BYU and the Advancement of Mormon Studies

November 15, 2005 | 49 comments
By

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?

Tags:

49 Responses to BYU and the Advancement of Mormon Studies

  1. John H on November 15, 2005 at 4:17 am

    Definitely not at BYU. BYU has a legitimate bias. It’s a Church-owned school, it’s goal is not solely the advancement of education, but it also has religious goals as well. Of course, no institution of higher learning is free of politics, inner-tension, etc. But BYU simply cannot have the kind of Mormon studies program or curriculum that would be worthwhile, IMO.

    It’s not a coincidence that the best, most thoughtful presentations at the Yale theological conference were from the non-Mormon scholars and the Mormon scholars outside BYU. I’d say the one exception is Jim Falconer – and not because he blogs here, but because it’s true :) The embarrassing flap over Michael Quinn’s presentation and Robert Millet’s threat to pull funding if Quinn participated is exactly the kind of bias I’m talking about. All it takes is one person throwing a hissy fit over issues of righteousness, faithfulness, etc. instead of scholarly credentials, and your whole program comes into question, IMO.

    That’s not to say that people there now, or people who will be there in the future can’t do a great job. But as an institution, I’d look to Claremont, ASU, Utah State, UVSC, etc. for better chances.

  2. Jim F. on November 15, 2005 at 7:50 am

    John H: You’re too kind, but I’m flattered.

    Ben, let me say some things about your negatives:

    –Hanging out with people who already think a lot like you can reduce the sense of urgency to produce Mormon scholarship.

    True, but who hangs out only with the people at their school? If you are going to conferences and otherwise taking part in your profession, you aren’t likely to be hanging out only with Mormons.

    –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.

    Same response because these are, I think, versions of the same comment.

    –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.

    There is some truth in this. Most faculty, by far, are expected to be fairly fully engaged in teaching. Nevertheless, there is a significant research expectation in every department, and in some departments and colleges that expectation is quite high. I think many BYU faculty are concerned that they are being asked to focus on undergraduate education (and don’t mind doing so), but at the same time they feel that they are expected to continue to produce scholarly works as if they were at an institution with a larger graduate school. The truth is somewhere in between that feeling and your comment.

    –At other places more research-oriented than BYU, Mormon scholars are more likely to be in conversation with the best non-Mormon scholars.

    Same comment as the first two since I don’t see much difference between this one and those.

    –Some people think that scholarship coming out of BYU will be automatically suspected of being biased and hence won’t be taken seriously.

    There is also some truth to this. But my experience has been that the perception doesn’t last if you do your work well. I used to get “Do they let you teach/say that at BYU?” regularly, at least as often from Mormons as from non. Now I only get it from Mormons. My professional colleagues know my work for what it is: idiosyncratic, to be sure, but philosophy rather than apologetics. I think that even those who do apologetics (which are important) find that they can get by the perception by doing their work well. I think that David Paulsen is a good example.

  3. Seth Rogers on November 15, 2005 at 10:14 am

    I think there is something just a little too self-congratulatory about BYU starting a “Mormon Studies” program.

    Note, I wish to disassociate myself from all the BYU bashing which is likely to follow. I went there and had both good and bad experiences. But I’m OK with BYU in general.

    I think I agree most with BYU’s mission as a primarily undergraduate institution providing a supportive atmosphere and quality education for Mormon youngsters. Much as it might wish to be, BYU can’t be all things to all people.

    I also agree that Mormon studies coming from … say … Georgetown’s religious studies program would have more weight than something from the Joseph Smith Building.

    One of the major problems that Mormons have in conversing about religion with non-Mormons is that they don’t share a common language. Mormons just aren’t well-versed in the philosophical and spiritual terminology that mainline Christianity has used to discuss God for centuries. The result is that interfaith discussions often talk right past each other.

    I want a Mormon scholar to know what the outsiders are thinking, and have been thinking, about God before she tries to explain to the world what Mormons are thinking about God.

  4. Ben S. on November 15, 2005 at 11:08 am

    I understand Ben H. to be talking about individual scholars, not an institutional “Mormon Studies” program, which John H. and Seth Rogers seems to be commenting on. I don’t think we’ll ever see such a program at BYU, but that’s not what I want to comment on.

    Something I didn’t see you raise is the question of publishing. All of the people you named are established, and work primarily with *historical* material, not scriptural or theological. They also have to focus on other non-LDS topics for much of the time. Givens had to get finagle his department to write his books because other faculty were complaining about him writing such stuff. The chair helpfully changed his title to Prof. of literature *and* religion so that he could. Barlow’s book came about because it had been his dissertation topic. What other LDS orientated work has he done in the academic sphere? I know an up-and-coming historian who worries about his LDS interests, that his CV is weighted too much towards LDS topics, even though they are significant contributions with academic publishers. Flake’s valuable but quantitatively limited LDS material is again historical, not theological or scriptural.

    My point is that currently no publisheror journal will accept something that deals with interpreting uniquely LDS scripture from a faithful perspective. The only venues for that seem to be FARMS, BYU Studies, Sunstone, and Dialogue. Since academia doesn’t accept publishing in these as a valuable or “real” publication, one must do significant publishing elsewhere on a different topic in order to “make it” as an academic…. unless they’re at BYU.

    “Hanging out with people who already think a lot like you can reduce the sense of urgency to produce Mormon scholarship.”
    I disagree with this. From what I know of the people above, hanging out with non-LDS academics did not encourage them to do Mormon scholarship. From my experience here in Chicago, being around primarily non-LDS academics does not encourage me to do Mormon studies, if I want a job.

    “One of the major problems that Mormons have in conversing about religion with non-Mormons is that they don’t share a common language. Mormons just aren’t well-versed in the philosophical and spiritual terminology that mainline Christianity has used to discuss God for centuries. The result is that interfaith discussions often talk right past each other.”

    I largely agree with Seth’s comments here, and would commend Robert Millet for doing this. His new book is chock full of good stuff from non-LDS theologians, and it’s clear that he has spent much time and effort interacting with non-LDS scholarship and traditions. I keep meaning to put up a review, but I left the book in MN.

    BTW, Seth, are you the same Seth Rogers from Jerusalem, winter of 99?

  5. Adam Greenwood on November 15, 2005 at 11:24 am

    “goal is not solely the advancement of education, but it also has religious goals as well”

    I guess I’d like to think that a ‘Mormon scholar’ also has these two sets of goals, almost by definition.

  6. Frank McIntyre on November 15, 2005 at 12:25 pm

    Ben S.– “Since academia doesn’t accept publishing in these as a valuable or “realâ€? publication, one must do significant publishing elsewhere on a different topic in order to “make itâ€? as an academic…. unless they’re at BYU.”

    I would hope this would be true even at BYU. If one cannot show that one can do high quality, peer reviewed work then BYU is not really the place for one. Currently, that means publishing in areas other than the Mormon Studies journals and likely on other topics. It seems to me that Mormon Studies is better done as a sub-discipline within each discipline, rather than as its own entitity seperate from the tools of any discipline.

    To put it another way, if I were to do a piece dealing with tithing in an economic model, not a one of the people mentioned above, nor, in fact, any of my wonderful co-bloggers, would be able to give it a satisfactory peer review (although such a piece was published in the AER a few years back by some LDS economists). And were Nate to do a piece on Mormon Legal History, I would want somebody who knew the law to review it, not just somebody who knew about Mormonism. Doubly so for a piece by our philosophically inclined.

  7. Jed on November 15, 2005 at 12:39 pm

    Ben S. (4): “My point is that currently no publisheror journal will accept something that deals with interpreting uniquely LDS scripture from a faithful perspective.”

    How many LDS theologians have tried to get something published outside a Mormon press? Stephen Robinson succeeded. Bob Millet recently published a book on the Mormon doctrine and Christ with Eerdman’s. I think in general you are right about the presses not taking LDS stuff, but the LDS scholars have to make the attempt, and I wonder how many are making that attempt. The door is not completely shut.

  8. Jonathan Green on November 15, 2005 at 1:07 pm

    Ben H., about that first question of yours: “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 hate to be so crassly pragmatic, but BYU starts to look pretty d*rn good compared to a lot of the other options open to up-and-coming Mormon scholars: unemployment, a wrenching career change, a school with a much higher teaching load and much smaller library that’s teetering on the edge of bankruptcy… You get the picture. I’d recommend that the up-and-coming in any field go with the best job offer they get, wherever it is. If BYU is that place, one could do a lot worse.

  9. Russell Arben Fox on November 15, 2005 at 1:17 pm

    Jonathan (#8): that’s my instinctive reaction to this discussion as well. Not that this isn’t a valid and important topic, especially if it is understood that what is being discussed is the development of “Mormon Studies” as a discipline in the abstract, as opposed to the actual opportunity that any given working academic may have to pursue Mormon Studies research projects. Such opportunities depend far more upon the economic status of the school the scholar in question is employed by (assuming she or he is even able to find such employment) than on any of these other more intellectual concerns. Still, leaving aside the misery of the job market to speculate upon and critique the ideal is exactly how intellectuals should be spending their spare time, anyway.

  10. Julie M. Smith on November 15, 2005 at 1:37 pm

    A quibble that isn’t: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich only does Mormon Studies if you define that as a Mormon doing studies (about anything). She writes primarily on non-LDS-specific topics. Do you intend to limit this discussion to those who write primarily on Mormon topics?

  11. Greg Call on November 15, 2005 at 1:39 pm

    I think Nate (and people like Nate) should go to BYU because it is more likely that my kids will attend BYU than any other single school, and I would love to have my kids learning from him.

  12. Ben Huff on November 15, 2005 at 1:52 pm

    Julie, I don’t mean to limit this to people who write mainly on Mormon topics; often very good work will be done by people who mostly do non-Mormon topics. Of course, it is the work on Mormon topics that this is mainly about, though. For work on non-Mormon topics I think there is less to say about whether we would want the people at BYU or not, since BYU’s Mormonness won’t matter much there.

  13. will on November 15, 2005 at 2:17 pm

    In addition to the question of whether BYU would be good for a Mormon Studies program, we should also ask if Mormon Studies would be good for BYU. I think it would. At the very least, it would light a fire under the butts of the religion faculty.

  14. Kevin Barney on November 15, 2005 at 2:19 pm

    One thing to think about is the peculiar academic politics at BYU. Every university has politics, but if you are involved in projects or arguments that step on toes in religious education, you are going to face a lot of difficulty that would not be present if you were at some other school. This could be something like having your BoM class taken away from you; in the extreme, you might be fired or have church discipline taken against you, which may not have happened if you were further away at a different school. Religioius education at BYU is an academic minefield; one misstep, and you’re likely to lose a leg.

  15. J. Stapley on November 15, 2005 at 3:15 pm

    I am proabably just a little paranoid after reading the education chapter of the McKay biography, but I imagine that Kevins comment is understated. I hope I’m mistaken, but I think I proabably am not. That said, I loved BYU and had only good experiances…but I was also studing food chemistry.

  16. Seth Rogers on November 15, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    Ben S.

    No. I’ve never been to Jerusalem. That’s odd though. I’ve never come across another Seth Rogers before.

  17. LisaB on November 15, 2005 at 3:26 pm

    Depends on your aims. I think I would like to be at BYU as an artist/scholar dealing with religious themes in my work for the same reasons I liked being there as an Humanities/art student dealing with religious themes in my work–understanding, interest/engagement, permission/support. Inspiring more potential serious LDS artists and scholars in the Humanities whether or not they are interested in religious themes for their own work would also be appealing. But if your primary goal (mission?) is to add to the “legitimacy” of Mormon-themed scholarship and/or serious art by producing quality work–I think being at BYU could make that more challenging (for reasons mentioned above). Not a reason to cross BYU off the list, just possible issues to be aware of and face head-on.

  18. Seth Rogers on November 15, 2005 at 4:28 pm

    By the way Ben,

    Thanks for the link in #4. The article “Mormon Scholarship, Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?” was particularly interesting.

  19. Ben Huff on November 15, 2005 at 9:01 pm

    Kevin, you raise an interesting point. Of course, Mormons care about Mormon beliefs a lot, and care about getting them right, and so differences of opinion can be rather charged. Also, BYU explicitly maintains that faculty should be role models for students, and so orthodoxy within certain bounds is part of the job description. I’ve talked to a few people who feel the way you do, that there will be boundaries they could not cross at BYU without getting in big trouble, but they really don’t know and wouldn’t know what those are, so they are a serious hazard. That’s also a picture one might get from, say, talking to a couple of people who were denied tenure at BYU in the nineties. Of course, the administration’s story about why the person was denied tenure and the story told by the person denied tenure often don’t match, so how does one know what really happened, without having been on the committee or something? But then one doesn’t know whether one knows what the rules are, which is not a lot better than knowing one doesn’t know.

    Standing next to a police officer with a gun on his belt is not particularly scary (in an orderly country, anyway), and can be rather comforting at times, because you know the rules, and as long as you keep them that gun won’t be pointed at you. One obstacle to BYU’s attracting interesting young scholars, then, is that people don’t know what the rules are there, and don’t know how they would find out, except by going there and stepping on a mine. I wonder if something could be done about that.

    An alternative to rules, of course, is knowing people whose judgment is reliable, and communicating with them regularly. People are less portable than lists of rules, though. Perhaps the best solution lies in better networking, the sort of thing that Terryl Givens and BYU’s George Handley are trying to cultivate with the new organization they are putting together called Mormon Scholars in the Humanities (MSH). (Contact George Handley if you are interested in being updated on developments on that front!). If young scholars-to-be have more opportunities to just talk with people in the know about how things work at BYU, then hopefully their concerns can be allayed.

  20. Clark on November 15, 2005 at 9:27 pm

    Jonathan: (#8) . . .but BYU starts to look pretty d*rn good compared to a lot of the other options open to up-and-coming Mormon scholars: unemployment, a wrenching career change, a school with a much higher teaching load and much smaller library that’s teetering on the edge of bankruptcy…

    Not to put down in the least academic careers, but there really is a wider world out there. Perhaps a related question might be the role of Mormon academics who aren’t in academia? What are their opportunities for publishing? I’ve not done much along those lines, although I’ve long thought about it. However I notice that many people publishing in Mormon Studies aren’t professors. I’ve even talked to people who are professors and the teaching and grading commitments keep them from doing as much research and writing as they wish.

    Perhaps a follow up post?

    As to BYU, I suspect that a year from now when we can gauge the popular impact of Bushman’s biography will end up having a lot to do with how faithful yet perhaps controversial LDS scholarship is accepted at BYU. Just a guess. But I bet between this and the upcoming book on MMM might be a signal of a change in the winds?

    I also should strongly urge people to not judge BYU in light of the academic controversies of the 30’s or the early 90’s. I’m just not sure that is fair. (And I personally think the 90’s issues were more than a tad overblown and more complex than they appear)

  21. Jonathan Green on November 15, 2005 at 11:35 pm

    Clark: A valid point, but probably farther afield than where Ben H. would like to go. There are advantages and disadvantages to both sides, but today I’m in the mood for wallowing in the advantages that an academic position confers.

    Ben H.: Concerning the (dis)advantages that working at BYU would confer on someone interested in doing Mormon Studies research, how would you describe their magnitude compared to other considerations? Personally, I’d guess that an institution’s teaching expectation and research orientation would have stronger effects on eventual productivity, so that it really becomes a factor only for deciding between BYU and a peer institution, and even there it might not outweigh proximity to family or other personal matters. Or do you see one of the items you mentioned as being particularly important, so that, say, you’d be willing to teach an extra class per year in order to (not) work at BYU?

  22. Bryan Warnick on November 15, 2005 at 11:48 pm

    Generally speaking, I think talented LDS scholars should go outside of the church schools for employment (if they have a choice). Having a Bushman, for example, at a place like Columbia does the church (and Columbia) a whole lot of good.

  23. Peter on November 16, 2005 at 2:55 am

    I received my BA and MA from BYU during the early and mid 1990s; I was caught right in the crossfire between the Latter-Day Pharisees and the Latter-Day Sadducees, and while I can’t say that I came out unscathed, I did come out with a marvelous education.

  24. Peter on November 16, 2005 at 3:00 am

    I’m very bitter about some aspects of my years at BYU, but I would not go anywhere else if I had to choose over again. Where else would I have professors like Eugene England. Shamelessly betrayed by the LD Pharisees and shamefully used and misrepresented by the LD Sadducees, but he kept his head above it, and did a lot of good. I don’t know where Mormon letters would be without him.

  25. Ben Huff on November 16, 2005 at 3:29 am

    Oh, but Jonathan, when you get practical it takes all the fun out! Yes, the difference between, say, teaching four classes per semester and teaching three is going to make a huge difference in how much research one will accomplish. On that score, and for support such as paying for travel to conferences, BYU is a pretty attractive setup. Some places ask for fewer courses taught, but other duties associated with a graduate program make up at least part of the difference at a lot of those schools. I mean, if you want to do research, it’s hard to beat a routine like at Notre Dame’s Philosophy Dept., where it seems like people are taking every third semester off just to do research! But there aren’t many places like that.

    But if the question is getting Mormon Studies stuff done, how many places are likely to give you a semester of research leave to work on Mormon Studies? Thing is, I don’t think anyone knows. I only know a handful of people at elite institutions doing Mormon Studies, and that isn’t a big sample to go by, even if I knew details of how their MS work has been received at their institutions. If you are publishing with Oxford University Press, maybe a lot of places will be supportive of your research, whatever the topic. Or maybe not. Even at BYU, it seems like Mormon Studies gets mixed reactions, depending on the department and various other particulars, and I don’t think anybody gets a lot of release time for research, whatever they are doing. I wonder what people like Dan Peterson do, though. He seems to be flying all over the place giving talks and meeting with donors and such all the time; I don’t know how much teaching he could possibly be doing, though I know he does some.

    For my part, as much as I like to blaze my own trails, I also really like to have interlocutors. And I have a lot of interests. So the course of my own work will probably be markedly influenced by where I am working. If I get a job at a Catholic school, I would be more likely to develop the aspects of my work that engage with Catholic thinkers like Alasdair MacIntyre and Thomas Aquinas, since I’d be talking to people who read them. If I get a job at a secular school, I would probably focus more directly on the contemporary ethical theory being done with no particular ties to a tradition (along the lines of what I’m already doing in my dissertation) and eventually develop engagement with Martha Nussbaum and John Stuart Mill and do peace studies stuff or something. If I were at BYU, and the department was supportive, I would probably develop the theological ramifications of my ethical theory quite explicitly. My work has ties into enough different scholarly conversations that I could go a few different ways that all seem pretty worthwhile.

  26. Keith on November 16, 2005 at 4:11 am

    Some out-of-house discussions (talking across disciplines, denominations, religions, world-views and so on) are very profitable. Some discussison I have in non-LDS settings are indeed stretching and enlightening. Wouldn’t do without it.

    Some in-house discussions (for this thread–BYU like places) are likewise profitable, where I don’t have translate, but can speak directly and in depth to those who share common assumptions are also profitable and allow for some exploration of thought that might not be possible in the other settings. Wouldn’t do without it.

    Both approaches/settings can open doors of thought, even as they close others and leave some areas completely unexplored.

    Key things in either situation will be honesty, clarity, rigor, passion, careful attention to detail, etc. And it also helps to have genuinely good people, with social graces, do this kind of work. Mormon studies (as broad as that term is, and as fraught with both positive and negative possibilities as it is) will be well served to have folks in all sorts of settings.

  27. Jim F. on November 16, 2005 at 7:04 am

    Ben H: One obstacle to BYU’s attracting interesting young scholars, then, is that people don’t know what the rules are there, and don’t know how they would find out, except by going there and stepping on a mine. I wonder if something could be done about that.

    Does this statement on academic freedom, http://www.byu.edu/fc/pages/refmapages/acadfree.html, easily accessible from BYU’s home page if the link doesn’t come up here, answer your question?

  28. Jonathan Green on November 16, 2005 at 10:56 am

    But Jim, that’s precisely the $46,000-plus-benefits question. When the big donors and alumni heavy hitters get agitated, is the statement worth the pixels it’s printed on? If you say it is, I’ll take your word for it. But can we point to a test case where it helped someone keep his or her job? If you can’t point to a case publicly, are you aware of such a thing happening? (NB: I’m aware that similar tensions and unhappy outcomes exist elsewhere, but in a discussion of Mormon Studies, it’s not an unreasonable supposition that there’s a better chance of offending someone at BYU-? than elsewhere.)

  29. Peter on November 16, 2005 at 12:26 pm

    Eugene England got hit by those offensible Latter-Day Pharisees and Colonel Authorities all the time at BYU, and yet he still said that he felt he had more freedom to speak and publish at BYU than when he taught at Harvard.

  30. Nate Oman on November 16, 2005 at 1:02 pm

    When did Eugene England teach at Harvard?

  31. A Nonny Mouse on November 16, 2005 at 1:19 pm

    I really think the lack of Academic Freedom problem at BYU is more of a problem of perception than of anything else.
    It may be that this is because the university itself, it seems to me, has never formally engaged in the debate over the stuff that happened in the early 90s.

    My dad is a professor at a small liberal arts college, much like the one Jonathan talked about back in #8 — it’s somehow managed to squander most of its endowment unwisely, and has been dealing with all kinds of financial problems over the last ten years. My dad deals with more political problems in his small department of 3 or 4 professors then I think I ever saw anybody deal with in my 5 years at BYU. He’s talked with BYU before about taking a job there, but never seriously considered it, simply because of his academic freedom concerns.

    I had several professors at BYU that would fit the “faithful yet perhaps controversial” test that Clark talks about above. Let me tell you, my dad is faaaar more conservative religiously than these professors were. There’s no chance my dad would ever have any academic freedom problems at BYU. He doesn’t even do anything remotely related to mormon studies. But, he’s worried about it, and for that reason he’d consider working for UVSC before working for BYU.

    My impression is much different from my dad’s, precisely because of my experience at BYU. Those professors that I had that weren’t totally orthodox in the religion department sort of sense were awesome, and I saw them interacting well with the rest of my professors that were more orthodox. I had several non-member professors who were probably among the best professors I had. At no time did I ever feel like any of my professors were restricted from talking about anything or exploring any subject because of any university standards, spoken or unspoken…

    But, that’s just my experience, so take it for what it’s worth…

  32. Kevin Barney on November 16, 2005 at 1:23 pm

    Re: Eugene England, I think you mean St. Olaf in Minnesota.

  33. Guy Murray on November 16, 2005 at 1:27 pm

    #30 It doesn’t appear that he did–though I’m sure Nate and others already knew that.

  34. Guy Murray on November 16, 2005 at 1:28 pm
  35. A Nonny Mouse on November 16, 2005 at 1:57 pm

    Although, I suppose he was in Boston in 59: on Guy’s link see: Special Grad. M.I.T., 1959

    Don’t they do some cross-pollenization between MIT and Harvard? I suppose it’s conceivable he could have taught a class there or something…

  36. Jim F. on November 16, 2005 at 2:49 pm

    Jonathan Green: Since the document is legally binding, it’s worth the paper it’s printed on, but you’ll have to ask the lawyers amongst us how much that is. Have there been any public cases that tested the document? I don’t know of any, so I assume that the answer is no. Private ones? Yes, a couple I’m aware of, and things seem to have been resolved to my satisfaction, but that’s just me.

    I know people who have had academic freedom issues at BYU. I wouldn’t want to deny their experiences. But I’ve not had any during the last 35 years of teaching there. Perhaps, however, that is also just me.

  37. jenna on November 16, 2005 at 3:16 pm

    I think the reason for the 90s academic freedom problem is that a few years earlier, the school, particularly Burt Wilson in English, had hired candidates that would not now get through the orthodoxy vetting process: meaning that now the censorship takes place in who is hired, not in what they publish or say after they are hired and before tenure.

  38. Peter on November 16, 2005 at 4:48 pm

    If he didn’t teach at Harvard, then I misunderstood what he said, Nate. Hmm. Where did he study? I’ve never been that big on the whole authority thing, and don’t keep track of my favorite professors’ Vitae.

  39. Kevin Barney on November 16, 2005 at 5:26 pm

    Peter, Eugene England was contrasting his experience as a graduate student teaching at the University of Utah and Stanford and as an Assistant Professor teaching at the Lutheran St. Olaf College in Minnesota with his experience teaching as a Professor of English at BYU.

    You can find the comment in his “Calculated Risk: Freedom for Mormons in Utah Higher Education,” available here:

    http://www.uvsc.edu/ethics/conftrans/acafree-england.pdf

    (I note that in this essay he mentions with approval our own Jim Faulconer’s faculty seminars)

  40. Randy B. on November 16, 2005 at 6:03 pm

    Kevin, thanks for the link to EE’s essay. I had not read that before. I’m curious what other folks in the know have to say about his specific points concerning BYU and the decline of academic freedom since the early 1980s. And what, if anything, explains the very different takes of England and (apparently) Jim F.?

  41. Peter on November 16, 2005 at 6:38 pm

    Well count me embarassed. I must have mangled what he was saying. I hadn’t seen that article before, but thanks. Harvard had sent some Russian Nobel Prize winner packing, cancelled his lectures and everything, over some remark he made about God. I must have misunderstood Professor England’s comments on that debacle, and had the impression that he’d actually taught at Harvard. Thanks for the correction.

  42. Blake on November 17, 2005 at 10:44 am

    Kevin and Ben and Clark:

    You might want to ask David Paulsen if he has ever had any concerns about academic freedom and teaching controversial subjects at BYU. I know that he has taught every view in the philosophy of religion, including the most rigorous challenges to religious belief, and yet has had no problems. I suspect it is because his faithfulness is not in question and teaches these subjects masterfully and with love for the gospel. If one teaches the same things with a sardonic or less-than-faithful attitude, then there will be problems — but not because of the subject matter or conclusions. I have also taught from time to time in classes at BYU and I have never had anyone suggest that I should limit the subject matter or not present challenges with full gusto. Of course, I’m not faculty and that may make a difference.

    I attended BYU and loved it — every second. My own take is that the religion classes are not academic in nature but devotional. If they were academic in nature, then I got ripped off. However, because their purpose is to give depth to faith rather than to understand faith, they fully served their purpose for me. The problem I see is that some would expect a Mormon Studies program to be devotional in nature rather than rigorously academic. There would also be a problem if someone were really undermining the Church rather than exploring the faith in good faith.

    I discussed these very issues with Gene England. He thought that the English dept. was a particular bastion of individuals who were lighting rods because they lacked tact. He also got on the wrong side of one particular professor in the college of religion and it led to all kinds of problems (though I think due to no fault of Eugene). However, he told me that he loved BYU and left with great reluctance (though he left beause he felt his opportunities at UVSC opened up new possibilities).

    However, I would not recommend a religious studies program in Mormonism at BYU for the simple reason that BYU is set up to be a Mormon studies program already — but from within the position of faith rather than without looking at it. I suggest that there is a difference. Those within the faith engage in a study of Mormonism for very different purposes and life-stances than those gawking from without.

    Blake

  43. Kevin Barney on November 17, 2005 at 12:04 pm

    I too loved my time at BYU. But I saw a lot of negative stuff while I was there, almost all of which involved Religious Education. In my time there (late 70s, early 80s), there was an ideological war between those with actual terminal degrees in something relevant to religious studies and the CES, counseling types. There were clandestine meetings plotting strategy, power plays, draconian measures. I have no idea whether those things still go on, but getting in the middle of those battles could do damage to one’s academic career..

    I remember a feud between a RE professor and another professor on campus, and the RE professor taking it out on a mutual student. That student is now on the BYU faculty, so he came through the experience relatively unscathed, but the behavior of the RE professor involved was really unseemly in my eyes.

    I have a good friend who is a professor at BYU who is an excellent scholar and a conservative and faithful brother, but who is not allowed to teach religion classes (not even one of the ubiquitous BoM classes) because RE feels his approach is too scholarly.

    There are a couple of profs in RE who hate my guts (even though I’m not even an academic and live 1500 miles away from Provo) because they disagree vehemently with some things I have written. They don’t just disagree with me, they hate me. In their animus hey tried to get an article I wrote pulled from a book. They failed in that, but only because of some deft political maneuvering on the part of BYU partisans who agree with my point of view. One of these RE people is quite senior and could make my life a living hell if I were actually on the RE faculty there.

    I personally suspect that both Avraham Gileadi and Steven Epperson ran into severe difficulties as a result of crossing swords with people in RE.

    My perception was that you would be fine in a field like classics (the one I studied there), philosophy, law or other areas of the humanities if you didn’t venture into RE turf. When I talk about BYU being a political minefield, I am thinking mainly of RE.

  44. Ben Huff on November 17, 2005 at 6:38 pm

    But Jim, that’s precisely the $46,000-plus-benefits question. When the big donors and alumni heavy hitters get agitated, is the statement worth the pixels it’s printed on? If you say it is, I’ll take your word for it. (#28)

    As luck has it, I know Jim well enough that his word is persuasive for me, much more than even a manifestly well-thought-through university document on the topic. And a couple other people I trust as much have said similar things. That’s (part of) why I think it is so important for young scholarly-inclined types to keep up relationships with people at BYU.

    The sort of political rough-and-tumble Kevin describes, of course, students getting caught in the crossfire between professors, etc., I’ve heard of going on lots of places; academia generally seems to be an especially political line of work, though I can only go on hearsay because my experience and observations at Notre Dame have been very civilized and warm. It hurts more, though, when it is going on between church members, on topics to do with faith, where we aspire to be united in a way one doesn’t expect just anywhere.

  45. Blake on November 17, 2005 at 9:22 pm

    Ben:

    I suspect that Kevin Barney makes an important point that we cannot sweep under the rug — even at the venerable word of Jim F.. My brother teaches in the RE and I respect him, but I am very aware of the judgments made by those in the RE who even question the faithfulness of those who merely leave open whether there was a universal flood, whether Moses wrote the Pentateuch (he didn’t — at least not the vast majority of it), whether JS influenced the wording of the Book of Mormon, whether Paul wrote Hebrews (for Pete’s sake!) or whether evolution ought to be taught. A Religious Studies program is necessary inimical to RE because it must insist on approaching openly and with a questioning attitude what many in RE believe one must affirm as a matter of faith or testimony. So I don’t beleive that a Religous Studies program is a good fit with RE — or even history which leaves open many questions that RE insists are settled by faith.

  46. Jim F. on November 18, 2005 at 7:10 am

    Blake, you are comparing apples and oranges. My “venerable word” was regarding the academic freedom document, neither about the politics in Religious Education (about which I know only a little) nor about a Religious Studies program at BYU. Even RE would have a difficult time getting around the document were someone to press the issue.

    I doubt that there will ever be an undergraduate program in RS there, nor do I think there should be (for lots of reasons). But I do hold out hope for more work and public interest in RS at BYU, though not in RE, where it doesn’t belong. The absence of an undergraduate degree isn’t necessarily a barrier to the faculty doing work in an area that is coordinated and supported by the institution.

  47. Ben S. on November 18, 2005 at 9:56 am

    Blake, have you seen the new ANES Major with Hebrew Bible emphasis at BYU, that requires a class on “Textual, literary, historical, redaction criticisms, and exegetical methods used in academic study and interpretation of the Hebrew Bible”?

    I put up a post on it here.

  48. Ben Huff on November 18, 2005 at 7:59 pm

    JIm, in fairness to Blake, I think the context in which you brought up the academic freedom document suggested you intended it as an answer to the worry that political battles could unpredictably endanger one’s career at BYU, if one chose to engage religious issues in one’s scholarship. Isn’t that what academic freedom (in the case of a particular scholar) is supposed to be about, containing the ways in which politics can endanger one’s career? I don’t see a neat distinction between your apple and Blake’s orange.

  49. Julie E. on December 14, 2005 at 6:24 pm

    This may have been said in the comments already, but another strong argument for having LDS scholars not all bunched up at BYU would be to allow a wider LDS community to get to know and have conversations with people who are academically thinking about Mormon studies. I go to grad school in the midwest and have attended Institute for most of my time here. The level of instruction, as far as being intellectually stimulating, does not even come close to that which I received at BYU (or even UofU). It would be great to have one or two Mormon scholars here who could volunteer to teach some Institute courses. My friend at Vanderbilt (in Tennessee) receives Institute instruction from Kathleen Flake and has a far better and more challenging learning experience. It would be nice for LDS students not at BYU to have more professors like Dr. Flake, and the others mentioned in the post, scattered around in other academic institutions.