The Greying of Mormon Studies

February 12, 2004 | 42 comments
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Perhaps it is just me but it seems that there is a certain greying that has been happening in the “establishment” voices of the unestablished sector of the Mormon intellectual economy.

By “establishment voices” I mean Dialogue, Sunstone, and The Journal of Mormon History. I wonder to what extent the Mormon intelligensia of my parents generation faces a crisis of replication. On the basis of my admittedly very unscientific and unrepresentative sampling, it seems to me that the pages and symposium halls of the establishment forums are inhabited by an increasingly greying crowd. This is not to say that there aren’t young people involved in these things, but I get the feeling that twenty or thirty years ago Sunstone Symposiums and the Mormon History Association were dominated by the young.

If what I am saying about the establishment alternative Mormon voices is correct (admittedly a big if), then I think there are two inter-related phenomena at work. The first is probably the spike in official hostility to such discussions that occured in the early 1990s, just as my generation was beginning intellectual adulthood. The second is the increased professionalization of Mormon intellectuals. What I mean by this, is that I think that Mormons who are very serious about ideas (and more importantly about publishing their ideas) have increasingly moved into the mainstream academy. That academy has over the same period become a much more competitive place. In the face of that competition, I think that many aspiring Mormon academics cannot afford to regularlly haunt to the pages of the establishment alternative voices less because of fear of church retribution than because of fear of academic retribution. In a publish-well-or-perish academic market it is difficult aspiring Mormon academics to justify putting together a major piece for Sunstone or Dialogue. This is not to deny that there aren’t some very smart and talented people writing in those forums, but I think there is something to the dynamic that I lay out.

In the end, I think that this move is probably bad in the short term but good in the long term. It is bad in the short term, because I think that there is a certain sterility to the discussion in many of the mainline Mormon-studies fora. In the long term, I think that the march of Mormon intellectuals into the “real world” will increase the quality of Mormon intellectual discussion. Professional Mormon intellectuals who want to talk about Mormonism will need to find ways of doing so outside of the traditional Mormon-studies fora in order to survive professionally, and I think that they will find that these fora — for all their limitations — are more demanding than Sunstone Symposia.

In the mean time, I note that Dialogue, presumeably in a bid to bring in new blood, is offering a cash reward for quality manuscripts by young writers. The road to fame and fortune is open!

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42 Responses to The Greying of Mormon Studies

  1. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2004 at 5:49 pm

    Many religious groups are experiencing a sort of neo-orthodoxy among the young. Could we be seeing similar phenomenon?

  2. clarkgoble on February 12, 2004 at 5:55 pm

    I think “neo-orthodoxy” has been rather mainstream for quite sometime. (In the McMurrin sense – although I’d vigorously debate the utility of that category)

    I do think that many people (myself included) would hesitate before considering publishing in Sunstone or Dialog or the like. I’ve heard Dialogue has changed, but I’d want to see the proof first. The problem is that for people not associated with an university there aren’t that many avenues open. There are apologetic places and then BYU Studies. That’s about it…

    I think that were there more outlets more people would publish.

  3. Greg Call on February 12, 2004 at 6:16 pm

    I agree with Clark that there is a certain neo-orthodoxy among our generation, but I don’t think that really provides an answer to Nate’s question. Why connect neo-orthodoxy with a lack of drive or desire to write and publish on Mormon history or thought? I would think one could be orthodox and also want to write about Mormon thought and culture. One might respond that Sunstone or Dialogue are not welcoming fora for orthodox thought (due to the official hostility Nate mentioned); but then why aren’t there neo-orthodox journals springing up?

  4. clark goble on February 12, 2004 at 6:26 pm

    Well there is the philosophical society that has been mentioned here. (Sorry don’t recall the web site — sorry Ben) Not really “neo-orthodoxy” but definitely not Sunstone.

    I suspect part of the problem is no rich millionaire willing to loose money on the issue. Perhaps the neo-orthodox have too much business training and don’t see a market for break-even?

    But I promise when I break $10,000,000 I’ll set up a more conservative academic styled journal.

  5. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2004 at 6:48 pm

    We have $10 million. Anyone willing to commit themselves for less? Anyone?

  6. Bob Caswell on February 12, 2004 at 6:52 pm

    I prove Nate’s point. I’ve never read anything in Sunstone because I was raised with a “don’t go there” attitude toward them. And ever since then, I’ve never felt a need to explore that area. Now, especially, I’m quite satisfied with blogs like this one.

    But I suspect if a couple of the bloggers here were to be excommunicated and quickly replaced with new bloggers, history would repeat itself. I would probably leave along with many others even if the problem had been fixed. The “bad taste in the mouth” feeling seems to never go away. It’s a rather unforgiving way of handling things, but that’s what happened to Sunstone, and what I think could happen anywhere.

    In fact, the philosophical society mentioned has one person who is associated with Sunstone. It makes me wonder… I don’t mean to be so judgmental; I was just raised with a general negative feeling toward Sunstone.

    Clark, when I’m rich and famous (or just rich), I’ll through a couple million at a joint effort. :)

  7. Greg Call on February 12, 2004 at 7:02 pm

    If you think you need to wait until you have 10 million before you start getting your ideas published, perhaps you don’t really want to get your ideas published. See Claudia Bushman’s story about Exponent II in the latest dialogue. It is an amazing story of ambition, devotion, and sacrifice for something that group of Boston women believed in. Also see the origins of The Student Review and Sunstone (I don’t recall if Dialogue had a wealthy benefactor, but I doubt it did). Why were the “liberals” able to pull it off on a shoestring — repeatedly?

  8. Melissa on February 12, 2004 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks for the interesting thread, Nate.

    Although there have been two notable exceptions, I personally have been counseled strongly by many members of the “greying” generation of Mormon intellectuals to “not get distracted from real academic work” by my Mormon studies interests. This counsel is always given, I believe, with careful consideration of my long-term academic opportunities and with good reason. Nobody in my department really cares that I just published a piece in Dialogue, for example. If I had a piece in Faith and Philosophy or Journal of Religious Ethics then they’d be thrilled at my “scholarly promise.” This is a live issue for LDS academics Where should one put one’s time? The repeated refrain: the academy.

    Having said that, I sat in two classes at Harvard Divinity School last week where “Mormons” were not only mentioned, but represented a topic of the course. In both cases some reading material on Mormon history or theology was included. I found this intriguing. There *is* work being done on Mormon stuff by non-Mormon scholars (Harvard’s Bill Hutchison’s new book _Religious Pluralism in America_, or U.of Chicago’s Susanna Morrill’s dissertation on LDS female poetry)

    If the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology (SMPT) ends up producing a quality, peer-reviewed academic journal then this might be the kind of forum where conversations with such scholars can take place. If well-trained LDS scholars can dialogue with other scholars in forums that are recognized as academically legitmate then we won’t have to engage Mormon studies part time or as a hobby. However, as my advisor reminds me often, lots of solid work has to be published first in established and well-respected journals.
    That takes time.

  9. Melissa on February 12, 2004 at 7:09 pm

    Thanks for the interesting thread, Nate.

    Although there have been two notable exceptions, I personally have been counseled strongly by many members of the “greying” generation of Mormon intellectuals to “not get distracted from real academic work” by my Mormon studies interests. This counsel is always given, I believe, with careful consideration of my long-term academic opportunities and with good reason. Nobody in my department really cares that I just published a piece in Dialogue, for example. If I had a piece in Faith and Philosophy or Journal of Religious Ethics then they’d be thrilled at my “scholarly promise.” This is a live issue for LDS academics Where should one put one’s time? The repeated refrain: the academy.

    Having said that, I sat in two classes at Harvard Divinity School last week where “Mormons” were not only mentioned, but represented a topic of the course. In both cases some reading material on Mormon history or theology was included. I found this intriguing. There *is* work being done on Mormon stuff by non-Mormon scholars (Harvard’s Bill Hutchison’s new book _Religious Pluralism in America_, or U.of Chicago’s Susanna Morrill’s dissertation on LDS female poetry)

    If the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology (SMPT) ends up producing a quality, peer-reviewed academic journal then this might be the kind of forum where conversations with such scholars can take place. If well-trained LDS scholars can dialogue with other scholars in forums that are recognized as academically legitmate then we won’t have to engage Mormon studies part time or as a hobby. However, as my advisor reminds me often, lots of solid work has to be published first in established and well-respected journals.

  10. clarkgoble on February 12, 2004 at 7:21 pm

    Melissa, I’d agree with you for professional scholars writing in their field. However that explains why people don’t publish in the admitted “gheto.” Yet there are many people with formal college training who went after mammon rather than remaining in within the walls of academia. Yet these people don’t seem to publish much. (Admittedly they often have less time to allocate) What I think some are asking for is why no one steps up and makes a journal for these people.

    To answer Greg, I suppose that you are right. I don’t feel strongly enough about the need to publish to make the sacrifices to create a journal on a budget. Perhaps that’s the issue? Perhaps those who feel people don’t listen to them feel a stronger need? Those of us more in the mainstream don’t feel the need? Hard to say.

  11. Russell Arben Fox on February 12, 2004 at 7:21 pm

    Ah Greg, Student Review…such, such were the joys. It was the 80s (and early 90s). We were young and broke and liberal (and Marxist, and communitarian, and libertarian, and…). We were Zoobies, and yet not. We stood on the shoulders of giants, and cobbled together what we could out of the shattered ruins of the Seventh-East Press. Our founders were dynamic; what they built was rebellious and fun. It was also, alas, doomed, and not primarily because of institutional opposition (though that was present, and strong). No, ultimately we just couldn’t make a case for ourselves, couldn’t find anyway to make an alternative voice seem to the average BYU student (and faculty member, aside from the occasional blessed exception like our own Jim Faulconer) to be anything other than indulgent, sophomoric, whiney, marginal, even apostate. And thus it became a self-fulfilling prophecy (especially when it came to soliciting advertising dollars). In retrospect though, the only thing that embarrasses me is that those who came after us insisted on trying to get the thing going, in some miserable half-life, wll into the Bateman years. To bad we didn’t just dynamite the thing and go out in glory around 1993. Would have been appropriate.

  12. Kristine on February 12, 2004 at 7:24 pm

    Bob et al.–I’m somewhat astonished that people who consider themselves academically inclined would dismiss Sunstone or Dialogue as apostate or unworthy without reading them. How could you possibly consider yourself knowledgeable enough about them to impugn them publicly *without knowing what’s in them*? This doesn’t strike me as a crowd of Know-Nothings… What gives?

  13. clarkgoble on February 12, 2004 at 7:33 pm

    Greg, were you on the Student Review back in the day? I never actually wrote for it but I did hang out with a lot of the people who did. Lots of interesting discussions. A lot of impact in its own way and a lot of funny satire. That was always the best part of it. It was funny. The best was the satire of the SR’s own gay issue where what’s his name (its been too long) said he was coming out of the closet as a communist and had that picture in the Russian army uniform.

    It did go down hill fast after that…

  14. Russell Arben Fox on February 12, 2004 at 7:38 pm

    Clark, that was B.J. Fogg. (Or was it Jesse Curtis? No, no, definitely B.J.)

  15. Greg Call on February 12, 2004 at 7:44 pm

    Thanks for your reminiscences, Russell. I was a freshman in 1992-1993 and respected and admired the handiwork of you and your friends. I give credit to those (are they among us???) that tried to keep SR going. While I remember some later issues that were like The Onion — only not funny — I also remember and still have the Eugene England tribute issue from 1997, which has some nice pieces.

  16. Aaron Brown on February 12, 2004 at 7:47 pm

    I completely agree with Nate’s analysis.

    Attending a Sunstone Symposium these days can feel like a trip to see Grandma at the Old Folks Home (O.K., I exaggerate, but not by much). On occasion, I’ve asked attendees why that is. The response is often that the older crowd have “less to lose” by associating with something so “controversial.”

    I’ve been a Sunstone/Dialogue subscriber for many years, and an occasional Symposium attender. I’ve been to some great presentations, but they’ve been the exception, not the rule. The quality control for Symposium submissions is frankly abysmal. Further, I agree with something Clark said in a prior thread: The “great” articles over the years have been pretty few and far between. The feel of the journals the last few years has been very insular and self-absorbed. I think for me, Sunstone, Dialogue, et al. always represented something unique that I couldn’t get from any other forum, regardless of its orthodoxy or lack thereof (I’ve never been one to get worked up about unorthodoxy anyway).

    Bob, like Kristine, I think it’s unfortunate that you’ve dismissed Sunstone without exploring what it has to offer. At least if you’re going to dislike it, you should first familiarize yourself with the object of your dislike.

    On the other hand, I do agree with you that “blogs like this one” do provide a certain satisfaction. Having been an irregular presence on Nate’s LDS-Law over the last few years as well, I can honestly say that the online LDS community has met certain of my needs better than Mormonism’s “independent sector” publications have. I suspect I am not unique. As LDS intellectuals move online, I suspect other unofficial fora will become grayer and grayer.

    And if you think about it, since Nate seems to be omnipresent in the LDS online world, this is really all his fault! :>

    Aaron B

  17. clarkgoble on February 12, 2004 at 7:49 pm

    Yeah. B.J. I used to yank his cord because I had just got a job down at Los Alamos working on nuclear weapons and related stuff. The other guy I used to talk to all the time was the one whos uncle was running for the Republican nomination and lost. He then wrote a bunch of stuff in the SR about the candidate who did win the nomination. Then that guy self-destructed. In part because of the SR stories and in part because of that horrible picture of him and his family and Bill Owens who was single. So Utah County had a Democrat congressman. (Yeah – its been awhile so I may have the details wrong. I thought Owens was actually pretty good but got caught by Clinton. But I think Chris Cannon is a great guy as well.)

  18. clarkgoble on February 12, 2004 at 7:53 pm

    Well I have read Sunstone and find good articles in it few and far between. Even in its heyday back in the early 90′s I thought it was more filled with whining than good essays or scholarship. Dialog used to have at least one good article an issue. I’d not read it for years but went on campus and went through the last 10 years for an article I was working on. Dang. I don’t think I found really anything that much of worth. Part of that is undoubtedly interest. But even the articles with interesting topics did amazingly superficial jobs on them.

  19. Julie in Austin on February 12, 2004 at 8:29 pm

    I am going to predict that blogs (where everyone can find their own personal happy level of orthodoxy and non, can interact with the discussion, and have immediate feedback–not to mention you don’t have to pay to subscribe) will be a nail in the coffin of not only Dialogue and Sunstone but perhaps many other indie publications in other fields.

  20. William Morris on February 12, 2004 at 8:38 pm

    I’m going to speak from the literary criticism/cultural studies/fiction & poetry perspective because that’s what I know best:

    I think that Irreantum is proof that if you provide a forum, people will rise to the occasion. Yes, the fiction there needs to rise in quality. And I’d like to see more rigorous, ‘Zeitgeisty’ literary criticism. And it really should branch out into some cultural studies. But it seems to me that more young, neo-orthodox Mormons are writing short stories because it exists.

    I’m disappointed that BYU Studies seems to have abandoned its already lukewarm commitment to fiction. Does it still at least do poetry? Irreantum is really the only place to go if you aren’t comfortable with Dialogue or Sunstone — and I’ve encountered some young writers out there who aren’t comfortable with these forums. And it has such a low circulation that it’s almost not worth it. Plus Irreantum does all these ‘genre’ theme issues, which are fine, and I think it’s a great publication, but it’s not one that has an edge to it. I’d love to see a limited run [maybe 4 issues over 2-3 years] literary mag be created that is a sort of neo-orthodox with an edge — something that represents a specific school of Mormon fiction and that dialogues with the rest of the Mormon and American culture that’s out there. Sort of a Believer or McSweeney’s for the young Mormon set.

    I do, however, think that it’s easier to maintain your orthodox credibility and publish in Dialogue or Sunstone if you are a creative writer. The nature of the form allows for more freedom than if you are doing history, sociology, philosophy or theology — freedom in that you’re more likely to be published and freedom in that your publication is less likely to lump you in with the ‘dissident’ crowd.

  21. William Morris on February 12, 2004 at 8:44 pm

    Clark writes: “more filled with whining”

    Yes. The Cal library has a complete set of Sunstone back issues so one day I decided to delve into them. After an hour or so, I decided it wasn’t worth the effort to sift through it all just to find the bits that I might like.

    On blogs: they are great, but they can only go so far. Does anyone know of any online-only journals that have had success? That seems like an interesting model — esp. if it was tied to a blog where formal articles (with some sort of peer review or editorial process no matter how incestuous) could come out of blog discussions and vice versa.

  22. Russell Arben Fox on February 12, 2004 at 8:49 pm

    Clark, you’re talking about Eric Schulzke. He wrote several provocative articles making allegations against Karl Snow, the Republican nominee against Bill Orton (not Owen). They contributed to Snow’s defeat; that is certain. Orton was a great guy; served two solid terms, but was buried in the GOP landslide of 1994.

    Greg, I’m glad you liked SR. Melissa and I left Happy Valley in 1995, so if there were any good issues after that, I missed them. What I’d seen before we left convinced me that it would have been better if it had rolled over and died by that time; the institutional and “reputational” obstacles to recruiting staff, soliciting advertising, and distributing the paper had become too great. But, of course, if it hadn’t have hung on, that wonderful tribute issue wouldn’t have ever been put together, so I give my props to those who hung on through the 90s, regardless.

  23. Dave on February 12, 2004 at 10:10 pm

    Nate,

    I agree with you that the “spike in official hostility to such discussions that occured in the early 1990s” is a primary cause of the withering of the field professionally. On the other hand, I think there is a larger audience out there of general readers or consumers of Mormon history and Mormon Studies books, not limited to LDS readers. Major publishing houses will publish to this larger general interest “Mormon market” nowadays, as do some university presses.

    It’s worth remembering as well that there wasn’t always a “professional Mormon Studies” community of scholars. To my spotty understanding, it kind of blossomed along with the New Mormon History forty years ago, as sympathetic and critical researchers developed the ability to interact in a common forum, loosely composed at various times of the Mormon History Association, BYU Studies, Dialogue, the Sunstone Symposium (and maybe even the magazine), certain BYU departments, and the Church Historian’s office.

    I think that common enterprise started to splinter into separate and smaller communities about ten years ago, partly due to the “spike in official hostility,” but also perhaps connected with the emergence of Signature Books, the rise of FARMS, and the growth of the Internet, all of which provided new outlets for researchers, writers, and Mormon Studies groupies.

  24. Matt Grow on February 12, 2004 at 10:33 pm

    I think much of the caution many young Mormon scholars have towards publishing in Sunstone/Dialogue is a pragmatic concern to not foreclose the future possibility of teaching at a Church-owned school. I’ve heard, however, that publishing there (or participating in their symposia) is no longer such a hot-button in BYU hiring decisions. But I, for one, would be very reluctant to make a decision with potentially negative future consequences on the basis of a rumored short-term trend. Does anyone know if this is so?

    I think you’re right, Nate, that most of the change has to do with the professionalization of Mormon studies. I would guess that there are more people (including young people) working on Mormon studies now that at any time in the past. But it’s a much more decentralized crowd than it was before.

    I think it’s great that more Mormon scholars are turning to more mainstream journals to publish their stuff–it will make the mainstream academy have to pay more attention to Mormonism and understand the Church in a more nuanced way. It will, perhaps, force Mormon scholars to be both more rigorous in their work and make a better case for broader relevance.

    But I also want to lament the trend a bit. The great advantage to publishing in a Journal of Mormon History, BYU Studies, or Dialogue is that other Saints will actually read the article. It might matter to them, might contribute something to the community of the Saints. I fear that the more Mormon scholars are integrated into the mainstream academy, the less relevant they will be to the educated Saints who read these type of journals. I think that would be a real loss. And if the best Mormon scholarship is going to the mainstream journals, it will only mean a reduction in the quality of the Mormon journals. (Unlike some, I actually think that the quality of these journals compares favorably to many second-tier mainstream academic journals.)

  25. Bob Caswell on February 12, 2004 at 10:56 pm

    Kristine, Aaron (All)-

    Maybe it is unfortunate that I’ve dismissed Sunstone so easily. But from the comments I’ve read tonight, it doesn’t seem like I’ve missed much. Is it just that criticism is easier to express than praise? Because I’ve had many other Mormons tell me their issues with Sunstone, and no one tells me how they’re spiritually enlightened each time they pick up a copy. Mix that it in with the fact that I was raised to not like it and you get someone who really isn’t that interested.

    Also, I have to say that this is somewhat akin to anti-Mormon literature. Let me explain: There are millions of sources readily available that I could research to find out more about Mormonism. Because I don’t read up on the current anti-Mormon literature does that mean I’m not “academically inclined” as Kristine put it? No more than not reading Sunstone means the same thing.

    Obviously Sunstone is NOT anti-Mormon, but now there are quite a few excommunications associated with Sunstone. Sorry to seem extremely naive to some, but that to me can constitute somewhat shaky grounds. If the Church didn’t like it, why should I?

    I’ll find Mormon intellectual conversations elsewhere, like here. But if the Church were ever to come shut you down, I wouldn’t be on your side.

    P.S. If you think I’m bad, let me quickly tell you about a friend of mine, who, when I introduced to Mormon blogging said, “The idea is kind of cool, but it’s just too weird. I’ll just stick to Church”.

  26. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2004 at 11:00 pm

    Matt Grow,
    You’re on to something, Matt. One of my hopes for online forums like this is that it will at least partially meet some of those newly unmet middlebrow needs that the trend you describe will create.

    William Morris (I love your stuff, man!)
    Yes, BYU Studies does poetry still, some of quite good. Yours truly expects to recieve his latest rejection slip anyday now.

  27. Susan on February 12, 2004 at 11:13 pm

    As part of that “greying” generation, I do find it a bit sad to hear people talk of Sunstone magazine as an arid, wannabe academic journal, a failure. I admit I haven’t read or cared about Sunstone in a very long time. But Sunstone magazine, Sunstone Review, and the beginnings of the Sunstone symposium were very much a part of my more youthful past. The model we were thinking about at the time was never an academic journal. We were looking more at magazines within the Catholic and other traditions where people were engaging today’s issues, other churches, the ways in which religion and history and art intersect with real life in a contemporary world. It was about trying to have an exciting, passionate conversation about a religion and culture we were part of, loved, cared about, were often exasperated with. It was also about having conversations with those similarly engaged in other religious traditions. In many ways the impulse to have the magazine and the symposium seems very like the impulse that I suspect accounts for blogs like this.

  28. brayden on February 12, 2004 at 11:17 pm

    When I was at BYU in 2000 I recall there was an attempted resurrection of SR, but it looked more like a cheesy Onion rip-off than anything else.

    Bob – Most people think blogging is weird, regardless of the content. We’re a unique niche in society.

  29. William Morris on February 13, 2004 at 2:52 am

    Adam:

    Thanks, man. And yep I’ve got one of those letters to my name. I had it pinned on a bulletin board for awhile, but it didn’t really seem to motivate me so it’s now packed away somewhere.

    Susan:

    The only thing my parents had while I was growing up was the inaugural issue of Dialogue. I stole it from them shortly after my return from my mission. It was a very energizing read — it didn’t really make me want to seek out the latest issue — instead it made me yearn to be part of a ‘new’ movement that was contributing to Mormon thought. I suppose part of why I like the blogs and Irreantum and the AML-list is that they are all relatively new — they haven’t had time to accrete all the baggage that the ‘greying’ journals and forums have.

    Yes, journals be re-energized, injected with new blood, but it’s hard to change a brand.

  30. Matt J on February 13, 2004 at 3:06 am

    While in high school during the late 80s my parents (mother, really) subscribed to both Sunstone and Dialogue. I can honestly say that reading them enlightened me both intellectually and spiritually — more so than I can remember from the Ensign or any conference talks. It took me quite a while to realize that they weren’t Church publications.

  31. Nate Oman on February 13, 2004 at 12:09 pm

    Perhaps I have come across too negatively about Dialogue and Sunstone. As Susan (aka Mom) points out, Sunstone was meant more as something on the model of Commonweal, First Things, etc. I don’t think of it as being shoddy scholarship. I do think that it is not as interesting or relevant as once it was. I think that there has been some good stuff there over the years. When I was still at HLS (and therefore had access to a good library), I once spent an afternoon in the bowels of Widner Library going through all of the back issues of Sunstone and xeroxing off articles that were interesting, etc. I still have a box full of the articles. I did the same thing for Dialogue. There are some wonderful articles in there.

    However, I do think that the dynamic discussed by Matt Grow (don’t foreclose the possiblity of a job at BYU) and Melissa (do work in a mainstream forum) has hurt Dialogue and to a lesser extent Sunstone. (I think that Sunstone suffers much more from the apostate branding that it recieved in the early 1990s.) For example, I am interested in some day becoming a law professor and I am also interested in Mormon legal history. Everyone I have talked to says don’t do Mormon legal history, it will not help you professionally. My mentor at HLS encouraged me to focus entirely on mainline issues and mainline journals. Mormon legal scholars that I know have tended to be equally cagey. Interestingly, the one law professor who has consistently encouraged my interest is a non-Mormon, Sally Gordon. If I were to publish something on Mormon legal history, I would NOT do so in a Mormon forum. I would try to get something in a well-respected law review or one of the peer revied legal journals on law, religion or history.

    On the other hand, I don’t think that the movement of Mormon scholarship into more professionalized and mainline forums need spell the end of material for the educated but non-professional Mormon intellectuals. For example, I know that BYU Studies is willing to re-publish material that has already appeared in forums their readers are not likely to haunt. In addition, according to what I have heard, one of the reasons that Oxford UP and other mainline academic presses are interested in publishing on Mormon topics is because Mormon books sell extremely well by academic press standards.

    I keep thinking that I ought to subscribe to Dialogue, Sunstone and BYU Studies (when I was a student, I could read them in the library). Then I think that I really ought to be spending my money on a law review subscription or a book on legal theory…

  32. Nate Oman on February 13, 2004 at 12:12 pm

    Matt Grow: I wonder to what extent it is possible to “sanitize” one’s participation in something like Sunstone or Dialogue by publishing something overtly apologetic in FARMS?

  33. Matt Grow on February 13, 2004 at 2:58 pm

    Nate: I don’t really have any idea whether one publishing in FARMS would sanitize one’s participation in “alternative voices.” I suspect that a degree of sanitization would take place (but I’d still be hesitant).

    I’m more doubtful about your idea that the occasional republication of an interesting piece in BYU Studies (does this really happen?) or the few scholarly books on Mormonism from mainstream presses can really supply the intellectual needs of the educated but not academic Mormon reader.

    Another interesting thing to note is that it’s not just the younger generation trying to write for mainstream journals. I think you can also discern a trend among the “greying” crowd to participate in more mainstream academic conferences and journals. (And, of course, some Mormon intellectuals have always taken this route.) I’ve heard that BYU is actively encouraging its Mormon studies crowd to be more engaged with the broader scholarly community.

  34. Nate Oman on February 13, 2004 at 3:06 pm

    Dave: I don’t think that Mormon Studies is withering professionally. I do think that certain forums seem to be in decline. There is a big difference.

  35. Evan on February 13, 2004 at 3:07 pm

    Kristine,
    As your historically-minded brother, I thought I’d take a crack at answering your query about mothers at home full time (something about WWII and after for 15 years). There are several broad themes, at least in western cultures, that determine this. The first is that the upper classes have always been sharply different from middle and lower class family structures (this hasn’t changed much, has it?). Paid/slave caretakers of children, etc.

    With industrialization–mid-1700s and on (in Europe & N. America)–however, this began to spread down the economic scale. Previously, labor roles in agrarian societies were assigned within families, with everyone–children, women, men–participating and contributing significantly.

    The change to urban trading centers, manufacturing, etc. began to shift work away from both home (in terms of location) and family. The option of unemployed (in the technical sense of employment for wages) mothers began to filter down to the developing middle class. As wages for merchants and craftsmen rose, being a *stay-at-home* mother suddenly became a form of social capital, signifying that the family was well-off enough that the mother (and children) did not have to work.

    Post-Civil War, this began to shift as well. The spreading “Cult of Motherhood,” represented by the temperance and suffrage movements (as well as the growth in women’s education opportunities at colleges such as Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Mt. Holyoke, Hollins, etc.), aggregated the roles of biological mothers with that of societal matrons. This “Cult of Motherhood” was seen as the moral backbone and driving force of progressive reform, keeping the carnal excesses of men at bay–both in the home and in society.

    WWII was actually the nadir for this “cult of motherhood,” not its zenith (which had been reached 20 years before with women’s suffrage and Prohibition).

    I hope that provides some insight. And, in proper scholarly form, I need to give credit where credit is due. Dr. Betty Farrell’s excellent book, Family: The Making of an Idea, an Institution, and a Controversy in American Culture (1999). If you want more info, let me know. I have all my notes, etc. from her class. She was at Pitzer before Chicago and was the architect of Pitzer’s widely-acclaimed (at least in academic circles) family leave policies. Her dissertation at Harvard was titled, Kinship and Class in Nineteenth-Century Boston, which you might find interesting.

  36. Kristine on February 13, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    Evan, thanks for the primer. I’ve read that book and a couple of others on the topic. Don’t forget I’ve had more years to read than you:) Also, post on the right thread, man. Glad you found us (well, sort of glad–I can’t say I’m thrilled to have you added to the large number of people hanging out here who are much smarter than I!)

  37. Evan on February 13, 2004 at 3:21 pm

    Whoops, that was supposed to get attached to the _A Transparent Hypothetical_ story. So I’ll do that now. Sorry to interrupt…

  38. clarkgoble on February 13, 2004 at 3:34 pm

    Nate, I was thinking of your comments. It seems like you are right. By and large the *research* is being done. It just is being published in different forums – to a somewhat limited degree. (I think there are probably more papers out there that don’t get published)

    The problem is that intellectually oriented Mormons don’t tend to see these papers unless they are put into a book. (And lets face it – many books are expansions on earlier papers)

    So the problem, to a somewhat limited degree, is less publishing than it is having access to the published material. I suppose that is actually the perfect place for a BLOG. After all they can summarize or quote research as well as point out where it occurs. Further, unlike professional journals, it allows a given and take as people respond to the books.

    Perhaps a nice continuing series here might be “recent scholarly books or articles on Mormonism.”

  39. Nate Oman on February 13, 2004 at 4:36 pm

    Clark: I wanted to set something like that up with the Kolob network, but it unfortunately suffered a fatal technical problem a while back…

  40. clarkgoble on February 13, 2004 at 4:42 pm

    I was thinking less of the Kolob Network and more like something akin to what New Scientist does for science articles. Have a summary and the occasional article summarizing other articles.

    The fact is that there’s lots of interesting stuff out there that may be too technical for the average member. (Heavens, I know most of the stuff I write on my blog is of interest to few) But a nice summary of information would be good.

    I say this because I’m actually convinced that a lot of the Sunstone/Dialog articles of the last 15 years were basically little more than this. Even on LDS-Phil, a lot of what we do is simply apply other work to Mormonism. (IMO)

  41. Rob on February 13, 2004 at 6:03 pm

    Don’t know if this is being discussed somewhere else on this blogsite, but last week our ward just got the letter from Elder Packer saying that the church is doing away with the Know Your Religion series. Since this was a CES-based intellectual activity, may not be directly related to professional Mormon studies, but I think the death of Know Your Religion talks is another sign of the times–the end of another era in Mormon intellectual life.

  42. Susan on February 13, 2004 at 10:52 pm

    I agree that it’s a good thing that Mormon scholarship is happening outside of the Mormon journal, Mormon group circle. Very different perspectives come into view depending on context, terms of the discussion, preoccupations and interests. Such discussions can be exciting and enlightening. And I agree that many of the Mormon venues for discussion from the 70s and 80s are greying, losing their zip. Just like any number of groups before them in the Mormon tradition moved through their life cycles and died. Things come and go. We are all young at one point, we’ll all grow old. I just hope for certain things in this time and place (like I hoped for them in the past): diverse, engaged, conversation across a broad enough, and diverse enough section of the community to keep it interesting, unexpected. Looking in the mirror can get pretty boring.

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