The Legacy of FARMS

Bill Hamblin is right.  The old-FARMS is dead.  Gerald Bradford didn’t kill it.  John Dehlin certainly didn’t kill it.   The ouster of Daniel Peterson is not when FARMS died.  It died a long time ago, while Peterson was still there.  It was absorbed into the Maxwell Institute, which we now know was the beginning of its end, at least in the form in which it appeared in the 1990′s.  For various reasons, the FARMS of the 2000′s failed to capture the imagination, attract significant apologetic work, and ultimately find a relevant voice in the new landscape of Mormon Studies. It remains to be seen whether it will find that relevant voice going forward.  Through an unfortunate series of mismanagement, much of which is not public information, and much of which has nothing to do with its current director, FARMS gradually fell apart.  It is done.  There is little hope in reviving the corpse.  Instead, I’d like to reflect a bit on its legacy.

First, FARMS leaves behind an enormous wealth of published material.  They broke new ground on research into LDS scripture and had a dramatic effect on the way that the Book of Mormon is understood.  They successfully championed the limited geography model, chiasmus, Nephi and his Asherah, and numerous other critical ideas that will have a long, defining impact on Book of Mormon studies.  Personally, I remain grateful for these exciting works, even the more problematic ones, for treading new ground and giving us something to think about.

Second, they leave behind the FARMS-Signature wars of the 1990′s.  This decade was an incredibly polarizing one for LDS scholars and the result of this work was to draw stark boundaries.  FARMS enforced its view of where the boundaries were by labeling those with competing views as Cultural Mormons and Apostates.  I’ve argued before that the legacy of this was a chilling effect upon a generation of young LDS academics and non-LDS academics who avoided publishing on Mormonism for fear of getting caught up in this manufactured war.  I think that those who were already in graduate school in the 1990′s fled Mormonism, fled Mormon Studies, or charted very safe paths to avoid controversy.  This was an unfortunate effect of the vigorous defenses of the faith and in my view ended up chilling good-willed scholars.

Third, they leave behind a legacy of young LDS scholars who were undergraduates in the 1990′s.  These folks were initially inspired by the exciting scholarship FARMS was pursuing, and energized by the rhetorical volleys.  These young scholars headed off to graduate school optimistic about what they would learn.  They studied linguistics, biblical studies, American religious history, and Mesoamerican studies.  They left graduate school disillusioned of that optimism and critical of their FARMS mentors.  The significant apologists today are largely part-timers, not BYU professors with professional training in relevant fields.  Perhaps the worst legacy FARMS leaves behind is a younger generation of scholars who is largely unwilling to take their place.  That young generation of scholars who went off to graduate school is decidedly cool about taking up either the research agendas FARMS had laid out or the siege mentality that once motivated them to study in the first place.  While these scholars owe a debt of gratitude for the inspiration FARMS gave them, they often resent the expectations it set for them, as well as the expectations of their LDS friends and family that their careers follow that same trajectory of FARMS as the only faithful one.

Rather than seeing FARMS as something that could, or even should, last forever, we are starting to see that FARMS represented an important period that has largely come to an end.  It introduced wide LDS audiences to academic approaches to scripture and showed that they could pay off.  At the same time, these academic conversations have evolved, and new approaches are need for the new questions (and old questions) that have emerged.  I am deeply grateful to Peterson, Welch, Hamblin, and others for what they produced.  I am also incredibly eager to see what the next generation of Mormon scholars will produce.  So far, I am not the least disappointed and don’t miss the old FARMS at all.  We’ve seen a proliferation and revitalization of a number of venues for important intellectual work on Mormonism over the past decade.  What will emerge from the ashes of the old FARMS is yet unseen.  Let us all hope that it will be something worth paying attention to.

  • oudenos

    The second to last paragraph (“Third, they leave behind a legacy of young LDS scholars…”) completely captures my sentiments over the last 13 years of my life.

  • Kevin Barney

    Thanks for your very interesting reflections, TT.

  • Arius

    TT,

    You wrote:

    “That young generation of scholars who went off to graduate school is decidedly cool about taking up either the research agendas FARMS had laid out or the siege mentality that once motivated them to study in the first place. While these scholars owe a debt of gratitude for the inspiration FARMS gave them, they often resent the expectations it set for them, as well as the expectations of their LDS friends and family that their careers follow that same trajectory of FARMS as the only faithful one.”

    Can you elaborate more on the research agenda that these emerging graduate students come to embrace instead of the FARMS-inspired siege mentality? That is, if these disillusioned graduate students come to chart a new career trajectory which they deem faithful, what does that trajectory look like, and do apologetics have any part of it? Do these new scholars think apologetics should be done at all, and if so, by whom?

  • http://www.TempleStudy.com Bryce Haymond

    I agree the old FARMS is dead, the institution, the house. But I don’t believe it is done, if you’re considering what FARMS did, its missions, goals, and aims, those inside the house. Apologetics isn’t done. Scholarly historical/ancient analytic high-level defense of the Church, its doctrines, its history, and scriptures isn’t done. Peterson and Hamblin and many others certainly aren’t done. I believe it will find its home again, in a new house (maybe with FAIR) or even with a new name. It isn’t done, and what it did hasn’t come to an end.

  • TT

    Arius,
    Great questions. To break this down into a few different areas:
    “Can you elaborate more on the research agenda that these emerging graduate students come to embrace instead of the FARMS-inspired siege mentality?”
    There is no single answer to this question. Just as there was no single FARMS approach or Mormon scholar approach in previous generations, this generation too is diverse. But to generalize, I would say that few young LDS scholars have the ambition of fighting with evangelical critics or “apostates.” Take the excellent work of Joe Spencer, for example, on the Book of Mormon, as an example of someone who is doing important work that is not “apologetic” in the polemical sense. One could even point to Grant Hardy, though not a “young” scholar, as someone who is trying to redraw the battle lines of BoM scholarship. Other young scholars have avoided it altogether, fearing the professional implications in the academy for too exuberant of scholarship. Even BYU departments are surprisingly unwilling to tolerate apologetic work by young faculty of the sort that Hamblin and Peterson are associated with. In some cases, they openly discourage any work on Mormon scripture, with BYU RE being the notable exception. Young LDS scholars’ academic research is more in line with current scholarly movements in which they are trained, though in much of their work one can sometimes detect themes that are relevant to LDS experience. Others, like Nate Oman, are seeking to found new areas of inquiry altogether, and avoid rehashing the contentious issues of the past. If we ever get to see the published version of J. Hickman’s brilliant paper on race in the Book of Mormon, we can also see some fascinating approaches that would be accepted as insightful by Mormon and non-Mormon audiences. In fact, if I could characterize on that last point, most young LDS scholars want to speak to broad audiences, in and out of the church, and have productive conversation partners.

    “do apologetics have any part of it? Do these new scholars think apologetics should be done at all, and if so, by whom?”

    I think that for young LDS scholars, defending the church is not coterminous with the way that previous generations of scholars saw it. In general, I think that many of these young scholars not only think that a lot of the apologetic arguments offered by earlier generations do not work, both in terms of content and tone. In many cases, they see it as ultimately counterproductive because it is indefensible intellectually and rhetorically. Just as they want to redefine the research agendas, they also want to redefine what faithful scholarship looks like, including apologetics.

  • RT

    Thanks TT,
    I would only add that the rising generation of LDS scholars “want to speak to broad audiences, in and out of the church, and have productive conversation partners” not only because of intellectual, social, and professional reasons, but because in most cases they view the gospel and the church very differently from the previous generation of scholars that arose after Nibley and was centered at BYU.

  • g.wesley

    TT,

    I’ll say that this captures my sentiments as well. Really nicely put. Though no doubt the reference to little hope in reviving the corpse will be taken as an insult/challenge.

    About missing the old FARMS, I actually do miss the days when I was as you say excited about FARMS scholarship and even energized by the rhetorical volleys as an undergrad. But that does not make me any less disillusioned and critical.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: Thanks for letting all of us old codgers know that our work is a complete failure that drives away young scholars.

    That’s not my experience, and I am wondering if it is really anyone’s but yours and oudenos’s? Any other young scholars totally disillusioned with the arguments presented in FARMS and the FARMS approach as TT says?

  • BHodges

    Blake: add “disinterested” to the “disillusioned” and you’ll find a more sizable contingent. The goals/methods/relevance of apologetics is doubted by a lot of folks these days. As for me, I see the need/relevance/place for apologetics but find myself sometimes entirely disagreeing with the tone/approach/repeated questions.

  • Mogget

    Pretty much with TT on this one. At one time, I probably read everything FARMS produced but now all of it is in boxes packed in 2008. It taught me that there was more to all this than church, but now it’s clear that there is much more to this “scholarly” life than what FARMS captured.

  • Mogget

    Also, it does not follow that because many or most young scholars are not following the FARMS agenda that the organization was a failure. It is perhaps a significant achievement to have motivated such diverse and far-reaching intellectual pursuits rather than tying them to a single (few) approaches.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Mogget: I sure hope that there is more to (scholarly) life that what FARMS did (or ever could) capture. That’s a pretty unreasonable critique of anything, isn’t it? Is there any journal that you know of that could live up to that?

    Blair: Aren’t there things in virtual every publication of which you are aware with which you disagree regarding tone/approach/repeated questions?

    I guess what I am saying is that the bar was set too high if FARMS was supposed to be the be all, end all of church scholarship. I don’t disagree with you at all. There are things in FARMS I thought were atrocious — but also things that were enlightening and mind expanding — and even faith promoting. Isn’t that true of just about any publication? I mean, I find myself totally non-plussed by the Harvard Theological Review often. I still subscribe and love a lot of it. My favorite publication is Faith and Philosophy — and yet I find myself rolling my eyes some times. It is a journal of the highest caliber; but there is always more to scholarly life than Faith and Philosophy.

    I suppose the bottom line is that youthful expectations are often dashed on the shores of the reality of human limitations — and the purpose of a graduate program is to precisely supersede and critique all that has gone before. I just expect new Ph.D.s to be a bit arrogant about their relationship to the prior generation of scholars and to come to their senses when they are that prior generation.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    “Pretty much with TT on this one.”

    Not sure if everyone appreciates the monumental significance of two titans like TT and Mogget agreeing.

    “Is there any journal that you know of that could live up to that?”

    “Philosophy and Public Affairs” meet both my spiritual and scholarly needs.

  • Mogget

    I sure hope that there is more to (scholarly) life that what FARMS did (or ever could) capture. That’s a pretty unreasonable critique of anything, isn’t it? Is there any journal that you know of that could live up to that?

    Nope. And once I discovered FARMS wasn’t it, I moved on. Happily. And reasonably.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Ben P

    “That’s not my experience, and I am wondering if it is really anyone’s but yours and oudenos’s? Any other young scholars totally disillusioned with the arguments presented in FARMS and the FARMS approach as TT says?”

    I’ll add my voice to TT’s, Oudenos’s, BHodge’s, and Mogget’s. As an example, last summer, there was a get-together of about 25-30 LDS grad students in related disciplines (history, religious studies, literature, anthropology, etc.), and whose opinions varied across a broad spectrum. Throughout the conversations, though, it was taken for granted that none of us were interested in the type of work done by FARMS and FAIR. It seems that a majority of younger people associated with apologetics–and, importantly, those who disapprove of the new MI direction–are amateur participants outside of academia. (There are, as always, a few notable outliers.) This is fine–Mormon studies has always, of course, been comprised of at least a large contingent of non-academics–but it does speak to the legacy of FARMS in that they have not perpetuated vast academic progeny.

  • g.wesley

    Blake,

    Speaking for myself, I’ll say that I have read and even reread (but not that recently) your Dialogue article on the expansion theory and would recommend it to anyone. I have very much enjoyed it and could only wish that the kind of open discussion of difficult issues that you demonstrated there were more common and acceptable in less heterodox venues. You make a very real attempt, and a largely successful attempt, in my opinion, at balancing faith and scholarship that is all too rare in my experience.

    I confess that I have not read any of your other work, including the items I just looked up on the MI website. This is not because I am embarrassed of it. It’s just not something I have gotten to yet.

    So I’ll speak to what I have read. I’ve actually been puzzled by your stance in all this, no doubt because I don’t really know anything about you other than my reading of your Dialogue article. Based on my reading of it, I would not have imagined you to be on board with the kinds of apologetics Prof Peterson represents.

    I would be very interested to hear your take on the reactions to your expansion theory over the years, including your own of late. This is no online challenge. I am genuinely interested. How have fellow Mormon scholars, church leaders, family, friends reacted?

    I gather that you and Prof Peterson are friends. Did he ever, does he now, entertain your expansion theory? If so, I wonder why he did not choose to send a copy of your Dialogue article to that local church leader we have been talking about on the other thread. In my opinion, that would have been far better than doing what he did.

    In the copy of FR 6.1 that Prof Peterson sent to that local church leader, you are said to have “rejected the orthodox view as to historicity,” if only partially. You are said to have done so along with one of the authors of the Signature Books publication that it seems Prof Peterson sees himself as at war with.

    Now you back him up, and call us out. What gives?

    Based on the little that I have read of the reactions to your expansion theory, such as by Stephen Robinson, I would think that you would appreciate the tight spot that non-scriptural fundamentalists find themselves in vis-a-vis self-proclaimed orthodoxy.

    So, in short, no Blake, I don’t think your Dialogue article was a failure, quite the opposite. And far from driving away young scholars, it has helped me for one stay in. But I also don’t think of you when I think of the FARMS approach.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    g.wesley. You may know that when my expansion article came out I discussed it at a brown bag discussion of the religious studies department at BYU. (About 1984 — which I just realized is now Mormon history). Usually about 10 people showed up to these affairs; but word got out about a good roast about to happen and more than 100 people were there. I was roundly questioned and criticized and folks thought that I was challenging their faith. Robert Matthews, who was head of the religion department, asked me if I had a testimony about everything I had written. When I explained that the language game I was playing was no the the game of religious testimony, he stated that he could bare testimony of everything he had written. I knew then that I couldn’t match that level of knowledge!

    There were a lot of people who thought that I was out to challenge their faith. Well, I was. I wasn’t the one creating the issues; but by raising arguments against BofM historicity to be addressed in the strongest form I knew how (since I really hate straw man arguments) I believe that they thought I was creating these objection of BofM historicity. I was criticized in writing by Stephen Robinson. I was cautioned by others. I probably made some of the arguments more trenchant than their purveyors had in the past.

    I was roasted by some wonderful people. I am just grateful they cared enough to hear me out. Here’s the thing — I loved all of them. I understood their sense of betrayal (even if it wasn’t that at all) and I understood their concern for openly discussing the issues. I have attempted to always treat my interlocutors fairly (undoubtedly I have sometimes failed) and address their strongest arguments — and paying the best complement I kn0w by acknowledging that their arguments deserve to be addressed fairly.

    You also hit it on the head. Dan Peterson is my friend. I have had long conversations with him — and I know what his dry wit is like. When others attack him for it, I am bound to see it as a lack of charity on their part because I like his humor and get it. I can hear him saying it and I know it isn’t at all malicious. I also believe that he is brilliant. Maybe the smartest person I have known – and that is saying a bit when my personal mentors (for whom I was a TA or research assistant) were Hugh Nibley, Truman Madsen, Sterling McMurrin and David Paulsen. I loved them all.

    I’m not calling any of you “out” – at least that isn’t my intention. I am genuinely surprised at the anger and sense of betrayal that I sense in this discussion of FARMs and its contribution. It is like it was responsible for killing an entire generation of Mormon scholars and thoughtful belief. I guess that I just don’t see it — or at least haven’t until now. But reading this anger at FARMS is surprising to me.

    I see a real need for a place for folks to go when issues are raised that genuinely challenge their faith and life in the Church. I admit that I love the gospel so much that it hurts me when folks who have searched in good faith conclude it is bunk. I love the philosophical possibilities of Mormonism and have been blessed to have a real love for the texts which LDS hold to be revealed.

    I really don’t intend to disagree with your personal stories and experiences. They are yours and you are entitled to them. But I admit that it hurts to hear it. I love Dan and in his sane moments Lou Midgley. They are my friends and I know their hearts. I know others less well like Bill Hamblin but have nothing but respect for his work. So forgive me, maybe I’m too close to it all to really not feel a bit hurt by the whole affair.

  • http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com Dave

    Fine discussion. It’s worth noting that the origin of FARMS dates to the pre-Internet era, before blogs, before Facebook. Technology as much as concerns over tone and rhetoric will change practical apologetics. If concerned LDS need answers to criticisms of LDS doctrine or history, they don’t subscribe to the FARMS Review, now they just Google their issue and start reading, or post a question to Facebook and get comments. Practical apologetics has, for the most part, become decentralized and more personal. Some searches may lead to FAIR or blogs or archived FARMS articles. Some Facebook queries will produce links to those sites. But what is needed is not a print version of a New FARMS Review. If that group (displaced FARMS workers) is going to do something, they need to look at the First Things site, the Peculiar People blog at Patheos, Mormon Scholars Testify, and the FAIR site, then think of how to do put some of those elements together to deliver a better apologetic product.

    The bottom line is that if there is a need for apologetics in 2012 and beyond, the answer to that need is not a reborn FARM Review journal or *any* print journal.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Steve Fleming

    Blake, I think there are different takes on FARMS depending out what field the scholar went into. Having read FPR for the last while, I’ve gotten the sense that many were greatly inspired by Hugh Nibley and then became disillusioned with his work when they went to grad school and found out that things were quite as pristine as Nibley asserted.

    The Mormon history crowd is different since we don’t study the ancient world. When I got into grad school, I wanted to get around the polemics that seemed to characterize the FARMS/Signature debates. I just didn’t want Signature to be setting my research agendas. I don’t have any sense of betrayal, but I just wanted to work on other things.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Ben P

    I’ll also take a break from debating this topic just to express my appreciation to you, Blake, for your expansion theory article. There are a lot of articles that have been important in my academic studies, and then there have been a few articles important to both my academic and personal background; your article is one of the latter.

  • KLC

    Unlike Blake I do not know Dan Peterson personally. But I’ve read much of what he’s written and heard him speak. His humor and his approach speak to me on a personal level, I get him. I do not see and have never seen the violent/vitriolic/mean spiriteded attitudes that are regularly attributed to him and to his work in LDS internet venues. And like Blake I sense a huge lack of charity over this issue, an attitude of good riddance and dismissal for a man’s life work that in the end saddens me as well.

  • TT

    Blake,
    “Here’s the thing — I loved all of them. I understood their sense of betrayal (even if it wasn’t that at all) and I understood their concern for openly discussing the issues. I have attempted to always treat my interlocutors fairly (undoubtedly I have sometimes failed) and address their strongest arguments — and paying the best complement I kn0w by acknowledging that their arguments deserve to be addressed fairly.”
    You are speaking the language that young scholars now feel. And I think that you have often exemplified these traits. Once again, I thank you for that.
    Now, I come to Peterson’s defense quite often as a more complex figure than he is given credit for, and praised him in the OP, so my criticism here should be understood in that light. Just as an example, let us contrast your thoughtful, engaged follow up comment here with Peterson’s utter dismissal of a fair, good-willed disagreement in smallaxe’s previous post. Peterson’s comment was dismissive, factually incorrect, and associated smallaxe with more dubious critics (a strategy we have seen in the Review issue analyzed by g.wesley and Casey in that thread). His engagement with us exemplified none of the virtues you laid out that guided your research and your desire to engage with your own critics. When I say that LDS scholars don’t want to follow in his footsteps, those are the one’s I’m referring to.
    I know that we are always tolerant of our friends’ bad behavior because we know them and we know their heart, as you say. If he doesn’t mind me saying so, Chris H. is in this category for me. Had we not cultivated a friendship by basically accidentally getting put on the same blog, I would probably think he was a huge jerk who is not worth seriously engaging. Because I am his friend, I cut him a lot of slack, sometimes more than he deserves :)!
    At the same time, we might take criticisms of our friends more seriously than they are intended. My assessment here is not meant to hurt any feelings, to insult, or even to Monday-morning quarterback about calls FARMS has made. I am simply trying to assess the effects of what has gone before us, to account for some changes in direction, and to explain why we are where we are.

  • oudenos

    Blake,

    You mention that you expect new PhDs to be “Ph.D.s to be a bit arrogant about their relationship to the prior generation of scholars and to come to their senses when they are that prior generation.”

    I would say that the PhD has been one protracted exercise in self abasing. I have no sense of cocksuredness about my own abilities, my own writing, or my own world view. I definitely don’t feel the confidence in my own knowledge or in the sources at hand to state with certainty much about anything in ancient Christianity, my field of research. In fact, to me, the arrogance I see is in many of the folks at FARMS who treat the deep past with an air of certitude, as though it is recoverable and even mappable onto modern LDS belief and practice. I lay much of the blame for this arrogance on the rhetoric and methodologies Nibley brought to the fore in his apologetic work on ancient Christianity and the vindication of modern Mormonism. I would never presume to his level of certainty or triumphalism and it irks me when folks at FARMS do. And they still do.

    So yeah, I am disillusioned and I am not interested in promulgating that sort of stuff. But I don’t think I can be labeled arrogant for these reasons. Beaten down, disabused, exhausted, unsure, cautious–yes. Cocky? Not any more, the world is too big and complicated for that.

    And rather than use my training to reassure people that the Apostasy is just the way they have always learned it at church, I try to show those who have interest that there are other ways to make sense of their religious world beyond parallel lines and this equaling that. I am more concerned about the people in my ward than I am about the integrity of claims to restoration of an ancient, pristine Christianity in the face of criticism from the finges or whatever. My apologetic work is how I comport myself in my faith, academic, social, and family communities. I don’t feel any compunction and I have no confidence to reconstruct what happened when the lights went out.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    ” If he doesn’t mind me saying so, Chris H. is in this category for me. Had we not cultivated a friendship by basically accidentally getting put on the same blog, I would probably think he was a huge jerk who is not worth seriously engaging. Because I am his friend, I cut him a lot of slack, sometimes more than he deserves :)!”

    I am going to post this as an endorsement on my campaign site.

  • oudenos

    I will just add, that the previous exchange between g.wesley, Blake, Ben P., and TT warms my heart. It really does.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    oudenos: Please don’t take my comment about new Ph.Ds being arrogant seriously. I certainly don’t know you well enough to make such an accusation — at least not justifiably. It is just that no one ever got a doctorate with a dissertation that said in essence: “those guys who went before me pretty much got it right and I don’t have anything to add that they didn’t already see better than I do.” I acknowledge the messiness of New Testament and early Christian studies (heck, philosophy has got to be at least as difficult to pin down — but we philosophers tend to have a high tolerance for ambiguity).

    But it seems that there are limits. I have in mind a comment on a comment by well-known New Testament scholar at a lecture I attended: “One cannot be a scholar and believe in the resurrection. Scholarship that is acceptable within the discipline must work within the bounds of methodological naturalism. There is not and cannot be such a thing as a resurrection. People simply do not come back to life after three days of being dead after death on a Roman cross.” Now there’s an open mind for you. But does scholarship really have to assume methodological naturalism that must assume the impossibility of the stories and “myths” that are at the very foundations of religious beliefs?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Chris H. — I always think of you as a Teddy Bear with a bite and sharp wit. I liked the interaction we had and I know exactly what TT is saying.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    I’m coming to this late, but appreciate your thoughts, TT.

    Incidentally, I also came to Mormon studies a bit later than other folks here. That those who were undergrads in the 1990s became disillusioned with and critical of FARMS makes sense and seems right based on my own observations, while those who were undergrads in the early to mid 2000s seem, as Blair aptly put it, disinterested. I’ve followed the story of the FARMS fallout over the last couple of weeks, and my response to all of it has been “meh.”

    I do very much appreciate hearing from others of earlier generations, though, including this post.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Perhaps “generation” isn’t the right word, since those a decade older than me are not really of a different generation. Anyway, I still appreciate the different perspectives.

  • smallaxe

    That’s not my experience, and I am wondering if it is really anyone’s but yours and oudenos’s? Any other young scholars totally disillusioned with the arguments presented in FARMS and the FARMS approach as TT says?

    I’m not sure totally disillusioned is apt because I believe it’s important to reaffirm that FARMS has done, and still does (in MI), lots of good work. But I also see lots of young scholars looking to publish (on topics related to Mormonism) in other ventures. Part of this, at least in my experience, is because much of the dialogue in FARMS comes to be seen as insular once one is exposed to the broader field of religious studies. This insularity need not be understood pejoratively, but can also be understood in terms of a realization that discussions about “religion” occur in many other places and in many other ways; and I think many young scholars are testing the water for participating in these other discourses.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Mogget

    Part of this, at least in my experience, is because much of the dialogue in FARMS comes to be seen as insular once one is exposed to the broader field of religious studies. This insularity need not be understood pejoratively, but can also be understood in terms of a realization that discussions about “religion” occur in many other places and in many other ways; and I think many young scholars are testing the water for participating in these other discourses.

    This.
    Time will tell, but I think some [many] may “come back” to some facet of Mormon Studies by other, longer, routes, and enrich the study because of it.

  • Martin

    “But does scholarship really have to assume methodological naturalism that must assume the impossibility of the stories and “myths” that are at the very foundations of religious beliefs?”

    Fantastic question. Impossibility? No. Improbability, yes. Scholarship seeks to demonstrate what is probable while apologetics frequently demonstrate what is merely possible. In that sense, they are different. One more part of the legacy of FARMS is to conflate the two. Surely believers don’t object to the idea that miracle stories contain improbable claims. If otherwise, there’d be no need for faith.

  • http://Blakeostler.com Blake

    Martin: my view is that it depends on what”scholarship” or”scholarly method” means. In nre testament studies I think that methodological naturalism is a necessary assumption. In philosophy, anyone who merely assumed methodological naturalism would be assuming what must be open to assessment on the merits. In theology it ought to be carefully defined to determine whether God’s existence requires and/or is compatible with it. In history it must be assumed. Yet what that means is that the assumptions of the discipline predetermine the world-view that one must adopt which detrrmines what can be considered legitimate. That is precisely the divide between “faithful history” which does not have to assume methodological naturalism and history simpliciter which must. It is precisely whati think the divide is between the “young scholars” who want their work to be acceptable within the academy and the FARMS approach which makes no such tacit assumption. It is therefore career suicide for aspiring scholars to adopt the “FARMS” approach to history.

    This issue is one receiving a lot of attention in analytic philosophy right now- led if course by Plantinga’s claims about naturalism as the real divide. It just seems strange to me that this kind of assumption has such a central bearing on these issues but is rarely addressed. I know thr discussions of the “nre Mormon history” skirted around this issue by focusing on the role of inherented interpreted-ness of evidence and what counts as evidence. But I don’t thinkd the issue has been assessed as it has in current discussions in analytic philosophy.

  • http://Blakeostler.com Blake

    Dang iPad keyboard.

  • g.wesley

    Blake,

    That was meaningful. Thanks for sharing. I did not know about the brown bag event. I could not have done something like that. It’s a credit to you and your interlocutors (some less than others), that you were not pushed out of the church over that article. I can think of others who have been pushed out over similar issues and even for expressing themselves privately rather than in print.

    My impression is that you look back with mixed feelings, maybe even some regret for having written the article. I can respect that. I would have never guessed that I would be where I am now ten or fifteen years ago, and as sincere as I am today in my disilusionment with the FARMS approach, I cannot be certain that my views will not (drastically) change again, maybe even in the direction of my past (which I highly doubt at present, but who knows?).

    I can also respect the sensitivity to the way others hear what is said. You say expansion theory, they hear ‘the church is not true.’ I don’t know how to solve this problem, but I also don’t think that saying nothing is the answer. Maybe you agree, or would have in the past.

    The grand narrative of the march of progress does not sit easy with me, and I think TT’s statements of the debt of gratitude owed by younger scholars bear repeating. I would not say that I am angry, and I’m not sure that is the word others would choose either. Resentful at times, sure. The last time I managed to post something here, I tried to offer a careful reflection on Nibley’s work, saying among other things that like all influential figures, he ought to be reread, not merely dismissed out of hand as outdated and outmoded. Shameless link:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2011/01/a-post-prompted-by-another-post/#comments

    Christopher,

    Would you feel more than ‘meh,’ if, say, you were to publish something Mormon related from an academic perspective, have it reviewed by a co-religionist, and find yourself on the unfaithful non-Mormon side of a war you did not enlist in?

  • http://Blakeostler.com Blake

    G.wesley: I don’t think anyone saw my expansion theory as outside the bounds of the Mormon commitments. Some saw it as not faithful enough, but not denying the faith. to address that point a little, Perhaps a quick anecdote that occurred in about 1986 would illustrate. I had a quick lunch with Elder Maxwell and two other members of the Twelve. Elder Maxwell summarized my view to them, as best I remember, in this way: “let’s see- you believe there were gold plates. You believe there were Lamanites and Nephites? You believe that Joseph Smith translated the book from gold plates that he received from an angel by the gift and power of god and his translation reflected his own language and ability to express it?” when I answered “yes,” one of the other Apostlest turned to Elder Maxwell and said: “Neil, what is wrong with that.”

    I don’t regret publishing the article at all. What I regret is that I made some assertions I would correct(e.g. About Alma’s view of atonement being inspired br Anselm’s satisfaction theory) and that I didn’t (and still don’t) have a solid enough background in New world archaeology to competently address those issues.

  • http://Blakeostler.com Blake

    Heaven help me – dang auto spell check. I of course meant Neal Maxwell and not Neil.

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Christopher

    Would you feel more than ‘meh,’ if, say, you were to publish something Mormon related from an academic perspective, have it reviewed by a co-religionist, and find yourself on the unfaithful non-Mormon side of a war you did not enlist in?

    I suppose I would, yes, though my interests simply don’t lend themselves to those sort of situations. I have been labeled a cultural and unbelieving Mormon by Mormon apologists (almost always commenting pseudonymously, interestingly enough) on blogs, but never in a professional or academic venue.

  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    I am interested in the statement that most academic departments at BYU are not supportive of young faculty writing articles which can be classified as apologetic. I can ubderstand how career pressure can affect a nontenured scholar’s allocation of time when doing research and writing, as well as how academic departments are primarily “playing to the galleries” to get approval from their peers in a particular field of study.

    But I don’t see why the virtue of being academically competitive among one’s peers in any way reduces the inherent value, to the church and its members, of researchers who are willing to take time to respond to attacks on the church.

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  • Mike S

    I spend more time writing over on W&T, and mostly just lurk here, but this topic fascinates me. I’ve read a lot of church history, both “official” and “non-official” sources, and have a question that perhaps some of the people here with long-term experience can answer: Is there room in the FARMS / MI / BYU / etc world for non-faith promoting research?

    What I mean by that – history is messy. There are always going to be things uncovered that are perhaps NOT faith-promoting. In various accounts, it appears that people who have (or have tried) to publish on these areas are reprimanded or suppressed in some way. Will there ever be some sort of organization under the auspices of the Church that can publish what they find, good OR bad? And if not, how do you maintain the credibility of whatever this organization is?

    Thank you for any insight.

  • g.wesley

    Thanks for the clarification and anecdote, Blake.

    I can’t help asking whether the lunch was scheduled specifically because of the article and/or to weigh your orthodoxy. But that may be prying too much. So feel free not to go into any more detail.

    At any rate, the anecdote and the story you’ve shared is reassuring to me that situations don’t have to get ugly (even though it seems to me that the summary stated at that lunch is softpedalling a bit, but you wrote the piece, and if you said yes, you are the one to know what represents your views).

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    g.wesley: I don’t remember how the meeting with Neal Maxwell got set up. The other two apostles were Dallin Oaks and Russel Nelson. I know that Apostle Maxwell had some concerns about the expansion article that he wanted to discuss. I know that I was unaware before we met that the other two would be meeting with us — but I certainly was happy to have them there. They were both very open and cordial.

    We were friends by that time and we discussed a number of issues so I think he felt pretty comfortable in raising with me any concerns he had about what I was doing. When Truman introduced me to Elder Maxwell, he told Elder Maxwell that I was the Mormon “gadfly” and Elder Maxwell often referred to me that way. One time he asked if it was offensive to me. I told him that I was very pleased with that moniker because it was Socrates’ nick-name and I felt like that was about the highest compliment that I had ever been paid. He very kindly said, “good, that is just how I meant it.”

    He and I had some lengthy conversations about the Book of Mormon and the challenges to historicity. I was always very open that I felt that it was beyond dispute that Joseph had relied on the existing KJV as a base text for wording and that some passages were obvious expansions on the KJV as base text and not on any source that would have been available to Lehi. I was also very open that based on my own research I was (and still am) convinced that the form critical assessment of Lehi’s call was solid evidence of an ancient melieu, that the repeated covenant renewal rites in the Book of Mormon were solid evidence of an ancient Jewish culture that it is extremely implausible to believe Joseph Smith just came up with it and that legal procedures in Abinadi’s and Samuel the Lamanite’s cases were solid evidence that Joseph Smith was not the source — and no one in the 19th century was. So I had to come up with a way to reconcile my assessment of the evidence.

    I am presently working on an article on Jacob’s two discourses as high priest in 2 Ne. 6-10 and Jacob 2-5. I can only make sense of them as a covenant renewal convocation that addresses concerns that would have been of vital concern to a group of displaced Jews. In addition, Jacob’s presentation of his status in the community, his position of authority and duty and the forms he adopts to present them are unique to Jacob and very formulaic. They are also literary masterpieces in a way that employs literary devices that are unique to Jacob in the Book of Mormon but are very suggestive of an ancient Jewish form of expression. However, they are also the some of passages that have a high christology and the most Christian theology one could imagine. At the same time, I am comparing the convocation discourse in 2 Ne. 9 to the initiate discourses represented in the Serekh scroll of the DSS. I am surprised how many themes are presented in very similar language. (I know, I may be a victim of Nibley’s parallelomania).

    I also misplaced the years of these meetings in my prior posts here. I went back to my Journal and discovered that the brown bag meeting actually occurred in 1988. The meeting with the apostles that I am referring to occurred in 1989. I guess I can have some sympathy with Joseph Smith for not always getting the year right.

    Did I soft-pedal my views to Apostles Oaks and Russell? In the entire context of the discussion, I don’t think so. I know that we discussed my view that Joseph Smith added large sections to explain his commentary/additions on the ancient text. I remember one (I don’t remember which) of them saying, “prophets are always able to give inspired comments on scripture as scripture.” However, because I don’t remember who said it, we had better leave this comment in the area of apocryphal sayings.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    Mike S- until we get some clear indication from Bradford at MI, I don’t think we have any idea about what is acceptable or not for MI. However, FARMS never was a univocal voice. Look at the comments above about the varying approaches of Bush and Peterson to Inventing Mormonism. In my view, Michael Marquadt was clearly in the anti-Mormon camp. He had previously published a number of openly anti-Mormon tracts that he pedaled through the Tanners. My view is that Bush was way too open to overlooking the underlying agenda to what Marquardt (and Signature) was really doing — dressing a wolf up as a sheep and all that.

    I also know Mike Marquardt because he lived very close to where I grew up in Sandy, Utah. So I am more in line with what Dan was saying. My problem is that I love Mike as a person. He is very soft-spoken and has always been very kind and friendly to me. So I would have approached it different than Dan, but I also would have placed it in the context of a larger agenda and addressed the issues very differently than Bush. Does that make it bad and unscholarly in your view?

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    BTW we should also mention Larry Porter’s excellent review of Inventing Mormonism in the same FARMS Review 7/2. It is also an interesting contrast between Bushman’s approach and Peterson’s. He is much more open about the biased reporting in the book and the failure to place the evidence in a historical context — and much less praise-giving than Bushman.

  • g.wesley

    For me this is wonderful news, Blake.

    As others here could attest, I probably let the situations that did get ugly and ended badly overinfluence the way I understand church leadership (in general) to have interacted with quote unquote intellectuals, etc., historically.

    It’s only the ugly situations that I at least hear about. I could just be looking in the wrong places, but I think that more stories like yours need to told and more often. There seems to be a niche market for telling stories about the ugly situations, and I am not saying they should not be told. But what about stories like yours? Hopefully there are more out there.

  • TT

    Blake, thank you for letting us ask questions about his famous episode. May I ask, to what extent do you think your friendship with these gentlemen afforded you wider latitude than you might otherwise have received? That is, just as we were saying before about how our friendships and loyalties allow us to be more forgiving because we know the heart of our friends, could it be that you were given some leeway here because of your privileged access?

  • oudenos

    This ongoing exchange among g. wesley, Blake, and TT is probably the best thing that has come from the whole FARMS/MI ordeal. More please!

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    TT: It is difficult for me to assess how much friendship has granted me more latitude than others might have received. I’m probably too close to the issue to really assess it other than on the interpersonal level that we were all friends and had respect for each other. I never felt anything other than love from them. Undoubtedly the historical accidents of my place and time of birth were major factors. However, anyone who has interacted with me online can testify that at times I can be an arrogant jerk. (Chris H. doesn’t have a corner on that one [grin]).

    I tend to think that I was just extraordinarily blessed to know these good folks and be able to talk over issues that I really cared about with them. I was always (at least from my perspective) open and forthright about the issues that I felt were challenging to members. We had discussions about New Testament scholarship and the challenges of texts written pseudonomously and too late to really have reliable sources, the Documentary hypothesis, the Book of Abraham and its relation (if any) to the papyrii, the various versions of the First Vision, restoration of the priesthood dating challenges, historicity of the Book of Mormon, and scores of other subjects that are central to the church’s basic belief structure. I never felt that my faithfulness was in question. I don’t remember anyone suggesting in these discussions that it was unfaithful to confront these issues or to come away with a perspective that hadn’t been adopted by church leaders — precisely because for the most part I believe that there was and is no uniform position on these issues among church leaders. I believe that they all believe that the Book of Mormon is an ancient document in some important sense — but the method of translation is up for grabs. Same with the Book of Abraham.

    I also had discussions stressing that we must open up a space for honest and good faith inquiry and asking questions. I emphasized that we couldn’t reject folks just because they came up with different answers than perhaps they or I would. However, I believe it is fair game to ask whether the inquiry is really in good faith or intended to just undermine faith. E.g., Grant Palmer’s approach, for instance, seems to me to be one that ought to be scrutinized and put under a microscope — in addition to the fact that I don’t think he adds anything important to the discussion so that the sole purpose of publishing his “stuff” is to undermine faith. I think that if the folks I interacted with had gotten the impression that the purpose of my inquiry was principally or even tangentially to undermine faith for its own sake, then I would not have had access or respect in the dialogue.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/ Chris H.

    Wait! Now I am also arrogant.

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  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    I guess I should correct a possible misunderstanding. When I say “we discussed” these issues I should clarify that I raised them and how they played in the context of my expansion theory. These issues were not raised by any of the Apostles. I did have other conversations that focused on issues related to New Testament issues and the documentary hypothesis and one conversation at length about the Book of Abraham.

  • christine

    insane. Blake. I think I want to be a friend of Peterson and his friends. But. there seems to be a strange serendiptity to me finding LDS almost coinciding with FARMS being dismissed. I said many times to my friend from Salt Lake City (I am in unlikely Vancouver Island) that I would like exchange with academically thinking LDS people who have nothing else to do…she did not know anyone. I like you and Dr. Peterson. are we all going to be excommunicated. sad since i was just baptized. whatever… what a sad way to sustain anyone who thinks LDS is a sect……………………………………………

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com Chris H.

    “…. I would like exchange with academically thinking LDS people who have nothing else to do…she did not know anyone.”

    Welcome to Faith-Promoting Rumor!

    ” are we all going to be excommunicated”

    Not even close. Dan Peterson is still a full fledged member of the BYU faculty.

    I am curious, christine, as to what you mean by “sect.” Could you clarify that for me? Thanks.

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