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New scholarship for history students named in honor of ASU alumna


Portrait of Laura Hales.

ASU alum Laura Hales, who died in 2022, has been honored by anonymous donors with a scholarship that was named after her. Photo by Brian Hales

March 15, 2024

Laura Harris Hales was a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an author and a reluctant-but-successful podcaster who, with her husband Brian Hales, started "Latter-day Saint Perspectives," a podcast that examined the history and doctrines of the LDS church by interviewing experts and historians.

She was also a Sun Devil, having earned her second master’s degree from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies in 2020,where she was recognized as one of the school’s outstanding graduates.

At that time, Hales’ podcast had 2.6 million downloads.

Some episodes were lighthearted, like an episode on church founder Joseph Smith’s dog, Old Major. But Hales also didn’t shy away from digging into complex topics regarding her faith — like polygamy or LGBTQ+ issues. 

Though Hales died in 2022 after a bout with pancreatic cancer, her fervor for history and trailblazing methodology left a mark on many of her listeners — so memorable, in fact, that a newly endowed scholarship has been founded in her name by donors who treasured her work, yet wish to remain anonymous.

Though the donors never met Hales, they say her podcast and a book she edited — "A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History" — played a role in teaching them and keeping their spirits up as they served a three-year church mission.

They said when they returned home, they hoped they would find a way to contact Hales and thank her.

Sadly, that opportunity never presented itself.

“As the humanities in general, and history in particular, have been marginalized in so many school programs, ASU offers great hope for a new generation of scholars who, like Laura, can venture forth and accomplish great things in brick-and-mortar and digital learning environments,” the donors said.

School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies Director Richard Amesbury called the gift “a generous tribute to a beloved member of the SHPRS community.”

“We are grateful both for Laura and for this anonymous gift in her honor, which will enable future generations of students to follow in her footsteps," Amesbury said.

Hales was a passionate, lifelong learner until her death at age 54. She held degrees from Brigham Young University, New England College and, most recently, Arizona State University.

In an unpublished memoir, Hales wrote, “I crave scholarship like some desire chocolate. It is a personality trait that I attribute both to my nature and nurturing. Growing up, education was in the air I breathed.”

As an online master's degree student of history, Hales was a beloved and memorable student.

Catherine O’Donnell, assistant vice provost and professor of history, oversaw Hales’ capstone portfolio, titled "Hegemony or Millenarianism?: Nineteenth-Century Mormon Missionaries to French Polynesia, 1843–1852."

“When she came to us,” O’Donnell said, “Laura had already had an enormously successful career, bringing scholarship to broader audiences than most of us ever reach, thanks to her skilled creation of new formats and, always, that wonderful prose. In our program and in her own work, Laura thought as clearly about history’s uses as she did about its subjects; in every way, she was a gift to ASU and to me as a teacher.”

The Laura Harris Hales Graduate Student Research Scholarship will offer funding to online master’s students in history seeking to pursue research and professional development opportunities they may otherwise be unable to due to financial constraints.

Brian Hales commented on the endowment, saying, “I am grateful to ASU and the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, and also to the anonymous donors, for setting up this scholarship. I appreciate your efforts to present Laura to a broader audience.

“We believe those who pass on still live, and I believe my sweet Laura is also pleased.”

Kathleen Kole de Peralta and James Dupey, both clinical assistant professors of history, had Hales in their courses, where she excelled.

They said that, this summer, the scholarship will help fund online master's history students participating in a new study abroad program, through which they will conduct archival research at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

It’s possible that Laura Hales would have been moved that her name will be used in support of a graduate student research trip to the United Kingdom.

In her memoir, she wrote:

“Brian Hales buoyed me up and gave me the courage to climb mountains, whether it was obtaining formal degrees or working as an amateur historian. Brian read nearly every paper I wrote, lending suggestions and encouraging me to stretch beyond my comfort zone. … Our dream was to go to England and obtain doctorate degrees together. It would have been amazing.”

To learn more about Hales’ legacy and impact on the LDS community, read Hales’ obituary in The New York Times.

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