Professor of Sociology and Social Science Division Chair, Dr. Laura Vance, has been faculty at Brevard College for four years. From Kennewick, Washington, her research areas are new religions and ways in which gender ideology and sexual ideals evolve as religions mature. She earned an M.A. from Western Washington University and a Ph.D. from Simon Fraser University. One of her books, Women in New Religions, published by NYU Press, focuses on women in Mormonism, Seventh-day Adventism, The Children of God, and Wicca. An earlier book, Seventh-day Adventism in Crisis, published by University of Illinois Press, examines the most successful religion to emerge from the United States, which was founded by a female prophet, Ellen White. Dr. Vance has published other articles and chapters, most recently “Framing Eternal Sexual Identity in a Shifting Cultural Landscape” in The Palgrave Handbook of Global Mormonism.
Teaching was an obvious career choice for Dr. Vance as a self proclaimed problem solver. “Sociology and anthropology provide methods to answer questions that interest me. Since cultures are complex and changing, the answers are not ultimate and universal, but they help to identify patterns of human behavior,” she said. “I fell in love with anthropology and sociology as a student, and teaching is about the best possible profession. You get to learn, share your passion, ask questions, think about things in new ways, and see students encounter and fall in love with ideas. To me, there is nothing more fun than the social sciences.”
Raised as a fifth-generation Mormon, her studies in religion and gender resulted in excommunication from the Mormon church after she traveled to Brigham Young University (BYU) to access archival materials. “In order to check out those materials, researchers were required to provide photo ID and sign for documents while being filmed. Within weeks of returning from the BYU archives two Latter-day Saints missionaries came to my campus office with official notice that I was being excommunicated,” Dr. Vance said. “Several other feminist scholars were excommunicated for pursuing similar research topics around the same time, and the experience put me in touch with some of those scholars.”
As a result of her research, she is periodically contacted by media to check facts and offer context, including a Washington Post reporter right before Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was publicized. “The reporter asked about attitudes regarding certain types of sexual activity,” Dr. Vance said. “Since the questions gave away facts not yet in the public domain, It was a bit of a surreal window into the national news.” More recently, she was contacted by a fact checker at “60 Minutes” who had questions about what a well-known actor would have known or experienced while being raised in a religious movement that has been likened to a cult. “The conversation made me a few minutes late for a meeting, unfortunately, but that weekend I found it interesting to watch Anderson Cooper’s interview with the actor,” said Dr. Vance.
As a professor at Brevard College, Dr. Vance finds her work rewarding, particularly when connecting students to their chosen professions. She’s currently working with a student whose goal is to conduct original community research to set up an internship with a regional racial justice organization. “There are so many fabulous things about Brevard College–students who are engaged and focused, freedom and support to develop and implement experiential learning, faculty who are collegial and dedicated, our beautiful spot in the mountains, and the strong relationship that we have with the surrounding community,” Dr. Vance said. “I love being at Brevard College.”