Academic search for Mormon Studies chair at Claremont

January 11, 2007 | 36 comments
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The following comes via the search committee for the Howard W. Hunter Chair in Mormon Studies at the Claremont Graduate University School of Religion:

The Claremont Graduate University School of Religion is soliciting qualified applicants to fill the newly-created Howard W. Hunter Chair in Mormon Studies. The candidate should have competency in American religious history and be able to converse with scholars in as many of the following fields as possible within the School of Religion: ethics and society, historical studies, women’s studies, history of Christianity, scriptural studies, philosophy of religion, and theology. Review of applications begins on February 15, 2007, and will continue until the position is filled. For further information, please contact Lisa Maldonado, Administrative Assistant to the Dean, at: lisa.maldonado@cgu.edu.

It’s been said before, but the Claremont chair sounds like a great opportunity to advance Mormon studies. I’m not the only one who will be watching to see who is selected. (For prior discussion of the Claremont chair, intermingled with speculation about Nate Oman’s acquaintance with “loose women,” see this prior post and the comments thereto.)

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36 Responses to Academic search for Mormon Studies chair at Claremont

  1. Jonathan Green on January 11, 2007 at 8:01 am

    Does this look like the typical job ad in religious studies? I would guess not. For starters, it doesn’t specify what application materials they want, or what kind of teaching is expected, or what kind of qualifications are required, and it looks like the search is being run out of the dean’s office. All of that suggest to me that the subtext is: “Dude, if you have to ask, you really don’t need to apply.” It’ll be interesting to see who gets hired.

  2. Costanza on January 11, 2007 at 8:21 am

    The job ad reads somewhat differently in the American Academy of Religion’s “Openings” bulletin. It adds that candidates must submit “a letter of application, a C.V., and three letters of recommendation” and that they should have ” a record of publications commensurate to rank and demonstrate a commitment to excellence in teaching and collegiality in governance.”

  3. Russell Arben Fox on January 11, 2007 at 8:56 am

    Kaimi! You live! Hooray!

  4. Blake on January 11, 2007 at 10:03 am

    Why is the emphasis — yet once again ad nauseum — for someone with an emphasis in American religious history? What they want is one more Mormon historian with sidelights in religious studies. Actually, the ad is written so that Kathleen Flake is the only candidate n’est pas?

  5. Phouchg on January 11, 2007 at 10:54 am

    D. Michael Quinn lives in the next town over – too bad that they won’t even give him the time of day because I think he would be the best candidate…

  6. SmallAxe on January 11, 2007 at 11:40 am

    Why is the emphasis — yet once again ad nauseum — for someone with an emphasis in American religious history? What they want is one more Mormon historian with sidelights in religious studies. Actually, the ad is written so that Kathleen Flake is the only candidate n’est pas?

    Because it\’s an appointment in the School of Religion?

  7. Randy B. on January 11, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Come on Blake, give it a whirl — send in your application anyway!

  8. Clark on January 11, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    Blake, I think it fair to ask that even someone with a more philosophical or theological bent be familiar both with LDS history but also American religious history in general. If only to be able to show connections between LDS thought and non-LDS thought. I don’t know what they’d demand as “evidence” of this. I suspect most LDS scholars who would apply probably know enough to meet this.

  9. Lee on January 11, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    When I was attending Scripps (one of the Claremont Colleges) a couple of years ago, there were only about a dozen LDS students between all five colleges and the graduate school. Do you think Claremont is going to start attracting more LDS students to the new Mormon Studies program? Should it matter?

    By the way, I would LOVE it if my old institute director, Ross Barron, applied. I believe he has a theology PhD from USC and he is definitely one of the most brilliant men and greatest teachers I have ever met.

  10. Brad Kramer on January 11, 2007 at 2:14 pm

    Blake should definitely throw his hat in. I know that T. Givens and K. Flake have both done preliminary interviews and I think Phil Barlow probably did as well (although rumor is that he’ll be the chair of the new MS program at Utah State if they can ever get it off the ground). I agree that Mike Quinn has some pretty unique qualifications–he is probably the best researcher we’ve ever had in the Church–and I suspect that part of the reason he went the direction he did in his most recent project (on Methodist revivals and the First Vision) was to position himself as a more viable (read: less controversial) candidate for the chair. All in all, I’d say that there are, unfortunately, few if any scholars that are both qualified for and willing to take the chair. I know several people (Blake and Nate certainly come to mind) that are more than qualified in terms of knowledge and sheer intellectual horsepower, but I doubt they’ll ever hire someone without a PhD. Richard or Terryl would be perfect, but one’s retired and the other would need an offer he couldn’t refuse to leave his current position. I actually think that the best person for the job would be David Knowlton, but he’s probably too controversial as well. Such, alas, are the politics of Mormon Studies.

  11. Melissa on January 11, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Blake,

    The job ad reads the way it does for two reasons.

    1) There are almost no qualified tenured scholars with doctoral degrees in fields other than American Religious History. There are younger scholars (mostly still students) with degrees in Religious Studies programs, but we aren’t applying for these senior positions.

    2) The reason why almost all of the senior scholars in “Mormon Studies” (a ghettoizing category I find problematic, incidentally) are historians is because “Mormonism” has been understood in the academy as properly part of “American Religious History” and gets studied as part of an American Religion track. Those who wanted to study Mormonism, therefore, pursued doctoral studies in American Religion programs. Those few of us who are doing very different kinds of work on Mormonism (ethics, philosophy, women’s studies, anthropology, etc. ) are taking a risk—an exciting, path-breaking kind of risk, but a risk nonetheless in suggesting that the academy rethink its categorization of Mormonism.

    M.

  12. Melissa on January 11, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    Not to mention that historians are sometimes viewed as “safer” than scholars who use different kinds of sources and methodology. As absurd as that sounds, it’s true. Given the nature and newness of this enterprise, “safe” is likely to be a consideration.

  13. Costanza on January 11, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    Melissa, I think you are exactly correct, on all counts.

  14. Mike DeRucci on January 11, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    Melissa,
    \”There are younger scholars (mostly still students) with degrees in Religious Studies programs\”–Anyone we may have heard of, or should be watching out for?

  15. Melissa on January 11, 2007 at 5:18 pm

    Mike,

    I’ll leave it to others to choose whether or not to out themselves in this forum.

    As for my own work, I’m completing a dissertation that uses Mormonism as a framework from which to explore questions of agency, and moral identity formation. My Ph.D. will be from Brown University in Contemporary Religious Thought.

    Not that that means that you’ve heard of me or should be “watching out for me.”

    About thirty of us (graduate students) who have interest in or are working on Mormon topics are gathering for a conference next month that should prove interesting.

  16. Mike DeRucci on January 11, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    Thanks Melissa. A friend of mine, Steve Taysom, just completed his Ph.D. at Indiana University in Religious Studies under Stephen Stein. I think he focuses on Mormon ritual and the elements of religious narrative and memory.I was just curious about how many others there were.

  17. Troy Taysom on January 11, 2007 at 5:47 pm

    Steve Taysom? I know that guy.

    But I learned all I need to know about Mormon history from Joseph Fielding Smith’s books.

  18. Matt W. on January 11, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    Mike: Any relation to Chris and Matt Taysom? I went to IU with both of them.

  19. Troy Taysom on January 11, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    No, we’re not related to those Taysoms; well, distantly we might be, as most all Taysoms in the US descend from a single family who joined the church in Herefordshire.

  20. Blake on January 11, 2007 at 11:43 pm

    Thanks all for the insights. Maybe I should apply since I’m sure that another lawyer specializing in litigation is exactly what they’re looking for. Heck, who isn’t? Have you watched TV lately?

    Actually, I’m not an academic by choice — I’m just a gadfly more because of temperment than by choice. Melissa, thanks for the background. I suspect that you are correct on all counts. Further, I’m excited to hear about your Ph.D. program because presently I’m working on a major project on questions of agency and mind/body issues (I guess that’s person formation) — so it sounds like we may be doing some parallel kinds of things (unless you’re a compatibilist or non-realist regarding agency and ethics, in which case you’re the enemy {grin}). So Melissa if you can swing it — apply. I’d love to see someone with more of a Religious Studies/theology background than a history background. I think that there is already too much emphasis on history and has been for a long time (pun intended). For the record: history is not theology; it’s history. I’d like to see that confusion cleared up in “Mormon studies” even if it is merely a ghetto. Who else would have the background in women’s studies except Kathleen Flake?

    One person who I think would be great is Richard Sherlock at USU. I’d like to see an emphasis in the kinds of ethical theory and philosophy as well as history of religious ideas that he would bring to the post. Now if they had added: “must be a curmudgeon who causes controversy wherever s/he goes,” then I would know that they wrote the thing just for me — or maybe Lou Midgely (who is a very good friend of mine and I like him).

    Melissa: when and where is this gathering of about 30 students? Sounds interesting.

  21. Rob Briggs on January 12, 2007 at 1:10 am

    For those who are interested, the full notice reads like this:

    CLAREMONT GRADUATE UNIVERSITY School of Religion seeks an Associate to Full-level Professor in Mormon Studies. The candidate should have competency in American religious history and be able to converse with scholars in as many of the following fields as possible within the School of Religion (e.g., ethics and society, historical studies, women’s studies, history of Christianity, scriptural studies, philosophy of religion, and theology, etc.)

    The candidate must have a record of publications commensurate to rank and demonstrate a commitment to excellence in teaching and collegiality in governance. A letter of application, a C.V., and three letters of recommendation must be sent to: Dean Karen Jo Torjesen, Chair, Mormon Studies Search Committee, School of Religion, Claremont Graduate University, 831 North Dartmouth Avenue, Claremont, CA 91711-3963. Review of applications begins on February 15, 2007, and will continue until the position is filled.

    Claremont Graduate University is an equal opportunity employer. Women and minorities are especially encouraged to apply. In addition to meeting its obligations under federal and state laws, Claremont Graduate University is committed to creating a community in which a diverse population can live and work in an atmosphere of respect, civility, and mutual understanding.

  22. Kevin Winters on January 12, 2007 at 10:09 am

    Blake/Melissa: I just started working on my Masters Thesis (here at University of West Georgia; yeah, pretty much a no-name here) on the question of agency, but from a hermeneutic/Heideggerian-type perspective. I’d be interested to see any material either of you have put together on it. One of the prime focuses my thesis will have is resituating the body (i.e. “lived body”) in our discussion of agency, beyond the reductivistic/neurophysiological perspective that is dominant in current discussions. Feel free to email me at metatron99 at hotmail dot com.

  23. Melissa on January 12, 2007 at 12:14 pm

    Blake,

    You’re correct that history is not theology, but technically “Religious Studies” isn’t theology either. Although I’ve studied a lot of theologians, my degree will not be in “Theology” (very few people go to graduate school to become professional “theologians” as there’s almost no market for them!) Most religious studies/religion departments have three or four tracks of study, one of which is usually American Religious History. Another typical track (my track) is Modern Western Thought, otherwise described as Contemporary Religious Thought, Religion/Ethics/and Politics or some such variation that often includes political philosophy, ethics (including Christian Ethics, Feminist Ethics, etc.), philosophy of religion, philosophy of language, American pragmatism, etc. Incidentally, Kathleen Flake’s academic training is not in Women’s Studies. She is an American Religious Historian.

    I’m intrigued by what you describe as a project on “agency and mind/body issues” and will look forward to hearing more about it.

    Thanks for your encouragement, but I’m not going to apply for the Claremont position for a number of reasons. First and foremost because they are looking for a senior scholar not an ABD. Second, this ad was written with five or six people in mind and one of those five or six is sure to get the position (although I think it’s really unfortunate for the study of Mormonism to lose a senior “Mormon Studies” scholar who is safely tenured at another good school to this job. I have a lot to say about why I think this is the case, but will refrain from doing so here). Third, this is neither a “tenure-track” nor a “tenured” position. It is a three-year renewable position. Given the way this position developed and who holds the purse strings, I see the perpetual contingency of this position as a bright red warning flag.

    The conference is next month at Yale Divinity School. Unfortunately, it’s a closed conference, exclusively for graduate students in Religious Studies.

    Let’s keep in touch. mproctor@princeton.edu

  24. Nate Oman on January 12, 2007 at 12:23 pm

    I am rooting for Kathleen Flake for the simple reason that she has what is clearly the most important credential for doing serious and interesting work on Mormonism these days: A juris doctorate. The studey of Mormon history needs more legal history and the study of Mormon thought needs much more jurisprudential sophistication than it currently has. Flake could remedy both problems ;->.

  25. Melissa on January 12, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Nate,

    Cute.

    It seems to me that “legal history” already makes up too much of what we have in the study of Mormon history. The last thing we need is more of that! ;-> (ahem, is my disciplinary slip showing?)

    Kathleen is a serious contender for the position, I’m sure (which again, is too bad in my book. I think she would do more for “Mormon Studies” if she stayed put and got tenure at Vanderbilt).

  26. Nate Oman on January 12, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    Melissa: Your are clearly punning off of legal history in some way that escapes me. Are you issuing a call for more “illegal history” in Mormon Studies? Is that a discipline?

  27. Blake on January 12, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    I would also like to see serious consideration given to Mike Quinn. He has the moxey and brains and he brings the diversity to the position that is very appealing. If he hasn’t applied, then they ought to seek him out. He has the added plus that he doesn’t give up a tenured position to take an at-will job with no tenure. If the sponsors of the position have trouble with his controversial issues, then they aren’t interested in scholarship but PR — and I’m not naive to believe that such considerations don’t play a large role. However, they are secondary considerations.

  28. Juliann on January 13, 2007 at 4:51 am

    CGU has been very consistent in what they want and what direction they are going from the beginning. They named several scholars and had a conference to introduce them a couple of years ago. There has been some discussion about where to put Mormon Studies and it was left undecided because it was felt that it could fit just about anywhere. It is new it is not conspiratorial. What was made very clear is that it was no longer acceptable to know Mormonism and nothing else. The value in Mormon Studies is what it can add to other areas of study where it has been ignored. Mormons/Mormonism has been treated as if they existed in a vacuum. Flake gave the traditional historical treatment as the US being a donut with Utah the hole. In other words, there was a concern that it *not* be ghettoized. They also counsel students to graduate in another area with Mormon Studies as a secondary interest until there is a job market. Whatever qualifications Quinn may have, he was under consideration for a position in the history of religion years ago (his flier was posted with other candidates). He didn’t get the position then so I see no reason why they would consider him now, in fact,one could possibly find that insulting (and ghettoizing) when he wasn’t their pick for another area. I took one of the Mormon Studies classes last year. In talking to the non-LDS students, the problem is not the program it is the perception that Mormons are in complete control. But CGU isn’t doing anything differently in their other programs and I doubt anyone is whispering that the Jews are in control. No one has explained how SLC (or Jerusalem, Mecca or whatever) will be in control once that money is handed over to CGU. One of the concerns I heard from an LDS scholar about funding these programs is that Mormons will not have control and they could eventually end up with an anti-Mormon in the chair. The point of CGU is to serve the community and to access the community of believers which has traditionally been a neglected source. It would make little sense to pick someone who is not acceptable to the community when there are very capable scholars who come with something other than “Mormon” attached to their name. It is ironic that a department so liberal that it collides with radical is the group that seems quite comfortable in doing that. But perhaps what some are forgetting is that more Mormons live in CA than Utah. As an aside, I got a call from an Alum committee yesterday looking for financial support. The *first* thing they mentioned about new developments in the Dept. of Religion was the new Mormon Studies program. The next event on the docket is in April. It is going to be a one day interactive seminar on religious texts, BOM included with the Koran, Hindu texts, etc.

  29. Jonathan Green on January 13, 2007 at 5:31 am

    I hadn’t heard before that the position comes without tenure. If that’s the case, Claremont can forget about hiring a well-known senior scholar except for someone within a few years of retirement.

  30. Melissa on January 13, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    Juliann,

    “What was made very clear is that it was no longer acceptable to know Mormonism and nothing else.”

    I’m not sure what this means exactly. The Claremont position is the first of its kind. Without any previous position with which to compare the current one, this statement is nonsensical. It has never been “acceptable to know Mormonism and nothing else” in the academy. To get a position anywhere requires a Ph.D. and there has never been a Ph.D. program in “Mormon Studies” as such—no one did their coursework or exams in “Mormon Studies”— which means that senior scholars who happen to have research interests in Mormon Studies have necessarily been trained (and are qualified to teach) much more broadly. The only group for which your comment might have some relevance is the CES crowd. But scholars who were trained in Religion/Religious Studies departments wouldn’t have made it past the first semester if all they wanted to do was “Mormon Studies.”

  31. Costanza on January 13, 2007 at 3:08 pm

    Melissa is right. Just because someone writes a dissertation on a Mormon topic does not make them any more an exlcusive “Mormonist” than someone who writes on Shakers or Catholics or Baptists limits them to those specific topics. Which is why it is fair to argue that there really is no such thing as “Mormon Studies” yet.

  32. Juliann on January 13, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    There isn’t even a Mormon Studies now. There is only one class being offered a semester. The Dean was very aware of the battles going on in the name of Mormonism. Without finding my notes on that particular conference, my impression was that knowing more than Mormonism was referencing the tendency for people to be recognized as experts in some area even though they do not have academic credentials in what they write about. Most of these do not have academic credentials let alone breadth. But I think that this does apply to Dr. Quinn regardless of how competent he is and I certainly do not doubt that he is competent. His body of work is about Mormons not “something else”. Torjesen stated that their goal was to begin in a historical direction rather than a theological direction because of the battles over theology that can be avoided with the rules of engagement historical study provides. The point is to include the faithful perspective not exclude everything else. But perhaps things have drastically changed for some reason.

  33. Clark on January 13, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    Juliann, I’d wager a bet that ultimately theology would be far less confrontational than history, all things considered. Especially given the ambivalent often dismissive attitude toward theology Mormons tend to have. (Even those who end up writing a lot of theology – such as T&S’ own Jim Faulconer)

    BTW – I do tend to agree that the next big step in Mormon studies, especially the historic variety, is to tie Mormonism more into wider trends. A lot of the history, while fine, seems a bit myopic. For instance can we really understand the Utah War without comparing and contrasting it to other quasi-wars in the 19th century west? What about the Mormon experience in Missouri without comparing that to events there before and after the Mormons? Can Mormon charismatic experiences be understood independent of the whole trend in charismatic movements around that time in the US and Europe?

    Those sorts of connections have to be made. Some are being made but I can see wanting that as an emphasis.

    The worry I think some have is that they feel what is being lost are the larger structures. i.e. law, economics, sociology and so forth. i.e. the sciences as they are applied to historic questions. Personally I’d like to see a Mormon Studies chair with a speciality in something a tad more broad who also is very familiar with LDS history and theology who can make wider connections. Someone like Nate, for instance, even though I suspect that’s not a job he’s seeking after.

  34. Julie M. Smith on January 13, 2007 at 7:22 pm

    “Torjesen stated that their goal was to begin in a historical direction rather than a theological direction because of the battles over theology that can be avoided with the rules of engagement historical study provides.”

    LOL.

  35. Juliann on January 15, 2007 at 4:50 am

    CGU was (I can’t speak for now) not offering programs in theology as I’m assuming it’s being used here. It would be helpful if there were people commenting who had experience with CGU. I haven’t run into many outsiders who understand the relationship between the Claremont School of Theology and CGU. There is common ground to be found in methodology that a historical approach demands, at least at CGU, evolution of theology included. Evaluating the legitimacy of theology/doctrine/practice does not have that. That is my impression of what the Dean was hoping to avoid in the initial stages. I’m not quite sure what is so funny about that. Hopefully, it was my choice of vocabulary and awkward syntax being ridiculed.

    Clark, in addition to your comments about understanding the Utah War, etc…the point was made in reverse.. there are also things that can’t be understood in American history without factoring in Mormon influence. I don’t see much call for Mormon Studies in and of itself and no one that I am aware of is recommending it but I did see interest in using it to illuminate other areas of study. There was a non-LDS student in Mormon Studies at a Chicago university who spoke at Sunstone, however, …really nice guy. [ CGU provides Sunstone meeting space, BTW.] I think that…like Jan Shipps…he can create a niche by getting out there first and by being non-LDS. I am watching this type of student to see where this is going in the short run.

  36. Clark on January 15, 2007 at 7:53 pm

    I think one problem, Juliann, at least based upon my limited reading, is that more broad non-Mormon studies tend to take Mormon historical studies at face value. That is the broader studies are based upon Mormon studies that are themselves perhaps not broad enough and at times a tad myopic.

    Of course I suspect that’s a problem that’s always present in history. But it’s something I’ve noticed as I find footnotes to oft time controversial LDS history texts.

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