Today’s LA Times has a longish article on the recent official announcement of Richard Bushman as the Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor in Mormon Studies, in the School of Religion at the Claremont Graduate University in Southern California. [There is also a story at the Salt Lake Tribune.] The appointment as a visiting professor is an interim post until the endowed chair is fully funded. The article makes some interesting comments.
The article states that Bushman “gained national attention as a media commentator about Mormonism’s role in American life and the presidential candidacy of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is Mormon too.” I suppose becoming a “media commentator” is the pinnacle of success from a journalist’s perspective, but if they want media commentators, those who occupy chairs of Mormon Studies or who run such programs are certainly preferred to most other candidates. Just last week I heard Bushman give a talk where he discussed the new program and his hope that it would open up a new opportunity for “conversation” between Mormonism and other denominations and faiths, a conversation oriented toward increasing understanding rather than toward proselytization or apologetics (how such interaction often occurred in the past).
Bushman is thinking primarily in terms of a scholarly conversation, but I think there are other conversations that will benefit as well. One is the discussion with the media, which, in Mormon Studies programs at Claremont and elsewhere, now has a new source to go to for responsible commentary on stories related to Mormon issues. Another is a conversation within the LDS Church itself, as scholars at BYU and CES will read the proceedings of and no doubt participate in symposia and other projects sponsored by these new Mormon Studies programs that bring a wider range of religious scholarship into the discussion.
Congratulations to both Professor Bushman and to Claremont and the sponsoring Council for Mormon Studies for creating what should be a successful and productive program.