Elder Neal A. Maxwell on What Would Later Become the Maxwell Institute


Once again, a photograph from a dinner in Washington DC honoring the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI), back somewhere in the late 1990s or early 2000s. From the left: Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Ambassador Marwan Muasher of Jordan, Senator and Mrs. Harry Reid (D-NV), President Merrill J. Bateman of BYU, and the guy who may or may not, some years earlier, have forgotten to bless the food at yet another dinner


An absolutely marvelous quotation — even a prophetic one — from the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell, regarding what he saw as the mission of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), which, after his death, became the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship:




For what little it’s worth, I was present at that banquet back in late September of 1991, and, as it happens, in a slightly embarrassing way:


I had been invited to offer the invocation and the blessing on the food.  Immediately after I said “Amen,” Hugh Nibley called out “He didn’t bless the food!”  A little whispered disagreement broke out among the audience about whether I had or hadn’t — I thought I had — but, after a minute or so, a bit chagrined, I returned to the lectern and offered a second prayer, an addendum, in which I most definitely did bless the food.  Later, by the way, at the conclusion of the program, Elder Maxwell sought me out and said “You blessed the food the first time.”  For a still quite junior faculty member, it hadn’t gone altogether well.


He was, among many other things, a remarkably gracious man, and I miss him very much.


(I should note, by the way, that the quotation comes from a transcription of a tape of Elder Maxwell’s oral remarks, made about a week after their delivery.  So, if his words on this occasion seem slightly less precise and polished than his words often were, that’s the reason.)



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  • David Kent

    Excellent remarks by Elder Maxwell. It would seem that the Neal A Maxwell Institute has abandoned a good chunk of what Elder Maxwell so appreciated. Which troubles me. It’s difficult to see how anyone could justify that change without a huge amount of sophistry. I can only hope that the future of the NAMI will be bright.

    • danpeterson

      My hope, too.

  • Tyler Moulton

    Thanks for the reminder, Dan.
    I was also at this dinner with my wife. We’d only been married a month at that point.
    Most of us who were in any way involved with FARMS in those days (and my own involvement was minimal) believed in that organizational mission of defending the faith. Seems like most of those now involved with the Maxwell Institute see it as an exclusively academic endeavor. That’s not to say those currently heading the Institute aren’t defenders of the faith–but the organization has almost entirely abandoned that role as far as I can see. Ironic that they would invoke his name while abandoning his vision.

    • danpeterson

      Ironic, indeed. And very sad.

  • Bob Oliverio

    I can’t begin to imagine how difficult the loss of the “bully pulpit” is for those who lived off it’s importance and power.  Especially after impeachment. 

    I sincerely feel your pain.

    • danpeterson

      There was no impeachment.

      Except, of course, of your “sincerity.” But nobody did that to you. You did it to yourself.

      Can’t say I feel much sympathy. Judgmental sneering is pretty ugly.

  • LBRussell

    Lived off its “importance and power?” Seriously, dude…

  • William Schryver

    I contemplated the significance of this quote from Elder Maxwell earlier this week as it was read to me (over the phone) by the same person who had transcribed it from the taped recording. Not only did it fill me with a sense of longing for this great apostle, but it saddened me that his name is now to be associated with an endeavor that I am confident never would have met with his approval were he still among us. The current direction of Mormon Studies constitutes more or less the very <antithesis of what Elder Maxwell recognized as the purpose and value of FARMS back in 1991.

    • danpeterson

      I think that the Maxwell Institute will probably do some good things on its “new course.” Will it do the good things that those of us who led it and nurtured it and sacrificed for it over the past thirty-five years wanted it to do? Not so likely, I’m afraid.

  • Quickmere Graham

    I’m sure Elder Maxwell would be pleased, above all, to see his name invoked for the purpose of dividing Latter-day Saints against each other, to criticize fellow members of the body of Christ. A fitting tribute to Elder Maxwell, here!

    • danpeterson

      Fortunately, if anybody ever does that, you’ll be right there, first in line, to condemn the vile fiend.

      (Non-judgmentally and in a wholly conciliatory way, of course.)

  • Zee DM

    Brother Peterson,
    Upon reading this post I am curious about your opinion about the blessing of food. Is this a tradition without scriptural backing or are you aware of a scriptural injunction to do so? I have wondered about this and spent a bit of time in the scriptures searching for an answer. I like the idea of praying when you eat primarily because it helps us on our quest to ‘pray always’, and to ‘pray morning, midday and evening’. But is there an injunction anywhere to pray a blessing on the food. (e.g. If you hadn’t blessed the food in the first pray was it really necessary doctrinally or only culturally to say the second.)