A few years ago, I attended an event where a scholar of biblical studies pined with envy after the relatively easy problems that historians of Mormonism face with respect to maintaining their faith. This person suggested that by comparison, issues of magic, sex, and other “scandals” of early Mormonism were far less challenging to deal with than those presented by the study of the ancient world. This was about the extent of the discussion, but the idea has stuck with me. Are some disciplines dealing with religion more “challenging” to one’s personal faith than others?
For the scholar of biblical texts, perhaps he saw the challenges that arise as more vexing precisely because they struck at such fundamental issues as the authority of the scriptures, the nature of God, and the historical plausibility of the Book of Mormon. If these foundations are shaken, what is left? For the historian of Mormonism, the problems faced directly challenge the authority of the church, and its status as a divinely directed institution. Neither the scholar of the Bible nor the Mormon historian was so conflicted that they could not remain comfortably within the church. This was merely a discussion about who had a harder time. Perhaps we could further subdivide this and say that NT scholars have it easier or harder that OT scholars. Or 20th c. historians of Mormonism have it easier or harder than 19th c. historians. Etc. My view is that it really isn’t a competition. Nor can the issues of the most vexing “challenges” that one face be placed on any one discipline, since so much has to do with personality, social location, and other commitments that, in my view, are much more crucial to how “intellectual problems” are managed than a purely cognitive act. Furthermore, specialists in philosophy, English, political science, and even behavioral organization all face different intellectual challenges in reconciling their faith with their professional studies. So, it isn’t really a competition. But, if it were…?