Salt Press Comes under the Aegis of the Maxwell Institute


Perhaps this will help?

Here’s an interesting news item:


During one of my last conversations with the current leader of the Maxwell Institute, he handed me two or three Salt Press books and commented that they represented the kind of thing that the Maxwell Institute should be doing.  And, now, as it turns out, this is the kind of thing that it will be doing.


Maybe THIS will help?


I got the impression that he thought me an obstacle to a Maxwell Institute move in that direction, but, actually, I’m not at all opposed to this sort of work.  In fact, for what little it’s worth, I was actually a member of Salt Press’s advisory board until it was dissolved as part of the merger into the Maxwell Institute yesterday.  (I was never actually asked to do anything, but that’s a separate matter.  It’s often the case with advisory boards that they exist largely if not solely as window dressing.  I rather expect that that will be so with the new Mormon Studies Review advisory board, though I could be wrong.)  I wanted to encourage studies of Mormonism and Mormon scripture from every methodological angle, and, so, was perfectly happy to lend my name to the enterprise.  I would have been entirely comfortable with the idea of absorbing Salt Press into the Maxwell Institute (as the Institute existed pre-June 2012) and allowing it to persist in its particular approach.


I do not, however, think that studies at the intersection of “theory and scripture” — the term theory, as Salt Press used it, refers to a particular kind of critical social/literary method that is usually connected with continental philosophy — are what FARMS or the Maxwell Institute was founded to pursue, or what the volunteers and donors during those years thought they were building, or what Elder Maxwell wanted us to do, and I’ll be very disappointed if such studies are permitted to replace, or even significantly to displace, the kind of work that the organization fostered and published for its first thirty-five years.


Incidentally, although I tend libertarian on economic matters, and libertarian/conservative on other political issues, I’m not accusing my friends who do “critical theory” of being Marxists, let alone Communists.  And — this may surprise some — I think that, although Marxism is fatally flawed and has been historically catastrophic, Marxist approaches can occasionally lead to important insights, as can feminist and other methodologies.  I don’t object to critical-theoretical approaches on those grounds, and, in a sense, I don’t object to them at all.  I simply don’t believe that the Maxwell Institute was or is obliged to choose between literary-critical/theoretical approaches to scripture, on the one hand, and, on the other, the more historical/philological/archaeological approaches (in the manner of Hugh Nibley, John Welch, and John Sorenson) characteristic of “classic FARMS.”  I would happily have supported, and sought to raise funding support, for both.  But, if such an either/or choice is indeed forced, I think it obvious for a multitude of reasons that the “classic FARMS” approach is the one that should be preferred.



New Testament 197
Hebrew inscriptions? How early?
"Beware of the Gaystapo"
"Is this the worst academic journal ever?"
  • Collin

    I find that critical theory often does not directly back up its claims but uses the following psychologically powerful, but logically dubious method:
    1. Setting up two theories as dichotomous alternatives. The favored theory will not be explicitly shown, only alluded to.
    2. Heavily criticising the disfavored theory, often setting up an evil person or class of people as a lightning rod and/or whipping boy and then using weasily language to insult the intelligence or motives of those holding the wrong theory.
    4. Using the passage of time to show that a theory, by vitue of being old, is bad.

    Here’s an example: “Despite his professed emphasis on Christian love, Dan Petersen INSISTS on holding to to the [outdated/debunked/ridiculous/universally derided/racist] theory of [insert], instead of, you know, considering a more [modern/viable/intellectually honest] theory like [insert an equivocal word that a casual reader would associate with the favored theory, like "evolution" "equality" or "love"].”

    I am, therefore, high skeptical of “critical theory.” It is so much easier to debunk, deconstruct and cast doubt upon something than to truly understand it. I am much more sympathetic to the approach of the anthropologist who tried to immerse him/herself into a culture to understand it and explain it on its own terms.

    • Ed Ludeman

      Add to that the various offshoots like the “Repressive Tolerance” of Herbert Marcuse and other radical tactics and I harbor great disdain for critical theory. It is so far entrenched in our culture as to seem completely impossible to remove.

  • Jacob

    I don’t always prominently display Nazi swastikas when I post about the Maxwell Institute, but when I do, I always make sure to include references to Marxism and Communism as well.

    • danpeterson

      I applaud your sense of balance and fairness!

  • jamesj

    Keep pressing forward Prof. Peterson. I already have three volumes of Interpreter on my shelf , and I expect it will fill up with more rather quickly before year’s end.

    Meanwhile the New World Order-MI informs me (a lapsed subscriber) that I can expect my complimentary edition of the new (annual) Mormon Studies Review, oh, sometime in December. I won’t hold my breath…

    (“Complimentary” is somewhat confusing, since I paid for & expected to receive it, who knows how long ago now?)

    Even with this recent announcement concerning Salt Press, NWO-MI is making a prodigiously torpid march towards their goals, while the Interpreter Foundation is *clearly* committed and fully intent on fulfilling its stated mission.

    I agree that both approaches *could* have coexisted under the auspices of the MI. By all accounts, the manner in which you & other founding members were unjustly treated during the coup was simply appalling. However, considering the quality & quantity of material Interpreter is producing so regularly, it’s nothing short of amazing. Something of a solace, I hope.

    In my limited & humble view, FARMS (with it’s true purpose) is alive & well again, and just maybe it will be better then ever. I hope that the Interpreter Foundation receives the same enthusiasm and support that FARMS enjoyed.

    When all is said and done, I sincerely hope that you and others may be able to look back on the outcome with joy as a very real blessing in the midst of the affliction that caused it to come about.

    For what very little it’s worth, I’m (obviously) pleased with how things are going, and count Interpreter a service worthy of the appellation: a blessing.

  • danpeterson

    Thank you for your very kind note. Yes, in an important sense the old FARMS lives on in Interpreter. It’s rather sad to have to build something like this up again, since many of us were deeply involved in building up FARMS (and then the Maxwell Institute). But we know how to do it, and we’re confident that we can make it work.

    Again, thank you.

  • David Richards

    I’m sympathetic to the desire to look more closely at the Book of Mormon’s contents, but not only does it not need to have displaced other activities, I’m not convinced that things like Salt Press’s output are the way to do it. The Book of Mormon, if taken seriously, undermines many of the assumptions critical theory is based on, and to try to impose such readings misinterprets it. I’m also disinclined towards a publishing model where academics produce books for the consumption of only a few academics (I don’t think Ecclesiastes 12:12 should be a mission statement). Moreover, I find I generally can’t even recognise the Book of Mormon in many such studies.

    I’m basing most of my reaction on things like Joseph Spencer’s work on the use of Isaiah within the Book of Mormon (such as An Other Testament). On one hand, I’m sympathetic – yes, we need a closer look at how the Book of Mormon uses the Bible, and to not see it as some accidental aside (I agree so much I’ve already been doing a PhD on the very topic for several years). But not only do I find the actual readings very flimsy and speculative, but the treatment of the Book of Mormon as some kind of disjointed, internally contradictory work where the meaning has to be teased out by philosophical or literary analysis and is about subtle matters of exegesis really seems to fail to ‘get’ the book and its urgency. It claims to be prophecy and revelation, not some kind of philosophical text book or narrative piece. And academically speaking, I don’t think one even has to be a believer to get that aspect (that is an academic doesn’t have to believe those claims to understand the Book of Mormon is making those claims, and that they’re central to its message). For example, I think Nathan Hatch’s piece was a lot closer to understanding the actual tone of the Book of Mormon than some of these more recent efforts by faithful people. So I’m fairly sceptical that the prospect of more Salt Press style works will lead to a better understanding of the Book of Mormon, and would be disappointed if such works crowd out others.

  • Collin

    Mr. Peterson,

    Does Mormon Interpreter take speculative papers? I have some ideas about the temple and the Nephites. But I get the feeling that MI is more interested in hard core scholarship than what I envision.

  • Darren

    Well, if critical theory is the Maxwell Institutes’ new approach then I’d say they’ve already embraced it by the manner in which their Dr,. Peterson and others were dismissed from the institute. They perceived / supposed an opposition and got rid of it pronto. No need for insights, feedback, inquiry as to exactly what their “oppostion” stood for or how they would react to a critical theory approach to studying the Book of Mormon, just get rid of the opposition.

    I think now I’m more determined to spread the good word of Intepreter among those who I have knowledge have engaged in FARMS studies. FARMS is dead so far as the Maxwell Institute is concerned. I’d like the next step to be removing it from BYU campus. It’s obviously not my decision but I’ve no desire for tithing money to be used to support them any further.