Colonization, Conformity, and Contribution, Part I

Many posts at FPR of late have had to do with Kent Jackson’s description of LDS scholarship. At issue is to what extent Latter-day Saints can (or should) engage in a dialogue with the greater world of academia, and to what extent we should let our faith claims dictate our research and conclusions.

This issue has been recently exemplified in a prominent, front-page Daily Universe (BYU’s student-run newspaper) article entitled “Mysteries of Ancient Egyptian Papyri Revealed” (Feb 15, 2007), complete with imposing but poorly produced graphic. The article first describes how BYU/Maxwell Institute uses multispectral imaging to read otherwise illegible texts written on papyri and other materials. It then goes on to describe some of the contents of these texts and notes that many students are participating in the work.

Imagine my horror when the article was emailed to a major ANE mailing list with the following paragraphs included:

[Name removed], a senior from Decatur, Ind., majoring in ancient near
eastern studies, is one of the students involved with this project
and on the Oxyrhynchus collection. [Name removed] said he has learned a
lot about the gospel from his studies.

“In a funny way it has strengthened my testimony of the gospel and
the Book of Mormon especially,” [he] said. “There are over 5,600
manuscripts of the New Testament, not to mention all the apocryphal
writings we are working on now, and none of them contain the New
Testament as we have it today. This shows me personally of the
immense importance of the Book of Mormon. Without it, we would be
lost and confused.”

Put yourself in the place of a non-LDS classical scholar. What do you now think of BYU? Do you want BYU to go anywhere near that material, or anything like it, ever again? Are you going to trust what comes therefrom? Are you going to admit BYU students into your Graduate program? (Sorry, LXXLuthor.) Heck, I’m not sure if I would, even if I were LDS.

Bushman has written that when Eastern journalists started coming out to Utah and writing about Utah to their Eastern audiences, it had two effects: it introduced the outside world to the peculiarities of this landlocked island, and (perhaps more interestingly) it showed Utahns how they were perceived in the outside world. He called this second effect “colonization” of the mind. It appears that, in the context of this article and no doubt many others like it, we no longer need the Eastern journalists, we can do it ourselves, thank you very much.

Now, I realize that this was intended for an LDS audience, but I’m guessing that the only way it made it out of BYU is that someone emailed the article to the prof. in charge of the mailing list, which is standard procedure. Even still, it raises some serious questions about what we’re doing, and more importantly, teaching, at BYU. It’s one thing when our inquiry (“scholarship”) is inwardly focused, but it’s a whole n’other thing altogether when we’re publishing non-LDS materials intended for wider audiences.

Another problem raised by this article is that of BYU’s focus on undergraduate education. Are our undergrads well enough equipped to be as involved as the article makes them appear to be? (Sorry again, LXXLuthor). Isn’t this the type of research that is usually done by Grad students? (I’m not as equipped to answer this with respect to this particular instance, so jump in, NT types!)

It isn’t hard to tell that with thinking such as this BYU is alienating even its non-LDS friends. A similar episode occurred in the 2005 bicentennial conference on Joseph Smith at the Library of Congress, when BYU religion prof. Roger Keller responded to non-LDS prof. Douglas Davies’ paper and asserted that revelation would ensure the Church would grow unlike any other church before it. This response provoked Jan Shipps’ quip that one wonders if LDS scholars “know how to operate in the professional world.” (Deseret Morning News, 21 Jun 2005).

I suspect that BYU has seen this issue, or is at least concerned with it. If you haven’t already noticed, clicking on the link to this recent and once-prominent article gives the following message: “The resource you are looking for is not available. We regret this inconvenience.”

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    There are over 5,600 manuscripts of the New Testament…and none of them contain the New
    Testament as we have it today. This shows me [the]…immense importance of the Book of Mormon. Without it, we would be lost and confused.”

    Sigh. It would also seem that the beauty, truth, and powerful testimony of God/Christ inherent in the NT has not been communicated to this young man. Perhaps he has never been assisted in approaching it properly…?

    In any case, implicitly dissing the NT is not going to make many friends among the religiously inclined elements of the scholarly world. Jan Shipps may, unfortunately, have a point.

  • http://mormonwasp.wordpress.com/ Justin

    It appears that the article was pulled because of inaccuracies.

    “A story, entitled “Mysteries of Ancient Egyptian Papyri Revealed,” originating in The Daily Universe, and later appearing on this website, contained information that is inaccurate. In order to clear up the confusion concerning this item, we have posted a PDF letter from the three individuals mentioned in the original story. Please click here to read the PDF letter.

    NewsNet.byu.edu strives for quality and accuracy in all its reports. We appreciate those individuals who bring inaccurate material to our attention, and apologize for any problem created by the publication of this material.

    BYU NewsNet”

    Retraction

  • Handle

    Thanks for calling attention to this. It is very interesting to watch everything unfold. What do you think of the apology? It seems like Wayment et al. are concerned for the right reasons (bad reporting); but, should they have gone a step further to nuance the view of their overenthusiastic undergraduate? Postmodern critics would say that at least Kohrman is being transparent. But, you’re right, it sure doesn’t help our reputation as scholars.

    I wish I could see the o.g. document, bad graphics and all.

  • Nitsav

    Interesting. As it turns out, I taught the quoted student in a class a few years ago and have kept in sporadic touch with him as he asks questions about graduate school issues.

    While I largely agree and sympathize with the post, I also think the point made in the quotation is a valid one. If anyone else has received the most recent issue of BAR, you have access to an interview with 4 scholars. Two have explicitly lost their faith, and two have not. It’s a faith v. scholarship discussion. Bart Ehrman, one of the interviewees, discusses how his faith in the Bible (and thus the tenets of Christianity) crumbled largely due to his work on textual criticism, which is exactly what the student quote references. If, as Ehrman felt, one cannot have faith in the Christian message of the NT given its shakey textual history, then the message of the Book of Mormon is exceedingly relevant.

    However, that’s not a thing I expect ANE scholars (who bracket their faith) to understand.

  • Nitsav

    BAR link to part of the article. Ehrman lists other reasons for his loss of faith as well…

  • http://faithprorumors.wordpress.com Mogget

    one cannot have faith in the Christian message of the NT given its shakey textual history

    Do you suppose that Ehrman’s past as an Evangelical has something to do with his loss of faith? I’ve never sensed that the textual history was all that integral to Christian faith. And as far as the Saints go, aren’t there better ways for getting at the truth and value of a text?

  • bodhi

    Ehrman gives a fairly extensive account of his loss of faith in the introduction to Misquoting Jesus (2005). That book (and Ehrman’s preceeding work) would only reinforce, I think, this BYU student’s perspective, and Ehrman’s work has enjoyed a particular vogue at BYU. For theological reasons, it seems, some LDS like the idea of the Bible being hopelessly corrupt.

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com RoastedTomatoes

    As far as textual history goes, don’t most Latter-day Saints know that the Book of Mormon has been revised in a huge number of major and sometimes-not-so-major ways? That it incorporates almost untouched a large number of phrases and passages from the now-suspect King James Bible text? Have they heard the famous July 13, 1862, statement by Brigham Young that:

    Should the Lord Almighty send an angel to re-write the Bible, it would in many places be very different from what it now is. And I will even venture to say that if the Book of Mormon were now to be re-written, in many instances it would materially differ from the present translation. (Journal of Discourses Vol 9, pg. 311)

    If our faith in God is conditional on having access to perfect texts of one kind or another, then we’re in for hard times, right?

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David J

    some LDS like the idea of the Bible being hopelessly corrupt.

    Bodhi, you finally said something with which I agree. I struggle with people that play the “as long as it is translated correctly” card to point out where our doctrine supposedly trumps what’s written in the Bible. “Don’t agree with it? Then say it’s not translated correctly; never mind that you have no training in the translation of ancient texts.” It seems to me like many Mormons want the Bible to be as corrupt as possible so that the only alternative is “the most correct book on Earth” (a comment JS may have never made), and, by extension, the church which claims it as its own. It’s a false dilemma, IMO.

    As far as the celebration of Ehrman in places like BYU, I always take that as a strong indication of a scholar’s standing in the field — that his/her influence is waning or missing entirely. Margaret Barker, anyone?

    And yes, jupiterschild, that portion of the article is undeniably alienating to outsiders, regardless of BYU’s text-imaging capabilities and reputation.

    Side-note: I wonder if postgraduate programs piece together that a potential student is Mormon (from the submission of BYU transcripts and/or having Mormons as references) and then find a way to turn that person down knowing that (just about) the only alternative for that person after graduation is to return to the Y and slip into the black hole of lame academic output as we discussed in the Jackson threads earlier – suggesting that the potential graduate creates no return on investment because he/she won’t have future output in the proper channels (John Gee comes to mind, although lately he’s been showing up at places like SBL with non-Mormon things to present). Makes me wonder.

  • lxxluthor

    jupiterschild: No need to be sorry on my account. I’ve already had to deal with the things you’ve mentioned. Correction: am still dealing with them. I am of the strong opinion these days that if I ever get into a grad school in religion anywhere it will be because God pulled off a water into wine sized miracle for me. I literally couldn’t be more nervous at this point.

    It would also seem that the beauty, truth, and powerful testimony of God/Christ inherent in the NT has not been communicated to this young man.

    Among those who teach NT here this sentiment is hard to find openly. I think that maybe more feel it than express it (and that those who don’t express it don’t know they don’t express it) but almost no one that I know of here speaks about the NT this way. In my ANES capstone seminar today I told all the Hebrew students that they ought to repent, get Jesus, and study the New Testament. They thought I was joking. (I was but I meant it)

    RT: I can’t decide if that’s a great quote or not. On one hand I find it very attractive. On the other it might be egging David J on a bit too much… And speaking of the devil…

    David J: Dude, are you trying to give me an ulcer with that side note? I thought we were kin man.

    Back to the original issue: I don’t see scholars and institutions not sending their stuff to BYU for textual imaging and storage and stuff just because of what was and will be said. It’s probably the smartest thing they could do. Let the Mormons tackle something challenging, expensive, and mind numbingly boring that they can’t “corrupt” with their wacko religion and crappy scholarship. It seems fairly safe to me.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com David J

    We’re kin, dude, we just disagree on what happens when a potential contributor to the field of ANE Studies and/or Biblical Studies gets snatched up by the BYU, that’s all. To me, he/she academically sells out and his/her calling to damnation is made sure. Could your ulcer be the product of self-convicting truth??? ;)

  • Roland Deschain

    David,

    John Gee is a solid dude and works like crazy reviewing books for RBL and presenting at SBL.

    Interesting point about the Mormon connection, but I’m not sure it works. A BYU-grad friend of mine just got accepted to a bunch of good schools. I suspect the BYU thing is far less important than the fact he’s studied Hebrew in Jerusalem and Akkadian/Sumerian in Munich.

  • bodhi

    David J: Margaret Barker is a marginal eccentric, but Ehrman is a massively influential scholar, and rightly so. Many may dislike his anti-religious and ideological fixations, and find his populism distasteful, but Orthodox Corruption changed the field of NT text crit in a way that only happens to a discipline once in a generation or two. It created a whole new sub-discipline.

    Lxxluthor: What you say is partly true. There has, in fact, been considerable unwillingness on the part of some institutions to let BYU come and do even technical work with texts in their collections, though these are all religious groups who distrust the church’s motives. But secular institutions are all more than happy to let BYU in, with their buckets of cash, to do expensive and labor-intensive imaging/archiving projects. On the other hand, I have never seen any resistance to having BYU scholars work on academic projects relating to these technical projects, which is how we got four BYU DJD editors, and how Thom Wayment, Roger Mcfarlane and Stephen Bay have gotten hooked up with Oxyrhynchus, Freer, and other projects. The technical projects open the door, but BYU scholars are never discouraged from walking through it (which is why the projects are done to begin with).

  • jupiterschild

    Justin (1): Thanks for the link to the retraction! That happily takes some of the wind out of my sails for part II. I’m glad to read it, and I think it was a good move to pull it.

    Only one question remains: Do Wayment et al. know it’s been seen by potentially hundreds of non-LDS scholars, and should they send the retraction to the email list? (Okay, okay, so that’s two questions).

    RT, David J, and Bodhi: Amen and amen. Can we get away from the text far enough to start really looking at it? Thanks for BY’s quote, which I hadn’t heard.

    Nitzav: I don’t disagree with Seth’s comments necessarily–I disagree with their having been placed in the context they were. And the fact that it assumes worlds about the Book of Mormon that shouldn’t be taken as a given.

  • jupiterschild

    [Sorry, that's Justin (comment #2).]

    About the question of BYU students going out to grad schools, there are several hurdles to overcome, but in my experience it’s not simply that BYU is Mormon, which is an assumption I’ve seen made countless times. I personally have never run up against discernible opposition because of my faith (although sometimes I wish my transcript had nothing visibly Mormon on it).

    There will be people (especially if they read the almost incomprehensible-to-outsiders article) who think we’re crazy and that will be enough for them not to take a risk on a BYU student.

    But the real problem is that BYU isn’t known for its scholarship (yet, some may say). We have no tradition known by the outside world. So when BYU religion profs are recommending their students, it carries less weight than a recommendation coming from a known entity. And in my experience (knowing admissions faculty and processes quite intimately at one of the most selective schools), recommendations are everything.

    Roland Deschain: Your friend probably got into some great schools as a direct result of his having gone elsewhere, in other words, to a known entity. (And I’m curious to know where he will end up!)

    And your comment about John Gee may be exemplary of the problem. He is a solid dude (apart from his arrogant and exclusionary comments regularly made at SBL). But for cryin’ out loud, book reviews and SBL papers count for very little when it comes to academic clout, no matter how frequently they are produced! Articles and books, arguments, are the anchors of a reputation. I wonder if BYU (in general) is unsure of (or has forgotten) what it means to participate in the academic conversation (see Jan Shipps’ comment above).

  • bodhi

    Jupiterschild (et al.): Re admissions, I think you’ve got it about right. But in fact, BYU students are getting in to grad programs at the very best schools. Princeton, Harvard, Duke, Chicago, you name it. I got into my first choice and so did all my friends, and this was a generation ago. And we do better every year.

    John Gee has done a lot more outside than just the books reviews and SBL papers you see. He’s an Egyptologist, after all, not a biblical scholar. He also delivers probably six papers a year at various academic conferences. He’s one of the most gifted linguists I’ve ever met, anywhere.

  • Nitsav

    “it assumes worlds about the Book of Mormon that shouldn’t be taken as a given.”

    I’d be interested in further expansion of this thought. I haven’t seen the original article, only the retraction, so I don’t know what context the quote was in.

  • Justin

    14: Only one question remains: Do Wayment et al. know it’s been seen by potentially hundreds of non-LDS scholars, and should they send the retraction to the email list? (Okay, okay, so that’s two questions).

    I don’t know and yes.

    15: He is a solid dude (apart from his arrogant and exclusionary comments regularly made at SBL).

    What do you mean when you refer to “arrogant and exclusionary comments regularly made at SBL”?

  • Justin

    The text of the original article can be read here.

  • http://faithprorumor.wordpress.com Mogget

    arrogant and exclusionary comments regularly made at SBL

    He’s another example of what Jan Shipps was talking about when she wondered aloud if LDS scholars could play well with others in the larger world of professional scholarship.

  • jupiterschild

    Bodhi: Are you in a field related to Religious Studies? I’m aware that many BYU students are placed in the top schools, but in Hebrew Bible, New Testament, etc. there has been quite some struggle. (Again, more for the systemic problems than prejudice against Mormons.)

    Re: John Gee, I have no doubt of his genius. Would that I had his skills and memory. And I have no doubt of his productivity at conferences. But has he published lately? This was not an ad hominem attack on John Gee. I think it proves the point, though, that even one of the very brightest, most highly trained, isn’t participating as fully as it seems like he would if he were at another institution. Don’t misunderstand–the problem as I see it is with the system, not the scholar. I think rather small changes at the top could have a wide impact on the way the many good scholars at BYU Religion do their work.

    Justin: You’re right to call me out on that. (I probably should refrain from such.) But that comment is based on personal experiences with the man himself. The worst was when he responded to W. Brueggemann at an LDS panel, in which Kathleen Flake had to shut him down and ask him to rephrase before he could finish his comment. Not exactly building bridges and mutual understanding.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    bodhi: Princeton?

    Who’s at Princeton in a religion-related field? Has there ever been an LDS student there? (Besides J. Reiss who converted while there and M. Proctor who is just visiting there from Brown, I believe).

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    I wanted to add that I really think that Bodhi has a point here. When you think about it, there are dozens of BYU grads in excellent religion and bible programs all over the country. That is not bad! Do you know of another undergrad institution that has that kind of record?

  • anon

    Re John Gee: I vote that a review of “Stan and Polly Jensen’s translation of the Anthon Manuscript” published in FARMS should not be allowed to count on Gee’s C.V. I just don’t understand why a respectable scholar would get mixed up in such silly work. Should we take seriously his suggestion to view all Native American writing systems as descended from Egyptian via “reformed Egyptian”? See here: http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/pdf.php?filename=MTE0MDM1NTA2My0xMi0xLnBkZg==&type=cmV2aWV3

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com TT

    Should we take seriously his suggestion to view all Native American writing systems as descended from Egyptian via “reformed Egyptian”?

    I think that this is a misreading of his claim. He was saying that the Jensen’s had done a good thing by making this assumption clear, not that the assumption was correct. He was being sarcastic.

  • smallaxe

    I must say, the possible “interference” of my Mormon-ness was brought up by two of the top five programs I applied to. I was consequently admitted to both programs (and only one of the other three where the issue was not openly raised), which is not intended to say anything about me but more that 1) this is still a fear in some academic programs, and 2) it is not an insurmountable obstacle.

  • http://mormonwasp.wordpress.com/ Justin

    Re: John Gee, I have no doubt of his genius. Would that I had his skills and memory. And I have no doubt of his productivity at conferences. But has he published lately?

    Checking Aigyptos database, I found nine entries credited to his name, including his dissertation. I located two other articles not listed. Nothing since 2004.

    “Prophets, Initiation, and the Egyptian Temple,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 31 (2004): 97-107.

    “S3 mi nn: A Temporary Conclusion,” Göttinger Miszellen 202 (2004): 55-58.

    “Trial Marriage in Ancient Egypt?: P. Louvre E. 7846 Reconsidered,” in Res severa verum gaudium, ed. Friedrich Hoffmann and Günther Vittmann (Leuven: Peeters, 2004), 223–31.

    “B3 Sending and Its Implications,” in Egyptology at the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century, 3 vols. (Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 2003), 2:230-237.

    “The Earliest Example of the ph-netjer?” Göttinger Miszellen 194 (2003): 25-27.

    “Notes on Egyptian marriage: P. BM 10416 reconsidered,” Bulletin of the Egyptological Seminar 15 (2002): 17-25.

    “Oracle by Image: Coffin Text 103 in Context,” Leda Ciraolo and Jonathan Seidel, eds., Magic and Divination in the Ancient World (Ancient Magic and Divination II; Leiden: Brill, 2002), 83-88.

    “The Structure of Lamp Divination,” Kim Ryholt, ed., Acts of the Seventh International Conference of Demotic Studies (Copenhagen: The Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Near Eastern Studies, University of Copenhagen, 2002), 207-18.

    “Towards an Interpretation of Hypocephali,” in Mélanges offerts à Edith Varga “Le lotus qui sort de terre” (Budapest: Bulletin du Musée Hongrois des Beaux-Arts, 2002), 325-334.

    Bezalel Porten and John Gee, “Aramaic Funerary Practices in Egypt,” in The World of the Aramaeans II (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001).

  • jupiterschild

    Justin: I’m indebted once again. Thanks for those references (I can use some of them!)

  • bodhi

    21: Yes, did religious studies at a school where several LDS have been admitted over the years. I never experienced any bias. A lot of curiosity, but no bias.

    Obviously Gee’s infamous “delusion” comment to Brueggemann was embarrassing to everyone, including John himself, and was indefensible. John inadvertently said what he was thinking, and not what he had intended, and it was a serious gaff. But Brueggemann’s paper was an embarrassment too. He admitted after the session that he had only done it subject to some arm twisting and very much against his better judgment. I highly admire Walter Brueggemann, personally and as a scholar, which made it painful to listen to.

    22: Yes, I was was thinking of Melissa, but do not know her status there. I just know that’s where she’s studying currently.

    26: That has been the exact experience of a number of LDS grad students I know. The concern is often a general one program chairs have about admitting persons of faith. “Faith-interference” has been a common problem in religion programs. I think as more programs become acquainted with LDS grad students, and find this is not a problem (well, usually not), this concern will largely disappear. I know one program admissions chair who said 10 years ago that no Mormon would be admitted to his program, due to the probability of faith/scholarship conflict. That same program admitted an LDS student about 3 years ago.

    27: John has published more recently in his field, I’m quite sure. I could ask him for his current cv, but I don’t know that this is the place to post it.

  • http://faithprorumor.weblogs.us HP

    I don’t think John’s publishing record is at issue, really. Rather the problem is that it appears to be the exception, not the rule.

  • jupiterschild

    Bodhi,

    Do you think there’s a problem besides the “faith-interference”? I think the thread has started to discuss that as the problem, but for me it’s not so much a problem of faith (most of my profs could care less, and one loves it that I’m Mormon) as it is of rigorous training.

  • bodhi

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re referring to, but I’ll offer this: As an undergrad I once asked a BYU prof about how well my BYU education would prepare me for a grad program in biblical studies. He said his experience, when he went from BYU into a Hebrew Bible program, was that he had better language prep than most of his classmates, but far less exposure to the critical methodologies. On balance, though, he said he actually had the advantage.

    That was exactly my experience and, I think, the experience of most of my peers. Even in discipline-specific content, I was really not behind anyone else (though I’d read a lot on my own) so much as lacking in the proper conceptual framework, which one will not get from BYU survey classes anyway. If you are doing a language-intensive grad program, I think language prep is much more important than anything else. So many students cross fields coming into grad programs in religious studies that, in most programs, I believe there is little assumed knowledge. But if you are behind the curve in language skills, that is very difficult to make up quickly. I believe, in fact, with language-heavy disciplines, that language study is often the one thing admissions committees look at the most carefully on transcripts. At least, for those I know who have had a hard time getting into programs, insufficient language prep is very often the major stumbling block.

    BYU has excellent language offerings, all available to all prospective Bible (etc.) grad students, if they take proper advantage of it. But in this regard I think students tend to make two mistakes. One is that they often use spare credits on duffer religion classes or special topics seminars rather than language; the other is that they go broad in many different languages rather than deep in the most import ones. I am myself a bit ambivalent about BYU’s ANES program because I think it focuses too little on language prep in favor of topics one will cover in most grad programs anyway, at least for one’s specialty.

    The best single piece of advice I ever received as an undergrad was to go heavy on German. I now use it almost daily as a research language, but even for grad coursework it was indispensable. I even had one grad language course where the grammar was in German and the lexicon in Latin–the only available texts–but I know that is unique (though many biblical studies programs may still use Donner and Rollig, et sim., as texts). I also recognize that even many “ancient studies” programs are scaling way back on language requirements, especially Bible programs. This is just my experience. Maybe your experience has been different.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com HP

    Bodhi,
    I don’t know that most BYU Hebrew grads feel adequately prepared when they leave BYU (In the little under a decade ago that I have been paying attention, this has almost always been the case among those I have talked with). In fact, lack of preparation on the Hebrew language side is one of the regular complaints that I encounter. I hear much better things about BYU’s greek program, tho.

    I also was told to study German (“the most important Semitic language”) and it has been a great help.

  • bodhi

    HP: The Hebrew program is a real problem, and has been for a long time, but the Greek, Latin, and modern language programs are all very good. I think the Hebrew prog was a bit better when I was in it (before Ricks’ stroke), but I was still dissatisfied. But since I didn’t go on to do Heb Bible, it was never a real issue for me. On the other hand, classmates who did go on to do Heb Bible were just fine, but they were also motived autodidacts, as all scholars have to be. We did use Waltke and O’Connor in one seminar, but I wanted more and pushed through Gesenius-Kautzsch-Cowley myself. Anyone serious about language will probably always have to do that sort of thing on their own.

    I still think one can prepare oneself adequately with respect to language at BYU, but no single program will do that for you. Certainly ANES is not the solution. I double-majored and took lots of extra classes besides. Much initiative rests with the student. It’s a fact that most classes will be taught to the lowest common denominator, or at least the median, and that’s too low a point for prospective grad students. Provo is not Ivy League.

  • http://faithprorumor.weblogs.us HP

    Bodhi, you are correct regarding the need to for self-motivation (in and outside of BYU). I too believe that one can prepare adequately if one is willing to take a lot of extra classes, as you not. Part of the problem is that these facts are often not adequately explained to undergrads at BYU.

    Oh well…spilt milk and all that.

  • http://faithprorumor.weblogs.us HP

    Also, what happened to all of that “Harvard of the West” talk? The fact that we are not “Ivy League” does not give us the option of being lax in how we prepare future scholars.

  • smallaxe

    As an undergrad I once asked a BYU prof about how well my BYU education would prepare me for a grad program in biblical studies. He said his experience, when he went from BYU into a Hebrew Bible program, was that he had better language prep than most of his classmates, but far less exposure to the critical methodologies. On balance, though, he said he actually had the advantage.

    I think this is true for the most part, but I will offer two pieces of criticism. My experience and most of those I know who graduated from BYU and go on to grad schools tend to suffer from the realization that their BYU education has been rather insular as far as larger discourses on religion are concerned. Now how much of this is a general problem stemming from lesser methodological training as an undergraduate is hard to say (hence it makes it a little more difficult to determine if BYU students are “more” or “less” prepared than their peers for grad school); but I will say that those who I have met that did not go to BYU are usually more aware of how much they “do not know” about religion (as opposed to those such as myself who leave thinking that I have a good grasp on the topic).

    Secondly, the fact that “BYU students going to grad schools to study religion” is basically equated with “BYU students going into Biblical studies” is gravely insular. Not because Biblical studies and Religious studies occupy two different fields (this may or may not be the case), but because there is more to religion than simply the Bible. If a BYU student wanted to study a non-Biblical religious tradition, what programs would realistically prepare him/her for grad school?

  • smallaxe

    Also, what happened to all of that “Harvard of the West” talk?

    I’ve always thought “The Y of the West” was more apropos. Yale’s colors are even the same (approximately, at least).

  • bodhi

    Smallaxe: All true enough. This insularity is not just a problem for those going into biblical or other areas of religious studies, though. The BYU Philosophy dept. has traditionally been focused like a laser beam on continental philosophy, though that is changing. Classmates in philosophy complained bitterly about the disconnect between BYU and every other program in the country. Same for Comp Lit and even for Classics. I had friends in those fields tell me, upon entering grad school, that BYU is in the dark ages (mostly due to ignoring or rejecting PoMo). This is doubtless true for other programs, too. Those are just the programs I know first-hand, aside from the old NES program. Some faculty in these programs are alive and responsive to contemporary academic trends and interests, but very many are happy to ignore them. Larry Peer in Comp Lit literally teaches his intro class from a 1950s textbook.

    Now, it’s worse for religious studies, but BYU has no religious studies program, so no surprise there. ANES is a covert, kinda, sorta biblical studies program, but not explicitly such. BYU has never had any interest in preparing students to go into religious studies, because the church has no interest in it. ANES (such as it is) has only arisen out of very strong student and faculty demand. I’m amazed it’s on the books at all. But if I were now an LDS undergrad wanting to go into any field of religious studies, I would not come to BYU. But I did way back when, and it worked out fine, and others have and are now making it work, too.

    Final comment (really): I think the way forward, within the given constraints at BYU, is for a more effecting mentoring program. There is something along those lines supposedly in place with ANES, but my experience to date is that it is ineffective. I’m not exactly sure why, but I’ve given a number of students basic advice that their mentors should be giving them.

  • smallaxe

    This insularity is not just a problem for those going into biblical or other areas of religious studies, though.

    I think you can add the history department to this list too with it’s recent denial of Michael Murdock continuing status (I think that makes like 8-10 Asianists in a row), despite a book published by Cornell last year. Not that he’s involved in religious studies, but I’m sure Michael Farmer, who does history of Daoism is uneasy about his future. And before him I believe there was Ken White who graduated from Wisconsin’s Buddhist Studies program…

    But if I were now an LDS undergrad wanting to go into any field of religious studies, I would not come to BYU.

    Do you think BYU is feeling “pressured” at all by USU and Claremont? Not to equate religious studies with Mormon studies, but these two places at least could provide more attractive options for LDSs.

    I think the way forward, within the given constraints at BYU, is for a more effecting mentoring program.

    What would a more robust mentoring program look like?

  • bodhi

    I think the only pressure BYU admin may feel from those Mormon studies programs (and now Wyoming’s, too) is, not to develop a degree of their own, but to support on some level Mormon studies as a formal area of faculty research and publication. I can’t say exactly what form that will take, but I’m confident we will see some new initiatives in the future. The Bushman/Givens seminar is an example, but other areas besides church history may be opened up.

    As for mentoring, I think faculty attitudes may be part of the problem. The first thing that needs to happen is that all ambivalence about LDS students entering Religious Studies needs to be shed. That may be slowly happening. I’m not sure. Part of the problem in the past has been most students have wanted to return to teach in RelEd, and faculty never want to be too encouraging about that (and they shouldn’t be). And also, most of us realize that it is presently nigh unto impossible for a Mormon to get a job “outside” in Religious Studies, esp. a BYU grad. It’s like have a degree from Bob Jones University on your CV, for most prospective employers. It has felt irresponsible encouraging students to go down that road. But I think the thought on this is changing and better advisement may come out of that.

    Beyond that, it’s just getting the right students hooked up with the right adviser, and making sure that adviser is giving sound advice. How to make that happen systemically, I couldn’t say. Maybe the problem is less with the advisers than the students. I spoke with all faculty who were doing anything of interest to me when I was an undergrad, and picked their brains on grad schools and career paths. Most have never worked outside BYU and know little about careers in Religious Studies (my situation, too). Their collective wisdom on grad schools, though, was pretty decent. But the one thing they were constitutionally incapable of preparing me for was the radical disjunct between the study of religion at BYU and the study of religion everywhere else. They warned me about it, but could not prepare me for it. It’s a matter of environment.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com/ David J

    Orthodox Corruption changed the field of NT text crit in a way that only happens to a discipline once in a generation or two. It created a whole new sub-discipline.

    No it didn’t, at least not among the Evangelical crowd, which is a very, very large chunk of the scholarly awareness that’s out there, if not the “majority shareholder” in the scholarship. It’s not as watershed as you might suspect. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not a paradigm-shifter in the field of NT studies. And just exactly what is the sub-discipline that (you think) Ehrman created anyway? Does it have a name?


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