Here are some reflections on the second session, “Joseph Smith and the Recovery of Past Worlds.” (web archives on lds.org) I have tried to give just enough summary to support my reflections on how it went as a dialogue. Main speaker Terryl Givens described Joseph Smith as an explorer and re-discoverer of ancient worlds.
I went to this past weekend’s conference not so much to hear any of the particular talks as to see what sort of exchange they formed. Interreligious dialogue is one of the most difficult things there is, to do well. Here are some notes on the conference as an occasion for such dialogue, and a stepping stone toward better dialogue in the future.
The Library of Congress conference on Joseph Smith deserves more discussion. Here are some key links for your reference.
Yesterday the postman delivered the latest installment in the collected works of Hugh Nibley, volume 15, Apostles and Bishops in Early Christianity. At a modest 254 pages, the volume has quite a bit to say about church history, record keeping, authority, change and apostasy. It may have even more to say about the life-cycle of Mormon Studies.
The most recent issue of the FARMS Review has arrived, and it finally contains my article, “‘Secret Combinations’: A Legal Analysis”. I actually wrote this article two years ago, so it has been a while in coming. It is fun to finally see it in print. The article is essentially apologetic. I am trying to respond to the claim that the phrase â€œsecret combinationâ€? was exclusively associated with Masonry in Joseph Smithâ€™s time and that as author of the Book of Mormon Joseph was producing, among other things, an anti-Masonic pamphlet. The real question, of course, is why I would bother with such a project in the first place.
I suspect that I am destined to spend my life feeling inferior to those with Ph.D’s. The summer after my junior year in college, I worked for a law professor and decided that he had about the coolest job in the world. I have been working toward an overpaid tenured sinecure at a law school ever since. One of the disadvantages of pursuing the law is that I am more or less condemned to perpetual dilettantism, constantly dabbling in the disciplines of others. I try to overcome these nagging insecurities by reading books, but I find that this is not working. I am still basically ignorant about pretty much everything. And it looks as though this condition is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
Last week, I got my copy of the summer issue of Dialogue in the mail, and it left me scratching my head at the editorial practices (and politics) in Mormon studies. In particular, I was puzzled by the sudden facination with Quakerism.
In her fascinating post on ambivalence, Melissa suggests that ambivalence may be an endangered theological virtue among Mormons. “Endangered” because we tend to valorize those without religious ambivalence and lack examples of healthy and productive ambivalence. “A virtue” because Melissa suggests that it is theologically productive. By this, I take it that she means that ambivalence leads to questioning, analysis, synthesis, and revelation. I am doubtful.
Some time ago, Richard Bushman wrote an essay entitled “The Colonization of the Mormon Mind.” In it he argued that Mormons who have looked at the Mormon past have largely adopted the attitudes of those who colonized and ultimately dominated 19th century Mormondom. Hence, we tend to view things like “theo-democracy” and plural marriage as embarrassments and see nuclear, vaguely Victorian looking families as good, mirroring the attitudes of the federal officials who crushed Mormon peculiarity in the 19th century. The hip and lit crit amongst us will recognize the influence of Edward Said in Bushman’s argument. In his book Orientalism, Said argued that Western “experts” on the Middle East constructed a vision of Arabs and Muslims as deceitful, lustful, childish, backward, etc., which Middle Eastern intellectuals then adopted as their own. As Bushman frankly acknowledges, he is applying Said’s ideas to Mormonism. Bushman the Historian focused his analysis on Mormon understandings of their own past, but I think that there is much to be said for his analysis when you apply it to more contemporary Mormon self-understanding.