A Course on Mormonism at Harvard

For the first time in the history of the Harvard Divinity School (as far as I can tell), a course on Mormonism (“Mormonism and the American Experience” taught by Melissa Proctor) will be offered.

Is this significant for LDSs? If so, in what ways (or to what degree)? Is it a part of a “golden age” of Mormon Studies? And if so, so what? Does it matter at all, except for a small sub-segment of academically-oriented LDSs, that Mormonism is on showcase at a premiere academic institution? Or is there something more to be said for the role of the scholar in relation to her/his tradition?

I would like to think that there is something significant going on here (meaning with Mormon Studies as a whole and not simply this class taught at Harvard); but I can’t quite get beyond my own predisposition to approach my religious tradition through a more academic lens. In other words, I would like to believe that this is something significant for Mormonism as a whole; but cannot see beyond it being simply significant for my individual approach to the topic. Can someone help me out?

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Thanks for the heads up on this. Any idea how this compares with Laura Maffly-Kipp’s course of the same name at UNC?

    I think this is very significant (and exciting), but probably only because of my academic interest in the subject. I see it as a encouraging sign that Mormonism is being taken seriously as an academic subject. However, being as it is that I don’t think the vast majority of LDS cannot approach their own faith tradition academically, and are suspicious of any non-LDS scholar (or non-LDS institution) who writes or teaches on the subject, I doubt if this has much significance for the larger LDS faith community.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    The sentence in the second paragraph should read I don’t think the vast majority of LDS can approach their own faith tradition academically …

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org David Grua

    I think that this is a great development. It shows that Mormonism is beginning to be taken very seriously as a subject that is demanding more critical attention in academia. Will ordinary Mormons get as excited as intellectuals/academics? Likely not. But in my own experience I’ve seen that many Mormons, when hearing about the establishment of Mormon studies chairs at Claremont, USU, Wyoming, and UVSC, respond favorably to the general concept of Mormonism being studied in academe. But I doubt that these same people would be as favorable once they discover what exactly is being taught in these places, since many Mormons do not recognize themselves in academic narratives of Mormon history and beliefs.

  • Kevin Barney

    Congratulations to Melissa, whom I think is terrific and I’m sure will do a wonderful job.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com/ Geoff J

    Yeah, good for Melissa!

  • Matt W.

    Judging by the title of the class, will they be using Givens’ Book for the text?

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org David Grua

    Matt W.: As noted by Christopher in #1, Laurie Maffly-Kipp teaches a class with the same name at UNC. BYU has offered a class with the same name for the last few years that I’ve been here (Grant Underwood is teaching it this semester; David Whittaker has taught it previously). I doubt that Proctor’s class has much (if anything) to with Givens’ book title, but reflects a trend in naming classes “Mormonism and the American Experience.”

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clark Clark

    Wow. Melissa is teaching this? Good for her.

  • http://www.libertypages.com/clark Clark

    I don’t think the vast majority of LDS can approach their own faith tradition academically …

    To be fair, I don’t think the vast majorities of Americans can approach their own self understanding academically either. The desire to investigate academically is a fairly niche one. Something those of us who by instinct do sometimes forget.

  • smallaxe

    Thanks for the heads up on this. Any idea how this compares with Laura Maffly-Kipp’s course of the same name at UNC?

    Chris, I wish I did have some idea, but I don’t.

    I don’t think the vast majority of LDS can approach their own faith tradition academically…

    See, I guess I believe that most LDSs can approach their faith academically; the question is whether they should . I’m speaking here normatively, as far as “should most LDSs also approach their faith academically?”; rather than situationally (“should I or should I not approach my faith academically”?). Although the latter question is also of interest and not entirely unrelated to the first. Of issue is also what we mean by “academically”, which I think we can use as a general term and still have a fruitful discussion; but may also be helpful to define.

    I’ll explain more when I have a chance.

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

    I see the course offering as a product of growing interest among academics, especially group psychology and sociology, to study a people group as distinct, and “peculiar” as Mormons. Rarely can one encounter such a large population of people that are as intensely traditional and exclusive as Mormons. That’s ripe pickins for those who want to understand group dynamics, especially among something that runs so upstream as Mormonism does.

  • manaen

    “Is this significant for LDSs? If so, in what ways (or to what degree)?”

    I believe that it is significant for us in the same way that:
    * BYU’s football and accounting-program successes or
    * Harry Reid’s/Mitt Romney’s political legitimacy or
    * the MoTab’s Grammys (Grammies?)
    are significant — they lower our oddball/loser quotient and so make the restored gospel easier for our not-yet-LDS neighbors to seriously consider it.

    10. “See, I guess I believe that most LDSs can approach their faith academically; the question is whether they should. I’m speaking here normatively, as far as ‘should most LDSs also approach their faith academically?’”

    Yes, we do run into Paul’s admonition,
    But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14)

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Manaen’s comment illustrates perfectly my perception that LDS cannot engage their faith academically. For better or worse, most LDS think that the result of events like this new course at Harvard should be to “make the restored gospel easier for our not-yet-LDS neighbors to seriously consider it.”

    In other words, they can’t separate the devotional aspect of their faith from the academic study of that faith. It always seems to ultimately be about making converts and building the kingdom, something I feel is very inappropriate in an academic setting.

  • manaen

    13.

    I disagree with the statements that “LDS cannot engage their faith academically” and that “they can’t separate the devotional aspect of their faith from the academic study of that faith.”

    My comment in #12 was my answer to the posted question, “Is this significant for LDSs? If so, in what ways (or to what degree)?” My belief is that the *significant* aspect of this — like with BYU football wins or prominent LDS politicians — is how it helps souls become healed and completed. My belief is that eons from now, that will be the sole remaining significance of anything in this life and this is the context from which I answered the posted question about the sifnificance of Sis. Proctor’s course at Harvard.

    My answer wasn’t meant to indicate, as stated in #13, that I believe that the “result of events like this new course at Harvard should be to ‘make the restored gospel easier for our not-yet-LDS neighbors to seriously consider it’” because I wasn’t talking about what it *should* be, but about the *significance* that it exists as a legitimate academic offering: I did not intend to suggest that the course should be a subversive missionary tool or anything else other than the rigorous academic endeavour that I suppose Harvard expects it to be.

  • http://FPR VRT

    This isn’t a first. A course on Mormonism was taught at Harvard Divinity School some time ago (in the 1980s I think).

    It is unusual, but we should be cautious about seeing this is part of a larger “trend”–or rather, it’s indicative not so much of an “increased interest in Mormonism among academics” as it is a consequence of an increased number of LDS studying religion academically. Naturally, many (not all) trained religious studies scholars who are also LDS will be interested and competent to teach their own tradition. Whether and where this happens depends on many variables.

    This particular course is not a new addition to the curriculum, in other words, but rather a (presumably) one-time offering by a visiting LDS faculty member.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Manaen, I apologize for misreading your comments. Thanks for the clarification. I have heard similar comments from other LDS that I don’t think I misunderstood that reflected what I thought you were saying.

    VRT, thanks for the information. Was the previous course at HDS in the 80s also taught by a visiting LDS professor? And I think you raise a good point that this is a result of “an increased number of LDS studying religion academically.” However, I don’t think we should discount the growing interest in Mormonism as an academic area of study by academia at large. There is certainly evidence to support this, including the establishment of Mormon Studies chairs at 2 Universities in the last year (with 2-3 more in the works), LMK’s course at UNC, an increased number (and quality) of papers on Mormonism at ASCH and AAR this past year, and a larger number of non-LDS academics studying Mormon history, theology, etc.

    In addition, it seems to to me that the more LDS involved in studying/teaching Mormonism academically might very well lead to even more interest from others (assuming the quality of the research by LDS is legit). Certainly if there is a lot of interest in this course at Harvard, it could lead to the implementation of the course as a full-time offering down the road.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org David Grua

    However, I don’t think we should discount the growing interest in Mormonism as an academic area of study by academia at large.

    Bushman recently asked a group of Mormon historians if they’re ready for the day when there are more non-Mormons writing our history than Mormons, a day that he apparently does not think is far distant.

    I agree with Christopher that it’s not just LDS academics that is leading to this, but that the growing interest among non-Mormons is also a major factor. Shipps, LMK, Sally Gordon, and Doug Daviess are names of prominent non-Mormons that have written (or will soon publish) solid monographs on Mormonism.

  • Melissa Proctor

    Hi all,

    Thanks for the plug for my course this Spring. The students have already shown a lot of interest in the class and I’m looking forward to teaching it.

    Some of you might find it interesting to know that when I was negotiating this position the Mormonism class was one of the things they were interested in having me teach.

    That interest had nothing to do with any relationship I may or may not have to the institutional church, however. It was based on a combination of the topic of my dissertation, the work I’ve done in Mormon Studies, the intellectual pursuits of their students and curricular needs.

    An LDS faculty member who didn’t work in Mormonism as an area of scholarly expertise would not be asked to teach a course just because it happens to be “their tradition.” In fact, that might be a very strong reason NOT to have them teach a course in Mormonism. A scholar of Late Antiquity or Hinduism who also happens to LDS, for example, would never be asked to teach such a course, especially at a place like Harvard Divinity School.

  • http://FPR VRT

    Melissa,

    “the intellectual pursuits of their students”? “Curricular needs”? Please explain.

    What work have you done in Mormon studies?

    As for your last paragraph, I think you dismiss the link a bit too hastily. Given the virtual non-existence of LDS scholars of Late Antiquity and Hinduism, your hypothetical doesn’t make much sense.

    The fact of the matter is, your teaching this course at this time is a direct reflection of the increase of LDS students pursuing religion, as opposed to a verifiable demand for courses on Mormonism. That seems fairly obvious, no?

    As I explicitly stated, “Naturally, many (not all) trained religious studies scholars who are also LDS will be interested and competent to teach their own tradition.”

    Given that more LDS are likely to pursue studies that overlap more readily with Mormon studies than with, say, Hinduism, I don’t really understand your argument.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    VRT, I would guess Melissa knows more about the class she’s teaching than you do. Just a hunch …

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org David Grua

    The fact of the matter is, your teaching this course at this time is a direct reflection of the increase of LDS students pursuing religion, as opposed to a verifiable demand for courses on Mormonism. That seems fairly obvious, no?

    You really think that they made this course (and LMK’s) just to cater to a few LDS students? I wonder what percentage of the students that will be taking this class (and LMK’s) are Mormons.

  • http://FPR VRT

    “The fact of the matter is, your teaching this course at this time is a direct reflection of the increase of LDS students pursuing religion, as opposed to a verifiable demand for courses on Mormonism. That seems fairly obvious, no?”

    “You really think that they made this course (and LMK’s) just to cater to a few LDS students? I wonder what percentage of the students that will be taking this class (and LMK’s) are Mormons.”

    Huh?? Apparently you’ve misunderstood. I’ve said nothing whatsoever about LDS students taking these courses.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    The fact of the matter is, your teaching this course at this time is a direct reflection of the increase of LDS students pursuing religion

    It seems that David’s reading of your comment makes a lot of sense. What did he (and I) misunderstand? The fact is that it does not seem “fairly obvious” to a few people here (including the course instructor) that this course is “a direct reflection of the increase of LDS students pursuing religion, as opposed to a verifiable demand for courses on Mormonism.”

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org David Grua

    Before I start parsing your own words to show how I read it that way, VRT, maybe you should be a bit clearer about what you meant.

  • http://FPR VRT

    As should be clear from #15 above, I was referring to the fact that more LDS students are pursuing advanced training in religion, leading to more LDS teachers of that subject.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    As should be clear from #15 above

    It was not clear at all, so you might want to control the academic snobbery in your replies. Thanks for clearing it up, though.

  • smallaxe

    Manaen,

    Yes, we do run into Paul’s admonition,
    But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14)

    Are you saying that an “academic” engagement of Mormonism is the approach of “the natural man”?

    Also: like with BYU football wins or prominent LDS politicians — is how it helps souls become healed and completed.

    I don’t see how BYU winning a football game helps souls become healed and completed, except in the narrow sense as far as the players and players families are involved.

    Christopher,

    I think your dialogue with Manaen actually supports my position; namely that LDSs, generally speaking, are capable of approaching their faith academically, but are unwilling. He/she is able to recognize academic rigor, but relegates it to “the natural man”.

  • smallaxe

    Melis,

    Thanks for tuning in. In teaching Mormon students do you find that they struggle with an “academic” approach (whatever we might mean by that term)? How have you dealt with students who have struggled?

  • smallaxe

    VRT,

    This isn’t a first. A course on Mormonism was taught at Harvard Divinity School some time ago (in the 1980s I think).

    Wow. Any idea who taught it?

    As far as the rest of the discussion is concerned, I think Melissa’s point is that Harvard (and I would imagine many other academic institutions) were/are looking for scholars trained in a particular area and not of a particular religious affiliation. Not that you were insinuating the latter; but the bottom line is that they needed someone trained in “American Religions” (broadly speaking), and someone trained in another discipline further afield such as Hinduism would not necessarily be qualified to teach a class on Mormonism regardless of their religious affiliation. I would imagine this to be the case at many academic institutions. I don’t think your point was that membership makes you qualified to teach; but rather that there are many more LDSs who are being trained in Religious Studies programs, and the vast majority of them deal at least tangentially with Mormonism and so therefore there are more qualified people out there to offer classes. The number of qualified teachers is only incidentally related to affiliation and not the causal link between the two. Even if this is the case, however, I don’t think it could be completely unrelated to a supposed “demand”—as the demand determined by the institution is someone competent in the field of American Religions (whether that be measured by replacing someone on sabbatical, or because of student interest).

  • http://FPR VRT

    smallaxe,

    I fully agree with your comments. Following the link above points to Melissa’s other courses–which appear to be on ethics, not “American religions,” strictly–a point which underscores my argument concerning the link between the personal and academic.

    As for the timing of the previous course taught, I saw it mentioned somewhere in an old Dialogue article, I think.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Christopher, I think your dialogue with Manaen actually supports my position; namely that LDSs, generally speaking, are capable of approaching their faith academically, but are unwilling.

    After Manaen clarification, I agree. I certainly hope this is the case, but recent events have persuaded me otherwise.

    VRT, two of Melissa’s courses are on ethics. The other two (including the one on Mormonism) are on aspects of American religion. So I don’t think that underscores your point quite as much as you think it does.

  • http://FPR VRT

    Christopher, I grow weary of your protests. Do you know what Melissa’s field is?

    (Hint: click on her name link above)

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org David Grua

    VRT: I think it’s clear that Christopher did click on her name link above, which is where he got this information:

    VRT, two of Melissa’s courses are on ethics. The other two (including the one on Mormonism) are on aspects of American religion.

  • http://eatingwell.wordpress.com Sam B.

    Smallaxe,
    I agree that (at least a subset) of LDS are capable of dealing with our religion academically (whatever that means); I imagine that subset significantly overlaps with those capable of engaging any topic academically (although there’s probably not 100% overlap; the same skill set necessary to engage in, say, math academically may or may not specifically carry over to religion) (then again, it may). But I don’t think that the majority of those who are capable of, but fail to, so engage fail because of a fear that academic engagement is devilish or natural mannish.

    Rather, I imagine that most who don’t engage don’t do so because the potential benefits are outweighed by the detriments. And I’m not saying spiritual detriments—every minute I engage academically with Mormonism is a minute I’m not engaging academically (or practically) with my field of law, which is where I should be putting in time. It’s also a minute I’m not practicing an instrument to get back to the level I was before. It’s a minute I’m not reading poetry, not spending time with my wife, not spending time with my daughter, not trying a new recipe. Etc. I actually enjoy Mormon history, although recently I read much less of it and much more financial literature, which is quickly eclipsing Mormon Studies as my reading of choice.

    In other words, an academic engagement with Mormonism is not a bad thing, and is probably a good thing. But at this point in my life, there are other good things which are gooder for me to spend my time on, like the paper I should be writing, and will start on as soon as I hit “Submit Comment.”

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    VRT, I’m sorry I’ve wearied you with my “protests” of your flawed arguments and comments. I’ve grown weary of your condescending comments, academic snobbery, and ignorance (meaning you ignored valid points raised by me and others). I did, in fact, check out Melissa’s profile linked to above. Your assertion that because she is a “Lecturer on Ethics” means that all of her courses are in that field is invalid. If you would read further (Hint: read her entire profile, instead of just the first line), you would see that two of the courses she is teaching deal with ethics (“Christian Ethics and Modern Society” and “Feminist Ethics”), but the other two (“Mormonism and the American Experience” and “Women and Religion in Contemporary America”). Furthermore, her “field” appears to be Religious Studies, as that is what her PhD is in and the subject of her dissertation deals with American religion. Let me try and break down what I disagree with you on.

    1) You assert that ff a Mormon is to pursue an career in religion, then s/he will do something on Mormonism. That’s not true. I can list examples of individuals (Latter-day Saints) who study and/or teach Religious Studies at the university level who do not engage Mormonism as a subject of study.

    2) You further assert that Melissa is teaching this course primarily because she’s Mormon and only secondarily because she’s an academic. However, her comment should have cleared this confusion up. She informed all that the interest from Harvard “had nothing to do with any relationship I may or may not have to the institutional church, however. It was based on a combination of the topic of my dissertation, the work I’ve done in Mormon Studies, the intellectual pursuits of their students and curricular needs.” For reason I cannot figure out, she proceeded to tell her she is wrong. I do not know how you could possibly know more about this than she does.

    3) Lastly (and most relevant to this thread), you assert that the reason for the creation of this course (and others around the country like it) is the increasing number of LDS pursuing academic degrees in Religious Studies, and downplay the notion that the radily-growing interest from outside scholars in Mormonism as a legit academic area of study might contribute to occurrences like this. While your point is certainly valid, it is mildly ignorant to not recognize the evidence (see my comment #16) of an increasing interest in Mormon studies from those outside of the Latter-day Saint tradition.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    The sentence in the first paragraph should read “but the other two (”Mormonism and the American Experience” and “Women and Religion in Contemporary America”) deal with Religion in America.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    And the second to last sentence of my point #2, should read “For reasons I cannot figure out, you proceeded to tell her she is wrong.”

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    VRT,

    Following the link above points to Melissa’s other courses–which appear to be on ethics, not “American religions,” strictly–a point which underscores my argument concerning the link between the personal and academic.

    Sure. It seems like they needed an ethicist and an American religionist–two areas that Harvard either doesn’t have the personnel to teach, or the usuals are on leave. Whether an ethicist can or cannot be an American Religionist as well as one who does “Mormon Studies” is an issue I’ll leave to you (and/or Melissa).

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    Sam,

    I certainly don’t think that academic engagement of one’s religion is “natural mannish” either; but I do believe that some LDSs think it to be such (at least that was one of the points I was trying to prove above). Even the hint of this type of relation destroys the possibility of any “normativity” hinted at above, or any of the aspects which you seem to believe are “good”.

    It seems that your disagreement, however, is a more pragmatic one–academic engagement takes time (or perhaps developing the skills of academic engagement–what ever “academic engagement” means–takes time), and our time is already taken by many more pressing needs.

    I think that’s a legitimate concern, and a warranted reaction. I guess, however, that this begs the question of what “academic engagement” means and whether or not it is valuable enough to spend time pursuing it, and how much time should be spent pursuing it. As well as whether or not there are some skills that can be gained quickly, or if all aspects of “academic engagement” necessitate long periods of development.

    If I were to pick out one aspect of what “academic engagement” means to me, which isn’t necessarily something that demands a great deal of time, and I feel should be cultivated by most LDSs, it would be finding value in questions rather than simply in answers. In other words, it seems to me that part of “academic engagement” is the valuing the process of the inquiry rather than simply the destination the inquiry leads. This isn’t to say that Mormons should scrap all realist positions (positions where there are “real” answers), but that we should at least make more room for some of the ambiguities in life. Issues dealing with the problem of evil would perhaps fall into this category.

    How such room is generated, however, is not something I’m sure I can answer.

  • manaen

    16 Christopher, thanks for your gracious coda.

  • http://FPR VRT

    Christopher,

    “1) You assert that [if] a Mormon is to pursue an career in religion, then s/he will do something on Mormonism.”

    No I didn’t. See #15 and #19 above.

    “2) You further assert that Melissa is teaching this course primarily because she’s Mormon and only secondarily because she’s an academic.”

    I said nothing of the sort, not by a long shot, I’m afraid. I know quite a few Mormons–firemen, bankers, plumbers, schoolteachers, etc.–who would never be considered to teach this course.

    “3) Lastly (and most relevant to this thread), you assert that the reason for the creation of this course (and others around the country like it) is the increasing number of LDS pursuing academic degrees in Religious Studies, and downplay the notion that the radily-growing interest from outside scholars in Mormonism as a legit academic area of study might contribute to occurrences like this.”

    You’re not totally off-base with this comment. But still, you misinterpret what I said. My point was quite clear: I said that given two alternative justifications for this particular course being taught–i.e., (1) increased academic interest in things LDS, and (2) the fact that an LDS professor was teaching in a related area and could readily and willingly teach on Mormonism–I think that the second should be given more weight than the first.

    That there is more interest in 2008 in Mormonism within academia than, say, a decade or two ago is obvious, and of course more students would be drawn to a course like this when a presidential candidate is LDS.

    “[rapidly]-growing interest from outside scholars in Mormonism as a legit academic area of study”

    By the way, who are these “outside scholars” you refer to, and are you suggesting Mormonism used to be an “illegit academic area of study”?

    Smallaxe,

    “Whether an ethicist can or cannot be an American Religionist as well as one who does “Mormon Studies” is an issue I’ll leave to you (and/or Melissa).”

    I don’t see why not. My point wasn’t to draw lines or exlude such possibilities. Rather: I was suggesting the subtle point that the connection from Mormon studies to ethics isn’t as common as, say, American history to Mormon studies or American religion to Mormon studies, and that, in this case, the teacher’s own background bridged this difference.

  • manaen

    27. Are you saying that an “academic” engagement of Mormonism is the approach of “the natural man”? (and 39. I certainly don’t think that academic engagement of one’s religion is “natural mannish” either)

    Yes, but without the pejorative sense we usually take from “natural man.” I mean it in the sense of how I believe “academic” is used in this discussion: human intellect applied without looking to the Spirit for spiritual insights and without looking for God’s meaning. I see this as consistent with Paul’s verse that I quoted in #12 as well as Msh 3:19′s observation that the natural man without the Spirit remains (academically) distanced from the Godly, and with Christopher’s comment in #13 about separating the devotional aspect of a faith from the academic study of that faith. Isn’t this what “academic study” means here: human abilities applied to an analysis that does not have finding God’s meaning as part of its objective? Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
    .
    .
    39. [...]finding value in questions rather than simply in answers. In other words, it seems to me that part of “academic engagement” is the valuing the process of the inquiry rather than simply the destination the inquiry leads.
    .
    I agree with this. I believe that there is great value in the searching and pondering. I’ve wondered lately whether God doesn’t answer a question we ask because further inquiry in seeking the answer we want prepares us, finally, for a deeper answer that we need.
    .
    .
    we should at least make more room for some of the ambiguities in life. Issues dealing with the problem of evil would perhaps fall into this category.
    .
    I’ve been stuck in this for a while. As I explained elsewhere, my evil actions caused horrible injury to others and yet, like the Lamanites in Alma 24 who killed Anti-Nephi-Lehies, those actions were what brought about, finally, my change of heart. I’ve had to make a lot of room in my life as I try to sort through the ambiguity of my own evil.

  • manaen

    (things omitted in #42)

    27.
    (my #14) Also: like with BYU football wins or prominent LDS politicians — is how it helps souls become healed and completed.
    .
    I don’t see how BYU winning a football game helps souls become healed and completed, except in the narrow sense as far as the players and players families are involved.
    .
    I mean to say that LDS successes bring prominence, which brings increased LDS awareness, which brings increased likelihood of considering/accepting our soul-healing-and-completing message. “Faith cometh by hearing” and sometimes the hearing begins with a faint echo bouncing off worldly successes. An example is how much easier it is to bring friends to BYU’s football team’s night-before testimony firesides when the team is nationally-ranked.
    .
    .
    FWIW, I’m a “he.”

  • JWL

    Melissa –

    I don’t know if you are still following this thread (personally I can’t figure out what they are arguing about) but if you are, I would be interested in your present views on the following:

    (1) Peggy Fletcher Stack told me once about a course on Mormonism that was taught by a visiting LDS professor at the GTU at Berkeley when she was there. There were a lot of students in the class but she was a bit cynical about its significance because the students were all LDS. (Apparently non-GTU Berkeley students could cross-register for the course). Is the student interest in your course coming from non-LDS HDS students or is it from LDS non-HDS Harvard students who could cross-register like at Berkeley? I can see two sources of “demand” for Mormon Studies: (a) an ever-increasing number of LDS college students who want to learn about their own faith in an academic setting and (b) non-LDS students who see Mormonism as an interesting and worthwhile part of the academic study of religion. I don’t think we should discount the former (after all, would there be nearly as much academic study of Judaism without the interest and support of Jewish students and benefactors?) but obviously it is the latter that is intriguing to us and will assure the future of academic Mormon Studies.

    (2) I take your point that you would not have been allowed to teach this course if you did not have the qualifying academic background. I wonder, however, if an established tenured American religions expert on a faculty would have to meet the same qualifications if she/he wanted to teach a course like yours? I wonder if there is a risk in having Mormonism widely and quickly accepted as a legitimate field of academic study in that we might have a lot of unknowledgeable but credentialed people making inaccurate expositions on Mormon belief and practice?

    (3) To the extent that Mormon studies is gaining any ground as an accepted area of study, is this demand or supply driven? That is, is there a growing interest in the academic community generally that is providing support for the efforts of pioneers such yourself, or are the efforts of up-and-coming scholars like yourself in putting the subject out there helping to generate what appears to be a growing interest?

    (4) Will the apparent growing interest in Mormon studies survive the impending collapse of Mitt Romney’s presidential run?

    Thanks

    JWL

  • http://eatingwell.wordpress.com Sam B.

    Okay, smallaxe, if that’s how you’re defining “academic engagement,” I agree with you. I was seeing it as reading and engaging Mormon Studies titles from, e.g., U of Illinois P, etc. (so not really necessarily doing scholarship, but at least being familiar with and engaging the scholarship). But if engaging our religion without demanding easy answers satisfies your definition, I have absolutely no disagreement.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    Manean,

    Yes, but without the pejorative sense we usually take from “natural man.”

    I’m sorry but I don’t see how “natural man” is not pejorative given that even according to your description it is “Spirit”-less, and an “enemy” to God.

    human abilities applied to an analysis that does not have finding God’s meaning as part of its objective

    Maybe I’m more of a humanist, but I think “human abilities” are godly abilities, and “God’s meaning” is often human meaning.

  • http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com SmallAxe

    Sam B.

    Okay, smallaxe, if that’s how you’re defining “academic engagement,” I agree with you. I was seeing it as reading and engaging Mormon Studies titles from, e.g., U of Illinois P, etc. (so not really necessarily doing scholarship, but at least being familiar with and engaging the scholarship). But if engaging our religion without demanding easy answers satisfies your definition, I have absolutely no disagreement. .

    I wasn’t attempting to define “academic engagement”, but offer one aspect of it that isn’t disqualified on pragmatic grounds. There other aspects which obviously raise the issues you’ve articulated above. I do believe, however that we should be aware of the arguments made in “academic” publications. Awareness might not equal reading the entire piece (or in many cases, any of it); but the information we are presented (officially) with should at least contextualize itself in regard to these claims. This way when a piece such as PBS’ “The Mormons” comes out, there isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to dismiss it as complete rubbish.

  • http://eatingwell.wordpress.com Sam B.

    SmallAxe,
    Sorry, rereading it today makes my comment sounds condescending. It wasn’t meant that way; I was just trying to come to what you’re considering academic engagement. I actually disagree that the average church member *should* be aware of arguments made in academic publications; I see no reason why she shouldn’t, but no pressing reason, if she’s not interest, why she should. I’m not aware of most issues raised in academic math and science areas (for that matter, I’m no longer in tune with issues raised in academic literature literature . . .). I’m not saying I wouldn’t be enriched by being aware of it, but I am saying I have to pick and choose. I personally enjoy Mormon history, but, while an awareness is certainly a good thing, a lack of awareness (except for deliberate blindness–deliberately avoiding knowing something is almost always a bad thing) I do not believe is bad in and of itself.

  • http://eatingwell.wordpress.com Sam B.

    I guess a better example is knowledge of tax policy arguments (roughly my field): the U.S. tax law affects all of us who are citizens or residents (and some others) in very significant ways (up to 35+% of at least a portion of our income, sometimes). We elect and unelect people over it. But most people–including myself, until I got into the field–know nothing about the policy arguments underlying changes in the tax code. It would be good if everybody had an awareness of these things, but I understand and am not disappointed by the fact that people don’t, even when they make really stupid statements about taxes (statements that would make people’s reaction to The Mormons seem emminently well-informed).

  • smallaxe

    Sam B.,

    Don’t worry about it, I didn’t think you meant your earlier comments in a condescending way.

    We may be taking about slightly different things. What I think of as “academic engagement” is about establishing a particular kind of hermeneutic; while I would call what you are discussing “engaging academics”. This isn’t to say that the two are unrelated.

    That said, however, I do believe that LDSs should be aware of the arguments made in academic venues. In your example of mathematics, I consider myself rather unaware of academic debates in this arena; but then again, I don’t consider myself a mathematician. I do consider myself a Mormon, however, and as such I believe there is a responsibility to know (to some degree) what others are saying about Mormons (especially because I have a choice whether to be Mormon or not).

    In the case of tax policy (I go venturing lightly, as I really know very little here), I expect my accountant to be aware of such discussions. If I found out he or she was not aware, I would find a new accountant. The question becomes one of who the “member” is in the analogy. People have no choice but to be people; and all people concerned about how much they are paying in taxes have a responsibility to find that out (or rely on someone that does). Those who express opinions about the situation without knowing the situation I would consider to have an uninformed opinion. LDSs of course choose to be members, and tend to have opinions on a wide variety of things. I suppose this wouldn’t bother me as much if we just recognized how uninformed our opinions are sometimes.

    I agree with you that we do need to “pick and choose” where we spend our time. As such there is a heavily pragmatic nature to our choices. Why, for instance, if I only have 15minutes per day to devote to study, should I spend any time hearing what some academic has to say rather than engaging the primary texts themselves? (Incidentally, this is why I was speaking of “academic engagement” as a hermeneutic rather than “engaging academics”. Although recognizing the validity such a hermeneutic may increase the level (both in terms of desire and responsibility) of “engaging academics”.)

  • carrie

    I’m interested in whether she is going to address the cognitive dissonance in the Mormon field surrounding women’s roles. I can’t imagine one being able to navigate around the “lip-service to equality” and the hierarchical reality of the faith.


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