Should up-and-coming Mormon scholars go to work at BYU, if they are interested in doing some of their work in Mormon Studies? I can think of a few young and mobile people a lot of us would like to see teaching there. But there are pros and cons.
Some reasons why it would seem to be a good idea to have promising Mormon scholars at BYU:
–They get to talk with lots of other thoughtful Mormons; this would help them develop their ideas and be more productive.
–Assembling Mormon scholars allows them to fill in the gaps in each others’ knowledge, resulting in work that is more well-rounded and sound.
–BYU (at least in some quarters? reports vary) as an institution is likely to be more supportive of having its employees working on Mormon issues than most non-Mormon institutions.
–They get to teach lots of Mormon students, who will benefit from having shining examples up close of how to do Mormon Studies right.
Some reasons why BYU might not be the best place:
–Hanging out with people who already think a lot like you can reduce the sense of urgency to produce Mormon scholarship.
–Talking with people who agree with you too much can sometimes make you sloppy and narrow.
–Being at other places, scholars would rub shoulders with people who otherwise wouldn’t know much about Mormons, and we would like more people to be well-informed instead of thinking we have horns or whatever.
–At other places that are generally more research-oriented (BYU is primarily aimed at undergraduate education), Mormon scholars are more likely to be productive in scholarship.
–At other places more research-oriented than BYU, Mormon scholars are more likely to be in conversation with the best non-Mormon scholars.
–Some people think that scholarship coming out of BYU will be automatically suspected of being biased and hence won’t be taken seriously.
Some very bright stars in Mormon Studies are not at BYU: Richard Bushman, Terryl Givens, Phil Barlow, Kathleen Flake, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich . . . These folks seem to publish more with independent publishers, so their books are likely to reach a wide and diverse audience, whereas a lot of interesting folks at BYU tend to speak and write mainly for Mormon audiences.
All things considered, where should Mormons hope that interesting young scholar-types end up?