When I was called as an Institute teacher in Oxford, I tried to inject a little life into the non-devotional aspects of Mormonism. After all, it was Oxford. Success was mixed. We tried to move class to one of the colleges (Wadham, very old, very nice) but this only ended up increasing the town/gown divide that was rampant among the young adults in the ward. We had a few firesides and talks, one with Jack Welch and another with Stephen Houston, who was then a BYU Mayanist. Welch’s talk on Paul was well-attended, but conversation afterwards centered on the appropriateness of not using the KJV; Houston’s — where he talked about the BYU dig in Guatemala — was attended by only two Mormons, one of whom was me. (We held it at my college and had good Gentile attendance. They wondered why no wine was being served, though, a staple of Oxonian evenings.)
I was disappointed. The fact is, like everywhere in the church, the vast majority of Mormons in England are simply not interested in this kind of stuff. They may own a few Nibleys, and a few radicals even subscribe to FARMS, but CES is as far as anyone goes for intellectual stimulation. I cannot think of one person I know with a subscription to any of the Mormon Studies’ journals. Try as I might, I cannot even interest my family and friends in the intellectual-lite of the Bloggernacle.
This is not meant as a criticism, just a fact. Most Mormons are content, and rightly so, to experience church and things Mormon through a salvific lens. Still, it was a little disappointing when my dad asked me whether MHA was “apostate” after I told him I was speaking at the conference. If they come from outside of the boundaries of church or BYU, things are to be viewed with suspicion (if they are to be viewed at all).
There are Mormon Studies activities in Europe, however. Think of Douglas Davies at Durham who has written the best modern theology of Mormonism, or Walter van Beek at Utrecht whose recent Dialogue article is a must-read on the international church. Europe itself remains a vital subject for the study of Mormonism, particularly in historical subjects, and also as an example of Mormon sociology in a “post-religious” society. Students like Kim Östman in Finland are actively pursuing Mormon topics (read his “BCC Paper” here).
One difficulty is that there is no Mormon centre in Europe, so Mormon Studies efforts are thinly spread. This is a problem that a new effort hopes to overcome: the European Mormon Studies Association (EMSA), “an independent scholarly organisation that supports the academic study of Mormonism in Europe.” EMSA publishes a website that announces European Mormon Studies activities; collects a recent bibliography of relevant articles and books; organises an email-list; and plans to hold an annual conference.
It’s early days. Wish us luck. And please spread the word.
 One grumble, though. Sometimes the tools we use — like our woeful understanding of the Bible — mean we get a few important things wrong. But that’s another conversation.