In many ways, these maxims have guided the time I’ve invested in a project called the Mormon Theology Seminar.
The Seminar takes a very specific tack in relation to the work of Mormon theology: it privileges a hermeneutic approach that takes close readings of scripture as a critical starting point for doing theology and it organizes this work as a collaborative venture.
Close and careful readings of scripture can show us things that we haven’t seen before and seeing new things can open room for theological exploration.
Working collaboratively on a text – typically with 6-8 other people over a period of weeks or months – both increases the likelihood of seeing new things and then tempers the quality of the theological work that follows.
Last week, the seventh Mormon Theology Seminar successfully concluded.
Seven seminars, now.
If we can keep gathering 6-8 people per seminar and continue conducting seminars for the next 30-40 years, I hope to have compiled something whose sheer size (100 seminars? 500 contributors? criss-crossing the whole of Mormon scripture?) will leave a deep theological footprint in Mormon Studies that could endure for hundreds of years.
This seventh seminar, though, was special and it marks a turning point in the larger project.
For the first time, the seminar was conducted live and in person over a period of two weeks. We spent the first week collectively reading 1 Nephi 1 verse by verse and word by word. And we spent the second week workshopping individual papers based on that joint effort.
(Podcasts of the papers will soon be available both through the Seminar website and through the Maxwell Institute podcast. And plans to publish the whole collection are also in full swing. Also, we’re currently planning a second two-week seminar for next summer. We’ll issue a call for applications in the fall. Perhaps you’ll join us!)
It was a remarkable (unparalleled, for me) professional experience. I’m especially grateful to the others who participated and made it possible: Jim Faulconer, George Handley, Brian Hauglid, Ben Peters, Julie Smith, Joseph Spencer, Michaël Ulrich, and Miranda Wilcox.
But, in the end, this kind of live, two-week summer seminar was only possible because Brian Hauglid, the director of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, invested serious resources (in both time and money) to make it happen. And, more, it was only possible because of the original endowment generously gifted by the Willes family.
I hope to help organize many more seminars in the years to come. And I hope to organize more than a few of those seminars in collaboration with the Willes Center.
Many thanks to Brian Hauglid for believing in this project and trusting us with it.
And, more, many thanks to the Willes family for believing so tangibly in the value of Book of Mormon scholarship.