Blog Archives

Raising an Ensign: Challenges of Scholarship on Mormonism at BYU

February 18, 2014 | 29 comments
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In his recent First Things article, Ralph Hancock argues that it is vital to the mission of BYU that it produce scholarship articulating a distinctively Mormon worldview, as a major part of its regular work. What would it take for BYU to respond seriously to Hancock’s call? Hancock notes that there is much more one would need to consider on the way to concrete action than what he is able to say in a five page article. As things stand, for such a large, well-funded, highly religious university, BYU is doing surprisingly little on this front. For the vast... Read more »

Lineage and the Book of Mormon’s Universal Audience

February 4, 2014 | 63 comments
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An excellent entry on “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies” has just appeared in the Gospel Topics section at LDS.org. It explains why studies of New World genetics can neither prove nor disprove the historical claims represented in the Book of Mormon. In the process, it provides a delightfully clear and thorough explanation of some key principles of population genetics, and of how these would apply with regard to the Book of Mormon peoples and the genetic evidence they would (or would not) leave today. Along the way it also offers some helpful observations about what the Book of... Read more »

Orihah’s Uncle, Moriancumer

February 1, 2014 | 14 comments
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Why is the brother of Jared called the brother of Jared? He is far more important in the narrative of the Book of Ether than Jared, so why isn’t Jared called the brother of Moriancumer instead? Here’s my swipe at this much-pondered issue. One might think that Jared is more of a political leader, even though his brother is clearly the more spiritual one, and it is Jared’s political importance that makes him the one with the name recognition. At times, it looks like Jared is telling his brother what to do. Jared asks him to pray for them... Read more »

2014 Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture: The History of the Mormon Family

December 23, 2013 | one comment
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In the summer of 2014, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation and the Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley Institution, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and junior faculty on “The History of the Mormon Family.” The seminar will be held on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, from June 15 to July 26. Admitted participants will receive a stipend of $3000 with an accommodations subsidy if needed. The seminar continues the series of seminars on Mormon culture begun in the summer of 1997. In 2014, the seminar... Read more »

SMPT at UVU: “The Atonement”

October 30, 2013 | 2 comments
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Abstracts are now available for the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology conference this Thursday, October 31st-Saturday November 2nd. Almost two dozen presentations will directly address the theme of “The Atonement,” alongside related principles such as sin, repentance, freedom, and redemption. A number of other presentations by both Mormons and non-Mormons will address other aspects of Mormon belief including orthodoxy/heterodoxy, business ethics, and the theological importance of gender. Notable sessions include: “Works,” by Daniel W. Graham (Brigham Young University) “Mormonism and the Problem of Heterodoxy,” by Dennis Potter (Utah Valley University) “Rethinking Penal Substitution,” by Paul Owen (Montreat College)... Read more »

“Hearing Cosmic Harmony Again”—Dan Peterson Delivers BYU Summerhays Lecture 2013

September 18, 2013 | no comments
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Thursday at 7pm in the JSB Auditorium at BYU, Dan Peterson will speak on how our understanding of the natural world through history has reinforced or weakened belief in God. His title for the 2013 Summerhays Lecture is “Hearing Cosmic Harmony Again.” Here is an introduction from the Summerhays Lecture web page: For many centuries, religious believers of all stripes have affirmed, in the words of the Psalmist, that “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handy work.” But, although the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins could still exclaim that “The world is charged... Read more »

SMPT 2013 Reminder/Travel Funding

August 14, 2013 | 3 comments
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The August 23rd proposal submission deadline for the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology’s 2013 Annual Meeting is approaching. The conference will be held at Utah Valley University, October 31-November 2, with the theme, “The Atonement.” For a fuller discussion of the theme and submission information, see the Call for Papers flyer (PDF), or the Call for Papers web page. Student Travel Funding: SMPT has some funding available, on a competitive basis, to defray travel costs for student presenters. Travel funding awards of a value up to $700 each will be made on the basis of (a) merit of... Read more »

On Faithful Puzzlement, Belief, and Choice

August 12, 2013 | 29 comments
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I thoroughly enjoyed Rosalynde’s FAIR talk, “Disenchanted Mormonism”! Thank you, Rosalynde! I really like the way she presents doubt as something that can be a productive and legitimate place to inhabit indefinitely, even while there is an active hope for greater knowledge and confidence in the future. I also really like how she embraces what we don’t choose, including the fact that we (at least many of us) are members of the body of Christ and of the church largely independent of personal choice. I have a question for Rosalynde, though: isn’t there still a pretty significant form of... Read more »

An Information-Rich Gospel: Correlation and the Growth and Maturation of the Church

July 22, 2013 | 160 comments
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The gospel of Jesus Christ is a rich, complex, and beautiful thing. It can’t be fully absorbed in one sitting, or one decade, or one lifetime. The gospel is information-rich. A recent New York Times article talks about Mormons who are led to question their faith by information about the church that they find, e.g., on the internet. The article seems to suggest that the gospel cannot survive in an information-rich environment. Mormons believe, however, that “the glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:6), and “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance” (D&C 131:6). Information,... Read more »

Separation of Marriage and State?

June 29, 2013 | 44 comments
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Mormons have this fascinating relationship with America and Americanness. On the one hand, we often seem to be among the most American of Americans. Mitt Romney’s problem as a presidential candidate was not that he was weird, but that he was too normal (in a white, 1950s kind of way). To the extent that people thought he seemed alien, it was more because of his money than his religion. American political principles seem to even be more or less written into the Book of Mormon (of course, some similar material is in the Bible, too, including a denunciation of... Read more »

Good News: I Was Wrong (Sort Of)

June 27, 2013 | 83 comments
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It looks like the people of California have not been disenfranchised nearly as much as I was concerned about in my post yesterday. They have been disenfranchised at the federal level, but not at the state level. In its decision yesterday, the Supreme Court nullified the ruling of the (federal) Ninth Circuit that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. Many onlookers assumed that meant that the holding of the trial court, from which the Ninth Circuit was hearing an appeal, would be decisive for California law, and since the trial court held Prop 8 unconstitutional, that would mean that Prop 8... Read more »

Democracy at the Discretion of the State

June 26, 2013 | 77 comments
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The Supreme Court of the United States of America today informed us that the people are no longer in charge of this country. The Declaration of Independence states that governments derive “their just powers by the consent of the governed.” In the spirit of that principle, 26 states, and many city and local governments, allow citizens to approve legislation directly by popular vote in cases where their legislature does not address their concerns. However, we learned today that if citizens put in place a law that the people in public office don’t happen to like, it can be ignored.... Read more »

SMPT at Utah Valley University, Oct. 31-Nov. 2

June 25, 2013 | no comments
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The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology’s 2013 conference will be held at Utah Valley University, October 31-November 2, with the theme, “The Atonement.” Here is the theme description and submission instructions from the call for papers (PDF). Call for Papers: “The Atonement” The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology invites paper proposals on any aspect of Mormon belief, including its philosophical ramifications. We particularly encourage submissions on this year’s theme. “The fundamental principles of our religion,” said Joseph Smith, “are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again... Read more »

Joseph Smith and the Aufhebung of the Reformation (and of Catholicism)

April 22, 2013 | 9 comments
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How should Mormons feel about the Reformation? On the one hand, we tend to valorize figures like Tyndale and Luther who defied the religious authorities of their time, setting the stage in many ways for our own radical break with tradition. On the other hand, the need for a Restoration presupposes that the Reformation wasn’t good enough. Jonathan Green argues in a recent post that the Restoration represents a thorough rejection of the Reformation. He focuses on three of Luther’s distinctive teachings: salvation by faith alone, the priesthood of all believers (associated also with a rejection of sacred objects... Read more »

Seeking New Gifts From God

April 16, 2013 | 5 comments
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“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Thus teaches Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:9. The things that God has planned for us are more wonderful than we can imagine. As wonderful as what we have received is, there is much more, and much greater, to come, both in this life and the next. How should we respond, then, when we are looking for something that God has not yet given us? Should we set aside our yearnings, telling ourselves to... Read more »

Al-Ghazali, Galileo, and Pope Benedict’s Critique of Secularism

February 24, 2013 | 6 comments
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A stunning amount of what I think is wrong with the world is poetically captured in a recent article in First Things, commenting on the relationship between faith and reason on the one hand, and Christianity and Islam on the other. Unfortunately, the author captures these problems unintentionally. The difference between his perspective and mine is both fascinating and discouraging. Hope remains, however, so hang on . . . In his article, “Benedict Face to Face with Islam,” Andrew Doran portrays Pope Benedict XVI as a rational Christian who has the (supposed) insight to see Islam as irrational, and... Read more »

Summer Seminar 2013: Workings of the Spirit and Works of the Priesthood

October 17, 2012 | one comment
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The Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture “Workings of the Spirit and Works of the Priesthood: Gifts and Ordinances in LDS Thought and Practice.” Brigham Young University June 3 – July 12, 2013 In the summer of 2013, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation and the Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley Institution, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and junior faculty on “Workings of the Spirit and Works of the Priesthood: Gifts and Ordinances in LDS Thought and Practice.” The seminar will be held on the BYU... Read more »

Mormonism is Romantic, Love It or Hate It

September 28, 2012 | 15 comments
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Simon Critchley had a charmingly effusive piece about Mormonism on the NYT Opinionator blog a few days back, “Why I Love Mormonism.” His effusions are not always flattering, or accurate, but he gets some important things right about Mormonism. He sees that much of the appeal of Mormonism is that it is a Romantic faith. That is to say: Mormonism is a reformulation of Christianity that leaves behind many of the more unpalatable features of traditional Christianity, as it has come down to us, and responds to many of the moral and spiritual aspirations of the Romantic movement—aspirations that... Read more »

SMPT at Utah State: Theology of the Book of Mormon

September 15, 2012 | no comments
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This coming Thursday through Saturday at Utah State University, The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology will be holding its 2012 conference, on the theme, “Theology of the Book of Mormon.” There will be over 30 paper and panel presentations, including: “The Promise of Book of Mormon Theology” —Grant Hardy, Professor of History and Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Asheville “Gratia Plena: A Catholic View of Grace in the Book of Mormon” —Peter Huff, Besl Family Chair in Ethics, Religion and Society, Xavier University “Questions at the Veil” —Philip Barlow, Leonard J. Arrington Chair in Mormon History... Read more »

Ecology of Intellectual Culture: Bootstrapping Mormon Studies, Part IV

July 7, 2012 | 16 comments
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Intellectual life is a social endeavor, involving both a community of participants and institutions that support their activities. In this post I discuss some of the key elements of the ecosystem that is needed for a flourishing intellectual culture. In my view, these key elements include scholars, conferences, publishers and publications, academic positions, and graduate programs. At the moment, while Mormon Studies has some version of each of these elements, they are all quite limited and in many cases rather rudimentary. Yet in standard ecological fashion, each of these elements symbiotically depends on the others, and I’ll discuss why.... Read more »

SMPT Reminder/Travel Funding/Arrington Lecture Update

July 4, 2012 | one comment
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The July 16th submission deadline for the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology’s 2012 Annual Meeting is approaching. The conference will be held at Utah State University, September 20-22, with the theme, “Theology of The Book of Mormon.” For a fuller discussion of the theme and submission information, see the Call for Papers. Some funding is available, on a competitive basis, to defray travel costs for student presenters of up to $650 each, based on the merit of the proposal and the distance traveled. Details on travel awards also appear on the Call for Papers page. Those considering attending... Read more »

Are Book Reviews Scholarship? Explosive Tensions Within the Mormon Studies Review

June 26, 2012 | 29 comments
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Perhaps the main problem with the Mormon Studies Review, which led to this awful explosion in the last couple of weeks, can be crystallized by looking at the titles it has held over the years and thinking for a moment about what they mean. At first, it was the FARMS Review of Books on the Book of Mormon. It then became the FARMS Review of Books, the FARMS Review, and finally, just the Mormon Studies Review, expanding out the “MS” and dropping the “FAR” at the start. That is quite a journey, and expresses a range of personalities whose... Read more »

David and Uriah: A Meditation

June 23, 2012 | 22 comments
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The most upsetting thing about the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) is not what he did with Bathsheba, bad as that was. That he was intrigued with her is unremarkable, even natural; she was totally hot, after all. Bringing her to the palace is a different story, disgraceful even if he had only sat her down for a chat, since her husband was away at war. Even as a phenomenally successful and revered king, David displayed the priorities of a ten-year-old who’s been hanging out with bad company. I would have said “of an adolescent,” except... Read more »

Mormons and the American Project: Bootstrapping Mormon Studies, Part III

June 17, 2012 | 6 comments
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Fulfilling the promise of the gospel requires embodying it in concrete and active living, in a particular time and place. Since living the gospel is a social matter, this means embodying it in institutions, with design, policies, and practices that reflect and serve gospel ideals. There are particular challenges to doing this in the conditions the church finds itself in today. In this post, I continue developing the themes from Part I and Part II, considering the situation of the church in the U.S. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an international, even global church. Still,... Read more »

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