Just because they can’t see you doesn’t mean you’re not there

July 27, 2010 | 43 comments
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The call for papers for the Third Biannual Faith and Knowledge Conference for LDS Graduate Students in Religion contains a sentence that is, I think, wrong in three different ways.

The Latter-day Saints are now a powerful institutional presence on the American scene, but they are not likely to have a significant intellectual presence in the Academy until scholarship and intellectuality are more fully integrated into Mormon life.

I think it’s a mistake to think that Mormons are not already a significant presence in American academia. On many campuses, the LDS Institute is as prominent as the Hillel Foundation or Newman Center and similar institutions. The number of BYU graduates who complete Ph.D.s puts BYU in the top rank of undergrad alma maters for those who not only start but actually complete doctoral programs (with a slightly higher enrollment in the humanities than the national average, the last I checked). In my experience, wards located near universities have substantial numbers of Mormon graduate students and faculty members. It doesn’t make sense to long for a significant Mormon presence in the academy: it’s already here. (One may wish for the Mormon presence to be different in some way. The precise distinction between a presence in academia and an “intellectual presence in the Academy” isn’t clear to me, but it suggests that the dissatisfaction is perhaps due to the quality of the Mormon presence, not its absence.)

I think tracing a lacking or flawed intellectual presence in academia to a deficient intellectuality within Mormon life is, additionally, a mistaken claim of Mormon exceptionalism. It is true that there is occasional friction between scholarship and the broader institution. Welcome to America. Welcome to every state in the Union, and every nation in the world. Beyond that, the cliché of Mormon anti-intellectualism is not just tired, but false. Do the cool kids in seminary mock the straight-A students for “acting gentile”? No, absolutely not. Do church leaders discourage higher education? Just the opposite, in fact. FARMS isn’t perfect, but it sponsors some first-rate research, and you have to respect the resources invested in mediating research in the humanities to a broad public.

Finally, I think it’s a mistake to see the nature of the Mormon presence in academia as a function of what non-academic Mormons think about scholarship. Rather, if one wants a significant Mormon intellectual presence in academia, then Mormons in academia need to focus on the quality of their work, and the visibility of their religious identities.

Otherwise, it sounds like an interesting conference and I hope all who attend have a great time.

43 Responses to Just because they can’t see you doesn’t mean you’re not there

  1. Steve Fleming on July 27, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Acting “gentile” ha! Good points.

  2. queuno on July 27, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    The precise distinction between a presence in academia and an “intellectual presence in the Academy” isn’t clear to me, but it suggests that the dissatisfaction is perhaps due to the quality of the Mormon presence, not its absence.)

    Possibly because they don’t consider science/engineering/business to be intellectual, just humanities/philosophy/law?

  3. John Mansfield on July 27, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    queuno, if you wish to, take a look at Table 32 in Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities: Summary Report 2003, found on page 86 of the PDF. The table details which schools previously awarded baccalaureate degrees to those who received doctorates in 2003. Brigham Young University was the alma mater for 1,065 of the 135,960 new PhDs that year.

    Table 32 gives the breakdown according to type of doctorate awarded. Of the BYU alumni, 187, or 17.6%, received a PhD in the humanities. That is a slightly higher percentage than the nation’s overall, 15.7%. So though it’s true that BYU graduates who pursue higher education predominately pursue business, medicine, engineering and science and avoid the humanities, it also appears to be no more true of them than of American graduates in general. (The report linked above was featured in a post by Jonathan Green a couple years back.)

  4. erinannie on July 27, 2010 at 9:16 pm

    I’m going to have to completely disagree with you. Mormons have this idea that Mormons are well-represented. But the truth is that outside of the the Jello Belt, it really isn’t. You do find pockets here and there, but it just isn’t true.
    Also, using FARMS as an argument is weak. Mormons studying things only of interest to people that study Mormons will never increase reputation or presence.
    If they can’t see you it doesn’t mean you aren’t there. But it does mean you made no significant contribution or impact. Until a contribution or impact is made, nothing else matters.

  5. Nate Oman on July 27, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    erinannie: I am a Mormon academic who knows quite a few Mormon academics. I am one of those guys who in addition to pursuing his main research agenda — in my case the philosophy of private law — also writes from time to time on Mormonism and even occasionally does so in a way that is pitched at a Mormon audience. It’s safe to say that I am in a definite minority among Mormon academics in this regard. For example, at my university we have five Mormons on the faculty. I am the only one who has any scholarly interest in Mormonism, and my interests don’t run in the FARMS direction (although I think that FARMS does a lot of good stuff and on the whole has been a very positive influence on Mormon intellectual life).

    In short, it simply isn’t true that most Mormon scholars are interested only in topics related to Mormonism. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all Mormon academics are doing excellent work in their fields. Some of them are and some of them aren’t. It would be nice if more of them did better work.

    In short, I think Jonathan is right. The fault is in ourselves and not in our anti-intellectual cultural stars if we are underlings.

    (It’s also worth remembering in this regard that there just aren’t all that many Mormons in the United States.)

  6. Chris on July 27, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    The fact that our Church tends to excommunicate its scholars who do not agree with its policies and that it does not allow its members to pursue unmonitored scholarly research certainly does not integrate scholarship or intellectuality in Mormon life.

  7. Mark Brown on July 27, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    Beyond that, the cliché of Mormon anti-intellectualism is not just tired, but false.

    Jonathan, in general I am inclined to agree with you, but I think you are being a bit too careless on this point. The fact that a senior apostle identified intellectuals as one of the most significant threats to the well-being of the church cannot just be waved off and dismissed as a cliché.

  8. Jonathan Green on July 28, 2010 at 12:39 am

    Mark Brown, please give us a citation. What are you referring to?

    Chris, the truth content of your comment is so low that it might make more sense just to delete it. I really have no idea at all what you’re talking about.

    Erinannie, why do you say that Mormons aren’t represented outside the Intermountain West? That doesn’t correspond to my experience at the colleges and universities where I’ve worked or the ones I’ve visited.

  9. Mark Brown on July 28, 2010 at 1:02 am

    Jonathan, you can find the entire speech at this link:

    http://www.zionsbest.com/face.html

    Here is the specific quote from the speech:

    There are three areas where members of the Church, influenced by social and political unrest, are being caught up and led away. I chose these three because they have made major invasions into the membership of the Church. In each, the temptation is for us to turn about and face the wrong way, and it is hard to resist, for doing it seems so reasonable and right.

    The dangers I speak of come from the gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement (both of which are relatively new), and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals.

  10. Mark Brown on July 28, 2010 at 1:09 am

    As I said, I mostly agree with you and I don’t want to oversell this point, but when an apostle puts you in the same category with gay people you need to consider the possibility that there is more going on that just the occasional quibble or mild disagreement.

  11. Jonathan Green on July 28, 2010 at 2:58 am

    Mark Brown, thank you for providing the link. It’s high-octane stuff, indeed. But: 1) Pres. Packer’s point in the talk is not actually to rail against intellectuals (or even gays or feminists), but to object to any mediation of teaching or counsel. He never mentions “threats” to the church. 2) There are sourcing problems, and changed paragraphing can make a major difference. 3) Most importantly, one sentence in one talk that one apostle once gave is not enough to construct a tradition of anti-intellectualism out of. Compare, for example, how scientific advances are regularly treated in conference talks (gifts from God, if used correctly) to the suspicion towards the intellect in the talk you link to. It’s a mistake to privilege the obscure, unpublished (to my knowledge) source as the truly representative one, or even to weight it more than any other single statement. It would be a mistake as well to dismiss it entirely, but we have to look at the totality of statements and actions in context. (I don’t think that this is what you’re doing, of course.)

  12. Katie P. on July 28, 2010 at 6:00 am

    I am suspicious of statements that imply things won’t be right until the members of the church become more like the speaker.

  13. SmallAxe on July 28, 2010 at 7:53 am

    While I agree in many regards with your critique, I think we should keep in mind the context of the Faith and Knowledge conferences. For these LDSs the “academy” is the field of religious studies (broadly construed); and while the paragraph could be better worded to make this distinction, I think the general point is true–LDSs are under represented in the field of religious studies. I, of course, have no hard data to substantiate this, but at the same time I have trouble finding more than half a dozen LDSs in religious studies departments. Even if you extend this to LDSs doing work in some aspect of religious studies (Terryl Givens, for instance, would fall into this category), there are probably some dozen. This doesn’t seem to be the case when we look at something like history or literature.

  14. SmallAxe on July 28, 2010 at 8:13 am

    Secondly, regarding anti-intellectualism, I don’t think you should so easily dismiss the Packer quote. These are similar sentiments that reappear in “The Mantle Is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect” http://byustudies.byu.edu/showTitle.aspx?title=5472 which is one of the key articles given out in CES training for full time seminar instructors (along with “The Chartered Course”, which can also come off as anti-intellectual).

    For institutional issues at BYU see:
    http://www.aaup.org/NR/rdonlyres/27EB0A08-8D25-4415-9E55-8081CC874AC5/0/Brigham.pdf

    Now, I’m not sure this makes Mormons more anti-intellectual than other groups in America, but knowing the LDSs involved in the academic study of religion I don’t think we can say that there isn’t a degree of anti-intellectualism in both the church and Mormon culture that isn’t worth of critique.

  15. Grant Hardy on July 28, 2010 at 9:13 am

    There are certainly many bright, capable Mormon students and professors at universities around the country, but the Faith and Knowledge Conference seems to be interested in looking at issues facing Latter-day Saints who bring Mormon perspectives to their studies, so this would be a much smaller subset. If you peruse the suggested topics for papers, they tend to be concerned with theology and religious studies. The impact of Mormonism in those fields has been nearly non-existent (with a few exceptions, such as BYU professors who work with the Dead Sea Scrolls). The Restored Gospel may have useful insights to contribute to the scholarly conversation, or it may motivate particular approaches, but Latter-day Saints, by and large, have had no meaningful engagement with either theology or religious studies (history is a different story!).

    Anti-intellectualism is a strong charge, and it doesn’t fit Mormonism as a whole, but disinterest in, or even hostility to, contemporary biblical scholarship is probably the norm. I understand that most Mormons, like most Americans, don’t like to read books, but even at BYU, our flagship university, how many of the 33,000 students have taken even an introductory course in Biblical Greek or Hebrew? Such courses are often required at religious universities, and it is worth remembering that Joseph Smith himself, as busy as he was, and with extraordinary access to revelation, still took the time to study Hebrew. Our comparative indifference would seem to indicate a fundamental lack of seriousness toward the Bible (my current colleagues have expressed disbelief that a huge Christian university like BYU produced just two Greek majors the year that I graduated), and it leaves even educated Latter-day Saints incapable of speaking to informed Christians or academics. I’m not saying that we have to agree with mainstream biblical scholarship—indeed there are many points where we have to differ—but most Mormons don’t even know enough to be able to argue their position coherently.

    As a concrete example, the current CES New Testament manual has not been updated in 30 years. That is a long time for a textbook to remain stagnant, particularly in a vibrant, changing field like religious studies. And even in 1979, when it was first published, it offered virtually no connection with modern scholarship. Here is every non-LDS source in the bibliography (with original dates of publication): Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible (1973), Adam Clarke’s Bible commentary (1832), Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities (1859), J. R. Dummelow’s Bible commentary (1909), Alfred Edersheim’s The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883), Samuel Fallows’ The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopedia and Scriptural Dictionary (1911), Frederic William Farrar’s The Life of Christ (1874) and The Life and Works of St. Paul (1879–80), Frank Goodwin’s A Harmony of the Life of St. Paul (1964), Harper’s Bible Dictionary (1959), William Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible (1948), and Marvin Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament (1901).

    When we are simply talking to ourselves, on our own terms, there is no reason for outsiders to take us seriously. So, within somewhat narrower parameters, I would tend to agree with the conference organizers: Mormons are not likely to have a significant intellectual presence in fields like religious studies until religious scholarship and intellectuality are more fully integrated into Mormon life.

  16. Jonathan Green on July 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    SmallAxe, I agree with your formulation: a degree of anti-intellectualism that is worthy of critique. And I find the CFP’s perspective much more understandable if we’re talking more specifically about religious studies than about academia in general.

  17. Jonathan Green on July 28, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Grant, thanks for your comment. As I mentioned to SmallAxe, I find it much more plausible as a statement about Mormons in religious studies. Also, I agree that the CES manuals I’ve seen have not been shining examples of Mormon intellectual accomplishment. We got rid of the mention of Velikovsky in the OT manual, right? Please tell me we did.

    I do think you’re making a leap between “comparative indifference” and “fundamental lack of seriousness.” Mormons are of course comparatively indifferent, and relatively less serious, about the Bible, because it forms only part of our canon, and especially because Mormon epistemology does not treat scriptural texts as the sole source of divine wisdom. I do see that this could make conversation across devotional boundaries difficult.

    Even in the narrower context of religious studies, however, I still tend to disagree with the conference organizers: Mormons will have a significant intellectual presence in religious studies when Mormons in the field, such as the organizers and participants, produce work of sufficient quality and quantity so as to be noticed in their field. It’s up to them, not their Sunday School teachers.

  18. Eric Russell on July 28, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    (my current colleagues have expressed disbelief that a huge Christian university like BYU produced just two Greek majors the year that I graduated)

    Compare this to the number of religion or religious studies majors that BYU produces every year: 0. That must have them flabbergasted.

    I think BYU’s seeming indifference towards biblical studies has fairly little to do with those studies themselves, and more to do with the fact that its priorities are set on setting students on track for careers that can support families. Add to this the fact that the purpose of CES is devotional – not scholarly – and it just doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for institutional support.

  19. Jonathan Green on July 28, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    But, Eric, the argument that BYU only supports career-oriented programs is really stepping on my argument about anti-intellectualism. Also, one would have to explain the existence of the English, philosophy, and history departments, among others. The lack of academic religious studies at BYU does support the idea that the field is a special case in Mormon intellectual life, however.

  20. Torey on July 28, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    “The Latter-day Saints are now a powerful institutional presence on the American scene, but they are not likely to have a significant intellectual presence in the Academy until scholarship and intellectuality are more fully integrated into Mormon life.”I can really relate to that from my own experience.

  21. Grant Hardy on July 28, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    Jonathan, we probably will agree on most of the issues here, but just to keep things going a little longer, individual LDS scholars will gain attention and influence as they produce quality work and publish it in regular academic journals and presses. But I assumed that the conference organizers were concerned with Mormons as a people or a faith tradition. In order for there to be a Latter-day Saint presence in religious studies, you will need more than just a few outliers, and a culture that is happy to ignore a century’s worth of scholarship in any given field is unlikely to produce many people who work in that field. (It always gives me pause when I remember that there are are nearly as many Mormons in the world as Jews; traditions of scholarship and intellectuality make a difference in academia.)

    Eric, my impression is that BYU’s religion department sees its mission as building faith and helping students understand LDS doctrine and tradition. Those are fine goals and the department is probably quite successful in achieving them. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to by any place within Mormonism where LDS students can gain an understanding of academic studies of religion, whether they wish to make this a career or simply enrich their knowledge of the world. That makes it difficult to talk across denominational boundaries, and I suspect that we will be in a better position to discover the strengths of our own tradition as we try to explain it to others.

  22. Mark Brown on July 28, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    I wonder about our readiness to accept the clean division between devotional and scholarly. There is much in Mormonism to suggest that our devotion and spiritual abilities are enhanced as we gain knowledge, including scholarly, intellectual knowledge.

  23. Jonathan Green on July 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Grant, I like the way you’re framing it: What can Mormons as a people or faith tradition do to engage current research in religious studies and related fields? What paths can suggest for those who are interested in pursuing serious study of these fields? Those seem like eminently reasonable and productive questions to pursue.

  24. SmallAxe on July 28, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    I started composing this a while ago, but then had to run off, so it might repeat some of what’s already been said.

    Even in the narrower context of religious studies, however, I still tend to disagree with the conference organizers: Mormons will have a significant intellectual presence in religious studies when Mormons in the field, such as the organizers and participants, produce work of sufficient quality and quantity so as to be noticed in their field. It’s up to them, not their Sunday School teachers.

    I was with you 100%, until the last sentence. I don’t think the claim of the organizers is that the church should help religious studies scholars gain notice in their fields. Rather, at least the way I understand it, their claim is that Mormonism needs to make room to allow it. The religion department at BYU is easily the largest on campus, yet (with a few exceptions in the department) it’s the most parochial in terms of discussion with and impact in a larger “field”. There are a number of challenges that come with the academic study of religion to those of faith, and I find it good that a conference can engage those issues. In the long run this may be a bunch of much ado about nothing, since, yes, good scholarship will determine one’s status in the field, but determining how Mormons might do good scholarship (and at what cost) seems worth thinking about.

  25. Bob on July 28, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    I don’t think Mormons like non-Mormon intellectuals. Nor do I think they like non-Mormon religious thinkers. IMO, it has always been this way. But this is only my opinion and I guess a case can be built either way.

  26. danithew on July 28, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Grant is making some amazing points.

    I’m kind of surprised that we have high school students studying seminary for four years and then at BYU, students are required to take religious courses and then on top of that all members of the church are encouraged/commanded to study the scriptures for their entire lives – maybe somewhere in all of that devotion to the scriptures, we should also be expected to study some Hebrew and Greek. (I haven’t studied Greek yet, but I want to).

    It would make a tremendous difference in church teaching and instruction if Greek and Hebrew study was at least required for professors who teach religion courses.

  27. Ben H on July 29, 2010 at 12:41 am

    I am a little surprised at the way this thread has gone. I don’t see any acknowledgment of the many reasons why Mormons might have mixed feelings about the academy. I am a very happy academic, and my Mormonness does show up (explicitly and implicitly) in a significant fraction of my intellectual work, and I am generally an enthusiastic proponent of education and scholarship (when they are done well), but there are reasons for caution. The lack of a religious studies program at BYU, the relative rarity of Mormons who make their Mormonness part of their scholarship, and the general caution about “intellectuals” by many Church leaders are not completely mysterious.

    Nearly every private university in the country began as a deeply religious institution, and today nearly none of them are. There are reasons for that. It is not easy to combine faith with intellectual culture these days, especially at an ongoing, institutional level. Even conspicuous institutions like Notre Dame struggle to maintain both their religious character and their scholarly vibrancy (and it’s anyone’s guess if they can keep going)

    Religious studies in particular is a tricky discipline. The standard mode of work in religious studies is to approach religion as a social phenomenon, to be studied naturalistically. God is not a hypothesis one invokes. This is true of the natural and social sciences quite generally, but it is not particularly awkward unless one’s subject of study is religion. For people of faith, God is acting everywhere, especially in religious life. It is quite a feat of intellectual gymnastics to keep two such different channels going robustly in one’s brain. My hunch is that most people find that one channel or the other takes over. It is a lot easier to stick with one or the other, and so my hunch is most people do–meaning that a lot of people in religious studies stop thinking in the mode of faith (which probably means losing it), and a lot of people of faith find that religious studies as a profession is not a comfortable fit. Other disciplines don’t have this level of hazard or difficulty.

    Could religious studies be done differently, in a manner that would be natural for a person of faith, and hence would make sense at BYU? I’m sure it could. But who would teach it? Where would they get their training? It would require more or less reinventing the discipline.

  28. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 29, 2010 at 8:46 am

    Could religious studies be done differently, in a manner that would be natural for a person of faith, and hence would make sense at BYU? I’m sure it could. But who would teach it? Where would they get their training? It would require more or less reinventing the discipline.

    Hmm, could we overcome a great prejudice against the thought it takes training to engage it what looks like an act of faith?

  29. SmallAxe on July 29, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Could religious studies be done differently, in a manner that would be natural for a person of faith, and hence would make sense at BYU? I’m sure it could. But who would teach it? Where would they get their training? It would require more or less reinventing the discipline.

    We did a series on this a couple of years ago (http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com/2008/07/a-religious-studies-major-at-byu-pt-iii/). IMO, much of what constitutes a religious studies program is already occurring at BYU; across departments such as philosophy, history, anthropology, etc.

  30. SmallAxe on July 29, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Hmm, could we overcome a great prejudice against the thought it takes training to engage it what looks like an act of faith?

    I’d rather not guess at what you mean by this; please explain.

  31. TMD on July 29, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    Ben H:

    I wonder if you’re not looking in the wrong place. It seems to me that the substantive focus here is not the academic discipline often called religous studies, but theology (which includes bible research, ‘church history,’ and a range of other subfields. That, at least, is alive and well, and vibrant in many places. While much of it tends to exist within denominations, there are also substantive cross-denominational fields. When you look at places like Oxford or Cambridge (a southern baptist who was a college roommate of mine just finished an oxford D.Phil in theology), and some of the German universities, you find even in state sponsored universities a quite vibrant academic field.

  32. Ben H on July 29, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    SmallAxe, I do think there are a lot of valuable things going on at BYU that count as religious studies, broadly speaking. As I understand, there is an effort underway to set up an interdisciplinary minor in religious studies, on that basis. I think this is a great idea. I also think it is a promising strategy for reinventing religious studies as a discipline. A scattered bunch of particular classes is different from a discipline: different things happen when you bring practitioners together and have them exchange ideas and critically engage with one another. However, it remains true that a program in religious studies will be a tricky animal at BYU. Identifying it as religious studies is likely to make it trickier to sustain the difference between what makes sense in the context of faith and the methods of the wider religious studies scene. Also, taking a course or two in this collection is different from taking a whole series of such courses in the mode of a minor, or perhaps in time a major. Methodological naturalism has very different effects in large doses than in small. And if the program succeeds in being supportive of faith, even in large doses, it will to that extent be out of synch with the wider religious studies scene, making for a tricky transition for, say, students who want to continue in graduate school. So, there are reasons why there is as yet no major or minor or department of religious studies at BYU.

    TMD, I brought up religious studies because that is the focus of the conference on whose announcement Jonathan is commenting. I also think it represents in a particularly focused way many of the challenges of integrating faith with contemporary academic methods (similar challenges show up in other fields). I agree that there are sectors of the theology scene where it is much easier to integrate one’s faith with academic discourse (though there are also plenty of theologians who don’t actually believe in God, etc.). The reasons for BYU not to (yet) have a theology department are a bit different from the reasons not to (yet) have a religious studies department. There I think the main issues are to do with the simply different theological claims that prevail elsewhere. I found this was a problem for me in philosophy of religion circles at Notre Dame. Though the professors were wonderful, gentlemen, respectful of my differing viewpoint, it was just very difficult to have a sustained, constructive engagement because we disagreed on so many fundamental points. I found myself continually falling into the mode of criticizing their claims, rather than building up positive ideas, and in fact hardly able to participate in their conversations because we had such different assumptions that we could hardly get started. It’s hard to keep up one’s enthusiasm, and the interest of one’s audience, amid so much conflict. For this and other reasons it is hard to have a satisfying PhD-type experience as a Mormon in a non-Mormon theology program, and if you do manage to engage in a full way, there is the danger that your Mormon sense of things will simply be drowned out by the flood of incompatible ideas. My friend (and bloggernacle denizen) Sheila Taylor is completing a PhD in theology and doing great work involving distinctively Mormon ideas, but it hasn’t been all that easy to get where she is. Again, Mormons have to do this discipline differently if they are to do it in a way that reflects their faith, and this more or less requires a reinvention of the discipline, which is no small task.

  33. Jonathan Green on July 30, 2010 at 3:01 am

    Thanks for all your comments. I have a much better sense of the conference organizers’ perspective now, and I think the discussion has been productive. If you still have something to add, please feel free to keep talking.

    But I’m moving on to a new post on a similar topic. My post here was a quick reaction to something I saw this week, but the new post is something that’s been on my mind for several months, if not longer.

  34. SmallAxe on July 30, 2010 at 9:42 am

    Ben, I’m totally with you on this; just one small bone of contention.

    And if the program succeeds in being supportive of faith, even in large doses, it will to that extent be out of synch with the wider religious studies scene, making for a tricky transition for, say, students who want to continue in graduate school.

    It depends on what we mean by “supportive of faith”, but a lot of people who work in religious studies are what we would consider “active” in communities of faith. Diana Eck from Harvard, for instance, participates in a United Methodist church and is currently chair of the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches. Admittedly this might be easier for someone who studies a religion very different from their own (Eck’s earlier work focused on Hinduism), and perhaps this is the route BYU should follow, but I don’t think it would take much more than BYU is already doing to graduate students prepared for grad school at say Yale, Duke, etc. The larger issue, IMO, won’t be with those who graduate in religious studies, but those who decide to take an introductory class and the issues it might raise for them and the larger student body (not to mention a tricky relationship with RelEd).

  35. Chino Blanco on July 30, 2010 at 12:29 pm

    On what grounds are you moderating my comment? Pls explain.

  36. Jonathan Green on July 30, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    Chino, unfortunately, your comment adds nothing to the discussion besides insult. It’s not the kind of exchange I feel like spending time on or encouraging as the host of this thread. Please find another thread to comment on.

  37. Raymond Takashi Swenson on July 30, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    On the original comment, I personally have a hard time thinking of Mormons as “anti-intellectual” when they hold in esteem people like Hugh Nibley and Truman Madsen. When I quote them and other intellectuals (including some of you folks here at T&S) during my lessons to the High Priests, I don’t get any hostility or incredulity directed toward the sources of those quotes.

    While there is certainly negative reaction to some people who would generally be classified as “intellectuals”, it has come because of specific things those persons were advocating, not because they belonged to the class of “intellectuals”. Excommunications over doctrinal points have occurred for people who were definitely NOT “intellectuals”. And plenty of Mormon intellectuals in any numbers of fields have never been questioned by their bishops let alone asked to defend themselves in a Church disciplinary board hearing.

  38. Ben H on July 30, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Hm. RTS, I hate to say it, but I disagree. I think Mormons (to expansively generalize) have two tracks in their minds: a general suspicion of academics and intellectual culture, and enthusiastic admiration for a few exceptions like Madsen and Nibley. In this they are not too unusual; in the American scene generally there is a well-established and regularly re-articulated suspicion and criticism of the culture of the universities, the academics who dwell therein, and the elite culture they feed. Here’s an example, focusing on Barack Obama and Elena Kagan. Mormons have their own version of this suspicion, though I think generally Mormons have come by it independently and have their own, though partly similar reasons for it. When I was an undergraduate at BYU (notice, even at BYU, forget about Berkeley), my grandmother asked me one day why I needed to study philosophy, why the gospel wasn’t enough for me. I was kind of stunned. I didn’t know what to say because I had never thought of it that way. For me, my philosophy classes were a way to think more about gospel issues. But for some people it really feels like an either/or.

  39. SmallAxe on July 31, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    I’m going to have to second what Ben H said.

    It’s possible for a group of people to be pro-education and anti-intellectual. For instance, however variously people might define “intellectual”, it usually connotes some sense of being “critical”; and criticism, with the exception of the criticism of a few individuals such as Nibley, has little role in Mormonism.

  40. Jonathan Green on August 1, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    SmallAxe, the question deserves much more thought than I can give it now, but let me register some general uneasiness with the equation of critical thought with intellectual tradition. It seems too easy to smuggle in the notion that intellectual = critical = skeptical, while Mormon = devotional = non-critical: and voilà, there can by definition be no Mormon intellectual tradition, simply because to the extent it’s Mormon (= devotional) it cannot be critical, and to the extent it’s intellectual (= skeptical) it cannot be Mormon. (And thus we arrive at that irritating notion that great Mormon artists must have been disfellowshipped at some point, and the only real Mormon intellectuals are those whose membership status is in doubt.)

  41. SmallAxe on August 2, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Jon, sure. I’d neither reduce ‘intellectual’ to ‘critical’ or say that ‘intellectual’ and ‘Mormon’ are exclusive categories. At the same time, though, I think it’s important to help people understand that “encouraging education” doesn’t necessarily mean “encouraging intellectualism”, which for the purposes of this thread probably means something general like the academic study of religion.

    The link below is an interesting presentation given at the BYU Studies symposium on the history of LDSs studying at divinity schools. It provides good background and the presenter exemplifies some of what I see as the “anti-intellectual” position in the church. http://byustudies.byu.edu/symposium/byus_2010_2.3_griffiths.mp3

  42. queuno on August 2, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    John Mansfield (3, responding to my 2) –

    I don’t know that a review of percentages counters my point. If we’re saying that people don’t consider Mormon scholars to be intellectual, is it because we don’t participate in what is perceived to be scholarly, or that we don’t produce enough scholars altogether?

    I think that the latter is certain proven wrong — there are plenty of Mormon scholars. So it seems that the perception is based on the idea that we’re not producing enough scholarly work in what they consider to be intellectual.

    Do we produce scholarly work in physics, computer science, and math? Sure. The fact that the Mormon-ness of that work isn’t being trumped is either because (a) those scholars aren’t working in a field that is considered to benefit from a uniquely Mormon perspective or (b) they aren’t considered “intellectual”.

    Percentages don’t have anything to do with it, I don’t think… What are Notre Dame or Baylor’s percentages in different fields?

  43. queuno on August 2, 2010 at 9:33 pm

    The fact that our Church tends to excommunicate its scholars who do not agree with its policies and that it does not allow its members to pursue unmonitored scholarly research certainly does not integrate scholarship or intellectuality in Mormon life.

    My time spent in the College of Humanities at BYU taught me that there are some professors who can *really* disagree with the Church on a lot of issues, can be vocal about it, and still be considered in the highest regard at the college and university level. (I had classes from a dept. chair and an associate chair at different times who were very vocal about how the Church’s stance on the ERA was wrong, who taught classes by writers outlining the role of dissent in the Church, etc.)

    In fact, I think that you *really* have to try to get sanctioned by BYU. (I have three family members on opposite sides of this. One had an imminent job offer from the CoH rescinded by the administration, another is on the faculty in a science-based department at BYU, and another is a staff member at another college on campus. The one who ended up not working for BYU practically dared BYU to block the hire by being as controversial about several topics during the interview phase (many family members were kind of relieved when the offer was blocked, actually).