A Teaser from the Maxwell Institute

A little over 20 years ago, Elder Neal A. Maxwell spoke to BYU educators about a certain kind of distribution of labor in the Church:

The member who is an automobile mechanic does not likely have all the skills of a scholar, and not likely you the mechanic’s [skills]. But both of you are under the same spiritual obligations to keep the same commandments and the same covenants. Furthermore, the mechanic is under the same obligation to develop the attributes of patience and meekness as are you.

The Institute that bears his name has undergone some changes over the past year. My perspective on them is obviously skewed; after all, I’m the Maxwell Institute’s new public communications specialist. So take it with a grain of Salt when I say I’m excited to be looking forward.

When I was offered this position I knew that some people, including some of my friends, viewed the Institute with skepticism for various reasons. I’m not going to debate the merits and drawbacks of various styles of apologetics here (so please don’t turn comments in that direction). But I think some of the old battles have overshadowed much of the other great scholarship the Institute’s been doing as the past several decades flew by. Part of my job will be to highlight some of that work alongside the work we do going forward, believing that solid scholarship can help enrich the soil where the seeds of faith are planted.

It has taken a lot of patience from folks here at the Institute to get to where we are now. I hope all of the mechanics, scholars, and everyone else will keep extending patience and good vibes our way as we get some of our new initiatives off of the ground. I’ll be covering a lot of these over at the brand-spanking-new Maxwell Institute Blog which we plan to launch next Monday. The first post contains a big announcement, so you’ll want to check out our new Twitter feed for updates (@MI_BYU), or check back here for the link which I’ll add as soon as it’s available.

More fruit will be ready for the tasting from the Maxwell Institute in the coming weeks and months.

Comments

  1. Sounds interesting. I’ll be sure to check it out. You’re already doing your job :)

  2. Anita A. Davis says:

    excited for new things

  3. Excellent! Looking forward to what MI has coming up.

  4. Cool. What other profound nuggets can we look forward to besides contrasting and comparing LDS mechanics and scholars?

  5. J. Stapley says:

    Exciting news! Thanks for the heads-up.

  6. What “other great scholarship”? That “other” is interesting.

  7. Good on you BHodges. Hope to see more updates here too!

  8. J. Stapley says:

    Paul, I can’t speak for the Institute, but I think of things like the Dead Sea Scrolls work and the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative.

  9. the narrator says:

    Junta! Junta! Junta!

  10. Is it true that you guys bought a Zeppelin to fly over the BYU Games to advertise and drop leaflets containing miniature copies of your articles? Just asking you know how the rumor mills go these days.

  11. Looking forward to this, its going to be great!

  12. Well, great, SteveP. You’ve spoiled the surprise announcement.

    Paul, Stapley is right in referring to METI, as well as CPART, in addition to many good articles from past issues of the Institute’s various journals and reviews.

    Howard: Mostly we’ll be comparing auto mechanics and scholars. But also more!

  13. First confusingly read as ”A Taser from the Maxwell Institute”, that’s a different post.

  14. Don’t tase me, bro apologists!

  15. Dovie (1st female to comment on the thread) immediately sees the violence inherent in the system.

  16. Tease!

  17. So glad that you’re there, Blair!

  18. Rodney Ross says:

    I look at this as good news. However, you mention the word “apologetics.” I thought the Institute was going to get out of the apologetics business. That being said, I think the new Institute regime and the old one need to realize we are on the same side, the side of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I can understand hurt feelings, but infighting, if there is to be any, does not become us.

  19. Rodney, from where I sit the Institute is in the business first and foremost of doing top-notch religious scholarship. That neither excludes nor privileges any particular approach to apologetics. As for infighting, we certainly don’t plan to throw any punches.

    Steve, I think you meant “bropologists.”

  20. hawkgrrrl (15) I was actually the first female to comment on this thread ;)

  21. Thanks for this message. I’ll be looking for the “new and improved” Maxwell Institute. However, I would suggest that there will be no such thing as Mormon scholarship until Mormon scholars are wiling to begin at a place of skepticism, doubt and objectivity rather than belief. If all one does is research/write articles that confirm what one already believes or what the church teaches, that isn’t really scholarship. It’s not apologetics either; it’s more like testifying. I’ve no objection to apologetics, scholarship or testifying, but I’d really like to see us get the terminology straight.

  22. #21 – “However, I would suggest that there will be no such thing as Mormon scholarship until Mormon scholars are wiling to begin at a place of skepticism, doubt and objectivity rather than belief.”

    Johnny, Mormon scholarship need not “begin” at doubt or skepticism, and nobody begins historical or religious research at “objectivity”. Seriously, belief in one’s historical and/or religious objectivity is an arrogance on either side of a belief spectrum. Also, sometimes “belief” can help a research see things that skepticism and doubt keep obscured – as is true in reverse. That is true to an even greater degree the further back one goes in time. Seriously, if people can’t even see things that happened right in front of them and agree on motivations and meaning, historical objectivity is a dream ideal for which we only can strive.

    I agree that I want the best real research and scholarship possible – with conclusions being as comprehensive and unbiased as possible, and I would like to see correct terminology employed, but the terms of your conditions in the excerpted sentence create a false dichotomy for scholarship that need not exist and, in many cases, simply is impossible. The best that can be expected is open acknowledgment of one’s foundational paradigm, a willingness to adjust one’s views based on discovered evidence and full disclosure of whatever is discovered.

  23. Congratulations, Blair. You will be perfect for this position.

  24. Ray,

    Thanks for your comments. You’ve got an interesting perspective, which I appreciate. Perhaps we simply have different opinions about what scholarship is and what its functions are. Pure objectivity is, in the abstract, of course impossible to obtain, just as pure faith or pure truth is. My point, however, was that it should at least be striven for, as you yourself seem to at least imply with your words: “historical objectivity is a dream ideal for which we can only strive.” And I’m not sure how striving for objectivity is arrogance. Claiming that one is entirely objective may indeed be arrogant, or at the very least misguided. I guess my question on this subject is whether faith/belief can really help one strive for scholarly/historical objectivity. Is there such a thing as religious objectivity? If there is, I wonder what it might look like and how it might influence scholars of religion.

    I think we are both in agreement in that scholarship, however we define it and approach it, should be the best it can possibly be. And in my mind, even if scholarship originates from a faith or belief, it’s not really scholarship if it prevents the scholar from doing precisely what you mention above: acknowledging one’s “foundational paradigm” (which I would call “bias”), a willingness to change one’s views based on the discovered knowledge and, most importantly, “full disclosure” of discovered knowledge.

    To take up your last requirement for a moment, I wonder how many scholars who begin with faith rather than doubt would be willing to reveal things they discovered which might contradict church authorities. Would the Maxwell Institute publish such scholarship? Would it label it something else besides scholarship? I’m asking these questions sincerely, not rhetorically, as I’m unfamiliar with the perspective of the Institute on such matters. Perhaps Mr. Hodges could help clarify this issue. What if a scholar with certain convictions discovers/uncovers knowledge that challenges those very convictions? Can one be both loyal to one’s church and to the “dream ideal” of objectivity? Would you also consider that question to be a false dichotomy as well? I’d appreciate hearing your thoughts on such questions.

  25. Sharee Hughes says:

    JohnnyS, I think the Maxwell Institute (or FARMS before them) has already published things that are contrary to what some Church leaders believe. Just go to their website and check them out.

  26. My father was a mechanic, I think I may have to be offended. Funny thing is he could think straighter than many of the “Scholars”, always did question some of the teachings. He was active all his life though, I did not appreciate him much then, but realize now that he knew much more than I gave him credit for.

  27. “And I’m not sure how striving for objectivity is arrogance.”

    Johnny, I didn’t say it was. We are in agreement on pretty much everything; I just wanted to point out the one aspect with which I disagreed in your original comment.

    “Can one be both loyal to one’s church and to the “dream ideal” of objectivity?”

    Absolutely. I take a lot of things symbolically and figuratively now that I took literally when I was younger, and most of that has happened because of “research” and life experiences. I’m completely “loyal” to the Church (even as I believe lots of things differently than many of my fellow-congregants/friends), and I am striving to be as objective as I can be. I fully expect my views on lots of things to be different in 40 years (if I live that long) than they are now. I certainly hope they are, since I would have lived a stagnant half-life if my views don’t evolve in some ways.

    Concepts like “further light and knowledge”, “continuing revelation”, “living church” and “many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom of God” are meaningless if they don’t cause changes in our perspectives and understanding over time. Joseph said Mormonism is an acceptance of all truth, no matter where it is found, so I can be totally true to both ideals without having to agree with everything that is commonly accepted doctrine at any particular moment in my life.

  28. ” Joseph said Mormonism is an acceptance of all truth, no matter where it is found, so I can be totally true to both ideals without having to agree with everything that is commonly accepted doctrine at any particular moment in my life.”

    This.

  29. #24 “To take up your last requirement for a moment, I wonder how many scholars who begin with faith rather than doubt would be willing to reveal things they discovered which might contradict church authorities. Would the Maxwell Institute publish such scholarship? Would it label it something else besides scholarship?”

    Entirely valid questions and ones that should be answered, given the history of MI/associated ventures (FARMS). The answer, of course, is no, MI will not publish it. It won’t even get to the re-labeling stage. I don’t know anyone who remotely expects this. (That’s what a “reputation” does for you.) Would love to see MI dig out and re-establish itself as a geniune research entity but don’t see this happening, except for carefully chosen projects that don’t threaten faith paradigms.

  30. paul, feel free to dialogue with what the Institute actually does. Floating hypotheticals as criticism isn’t the best use of our time or yours.

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