Richard Olsen Cowan (born 1934) is a historian of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and a former professor in the Church History Department of Brigham Young University (BYU).[1] He was one of the longest-serving BYU faculty and the longest-serving member of the Church History Department ever.


Cowan was raised in Los Angeles. He is legally blind and has had retinitis pigmentosa since birth, and by 2000 he had lost nearly all vision.

Halfway through his undergraduate and graduate degrees, Cowan served a mission for the LDS Church in the Spanish-American mission, among the Mexican immigrants in Texas and New Mexico from 1953 to 1956.[2] On his mission he met Dawn Houghton, and they later married and had six children.


Cowan received his Bachelor of Arts in political science at Occidental College in 1958. He received an M.A. in 1959 and a Ph.D. in 1961 in American History, both from Stanford University. In 1959 he received an award from President Dwight D. Eisenhower, selected as one of four visually handicapped students in the United States.[2]


Beginning in 1961 Cowan was a professor of Church History and Doctrine at BYU. Cowan received BYU's professor of the year award in 1965. He has taught at the BYU Jerusalem Center and in the spring of 2007 was a visiting professor at BYU-Hawaii. He retired from BYU in 2015.[3]

Church positionsEdit

Among other positions in the Church Cowan has served as a stake patriarch.[4]


Cowan helped write the LDS Church's Sunday School manual from 1978–80, on the Doctrine and Covenants and LDS history.[2]

In 1972 the LDS Church planned a new sixteen-volume sesquicentennial history to be published in 1980, and Cowan was commissioned to write about the 20th century.[2][5] These contracts were all canceled in 1981[6] but Cowan still completed and published his volume, as The Church in the Twentieth Century in 1985.[7]

From 1981-1993 Cowan served as the chair of the committee in charge of preparing gospel doctrine lessons for the LDS Church. Among his books are Temples to Dot the Earth (1997), California Saints, A 150-year Legacy in the Golden State; The Church in the Twentieth Century (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985); The Latter-day Saint Century which covered about the same topic but was written 15 years later. He also co-wrote a book about the international church with Donald Q. Cannon. Cowan, along with Cannon and Arnold K. Garr was one of the editors of the Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History.[8] He wrote the article on the history of the Church from 1945 until 1990 (or basically as recent as he could at the time) for the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. He also wrote the articles for History of Temples, Missionary Training Centers, Branch, and Branch President.

He was a co-editor with John P. Livingstone and Craigh J. Ostler of The Mormons: An Illustrated History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published in 2013.

In 2015 BYU's religious studies center published his Provo's Two Temples book.


  1. ^ Middle name from Boone, David F. (August 1981). "The Worldwide Evacuation of Latter-day Saint Missionaries at the Beginning of World War II". [master's thesis]. Department of History, Brigham Young University. Retrieved 2016-02-09. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  2. ^ a b c d Cowan, Richard O. (1978). "About the Author". Doctrine & Covenants: Our Modern Scripture (Revised ed.). Provo, Utah: Young House, Brigham Young University Press. pp. 225–26. ISBN 0-8425-1316-7.
  3. ^ Deseret News article about a book published in honor of Cowan's work
  4. ^ Canadian Mormons, p. 127
  5. ^ Arrington, Leonard J. (1998). Adventures of a Church Historian. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. pp. 165, 173. ISBN 0-252-02381-1. Retrieved 2010-01-17.
  6. ^ Foster, Lawrence (Summer 1984). "Career Apostates: Reflections on the Works of Jerald and Sandra Tanner". Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 17 (2): 45. Retrieved 2009-12-30.
  7. ^ "Sesquicentennial History - Volumes and Current Status". LDS-Bookshelf. May 1997. Archived from the original on January 4, 2001.
  8. ^ Garr, Arnold K.; Cannon, Donald Q.; Cowan, Richard O., eds. (2000). Encyclopedia of Latter-Day Saint History. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book. ISBN 1-57345-822-8. OCLC 44634356


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