Blog Archives

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

June 26, 2012 | 29 comments

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

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

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 »

Establishing a Christian Nation? Tony Perkins and Military Bibles

June 16, 2012 | 18 comments

An email I received the other day illustrates some of the most pressing questions facing our nation. How can government support individuals and voluntary associations in maintaining the strong moral underpinnings needed for a healthy society, without taking sides in a way that may ultimately be destructive? Simultaneously, how can we keep conflicts over the proper role of government (in this and other respects) from themselves destroying political community? Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council writes that the Military Religious Freedom Foundation recently “threatened a class-action lawsuit,” after which “the Pentagon conspicuously revoked approval to use the logo... Read more »

Bootstrapping Mormon Studies, Part II: Unfolding the Expansive Message

June 14, 2012 | 6 comments

The gospel is a recipe for world peace. The basis for a just, harmonious, and prosperous society is implicit in the gospel as we discuss and practice it today. It is implicit, but it is a long way from becoming explicit. I made this claim in Part I of this series. In this post I will say more about what I mean by “implicit” and “explicit,” as a way of filling out the expansive content and promise of Mormonism, and the expansive context in which I want to think about its fruition, including its intellectual culture. If all of... Read more »

Tragedy, Sorrow, and Serenity: A Response to Rachael Givens

May 21, 2012 | 43 comments

Rachael Givens observes that Mormon theology is full of tragedy, but Mormons themselves don’t seem to be very good at dealing with it. She draws on some of the most distinctive ideas in Mormonism to offer recommendations on how to accept and process tragedy better. I enjoyed her post a lot and offer some thoughts of my own. In part I’ll press on some issues I’m not sure she really resolved, but I also want to expand on what I see in her closing paragraph. Rachael describes tragedy as a situation in which something precious must be lost or... Read more »

Seminar on B.H. Roberts’ Seventy’s Course in Theology

May 17, 2012 | 3 comments

Next Wednesday, May 23rd, SMPT is hosting a mini seminar on B.H. Roberts’ Seventy’s Course in Theology, commemorating the centennial of its publication. Jim Faulconer, Blake Ostler, Kent Robson, and Grant Underwood will each lead a session on topics treated in the Seventy’s Course. The event will be held at Utah Valley University, in the Losee Center, room 243, and will run from 10am to 5pm, with a break for lunch. Please visit the SMPT website for more information, including session titles and links to suggested (optional) readings associated with each session. Read more »

Randy Bott and the Need For Peer Review

April 3, 2012 | 64 comments

The embarrassing appearance of BYU Professor Randy Bott’s unsavory speculations about race in a Washington Post article a few weeks ago will undoubtedly have led some BYU administrators and perhaps even some members of the Board of Trustees to spend a few moments thinking carefully about the way BYU teaches church doctrine. It is disturbing to find that one of the most popular teachers at BYU has been continuing to teach ugly ideas that were denounced from the highest levels of the church decades ago. Thousands of students have listened to his lectures. This is an institutional failure, not... Read more »

Conference: Exploring Mormon Conceptions of Apostasy

February 1, 2012 | one comment

Please join us for a conference, “Exploring Mormon Conceptions of Apostasy” to be held on March 1-2, 2012 at Brigham Young University. The notion of an apostasy from the primitive gospel and the original church has been a key animating feature in Mormonism since its inception and in other “religions of the book.” However, the concept of apostasy has proven to be tremendously fluid, with individual, institutional, communal, and historical meanings and applications all proliferating in religious thought throughout the ages. Fifteen faithful Mormon scholars from many scholarly backgrounds and methodologies will explore the concept of apostasy in various... Read more »

Reminder: Summer Seminar on The Gold Plates as Cultural Artifact, II

January 27, 2012 | no comments

The deadline is approaching for the 2012 Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture. Applications are due February 15th for this 6-week seminar for graduate students and junior faculty, continuing for a second year with the theme of “The Gold Plates as Cultural Artifact.” The seminar will be led by Richard Bushman, Professor of History Emeritus at Columbia University. Click here for full details and the application form, in Word (.doc) format or PDF format. Read more »

Global Harmony in Microcosms

December 6, 2011 | 6 comments

A Japanese former ambassador to China recently offered some provocative thoughts on the global promise of America, suggesting that the American melting pot is a kind of pilot project for world peace. Could the same be true of the LDS Church? Read more »

Survey: The Impact of Blogging on Mormon Studies

December 1, 2011 | 3 comments

Patrick Mason is studying the effect of the bloggernacle on Mormon Studies, has put together a questionnaire, and is seeking responses from graduate students. Here is a preface from Dr. Mason, the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University: At the January 2012 meeting of the American Society for Church History, I’ll be on a panel called “Teaching Mormonism in a Digital Age.” In my comments I’ll be considering the impact of the “bloggernacle” on Mormon studies, specifically in regard to the current generation of graduate students. I have designed the following questionnaire to get... Read more »

Black Friday

November 25, 2011 | 44 comments

Yes! The Dow is back down to 11,232! I feel a little like Jonah sitting on the hill, waiting for the fireworks. Hearing that news on the radio brought me my biggest smile all day. Of course, Jonah was roundly rebuked, because Nineveh repented in ashes, and he still was annoyed they weren’t destroyed. He clearly had an attitude problem, and lots of people might say the same about me. The Super Committee’s lame punt is just the most recent sign of the overall trend, though: at an institutional level, we haven’t even really admitted there is a problem,... Read more »

The Deep Subjects of the Book of Mormon, Plato, Zhuangzi, and So On . . .

August 19, 2011 | 13 comments

My friend and co-blogger Rosalynde presents a fascinating argument about Book of Mormon historicity in her recent review of Grant Hardy’s Understanding the Book of Mormon. Based on my experience with various other ancient texts, I respectfully disagree. Rosalynde suggests that Grant Hardy’s literary analysis of the Book of Mormon is harder to separate from a discussion of its historical origins than he thinks. He shows us the complexity, coherence, and development of its various narrative voices, and in the process shows how much their distinctive, personal perspectives and interests shape the text. Hardy invites readers of the Book... Read more »

Summer Seminar Symposium: The Cultural History of the Gold Plates

August 17, 2011 | 7 comments

Participants in Richard Bushman’s and Terryl Givens’ Summer Seminar on the Gold Plates will be presenting papers tomorrow, Thursday, August 18th, at BYU. Here are the details: The Mormon Scholars Foundation Annual Summer Symposium on Mormon Culture The Cultural History of the Gold Plates Thursday, August 18, 2011 B037 Joseph F. Smith Building Brigham Young University, Provo, UT Morning Session 9:00 AM Welcome by Richard Bushman, Invocation TBA 9:15 AM “Worlds of Discourse, Plates of Gold: Joseph Smith’s Plates as Cultural Catalysts”—Stephen Taysom 9:45 AM “Guard the Gold: Didactic Fiction and the Mainstreaming of Moroni”—Ben Bascom 10:15 AM “Fictionalizing Faith: Popular Polemics and... Read more »

Serving God with Our Minds: SMPT Conference This Weekend

April 4, 2011 | 6 comments

This weekend at BYU, the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology will hold its 8th Annual Meeting on the theme, “Serving God with Our Minds—The Place of Philosophy, Theology, and Scholarship in a Prophetic Church.” Featured speakers include Patrick Mason, who will soon be taking the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont, Alan Wilkins, a former Academic Vice President and currently Associate Director of the Faculty Center at BYU, and Jack Welch, Robert K. Thomas University Professor in the BYU Law School. Sessions will address themes including the role of theology in devotional life, prophets and... Read more »

Bootstrapping Mormon Studies, Part I

January 15, 2011 | 22 comments

There is enormous potential for intellectual life and intellectual culture within Mormonism. What can we do to bring this potential to fruition? What we see actually happening today are only tiny sprouts by comparison with what is possible, and what we must bring into being if the gospel is to fulfill its purpose as the organizing principle of a Zion society. How do we get from the minimal present state to where we need to go? This is the first of a series of posts considering the challenges Mormon intellectual culture faces, and ways these challenges might be overcome.... Read more »

Reminder: Summer Seminar on The Gold Plates as Cultural Artifact

January 4, 2011 | one comment

This summer Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens will lead a seminar on “The Gold Plates as Cultural Artifact” (applications are due February 15th). What have the gold plates meant for you? For me, one of the amazing things about the gold plates is just how powerfully they convey the transcendent value of the scriptures written on them. I am so used to the idea of the gold plates now that I don’t think much about this, but when I was a kid, it made an incredible impression to know that the Book of Mormon had been written on gold... Read more »

“War and Peace in Our Time: Mormon Perspectives” Proposal Deadline Sept. 1

August 25, 2010 | 3 comments

I recently received an email asking “if the LDS Church has an official (or unofficial) Social Doctrine, similarly to other churches”. In this and many areas, the Church has little in the way of an official position, and this wisely allows for a rich and diverse discussion among Mormons about how the Gospel should shape our participation in society and politics. I am excited to see such a discussion of Mormon perspectives on war and peace is being planned for this spring Read more »

Faith and Reason as Moral Ideals

August 6, 2010 | 12 comments

The sense of many today that faith is antithetical to reason grows partly out of the Reformation and Enlightenment, in which people on both sides found they could not intellectually reconcile the conclusions of faith and reason. Just as importantly, faith and reason each came to represent a different moral ideal. As I see them, though, the moral ideals of faith and reason only make sense together, Read more »

Theological Anthropology at UVU this weekend

March 24, 2010 | 16 comments

The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology holds its 2010 conference at UVU this Thursday through Saturday (March 25-27) on the theme of theological anthropology. Invited speakers include: Terryl L. Givens (University of Richmond)—”Finding the Divine in Man: Romantic Angst and the Collapse of Transcendence”; Kevin Hart (University of Virginia)—”The Prodigal Son”; Laurence Hemming (Lancaster University)—”A Singular Humanity: The End of Anthropology”; David K. O’Connor (University of Notre Dame)—”Plato, Purity, and the Iconoclast Temptation: A Catholic Imaginarium” Other session themes include agency and grace, the natural man, human pre-existence, perfectability and theosis. The full conference schedule and abstracts of... Read more »

Summer Seminar 2010—The Foundations of Mormon Theology: The Nature of God and the Human

January 12, 2010 | 6 comments

SUMMER SEMINAR ON JOSEPH SMITH “The Foundations of Mormon Theology: The Nature of God and the Human” Brigham Young University June 1-July 9, 2010 In the summer of 2010, Brigham Young University, with the generous support of the Mormon Scholars Foundation, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and advanced undergraduates on the theme of Mormon theological foundations. The seminar will be held on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, from June 1 to July 9.  Admitted participants will receive a stipend of $3000 plus a housing subsidy if needed.  The seminar continues the series of seminars on Joseph... Read more »

Divine Comedy, Divine Tragedy

September 24, 2009 | 12 comments

The Bible, as we have received it, sets out the drama of salvation with its wrenching fall and crucifixion, but joyous resurrection and exaltation. Though its compilation is in many ways ad hoc, there is a satisfyingly comedic structure to the whole. As Terryl Givens puts it in his The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction, just out from Oxford University Press, “There is a neat symmetry . . . Primordial creation is balanced by apocalypse and heavenly postscript . . . All tears are wiped away, and the primal fall and alienation are remedied by reunion under... Read more »

Out of the Best Books: Introducing the Mormon Review

August 3, 2009 | 15 comments

Out of the Best Books Introducing the Mormon Review by Richard Lyman Bushman Inscribed in steel letters in the stairwell of the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU is the scripture that begins: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books Read more »