Blog Archives

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

February 24, 2013 | 6 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 »