The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: A Glossary

If you’re reading Adam Miller’s The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction (review forthcoming!), you’ll see terms repeat themselves in the book. Remember that you’re reading Adam Miller on DFW, which is like reading Adam Miller on Paul: you’re looking at the original author through a lens, not necessarily an unfaithful lens but one that will magnify and bring things to your mind in new ways. That’s my way of saying that Miller’s DFW Gospel is better in some ways than reading DFW. It’s both much shorter (curse you, Infinite Jest!) and more direct. Miller uses some words — words that DFW uses — and he uses them ostensibly the same way DFW uses, but it’s worth looking at these words closely. [Read more…]

Exhibit A: Why So Few Women Report Sexual Assault

The recent announcement that BYU will study Title IX reporting structures is extremely encouraging. If conducted correctly, such a study should give administrators the opportunity to listen to the stories of women who have been silenced by the threat of honor code investigations or forced to defend their own actions at a time when the school should have been helping them heal. All of this will move the Church’s flagship university towards full compliance with the post-2011 directives for enforcing Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments.

Just a bit of background: on April 4, 2011, all Colleges and Universities in the United States received what is now known as the “Dear Colleague Letter” from Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The letter announced major changes in Title IX enforcement procedures that made schools more responsible for investigating and punishing sexual assault on their campuses. The OCR stepped in to this issue for clear and compelling reasons:  sexual assault has become an epidemic in higher education, and most assaults are going unreported. The new Title IX directives require that colleges and universities clean up the viper’s nests that they have allowed their campuses to become. [Read more…]

Happy Tax Day! (Unless You Live in MA or ME)

Brigham Young, c. 1870

Brigham Young, c. 1870

Most years (at least when I remember), I like to do a Tax Day post.[fn1] (And yes, I get that Tax Day statutorily falls on April 15 for calendar year taxpayers, and I get that April 15 was Friday. But Friday was also the observation of Emancipation Day in D.C., which pushed Tax Day to today. Except in Massachusetts and Maine, where today is apparently Patriots’ Day, which means Tax Day is tomorrow.)

For this year’s Mormon-y Tax Day celebration, we’re going back to the Civil War-era income tax. It only lasted a decade, from 1861-1871, but, in that time, it managed to ensnare itself with the Mormons out in Utah.  [Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Grow up, Superboy

Way back in the deeps of time, I was sitting on the bank of an irrigation canal. It was the end of summer, and the weedy bank was playing hide and seek with some bright afternoon sunlight trying its best to filter through the leaves of an old elm tree.

When I say “end of summer,” I mean school was about to start—five more days of freedom. The thing is, I was stuck in a crevice of time. My friends, the kids I had found a place with, were all a bit younger. Those kids were still in elementary (primary) school, whereas I was starting middle school (in fact, junior high school). A trick of birthdays and school deadlines put me in the way of a buzzsaw that would inevitably cut my friendships asunder. Not only that, the grade school had a different start date than my new fief of educational thralldom. They were already suited up in the new jeans and stiff-keep-your-shirt-tucked-in button up the center first day of school clothing prisons.
[Read more…]

Reviews in Brief: The Mormoness and Mormonism and American Politics

Just because these reviews are brief and the books are small, don’t take that to mean that they aren’t weighty or worth your time. There is a lot packed into these two microtomes. [Read more…]

Nehor’s Universalism Problem—and Ours #BOM2016

Alma 1

nehorSherem, Nehor, and Korihor—Mormon scripture’s three most famous anti-Christs—constitute one of the most obvious recurring type-scenes in the Book of Mormon. Of the three, the middle child, Nehor, is clearly the most disruptive. Long after he receives the just desserts traditional for his ilk (Alma 1: 15), Nehorism pops up as the principle religion of most of the other bad guys in the Book of Alma (see Alma 14:4-8, Alma 21:4, Alma 24:28). Only Gadianton can claim a similarly evil influence on the Nephite people.

But there is a huge difference between the signature heresies of Nehor and those of Gadianton. The latter taught that it was possible to murder and get gain—hardly an original insight in the world, but an extremely disruptive one nonetheless. [Read more…]


ipiranga-saojoao-575x431Last week, as I waited in the car to pick my daughter up from school, I heard an All Things Considered review of the recently-released album from Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. And, as these things do, it got me thinking about my mission.

When I got my call to the Brazil São Paulo East mission, I knew three things about Brazil: first, it was in South America. Second, they spoke Portuguese there. And third, it was the home of Bossa Nova.  [Read more…]

The Mirage of Self-Understanding

What if I’m wrong about myself? What if I’m wrong, in fundamental ways, about who and what I am? What if—beyond the limits of whatever kinds of willful self-deception surely warp my self-understanding—there are structural and perspectival constraints that simply prevent me from ever seeing enough of me to grasp myself accurately? Or, more, what if my own self-understanding is so irreparably local that, from a God’s-eye-view, it will never be more than a gross misrepresentation?

For my part, all of the above seems not only possible but practically inevitable.

I will have been wrong about myself.

But if I’m wrong about myself—even fundamentally wrong about myself—does this automatically mean that my life won’t have been worth living?

I think the answer to this is no. [Read more…]

Church Historian’s Press releases George Q. Cannon journal online

The original GQ.

The original GQ.

This morning, the Church Historian’s Press (CHP) announced the online publication of George Q. Cannon’s diaries, 1855–1875. Along with the online publication of The First Fifty Years of Relief Society, this represents a major new era for church publication efforts. The George Q. Cannon (GQC) diaries are significant for many reasons, and have already been used to produce the Gospel Topics essay on the Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage and Jed Woodworth used them for his “Revelations in Context” essay entitled “The Messenger and the Manifesto,” both high priority reading. The CHP is also soliciting feedback about how these materials are being used and what they can do to make content more helpful and accessible.

Regular contributors WVS and J. Stapley discuss the news below:
[Read more…]

Reading the Book of Mormon in the Anthropocene: 1 Nephi 1:1 (In part)

AVmarlin(For this project I’m using, The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text1).

1 Nephi 1:1

I Nephi


Nephi opens the first chapter of The Book of Mormon identifying himself as the author of what follows, establishing who it is that writes and credentials the books of Nephi. The ‘I’ signals a first person account and confirms that an ‘I,’ a single individual, a unique self, will provide the viewpoint from which the text will be positioned. This account will be from Nephi’s perspective. [Read more…]

What’s Adam Miller up to in Letters to a Young Mormon?

cover-miller-lettersLetters to a Young Mormon came out in 2013. It kicked off the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship’s Living Faith book series. I was the greenie at BYU’s Institute and it was thrilling to work on such an engaging and unique manuscript. We’ve published three more Living Faith books since then (I edit the series) and Miller kept on writing, too. His latest book is called The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction. It’s a nice foil to Letters, so I’ll risk spoiling some of the magic by dissecting it a bit here.

[Read more…]

Alma, the Dunbar Number, and the Waters of Mormon First Ward #BOM2016

Mosiah 18

And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon; and they were in number about two hundred and four souls; yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God.—Mosiah 18:16

waters-of-mormonOver the last eight years, my family has belonged to three different wards. We didn’t move; the ward boundaries moved around us, but we had very different experiences in each ward, which I am convinced had something to do with the size of each congregation. The narrative arc follows, albeit not sequentially, the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: one ward was too big, one was too small, and one was just right. [Read more…]

Clara Barton

Clara Barton hated nothing more than feeling useless, and it was this impulse that led her to become a very effective schoolteacher, an intrepid Civil War nurse, an important early feminist, and ultimately the founder of the American Red Cross. She was genuinely heroic: amidst a civil war that, like the one in Mormon’s time, spread blood and carnage throughout all the face of the land, she fought to get close enough to the action to do some good, dodging bullets at Antietam as she rescued wounded soldiers from the field. Efforts to do the same during the Franco-Prussian War brought her into contact with the Red Cross, recently founded in Switzerland. Barton’s engagement was so strenuous that from time to time she’d collapse in exhaustion, her heart stricken and withered like grass. [Read more…]

Variable fallibilities and church leadership

It is well known, at least among Mormons, that Mormons don’t worship their prophets. We don’t pray to Joseph Smith. We are not expected to blindly follow every dictum that comes from President Thomas S. Monson. We test the commandments (in prayer or by trial) and choose the ones whose fruits are most godly. And yet, we frequently hear the refrain that God would never allow the church to be led astray by a false prophet. Whether it is God’s word or the word of his servants, it is the same. The path of safety is to treat the Brethren like they are infallible, even though we know they aren’t, because maybe they are, even when we think they aren’t.
[Read more…]

Q&A With Sam Brown: Death, Dying, and Living

Dominic Moore is a pediatric palliative care physician, singer songwriter, and member of the mega-super group “the Lower Lights”. He graciously agreed to ask some questions of Sam Brown, who is an ICU physician, medical researcher, and historian (most notably, of In Heaven as It Is on Earth and First Principles and Ordinances). Sam’s new book, while not about LDS beliefs, talks to some of our deepest feelings about death and caring for the dying.

Sam is throwing a book launch party at King’s English in Salt Lake on Thursday, April 14, at 7pm and for those in Utah Valley, Writ & Vision in Provo is holding a panel featuring Sam, Sierra Debenham, and George Handley on Tuesday, April 19, at 7pm.”

It was my pleasure to have a conversation with Sam Brown about his latest book, “Through the Valley of Shadows: Living Wills, Intensive Care, and Making Medicine Human”. In examining death and our relationship to being seriously ill, along with legal and medical tools that have developed over time, Sam lays out some of the most difficult challenges of our day. I recommend “Through the Valley of Shadows” highly and consider it crucial to the discussions we need to have as a society.

Sam’s criticism of living wills is well founded but also pretty revolutionary (some might even say heretical). [Read more…]

The best way to prove people who leave the Church wrong

imgladshesgoneI get a message every other month or so from a friend or relative who knows someone who isn’t merely struggling with their faith but who has announced they’re past that point. They are leaving the church. Their exit narratives, like our monthly testimony meetings, often follow a similar formula including a list of problems they’ve discovered in church history, belief, or practice.

I got another message today. Chances are good you’ve received one at some point, too.  [Read more…]

Restoring Harmony


I had heard that the Church was restoring some of the historic sites in Harmony Township, Pennsylvania (now Oakland Township), but I hadn’t heard any of the details. Well, yesterday I received my BYU Religious Education Review (Winter 2016), which features two articles that give details on this project. [Read more…]

The Least Degree of Allowance

BYU held its first ever Rape Awareness conference this week. At the conference, representatives of BYU’s administration spoke regarding the role of the Honor Code Office with respect to both sexual offenders and victims. In the event of a report of sexual assault, the BYU police department reviews the report and then may provide that report to the Honor Code Office, depending in part upon the activities of the survivor in the event. BYU representatives reportedly made it clear that the Honor Code remains a primary rule of conduct at the university, and “we do not apologize for that.”

If this recounting is accurate, when victims of sexual violence at BYU report their attack, they potentially put their academic future at risk. If you’ve been raped while in your boyfriend’s bedroom, you’re in trouble. If you were drinking at a party and were raped, you’re in trouble. If you were fondling a partner who then raped you, you’re in trouble. There are many more Honor Code rules which may apply. The trouble is both ecclesiastical and academic. The Honor Code Office will report to and coordinate with the bishop of the student. A woman who has been sexually assaulted may find herself penalized, suspended, even expelled for the circumstances of her attack.
[Read more…]

Sympathy for the Devil



So if you manage to make it through the Allegory of the Olive Tree, you’ll come to the story of Sherem in Jacob 7. [Read more…]

What is the most important thing we can do in our lives?

Like many of you, we’ve been moved by the Church’s efforts, launched by President Burton, to aid refugees. We plan on continuing to highlight these efforts. Please visit I Was A Stranger and prayerfully consider how you can help.

Maryan Myres Shumway is currently an expat, living in the Middle East. She plays cello in the Doha Community Orchestra, and chronicles her travels and thoughts at

With the recent announcements from the First Presidency and Sister Linda K. Burton, General Relief Society president, to launch an effort to serve refugees, my heart leapt with joy. In the 1980’s I worked in three different refugee camps–in Thailand, the Philippines, and for a short time in Palestine/Israel. Their faces, sometimes bewildered, but often times surprisingly happy, still reverberate within me. Many of their examples and stories continue to tutor me when my heart needs to be mentored or turned. Sister Linda K. Burton voiced her plea to help those who are displaced in the world when she asked us to reflect, “What if their story was my story?” [Read more…]

Alma the Younger on the Road to Damascus: How the Book of Mormon Reads and Re-reads the Bible #BOM2016

Mosiah 27/Alma 36

conversion-of-st-paulThe Bible is full of type scenes that give a sense of narrative unity to its very diverse collection of texts. Type scenes can connect two characters within a single book, as the two “woman at the well” betrothal scenes in Genesis do. But they work their connective magic when they work across texts–and especially when they occur between the Old and New Testaments–consider the “King-Orders-the-Deaths-of-All-Male-Babies” scenes that begin both Exodus and Matthew. Such parallel scenes give a powerful boost to the argument that the Old and New Testaments testify of the same things. [Read more…]

Belgian Theodicy

God rarely infringes on the agency of any of His children by intervening against some for the relief of others. But He does ease the burdens of our afflictions and strengthen us to bear them, as He did for Alma’s people in the land of Helam (see Mosiah 24:13–15). He does not prevent all disasters, but He does answer our prayers to turn them aside, as He did with the uniquely powerful cyclone that threatened to prevent the dedication of the temple in Fiji; or He does blunt their effects, as He did with the terrorist bombing that took so many lives in the Brussels airport but only injured our four missionaries.

-Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Opposition In All Things, April 2016 General Conference [Read more…]

Things About Candy That Make Me Mad, Ranked

It’s been a long time since we ranked stuff! I apologize for that! With our ranking muscles kind of flabby, Steve and I had a pretty hard time ranking stuff today. Here are some of our failed efforts before we finally found our stride today:

  • Things That I’m Stressed About, Ranked

[Read more…]

A Must-Have Missionary Book

Roger Terry is editorial director at BYU Studies and is the author of books (both fiction and nonfiction), articles, essays, short stories, book reviews, and newspaper editorials. He blogs at mormonomics & mormonethics.

A few weeks ago, BYU Studies held an annual meeting for some our supporters. This year we invited a rather unusual speaker. His name is Robert Lively, dean emeritus and former professor of religion at the University of Maine at Farmington. Rob is not LDS. So why would we invite a nonmember to speak at our annual meeting? Because of the book he self-published in late 2015. It is titled The Mormon Missionary: Who Is That Knocking at My Door? [Read more…]

Tl;dr: The #PanamaPapers

Note: if, for some reason, you’d rather get this information in the style of a morning newscast rather Panama_Skylinethan read it, I’ve got a link for you at the end of the post.

You’ve probably heard by now about the Panama Papers leak: basically, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists got 40 years of documents (about 11 million documents, or 2.6 terabytes of data) from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Mossack Fonseca apparently specializes in creating offshore entities and otherwise providing the tools people need to hide their money. (Note that the law firm claims it didn’t do anything wrong, and that there are non-illegal and -immoral reasons for putting money offshore.)

Even though there’s nothing Mormon about the leak, it’s a big enough thing that Mormons (and, frankly, everybody else) should know something about it. In Q&A format. [Read more…]

The Struggle for Goodness, Truth, and Belonging in a Haunted Age



  1. Part One: Ecclesial Secularism, New Atheism, and the Supposed Impossibility of Religious Moderate

           1.1 Ecclesial Secularism

           1.2 New Atheism

           1.3 The Impossible Moderate?

      2. Part Two: Hermeneutics, Humanism, and the Theological Foundations of Secularism

           2.1 Hermeneutics and Contexts of Understanding

           2.2 The (Necessary) Invention of Humanism

           2.3 The Theological Foundations of Secularism

      3. Part Three: Mormonism, Purity, and the Conditions of Truth

           3.1 Ecclesial Secularism, Fundamentalism, and Authoritarianism

           3.2 The Enchantment and Disenchantment of Religious Modernism

           3.3 Cross-Pressure and Diversities of Truth Processes

           3.4 Tribes within Tribes

           3.5 Truth-Formation and the Correspondence Logic of Purity

           3.6 Logics of Different Worlds

           3.7 Truth and Belonging

Full article in PDF format: The Struggle for Goodness, Truth, and Belonging in a Haunted Age

Preface [Read more…]

Groundwork: An Other Testament II

AOTSpencer’s thesis in An Other Testament: On Typology is, like many powerful ideas, deceptively simple. “This book is about how the Book of Mormon teaches us to read the Book of Mormon” (xix).

The issue at stake here is a perennial bone of contention in Mormon Studies: how should the Book of Mormon be read? Answers vary according to discipline, audience, and temperament, but I’ve never seen anyone else do what Spencer suggests. I’ve never seen anyone else ask: okay, but what does the Book of Mormon itself say about how we should read the Book of Mormon?

I don’t want to spoil the book for you, but the answer is also easy to summarize (see the subtitle): the Book of Mormon teaches us to read the Book of Mormon typologically. [Read more…]

Evening with an Author—John G. Turner, Mormon Jesus: A Biography

From our friends at Benchmark Books, 3269 S. Main St., Ste. 250 in Salt Lake City.


We are excited to announce that John G. Turner, author of The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (published by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press), will be here on Wednesday, April 6 to speak about and sign copies of his book. He will be here from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and will speak at 6:00 and will answer questions and sign books before and after that time. We hope you will be able to make it that night but, if not, we can mail a signed copy or hold one here at the store for pick-up. To RSVP on Facebook, click here. [Read more…]

Why Food Stamps and Free Tuition Don’t Have Anything to Do with Satan’s Plan

Now that the political campaigns are in full swing, American Mormons are having their quadrennial debate on whether or not social programs like Pell Grants, food stamps, and subsidized housing are tools of the devil. According to one common philosophy (which has been kind of dominant on my Facebook feed recently), this kind of income redistribution FORCES us to give to the poor, thus TAKING AWAY OUR AGENCY and denying us the blessings that would come if we CHOSE to give to the poor like God wants us to. You can use persuasion to convince people to be charitable, but don’t use compulsion, BECAUSE THAT’S SATAN’S PLAN!!!!!

This is poppycock and piffle! The argument assumes that the purpose of social programs is to benefit the soul of the giver—to compel us to do righteous things like feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. It is not. The purpose of food-assistance programs is to give people food; it has nothing to do with the condition of your soul. [Read more…]

Elder Holland: We Get Credit For Trying #ldsconf

Back when I was in high school, I was warned not to guess if I didn’t know the answer to an SAT question. It’s been years, so my memory may be off, but I believe the test awarded points for correct answers, no points for blank answers, and took away points for wrong answers. If you weren’t at least reasonably certain that you were right, not answering the question was better than risking choosing a wrong answer, and losing points.[fn1]

As of last month, apparently, that changed: wrong answers still won’t get students points, but they also won’t cost students points. Where before, students had a strong incentive to refrain from participating, now the incentives have changed.  [Read more…]


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