Especially for Theologians: A Report from the First-Ever Faith & Knowledge Conference

Jana Riess comes to us as one of the regular Dialogue participants.

I just returned from a very encouraging conference for young Mormon scholars–the first-ever gathering of LDS graduate students who are getting advanced degrees in theology and religious studies. About 40 such students, plus a few spouses, convened at Yale Divinity School on Friday and Saturday. We had folks from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, UNC, Claremont, Iliff, the University of Durham, and the GTU, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few schools. (All of our sessions were held in the RSV translation room, which felt very auspicious and cool.)

Sixteen students presented papers on everything from the Deutero-Isaiah theory and the Book of Mormon to the question of whether an LDS scholar is ipso facto a defender of the faith. All these papers were sandwiched between some great opening remarks by Richard Bushman, who helped conceive and organize the conference, and a closing session by Terryl Givens, who gave us a fascinating sneak preview of his cultural history of Mormonism, due out in August from Oxford University Press.

Despite a general sense of harmony, a few vigorous disagreements came up during the weekend. A lot of these discussions arose over the question of what, if anything, constitutes “faithful history,” and whether that is even a desirable goal for academics. What if, Richard Bushman asked, we could freely admit that we were believers, and want to discuss our faith in the light of scholarship? What does the world look like when seen through Mormon eyes?

I finished my doctorate more than six years ago now, and I kept thinking as I sat in these sessions how wonderful it is for these students to have each other. By the time I was in grad school, I knew a few isolated Mormons getting religion degrees at other institutions, though we didn’t have any sense of community. But when I’d been in seminary in the early 1990s, during my rather lengthy and tumultuous conversion from Presbyterianism to Mormonism, I didn’t know of a single other LDS person who was studying theology. It was very lonely at times.

Over the weekend, some of the most dynamic and interesting conversations happened (as they always do at conferences) during the breaks. Some of this felt like a foretaste of the kingdom, to get a little mushy about it. I had a roommate assigned to me who was a complete stranger at the beginning of the weekend and a kindred spirit by the end, after we’d stayed up late two nights talking, and finished up with a three-hour conversation on Sunday. I got the impression that many of us were starved for such conversations.

Part of that sense of desperation comes from a feeling many expressed of being caught in the middle, between an academy that remains suspicious of the specter of Mormon proselytizing and a church community that sometimes communicates a fear that, as one panelist put it, those who pursue advanced degrees in religion will “study [ourselves] out of the church” by continued theological exploration. That panelist quoted from a 1958 talk by Hugh B. Brown, which well summarized the hopes and feelings of many people at the conference:

“Seek truth in all fields, and in that search you will need at least three virtues; courage, zest, and modesty. The ancients put that thought in the form of a prayer. They said, ‘From the cowardice that shrinks from new truth, from the laziness that is content with half truth, from the arrogance that thinks it has all truth – O God of truth deliver us.'”

Comments

  1. Sounds like a wonderful conference. Thanks for letting us peer over your shoulder. Is there a full list of papers given?

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the report from the front lines, Jana. Any word yet on whether these papers will be published? Last I had heard, there were no plans to do so. Even a web publication of some sort would be welcome.

    Do you recall the gist of the Deutero-Isaiah and the BoM presentation? That is a topic of special interest to me.

  3. Interesting prayer at the end.

    Sounds like quite an opportunity.

  4. I’m jealous. Does this mean there will soon be no room for the Mormon Studies hacks like me?

  5. Hugh B. Brown, man, Hugh B. Brown.

  6. Melissa De Leon Mason says:

    Ooh, I was wondering how this conference went. Thanks for the report.

  7. It would be disappointing if no publication came of this. Also, I had thought part of the purpose was to look for the C.S.Lewis of Mormonism (or what that even means), if I recall correctly from Bushman’s post here…?

  8. Matt, I think that the C.S. Lewis thing was an idea that Bushman floated for a possible conference to be held next year.

  9. Excellent recap, Jana. It was a good weekend.

    The paper on Deutero-Isaiah postulated that either Joseph added the sections in the Book of Mormon found in the Book of Mormon or that Deutero-Isaiah was alive and taken in the 1st exile of 597 BCE. There is no particular reason to assume that the ordering within Isaiah is original, so the eight chapter block that is quoted in the Book of Mormon could have been written first, in the midst of the first Babylonian campaign against Judah.

  10. J, even with people getting graduate degrees outside the natural sciences, Mormon Studies still has room for work to be judged by its merits. in fact, perhaps those of us trained in the more alchemical and esoteric arts could stage a competition with those whose training is more humane? Remember, they’re going to be busy grading papers, sitting through seminars, and wrangling at faculty meetings, so it’s not like they’ll have that much of an edge up.

  11. J, I agree with smp. Also, remember that the lifeblood of organizations like the Mormon History Association has been, and continues to be, folks who are either not trained in fields like history or religious studies, or who have no specialized academic training at all. One of the great things about the study of Mormonism is that so many primary sources have been published, and this invites contributions from persons who would otherwise be unable to offer interpretations of those materials.

  12. Sorry, I meant “smb”.

  13. I am new here, not sure where to post a question,
    I havent been a member very long. I am moving to another state and am wondering what exactly does my church records reveal to my new bishop? genelogy? callings? children ? marriage ? Tithing? If I have a temple recomend yet? Just curious

  14. I am a Pentecostal former Mormon many years ago. I still maintain an interest in LDS studies. However I am interested in Bonhoeffer more and hope to do a thesis on him in the future (Just for fun, not a career).I am now an outsider looking in, puzzled sometimes how LDS scholars accept some aspects of Mormonism.

  15. #13
    Pam,

    Your records have your name, birthday, spouse & children and dates of any ordinances: baptism, confirmation, date and temple of when you received your endowments, sealing date and temple, expiration date of temple recommend, mission and language and previous ward.

    Often at tithing settlement wards will print out a copy of the record and ask the members to review it. If you are curious, ask the membership clerk to print out a copy for you.

    They don’t transfer tithing payment history or information on callings.

  16. A big amen to your comments Jana. (BTW, it was nice to meet you!)

    As I reread the notes I took and reflect on the conference, I think it was the best thing I’ve been to for a long time, on multiple levels- social, spiritual, academic, and motivational.

    I highly doubt there will be a published volume of the papers.

    You can see some of the titles here

  17. Just went to the Conference site…we have got to get some of those papers made available. The title that particularly caught my eye was “Mesoamerican Pseudo-Scholarship and the Resiliance of Misinformation.” Yes, indeed. Jana and Ben, please let it be known if further light and knowledge is made available.

  18. None of the presentations were recorded, with the exception of Bushman’s. Many presenters valued the idea that they were addressing a very limited and closed group. That definitely contributed to the topics and quality of presentation and discussions. For that and other reasons, there are no plans to publish.

  19. That Mesoamerican paper was, I think, the best. I was fascinated. I encouraged the author to publish it, but can certainly understand his difficult position and hesitation to do so. The professional consequences could be severe for him.

  20. Thanks for the write-up, Jana (and it was very cool to meet you!) Some of the presentations were fabulous, but what I think I enjoyed the most was the chance to talk to a number of other people who are also negotiating the two worlds of academic religious scholarship and the LDS church, and not entirely sure where they fit into either one.

    (My other reaction was the thought that there a lot of people doing fascinating work in biblical studies, but where oh where are the theologians?)

  21. You can always try contacting the authors of the papers and asking, politely, if they would mind sending you a copy. They might say no, for a variety of reasons, but I know that I am always excited when I meet others interested in my work.

  22. Ahem.

    If any of the papers want to see e-print, we can out them through the BCC Papers process pronto.

  23. Constanza,
    What are you researching/writing about?

  24. I am disappointed that these will not be published. If for no other reason than this reduces the forum to a sort of private blog and worse, who is checking their sources? I guess I was hoping for something more than a private club.

  25. Matt, why begrudge them a venue to kick around some ideas before publishing them? I’m jealous.

  26. Argh. I’m growing increasingly frustrated that I utterly missed any notice of this until it was too late for me to go.

  27. Jana: Thanks for the write up. Here is my question — was there any discussion of theology or philosophy proper as opposed to discussion of of history masquerading as theology? Why is it that we can’t get past history? Or did we get past history? I guess I’m just guessing that it was really a discussion of history because Givens and Bushman were the keynote speakers.

    BTW it took the tradition 2,000 years to produce a C.S. Lewis. The liklihood of Mormonism producing someone like Lewis is … well … remote.

  28. Hi Blake,

    One of the central points of my paper was that as LDS scholars of Religion we must attend to more than history and sociology. There are institutional reasons why we haven’t yet moved beyond these frameworks (including worries over ecclesiastical discipline among others), but that it’s not really a tenable model for those in the interdisciplinary field that is Religious Studies.

  29. Julie M. Smith says:

    “Many presenters valued the idea that they were addressing a very limited and closed group.”

    There’s something about this statement that gives me a bad vibe. Whether they think they should hide their unorthodoxy from the Big Bad Excommunicators in Salt Lake or hide their Mormonism from future hiring committees, I have little respect for people who try to hide. I may be misreading the situation, but the various reports I’ve heard from the conference suggest that on the one side or the other (or perhaps both), LDS grad students in religion are spending a lot of time trying to hide. If there is another explanation, I’d like to hear it.

  30. Steve Evans says:

    Julie, why don’t you respect them? If you’re an expert in mesoamerican history, you either publish in Church-owned journals, toe the line of correlated BoM explanations and try to get a job with CES/BYU, or you avoid Church publications like the plague as they’ll be the death knell for your resume for any institution other than the Y. It’s not cowardice — it is a simple fact of career path. If anything gives you a bad vibe, it should be the diametrically opposed systems of study, not its pawns.

  31. Julie M. Smith says:

    Steve, let me preface this by saying that I don’t know anything about mesoamerican studies. However, I find it hard to believe that “toeing the line” of correlated explanations is actually necessary given that we’ve gone from the hemispheric model of BoM geography to something else entirely being published in BYU/FARMS outlets. So the necessity for complete orthodoxy doesn’t seem accurate to me.

    In my own field, I was able to publish on literary approaches to the gospels (and even how to use them in a CES classroom) in CES’s own journal. Not a lot has been done in this area, but they were willing to publish it. A much more radical proposal I sent to JBMS resulted in an invitation to submit the article (which, alas, I’ve been negligent in doing but will one of these days). My sense is that some young LDS scholars grossly overestimate the close-minded-ness of everyone and everything associated with BYU/CES.

    As far as Church publications being the death of a resume, is that because of form or content? If form, then perhaps I should soften my reaction. If content, then I stand by my lack of respect for one who would try to get a job by deceiving one’s future employers with regards to one’s beliefs. If you think there were Nephites in mesoamerica, and this means you can’t get hired anywhere, then I think you should look beyond academia if the alternative is to hide your beliefs. Is this really a cloak-and-dagger act until you get tenure and can come out of the closet?

    Having been an LDS grad student in Biblical Studies, I am familiar with the dance–convincing your academic colleagues that you are not a fundie nut and your church acquaintances that you are not an apostate. For a while, I, too, developed the persecution I-must-hide-on-every-side complex that I’m getting from reports from this conference. A while later, I was asked to teach in CES, I taught my radical Berkeley notions, and . . . cue the crickets. No Church discipline, just more invitations to teach and speak. The masses really aren’t waiting with pitchforks to get the ‘intellectuals.’ They really aren’t. I can’t speak to what a hiring cmte. would have or haven’t done to me, but my experience–having taught for CES in two states, published in their journal, been invited to speak at their (now-defunct) conference–is that they aren’t out to get the people with extra letters after their names.

    I’ve already gone on for far too long here, but my thoughts have been simmering at a slow boil as I’ve watched over the years as blogger after blogger attempts to cover their blogging tracks from hiring cmtes and/or the church. If your personal beliefs would result in you not being hired, then you should not attempt to deceive the signer of your paycheck (be that secular school or BYU). If your personal beliefs would result in church discipline, then you should not attempt to deceive your ecclesiastical leaders. (However, I note again, that some young LDS scholars seem to grossly overestimate the close-minded-ness of the Church/BYU/CES.)

  32. I am the Mesoamericanist in question. There is a big difference between cowardice and caution. I have never hid the fact that I am Mormon from my colleagues – in fact I have been very upfront about it. But it has been made very clear to me, in no uncertain terms, that should I choose to publicly defend the Book of Mormon I will be ostracized by the academic community and will never be hired by any university worth its salt. I believe my use of caution is both wise and justified. Who would benefit if I were to commit academic suicide?

  33. If your personal beliefs would result in you not being hired, then you should not attempt to deceive the signer of your paycheck (be that secular school or BYU). If your personal beliefs would result in church discipline, then you should not attempt to deceive your ecclesiastical leaders. (However, I note again, that some young LDS scholars seem to grossly overestimate the close-minded-ness of the Church/BYU/CES.)

    The problem is that the same set of beliefs could get you excommunicated in SLC but not in NYC. You can’t divorce the ideas from the way that they are perceived. The person perceived as sincere will most likely remain in the church regardless of his or her ideas (for the most part), while the person perceived as having ill-intent will be marginalized. “Faithful criticism” is ultimately up to a certain group of individuals with a certain skill set that is able to express them in such a way that they are perceived as not challenging the authority of the church. It has little to do with deception and more about accepting the reality of power politics. I’m not saying that one should act purely pragmatically with an eye for politics, but one must accept the fact that institutions are not perfect and much is often determined by those who happen to be in the situation of making the decisions.

    IMO, the conference was meant to curb as much of these pragmatics as possible and give young scholars a chance to explore problems and issues outside of having to worry about these other issues. I too agree that BYU/CES gets a bad rep but there are certain realities of the situation. If Bro. X happens to listen to my presentation and is the chair of one of the RE departments, I have a better chance at getting hired than if Bro. Y is. It has little to do with deceiving them and more to do with the realization that these institutions (BYU and the Church) are not as uniform as you make them out to be.

  34. Jonathan Green says:

    Julie, small conferences with limits on who attends are pretty common in a lot of academic fields. Where else can you hear open discussion about how the big name in a small field is full of cr*p?

    But Steve, you’re also full of, um, misguided notions. Is CES really going to come unhinged because you publish on classical-period Mayan culture without mentioning Lamanites? Get real. Publishing in BYU Studies is not the kiss of death for a CV. Not publishing anything at all is (and to a lesser extent, not being able to tell the difference between academic publications that belong on a CV and those that don’t).

    Mark W., you’re probably well served by not spending a lot of time on Book of Mormon issues at this stage of your career. Threats of ostracism and career death are probably overstated, though. “Mesoamerican Pseudo-Scholarship and the Resiliance of Misinformation” doesn’t exactly sound like a stirring defense of the Book of Mormon, although it does sound like a very interesting paper. What was its thesis?

  35. Jonathan,
    The thesis of my paper is that Mesoamerican scholars think they know about the Book of Mormon, and Mormon ‘scholars’ think they know about Mesoamerica, and there is a great deal of misinformation on both sides of the fence. I lamented the fact that virtually all of the books in LDS bookstores concerning Book of Mormon archaeology are written by people who have no formal training in the field whatsoever, and it makes it hard for those of us who are qualified to be taken seriously. Yet those of us who are qualified are too afraid to speak out for fear of being labeled crackpots, so in effect, we are to blame for creating the void that is filled by those who are unqualified. I talked about the challenges I face being stuck in between, and the looks of suspicion I have received from both sides of the fence. I also shared some of the explicit warnings I’ve gotten concerning my speaking in defense of the Book of Mormon and my unwavering commitment concerning its historicity. The warnings of career death have come from the foremost authorities in the field, from the east and west coasts and from places in the middle. I don’t believe the threats are overstated. There are only so many Anthro departments across the country that focus on Mesoamerica, and there are plenty of PhDs out there who aren’t burdened by the ‘crackpot’ label. I actually hope to take the CES/BYU route so I can write what I want to write without fear of finding myself unemployed or unemployable, but until that train pulls in it must needs be that I keep my mouth shut.

  36. Mark,
    Many moons ago I wondered aloud about the dearth of Mormon Mesoamericanists (vs. ANE-ers). Any ideas why that is?

  37. Ronan,
    I ask myself that same question every day. I really am baffled by it. Believe it or not, when I was trying to decide whether I wanted to pursue a degree geared towards New World or Old World studies (for I loved them both), I flipped through several years worth of FARMS Insights to find the lists of Nibley Fellows to see how many people were studying each area in order to determine where the need was greatest. I was shocked to discover that no one was studying the New World, and that was the tipping point in making my decision.
    Sadly (for me, anyway), there are two other LDS grad students who are involved in Mesoamerican studies at my university (one of them is a lithicist, the other an art historian), but neither one of them displays any interest whatsoever in making connections with the Book of Mormon. They have been warned (as I have been) about letting their Mormonism show through and apparently they have taken the counsel even more seriously than I have. I admit to frustration at not being able to talk about the Book of Mormon and archaeology with LDS Mesoamericanists at my own school. It’s a lonely business I’m in. Perhaps that’s why I felt so compelled to speak at the Yale conference – I desperately wanted to be among grad students who were willing to discuss our religion. There was an incredible vibe there. Even though I was the only Mesoamericanist, I felt free to speak my mind and my heart, and for the first time in years I didn’t feel like a lone man in the academic wilderness. I’m still on a high from the conference – it really was an extraordinary experience for me.

  38. Jonathan Green says:

    Mark, thanks for the thumbnail version of your paper. It touches on a lot of important issues, and even where my own experience has led me to see things somewhat differently, I still feel your pain.

  39. Julie, I think your comments about people negotiating belief in the academy represent an unkind over-simplification. While I think it is appropriate to emphasize that the CES/BYU group has made great strides in recent years and are willing to be more open than in the past, there are still limits imposed for perceptions of published heterodoxy, even within the last year. As jobs at BYU become tighter, people will worry (probably justly based on what I hear back directly from people involved in the institution), about perceived heterodoxy as a feather that could tip the scales against them.

    On the secular academic side, other than the confusing world of postmodern confessional cultural studies and some lit-crit, there are clear limitations on making public your personal religious beliefs, particularly in investing time in getting them published. In an exceedingly competitive field like academia, these little things can make success much more difficult, and your suggestion that not telling a secular employer that you love to explore or even defend Mormonism in your free time is dishonest equates this with an illegal activity. Keeping it separate and private without feeling dishonest actually negates rather than perpetuates an idea of it as illicit. You are not called (unless you really are a “fundie”) to actively proselytize your colleagues and mentors, so why would you make a big show of it? “Hobbyists” of all descriptions have a tougher row to hoe in the academy, forget about Mormonism. People’s requests for privacy should be respected with blogging as with any other aspect of one’s personal life.

    Wanted a voice to balance Julie’s apparent indictment of those whose approach to negotiating the tension between the academy and one’s Mormonism differs from hers. I support you in however you deal with this difficult tension, sisters and brothers.

    Mark–good luck. There are plenty of people interested in hearing your religiously informed comments, but as you’ve noticed the trick is in assembling them. Sometimes MHA (then don’t put it on your professional CV–I actually maintain a professional CV and a professional+avocational CV) is a great place for exploring interesting issues without concern for perceived heterodoxy you might get from other forums.

  40. That was a little melodramatic, now that I read it. I do disagree with Julie but don’t mean to be strident. Though I think her intentions are good, I believe she’s trying to make an ill-fitting generalization from her specific life experience to others’, and I do want to argue with that.

  41. Mark and all,

    I am curious, if someone is in Mark’s shoes, could they publish via a pseudonym, or is that just asking for even more trouble?

  42. Matt, that’s generally not a great idea in the cademic world. These days people are hypersensitive to misrepresentations and even omissions on your cv, and publishing under a pseudonym could potentially cause trouble if you are ever “found out.”

  43. “Cademic” world, also known to laypeople as the “academic” world. lol

  44. Kevin Barney says:

    Mark, do you know Brant Gardner? He is a well-informed (amateur) Mesoamericanist (he did grad work at SUNY; I think he was all but dissy) who is writing a commentary on the Book of Mormon from a Mesoamerican perspective, which should be out from Kofford by the end of the year.

    If you don’t know Brant, send me an e-mail at klbarney at yahoo dot com, and I’ll get you together.

  45. Steve Evans says:

    Jonathan: “But Steve, you’re also full of, um, misguided notions…”

    It wouldn’t be the first time. I’m no academic. I was simply recounting what many others have told me.

  46. in my field, your professional cv need not be encumbered by avocational work. it may be trickier if your avocation and profession are difficult to distinguish one from the other. I agree pseudonyms can get tricky if used in actual academic publications. i’m not sure whether publication in a non-academic source has the same constraints.

  47. So if mark W. is willing, I say we give him an option to do a BCC paper via pseudonym Mark W.

  48. People, let’s face it. Julie is just disappointed that I started working under HP and dropped John C.

  49. Matt,
    I am so glad someone who is LDS and has the academic background in Mesoamerica is finally doing something. I get incredibly annoyed at Book of Mormon arch–often I feel like the people writing the stuff are grasping at straws, and trying to find dots to connect that don’t exist.

  50. I note again, that some young LDS scholars seem to grossly overestimate the close-minded-ness of the Church/BYU/CES.

    On the other hand, over the last couple of years, I’ve seen several circumstances where colleagues of mine have been underestimated the lack of academic freedom at BYU. The fact is, there are unwritten assumptions about topics that should be avoided, venues that should be avoided, etc. And
    if you crossthose bridges, it can have a negative impact (such as not getting advancement, not getting the job in the first place, getting extra scrutiny at review time, etc.)

    There are many counter examples, and a lot of good research happening at BYU, but there are definitely institutional messages that shape what is researched and published. For example (IMO),
    Bushman would have never published Rough Stone Rolling if he were a BYU professor (as he once was, decades ago).

  51. Julie, I see a difference between exercising a certain amount of discretion and being flat-out disingenuous, and while I certainly can’t claim an in-depth knowledge of what’s actually going on in people’s hearts, I will say that none of the aspiring LDS religious scholars whom I encountered at this conference struck me as fitting in the latter category. I suppose one way to interpret the fears which exist among LDS grad students in religion is that we’re simply suffering from an excess of paranoia. However, another plausible interpretation— especially given that multiple people have had experiences which have left them feeling that there are good reasons to be cautious— is that there’s more to the situation than people with overblown and ungrounded fears. I don’t disbelieve your account of your positive experience with the CES; in fact, I’m encouraged to hear it. But neither do I disbelieve the less positive accounts I’ve heard from others; as Small Axe said above, it’s far from being a monolithic organization. As Mark W. points out, the pressures from the academy can be equally challenging. And such concerns aren’t trivial for people who are wondering how and where they’ll find jobs.

    My field of study doesn’t even exist at BYU, so it’s not as if I could aspire to that career path even if I had the desire to do so. This means that I haven’t really had to wrestle with that question of whether it’s better to go the BYU/CES route or to look for an academic career elsewhere, and how to best go about doing that. But I have a great deal of respect for my colleagues who are contemplating that decision, who from what I’ve seen are seeking a way to pursue what they want to do without compromising their integrity, but also with a realistic awareness of the politics involved.

    The challenge I face is that many systematic theology departments remain highly denomination-sensitive in their hiring practices; a lot of Catholic schools, for example, are only interested in hiring Catholic theologians. For a number of reasons, I don’t actually think that this is unreasonable. It does mean, however, that many doors are closed to me because of the fact that I’m Mormon. I don’t hide my membership in the LDS church; the students and professors with whom I work are well aware of it. I have no plans to hide it when I go on the job market (the fact that I did my undergraduate work at BYU would likely give it away in any case). However, I’ve made a serious effort to learn the language of mainstream Christian theology, and it’s that expertise which I hope to emphasize to potential employers. I’m not writing my dissertation from an LDS perspective, but rather engaging the questions I’m addressing in the context of the broader Christian theological tradition. In other words, I’m not hiding my Mormonism, but nor in my academic work am I particularly drawing attention to it. From what I gather, several of my LDS colleagues are doing something similar; Mark W., if I’m understanding his position, isn’t going to attempt to conceal his Church membership, but nor is he going to start churning out papers on Nephites. I don’t see that as being an unreasonable or a dishonest approach.

  52. HP, so did that make you the CES mole at the conference?

    I actually would be interested in hearing how you walk the tightrope, and if you find it difficult or not.

  53. Jana suggested I publish my conference paper via a pseudonym while we were at Yale, but I named many names, and the key points of my paper are structured around specific personal experiences that I fear would reveal my identity whether my real name was on it or not.

    Kevin, I first met Brant at a FAIR conference several years ago, and at last year’s conference we spent quite a bit of time chatting and swapping ideas. I think very highly of him and his ideas – in fact any time I think I’ve come up with a new connection I’ll go to his website and more often than not I’ll discover that he’s already thought of it.

    Lynette understands my current position correctly. I’ll start ‘churning out papers on Nephites’ when I’m good and ready, and the timing just isn’t right yet.

  54. Mark: I find your dilemma very interesting. It seems that the academic hegemony has already made up its mind on what can be possible or what the evidence can sustain — and anyone who doesn’t toe that line will be black listed. How could that be sound science? Heck, given that criteria Einstein would never have had a chance to present a theory of relativity!

    It is very different in philosophy it seems to me. Rex Sears did a dissertation at Harvard on Mormonism — though in my view it left a lot to be desired at least it addressed some seminal issues of importance to a rather interesting religious point of view. David Paulsen did the same thing at Michigan. In philosophy it is expected that assumptions will be challenged and hegemony will be overthrown by some young whipper snapper. In fact, Mormonism is, in my view, just such a challenge to religious and scientific hegemony. It is a critique of existing power structures in its essence. Of course, a part of the problem is now with the very power strucure of our own hegemony!

    I can certainly respect your decision. I chose not to go into academic philosophy because I really didn’t want to deal with politics at BYU (as much as I love it and I’m true blue) and I felt that teaching philosophy of religion and action theory would be very limited elsewhere. Further, I didn’t want to be limited in the views I could pursue or the conclusions that I could reach. Having said that, I have taught philosophy from time to time at BYU and BYU SLC and never had any complaints. I know many believe that some positions I have taken are out of line and perhaps even heretical. To that I say — fine.

    Here is the dilemma: there are those who think they know what Mormonism is and has to be. Those of us who explore to see what various fields

  55. No, no, Mark. I’m the CES mole in the ‘nacle.

  56. I’m finding that the Mormonish publications and presentations on my CV are inciting more interest than the non-Mormon stuff on it. Two conversations recently – one with a political scientist, one with a theologian – started with generic questions about Romney, but developed into rather spirited discussions of how Mormon studies related to their particular field; I recommended Blake’s books to the theologian after talking about creation ex nihilo and had a good exchange with the poli-sci guy about the New Republic article.

    I don’t specialize in Mormonism, but these sorts of reactions are making me think that academic marginalization may be in the first stages of on the way out.

  57. Hmmm… Maybe Blake has the real answer. Go get a JD or MBA, get rich (or at least relatively rich), then go back and get a PhD in a field like Mesoamerican studies or theology or whatever. That way you can feed your family and publish anything you want in any place you want without having to give a rip if it scandalizes the academic hegemony!

  58. Geoff,
    The reality is that many of us would geniunely like to be taken seriously by the academics, whose ideas and methods we generally agree with. They are not the enemy. Part of the goal is to work within the system, not to shout “Screw you” and give them the finger.

  59. not to shout “Screw you” and give them the finger.

    Well there goes my secret SBL presentation…

  60. Part of the goal is to work within the system, not to shout “Screw you” and give them the finger.

    Really? Dang. How boring…

  61. Wow, now Melissa seems to be arguing in favor of doing theology? : )
    There’s a whole conference on it in March every year you know . . .

    Blake, I agree that philosophers seem a twinge more open-minded than some others, but did Rex Sears or David Paulsen ever get tenure at a non-Mormon university? a tenure-track job even?

    Like Lynette, I think the best path for most Mormon academics-to-be for the next few years anyway is to write a dissertation and pre-tenure publications in which Mormonism is either not in the picture at all, or only a small part of the picture. If you have three top names in the field on your committee cheering you on with a Mormon topic, go for it, but otherwise you have to show you can play the mainstream game, and then when you’ve proved yourself you may have an audience on stuff to do with Mormonism. Of course, I have published on Mormon topics several times, but my dissertation had nothing (explicitly) to do with it, and my primary research plan follows that pattern.

  62. I haven’t seen anyone link to the full program (slightly more complete than Ben’s link).

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