Call for Papers

“Mormonism in Cultural Context”

The friends and former students of Professor Richard Lyman Bushman invite submissions for a conference, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, to be held June 18, 2011, at the Springville Art Museum in Springville, Utah.

The summer seminars led by Professor Bushman beginning in 1997 pursued the theme of “Joseph Smith and His Times.” Participants were asked to connect the Mormon prophet to the religions, philosophies, and cultural formations of his period.  More recently the seminars have posed the same question for Mormonism as a whole.  How is Mormon thought to be situated in its broad cultural environment?

For the conference, participants are invited to make comparisons to large cultural systems such as democracy, capitalism, evangelism, or science, or to specific thinkers and movements.  The aim is to highlight aspects of Mormon thought or praxis that emerge more sharply when juxtaposed against other cultural formations or intellectual perspectives.

Brief analytical reflections of about twenty minutes duration will be most suitable for the conference format.  Friends and students of Professor Bushman are invited to submit.

Send a short (1-2 pp) abstract of the proposed paper, along with a short (1 p) C.V., to Spencer Fluhman at by November 1, 2010.


  1. I hope that somebody submits a paper exposing Bushman’s attempt at a liberal Mormonism to have been a total failure. “Rough Stone Rolling” is scandalous in its omissions. The most basic and logical explanations for the phenomenon of Joseph Smith are ignored. The entirety of Bushman’s opus is a continuous attempt to respond to Fawn Brodie and defend the LDS: Bushman is not so much a historian as he is an apologist.

    Contrast Bushman with his colleagues at the Columbia History department, especially the Jewish historian Yosef Yerushalmi, whose work on modern Jewish identity pulls no punches and is not apologia.

    I know that Richard Bushman represents the best liberal Mormons can do, but objectively it’s not very good. A Festschrift of mediocrity will result, and that will be very fitting.

  2. Alex,

    Maybe you should write that paper. Every conference in honor of an 80th birthday needs at least one prick.

  3. Chris (et al.)–don’t feed trolls.

  4. Sorry. Do I have an et al?

  5. @Kristine– gee thanks.

    Here’s what’s interesting: Forensic psychiatry explains every aspect of Joseph Smith’s life of visions/hallucinations, hypergraphia, hypomania, compulsion (polygamy), grandiosity, lability…textbook schizo-affective. Fast life, young death, just like most schizoid types. None of these or even the possibility of these is in Rough Stone Rolling, despite the bazillion footnotes.

    What does Bushman offer instead?

  6. I ordinarily wouldn’t advertise on someone else’s post, but to help put this thread back on track, some may be interested in a 1953 newspaper clipping I just posted, The Brilliance of His Mind and the Sincerity of His Testimony, with a picture of an impossibly young RLBushman. That long ago we expected great things of the man!

  7. Ardis, that is a neat clipping. Are you submitting anything to this conference?

  8. No! I can’t think of anything I could propose that would hold up to the calibre of the expected speakers. I’ll sit in the cheering section.

  9. Who are these “expected speakers”? I am intrigued by the possibilities of such a gathering.

  10. Well, I’m guessing the hand-picked students of his seminars, or others who have broad experience. Not archives rats. (I love what I do, but I recognize the limitations.)

  11. Okay, I just thought maybe you have heard something.

  12. chris..with comments like that I’ll happily join the et al.

  13. @britt

    Omnis cultus exercet ‘et al’ cogitationem =LDS means you are never alone, not even in your thoughts, it’s all ‘et al’ all the time.


  15. Feed me, Seymour / Feed me all night long – That’s right, boy! – You can do it! Feed me, Seymour / Feed me all night long / Ha ha ha ha ha! / Cause if you feed me, Seymour / I can grow up big and strong.

  16. Alex,
    shoo. We’re not the blog you want.

  17. oooh, Alex–you’ve found my weak spot. You can say anything you want in Latin around here, even “Fawn Brodie scripsit veritam iustam.”

  18. @Jon- no, you don’t want any dissent is the problem. Intellectuals much? I actually studied with Bushman, he was the only reason my TBM dad let me go to Columbia. And my dad was right, Bushman is a first of all a Saint, and the historiography is completely incidental.

    There’s a term for what you guys are doing on BCC, it involves a bunch of dudes doing the same thing at the same time. But this is a family blog, right? So I can’t spell it out.

  19. Steve Evans says:

    Alex, I’m impressed that someone as obviously intelligent as yourself would stoop so low as to imitate a garden-variety internet troll. Your capacity for self-debasement is incredible! You should offer outsourcing for people who find themselves confined to retaining minimal levels of self-respect.

  20. Alex,
    There are any number of reasonable academic criticisms which could be brought to bear regarding Bushman’s work. Indeed, the same can be said of any kind of interpretive history. RSR strikes me as basically an extended historiographical essay, organized chronologically in terms of Joseph Smith’s personal history and thematically largely in terms of interpretive questions raised by Brodie (Smith’s only biographer to whom Bushman shows any real deference in the text, fwiw). Overall, the book seems to combine the genre of review essay with a muted but still recognizably post-modern form of cultural history. Any one of these features, as well as Bushman’s refusal to apply any new or innovative grand-unified interpretive lens to the materials under discussion, constitute valid grounds for serious, thoughtful critical engagement. Needless to say, that is not what you have provided here. The book is what it is, does interpretively what it sets out to do, and strikes me as doing that rather well (whatever the problems of doing that might be).

    If the education you purchased from Columbia taught you that a) “forensic psychiatry explains every aspect” of any complex historical-biographical question; or b) that it is appropriate for unpublished college graduates to demonstrate their intellectual and moral superiority over prize-winning historians with endowed chairs by announcing on a blog somewhere that you have discovered that the scholar in question is not actually a historian and that his work represents a “festschrift of mediocrity”, followed by a handful of personal insults—then that education has done you a terrible, tragic disservice.

  21. Sounds like a lot of fun. Wish I had time to write a paper.

  22. I’m excited to submit a paper and think Ardis should too.

    Best of luck working through your separation from Mormonism, Alex. It’s not my sense that insulting those who remain will be terribly useful for you as you find your own way, but I do wish you the best. In my atheist period, I found William James’s account in _Varieties of Religious Experience_ familiar and important. I also read a lot of Existentialist fiction and non-fiction. Separation from a natal religious tradition is as psychically stressful as divorce or bereavement and deserves careful awareness of one’s reactions to it.

    For the reference of other readers, individuals with schizo-affective disorder are withdrawn, have difficulty forming relationships, etc. The sort of child who gets hassled in secondary school for being aloof and “strange.” They are not typically grandiose, don’t tend to have visions (auditory hallucinations suggest schizophrenia, which is distinct from schizo-affective personality disorder). Forensic psychiatry is mostly legal psychiatry–who is criminally insane, etc. It’s not generally invoked in academic historiography (though there was a while last century in which the Viennese delegation* was frequently invoked to explain all sorts of historical shenanigans–a now largely abandoned school called “psychobiography.”)

    And may I indicate from both my reading of his prize-winning historical scholarship and conversations with him in which he has challenged my thinking in insightful ways that Richard Bushman is a brilliant scholar.

    *I borrow this term for freudianists from V Nabokov.

  23. Alex, I want to add my voice to the chorus of folks disagreeing with your comments. I’ll invoke the philosophical principle that what is gratuitously asserted may be gratuitously denied:

    “Rough Stone Rolling” isn’t scandalous in its omissions. The most basic and logical explanations for the phenomenon of Joseph Smith aren’t ignored, and in fact, in asserting contrariwise I inadvertently and mistakenly grant that the criticism itself is valid, which it isn’t, since it is premised on a vague undefined notion of what is “most basic and logical.” In other words, it classically begs the entire question and declares victory without a battle. The entirety of Bushman’s opus isn’t a continuous attempt to respond to Fawn Brodie and defend the LDS, although he interacts with her. I ask Bushman about Brodie and his book in the upcoming FAIR podcast to be published later today!

  24. As promised, the Bushman interview:

    (may take an hour or so to appear in iTunes.)

  25. Kristine over there casting the Harry Potter spells at Alex.

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