This morning Ardis broke the news of the Church’s new digital resource for approaching the texts in the Doctrine and Covenants. Revelations in Context, the name alone stirs the soul.
There is a lot to like here, and I think it is an enormous step forward. There are some really interesting things to note. First some comments on structure. Each article is presented by an author (well, in all but one case). What this allows, I think, is a recognition that there is no complete and authoritative context to an historical event. What we have is one individual’s effort to help us enter the world of our past. Supporting such authors is, I believe, evidence of pedagogy that values a critical approach not only to sources and documents, but also to ideas. While this is a step forward, I think that it is also a path forward to more and better ideas.
The authors of these articles quote from and cite documents in the Joseph Smith papers, to be certain, but there are also citations to material and secondary treatments in the academic literature. Again, this isn’t just communications in discrete articles, it is opening a door to a different world. Mormonism is graced with vast mountains of source material and scholarship. Personally (and your mileage may vary) engaging this material has enhanced and amplified my feelings and beliefs and sometimes in surprising ways. But I bleed more Mormon now than I ever have; so I can’t help but be excited for resources that not only value this heritage and approach, but also facilitate access to it. Also, I’m sure Kristine is delighted to see her journal cited on occasion.
There are some remainders of yesteryear: e.g., the anachronistic use of “Urim and Thummim.” And some ideas aren’t as clearly presented as in the introductions and notes of the Joseph Smith Papers volume (e.g., Martin Harris’s trip to meet the eastern scholars). But this is also not a strictly scholarly enterprise. This is a church resource to help church members and I imagine that a working premise is that context can enhance devotion. It’s a premise that I believe in. In my first reading of a couple sections I was wanting more and better scholarship, but after re-reading and thinking about it, I think I may have been mistaken. Many of the articles are great. And while there is certainly room for improvement (as is the case with any project, generally speaking), in every case, there is a lot that will be new and helpful to most readers. This is the beginning.
So a hearty thank you to Church leaders who believed in this project and my gratitude for everyone who has been working on it.