of her textiles to those from other collections, Taralea was able to reconstruct the previously unknown cultural contexts of the five looted textiles and place them in their proper cultural and temporal position. The recovered information gives the textiles a new significance to the museum and will be used in their future research and display. The museum, in general, boasts many student-curated exhibits,  programs that are open to the public, and resources available to educators:

“For a lot of the cultures we have [featured at the museum], there were no written records,” says Paul Stavast, director of the MPC. “These objects are what the people left behind. This is how we understand who they were.”

Understanding the past takes teams of scholars and students to piece together the puzzle and build a comprehensible reconstruction of the past. Professors and students like Taralea Foster contribute to the rich scholarship and education at BYU that blesses the lives and enriches the minds of students everywhere.

Foster’s research was presented in this winning poster at the 2015 Mary Lou Fulton Conference:

Taralea Forster Poster

What is your favorite exhibit at the Museum of Peoples and Cultures?

The Effects of Secular and Sacred Education: a Study

4543531008_f594221c3c_oOne of the distinguishing factors of a BYU education is the integration of spirituality into the secular subjects.  While the combination of a formal education with religion is sometimes viewed as controversial and ineffective in the public education arena, a recent BYU study suggests that, at least in a private university setting, it can have a synergistic effect.

Matt Hiatt, a graduate student in the applied social psychology program, has been studying how incorporating spirituality into teaching affects the learning process.

For his dissertation study, two professors from different departments were trained on how to implement spirituality when teaching in their discipline.  Then, following the  professors’ application of these skills in a classroom setting, their students were asked to measure their experience with the teaching method.

Reflecting on the study’s findings, Hiatt explains, “We found that students perceived their professors as being higher in teaching quality and general teaching skills when they implemented these aspects of spiritual than when they did not…Even implementing it rather minimally paid big dividends for [the professors] as they received considerably higher ratings from the students.”

Many students who experience this type of teaching find it very effective and claim it to be one of the main selling points for attending Brigham Young University. These findings are congruent with BYU’s Mission Statement, which states:

“The mission of Brigham Young University is to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.  That assistance should provide a period of intensive learning in a stimulating setting where a commitment to excellence is expected and the full realization of human potential is pursued…Any education is inadequate which does not emphasize that [Jesus Christ] is the only name given under heaven whereby mankind can be saved.”

Knowing how integrating spirituality and secular knowledge in the classroom can help professors teach students more effectively.  Hiatt says, “I hope to take this learning and research with me to the future and implement it to help students wherever I go as a teacher.”


Pictures courtesy of Flickr.



BYU Geography Professor Teaches Students to be Disciples of Christ

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Jill Knapp, professor of Geography at BYU, shares Doctrine and Covenants section 88, verses 78 and 79, in which we are taught to learn about “countries and kingdoms” that we might “be prepared in all things” in the first lecture of every semester in her class Geography and World Affairs. Through the class, she strives to increase students’ awareness of their relation to the rest of the world.

She says: “The Lord sees geography as an important thing. And that’s partially because geography helps us know that we’re not an isolated people, but we’re connected to the rest of the world.”

Learning Sympathy through Geography

To that end, Knapp fuses gospel learning with secular education throughout the course. One of her class outcomes is to “better understand the inter-connectedness of the world so we will appreciate those who contribute to making our life so abundant and easy and so we will be more willing to help those who have less. For me, the hope is that by introducing students to a variety of different peoples, cultures, and problems in the world, that they become more sympathetic.” Over the twenty-two years she’s taught the course, she’s noticed a difference in her students.

“Today’s students are so much more globally aware. They’ve traveled more, seen the world more, and are much more willing to get involved.”

The Blessed Location of the United States

In a history class, you’ll likely learn about how politics, ideologies, and religions shaped the world. But geographic location and environment is not always considered as part of the equation. Knapp teaches, however, that much of the reason that the United States has been so prosperous has been due to environment and geographic location.


“We have been so tremendously blessed to live in the United States,” she says. “People everywhere are our brothers and sisters. And [the fact that we live] in such a blessed circumstance [is] not by chance, nor [is] it without some responsibility for the rest of the world. I try to help students understand that we really aren’t more deserving of the blessings that we have [than anyone else], so let’s go do something to improve the world in some way. Finding that way can be tough, even for me. But there is certainly a way for each of us to do it.”


Desire is More Important than Knowledge

At BYU, we enter to learn and then go forth to serve. Jill Knapp is just one of the many great professors who are working to build the kingdom of God on the earth, one pupil at a time.

“For me, it’s more important to instill a desire than to instill knowledge,” says Knapp. “I encourage my students to be disciples, and to go out and love the world. A desire to learn, serve, and to learn for a lifetime – that’s what I want for my students.”

What other BYU professors do you know who help others become disciples of Christ?





Does Utah’s Poor Winter Air Quality Hurt School Attendance?

Northern Utah’s unique geographical situation leads to periods of crippling inversion during certain times of the year, primarily the month of January.  With this poor air quality causing many negative health effects, young children are frequently kept inside for recesses during times of inversion.  But, could the inversion be affecting more than just recreation?  What if the existence of inversions altered school attendance in general?
In conjunction with our college’s recent Fulton Conference, a team of economics students including Nicholas Hale, Ryan Allen, and John Cannon, researched this concept.  Their research found a positive correlation between elementary school absences and air pollution.

The Results of the Study

The team studied four different Utah school districts: Alpine, Provo, Salt Lake City, and Park City.  Using Park City School District as a quasi-control district because of its higher elevation and subsequent lower exposure to poor air quality, they were able to track school attendance and then compare those numbers to the fluctuating inversion levels.
Previous research showed that an increase in air pollution was associated with a 1.5 to two percent increase in elementary school absences.  Researchers predicted that, during an inversion episode, the percentage of absences could triple to six percent or higher.
Though this may sound like an unfavorable statistic, the research shows that air quality, and thus the correlated attendance levels, has actually been improving when compared with decades past.
Courtesy of Flickr.

The Impact of the Study

Nicholas Hales, one of the student researchers, explained, “In 1992, Dr. Pope [a faculty mentor for the project] published a paper that explored a positive association between air pollution exposure and elementary school absences in Utah Valley.  This study was conducted during a time when air pollution levels were much higher in Utah Valley due to the operation of a large steel mill.  Our more recent study was conducted to see if this association persisted at today’s lower levels of air pollution.”
Because the research shows a continued correlation today, the findings could help resolve problem in the future.  Says Hales: “[The research] may be evidence that, if air pollution were further reduced in Utah Valley, elementary school attendance might increase marginally. I think this research would be interesting and potentially helpful to parents, teachers, and others involved in elementary education.”
The details of Hale, Allen, and Cannon’s study are presented in their winning poster below:
A Quasi-Experimental Analysis of Elementary School Absences and Air Pollution.jpg
The purpose of the conference at which Hales and his co-authors presented their poster was to provide an opportunity for students, both undergraduate and graduate, to participate in and present meaningful research in their field of study. Looking back on his experience, Hales stated: “I loved being involved in the Fulton Conference.  It was a great opportunity for me to explain the research I participated in to a wider audience.  I really appreciated the opportunity to prepare my poster and present it.  I would definitely encourage other students to participate in the future.”

BYU Professor Helps Create Doll for American Girl

Meet Melody, one of the newest American Girl dolls. She was designed in part by BYU history professor Rebecca de Schweinitz, who is helping to teach history to young girls  through her.

Photo: American Girl

Melody is no ordinary doll. She is one of a select few character dolls in the American Girl BeForever series meant to teach young girls their valuable role in history. For the past two years, Professor de Schweinitz has served on an advisory board that ensures the historical accuracy of Melody’s story.


Melody is a fictional character, but her story takes place in a very real setting. Growing up in early 1960’s Detroit at the height of the civil rights movement, she uses her singing voice to make a difference in her community.

De Schweinitz’s efforts were informed by her research into the influence of youth on the civil rights movement, published in a book titled If We Could Change the World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality in 2011. The book was featured in a March 2016 in a  Time Magazine article meant to provide parents with tips for sparking kids’ interest in civil rights. “Children were not just observers in history,” says de Schweinitz. “Many of them were forces for change.”
De Schweinitz worked alongside other board members to contribute to Melody’s story, a copy of which is included with each Melody doll. They also worked with designers to make the doll itself more interesting and historically accurate. They ensured that the texture of her hair and the material used for her clothing were authentic to what a girl in 1960’s Detroit would have had. “American Girl works really hard to make sure their products are authentic,” says de Schweinitz. “I’ve been really impressed.”
American Girl makes dolls like Melody to help girls build a positive sense of self.

Through her research, teaching, and involvement with projects like this, Professor De Schweinitz hopes to help all children “see that young people [have been] active agents of history” and can make a positive difference in the future. She will continue working with American Girl to fulfill their mission to celebrate girls and inspire them to be the best they can be.

The doll will become available in August of 2016.


How do you inspire your children to make a difference?

Women are Less likely to Take Risks. But Why?

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When was the last time you took a risk?  Did you think long and hard about it – weighing all your options? Or was it a snap decision? Research shows that women are less likely to take risks than men. But the reason might be different than you think.

Hal Miller, professor of Psychology at Brigham Young University, has developed a new method of experimentation to measure the human emotional response to gains and losses in risk-taking and decision making. He found that women’s brains react more intensely to perceived gains and losses. However, this does not mean that women are necessarily more emotional, but that a woman’s emotional reaction to a loss is, on average, greater than her emotional reaction to a gain, when compared to men’s reactions.

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To illustrate this point, let’s imagine two scenarios:

1.) Imagine that you and I bet 100 dollars on the flip of a coin. You guessed heads and you won. The 100 dollars is yours. Do you want to keep the money? Or should we go double or nothing?

2.) Now, let’s change the scenario. You and I bet 100 dollars and you guessed heads. Sorry pal, you lost. Now, do you want to accept the loss and walk away? Or do you want to go double or nothing?

As humans, we dislike losing more than we like winning. That’s why the average person is more likely to try a double or nothing bet in scenario 2 than in scenario 1.

ma girl.jpg

New experimentation

In 2002, a man by the name of Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel prize for an explanation of this phenomenon, and how it applies to economics. It’s called prospect theory. In short, Kahneman concluded that we make decisions based on how we perceive our potential gains and losses. He also proved that we are more likely to avoid risks when there is a potential loss than when there is a potential gain.

“We actually have a pretty good idea of the ratio…or by how much people hate losing more than they love winning,” said Kahneman. He estimated that it was somewhere between a 2:1 and a 3:1 ratio.

Dr. Miller, through his new methods, has identified, via electroencephalogram (EEG) brain-wave technology, a more precise measurement of how much more we hate losing than we love winning. The average human ratio is 2:1, the reaction to a loss being greater.

The difference between Kahneman and Dr. Miller’s experimentation is that Kahneman measured people’s cognitive decision-making. Miller’s experiments, however, are strictly behavioral. They only measure the behavior in relation to the emotions experienced.

Further, “[The experiments used by Kahneman] were largely hypothetical,” says Miller, “whereas our experiments are in real time and real space; real loss and real gain.”

Are our Decisions More Determined than we Think?

It is possible, then, that human risk-taking is more determined than we think it is. It is possible that our experiences and emotions govern our decisions more than we would like to admit. The implications of Dr. Miller’s findings are interesting to consider.