Years ago when I was on faculty at a state university, a student asked me, “How can you have a PhD and believe in God?” My response was, “How could I have a PhD and not believe in God?” It is my belief in God that has motivated me to continually study and learn. My belief that I am a daughter of loving Heavenly Parents defines who I am.

I was born into a family with parents that faithfully practiced the Latter-day Saint religion. We moved several times during my childhood, and I was exposed to various perspectives, religions, and lifestyles different from my own. I remember reading as a teenager with fascination about Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam, as well as talking with friends about their Christian beliefs or Jewish faith. It was as a high school student in Seattle, Washington. that I first attended early morning LDS youth scripture study classes. As a freshman, the scriptural text we studied that year was the Book of Mormon. I remember coming to the realization that Mormonism is not just a church meeting one attends on Sunday, but an entire way of life. I knew that I needed to decide for myself if this was the way God wanted me to live my life—if it was, I would dedicate my life to the gospel of Jesus Christ; if not, I wanted nothing more to do with the LDS faith.

In addition to my readings of other religions, I read the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and I remember clearly the night I knelt in my room and prayed. I had been taught as a child to pray to a loving Heavenly Father, and I had had experiences as a child where I felt that God had answered my prayers, calmed my fears, or directed me in decisions. As I prayed that night, I asked if the Book of Mormon was true, and if I should live my life as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I felt a strong and loving presence, as if God were wrapping me in His arms. I felt an intense joy, like never before. That is why I am a believer—because it brings me joy. It gives meaning and direction to my life.

We believe that “the glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth” (Doctrine & Covenants 93:36). My academic studies intertwine with my spiritual life—which gives my educational pursuits meaning and purpose. I study sociology because I care about social interaction. I care about those that suffer injustices because of discrimination or poverty. I see all human beings as part of a larger family—that we are all brothers and sisters—literally children of loving Heavenly Parents. We each have a divine potential and deserve the opportunity to reach that potential. I study the health and well-being of women and children because my religious life teaches me that we have a responsibility to care for each other. I recognize that I have been blessed with wonderful opportunities and resources to learn and be productive. I have a responsibility to give back. It is the example of Jesus Christ that motivates me to seek solutions to human suffering.

I believe that through my faith I experience spiritual guidance or personal revelation. The spiritual direction I receive is like a “sixth sense.” It provides another way to experience and understand the world around me. It enlightens my mind and understanding, and gives meaning to my work. Ultimately, I am a committed member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because it makes me a better human being.

Posted March 2011 on

Renata Forste was born in New Mexico and has lived in Virginia, Oregon, Washington, Missouri, Illinois, and Utah. She received her BS and MS degrees in sociology from Brigham Young University, and her PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago. Renata is married to Michael Forste and they have three daughters. Currently, Renata is the chair of the sociology department at Brigham Young University. Her graduate training is in demography and her research focuses on the health and well-being of women and children in Latin America, as well as patterns of family formation in the U.S. She was on faculty at Western Washington University prior to joining the faculty at Brigham Young.