Are You Listening to the Maxwell Institute Podcast?

There’s no delicate way to put this: if you’re not listening, you should be. Blair Hodges is an excellent, thoughtful interviewer who invites really smart, thoughtful people on the show. He talks with his smart, thoughtful guests about really interesting religious topics, which sometimes touch on Mormonism, but more often, introduce listeners to religious thought that isn’t Mormon-specific. 

Don’t know where to start? I haven’t listened to all 55 (so far) episodes, but I haven’t heard one I wouldn’t recommend. That said, if you’re paralyzed by choice (or even if you’re not), I’d really recommend his most recent, an interview with Thomas W. Simpson. Dr. Simpson recently wrote American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940.

I can’t review the book (yet), because I only heard of it yesterday on the podcast, though it has fallen somewhere in my to-read list. In his book, Dr. Simpson details the history of the Mormon church setting apart and sending (some of) its people to secular universities out East (and, eventually, also to Stanford) to allow them to get training in especially law and medicine, but also in a wide array of other subjects. He talks about how that helped connect Mormonism to the broader culture, rather than staying self-contained in Utah. He also talks about how education, while helping to form a people, also introduced fissures and conflict into Mormonism.

This episode may have resonated especially strongly with me, since I left the West (California, not Utah) to go to New York for law school, and have since bounced around on the East Coast and in the Midwest, where I teach at a (religious, though it’s Jesuit, not Mormon) school. Even though I left for New York 60 years after the book concludes, there’s at least some resonance there.

But even if the subject matter doesn’t directly reflect your experience, you need to listen to this episode. Dr. Simpson is almost giddy as he talks about this history—researching and writing the book either was or became a labor of love for him. (An unexpected one, to be sure—as he tells Blair, he didn’t initially see himself looking at Mormonism, and he may now be going off in other directions, writing-wise.) There’s no way not to get caught up in his excitement.

And when you’re done listening to this one, there are another 54 episodes you can choose between, with new ones popping up about every two weeks.



  1. It’s a great body of work. Several of the episodes changed my thinking in fundamental ways. Listen in!

  2. I agree, all the episodes I have listened to are great.

  3. I haven’t heard all 55 of these podcasts, but the ones I’ve listened to are all good. Two that I especially liked:

    Kate Bowler on the prosperity gospel movement. This one taught me that the prosperity gospel is more than just rapacious televangelists. Very satisfying to see some good in a thing that I had thought of as a confusing mistake. Bowler is smart and very engaging.

    Marilynne Robinson. I like what she’s written, and I think that pretty much any chance to hear her talk about her work is worthwhile. Blair Hodges is a thoughtful interviewer.

  4. I have loved this podcast! My favorites include interviews with Adam Miller, Lauren Winner, Peter Enns, Terryl and Fiona Givens, Paul Reeve and Ardis Parshall. And these are just the ones off the tip of my tongue. MIP has rocked my world, expanded it and at the same time connected it.

  5. Couldn’t agree more. It is one of the best religious podcasts there is. Blair is a very good interviewer in the way that Terry Gross interviews — research, knowledge of the person but also thoughtful, at times tricky questions.

  6. I agree with what’s been said here. But I do think it could have been put more delicately.

  7. Natalie B says:

    Thanks for recommending.

    I was actually warned by a church leader about the dangers of getting an education outside Utah. But the east coast singles ward I attended was the place in which I was first able to feel both a Mormon and myself. I was exposed to an intellectual tradition there that I had not previously known anything about but that strongly resonated with me and has nurtured my faith. In retrospect, going east may be what has enabled me to envision myself as a Mormon.

    I worry that today Mormons who study outside of Utah may not be bringing these ideas back home as more chose to stay in urban cities or share their thoughts primarily with others already like them. It would be interesting to see data on where Mormons go post-education. But I hope ideas continue to spread through podcasts like these.

  8. A Happy Hubby says:

    A few years ago I somehow got the impression that the Maxwell Institute was tied up with FAIR and when I got a bad taste in my mouth with FAIR a few years ago, I wrote off the Maxwell Institute. I started listening just a few months ago when a friend I really respect recommended it. I just listened to #55 today and it was very interesting.

  9. Yes. Best podcast out there.

  10. stephenchardy says:

    I have listened to most of them. They are excellent. They give me hope.

  11. Sam, thanks for such kind words about the show. It’s one of the most enjoyable things I do at work. Talking with amazing scholars, some of them rock stars in my mind, all of them thoughtful, kind, and engaging. I want it to be both intellectually and spiritually nourishing. If people take time to leave a review of the show on iTunes it helps spread the show around. We need as much word-of-mouth promotion as possible to help bring more people into the show’s orbit.

  12. I’ve been on the lookout for a Mormon-themed podcast, and I am very very much looking forward to giving this a listen!

  13. I love these podcasts! My favorites were #47 with Elizabeth Drescher, #45 with James Smith on “How [Not] to be a Secular,” both with Amy Jill-Levin, #18 with Mark Larrimore on the book of Job, and #14 with Miranda Wilcox and John Young on The Great Apostasy. Really great stuff.

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