Seriously. This is a real question. We’ve been so busy patting ourselves on the back about Claremont, USU, and Wyoming, that I have rarely heard anything interesting about what the category of Mormon Studies consists of (the Yale grad student conference was an exception to this, from what I understand). At T&S, Nate Oman reflects on whether or not to include his research on Mormonism as part of his Letter to the Dean. The response (so far) is that Catholic Studies and Islamic Studies exist, so why not Mormon studies? But this question is to side step the issue.
Different scholarly fields have different sets of rules that regulate them. These rules are enforced by the members of the field, as well as the larger academic community. Catholic and Islamic studies programs are not the same as doing Catholic theology or writing hagiographies of Islamic heroes. These studies are approached from a wide variety of disciplines, including anthropology, history, law, religious studies, etc. This fact has sparked the question of what Catholic Studies is in Catholic circles as well. We can’t just adopt a model of research without asking the critical questions about what that model does.
Is Mormon studies what FARMS does (remember what the MS stands for?), what FAIR does, what legal historians do, what anthropologists do, what American historians do, what religious studies does, what theologians do, or what meso-americanists do? What about feminist theorists, ethnographers, cultural studies, and philosophers of religion? Which discipline does Mormon Studies rely on? Which should it rely on? Or, should the study of Mormonism simply be what different disciplines can do, and not exist as a separate field at all?