Blog Archives

Pray for the Cougars

December 19, 2014 | 9 comments
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Pray for the Cougars

Pray for the Cougars. Or the Tigers. Take your pick. Either one is fine as far as I’m concerned. Or if you’re not into college football, pray for something else. Read more »

All things testify of Joseph Smith: on the ethics and theology of faith-promoting legends

December 1, 2014 | 7 comments
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All things testify of Joseph Smith: on the ethics and theology of faith-promoting legends

While faith should be founded on truth rather than fiction, we shouldn’t overlook how devotional legends reflect creative and democratic processes of theology-formation. Here, for example, is a faith-promoting legend that might have been Read more »

Alma and Apocalypse

October 27, 2014 | 9 comments
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Alma and Apocalypse

In Understanding the Book of Mormon, Grant Hardy argues that an important part of the Book of Mormon’s meaning emerges from how it alludes to, comments on, or patterns itself after other stories, such as Joseph in Egypt, the Exodus, and the Fall. Another such story not discussed by Hardy but central to understanding the Book of Mormon is, I think, the end of the world. Read more »

A self-guided walking tour of Higher Criticism

September 9, 2014 | 22 comments
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A self-guided walking tour of Higher Criticism

So I wrote another book. At first I thought that I was writing a short article to explain why two different Reformation-era prophecies share the same title, but the project kept expanding. Along the way, I changed the way I think about biblical textual criticism and the Documentary Hypothesis. Read more »

Rankings, Money, and BYU

July 28, 2014 | 11 comments
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Rankings, Money, and BYU

Money magazine has just released a new ranking of U.S. universities that has received a bit of attention. BYU does quite well, landing in ninth place overall, just behind Stanford, Harvard, Harvey Mudd, and Cooper Union. Read more »

The Prophetic World War Z

May 30, 2014 | 6 comments
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The Prophetic World War Z

When reading the Old Testament, the essential thing to keep in mind is not This is what happened but This is what someone thought was important for later readers to remember. Read more »

Supernatural Selection

March 7, 2014 | 77 comments
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Supernatural Selection

If I had to estimate what the median Mormon adult currently thinks about the origin of life, or the model that the church as an institution is most comfortable with, I would describe it as non-exclusive evolution through supernatural selection. Read more »

Don’t hate me just because my trek was awesome

January 9, 2014 | 14 comments
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Don’t hate me just because my trek was awesome

When it comes to handcart reenactments, we spend too much time on all the wrong questions, questions like: How much physical suffering is needed for a youth-appropriate spiritual experience? Personally, I’d like to minimize the suffering in my spiritual experiences, thank you very much. Or anxious hand-wringing, like: Do handcart reenactments distort the historically authentic experiences of pioneers who traveled to Utah by various means and responded in individually determined ways to the contingent experience of physical exertion and deprivation over which a superstructure of religious Exodus narrative had been established amid a plethora of competing counter-narratives? Again, I’m... Read more »

BYU-Idaho: the next ten years (II)

December 26, 2013 | 26 comments
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BYU-Idaho: the next ten years (II)

To keep the rest of this post in context, let me repeat that I think Rexburg is a fantastic place, that BYU-Idaho has gotten the most important things right in its transformation from a junior college into a four-year university, and that its dress code is not a terribly important issue. The university’s path forward to becoming the kind of university it hopes to be, although not simple, is clear enough. Another tricky question for the future of the university is how to strike the right balance between local heritage versus consistency with the system flagship in Provo: How... Read more »

BYU-Idaho: the next ten years (I)

November 6, 2013 | 20 comments
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BYU-Idaho: the next ten years (I)

BYU-Idaho is much different today than it was in 2001, when it changed its name from Ricks College and started to offer bachelor’s degrees. It shouldn’t detract from the accomplishments of the last decade to say that the university is still a work in progress; institutional change takes a generation.  There are more changes in store, challenges that soon need to be faced, and pitfalls that have to be avoided. Read more »

Five things you should know about the BYU-Idaho dress code

September 19, 2013 | 66 comments
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Five things you should know about the BYU-Idaho dress code

There are five things you should know about the BYU-Idaho dress code. The first thing—that BYU-Idaho has a dress code—is probably redundant, since that seems to be the only thing that people outside of Rexburg hear about BYU-Idaho. Read more »

What BYU-Idaho does right

September 5, 2013 | 37 comments
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What BYU-Idaho does right

You might be surprised to learn that the church maintains not one but two large universities, including one about 280 miles north of Provo. The existence of BYU-Idaho is one of those things that seems to easily escape notice, even for Mormons in the middle of a vigorous debate about what must be done about BYU and LDS higher education. While the low level of scrutiny that BYU-Idaho receives is in general salutary for the university, it’s unfortunate for the discussions of higher education, as some of the most interesting experiments in the American university system today are being... Read more »

Rexburg

August 19, 2013 | 44 comments
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Rexburg

What is it like to move to Rexburg? If you’ve ever driven across the country, you’ve probably stopped for gas or lunch in some town you’ve never heard of and observed in astonishment that people not only live there, but appear to lead lives as happy and meaningful as any other American. Those lives may include more baseball or rodeo than you would choose for yourself, but the people there seem content enough. You see parks and schools and streets with decent-looking houses and a reasonable number of stores, and you wonder what it would be like if you... Read more »

The aporias of the meethinghouse library

June 28, 2013 | 17 comments
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One of the rare privileges of being Sunday School President in a Mormon congregation – second only to holding the keys for sounding the bells to end class on the hour – is the occasional opportunity to fill in for the meetinghouse librarian. Read more »

Firing professors, June 1993. A personal view.

June 18, 2013 | 31 comments
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Twenty years ago, I held up one half of the largest sign at a student protest in response to the non-renewals of two BYU professors. Read more »

Joseph Smith and the failure of the Reformation

April 10, 2013 | 39 comments
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Joseph Smith and the failure of the Reformation

One of the paradoxes of Mormonism is the heroic status it grants Martin Luther while simultaneously rejecting all of his central teachings. Mormon teachings and the basic narrative of the Restoration in some cases even suggest that the Reformation, however necessary it may have been, was not only incorrect, but also that it was a failure. Read more »

Why I wear a tie to church

March 28, 2013 | 72 comments
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Not long ago, on the way to church one Sunday, my son, recently turned twelve, asked me, “Why do I have to wear a tie to church?” Instead of directly answering that question, which would reveal his parents’ rather curtailed ability to compel behavior in their almost-teenage children much earlier than I’d like and short-circuit the altogether salutary process of his exploring those limits in person, I told him why I wear a tie to church. Read more »

Lehi/Nephi. Orality, literacy, prophecy

February 19, 2013 | 16 comments
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Lehi/Nephi. Orality, literacy, prophecy

If we think of orality and literacy not as a binary opposition but as encompassing a broad spectrum of attitudes toward and uses of the spoken and written word, then we might find that Lehi and Nephi stand on opposite sides of a fundamental shift. Read more »

Literacy and orality in Mormonism

January 23, 2013 | 11 comments
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Literacy and orality in Mormonism

It would be surprising, and disappointing, if Mormons didn’t sound a bit odd when we speak, or if Mormon verbal art were indistinguishable from any other literary text.  Read more »

A Mormon holiday: Purgation Sunday

January 6, 2013 | 5 comments
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A Mormon holiday: Purgation Sunday

As others have noted, Mormonism does not have much of a liturgical year, and the role of holidays in Mormon theology is quite attenuated. I propose we designate the first Fast Sunday in January as Purgation Sunday. Read more »

The Council in the Preexistence (medieval Antichrist edition)

December 26, 2012 | 7 comments
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In the twelfth century, Walter of Chatillon wrote a rather pessimistic appraisal of the world’s condition. Read more »

Missions and language learning

December 13, 2012 | 20 comments
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How well does the average missionary who goes to a foreign country learn his or her mission language? Read more »

Missions and language training

November 22, 2012 | 48 comments
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Missions and language training

Will lowering the age of missionaries to 18/19 from 19/21 hurt the language preparation of missionaries serving foreign-language missions? Perhaps, although there are some possible steps one could take to counteract that. Which steps to take, or whether to take any steps at all, depends on how much language skills are affected, and on how much you think foreign language preparation matters for missionaries. Read more »

Your Candidate is going to lose

November 5, 2012 | 26 comments
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I regret to inform you that Your Candidate is going to lose. Some tough days are ahead. I’m sorry. It will be tempting to blame Your Candidate for his loss, but the truth is that he actually did a pretty good job. The economy, world affairs, the weather – they just didn’t go his way. Still, he made the most of the hand he was dealt, gave some good speeches, got in some good lines in what were the best presidential debates in a long time. Your Candidate was the best candidate Your Party had, and he gave The... Read more »