Several people have asked me my reaction to the new editorial team for the new Mormon Studies Review being launched by The New Maxwell Institute in pursuit of its “new course.”
(I notice, by the way, that the new Mormon Studies Review will be numbered as if it were wholly without predecessor, even though the Maxwell Institute — of course, it was the bad old Maxwell Institute, not the new, detoxed one — already published an issue of the Mormon Studies Review under my bad old editorship, before the Purge. This will, at the least, create citation ambiguities. In fact, it seems slightly Orwellian to me. But progress often requires sacrifice!)
Anyway, I think Spencer Fluhman is a good choice, given the new direction that The New Maxwell Institute seeks to pursue. And the advisory board is a stellar cast of leaders in the new Mormon studies. Indeed, it’s large enough that it actually represents a substantial proportion of those active in the field. I have no objection to any of them. I consider a sizable number of them friends, and hope that at least some of those would reciprocate the description.
I think that the kind of scholarship that the new Mormon Studies Review is likely to publish is entirely okay. I have no objection to it — it’s a legitimate way of doing Mormon studies, though not the only one — and I’ll read it and will, no doubt, often like what I’ve read. I would have had utterly no objection, were I still involved with the Maxwell Institute, to publishing such scholarship under the auspices of the Institute. In fact, I expressly said so, just before being expunged from the Institute by email while overseas.
What I will probably never understand is why secret meetings had to be convened, and clandestine discussions held, and the old Review destroyed, and the Maxwell Institute heavily damaged, and certain personal relationships severed, in order to launch a once-annual journal of functionally-secular Mormon studies to which, intrinsically, I and others have not the slightest objection.
Our ideological concern, if you will, is to the evident assumption that secularizing Mormon studies — an approach in which Mormon truth-claims are “bracketed,” left out of consideration — is incompatible with the kind of committed Mormon scholarship and apologetics for which FARMS (later the Maxwell Institute) was founded and for which donors contributed and volunteers labored hard, that it’s a zero-sum game in which either one or the other must triumph to the complete exclusion of the other. It would have been no problem whatever simply to have launched a separate journal for the kind of work that Professor Fluhman and his people will probably now be publishing. I might have even contributed to such a journal, if permitted. (As a matter of fact, I intend to finish, tomorrow, an invited article about Latter-day Saint temples that is ideologically neutral and “objective,” and it’s not the first such Mormon-focused piece I will have published. Moreover, I understand the “religious studies” paradigm rather well because I routinely work within it in my teaching, research, and writing on Islam and related subjects.)
There are plenty of places where a religiously-neutral, secularizing, nonsectarian journal of Mormon studies might have been launched and housed, and where it would likely have flourished. Claremont Graduate University and the University of Durham and Utah State University and the University of Virginia and Utah Valley University now feature Mormon studies programs; the University of Utah publishes books on Mormon studies. Brigham Young University is a reasonably good place to base such a journal, too — although one wonders just how free the journal will be to allow non-Mormons to pursue sensitive or controversial topics in its pages, just how pleased the leadership of the Church will be if its flagship university permits them unfettered freedom, and just how long the journal’s reputation for scholarly objectivity will survive, and how compliant non-believing advisors and contributors will be, if there’s even the slightest whiff of censorship — but Brigham Young University is effectively the only institution of higher learning where believing Mormon scholarship (and, yes, apologetics and polemics) of the type exemplified by the late Hugh Nibley could be supported. (I find myself thinking of 2 Samuel 12:1-14, and of the story of Agamemnon, Achilles, and Briseis in Book 1 of the Iliad.)
The New Maxwell Institute’s Facebook page is, at time of writing, ornamented by a photograph of the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, but it’s far from obvious that the current leadership of the Institute would have been willing to publish such works as Since Cumorah and The World of the Jaredites, let alone No Ma’am, That’s Not History, The Myth Makers, and Sounding Brass.
Two insightful comments on the new journal and its leadership are