In 1979, John W. Welch, an LDS attorney working in Los Angeles, established the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) as a tax-exempt foundation. Speaking often at firesides, Welch had seen great need for an organization that could coordinate and distribute research on the Book of Mormon.
FARMS moved to Provo in 1980 when Welch joined the faculty at Brigham Young University's law school. FARMS was initially understaffed and underfunded, even undervalued. Any one of these concerns would have quashed a lesser cause, but FARMS had a strong sense of purpose, and the shoestring operation forged ahead, sustained by a small but resolute cadre of dedicated scholars and by timely donations of money, labor, and equipment.
In 1984, FARMS teamed up with Deseret Book to begin publishing the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley. John Sorenson's landmark book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, appeared in 1985, followed by other key volumes that also helped to establish FARMS as a producer of weighty books of sound scholarship.
In the 1990s, FARMS enjoyed rapid growth, fueled by donations that considerably increased its yearly operating budget. During the mid-1990s, the BYU administration became interested in the prospect of incorporating FARMS into the university. As FARMS took on important projects that depended more and more on BYU resources, the relationship between the two became increasingly complex. Something needed to be done to clarify their mutual relationship. On 10 September 1997, President Hinckley proposed that FARMS be invited into the university.
In extending the invitation, President Hinckley said: "FARMS represents the efforts of sincere and dedicated scholars. It has grown to provide strong support and defense of the Church on a professional basis. . . . I see a bright future for this effort now through the university."
When the university decided to separate traditional FARMS activities from the manuscript preservation and archiving work of the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART), it was also decided to bring BYU's Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI) under the same umbrella. BYU needed to contain these three separate areas in an administrational organization, and so the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (ISPART) was established. The Research Technology Group, which developed the WordCruncher program, was also incorporated. In 2006, the BYU Board of Trustees renamed ISPART the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. "By renaming ISPART, BYU honors the memory and life's work of Elder Maxwell," said BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson. "This change firmly sets the future direction of the institute, which is to promote profound scholarship supporting the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ—something Elder Maxwell cared about deeply." With the change of name, BYU Studies, the signature publication of the University, was invited to join the Maxwell Institute.