We’re excited to share with you this interview with George Handley, a professor of humanities at BYU. George recently published a fascinating and moving intellectual biography of Lowell Bennion. As we’ve learned more about Bennion, he’s begun to loom large for us as a truly inspiring figure who models some of the best of what our faith tradition has to offer. He was an educator, humanitarian, and practical philosopher who had an outsized impact on the Church in the 20th century, even if few might recognize his name today.
Lowell Bennion was both committed to intellectual integrity and to prioritizing people over ideas. In the interview, George walked us through how this dual commitment led Lowell to a heart-led vocation that refused to compartmentalize the gospel—to separate it from either intellectual inquiry or from the practical, everyday needs of society. It also allowed Bennion to navigate the tricky, bumpy moments in relationship with other thinkers and educators in the Church with love and integrity.
His list of projects is truly extensive, but among the most memorable are his founding of the Institute of Religion next to the University of Utah, and of a boys ranch in Idaho—the Bennion Teton Boys Ranch—where George spent time as a boy. As an educator, Bennion took an expansive view of the gospel that sought to blend itself with secular learning and embrace all truth. Even on the occasions when those who disagreed with his approach made decisions that cost him professionally, Bennion was committed to seeing these events as part of the adventure of life.
The topics that came up in this episode really struck home with us. Lowell Bennion’s life invites us to consider not just what the right ideas are, but what ideas are for, and how they can be turned to the service of humanity. We’re thankful to George for taking the time to bring this impactful, if understated, thinker to our attention through this book.