Oman on Rees on Oman

May 31, 2006 | 105 comments
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Eons ago in blog time, I did a post called “An Open Letter to the Dialogue Editorial Board.” In the fullness of time, the blog post was republished as a short piece in Dialogue. Now, some months later, Robert A. Rees, a former Dialogue editor has published “An Open Letter to Nathan Oman.”

On initially reading it, I thought that basically Rees was peeved at me for being such a presumptuous young ingrate, and my first reaction was — litigator like — to provide a point-by-point rebuttal. On the other hand, my remaining days as a litigator can now — blessedly — be counted on the fingers of one hand, and on reading the letter for a second time I found that I agreed with most of what Rees said. (I certainly agree whole heartedly with the sentiments in his 1974 editorial reprinted in the same issue.) Still, for what they are worth, here are some of my reactions on our points of disagreement.

Over all, Rees’s reaction struck me as what one ought to expect from a person who sees a beloved institution for which he has worked and sacrificed attacked: He gets a little defensive. Rees writes:

I do think you contribute to the problem rather than help solve it when you speak of the rising generation of young Mormon scholars as “loyal and faithful Latter-day Saints” and suggest that there is some truth to the perception that Dialogue is “an in-house journal for the disaffected Mormon community” (228). It might surprise you to know that many of not most of those who contribute to the journal also consider themselves “loyal and faithful Latter-day Saints.” . . . [T]he average Dialogue reader has a profile of faith . . . .

I actually suspect that Rees is largely right about the demographics of Dialogue subscribers and authors. I recently particpated in a survey of Dialogue subscribers. You can check out the results here. They largely bear Rees’s claims out. On the other hand, they also suggest that my own claims are not entirely outrageous. For example, 47 percent of the respondents of to the most recent Dialogue survey reject the historicity of the Book of Mormon, while only 33 percent accept it. More important than the demographics of subscribers is the content of the journal itself. When Dialogue publishes an intemperate article by D. Michael Quinn accusing Boyd K. Packer of moral complicity in the murder of Matthew Shepherd, it is hardly unreasonable to pause for a moment and ask precisely what sort of an enterprise Dialogue is engaged in. I hasten to add, however, that I do not think that these sorts articles should define Dialogue, and I applaud the editors for publishing a response by Armand Mauss to the Quinn essay that I referred to. Still, it is not too much to suppose that Dialogue‘s admitted branding problem is not entirely the result of conservative brethren unwilling to engage in the journal’s noble tradition of honest discussion. It is also possible that there have been a few lapses of editorial judgment over the years. After 40 years, I think that Dialogue has reached the level of maturity where it can admit such things without shaking the testimonies of the faithful. Certainly, labeling one’s critics as part of the problem for raising concerns doesn’t strike me as an especially fruitful response.

In my open letter, I suggested that as a rough-and-ready indicator of balance, Dialogue editors ought to “publish articles that are going to make aging liberal cultural Mormons who have been loyal Dialogue subscribers since the 1960s absolutely furious.” Rees takes this suggestion as a evidence “a fundamental misunderstanding of Dialogue‘s mission.” He goes on to point out that its true mission is “to be honestly and openly engaged with our minds, hearts, and sprits with our religion and its multiple intersections with history and with the world.” This is, to be sure, a fine sentiment. On the other hand, I worry that it lacks the ability to point editors toward content that is likely to help the revitalization of the Dialogue brand. Hyperbolic as my own statements are, I think that they point toward an important fact: public perceptions of a journal have much more to do with its content than with the demographics of its readership. My point was not that Dialogue ought to become some sort of an intellectual fight club, like the FARMS Review in some of its occasional and unfortunate lapses. I was not calling for polemics, but rather a realization that the boundaries of important discourse are not exhausted by the ideological space between Dan Vogel and Lowell Bennion.

Rees claims that “they have been trying for many years to persuade their more conservative brothers and sisters to join the dialogue without much success.” To the extent that what Rees means is that invitations to conservative scholars to publish are declined, this is sad. They ought to be accepted. Oddly, Rees attributes this in part to the fact that there is a “prohibition against . . . BYU faculty publishing in Dialogue . . . (the only such prohibition in American higher education, as far as I know.” I say “oddly” because I have been told by members of the Dialogue Board and BYU faculty that no such prohibition exists. To the extent that fears about taking oneself out of the running for a job at BYU motivate the reluctance of some of the grad students I have talked with, I can’t find it in myself to blame them. The academic job market is a brutal place, and one must make certain compromises to survive. For the record, I think that it would be wrong for BYU to refuse to consider someone for a job simply on the basis of publishing in Dialogue. To the extent that there is no such policy, it would be nice for Mormon grad students if it was more explicit. This, obviously, is not something that the Dialogue Board has any control over. On the other hand, if (as I was told) no such policy exists, Rees’s statements might be thought of as being part of the problem rather than the solution.

The most poignant (and interesting) part of Rees’s response was his personal invitation to me to:

Help some of your young friends understand that, even though they may not be aware of it, they owe a debt of gratitude to those who have kept Dialogue alive over the years. You and they enjoy a religious culture that no longer withholds priesthood ordination to blacks, that has seen greater respect for the rights or women, that is not as homophobic as it once was (even though there is still a long way to go), that enjoys amicable relations with the Community of Christ (formerly the Reorganized Church) that has revised some of its teachings about the decedents of Lehi, that discusses real problems (divorce, child abuse, mental illness, etc.) more opening that it did a generation ago, that has removed some offensive publications from circulations, that is more respectful of scientific discovery, that is more balanced politically (though still imbalanced toward the right), that is vigorously engaged in interfaith work, and perhaps especially that is more open about its history and more honest about its institutional failings. Dialogue is not responsible for all these progressive changes, but I believe that history will show that it has played a role in all of them.

It is always striking to me when I talk with older Dialogue-ers the extent to which they see a large part of the value of what they are doing in terms of changing Mormon practices and Mormon culture. I think that the ur-story for this attitude is the 1978 rejection of the priesthood ban. They point to the work of Armand Mauss and Lester Bush, who decisively demonstrated that virtually all of the historical arguments offered for the ban were mistaken. They rightly point out that this work — particularly Bush’s historical work — had an important impact on how the Brethren thought about the issue. In this, I think that the older Dialogue-ers are right and all Mormons do owe Mauss, Bush, and the Dialogue editors who — with fear and trembling — published their work a debt of gratitude. The lion’s share of praise for this change still rightly lies with the Lord and his servant Spencer W. Kimball, but I am very glad that there was a Lester Bush.

Yet Rees’s understandable call for gratitude underscores what makes Dialogue — or at least Rees’s vision of it — problematic. Rees sees the important social and cultural work of Dialogue as being part of a movement for “progressive changes.” At this point, however, the hermeneutics of political suspicion become inevitable for me. I would no doubt like many of the progressive changes that Rees hopes for. I suspect that I would find some of them less palatable. Does this matter? Not if Rees and I are simply having a conversation. But given Rees’s vision of Dialogue is it supposed to be a forum for discussion or the cockpit for the progressive vanguard? Is Dialogue a conversation or an agent of History?

Rees ends his open letter with a peroration about his experience in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, where he learned that “questions unite us and answers divide us.” Yet, as I read Rees’s list of questions, he seemed to have a clear answer on the direction that the Church should go: to the left. The uniting questions were to be questions of implementation. The problem is that while there are “liberal” changes that I would like to see in the Church, there are many that I would abhor. Rees wants to be a force for progress and questions against the reactionary force of dogma and answers. Yet he has his own answers on certain questions. This, of course, is just fine. Questions and answers are what makes conversation possible — despite what the homilies of the fine liberal Episcopal dean of Grace Cathedral might say. I also have some questions and some answers and am interested in talking about both of them. Reading Dialogue I can’t help but feeling that it is at its best when it is most modest. Dialogue is quite enough.

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105 Responses to Oman on Rees on Oman

  1. Ben S. on June 1, 2006 at 9:27 am

    The passage you quote struck me as extreme hubris. I wondered if I was misreading, but you’ve read it the same way. Rees’ letter reinforces my impressions that, while something I read regularly, for the forseeable future Dialogue will remain in the something I do not want my name appearing in, regardless of how orthodox my article might be.

    The statistics reporting what other LDS peridiodicals are read by Dialogue readers shows, I think, a correlation with the relatively low number of those who accept BoM historicity, since only 17% of Dialogue readers polled read Journal of Book of Mormon Studies and 12% the FARMS Review. If you’re looking for research on the BoM, JBMS is the only place you’ll consistantly find it.* In contrast to those two publications, almost 70% of those polled subscribe to or regularly read Sunstone.

    (* By this, I do not mean that all articles are high quality. Rather, if one has made up one’s mind that the BoM is largely historical and is fed up with arguing the question, and is looking, rather, for research exploring the context and sitz-im-Leben in the ancient world, JBMS alone has articles meeting those criteria in every issue.)

  2. Nate Oman on June 1, 2006 at 9:51 am

    Ben: I am less inclined that you are to swear off particpation in Dialogue. At the end of the day, it is a journal and it publishes some good stuff. I wrote a piece that appeared in the Michigan Law Review, a periodical that regularlly publishes what I regard to be pernicious non-sense. Why should I treat Dialogue differently. My approach is problematized when Rees et al use language suggesting that it is more than just a journal, it is a social movement. (Maybe they could get that put on recruiting t-shirts?) On the other hand, at some level I think that Rees is just puffing. Dialogue has published some important stuff over the year, but at the end of the day it is just a journal.

  3. Ben S. on June 1, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    The difference may be that you don’t potentially have a job at the Joseph Smith building ;)

  4. Nate Oman on June 1, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    Fair enough, but it would be nice if we had a norm of simply judging folks on the basis of what they write, rather than where it is published. BYU could certainly do this by sending clearer messages about Dialogue, etc. However, it would also be helpful if Rees et al didn’t define themselves so powerfully in “movement” terms.

  5. Hiram Page on June 1, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    “The lion’s share of praise for this change still rightly lies with the Lord and his servant Spencer W. Kimball, but I am very glad that there was a Lester Bush.”

    I have a different view. The lion’s share of the praise goes to the countless Latter-day Saints whose prayers were heard by a merciful God, from the days when Elijah Abel was denied his endowment down to 1978. This probably includes Mauss and Bush. I should think that Hugh B. Brown deserves a mention too. I was taught that we are the Lord’s hands. It sounds to me that from your perspective only one set of hands counts for much.

    It occurs to me that many of Dialogue’s readers, although they are dwindling in number, probably accord more with my perspective on this. They believe, like Rees, that the Lord appreciates their willing hands, whether you really do or not.

  6. Nate Oman on June 1, 2006 at 4:44 pm

    Hiram: Touchy, touchy, touchy. By all means, give Hugh B. Brown and the prayers of the faithful their full due. I am not trying to suggest that no one mattered but SWK. I am just suggesting that while publications in academic journals can be important, we are mistaken if we believe they are the primal agents of history. Furthermore, I am all for many willing hands reaching out to do good works. I will just disagree with them from time to time.

  7. John Mansfield on June 1, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    Why, oh why, would conservative writers be disinclined to play Simplicio in Brother Rees’ Dialogue?

  8. Nate Oman on June 1, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    Conservatives needn’t play Simplicio if they write their own lines rather than Brother Rees. Furthermore, Rees — fine human being that he is — is not Dialogue. (He is also probably not Galileo.)

  9. Frank McIntyre on June 1, 2006 at 5:02 pm

    That survey is very interesting– 67% attend religious services weekly (as opposed to most weeks or less). 40% are retirement age. 40% have doctoral degrees. And, as noted above, 35% think the BoM is a historical record.

  10. Aaron Brown on June 1, 2006 at 5:04 pm

    “…it would be nice if we had a norm of simply judging folks on the basis of what they write, rather than where it is published.”

    Here, here. But in order for this norm to have any force, we would have to actually READ what people write, rather than make assumptions based on the rumors we’ve heard about this or that publishing venue that they appear in. And most of us want to be able to exercise our impressive powers of judgmentalness at a moment’s notice, with little careful reflection or effort. Your suggestion sounds nice on paper, Nate, but it’s just too much work. :)

    Aaron B

  11. Nate Oman on June 1, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    Aaron: The other problem with the norm that I propose is that it would require that we also believe, for example, that one can publish something in FARMS without being a nasty apologetic charlatan addicted to ad hominem arguments.

  12. Blake on June 1, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    I suppose that I am an interesting case study in this discussion because I publish in Dialogue, FARMS, FAIR, Sunstone and elsewhere (including Law Reviews and professional philosophical journals). I have been utterly aghast at some of the things that Dialogue has published under prior editors. I refused to participate or publish during the tenure of those editors. However, I am much encouraged by present editors and their direction.

    I don’t share the view of scholarship as the faith(ful)(less) opposition to the FP. In fact, I see that stance as the very problem. Where are the apologetic pieces in Dialogue? (Perhaps Kevin Barney’s article in the present Dialogue qualifies somewhat as apologetics). I see more pieces now that explore LDS faith and have faith seeking understanding than in the past. The problem is that I can publish a piece of 100+ pages in FARMS and I am more limited in Dialogue (tho the editors did generously break up a 100+ page article and make it into two articles for publication).

    As for FARMS, I believe that it is more relevant to me than Dialogue. I see those who argue against FARMS as a general concept of a type of scholarship and just smile. That image of FARMS is just a fraud. However, I believe that Dialogue makes it difficult for even people like me to publish in Dialogue when it publishes thinly veiled anti-Mormon attacks by folks like Vogel and Metcalfe.

    Further, whatever effect publishing in Dialogue has on BYU tenure or employment, I know that my name was taken off of a list of potential bishop candidates because I had done so. So I am ever grateful for what I refer to as “Dialogue innoculation against time-consuming callings.” I’m allergic to useless, repetitive and never-ending administrative meetings. Bring on the nursery!

  13. Neal Kramer on June 1, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    This is a fascinating discussion.

    I think Mormon Studies, in all its many facets, needs voices of faith. I don’t mean apologists, but I also don’t mean people who bring a high level of suspicion to their projects, suspicion that suggests lack of belief rather than an effort to search for truth.

    The assumption that the Church is true is not always easy to find in some of our journals.

    But there is also a profound distrust of the institutional church on the left wing. For nearly thirty years some “scholars” have treated the Church like a secret society whose truths must be uncovered at all costs. This results in a kind of scholarly investigative journalism, that often leaves the respect, courtesy, and tolerance out of scholarship. I

    The goodwill these “scholars” claim the Church lacks is too often absent in their own work. Wouldn’t we expect to see more tolerance from Dialogue rather than less?

    Dialogue has earned its reputation as a venue for attacking the Church over a long period of time. I would love to see that change. But that would mean adopting an editorial policy considerably different from the current one.

    I, too, have been questioned about publishing in Sunstone and Dialogue and have been given well-meaning advice from BYU administrators to publish elsewhere.

    Let me recommend BYU Studies as an outlet looking for better scholarly papers about Mormonism from a variety of discplines. Submit your best work there, reach a larger audience, and see the response.

    Let me suggest

  14. William Morris on June 1, 2006 at 6:25 pm

    Neal:

    Would BYU Studies be open to devoting an entire issue to the state of Mormon literature as Dialogue once did with you and Gideon Burton as editors?

    Does BYU Studies welcome fiction and poetry? What about literary criticism?

    This is by no means a criticism. I honestly don’t know. My impression was that BYU Studies wasn’t really interested in literary criticism and creative work.

    I do know that there are Mormon writers out there who are hungry for a place to publish that has a larger audience than Irreantum, but doesn’t have the political baggage of Sunstone and Dialogue.

  15. tyler on June 1, 2006 at 6:47 pm

    A few thoughts for this discussion:

    1) I think Nate is right that Robert A. Rees betrays his own ideals in his responnse. He makes it clear he believes there are two kinds of issues: those to be discussed and those to be advocated. This assumption is debatable. Even if I concede this point, however, I still do not agree with his list of promotable causes. He mentions, for instance, “accommodat[ing] the relational needs of homsexuals.” His vague diction leaves some doubt as to what, exactly, he is referencing. Still, it seems clear homosexual abstinence is not what he has in mind. I am not trying to lead this thread toward the SSM discussion; I just think some of the causes Mr. Rees wants Dialogue to advocate are really issues that need discussion. That he does not recognize this irony betrays just how blind he is to the paradox his comments create.

    2) While a Junior at BYU, I published an article in an in-house BYU religion deparment journal and was invited to participate in the corresponding psuedo-symposium. Interestingly, Dialogue provided both journals and subsciptions to the winners of the essay contest. Advertising? Probably. Still, this was a fairly conservative group of “scholars” and Dialogue did seem to be offering a sort of olive branch, as well as an invitation to submit articles.

    3) When thinking of those whose prayers helped to bring about the 1978 revelation, we ought not forget the “Reverend” William Billy Johnson and his friends in Ghana and Nigeria who labored, suffered, waited, and prayed without official recognition until the revelation came.

    Thanks for the discussion.

    P.S. Unless you are speaking of someone I don’t know, it is Boyd K. Packer, not Packard.

  16. Kimball L. Hunt on June 1, 2006 at 8:29 pm

    Before the 24th of October of 1929 Packard was a luxery make, but afterwards felt they had to start offering some more-so “economy” models.

    But while — come the fifties — a certain George Romney of American Motors banked everything on the Rambler (Which sold like hotcakes! In fact, my fam — which had owned this super-nice, round fendered Buick with electric windows and cool-lookin,’ phony “air holes” in its fenders — went ahead and bought this economical, fin-fendered, Rambler that we had to actually crank the windows up on!), Studebaker-Packard’s models just didn’t fare as well. And with their demise, A.M. ended up the lone American-maker # 4.

  17. Noah on June 1, 2006 at 8:42 pm

    “They rightly point out that this work — particularly Bush’s historical work — had an important impact on how the Brethren thought about the issue.”

    I think the Bush article’s impact on the removal of the priesthood ban is vastly overstated. We are all too easily suckered by the temporal sequence and the fact that several of the Brethren are known to have read the article. Out of all that conclude that the article must have been a potent factor in the reversal. I doubt that very much. The realities–mass conversion in Africa, a softening of scientific race theory, the demise of Black Power, and rise of federal legislation mandating equal treatment–were far more persuasive. The McKay biography shows that the church had been started moving in that direction years before, and plans for the Sao Paulo temple were quite obviously gestating while Bush was still researching. As Mauss has himself stated, the church does not like to be pressured; I hardly think the Bush article changed that.

  18. Matt on June 1, 2006 at 9:35 pm

    On initially reading Nate’s response to Bob Rees, my first reaction was to call Nate a presumptuous young ingrate and provide a point-by-point rebuttal to his nitpicking response. My second reaction was to call Nate a presumptuous young ingrate and just leave it at that.

    I’m now contemplating my seventh or eighth reaction…

    I applaud Rees’s response. It reflects the mission of Dialogue at its best: “…an independent quarterly established to express Mormon culture and to examine the relevance of religion to secular life. It is edited by Latter-day Saints who wish to bring their faith into dialogue with the larger stream of world religious thought and with human experience as a whole and to foster artistic and scholarly achievement based on their cultural heritage. The journal encourages a variety of viewpoints…” Rees’s response was warm, thoughtful, well-reasoned, etc.; but most important Rees’s response was a friendly, hand-extended invitation to Nate to join in the dialogue.

    In contrast, Nate’s response betrayed the same tone of his first open letter to Dialogue: whining, defensive, nitpicking, hyperbolic, presumptuous, condescending, and (far too) self-satisfied. Instead of discoursing, Nate appears more interested in going out of his way to score easy points. For example, he points out that Spencer W. Kimball and the Lord deserve the lion’s share of praise for Blacks getting the priesthood, or that questions *and* answers are what make conversations possible. Really? Gee thanks, Nate! In the end, such quibbling ends up being the basketball equivalent of scoring points for the other team.

    I guess the major difference between Rees and Oman is that Rees is searching for and offering real solutions, while Oman appears to be satisfied with throwing stones. It betrays a real lack of respect. Nate, if you are not interested in Rees’s invitation to be a part of the dialogue, just say so.

    Rant over.

    P.S. And just so I’m not accused of being a liberal old man, blinded by years of loyalty to Dialogue, let me say that I am a young, thirtysomething, faithful Latter-day Saint and a fairly recent Dialogue subscriber (though I’ve also read my fair share of back issues.)

  19. Matt on June 1, 2006 at 9:49 pm

    Noah (#17) says: “The realities–mass conversion in Africa, a softening of scientific race theory, the demise of Black Power, and rise of federal legislation mandating equal treatment–were far more persuasive.”

    The demise of Black Power? Oh, right. And the demise of White Power, white racism, superiority, prejudice, fear, etc. had nothing to do with it. But by all means, lets be sure not to overly credit to Bush or Dialogue… after all, the Church was doing just fine on their own, leading the Civil Rights charge. 1978? Thanks for showing up.

    My reading of Prince’s excellent McKay biography is entirely different. Where you see “moving in that direction”, I see mostly fumbling and bumbling.

  20. Nate Oman on June 1, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    “I’m now contemplating my seventh or eighth reaction…”

    Well I am glad I got your blood boiling… ;->

    I certainly hope that my response to Rees didn’t come across as cold or unfriendly. I appreciate him taking the time to respond to me, and as I said I agree with some of what he says. I am not trying to nit-pit, just get at those parts of his response that make me uncomfortable. I figured that is what conversation is about.

  21. Frank McIntyre on June 1, 2006 at 10:59 pm

    Matt’s take,

    McKay on black ordination -> “fumbling and bumbling”
    Rees ->”warm, thoughtful, well-reasoned”
    Nate -> Childish spawn of Satan

    Matt, I don’t know you, and yet, I feel like I already do :)

  22. Jed on June 1, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    “In contrast, Nate’s response betrayed the same tone of his first open letter to Dialogue: whining, defensive, nitpicking, hyperbolic, presumptuous, condescending, and (far too) self-satisfied.”

    Where are you coming from, Matt? I didn’t see this at all.

    Nate begins by saying his first reaction was to litigate, but on a second reading, he agreed with “most” of what Rees said. Most means most, not none. Nate explicitly says the post is about the points of disagreement, not every point in common.

    Even so, in this post about disagreement, Nate credits Dialogue for the Lester Bush article and goes on to say he would “no doubt like many of the progressive changes that Rees hopes for.” That hardly sounds whiny or defensive. To me it sounds generous.

  23. Rosalynde Welch on June 1, 2006 at 11:35 pm

    William, BYU Studies does publish literary criticism, poetry, and personal essay (indeed, sponsors an annuall personal essay competition). As it happens, I published a sweet little critical essay there a few years ago, on Dickens’ _Carol_ and LDS Christmas fiction. I’d put up a link, but I’ve got the baby latched and that’s beyond me; perhaps some helpful reader will oblige.

    Point is: definitely send your stuff to BYU Studies.

  24. S. P. Bailey on June 1, 2006 at 11:56 pm

    BYU Studies does not publish fiction, and that’s a shame. Anyone know why?

  25. Mike Parker on June 2, 2006 at 12:04 am

    …the boundaries of important discourse are not exhausted by the ideological space between Dan Vogel and Lowell Bennion.

    Nate hit it right on the head here. Dialogue’s biggest problem is that it is trapped at the fringe of Mormon thought — trapped by its readers, its writers, and its editors. There have been some useful things published over the years (Bush’s work among them), but much of each number is dedicated to the issues and complaints of the fringe.

    The odd thing about Dialoguers — and I admit there are probably exceptions here, but this is the general rule — is that they think that they are the theological moderates, and FARMS is theologically conservative. In fact, on the real scale of Mormonism, many FARMS-related authors are probably moderate to slightly liberal on many issues (age of the earth, evolution, no universal flood, engaging biblical criticism, errant scriptures, etc.) when compared to CES-types or the average Church member.

  26. Rosalynde Welch on June 2, 2006 at 12:27 am

    “public perceptions of a journal have much more to do with its content than with the demographics of its readership.”

    Nate, I understand that you’re responding to Rees’ brandishing of the readership profile to support his claim to a faithful editorial orientation—and I agree that it’s an odd sort of evidence to produce. But I wonder whether what you say above is really so: it’s my sense that the demographics of the readership might in fact be more important in forming public perception than the content of the journal itself. If I walk into an LDS home and see “Dialogue” in the magazine basket, I bet I can make a more accurate estimate of the family’s religio-politics than I can of the religious politics of the pieces in the journal itself.

    In any case, I agree that the religious commitments of the readership—and even the religious commitments of the editors and authors—are less important than the content in determining the actual nature of the journal.

  27. Daniel Peterson on June 2, 2006 at 12:32 am

    For what it’s worth, I’m unaware of any BYU policy against faculty publishing in Dialogue. Though there may be one, I’ve never heard of any such thing.

  28. Jim F. on June 2, 2006 at 12:41 am

    RE #27: Ditto–also for what it’s worth. Thus, I’m not sure what it would mean to meet Nate’s suggestion to make the university’s policy more clear. Should we have a policy that says we don’t have one? I’ve not published in Dialogue because they don’t publish my kind of work, but I’ve never had it suggested that I ought not to publish there. That, of course, doesn’t mean that no one has ever been told not to publish there.

  29. Kimball L. Hunt on June 2, 2006 at 1:12 am

    Misself fringy, I’m inclined to only quote the first half a’

    “One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs — BUT IT IS AMAZING HOW MANY EGGS CAN BREAK WITHOUT MAKING A DECENT OMELETTE”
    . — “Middle Eastern studies Princeton-er” Charles P. Issawi (1916-2000)

  30. Kimball L. Hunt on June 2, 2006 at 1:12 am

    Misself fringy, I’m inclined to only quote the first half a’

    “One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs — BUT IT IS AMAZING HOW MANY EGGS CAN BREAK WITHOUT MAKING A DECENT OMELETTE”
    . — “Middle Eastern studies Princeton-er” Charles P. Issawi (1916-2000)

  31. Observer on June 2, 2006 at 2:13 am

    “The assumption that the Church is true is not always easy to find in some of our journals.”

    The very fact that this assumption IS found in for example BYU Studies makes that journal highly questionable from the scholarly point of view, at least outside Utah. Assumptions of Church truthfulness or falsity should not be found in any academic writing on the Church, and that is why I will possibly never publish any of my Mormon studies stuff in venues such as BYU Studies.

    At the same time, I find this in-house fight of right/wrong or conservative/liberal a problem of most Mormon journals. Even Journal of Mormon History, perhaps the most scholarly journal related to Mormonism, contains some perplexingly explicit faith-promotion sometimes. See for example Kahlile B. Mehr’s review of Unto Every Nation: Gospel Light Reaches Every Land in the Fall 2005 issue.

  32. Nate Oman on June 2, 2006 at 8:40 am

    Dan: You ought to take up Rees’s invitation to publish an article in Dialogue on why a rejection of Book of Mormon historicity would be a spiritual and theological disaster for the Church.

  33. Nate Oman on June 2, 2006 at 9:20 am

    “Should we have a policy that says we don’t have one?”

    I think it would probably be a good idea. From what I hear the problem is not that anyone gets sanctioned for publishing something in Dialogue, but that there is a bunch of ambiguity about what both the policy and the reality is. I think that the ambiguity about how this or that fora is viewed does much to discourage otherwise talented scholars (especially younger ones who want to be considered for jobs at BYU) from even venturing into Mormon studies, with the result that the quality of Mormon intellectual discussion suffers. For better or for worse, BYU is the elephant in the tent for scholarlly discussions of Mormonism and ambiguity at BYU is likely to metastasize throughout the rest of academic conversation. How about a short statement like this:

    “Brigham Young University is a dedicated not only to the highest quality of secular research, but also to the integration of the Restoration into the life of the mind. In pursuing this mission many of the scholars associated with the University publish on topics related to Latter-day Saint history, doctrine, thought, and experience. While the University reserves the right to evaluate such work for its consistency with the mission of the University — subject to the University’s statement of principles regarding academic freedom — it shall make all such judgments based on the content of the published research and not on the basis of the venue in which it is published.”

    This statement would do three things:
    1. Reserve the University’s right to use some ideological criteria in judging published work. It would still be able, for example, to count it against a faculty member if they publish an anti-Mormon screed.
    2. It would uncouple this ideological evaluation from the venue of publication, focusing instead on the content of the published work.
    3. It would reserve the right of the University to consider the forum when making non-ideological decisions about academic quality and reputation.

    For example, the policy would preclude a tenure committee from saying, “This candidate has published in Dialogue, therefore their work is not consistent with the religious mission of the University,” but it would not preclude a tenure committee from saying, “This candidate has only published work in Dialogue, which is peer reviewed but really doesn’t have the academic cachet of the Highly Prestigious Journal of Specialized Minutiae. Sunstone is not an academic fora and we simply aren’t going to treat articles published there as scholarlly publications.”

    More broadly speaking, I think that such a statement would help to lower the ideological temperature of intellectual discussions in Mormonism, which would ultimately reduce the number of intemperate attacks on the Church and BYU by some scholars and intellectuals. In the end, everyone — especially the Church and BYU — benefits from an academic and intellectual discussion focused on substance rather than the navigation of various ideological brand names.

  34. smb on June 2, 2006 at 9:22 am

    This is a complicated question, as I’ve realized with a couple false starts (I try to delete rather than publish when possible despite blog etiquette).

    I see both sides. On the one hand, having Dialogue engage in dialogue WITHIN its journal pages rather than within Mormonism (where BYU Studies and FARMS represent the counter voices in an ongoing dialogue no less real because it spans multiple journals), has the potential to wear out editors, volunteers, and subscribers, who find it easier and more convenient to turn to one set of journals for traditional or apologetical essays and another set for heterodox or upsetting essays. Dividing essays by journal also makes it harder to claim discrimination against a particular view. If FARMS won’t bite because my paper is heterodox, that’s expected, but if they are expected to publish across the spectrum and they reject my heterodox paper, I may think they’re shirking their duties to real dialogue. But if FARMS won’t bite, maybe Dialogue (or Sunstone) will.

    On the other hand, catching us by surprise by throwing in something by a conservative scholar in the midst of essays by liberal scholars may be sufficiently startling that we would reconsider an issue. Maybe I need to have some conservative scholarship forced on to me when I am seeking liberal scholarship. When this happens in the other direction, though, people have tended to cry foul largely because of a sense of trust from a familiar source, a relationship with a given journal, which is apparently betrayed by publication of faith-demoting literature.

    I personally think that most journals ought to represent groups, be a form of expression for a given group. They are more likely to enhance human relationships when they do so, and the groups are more likely to flourish.

    But Nate represents something of a new group, one not currently represented in the cottage industry of Mormon studies. If I may speak for Nate (this is of course empty rhetoric; Nate and his group can speak for themselves), this group appears to value scholarship in the context of faith. They are not particularly eager to engage in apologia, but they are also not eager to criticize the Brethren or reform the church. I suspect they are “academic centrist” though that first word is a weak substitute for “scholarly” or “intellectual” and they are all loaded terms given the implication that others are less educated.

    Though it’s hard to create a new journal, and current journals are already having trouble maintaining subscriptions, I would think that a new “academic centrist” journal would be a good solution. Let Dialogue represent its group, maintaining its voice. But create an outlet where a FARMS scholar and a former Mormon could both publish internally consistent, thoughtful essays. Perhaps there could be symposia where BYU Studies essayists and Dialogue-spectrum essayists engage in direct discussion on a particular topic. That to me sounds like Nate’s ideal (again, this is the Nate of my imagined discourse), and it would leave Dialogue the way Rees envisions it, a mouthpiece for a valid group within the Mormon tradition.

    The problem is creating sufficient group coherence to generate the support structure for a journal. It’s a lot easier to get people to give money or time or energy when they feel that something is meeting their group needs.

    Until there is such a venue, I would think it’s reasonable to have people publish around and not to penalize people for choice of a given journal. And perhaps Sunstone could represent the Dialogue group and leave Dialogue free to transform itself into a centrist journal, but make no mistake, the change in group identity would be significant.

    For now, I will continue to consider which venue seems best fitted for a given essay on Mormonism, just as I do when I’m deciding on a journal for my professional publications (the epidemiology of infection and critical illness). Thanks to Nate and Robert for providing the context for this discussion.

  35. Chris Grant on June 2, 2006 at 9:24 am

    Re #31: Those who think a scholarly journal with a POV is a rare thing ought to spend more time browsing the stacks of the periodical room of their nearest institution of higher education.

  36. Nate Oman on June 2, 2006 at 9:34 am

    smb: I am very sympathetic to a lot of what you say here, the problem is that I simply don’t think that Mormon studies as a sub-field is large enough to support another journal. I doubt that there are either the readers, the financial backers, or — most importantly — the volume of quality manuscripts, to support a “centrist” journal of the kind that you suggest.

    My understanding is that the original vision of Dialogue was to provide something like this “centrist” position. In my ideal world we would have something like this:

    FARMS/BYU Studies — Defenders of the faith, allegiance to orthodox Mormon positions (whatever that means) assumed.

    Dialogue/JMH — centrist academic.

    Sunstone — Home of the progressive vanguard of History.

    This is not actually the best of all possible worlds, but I suspect that it is about as the best that we can hope for.

  37. Daniel Peterson on June 2, 2006 at 11:01 am

    Has Bob Rees really invited me to publish an article in Dialogue on why a rejection of Book of Mormon historicity would be a spiritual and theological disaster for the Church? If so, I missed it.

    I’ll think about it, though. I’ve actually already published an article more or less on that theme, in a BYU Religious Studies Center volume edited by Paul Hoskisson and entitled “Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures,” which I believe I may be the only person ever to have read.

    By the way, Bob Rees will shortly be publishing two articles with FARMS.

  38. Russ Frandsen on June 2, 2006 at 11:02 am

    #26 \”If I walk into an LDS home and see “Dialogueâ€? in the magazine basket, I bet I can make a more accurate estimate of the family’s religio-politics than I can of the religious politics of the pieces in the journal itself. \”

    Rosalynde, what is your \”religio-politics\” judgment on a family whose home is stuffed from bottum to top with Dialogue, Sunstone, Ensign, books from Signature Press, Illinois University Press, Oxford University Press, FARMS Review, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Utah Historical Quarterly, Journal of Mormon History, books of every kind from liberal to conservative, piles of CES material from teaching seminary and institute for many years, and that sponsors an indendent forum with speakers ranging from Bob Rees to Jan Shipps to Lavina Anderson to Teryl Givens to Richard Cowan to Nate Oman?

  39. Adam Greenwood on June 2, 2006 at 11:31 am

    “William, BYU Studies does publish literary criticism, poetry, and personal essay”

    Yes. I’m thinking about subscribing for the poetry. I spent a happy afternoon once in the basement of the BYU library, pulling back issues off the shelves and reading the poems.

  40. Nate Oman on June 2, 2006 at 11:45 am

    Dan: In my “Open Letter” I suggested that Dialogue should aggressively solicit articles from conservative scholars. I wrote, “Another possibility is to ask Daniel Peterson to write an article on why viewing the Book of Mormon as inspired fiction would be spiritual suicide for the Church.”

    In his “Open Letter” Rees suggested that:

    “[I; Nate Oman] Help arrange the kinds of articles that you mention in your letter — by … Daniel Peterson. In fact, I will make it easier for you: I am willing to engage in dialogue with any (or all) of these scholars on the subjects you mention.”

    I think that this sounds like an invitation. I actually think that you would enjoy it, and given that a good 40+ percent of the responding Dialogue readership think that the Book of Mormon is fiction, you could preach to the heathens rather than the converted. Look, I own the Hoskisson book, I really like you, and I still haven’t read your piece ;->, so making the arguments again is hardly a waste of time.

  41. Melissa on June 2, 2006 at 11:52 am

    C’mon, Dan. The world is waiting!

  42. Brad Kramer on June 2, 2006 at 11:52 am

    Dan,

    I don’t have a copy of the full volume, but I have read Jim F’s contribution, which I consider to be one of the finest bits of academic writing on Mormonism I’ve ever encountered. I’d love to read your essay — this is a question I’m very intrested in (though I can’t bring myself, as a struggling grad student, to spend the money on Amazon for Hoskisson book). Maybe you could post a link to a digital version :)

  43. Kevin Barney on June 2, 2006 at 12:10 pm

    I agree with Mike #25 that to characterize FARMS as “conservative” is a category error. Or at least, it seems that way to me. I was an undergrad when FARMS was just getting started, and vis-a-vis BYU Religious Education I thought, and continue to think, that FARMS was and is a wonderful breath of fresh air after the “religion” classes I endured in Provo. FARMS is only “conservative” in the sense of its commitment to the historicity of ancient LDS scripture; beyond that, as an institution it is moderate or even slightly liberal in many ways, as Mike says. I probably represent the liberal extreme of FARMS fans, but a fan I am. (Witness my letter in the current Dialogue that Blake alludes to.)

    Like Blake, I publish in all the Mormon journals, and as smb suggests I just pick which seems the most appropriate venue for a given piece.

    Re: the Bush article, I do think it was likely very important in one respect, namely, that of demonstrating that there was no historic revelatory basis for the practice of not giving blacks the priesthood. Everyone just assumed that the practice must have been grounded in revelation, and so there was a strong stare decisis effect preventing change. The realization that no such revelatory foundation existed must have made contemplation of a change easier than it otherwise would have been.

  44. Kaimi Wenger on June 2, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    Brad #42,

    If prior comments pan out, you may be able to read the piece in an upcoming issue Dialogue.

  45. Kevin Barney on June 2, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    Rosalynde Frandsen Welch, “Culture Carol: Dickens’s Influence on LDS Christmas Fiction,” BYU Studies 40/3 (2001): 28, available online here:

    http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/cgi-bin/docviewer.exe?CISOROOT=/byustudies2&CISOPTR=2088

    (You’re welcome, Rosalynde.)

  46. Jim F. on June 2, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    Brad Kramer (#42): Wow! I’m flabbergasted, touched, and flattered. Thank you–but perhaps you should read more widely. I continue to believe what I wrote in that piece, but when I have occasion to refer to it for some reason, I always think “Ouch! I could have written that better.” And, since I contributed to the volume, I felt honor bound to read every other contribution. In other words, Dan isn’t the only one to have read his piece. I liked it.

  47. Rosalynde Welch on June 2, 2006 at 12:42 pm

    RE #38: my judgment is that I would feel gloriously at home there!

    (You and Mama remain my gold standard for integrating thought and faith into a family life—although the more I think about it, the less sure I am what exactly you did to make it work so well! Besides buying far more books and taking far more magazines than any one person coudl read in a lifetime, of course…)

  48. Rosalynde Welch on June 2, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    Oh, and Kevin, thank you! I tell you, I need a secretary… or a babysitter.

  49. Brad Kramer on June 2, 2006 at 1:20 pm

    Jim,

    Your modesty is admirable. But while nobody’s writing is perfect, I’m at a loss as to what portion of the piece you’re referring when you say “Ouch! I could have written that better.â€? I know that, especially for scholars of philosophy, the line between academically serious writing and writing that is reasonably accessible to general readers is a fine one. I think you managed the negotiation process pretty well. I also think it is precisely the kind of “middle ground” writing that is being discussed more broadly on this board — not in the sense of merely splitting the difference between polar opposite positions (call them, say, “liberal” and “conservative”) but in the sense of reframing the nature of the debate over th relationship between myth, history, and scripture in a Mormon context in a way that challenges the position of both groups while also appealing to some of their basic respective premises (or something like that).

  50. Neal Kramer on June 2, 2006 at 1:29 pm

    On Historicity

    I think I’ve read all the articles in Hoskisson’s book, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the question.

    Jim’s modesty is always refreshing, but his ongoing use of powerful Christian concepts to invite Mormons to think better about our own understanding of issues fundamental to the faith has been very important to me over amny years.

    I would also recommend John Tanner’s essay in which he explores a number of ideas and attitudes about scholarship while focusing on questions of historicity.

    Let me also suggest again that BYU Studies desires to expand. It wants to invite and publish more and better scholarship in a variety of disciplines. It needs more diversification if it is to become a journal to be reckoned with. The journal will never accept any and all submissions, but many of you could comfortably publish there.

    Thanks for this very enlightening discussion.

  51. Chris Grant on June 2, 2006 at 2:34 pm

    Neal Kramer writes: “BYU Studies . . . needs more diversification if it is to become a journal to be reckoned with.

    From the point of view of this subscriber, it would be nice to see an article from someone affiliated with the Neal. A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship who actually accepts Neal A. Maxwell’s teachings on God’s foreknowledge, a consistent theme throughout his ministry. The issue that arrived today has yet another article promoting the opposite viewpoint.

  52. Daniel Peterson on June 2, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    I would like to endorse Mike Parker’s comment (#25) about the location of FARMS on the Mormon theological spectrum. While there is no single monolithic FARMS viewpoint (excepting a commitment to the fundamental doctrinal/historical claims of Mormonism), most of the folks I know who write for FARMS would probably be considered moderate to liberal in terms of their theology. (I, for example, do not believe in the kind of absolute divine foreknowledge to which, I think, Chris Grant [#51, immediately above] refers. And I’m open to all sorts of ideas regarding the opening chapters of Genesis, etc. Which is about where most if not all of my friends at FARMS are, I think.) I’m amused when some critics of FARMS label us arch-conservatives. But we’re believers. No question about that.

  53. Rosalynde Welch on June 2, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    Re: #24: About BYU Studies and fiction:

    I inquired of somebody who would know, and was told, basically, that it was an editorial decision made long ago, and that subscribers haven’t complained, so things haven’t changed. If one were to push for an explicit rationale, it might be suggested that the journal publishes pieces that treat “real” (that is, historical, though including the present) events, texts, and experiences.

  54. Matt on June 2, 2006 at 3:30 pm

    Frank (#21)…

    Your response made me laugh.

    Actually, I agree with your point. My response does reveal a lot about me, just as Nate’s and Bob Rees’s responses revealed a lot about them. Your response of course reveals you to be given to grossly reducing and exaggerating another person’s argument. “Spawn of Satan?” Please… Nate is “Satan”. Period. “Spawn of”??? Why must faithful Mormons always soften, modify, and sanitize the truth?

    P.S. And just in case it isn’t obvious, I hope my comments above “reveal” that I have a sense of humor.

  55. Ben H on June 2, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    I found this quotation from Dialogue‘s mission statement (taken from their home page) intriguing:
    “…an independent quarterly established to express Mormon culture and to examine the relevance of religion to secular life. It is edited by Latter-day Saints who wish to bring their faith into dialogue with the larger stream of world religious thought and with human experience as a whole and to foster artistic and scholarly achievement based on their cultural heritage.”

    The dialogue described by these words is not a dialogue among Mormons, but rather a dialogue between Mormons and the “larger stream” of “secular” and non-Mormon “religious” thought. One must be careful not to read too much into mission statements, but in this case I think it is revealing. This seems to me a deeply problematic mission. To take Mormon faith/thought as one pole of a dialogue presupposes more unity of thought among Mormons than there actually is, or probably should be. Perhaps this is part of why such a narrow portion of Mormon thought looms so large in Dialogue.

    I worry further that this conception of its mission draws to Dialogue people who are more comfortable talking to secular folks than they are talking to Mormons. Rees’ letter itself shows signs of being seriously out of touch with mainstream Mormons. For someone who believes the church is run by inspiration, his comments about what we owe to Dialogue sound so arrogant and faithless that it is hard to believe he has any sense of what they must sound like to mainstream Mormons. In publishing, however, knowing one’s audience is vital. Like Nate, I think the problem with Dialogue is that too many involved in producing it are just out of touch.

    I do not mean to suggest that Mormons should not be in dialogue with the wider culture; I think they should. However, I think we need to do a much better job of dialoguing among ourselves, and our weaknesses on that front are a major factor in our weaknesses on the other. If we Mormons haven’t had a proper conversation among ourselves about what we think about X, then I don’t see how we can do a very good job of representing “our” view on X to the world.

    Of course, dialogue that is seriously dialogue among Mormons will have a very particular kind of audience–people who actually want to hear two sides of something, and people who care enough about Mormonism to get into the picky details. People who are comfortable with the idea that on many questions it is not clear what “the Mormon view” is. People, as a result, who must be comfortable with the idea that being Mormon does not necessarily make one right about Y or Z, even though Y and Z are relevant, even important from a Mormon point of view. Very few non-Mormons will care about this kind of dialogue (unless a lot more people start caring a lot more about Mormons). But we must have it.

    One great place for such dialogue happens to be this blog. I get the sense it happens, in a more specialized form, within the Mormon History Association. That Dan Vogel can be on the same program with a General Authority (as I hear he was recently at MHA) says something impressive about a forum. Serious dialogue among differing, but Mormon, views (as well as between Mormon views and non-Mormon) also happens, again in a more specialized form than on this blog, within the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology.

  56. jimbob on June 2, 2006 at 4:03 pm

    Shouldn’t the title here be “Oman on Rees on Oman on Rees et al”?

  57. Nate Oman on June 2, 2006 at 4:08 pm

    jimbob: It’s my blog, so my name gets to be in the title twice ;->

  58. Clark on June 2, 2006 at 4:20 pm

    All me to second those who note how some see FARMS and presumably related groups as conservative. Like you I am confused by this. What exactly does it say about a group when FARMS is seen as so conservative? Doesn’t that place you somewhat on the fringes by your own reasoning?

  59. Matt on June 2, 2006 at 5:04 pm

    Ben H. (#55) said: “This seems to me a deeply problematic mission. To take Mormon faith/thought as one pole of a dialogue presupposes more unity of thought among Mormons than there actually is, or probably should be. Perhaps this is part of why such a narrow portion of Mormon thought looms so large in Dialogue.”

    Ben, your comments make me wonder if you’ve ever read Dialogue before? Where is this unity of thought re Mormons in the pages of Dialogue? This lack of unity of thought re Mormons is what Dialoguers have been dialoging about for the past 40 years!

    Ben: “I worry further that this conception of its mission draws to Dialogue people who are more comfortable talking to secular folks than they are talking to Mormons.”

    Huh? Now I really suspect you’ve never read Dialgoue.

    Ben: “However, I think we need to do a much better job of dialoguing among ourselves, and our weaknesses on that front are a major factor in our weaknesses on the other. If we Mormons haven’t had a proper conversation among ourselves about what we think about X, then I don’t see how we can do a very good job of representing “ourâ€? view on X to the world.”

    There. Now, you’ve just perfectly described Dialogue.

    Ben: “Of course, dialogue that is seriously dialogue among Mormons will have a very particular kind of audience–people who actually want to hear two sides of something, and people who care enough about Mormonism to get into the picky details. People who are comfortable with the idea that on many questions it is not clear what “the Mormon viewâ€? is. People, as a result, who must be comfortable with the idea that being Mormon does not necessarily make one right about Y or Z, even though Y and Z are relevant, even important from a Mormon point of view. Very few non-Mormons will care about this kind of dialogue (unless a lot more people start caring a lot more about Mormons). But we must have it.”

    Again, you’ve just described the very essense of Dialogue. And you’ve also hit on the reason why Dialogue subscription rates have never (and will never) come close to rivaling Ensign: 1.) Many Mormons are uncomfortable discussing Y and Z; and 2.) (more importantly) Most Mormons don’t really care. (And when and where does the open discussion of Y and Z exist in your world? On the pages of Ensign? In General Conference? In your Elders or High Priest Group? If so, let me know your address so I can start attending your meetings.)

    I subscribe to both the Journal of Mormon History and Dialogue, and I’ve attended MHA symposiums. In my experience, many/most of the same people read and contribute to both journals. The difference is that while MHA and Dialogue both discuss Mormon History, Dialogue also includes discussions re current issues, fiction, poetry, and other forms of LDS art.

    Finally, your comment that Dialogue contributors and readers are “out of touch” seems backwards as well. Most Dialguers are as knowledgable (and comfortable) discussing Ensign, LDS General Conference, the latest Priesthood/R.S. lesson, “Faithful” History, etc. as they are discussing so-called “New Mormon” history, current LDS events/issues, LDS Art, etc. Many mainstream Mormons are only knowledgable about the former. Who is “out of touch”?

  60. Kaimi Wenger on June 2, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    On the perception of FARMers as archconservatives.

    I do think that perception exists. Also, it’s pretty clear that on many fronts, it is undeserved. Whatever the sins of FARMS, the theological positions of Daniel Peterson, et al., are not ultra-conservative.

    At the risk of overgeneralizing horribly, let me offer a theory on the salience of the archconservative-FARMers view:

    Some heterodox Mormons believe that orthodox church members are orthodox primarily because they are uninformed. If mainline members only knew about JS Polyandry/post-Manifesto polygamy/etc., they would not subscribe to the views that now constitute mainline Mormon orthodoxy. Informed Mormons aren’t orthodox.

    This is by no means a unanimously held view among heterodox Mormons. However, among some segment of Mormon heterodoxy, it exists. Call it the “orthodox sheep” view.

    For a proponent of such taxonomy, FARMS presents a real problem. FARMers _are_ informed. They’ve read as much Quinn and Toscano as anyone else; they know about Zelph and Elijah Abel and the Kinderhook Plates; and yet they’re still on the opposite side of the aisle, so to speak. The existence of such a group does not conform with the basic orthodox-sheep taxonomy.

    In order to keep the taxonomy alive, the orthodox-sheep approach is modified as follows: Informed Mormons aren’t orthodox, unless they’re crazy arch-conservatives. Then FARMers are dismissed as archconservatives.

  61. Matt on June 2, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    Nate (#20): Fair enough. I was grumpy when I wrote my post. Obviously, I was disappointed in your response. As a young reader of Dialogue, it is my hope that it thrives for another 40 years. The so-called “greying” of Dialogue could be a problem. I’d like to see younger contributors (like you) pick up the torch and run with it. I was encouraged by Bob Rees’s comments and thought you could have taken them more seriously. Are you saying that some past lapses in editorial judgment (your opinion, not mine) has sullied its reputation for you forever. Aren’t all journals/magazines/publications occaisionally guilty of this, even Church-sponsored magazines like Ensign?

    I am as happy as anyone else about the proliferation of LDS-related blogs, e-mail groups, etc. It provides an outlet for everyone to “dialogue” in real time, something printed journals like Dialogue could never accomplish. But I would be sad if blogs eventually replaced printed journals. Journals like Dialogue have obvious merits that online blogs, e-mail groups, etc. could never replace. I would hope that online blogs and printed journals would work hand-in-hand in the future. I realize Sunstone and Dialogue are attempting just this, but I don’t think the idea has been fully realized. I might be wrong, but if such an marriage ever succeeds, I believe the architects of the new model will come from Oman’s generation, not Rees’s.

  62. Matt on June 2, 2006 at 5:58 pm

    Kaimi (#60) Ah… but the mirror has two faces! To paraphrase your fine post…

    On the perception of Dialoguers as Heterodox Liberals…

    I do think that perception exists. Also, it’s pretty clear that on many fronts, it is undeserved. Whatever the sins of Dialoguers, the theological positions of Armand Mauss, Bob Rees, Greg Prince, et al., are not necessarily heterodox liberal.

    At the risk of overgeneralizing horribly, let me offer a theory on the salience of the heterodox liberal-Dialoguers view:

    Some orthodox Mormons believe that heterodox church members are heterodox primarily because they read non-Correlated materials and are probably guilty of sin or disobedience. If heterodox members only feasted upon the words from the Scriptures/Brethren, and repented of their disobedient ways, they would not subscribe to the views that now constitute a heterodox liberal Mormon viewpoint. Faithful Mormons aren’t heterodox liberals.

    This is by no means a unanimously held view among orthodox mainline Mormons. However, among some segment of Mormon orthodoxy, it exists. Call it the “Korihorâ€? view. They violate the “to be learned is good” principle.

    For a proponent of such taxonomy, Dialogue presents a real problem. (Many) Dialoguers_are_ faithful. They’ve read as much Hinckley and McConkie as anyone else; they know about (and have put into action) Moroni 10:3-5 and sustain the current prophet and have a current temple recommend; and yet they’re still on the opposite side of the aisle, so to speak. The existence of such a group does not conform with the basic Korihor taxonomy.

    In order to keep the taxonomy alive, the Korihor approach is modified as follows: “Intellecutal” liberal Mormons aren’t faithful, unless they’re crazy heterodox liberals. Then faithful Dialoguers are dismissed as unfaithful heterodox liberals.

    Touche.

  63. Ben H on June 2, 2006 at 6:29 pm

    Matt, my point is not to lambast Dialogue or those who make it happen (authors, editors, etc.). I have a number of good friends who have published in Dialogue, or are even on its board, who I don’t think are out of touch in the way I suggested. But I think what I say is accurate as a comment on the perspective(s) that have most persistently been reflected in the product.

  64. Adam Greenwood on June 2, 2006 at 6:52 pm

    Matt,

    #62 is lame. It doesn’t respond to Kaimi’s point in any particular way. Are you trying to say that Kaimi’s explanation is wrong because the same logic would suggest that Dialoguers aren’t really crazy heterodox liberals? Huh?

  65. Matt on June 2, 2006 at 7:03 pm

    Adam (#64):

    No, I agree with Kaimi’s explanation. It is absolutely valid. Dialogue/Liberal Mormons (whether orthodox or heterodox) are often guilty of misperceptions and generalizations about Orthodox Mormons (whether uniformed “sheep” or informed FARMers) that Kaimi suggests. However, I think the opposite is also true, as evidenced by the many misperceptions and sweeping generalizations made about Dialogue and Dialogue readers (by both said “sheep” and FARMers) both here at T&S and elsewhere. It’s an age old problem. My “lame” paraphrase of Kaimi’s post was an attempt to illustrate that paradox. Evidently I didn’t succeed.

  66. Mark Butler on June 2, 2006 at 7:29 pm

    I must say I do not thing the prevailing use of orthodox and heterodox in this thread describes the primary tension in LDS theology at all, however prevalent that tension is in the pages of Dialogue or the “Bloggernacle”.

    The primary tension in LDS theology is between progressive nineteenth century LDS theology and a neo-orthodoxy that takes us not back to Kirtland by rather (for all practical purposes) to Methodist Arminianism – the neo-orthodoxy so prevalent in the twentieth century. Both of those positions are founded in faith, not skepticism.

    I call the former classical Mormonism, or (ironically enough) Mormon heterodoxy, and the later Mormon orthodoxy. When you start doubting the fundamentals of both, one is leaving the tradition entirely, more like Mormon “apostasy” (softened for context).

  67. Matt on June 2, 2006 at 7:33 pm

    Ben H. (#63):

    I suppose being “in touch” is somewhat subjective. Our definitions appear to be different. I believe you are refering to being in touch with sympathies, beliefs, points of view… For example, I think you are saying this: “Dialoguers are not in touch with what or how mainstream conservative orthodox Mormons really think and feel about X, Y, and Z.”

    I’m generalizing, but in my opinion, this is being “in touch” with only *one* point of view — the conservative orthodox Mormon p.o.v. — which to me is not “in touch” at all. Someone that is “in touch” is aware of (and understands) multiple points of view. Their personal belief re the *best* point of view, or the most *true* point of view is personal and somewhat irrelevant. I’m saying that Dialogue Mormons run the gamut of beliefs from the heterodox to the orthodox, but at least they are largely in touch with multiple points of view. By my definition, FARMers and FAIRers are all “in touch”.

  68. Matt on June 2, 2006 at 7:43 pm

    A few more comments re #67 above…

    I realize there is not *one* conservative orthodox Mormon p.o.v., and I realize that not all mainstream conservative orthodox Mormons are aware of and understand only one p.o.v. But let’s face it, the examples of this one p.o.v. generalization are legion. Bushman’s tell-it-all, slightly right-of-center biography of Joseph Smith has many mainstream conservative Mormons running for the hills. (Ironically, some critics decry RSR as being soft, mainstream, orthodox, apologetic.) Personal experiences from the past few weeks:

    1.) Met with Stake President and Bishop. Bishop had read RSR, but SP had never even heard of RSR or Richard Bushman. (I realize knowing about RSR and/or Bushman is not *the* definition of being “in touch”… but I mean, come on, he’s a Stake President!)

    2.) Dinner with couples friends (He, the ward clerk; She, in the relief society presidency): “You mean Joseph Smith had more than one wife?”

    3.) Conversation with a seated neighbor (and former Stake Pres.) at MHA last week: “Based on its good reviews, my sister recently purchased eight copies of RSR to give to each of her adult children. After she got approx 25% of the way through RSR her horror had reached its tipping point and she promptly called each of her 8 children to tell them she was taking all of the books back. She physically drove to the kids who lived within driving distance to pick up their books.”

    For most mainstream LDS, if they didn’t hear it during Sunday meetings, or during General Conference, or read it on the pages of Ensign or Church News, they don’t know about it. This is what I mean by being “out of touch”.

  69. Kaimi Wenger on June 2, 2006 at 7:54 pm

    Matt,

    I was going along with your comment, until the end. It’s absolutely true that some orthodox members are surprised by the Dialogue-reading, perfectly faithful member they meet.

    In my experience, though, more orthodox members react by classifying that person as an anomaly: He’s a Dialogue-reader who’s also okay. He reads Dialogue, but he does his home teaching, too.

    Just my own observation, but I think that while the sort of tension is the same, the generally adopted solutions of the two groups differ — on the one side, well-read FARMers are cast as archconservatives; on the other side, faithful Dialoguers are cast as weird anomalies.

  70. Kimball L. Hunt on June 2, 2006 at 8:08 pm

    There are folks on the RIGHT of the Brethren! — their beliefs labeled folk doctrines by the mainstream.

    In fact, regardless of one’s position on the faithfulness spectrum, anything to our personal right’s “folk doctrine” and anything to our personal left’s psuedo “intellectuality.” (Of course I myself am so far to the left, I marvel that some dream’s coming to Spencer is defined by the faithful as a divine revelation; and such a belief that is, is to me folk doctrine. Yet I acknowledge that since Spence does preside — I mean DID. But, uh YOU know — over The Church of Jesus Christ’s high priest caste, his mystical experiences are of utmost importance to the faithful. Vi~[-delicet], “the folk”! But, of course, those to my right, which is most all the rest of you, of me see my view as psuedo intellectuality.)

  71. Mark Butler on June 2, 2006 at 8:20 pm

    Unfortunately, Kimball, left vs. right does not always map to heterodoxy vs. orthodoxy. Orthdoxy is some normative position – either historically or current, and heterodoxy occupies a multidimensional sprectrum or gamut surrounding it.

    The great irony about “fundamentalist” Mormons is that they are so hide-bound in many ways that I think if Brigham Young lived to see the day he would be disgusted – not for polygamy per se, but for insisting on living in the world of one hundred and fifty years ago – the new Mormon Amish (no offense) but worse – a literalist fundamentalism of the worst kind.

    BY was rather a progressive, theologically speaking – considerably more progressive than many of his twentieth century successors. That makes him in both today’s context and historical Christian context a “heterodox” Mormon – eternal progression, KFD theology, science as part of the gospel, and so on. The same things that BRM declared to be among the deadly heresies of the Church.

    The dispute over the true Mormonism is not about whether or not gay marriage is acceptable in the eyes of God – it is about late JS/BY vs. JFS/BRM along a broad spectrum of issues that are footnotes to the average member’s theology.

  72. Mark Butler on June 2, 2006 at 8:28 pm

    “spectrum”

  73. Nate Oman on June 2, 2006 at 9:07 pm

    Matt: What makes you think that I am writing Dialogue off? I subscribe to Dialogue. I read Dialogue. I have even submitted poetry to Dialogue. If I write something suitable, I have no objection to submitting it to Dialogue, although the sad reality is that Dialogue means precisely zip with the tenure committee of a law school, so who knows about timing issues.

  74. gst on June 2, 2006 at 9:12 pm

    The vast majority of members, both within the US and worldwide, have no idea what Dialogue, FARMS, Sunstone, BYU Studies, or timesandseasons.org are, and I wish I were one of them.

  75. S. P. Bailey on June 2, 2006 at 9:21 pm

    Regarding No. 53 (BYU Studies and fiction)

    “If one were to push for an explicit rationale, it might be suggested that the journal publishes pieces that treat “realâ€? (that is, historical, though including the present) events, texts, and experiences.”

    Of course, this does not account for the fact that BYU Studies continues to publish poetry. I certainly hope that by pointing that out, I am not endangering the anual poetry contest!

    Moreover, the term “real” in this context seems dubious. Fiction is arguably as “real” as history in its treatment of “events, texts, and experiences.” Indeed, good fiction composes such raw materials in ways that reveal realities history and other academic disciplines are generally incapable of capturing.

    “it was an editorial decision made long ago, and … subscribers haven’t complained, so things haven’t changed.”

    Reading this makes me glum. Our leaders have called for great works of Mormon art. Can we really expect such works to emerge without a significant and capable group of Mormon readers interested in identifying and appreciating great Mormon art?

    Of course, BYU Studies is not entirely responsible for what its consumers want. But surely it has some influence. It could publish fiction because that is something its consumers should want. On the other hand, to be fair, whether BYU Studies should bear the literary journal burden—in addition to everything else it does—is a legitimate question. Maybe the answer is no. To put my humble comment in the context of the larger discussion, a centrist Mormon literary journal serious about publishing lots of fiction is also needed.

  76. Kimball L. Hunt on June 2, 2006 at 10:51 pm

    gst made me laugh. But what he says “is true.”

    Religion (/mysticism) is something felt, something lived. And its objective study is like taxidermy.

  77. Armand Mauss on June 2, 2006 at 11:13 pm

    As part of Dialogue’s founding generation, and part of its Board of Directors for the past eight years, I find it fascinating to see all these various perceptions of the journal and what it is actually about. It’s obvious to me that not many of the T & S bloggers have read Dialogue regularly enough across the years to have a sound basis for their impressions. However, their impressions are what they are, and they need to be addressed and discussed. I think the ambiguity and ambivalence about Dialogue at BYU are definitely problems for the journal, and quite unnecessarily so. Judging from reliable information from inside CES, I do think that there has been a formal CES policy against publishing in Dialogue for a long time, but I don’t think that such has ever occurred at BYU as a whole. Certain Deans and Department Chairs have recommended against publishing in Dialogue, but I don’t think there is a formal (certainly not written) policy of that kind from the top down. Yet as recently as this spring, a young scholar finishing his Ph.D. at UC-Irvine, who had published in Dialogue, told me first-hand that he was warned during his job interview with the Dean that he would be expected to cease doing so if he were offered a job at BYU.
    Bob Rees and Nate Oman are both to be commended for starting this discussion. I think those who read Bob as referring to Dialogue as some sort of vehicle of “liberal reform” in the church have misunderstood him, or at least that does not agree with my understanding of its mission, or the understanding of the great majority of its subscribers.
    A couple of the bloggers above made references to a preliminary report on the Dialogue website about the survey Dialogue conducted last year. A much more complete report of that survey will be published in Dialogue later this year. In fact, I think I will ask that this new article be substituted for the preliminary report that now appears. Meanwhile, let me quote two paragraphs from the Conclusion to the new article, which gives a pretty accurate summation of what we learned from our readers about what they expect from Dialogue :

    “The relative homogeneity of Dialogue’s base constituency includes especially a religious posture toward Mormonism that is fairly devout, though perhaps more in the nature of the “Liahonaâ€? type of Mormon than the “Iron Rodâ€? type (with thanks to Richard Poll!). This posture can be seen in an embrace of the essential divinity of the Book of Mormon, if not of its literal historicity; in a high frequency of church attendance; and in a general willingness to support – or at least to accept – questionable church policies and programs, even if not unconditionally. This outlook, however, does not condone actions or publications that are perceived as attacking the Church or as scorning its truth-claims. A rejection of the negative and hypercritical came through again and again in the open-ended comments written by respondents on their questionnaires – and at a far higher frequency than the opposite kind of comment – namely, that Dialogue had lost its “critical edgeâ€? and become too bland.
    “Readers are not looking to Dialogue as a substitute for the Ensign, to which the great majority of them already subscribe; but neither are they seeking a vehicle to “reformâ€? the Church or to “updateâ€? church doctrines and policies. Our readers expect and want treatments of difficult and controversial issues in LDS history, doctrine, and social life, but they want those treatments to be balanced, if not wholly “objective,â€? and they want more than one side of a controversy presented, preferably in the same issue of the journal. This characterization comes very close to a similar one summarizing the implications of the survey twenty years ago, and for most of the same reasons, which, in turn, seems a close reflection of what Eugene England and his associates had in mind when they founded Dialogue forty years ago. We have, in other words, a tradition. Dialogue also has an established role in the broader culture of the Latter-day Saints, described in positive terms even in the quasi-official Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1387-89), to the surprise of many of today’s readers and church leaders!”

  78. queuno on June 3, 2006 at 1:45 am

    I already got blistered enough over at BCC for a sarcastic comment about publishing in Dialogue (although it only confirmed that people there can’t recognize tongue-in-cheekness, even when clearly marked), but I’ll consciously stream:

    – First, I’ve read about 40 issues of Dialogue, spanning a decent cross reference of time, although it’s been about 5 years since I read any in depth (browsed for pictures, mostly :) ).

    – A family member was involved with Dialogue’s publication in the early years but moved on. He’s not very open about why he disassociated with Dialogue, at least to me, but other family members suggested that his relationship would appear to be amicable but not friendly. I asked him about it maybe 10 years ago and got a brushoff. Maybe I’ll ask him again.

    – Another family member is a new professor at BYU and was warned that while no publishing prohibition formally exists, there is also no formal “plug-and-play” criteria for “continuing status”/tenure. Meaning, you publish at your own risk, and the risk is great. The “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” was that you wait until you get tenure at BYU before publishing in Dialogue, et al, but that the mileage varied. I would submit that the proponents on both sides of this argument are thus correct: Yes, there is no ban. Yes, there is a bias against. So both sides can claim accuracy and still not be telling the whole truth.

    – I never before paid for a subscription to Dialogue, but I’ve signed up for the freebie copy, and I may actually write a check for subscription. We’ll see.

    – One sense I always got from Dialogue (echoed in many comments above mine here) is that it formed the basis for a small, insular group of quasi-friends writing for each other and not for the Church and they haven’t really cared about attracting fresh blood. Thing is, if you want to be respected and attract the younger generation, you’ll have to provide a “payoff”. [I can't bring up the link, but a recent Mark Cuban blog post has interesting ideas about how you need a new "payoff" to market traditional media the new generation.] What’s the Dialogue payoff for the young 20-something (or in my case, mid-30s)? Being subjected to “more of the same” is not a payoff. Being subjected to a form of “personality shorthand” (e.g., describing someone as between Vogel and Bennion, as if a newbie is expected to know what that means) is not a payoff — in fact, it reinforces the fact that those who don’t immediately identify with the personalities are just outsiders. Does Dialogue want to turn itself into a perceived “advanced” publication for those who’ve mastered JBMS or BYUS and already attend MHA? One might argue that it is that already. Or does Dialogue truly want to attract a newer generation? And can you do that without becoming Dialogue-lite? Those are the interesting questions, and I think that is the essence of the Rees-Oman smackdown.

    – Maybe I can summarize the previous point by saying — I don’t really care who Rees is, or who Oman is (I do enjoy Nate’s posts here, though). I’m not likely to be invited to one of their dinner parties (my thoughts on the overuse of Naive Bayes in classification are sure to bore). I’m more interested in the points being raised than the authors. And the more that there are rebuttals and counter-rebuttals and articles and letters and more articles that have the appearance of being written only to counterract the rebuttals and attacks in other articles, then the less interested I become. I don’t want to play the personality-shorthand game. And I’m not alone in my feeling. I don’t want to spend money to watch an interminable battle of wits that reduces to a parody of Bud Collins at Wimbledon and Marv Albert at the NBA Finals. (“Oman. Rees. Oman. Mauss for three … YES!”)

    – I am a believer, after all, and ultimately, I want material that expounds on the basic beliefs. Yes, I want a little bit of sugar with my meat. The fact that 40+% of the Dialoguers have issues with BoM historicity is not exactly a factor that produces sugar, since authors tend to write to their audience. Yes, that may be a bit closed-minded. Can’t help it. I’m willing to challenge certain perceptions about the Church. Not interested in giving mental airtime to those who would attack the Brethren.

    Too many other thoughts, but I’m supposed to be on vacation. [I saw a "Thymes and Seasons" sign yesterday. :)]

  79. Ben H on June 3, 2006 at 2:24 am

    Thyme and Seasons! One of my favorite restaurants : )

  80. Kimball L. Hunt on June 3, 2006 at 2:53 am

    Mark:

    Since 71 (re orthodoxy’s forever definitionally bein at “the Middle”?) makes the same point as my 70 . . . I’m having trouble making sense of your lead, in it, of — “UNFORTUNATELY ( . . . blah blah).”

    So, the pattern of meaning my brain immediately — if tentatively — came up with was that with “unfortunately” you meant to subtly hint at the difficulty to decide what types of deviance from orthodoxy should be labeled left or right, but that after you started typing you never actually got around to filling this thought out?

    I.e. . . . Since the non-authorized delineations of faith I’ve labeled on the “right” ((as in, say, End Times theorists)) could also be QUITE LEFT! ((as in those who mix with their faith psuedo-mystical or New Agey elements)) and since the skepticism I’ve labeled on the “left” ((as in folks holding the Church’s fables to only have value inasfar as they give their stamp of approval to the Social gospel)) could also be QUITE RIGHT! ((as in — ditto — except re Conservative politics))?

  81. Kimball L. Hunt on June 3, 2006 at 3:09 am

    In other words, WHY do you think “unfortunate” that the poles of orthodox “vee” heterodox don’t map directly onto left “vee” right?

  82. Kimball L. Hunt on June 3, 2006 at 3:28 am

    OK, Mark, I reread you and now I see. You’re saying that unfortunately my simplistic, BINARY duality of left-v.- right isn’t, as you say, “multidimensional.” I just turned 50 so my brains working quite a bit slower.

  83. Mark Butler on June 3, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    Traditionally, the Left / Right spectrum extends from anarchy / antinomianism on the left to coercive despotism, tyranny of the status quo on the right.

    That is why regardless of political views, once a movement becomes sufficiently established, they tend to become the new conservatives. But language cannot track that change sufficiently fast, so we end up with odd historical associations like the right being associated with the moralist old guard, and the left being associated with the moralist new guard, oft-times with totalitarian dictatorships on both ends of the spectrum.

    So we have morphed, since the French Revolution at least from a definition of Left / Right defined in terms of (violent) opposition / defense of the status quo to a definition in terms of heritage or class conflict.

    In contemporary usage in the Church, though they are the nominal defenders of orthodoxy, many church leaders see a spectrum where they are the moderate defenders of truth in the middle, and lunatics on both sides. The left being the “Sunstone crowd” and the right being FLDS sympathizers, John Birchers, radical millennarians, Word of Wisdom fanatics and so on.

    Given that orthodoxy means “correct doctrine” I do not see why they would do otherwise. Of course in the larger world, Christian orthodoxy is pretty much defined by the historical Hellenist influenced theology of the Catholic Church. LDS Neo-orthodoxy is orthodox in that sense, closely approximating Methodist Arminianism, which is also neo-orthodox theologically speaking.

    Otherwise the neo-prefix would be meaningless, and orthodoxy would be just whatever view is currently endorsed. Both senses are valid and useful – it is too bad we do not have separate words for them. I am big fan of having different words for fundamentally different senses of terms.

  84. Matt on June 3, 2006 at 2:06 pm

    Kaimi (#69) I agree that the analogy falls apart at the end. I was trying to force the analogy into the word framework of your original post.

  85. Matt on June 3, 2006 at 2:09 pm

    gst (#74):

    Why?

  86. Nate Oman on June 3, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    Brother Mauss: Thanks for your comments. I look forward to seeing the fuller version of the study.

  87. Kimball L. Hunt on June 3, 2006 at 11:57 pm

    Mark:

    Had ta look up your mere 7-syllable-er, /anti.nomian.ism,/ Mark. (And so now my personal mnemonic for it’s that “oman” — Uh really /nomian/ — means “(adherent of da) law.” Hee hee.)

    But anyway, Mark, so wow! — you’re putting those pernicious “faith without works” supposedly rightwing promoters out there as theological “lefty-liberals”? (Mockingly jeer): Oooooooh! lol.

    =======
    However, Mark — and also in the very spirit of this nate2bobetaliaback2nate&thenback2bob post — I’m most definately with Hegel on the need and importance of the dialectical? Thus:

    ANY KIND of, ahem,

    “es.TAB.lish.men.TAR.i.an.IS.m”

    — Count-em: EIGHT syllables! lol — worth its salt is only ///i m p r o v e d/// due its critiques & pressures from those with arguments for, having preceived payoffs from DIS-establishmentarianism.

    Which is MY critique of YOUR “pernicious” — ha ha! — ANTI-disestablishmentariansism there, Mark. (Which makes me what? a COUNTERdisestablishmentarian? To, rather Milton Berle -like, steal mister Buckley’s gag of his coining of the ludicrously long /antidisestablishmentarianism/ in da foist place, hee hee!)

  88. john f. on June 5, 2006 at 1:15 pm

    It would be interesting to see how many people here actually subscribe to and read the articles in BYU Studies.

    We know, or can know, the peer review process of articles accepted for publication in BYU Studies. Do we know or can we know the process for articles appearing in Dialogue?

    Again, for those who dismiss or are suspicious of the quality or academic nature of BYU Studies articles, have they actually read the content of BYU Studies, at least in the last decade?

  89. Rosalynde Welch on June 5, 2006 at 1:48 pm

    “We know, or can know, the peer review process of articles accepted for publication in BYU Studies. Do we know or can we know the process for articles appearing in Dialogue?”

    Hmmm, well, (my husband) John has been asked to be a reader for submissions to BYU Studies, and I have been asked to be a reader for submissions to Dialogue (although I was unable to oblige at the time). How’s that for transparency? ;) (Probably won’t do much to strengthen anyone’s faith in the peer review process, however.)

  90. john f. on June 5, 2006 at 2:30 pm

    So you are saying that Dialogue submissions are rigorously peer-reviewed by readers in the relevant field? I know that BYU Studies submissions are; the Dialogue process seems a little less clear, although that is what you are implying by saying that you have been invited to read submissions.

  91. Kimball L. Hunt on June 5, 2006 at 3:10 pm

    Haven’t read BYU Studies since perhaps the mid-’70s.

    Peer review committee’s are fine. Yet specifically “alternative voice” venues, their submissions approved seat-of-the pants by interested parties and even “Movement” type people, are important too. Is the Village Voice peer reviewed?

  92. Rosalynde Welch on June 5, 2006 at 4:21 pm

    That’s right, John, sorry I wasn’t clear: scholarly submissions to Dialogue are reviewed by readers with the appropriate expertise. Like all peer review, however, the “rigor” of the review process depends quite a lot on the quality of the readers (thus my little jab).

    I suspect that Dialogue operates much like BYU Studies, in that non-scholarly pieces undergo a different kind of selection process—but I’m not sure.

  93. g.wesley on June 5, 2006 at 8:08 pm

    i submitted an article to dialogue last year that was reviewed by two persons. one was in strong favor of the paper’s publication; the other, david whittaker–to one of whose expertises the paper was related–tore it to shreds. in the end, although i didn’t and still don’t agree with everthing whittaker had to say, i realized that the paper was not up to par, withdrew it, and was glad to be saved from some embarrasment. so i guess the moral of the story is: in this case my submission was peer reviewed by perhaps the most qualified scholar on that particular topic. to the extent that this happens regularly (i have no idea who else reviews for dialogue), the process is fairly rigorous.

  94. Kevin Barney on June 5, 2006 at 8:20 pm

    I have reviewed papers for both BYU Studies and Dialogue, so in my case at least the process is identical.

  95. john f. on June 5, 2006 at 8:28 pm

    I think the BYU Studies peer review was a blind process, g.wesley. Does your comment 93 imply that Dialogue’s is not?

  96. john f. on June 5, 2006 at 8:29 pm

    I should say, it was my understanding that the BYU Studies peer review process is a blind process.

  97. Jonathan Green on June 5, 2006 at 9:55 pm

    John, I was wondering the same thing myself, and hopefully g.wesley will explain, but sometimes reviewer’s “anonymous” comments will include things like “you didn’t even cite my pathbreaking 1987 article in Zeitschrift für Trivialwissen!” Or if received electronically, sometimes Word ocuments reveal more than they should.

  98. DavidH on June 5, 2006 at 10:58 pm

    “It would be interesting to see how many people here actually subscribe to and read the articles in BYU Studies.”

    I do subscribe and read the articles (even yours John), and think it is a very good periodical.

  99. Ben S. on June 5, 2006 at 11:17 pm

    I don’t subscribe, but I read them regularly in the University library.

  100. john f. on June 5, 2006 at 11:34 pm

    Jonathan, that’s hilarious. I can picture that. Real anonymous!

    DavidH, uh oh. Well, I agree that it’s a good periodical.

    Ben S., you must subscribe!

  101. g.wesley on June 6, 2006 at 11:04 am

    john f., as i should have stated, the reviews were anonymous (i still don’t know who wrote the positive one). after i decided to withdraw my paper, i asked levi peterson whether he would put me in contact with my negative reviewer or be willing to act as a liason between us so that i could ask him/her some further questions. after ok-ing it with whittaker, he introduced us via email. and i should add that in my case, there were no identity ‘clues’ in either review. i had never submitted anything before, and came away from the experience with a lot of repsect for peterson as an editor. when the reviews came back mixed, he wanted me to respond to whittaker’s criticisms before proceeding. some of the criticisms were insurmountable (hence my withdrawl), but on one point where whittaker and i disagreed (again, before i knew who i was arguing with), peterson was openminded (from my persective) and courteous enough to tell me that he thought i ‘made a good case.’ it still impresses me that he would be willing to state even a degree of agreement with an undergraduate over a phd (on this minor point), especially when compared with byu studies’ written (thought perhaps not always practiced) policy of not accepting work from anyone without a phd or at least endorsement from a phd.

  102. Kevin Barney on June 6, 2006 at 11:46 am

    Though the review process at both journals is blind, I sometimes have been able to figure out who someone is by subtle clues in their writing.

  103. DavidH on June 6, 2006 at 12:14 pm

    And it was a very fine article too, John.

  104. Dan Richards on June 6, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    #77 A rejection of the negative and hypercritical came through again and again in the open-ended comments written by respondents on their questionnaires – and at a far higher frequency than the opposite kind of comment – namely, that Dialogue had lost its “critical edge� and become too bland.

    Isn’t this a tacit admission that the “negative and hypercritical” actually crops up in Dialogue with some regularity, or as Nate puts it, that there have been editorial lapses?

  105. Armand Mauss on June 9, 2006 at 2:35 am

    RE: #104 – It’s certainly fair to say that articles SOME readers have considered “negative and hypercritical” have “crop(ed) up” in Dialogue, but I would indeed attribute these cases to editorial lapses. Recent editorial regimes, I would argue, have seen far fewer of these articles than might have appeared in (say) the mid-90s. But unfortunately readers tend to remember longer the articles that irritate them the most. With equal selectivity and unfairness, people in my hearing have dismissed BYU Studies as often bland and apologetic. Much depends on what a reader’s expectations are for a given journal, and upon that reader’s tolerance for controversy. Now that the full article analyzing the Dialogue survey has been posted on the Dialogue website, I urge all T & S bloggers to read it in its entirety, not just the excerpts that I provided in #77 (partly reiterated in #104). There is little doubt that Dialogue has a “base constituency” different from that of BYU Studies – partly overlapping, to be sure, but still different. The world of Mormon Studies would be poorer if it lost either of them. I can assure everyone also that Dialogue has for a long time been rigorously peer-reviewed by competent experts, usually on at least a single-blind basis and even on a double-blind basis whenever feasible.