Skip to main content
School Of Communications

The Nature of Religion: Robyn Christensen Finds Faith in Palmyra

Journalism Grad Robyn Christensen Studies the Connection Between Faiths in Palmyra, New York

Several journalism students traveled to Palmyra, New York this summer for the 200th anniversary of Moroni’s visit to Joseph Smith. Among the students on the trip was Robyn Christensen, a recent graduate from BYU’s journalism and sports media program. Christensen researched the intersection of religion and nature in the area, interviewing people of different faiths about their perspectives on the religious changes in the area. With opportunities to visit sites like the Sacred Grove, Christensen connected with nature and a variety of faith-filled people.

Robyn Christensen (far right) and fellow communications students in front of Niagara Falls. Photo courtesy Robyn Christensen.

Q: What was your favorite part of visiting Palmyra?

Robyn: I loved the diversity in the area. I grew up hearing just one story about Joseph Smith in relation to Palmyra, so I was surprised by how many different faiths are still prominent in the area. The people there were so proud of the religious diversity and history of their town. It was very inspiring to me.

Q: How did learning about other religions increase your own faith?

Robyn: Learning about other religions gives me perspective. There is something so touching about seeing other people devout in their worship and willing to share what they believe. It makes me reflect on my own faith and dig into what I know is true. Having that experience in Palmyra was totally different — people have congregated there for centuries searching for religion. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we talk all the time about Joseph Smith searching for answers. One of the people we interviewed said that every year there is a “pilgrimage” of people coming to Palmyra, looking for the same thing. Searching for truth in that quiet little town is a path that’s been walked so many times, it feels like the “powers that be” are moving through you and with you, helping you in that quest. The pattern of receiving inspiration in Palmyra continues year after year for person after person.

Q: How did you connect with nature during your Palmyra trip?

Robyn: Our hotel was half a mile from the Sacred Grove, so we were surrounded by nature the whole time we were in Palmyra. It was inspiring to see the beauty of the big green trees of upstate New York juxtaposed with the interviews and research that we were doing. A lot of our work was normal, like writing an article or setting up camera equipment, but doing it in that type of environment — rolling green fields and the birds chirping in the trees and these pretty little purple flowers — saturated what we were doing and it shines through in the content we produced.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from reading your studies on religion and nature?

Robyn: I hope people will see that there are threads of truth everywhere in the world. As we were studying the myriad of religions in Palmyra, we took tours of several different denominations’ churches and I kept seeing a recurring theme of nature. Potted flowers in the window sill in the Presbyterian church; beautiful stained glass windows showing trees in the Episcopalian church; a floral arrangement on the podium in the LDS church. It was like everywhere we went, everyone was channeling nature in the same breath that they were invoking their deity’s name. Even though people were worshiping in different religions, the actual act of worshiping was so similar. Those threads of truth throughout the world and the “nature of religion” was so visible to me.

Q: How will you use the things you learned in Palmyra in your own life?

Robyn: I hope to take a piece of the devotion to God and to faith that I saw in the people of Palmyra. I have taken some time in the months since we finished the project to reflect on how my faith in God has been strengthened. I hope I can continue to seek out truth throughout my life and challenge myself with similar experiences of learning through other religions. I want to teach this to my kids so they can seek truth, too.

Read Robyn’s article from the Daily Universe here.

Journalism students conduct interviews at the Smith Family Farm. Photo courtesy Robyn Christensen.