An introductory note

June 12, 2006 | 27 comments
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Ben tells me that a few words of personal introduction are in order, both to introduce myself (since up to this point I’ve been a stranger to the blogosphere) and hopefully to contextualize some of what I’ll write over the next couple of weeks.

I should say at the outset that I’m quite pleased to be here. I’m particularly honored to be invited by Ben Huff, who has been a close friend during my seven years here in South Bend, Indiana. Those of you who read the virtual Ben Huff know his incisive mind and profound thoughtfulness about all things moral, ethical, and spiritual. Those of us who know him in person are blessed with his warmth, wit, laughter, loyalty, compassion, deep integrity, and friendship in its truest forms. He is one of the deepest and most endearing people I know. I was also fortunate to be in South Bend during Adam Greenwood’s all-too-brief (and all-too-full) three years here. We had many a late-night chat that often ended with me thinking that there is no one in this world who drives me crazier but also inspires and teaches me more than Adam. I probably just drove him crazy.

Notre Dame has been my home for several years now, first as a graduate student in American history and now as a guy with a Ph.D. who is hanging around trying to figure out what the rest of his life will look like. When I came here I said I would stay until the football team wins a national championship. I’m still here.

The best thing about South Bend has been meeting and marrying one Melissa De Leon. The first thing my mom said when I told her I was going to Notre Dame was, “Notre Dame? How are you going to find a good Mormon girl there?� It took a circuitous route, but the short answer is that Providence is alive and well, and it helped me immensely to be in a ward where there were very few other single men to vie for an attractive and accomplished woman’s attention and ultimately affection. At the end of this month we celebrate our 18-month anniversary…yes, we’re still in the counting-months stage.

Professionally, I study race, religion, and violence. I don’t think the question, “Why can’t we all just get along?� is as silly as it sounds. Like President Hinckley in his most recent address in priesthood session, I just have a hard time figuring out why people are so ugly to one another. Many people don’t like studying violence because it’s depressing. Peaceable by nature, I think I’m able to study racism, bigotry, and violence—the darkness in human history—because I’m quite confident in the power of the light of Christ to guide me, and us, back. I suppose I’m a bit naïve.

Finally, when I was at the MHA conference a couple weeks ago, I looked around and thought to myself, “This is where I belong. These are my people.â€? I always feel like a bit of an interloper in the broader academic world, not because anyone has told me I don’t belong, but because I’m not always sure I want to fully belong—but then again, perhaps it is only sanity to feel like a stranger in a strange land when the land is indeed strange. My experience is that most academics–even, or especially, the religious ones–think that Mormonism is ridiculous and that Mormons are fascinating. I take both as compliments (although it took me a while to sort out the first part). I’ve never had the seemingly requisite crisis of faith and/or identity, simply a series of rediscoveries of what Mormonism is that never cease to surprise, delight, and madden me, often in ways that I can’t distinguish between the three.

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27 Responses to An introductory note

  1. Adam Greenwood on June 12, 2006 at 2:34 pm

    “The best thing about South Bend has been meeting and marrying one Melissa De Leon.”

    You and Melissa meeting and marrying was one of the best things about South Bend for us too. Its ts hard to describe the pure, unalloyed joy one’s friends getting married is.

  2. Julie M. Smith on June 12, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    Welcome, Patrick.

    At the risk of encouraging you to enter what will be a firestorm of debate, it would certainly be interesting to hear your thoughts on war, peace, the Book of Mormon, Iraq, terrorism, etc.

  3. Patrick Mason on June 12, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    Thanks for the warm welcome. I wrote an article published in Dialogue (Spring 2004) on Mormons and war & peace, but maybe I’ll rehash some of the thoughts I presented there.

  4. Dave Smith on June 12, 2006 at 2:53 pm

    Count me as another who enjoyed Patrick’s provocative institute classes. I look forward to your posts.

  5. ryan dahl on June 12, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    Look at all the former Mason pupils coming out of the woodwork. Though it’s not as glamorous as the DiBartolo building, a kitchen table (I’ve good memories from having dinner with Patrick immediately after President Hinckley’s short thoughts on the Iraq war), or the South Bend Stake Center lobby, I look forward to some more exposure to Patrick’s thinking.

  6. A Nonny Mouse on June 12, 2006 at 3:03 pm

    I’ve never had the seemingly requisite crisis of faith and/or identity, simply a series of rediscoveries of what Mormonism is that never cease to surprise, delight, and madden me, often in ways that I can’t distinguish between the three.

    I’d be interested in hearing about these rediscoveries.

    I look forward to reading your posts, also.

  7. Ben H on June 12, 2006 at 3:13 pm

    Thank you, Patrick. As readers might guess after reading that, I feel much the same about Patrick. His generous and patient friendship has been one of the best things about Notre Dame for me, ever since he arrived, even though he often makes me look bad by comparison, e.g. by marrying so appropriately and apparently effortlessly! while I go from one dating misadventure to the next (grin). I’ve often wished we could get Patrick’s perspective in the discussion here and am very happy that he is taking the time to blog with us now.

  8. Jim F. on June 12, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    My experience is that most academics–even, or especially, the religious ones–think that Mormonism is ridiculous and that Mormons are fascinating.

    That mirrors my experience, as does my perpetual feeling in non-LDS circles that I am “outside,” so I look forward to reading your posts. And given how well-written your introduction is, I have great expectations of them.

  9. Eric Nielson on June 12, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    Anyone want to host a Bloggersnacker in South Bend? I live in Sturgis, Michigan which is just up the toll road a piece. I would be glad to meet those who are in the South Bend area some time.

  10. Nate Oman on June 12, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    Patrick: Welcome! I very much enjoyed your presentation on theodemocracy at MHA a couple of years ago.

    “I’ve never had the seemingly requisite crisis of faith and/or identity, simply a series of rediscoveries of what Mormonism is that never cease to surprise, delight, and madden me, often in ways that I can’t distinguish between the three.”

    Very nicely put. I think that I know exactly what you are talking about.

  11. Kimball L. Hunt on June 12, 2006 at 8:02 pm

    (Hmm. A Dialogue Mormon. Should be interesting.)

  12. greenfrog on June 12, 2006 at 10:50 pm

    …I study race, religion, and violence.

    Based on your initial post, I’m confident that I’ll be interested in whatever you have to offer. In the category of curiosity — are you familiar with the ideas in David Berreby’s Us and Them? I found it in an airport bookstore earlier this year, very much enjoyed the digested-for-amateurs thinking about group identification, and would be more than attentive to anything you might offer along those lines.

    I expect it’s less inappropriate in this context to make an audience request than it might be in sacrament meeting, but it still feels a bit beyond proper etiquette. If you share that sentiment, please disregard. ;-)

  13. B Bowen on June 12, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    I can vouch for Patrick Mason. We were roommates during a BYU study abroad term and colleagues for a summer at the Smith Institute (I can hardly claim it — I was the horrendously amateurish know-nothing of the group). He is both wise and good and will be a valuable addition to the bloggernacle — even if he’s on a second-degree-of-glory website.

  14. Brad Kramer on June 12, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    Greenfrog,

    You should also check out Amartya Sen’s ‘Identity and Violence.’ Quick read, fascinating discussion from one of the worlds best thinkers.

  15. Julien on June 13, 2006 at 9:15 am

    As a student of political science in a country (Germany) with very few Mormons and even less academics (at least in the field of social sciences) I often feel more awkward as an “on-going intellectual” (if it’s allowed to call oneself that without sounding arrogant) in my Mormon ward than I do as a Mormon among intellectuals….. I’d be interested in your thoughts on that subject as well.

  16. Kimball L. Hunt on June 13, 2006 at 9:41 am

    Isn’t intellectual synonymous with evil?

  17. Patrick Mason on June 13, 2006 at 10:15 am

    Thanks everyone for the comments. This may not be appropriate manners for blogging (I’m sort of a rookie), but I’ll respond to everyone at once:

    To Eric (#9) – Come on down to South Bend anytime. We’ve got a great community of Mormons here who are blog-types, even if they don’t actually blog (if that makes sense). Since I don’t know whether it’s appropriate to give e-mail addresses on these, you can find my contact info on the Notre Dame directory.

    To Nate (#10) – I’m still interested in the idea of theodemocracy. Haven’t done much with it in the past couple years, but I still toss it around in my head now and then. Might publish something one of these days, if I ever get around to it. Still very interested in comparing Mormon and Islamic concepts.

    To Kimball (#11) – Three cheers for Dialogue! Huzzah! (although I think members of this list have been down that road recently, so I’ll keep it at that)

    To Greenfrog (#12) – I’m extremely interested in identity-based violence. I don’t know that book, so thanks for the reference. I’ll be teaching a grad course next spring on religion, culture, conflict, and peacebuilding, and I’m already thinking about readings, etc. Thanks for the suggestion by Brad (#14) – anything by Sen is usually good, although I haven’t read that particular book.

    To Brigham (#13) – Thanks for the compliments, but enough with your modesty. We know you’re a star.

    To Julien (#15) – Very interesting. Fortunately I’m in a ward that is very friendly to us intellectual types. I think this is because we play such a crucial role in the functioning of the ward — it would really suffer if not for the students. Plus, we have a great group who people have learned to trust as faithful, even if sometimes we’re seen as a bit quirky. I have a few ideas about “spiritual capital” I may post later.

    To Kimball (#16) – That goes without saying, of course. Just recently, after sending an e-mail to a group of old college buddies that some of them apparently thought was overly intellectual, one of them responded by saying that perhaps we should all read 2 Nephi 9:28-29 again. It’s so nice to have scripture mastery proof texts that we can wrest at will.

  18. greenfrog on June 13, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    …identity-based violence…

    The Berreby book includes an extended discussion of the sociology experiment in group identities that Sherif ran in Oklahoma during the 1950s with boys at a camp, as well as a relatively detailed explanation of cognitive mechanisms that produce group identifications.

    Anyway, I learned a fair amount from reading it, and I plan to re-read it. (When I was a student of Eugene England’s, he insisted that every book worth reading was worth reading twice — the first to absorb, the second to process and integrate.)

  19. Kirsten M. Christensen on June 13, 2006 at 3:50 pm

    I can also say that it was always a pleasure to share faith and conversation with Patrick during our years in South Bend. Patrick is an outstanding speaker and teacher and always a lively and thought provoking participant in discussions. I have learned much from him. I’ve always admired the fruitful balance of faith and intellect that he embodies. I’ve never known a Mormon intellectual who is so utterly free of bitterness or pet ‘issues’ that can sometimes act as barriers to the spirit. (But his devotion to the Cubs over the White Sox did sometimes impede the Spirit when my husband and sons were around….) I sense that Patrick was raised in a home where inquiry and faith were always considered partners, rather than opponents, for this approach seems to be second nature to him.

    Welcome, Patrick. I look forward to all of your posts. (And I agree that watching the Patrick-Melissa romance unfold was one of the highlights of South Bend!)

  20. Jim F. on June 13, 2006 at 4:23 pm

    Julien (#15): I think many who participate here will understand what you are describing. However, I think it is important to learn to feel at home among those in one’s ward as well as among intellectuals. How can I claim to be a brother if I don’t feel brotherhood?

  21. Mark Butler on June 13, 2006 at 4:49 pm

    #16: Not to any good Catholic. Nor classical Mormon either.

  22. Nehringk on June 14, 2006 at 6:43 pm

    Patrick:

    Do you have any thoughts on the work of Girard regarding violence? I recall that Eugene England poked around in that direction. Gil Baillie’s book based on Girard is quite fascinating, but the one book I read by Girard himself, “I Saw Satan Fall Like Lightning,” was quite a letdown. I don’t pretend to be a Girard scholar — obviously — but have done some poking around myself and would be interested to see what you might have to say on that topic.

  23. Jim F. on June 14, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    NehringK: Am I right to think that I remember you from a while back at BYU?

    As for Girard: I don’t think he was able to intellectually sustain himself well after his second book, Violence and the Sacred. Everything after that seemed weaker, but it was a very provocative book, certainly worth reading in my opinion.

  24. Patrick Mason on June 14, 2006 at 6:53 pm

    I agree with Jim. Violence and the Sacred is his best work, and is the departure point for everything else. It’s a dense and difficult book, and inconsistently helpful, but still an absolute classic in the field of religion & violence. You remember correctly that England channeled Girard in some of his essays. That is generally a good strategy, I have found — applying Girardian ideas rather than using him straight.

  25. Nehringk on June 15, 2006 at 7:48 am

    Jim F: Yes, I was at BYU 75-77, taking a double major in philosophy and communications. You could not have philosophy as your sole major back then. I got my MA in Philosophy at Ohio State in 1981 and then finished ABD in Communication (rhetoric emphasis). Wound up at Battelle Memorial Institute as a marketing coordinator in the Environmental Restoration Group. Go figure! BTW, my daughter Jana got her degree from BYU last summer in philosophy and will be going to law school at the U. of Akron this fall. I have stayed in reasonable touch with Dennis Rasmussen over the years and have been pleased to see the humanites in general and philosophy in particular thriving at BYU.

    Patrick: Thanks for the comments on Girard. His idea is interesting but he seems to be a one-trick pony. I wish I had more time to do more reading (for some reason I only got allotted 24-hr days).

  26. Jim F. on June 15, 2006 at 11:46 am

    NehringK: Thanks for the update. I was sure that your name was familiar, though I suspect your face is older than the one I remember.

  27. John Young on June 16, 2006 at 7:18 pm

    Another Mason student here (sheesh, if someone can convince DeGruccio to comment this will really feel like old times). I too will never forget the late nights spent in one venue or another hashing out theological and political questions (or, alternatively, laying grout and listening to Wilco and Bob Dylan). I look forward to more of the same in the coming months as I return to South Bend. Alas that Ben, Adam, and others have moved on to more fruitful and lucrative endeavors (good for them, bad for us). Though I may be biased, I can say in all sincerity that Patrick possesses one of the most incisive minds I\’ve ever encountered. Enjoy the insight he provides.