The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies

June 26, 2014 | 8 comments
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mi logo copy_smallWhat I tend to lack in quality, I hope to make up for with quantity. And what I lack in training and credentials, I hope to gather and borrow.

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.

8 Responses to The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies

  1. Ben P on June 26, 2014 at 6:19 am

    Even though I only got a brief glimpse at the brilliance that was the seminar, I echo the thanks to Brian and the Willes family. This is remarkable work indeed, and I’m thrilled with the great work the Maxwell Institute is currently taking.

    I remember what Richard Bushman said at the symposium held in his honor a couple years back: it takes an entire community of academics, donors, and audience to cultivate healthy and robust scholarlship. We may reach such a Zion yet.

  2. Aaron R. on June 26, 2014 at 6:26 am

    For a variety of reasons I was unable to make the trip from Oxford down to London to attend part of the seminar but the MTS has been an immensely important resource for me over the last few years. Thanks to Adam, Joe, and the rest of the board for their work.

  3. Ronan on June 26, 2014 at 9:56 am

    Yeah, my own small glimpse of it was of something really cool.

  4. Julie M. Smith on June 26, 2014 at 10:30 am

    I can’t even put into words what an incredible experience this was. Thanks and extra thanks to all who made it possible.

  5. rameumptom on June 26, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    I look forward to hearing the podcasts and reading the final articles. These truly open the door for some great thinking. Thanks to all involved for showing just how incredibly powerful and ponderous the Book of Mormon truly is.

  6. Mark A. Clifford on June 26, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    The miracle of Mormon scripture is much greater than the showy wonder of angels and gold plates (great as these might be). The miracle is that Mormon scripture should be able to sustain and reward close reading so unfailingly and in such abundance. How? How did this happen? That is what bothers me about the Book of Mormon (and other Mormon scripture, but let’s just start there).

    For me, as outrageous as the story that Joseph came up with to explain his Book might be, it is possibly the least of the outrages that the Book of Mormon forces upon me. Because it should be nonsense, and it consistently fails to be nonsense, and reveals itself to be scripture instead.

    I am much more comfortable with the Book of Mormon when I don’t read it.

    Because, what are a few angels, more or less, when one has what is actually in the book to deal with too? There is too much wonder/beauty/richness/content/contradiction/confrontation/sustained thought/literary spectacle in there to suit me. If I read it, the whole problem of the Book of Mormon just becomes totally unmanageable.

    Angels are ridiculous, and gold plates are ridiculous. But the Book of Mormon isn’t; and though the angels have not visited me, and the plates are unrecoverable, there the book remains. Waiting to be read. A miracle, if you will, available to confound me at my convenience.

    Thank you, Mormon Theology Seminar, for helping me read, and keeping me uncomfortable.

    Mark Clifford

  7. Amanda on June 26, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    Laura Willes was my mission mom. It was clear how much she valued the BOM. She taught from it often and from a lifetime of studying it. This post makes me happy.

  8. James Olsen on June 26, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Adam, you cause me to break the tenth commandment.

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