A few thoughts on the latest announcement from The New Maxwell Institute

 

The seal or logo of Yale University. “Lux et Veritas,” it reads: “Light and Truth.” And the Hebrew says “Urim and Thummim.” Like virtually all early American (and English and European and Middle Eastern) universities, Yale was founded as a religious institution. Like most American (and English and European) universities, it has abandoned its committed, religious roots.

 

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

 

http://mormonscriptureexplorations.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/the-new-maxwell-institute/

 

http://mormonscriptureexplorations.wordpress.com/2013/03/25/meet-the-new-associate-editor-of-the-mormon-studies-review/

 

 

 

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  • http://www.templestudy.com Bryce Haymond

    It looks to me like they are going to rename the first issue of the old new Mormon Studies Review as “The FARMS Review.” It’s as if the switch under your editorship never happened (which still is quite odd since your intro to that inaugural issue talks extensively about the name change.). The FARMS Review web page that was once changed to the “Mormon Studies Review” page (from Oct 2011-May 2012), since June 2012, shortly after your being expunged, has been changed back to “The FARMS Review” page. Here is a log of the name changes to that web page:
    Sep 2011 “The FARMS Review” – http://web.archive.org/web/20110906020657/http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/
    Oct 2011 “Mormon Studies Review” – http://web.archive.org/web/20111006084509/http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/
    May 2012 “Mormon Studies Review” – http://web.archive.org/web/20120506000440/http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/
    June 26, 2012 “The FARMS Review” – http://web.archive.org/web/20120629202817/http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?
    Currently “The FARMS Review” – http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/

    My guess is that they’ll make the Mormon Studies Review a completely separate section of the new Maxwell Institute website apart from The FARMS Review, and start volumes at #1.

    • danpeterson

      “In George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Ministry of Truth is Oceania’s propaganda ministry. It is responsible for any necessary falsification of historical events. The word truth in the title Ministry of Truth should warn, by definition, that the “ministry” will self-serve its own “truth”; the title implies the willful fooling of posterity using “historical” archives to show “in fact” what “really” happened. As well as administering truth, the administration deploys a new tongue-in-cheek language amongst administrators called Newspeak, in which, for example, truth is understood to mean statements like 2 + 2 = 5 when the situation warrants.

      “It is one of the four ministries that govern Oceania. However, as with the other Ministries in the novel, the Ministry of Truth is a misnomer and in reality serves the opposite of its purported namesake.

      “In Newspeak, the ministry is known as Minitrue.

      “Winston Smith, the main character of Nineteen Eighty-Four, works at the Ministry of Truth. It is an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete rising 300 metres into the air, containing over 3000 rooms above ground. On the outside wall are the three slogans of the Party: “WAR IS PEACE,” “FREEDOM IS SLAVERY,” “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.” There is also a large part underground, probably containing huge incinerators where documents are destroyed after they are put down “memory holes.”

      “The Ministry of Truth is involved with news media, entertainment, the fine arts and educational books. Its purpose is to rewrite history to change the facts to fit Party doctrine for propaganda effect. For example, if Big Brother makes a prediction that turns out to be wrong, the employees of the Ministry of Truth go back and rewrite the prediction so that any prediction Big Brother previously made is accurate. This is the “how” of the Ministry of Truth’s existence. Within the novel Orwell elaborates that the deeper reason for its existence is to maintain the illusion that the Party is absolute. It cannot ever seem to change its mind (if, for instance, they perform one of their constant changes regarding enemies during war) or make a mistake (firing an official or making a grossly misjudged supply prediction), for that would imply weakness and to maintain power the Party must seem eternally right and strong.”

  • Will

    “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.”

    My opinion: They are incompatible because one starts with an assumed answer and works backwards. “Bracketing” truth claims is an important step in moving away from the tautology that irritates a lot of people.

    • danpeterson

      I’ve published several items responding to this criticism, and have successfully shown, I think, that it lacks merit because it misconceives the nature and task of apologetics and, specifically, fails to engage actual specimens of Mormon apologetics that, overwhelmingly, don’t conform to its description.

  • john smith

    A professor and a bishop conspire to access church records, and you complain about secret agenda’s and meetings?

    • danpeterson

      If a professor and a bishop have done that, they should be roundly condemned and, in my judgment at least, brought up for Church discipline.

      I’m assuming that you have a specific case in mind. If you do, and if you know their identities, I hope you’ll report them.

  • Collin

    Mr. Peterson,

    I think that the new group should call themselves the “Deuteronomists.”

    • danpeterson

      LOL.

  • Julianne Dehlin Hatton

    “A religiously-neutral, secularizing, nonsectarian journal of Mormon studies” Can I get a big fat yawn?

    • danpeterson

      I suspect that will be precisely the reaction of the overwhelming majority of the people who used to find the Maxwell Institute deeply interesting. And I doubt that they’ll be fully replaced by the audience that this “new direction” attracts.

      That said, it seems pretty obvious to me that the current leadership of the Maxwell Institute is much more concerned with a relatively small audience of scholars than with a “popular” audience. In other words, they’ll be fine with a smaller falling, and they don’t particularly care about “mass market appeal.”

      That’s a legitimate way to go, of course. It’s just not the path that the original FARMS was on, and it’s not the path that the Maxwell Institute pursued in its first several years as the successor organization to FARMS. It represents a significant change. We always intended our materials to be academically sound, and worthy of the attention of a scholarly audience, but we were acutely conscious, too, of the needs of the broader Church membership.

  • Aaron

    As a student and a fan of Fluhman, I am excited for the new publication. Still, I can’t help but wonder: why couldn’t we have both?

    • danpeterson

      My thought exactly. I think Professor Fluhman is likely to do good work, and I surely hope he does.

      But there was no reason why both approaches couldn’t be pursued simultaneously.

  • http://www.sethpayne.com Seth Payne

    Dan,

    Putting aside any of the ugliness or drama over the past 9 months:

    Isn’t part of you a little glad to be separate from BYU again? You have direct control of “Interpreter” and if your blog is to be believed, things are going quite well. Without having to carry the “burden” of BYU’s reputation. “Interpreter” will pave its own way and establish its own reputation.

    It seem, then, that both approaches *will* be pursued simultaneously. There is no conflict between “Interpreter” and the new “Review.”

    Seth

    Seth

    • danpeterson

      There are undoubtedly positives. We affiliated with BYU while I was chairman of the FARMS board, and I was one of the principal negotiators of the affiliation agreement.

      Affiliation had good and bad sides, but we initially resisted assimilation.

      I simply don’t like having to build up a new organization, having already played a central role in building FARMS or the Maxwell Institute. And — this will sound a bit crass — a few of us, thanks to generous donors, raised a considerable endowment to support the work that we were doing at the Maxwell Institute. And now we’re all out, and others have inherited the money that we raised, and they’re using it for purposes quite distinct from those for which we raised it. (Just how completely distinct remains to be seen, but the indicators, thus far, suggest a pretty dramatic turn away from the traditional purposes of the organization.)

  • jamesj

    @Julianne, here ya go… YAAAAAAaaaaawn!

    I believe this is the first time in 20 years or so that I did NOT renew my subscription with FARMS / MI. (Heck, 20 years ago it may have just been your name on a (postal) mailing list.)

    But I have no fear now that Interpreter is here. And, I know where my meager contributions will be allotted going forward…

    Professor Hamblin’s Interpreter Blog post the other day on decontextialization, and bracketing the truth claims of the Church was apropos, all things considered.

  • Seth James Nielson

    Dan,

    There seems to be a very serious move in the church administration toward appearing as mainstream as possible. While there is, of course, no modification of doctrine, there appears to be an effort to offend less those with whom we disagree and avoid public controversy. The most obvious example is the shift from public opposition to gay marriage to relative silence on the matter.

    As you have at least a little better insight into some of the leadership of the Church, do you know if such a move exists? If so, was the Maxwell dismemberment a part of it or at least influenced by it?

    • danpeterson

      I’m not sure that Church leadership wants to appear “mainstream,” exactly, but there’s definitely an attempt to build bridges.

      I totally endorse it, and, in fact, have played a small supporting role in it, at several points. Often by express assignment or invitation.

      That said, I do not believe that such intentions on the part of Church leadership played any direct role in recent changes at the Maxwell Institute, for the simple reason that I don’t believe that Church leadership played any role in those changes at all.

      I’ve been assured of that personally, by very highly ranked sources — sources that would be extremely difficult to “trump.”

      • http://www.sethpayne.com Seth Payne

        Dan,

        Don’t you think reviews like Russel McGregor’s on JP Holding’s work harm the effort to build bridges. Russel never seriously engaged Holding and instead, focused on minutia that was irrelevant to Holding’s thesis. I think to any rational reader, Russel’s work was a polemic and not a review. Polemics harm the effort to build bridges. Now, rather than engaging Holding in productive dialogue, Russell has insulted him, his intelligence, his education etc….

        Would you agree that certain contents in past reviews have not been helpful in building bridges?

        Don’t get me wrong …. I do believe that some folks deserve polemical treatment. But not all Mormon critics are created equal. :) Decker/Schoebelen deserve contempt. Holding? I’m not so sure. Yeah, he got some things wrong in his book (we all do when we write), but at least he showed some real intelligence and he wasn’t seeking to publish the anti-Mormon equivalent of the The New York Daily News, or as in the case of Bill Schnoebelen, the Weekly World News with stories about “Bat Boy” etc…

        Just curious what your thoughts are on “old school” FARMS apologetics contributes to building bridges.

        Thanks!

        Seth

        • danpeterson

          Over the entire history of the original Review — nearly a quarter of a century, and totaling (I would guess) roughly twenty thousand pages — some entries will appeal more to some than others, and some will seem (and be) more “bridge-building” than others.

          Don’t forget, when you’re toting up the final score, to include such Review essays as that by the evangelical scholars Carl Mosser and Paul Owen, which was overtly critical of several Mormon claims, or the exchange between the evangelical biblical scholar Michael Heiser (who was respectfully but seriously critiquing, among others, my use of the biblical concept of the “divine council”) and the irenic response by David Bokovoy. (I solicited both of those, and there were others.)

          Classical FARMS apologetics was never a monolith, any more than the apologists themselves were and are.

          • http://www.sethpayne.com Seth Payne

            Dan said: “Classical FARMS apologetics was never a monolith, any more than the apologists themselves were and are.”

            Fair point. It is inaccurate to characterize the whole by a few reviews/essays. I’ve enjoyed the essays you mention very much.

            Thanks for humoring me.

            Seth

          • danpeterson

            Happy to do it!

            The fact is that I made a point of being a fairly (though not entirely) laissez-faire editor. I encouraged different voices, and didn’t want to homogenize them. (A certain other journal, edited by a good friend whom I admire, tends to smooth everything into the same voice. Different editorial styles, not saying that one is necessarily better than the other.)

        • kiwi57

          Seth,

          As you have taken it upon yourself to criticise me (by name, no less) here on Dan’s blog, I hope you will not mind if I respond.

          Since my brief review (which seems, in the minds of some, to threaten to undermine the pillars of western civilization) was published, I have seen a number of rather emotional but not very enlightening responses thereto. Mr Holding’s own angry rant about it was longer than the review itself. However, I have seen very little actual substance in most of these criticisms.

          I search my review in vain for anything that any reasonable person could remotely recognise by the description “insulted him, his intelligence, his education etc.” I criticised his book. Is that bad? His book was neither very good nor very important; and it deserved criticism.

          You seem to think that I failed to engage Holding’s “thesis.” What do you think his “thesis” was? Inasmuch as it had one, if it had one, it didn’t seem to be any more specific than “Mormonism is wrong,” unless it was “Mormons misuse the Bible when defending their beliefs.” Perhaps some Mormons do; but so do many if not most anti-Mormons, or “critics” if you prefer; and that includes Mr Holding.

          Perhaps you think criticising ideas with which we disagree is a bad thing. If so, perhaps you could explain why you posted your comment? You also criticised my review. If criticism per se is bad, why is your criticism hunky-dory?

      • Seth James Nielson

        You don’t think the Church is trying to have less public controversy? The fact that they won’t excommunicate a guy like John Dehlin despite all the testimonies he’s destroying says they don’t want controversy. Heck, the fact that John Dehlin can email a member of the presidency of the 70′s asking if your apologetics are what the church wants (basically, he was threatening PR blackmail) demonstrates it. Or how about that guy that did the UN family stuff that got shut down by BYU? Whether or not the church approved of his shut down is almost irrelevant. How come his work (or work like it stressing standing up to shifting moral winds) was and is never mentioned on Mormon Newsroom?

        I hope I don’t sound critical of the church leadership, because I’m not. If anything, I’m trying to understand how to interpret their signals.

        • danpeterson

          “You don’t think the Church is trying to have less public controversy?”

          I think that may be true. But that’s rather a different thing than seeking to be “mainstream.”

          “The fact that they won’t excommunicate a guy like John Dehlin despite all the testimonies he’s destroying says they don’t want controversy.”

          Possibly. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes here. Some of it I know and can’t discuss. Some of it I simply know that I don’t know.

          “Heck, the fact that John Dehlin can email a member of the presidency of the 70′s asking if your apologetics are what the church wants (basically, he was threatening PR blackmail) demonstrates it.”

          Well, anybody can write to anybody. The response to him, however, may not be quite what he thinks, or what many in the public think. Again, I know some things that I can’t discuss, and am aware that there’s much going on that I simply don’t know.

          “Or how about that guy that did the UN family stuff that got shut down by BYU? Whether or not the church approved of his shut down is almost irrelevant.”

          But not quite. I happen to know that some General Authorities very much liked what he was doing. BYU is a separate animal, and has its own politics — as I’ve learned over the past year to my considerable sorrow.

          “How come his work (or work like it stressing standing up to shifting moral winds) was and is never mentioned on Mormon Newsroom?”

          I don’t know. I wish it had been.

          “I hope I don’t sound critical of the church leadership, because I’m not. If anything, I’m trying to understand how to interpret their signals.”

          And, if I may be permitted the metaphor, they play their cards close to the vest.

          Moreover, there are different, and very strong, personalities among the Brethren. They’re united on very important matters, but they see some issues in varied ways.

          • Seth James Nielson

            Well, Dan, I appreciate all of your comments. Thanks for the added insight; it’s very reassuring.

            And I really appreciate you and your colleagues writing in old-Farms, old-Maxwell, and (now) Interpreter. You guys do much good. Please keep it up.

  • Rick Anderson

    Dan, if you haven’t heard already–in addition the books on Mormon-related topics that are regularly published by the University of Utah Press (which currently reports to me in my role as interim dean of the Marriott Library), the U also has a Mormon Studies Fellowship program.

    I am also very excited about the fact that our library recently digitized and made available for on-demand printing four volumes of B.H. Roberts diaries and ten Frederick Kesler diaries–the first instalment of what I hope will be an ongoing program that takes our handwritten Mormon pioneer diary volumes out of the obscurity of our rare-book vault and makes their content freely accessible around the world.

    This is all tangential to your larger point about the new directions at the Maxwell Institute, of course, but I thought you might find these items interesting in light of your observations about Mormon Studies efforts generally.

    • danpeterson

      Very interesting, indeed. And I hadn’t known. This will be quite useful.

      Incidentally, in case you ever get time to notice this:

      I was under the impression that the University of Utah Press had formally decided, quite a number of years ago, to move away from publishing in Mormon studies. Perhaps that wasn’t true. (I thought it an unfortunate decision, when I heard of it, if the report was accurate.) Plainly, the Press is back in the field, which I welcome. Was it an express decision to return to Mormon studies, or was the previous report inaccurate?

      My old Cairo student-colleague Jeff Grathwohl may (or may not) have been the one who made the decision (if it was made), during his tenure as director of the Press. He wasn’t LDS, and he had no particular interest in things Mormon, although my impression was that it may have been a market-driven decision. But I lost contact with Jeff many years ago, and I don’t know that he’s even still in Utah.

      • Rick Anderson

        I was under the impression that the University of Utah Press had formally decided, quite a number of years ago, to move away from publishing in Mormon studies. Perhaps that wasn’t true.

        I’m very happy to report that such is not the case–or, at least, that isn’t the case now and hasn’t been for at least a good long while. The UUP’s list in Mormon Studies has been very strong in recent years: coming up this summer is A Frontier Life: Jacob Hamblin, Explorer and Indian Missionary, and last year we published the wonderful Plain but Wholesome: Foodways of the Mormon Pioneers. In 2011 we published Hugh Cannon’s account of his around-the-world journey with David O. McKay in 1920-21. I think we’ve published one or two Mormon Studies titles every year for at least the last decade or so.

        Some time when you’re in SLC, please do come by — I’d love to show you around our recently-renovated library and show you some of the fantastic Mormonia we have in our special collections.

        • danpeterson

          I would love that.

          Be careful. I’ll take you up on your offer.

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