Blog Archives

Never look at the trombones

December 6, 2006 | 50 comments

I largely agree with Kaimi’s thoughts on how the Church is usually content to let teachings and statements of earlier authorities fade into obsolescence through silence, rather than through any kind of formal pronouncement. But I think that the opposite, that the silent treatment is intended as an informal repudiation, might not be true in all cases. I don’t think that any general authority will provide a clear answer on nineteenth-century polygamy any time soon, but I don’t think their silence will provide any guidance, either. Read more »

Wave theory

November 29, 2006 | 22 comments

Family trees are familiar and similarly dissatisfying models in historical linguistics and in the history of religion. Read more »

Bill Shrives

November 23, 2006 | 2 comments

For forty years, Bill Shrives was a train signal supervisor for Southern Pacific Railroad. Every day, the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people depended on his doing his job conscientiously and correctly. As with nearly everyone who plays an important part in keeping the economy humming, it is safe to say that nearly no one thought about Bill Shrives when their train sailed safely past the signals he inspected. Read more »

I am thankful for my appendectomy

November 20, 2006 | 13 comments

One night last March, I went to bed feeling fine but woke up four hours later with abdominal pain that wouldn’t go away. I finished the ensuing day in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy, for which I am very grateful. Read more »


November 14, 2006 | 9 comments

The government of Slovakia granted the Church official recognition on October 18. Read more »

St. Martin’s Day

November 10, 2006 | 33 comments

Or, Notes from a modern theocracy Continuing the periodic series on Holiday Envy, November 11 is St. Martin’s Day. Read more »

The Shape of Things to Come

November 3, 2006 | 29 comments

For many years, northern Bavaria had a duplicate Church geography, with a stake for American servicemen sharing the boundaries of a German district. Read more »

Relic area

October 31, 2006 | 24 comments

Once when I was a missionary district leader, one call to my zone leader went particularly badly. I was trying to get permission for my district to take a hike in the woods, essentially. (The difference between a hike in the woods, and essentially a hike in the woods, was the sticking point Read more »

Wal-Mart, McDonalds

October 27, 2006 | 31 comments

How do you transplant an American institution to Europe and make it work? Read more »


October 20, 2006 | 16 comments

One way to think about religious difference is with isoglosses. Read more »

Why study old books?

October 13, 2006 | 10 comments

Most German classes taught by most German professors have little to do with the professor’s academic specialty and a lot to do with teaching college students to speak and write better German. Read more »

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

October 6, 2006 | 20 comments

This post is not two months early. It’s two weeks late. Around here, Christmas cookies and candy and multiple varieties of Stollen have been available in grocery stores since the last week of September, and the local hypermarket has a whole aisle devoted to Christmas decorations. Read more »

Substrate : Superstrate

October 4, 2006 | 10 comments

Contact between religions is a lot like contact between languages. One way for two language communities to interact is through invasion. Read more »

Second-language acquisition in children; or, This life is a school

September 26, 2006 | 26 comments

I’ve enrolled my two oldest children in a German elementary school. They have until Christmas to learn German and catch up to the rest of their first- or third-grade classes before the risk of flunking out gets to be too high. Read more »


September 21, 2006 | 14 comments

In linguistics, hypercorrection is the kind of mistake you make when you’re trying too hard to speak correctly. Read more »

The road to Oblivion

September 15, 2006 | 89 comments

If you want to write the great Mormon novel, or the great Mormon dissertation, don’t play video games. Read more »

Religion class

September 12, 2006 | 44 comments

I registered my two oldest children for school on Friday. The principal needed to know which church they belonged to so that he could assign them to the proper religion class. For a first and third grader attending public school in Bavaria, there is a class for Catholics, a class for Lutherans, or a course on ethics. Actually, we’re Mormons, I said, prepared to explain that I have only one wife and that we do use electricity. Read more »

Language and Belief

September 9, 2006 | 32 comments

Linguistics, the study of language’s inner workings, is a source for concepts and technical vocabulary that are also useful for thinking about religion, because language and religion are both, among other things, mental constructs for making sense of the world around us. Each provides categories with which to organize the way we think about life: singulars and plurals, nouns and verbs, sinners and the saved. Read more »

Moving up, moving out

September 5, 2006 | 14 comments

Since getting married eleven years ago, my wife and I have moved eight times. Read more »

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed

August 28, 2006 | 33 comments

Up until about a year ago, if you had asked me why I had studied German, I would have said that I started in the ninth grade and just didn’t know when to stop. At BYU, my major in mechanical engineering lasted about 20 minutes into the first orientation meeting, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to study after that, but I didn’t worry too much about finding another major at the time. I thought I would figure out what I wanted to study on my mission. Read more »

I was a Benson Scholar

July 20, 2005 | 185 comments

Towards the end of my time at BYU, a friend mentioned to me that he knew some Benson scholars (today we would say Hinckley scholars, or more generically, presidential scholars), and that they were all stuck up and full of themselves. I told him, to his surprise, that I too was a Benson scholar, which goes to show that I can deceive even friends into thinking I’m a down-to-earth, non-snooty person. The Presidential Scholarship is the most prestigious academic scholarship granted by BYU to incoming freshmen. When I was a senior in high school, I spent many hours researching,... Read more »

The Adjunct Life

July 18, 2005 | 21 comments

Two years ago, I came within twenty-four hours of abandoning my academic career before it started. None of the applications I had sent out had gone anywhere, I had completed my degree, and my department had no money to keep me around. We packed up and got ready to drive out of town and out of academia, but we had to stay an extra day because our car was still in the shop. It had only taken so long to fix because the factory had shipped the wrong replacement part. The night before we finally left, the College of... Read more »

Taking Aim at Mormon Folklore

July 14, 2005 | 72 comments

There has been some recent discussion of faith-promoting stories and other Mormon folklore, including its complex relationship to factual history, the difficulty of finding an original source, and the tension that skepticism can incite. My question is: if you can prove that a faith-promoting story is false, should you tell anyone? Is there any need for a Mormon Mythbusters? This is not a hypothetical question. Read more »

Caspar Schwenckfeld: Mormon Hero of the Reformation

July 13, 2005 | 11 comments

As much as we honor the Reformation in general, on closer inspection the individual Reformers have, from a Mormon perspective, some rough edges. Whether or not a given Reformation doctrine is closer to our views than traditional Catholic teaching had been seems about as predictable as a coin toss. One would hope that the Reformers would show tolerance for those of other faiths, but Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin all had their grumpy moments. Is there anyone that we can wholeheartedly embrace as our ideal Reformer? I nominate the Silesian nobleman Caspar Schwenckfeld (1489-1561). Read more »