Why I Laud the Maxwell Institute’s Direction

I have nothing against Daniel Peterson, and I’m not a fan of John Dehlin. I’m not interested in the so-called “hit piece” that the Mormon Studies Review was supposed to publish, nor do I really care about who leaked what Maxwell Institute emails (for a chronology of sorts, see here). However, I am quite embarrassed by this whole event, and these feelings of embarrassment bring to the fore long-standing feelings of embarrassment that I’ve had about FARMS and its association with BYU.

The Maxwell Institute is involved in things other than the Mormon Studies Review/FARMS Review of Books (although they seriously need to update their website to explain the different things they have going on). There is the Center for the Preservation for Ancient Religious Texts, the Middle Eastern Text Initiative, Richard Bushman’s Summer Seminar, and the Nibley Fellowship Program, to name a few. These initiatives are top notch programs that have raised awareness of BYU’s capabilities in the academic field of religious studies (broadly conceived).

Contrary to this, aspects of FARMS have detracted from BYU’s status. Three of the most problematic aspects are as follows:

1) Many of the “opponents” FARMS engages are irrelevant to the larger field of religious studies. They tend to be evangelicals, disaffected LDS, or others with an axe to grind. While these individuals may make relevant arguments, they are not the primary audiences an academic institution should be engaging. If the Maxwell Institute is serious about developing religious scholarship, it needs to continue to move toward broader engagement with scholars involved in other discourses.

2) The violent rhetoric. Part of this is due to the “opponents” FARMS has chosen to debate, but it’s quite clear that many involved with FARMS see themselves at “war” with the “enemies” of the Church. This isn’t to say that the Church does not have its enemies, but rather that this kind of posturing has no place in an academic institution. (Which also isn’t to say that other organizations, such as FAIR, should not engage these “enemies”.)

3) Some of those involved with FARMS have no training in religious studies (broadly conceived) or Mormon studies (more specifically). Even Peterson, who fits the first criteria, does not fit the second. While this shouldn’t exclude him from making significant contributions, I find it odd that the editor of a journal called Mormon Studies Review is a trained Islamicist.

The bottom line, at least for me, is that I support a (continued) movement toward work done at BYU that establishes BYU’s capabilities in the field of religious studies. This need not mean that BYU should not be involved in apologetics, or that the Maxwell Institute should be a place where only academics talk to other academics. Rather, the context in which these discussions take place needs to change to reflect BYU’s commitment to engage the broader scholarship on religion in a way that measures up to academic standards.

As far as Mormon Studies Review is concerned, this may entail cutting it loose since I think it will always be tied to a particular tradition of (violent) apologetics. And while this does not justify firing Peterson via email, I laud Gerald Bradford for making the difficult choices to continue to move the Maxwell Institute in a more respectable direction.

  • Seth R.

    I’ll just note the author here never bothered to provide us with any examples of FAIR or FARMS doing the sort of misbehavior he criticizes here. Unless you count the Peterson article – which didn’t even have any instances of “violent rhetoric” anyway.

    If I want unsupported assertions – I can get plenty of those in the Huffington Post’s comments section.

  • Allen

    To your three points, by the numbers:

    1. FARMS was engaged in this work before BYU took it under its wing, at the behest of President Hinckley. Assurances were given that the nature of what FARMS did would not be changed and would, in fact, be protected.

    2. Violent rhetoric? Really? Did you read the essay to which you linked? I like the quote (by a non-LDS scholar) that “Blandness in the pursuit of truth is no virtue.” One man’s “violence” is another’s invigoration.

    3. Mormon Studies Review was only the lastest name for the scholarly journal to which Dr. Peterson dedicated over two decades.

  • TT

    This has indeed been a very interesting drama to follow. I’ve been curious to observe the sociology of the reactions. It seems to me that the two sides on this issue have been constructed as divisions between the “faithful” and the “apostate” (Peterson vs. Dehlin), but also the “scholar” versus the “administrator” (Peterson vs. Bradford). It has been particularly interesting to see how the amateur apologist community has utilized these categories, and sometimes conflating them, where Bradford (and sometimes BYU itself) has been associated with the apostate category for rejecting this, and apparently many other articles approved by Peterson over the years.
    What has been more interesting is the apparent silence of many professional LDS scholars on this. There could be many reasons why, including the fact that we lack full information about the facts of the matter (something professional scholars are often more careful about). But in my conversations with folks it seems to me that the views you’ve expressed here are more widely shared by the scholars. Scholars are often more sensitive to the opinions of other scholars in how academic institutions are perceived, and thus have higher standards for those institutions and the scholars who represent them. That could be part of the reason why the scholars I’ve talked to don’t see the cutting loose of Peterson as a real scandal. He is free to pursue his work in a variety of venues, but University affiliated one’s may not be the best place for what he wants to do.

  • TT

    Allen, I’ve found the assertion that President Hinckley and Elder Maxwell approved of what FARMS was doing in the 1990′s to mean that they gave carte blanche to any and all things that they would ever do in the future to be a bit silly. And, then just as now, FARMS produced a lot of great stuff that was not caught up in polemics. Do you have specific evidence that the polemics were the things that they were approving?

  • g.wesley

    smallaxe,
    About the war metaphor, what do you think of the less violent althetic one: e.g. defense against slam dunks, FARMS as a football team (as opposed to the implicitly less beefy and hard hitting ‘soccer team’) ? Would this also be best suited to something like FAIR rather than BYU entities?
    And, pehaps a bit more sticky, to what extent might (past) university administration and church leadership have encouraged or tacitly approved of either metaphor in the institutionalization of FARMS as a BYU entity?
    I think I can imagine a Mormon apologetics that would not be embarrassing to me at least. To others (including my past self), it would be no defense at all but rather too much of a concession to ‘the world.’

  • oudenos

    smallaxe,

    This seems eminently reasonable to me and resonates with my own feelings of embarrassment and now relief about the FARMS/MI situation. Dr. Peterson and his colleagues have made a cottage industry of making or acknowledging an extreme sub-subset of enemies and then cultivating them through the polemical style of their extreme-niche articles and reviews. It is like the little scab on the crown of my head that I have lovingly cultivated, picked, let heal a bit, picked anew, let heal, over and over and over for as long as I can remember–surely it is bad for me, but it does delight! Bad analogy, I know.

    Do you think that part of this is generational? Do you think Mormon scholars (and those who want to participate in scholarship) of a certain age are more pugnacious for some reason? Was it the culture wars of the 60s and 70s? Residual bunker mentality of the race/priesthood and E.R.A. fallout? The blow-back and retrenchment of the rocky early 90s at BYU? Anecdotal data tells me that Mormon folks involved in academics in the age range of 25-to mid40s just don’t feel any compunction to engage in apologetics, or at least of the brand that Dr. Peterson et al. practice.

    Also, I can chart a trajectory in my own life in which apologetics (of the Dr. Peterson sort) appealed to a younger version of me (age 19-23ish) and then sharply ceased to do so after this. So, fairly or unfairly, I associate the drive to apologize with youthful ardor and more than a little immaturity, a time of life when the truth only had to be discovered and then (gloriously) defended. So when I see a growed-ass man still sniping in the name of apologetics (and often, the Lord), it makes me feel embarrassed. Plus, polemicizing apologetics outside the security of BYU’s campus and outside the state of Utah, feels out of tune. I just can’t imagine doing that sort of stuff at my institution and in my community where Mormons are in the vast minority and are hard at work trying to weave themselves into the faith- and social-fabric here.

    But I freely confess to my own wretchedness. So there.

  • Trevor

    I don’t see any difference between the apparently intended new mission of the Maxwell Institute and what the BYU Religious Studies Center has already been doing, which means that one of them will no longer be necessary.

  • oudenos

    Ha! g. wesley and I are on the same page with our “past selves” and their apologetics sympathizing (/fantasizing).

  • smallaxe

    Unless you count the Peterson article – which didn’t even have any instances of “violent rhetoric” anyway.

    Seth, here some of the violent quotes, just from that one article:

    The French have an ironic saying that, I think, is appropriate here: Cet animal est tres mechant; quand on l’attaque, il se defend (“This animal is extremely vicious: when somebody attacks it, it defends itself”). We did not pick this fight with the Church’s critics, but we will not withdraw from it.

    James Nuechterlein, has faced the same question, “Why are you so polemical?” His answer is mine, as well. Such writing, such debate, such confrontation, he says, is not “everyone’s vocation, and it is not the highest vocation, but it is inescapably ours. It would be disingenuous of us to pretend to an attitude of disinterestedness and neutrality in the culture wars that rage about us….”

    Dr. Nuechterlein points out that polemical writing is not necessarily the kind that he would have chosen for himself or for his magazine. “We take no particular pleasure in engaging the militant feminists and homosexual activists, the Nietzschean deconstructionists and relativists, the enemies of traditional morality and religious faith; indeed, the ongoing conflict with our various utopians and Gnostics is dirty business from which no one emerges with entirely clean hands or uncoarsened sensibilities.” This is precisely my attitude, and I am confident that it represents he attitude of most if not all of my colleagues.

    But the attacks of the critics create casualties. (I think of my correspondent from abroad. I think of other presumably far more numerous, who may be troubled but who do not write.) Sometimes it is necessary to climb down from the wall. Sometimes it is even necessary, as Nehemiah’s construction workers did, to labor with one hand while the other holds a sword (see Nehemiah 4:13-23). “However regretfully,” writes Dr. Nuechterlein, “it is indeed a culture war in which my colleagues and I find ourselves engaged, and it is worth emphasizing that this is a conflict not of our making. This is no rarefied battle of the books, no mere esoteric disagreement among obscure scribble. Ideas, as they say, have consequences.”

    The idea that we are at war with those we write about, or write to, has no place in an academic institution.

  • Seth R.

    smallaxe,

    None of those quotes are even violent. I did read the article and all Peterson was saying was that if you start something, we may well be in our rights to respond with equal force.

    As far as “violent rhetoric” goes, that’s pretty weak.

  • oudenos

    g. wesley, for a confirmation of your anxiety over “concession to ‘the world’” notion, see comment by Nathan000000 over at Bryce Haymond’s blog.

    http://www.templestudy.com/2012/06/25/rise-fall-farms/?fwcc=1&fwcl=1&fwl

    Now you can feel guilty all day long while you wallow in your “worldly philosophies” and be ashamed “to apply scholarship to restoration scripture.”

    Sucker.

  • smallaxe

    Allen,
    1. That may or may not be the case; either way I laud the Maxwell Institute’s current direction
    2. See my comment to Seth. Whatever you want to call it, “violence” or “invigoration” it has no place in an academic institution. That article, by the way, was something I found in less than a minute searching on the Maxwell Institute’s page. I can find more if you or Seth are interested.
    3. I know.

  • smallaxe

    Seth,
    Define violence, and tell me how those quotes are not violent.

  • smallaxe

    About the war metaphor, what do you think of the less violent althetic one: e.g. defense against slam dunks, FARMS as a football team (as opposed to the implicitly less beefy and hard hitting ‘soccer team’) ?
    I don’t think those are as bad, and while there end up being “teams” of sorts in academic debates, I think all would agree that a proper metaphor would be one where we are all ideally on the same team, striving to understand something, working to make sense of each other’s opinions, etc. So I don’t think sports metaphors really have a place either, but at least they don’t lead to talk of killing one’s opponent.

  • smallaxe

    And, pehaps a bit more sticky, to what extent might (past) university administration and church leadership have encouraged or tacitly approved of either metaphor in the institutionalization of FARMS as a BYU entity?
    Yeah, this is the more sticky issue because this kind of metaphor was probably employed in the acquiring of FARMS. At the same time, we can probably find examples of this rhetoric in the founding of BYU; yet I think few other institutions/departments at BYU see themselves at war in their fields of study. The study of religion at BYU is quite a bit behind other areas of study at BYU. I know several faculty at BYU who share the embarrassment I mention in the OP (some of which surfaced in the Bott issue).

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

    No more talk of the war in heaven. That war’s over, or at least maybe we should dance around the word and pretend we’re not in a real fight against evil that seeks to destroy everything that is good, just, and true. That would be for great politics!

  • smallaxe

    Do you think that part of this is generational?

    I’m hesistant to argue for a kind of normative process of spiritual maturation. At the very least because it leads to a kind of paternalism where those who are “mature” look down on those still in development.
    I would also say that I see much of what FARMS did (and much of what FAIR) does as helpful for members of the Church.

    Plus, polemicizing apologetics outside the security of BYU’s campus and outside the state of Utah, feels out of tune. I just can’t imagine doing that sort of stuff at my institution and in my community where Mormons are in the vast minority and are hard at work trying to weave themselves into the faith- and social-fabric here.

    Personally I think this is a more important point. When you get outside of certain areas, this kind of apologetics can be parochial and can appear unaware of other (even larger) conversations.

  • smallaxe

    I don’t see any difference between the apparently intended new mission of the Maxwell Institute and what the BYU Religious Studies Center has already been doing, which means that one of them will no longer be necessary.

    This is a good point, although I think the MI is more open to the kind of academic discourse I’d like to see. Bushman’s Summer Seminar is a case in point, while those in RelEd have participated in the Seminar I don’t see the RSC funding that kind of activity.

  • TT

    Seth, we don’t have access to the article about Dehlin. We also don’t have access to many of the articles that Hamblin says that Bradford prevented Peterson from publishing in the past. Do you think that the fact that Bradford had to routinely and repeatedly pull articles that he saw as problematic enough evidence that Peterson’s actions were not in line with the vision of the organization? Or do you think Bradford has some other motive for continually reigning in Peterson?

  • oudenos

    “I’m hesistant to argue for a kind of normative process of spiritual maturation. At the very least because it leads to a kind of paternalism where those who are “mature” look down on those still in development.
    I would also say that I see much of what FARMS did (and much of what FAIR) does as helpful for members of the Church.”

    True that.

  • Allen

    Smallaxe said: The idea that we are at war with those we write about, or write to, has no place in an academic institution.

    If you are opposed to the word “war” and use it as prima facia evidence of “violence,” then you fail to understand that competing ideas are always bound to clash. How else would one characterize diametrically opposed viewpoints, passionately held and vigorously defended? Your concept, quoted above (that there is “no place” for those who view things differently than you) is obviously diametrically opposed to the viewpoint of others and, obviously, passionately held. To suggest that those with competing ideas to your own have “no place” in academic discourse seems, to me, draconian.

  • Allen

    TT said: Do you think that the fact that Bradford had to routinely and repeatedly pull articles that he saw as problematic enough evidence that Peterson’s actions were not in line with the vision of the organization? Or do you think Bradford has some other motive for continually reigning in Peterson?

    I would vote for “some other motive.” That Bradford is able to “routinely and repeatedly pull articles” that he refuses to read before making his editorial decisions indicates that the problem is with something besides the content. (Unless, of course, Bradford is prescient, a gift that he has never to my knowledge claimed.)

  • Allen

    TT said: Allen… Do you have specific evidence that the polemics were the things that they were approving?

    If you would provide concrete examples of things you consider polemic, say from 1995-1997, then I could perhaps find out.

  • TT

    Allen, what evidence do you have that he refused to read the articles? What other motive do you think he has?

  • TT

    Allen @3:02-
    I’m confused. Either, as you imply, FARMS published polemic materials and Hinckley and Maxwell approved of those things, ergo, they would have approved of them today even against other members of the church, or, as Seth implies, FARMS has not published inappropriately polemical materials. Is your demand for evidence that FARMS is polemical an agreement with your first claim, or an agreement with Seth that there is no evidence that FARMS was polemical?

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Ben P

    Thanks, smallaxe, for summarizing much of my views on this. I find the whole online debate over the incident fascinating, mostly because many of the energetic views stem from those who associate with FARMS and denounce the new vision of the MI. Most scholars and academics involved with Mormon studies, at least most grad students and young faculty, find no controversy in the move, and have in fact been hoping for such a change for a long time.

    I think your first point is most important: the lack of dealing with broader fields and the larger works of religious and Mormon studies. Just glancing over the last five issues, there are

    -four excerpts republished from books (some of them decades old)
    -three reviews of fringe Evangelical polemics that probably have minuscule readership (in fact, I bet the FARMS reviews gave them more readers than they ever would have otherwise)
    -two excerpts from dated Nibley essays with accompanying essays (mostly to save Nibley from his liberal interpreters)
    -a debunking of the Spaulding theory
    -a review of a Bill Russel essay that was published three decades ago in Sunstone, two essays debating Rigdon’s participation in the Book of Mormon
    -three essays devoted to fringe writer Rod Meldrum (totaling an astounding 253 pages)
    -a rebuttal to internet writers who challenged a recent Boyd K. Packer address on same-sex marriage)

    These are just the last five issues. Should these things be addressed in a periodical? Sure, but you can’t say that they are necessarily cutting-edge nor within the mainstream of academic studies. (This is probably where FAIR plays a role.) These are especially odd when juxtaposed to the other top-notch scholarship coming out of the Maxwell Institute.

    I can actually sympathize with the complaint that, if what FARMS is doing is not the same as what should be hosted at an academic institution, then BYU shouldn’t have taken on the organization in the first place. Well said, and can’t really be refuted. But institutions always change, especially with new leadership. That’s a fact of life. And what was approved two decades ago doesn’t always achieve the same approval today, especially when the broader community progresses to a new point. I think we would all say the academic field of Mormon studies is much different in 2012 than it was in 1992, so I don’t think it is egregious for the institution to expect similar changes within its structure as well.

    I actually think that Mormon Studies Review (or, if they rename it, whatever the new name is) can be a relevant and important journal in the field, and separate itself from BYU’s Religious Studies Center (which mostly publishes books, anyway) and BYU Studies Quarterly. If they cut it down to one issue at first (to emphasize quality over quantity–a lesson Journal of Mormon History should have learned), pattern itself after something like American Historical Review (only interdisciplinary), and aim to publish 1-2 original, quality, and academic articles along with 4-6 review essays that address major themes and issues throughout all the disciplines in Mormon studies, that would be a great periodical–and one that the field needs. For instance, review essays could include an overview of recent developments in Mormon philosophy and theology (reviewing recent books by Salt Press and Adam Miller), the use of polygamy in Mormon fiction (reviewing The Lonely Polygamist), or the new direction in Mormon biography. That could be a great journal.

    (Also, for those who keep jumping on Bradford over the way he fired Peterson and the Board, keep in mind that we only have one side of the story. We often take caution when we read excommunicated members’ accounts of how the institutional church left them on their way out–we should use similar caution here.)

    All the hoopla over Peterson’s dismissal does show that a certain group of people are still strongly committed to old-school Mormon apologetics. This is fine, even if it is of no interest to someone like me, and even if it shouldn’t be housed at BYU. I hope either FAIR becomes bolstered with this development, or that FARMS is resurrected in its independent form, free to do what they please.

  • Pseudonym Envy

    (I am usually proud to blog under my own name rather than a pseudonym, but there’s no upside to dragging one’s good name into this wallow.)

    smallaxe, I appreciate your rational and calm take on this. I’m surprised to find myself at all sympathetic with Dan Peterson, with whom I’ve had nothing but unpleasant encounters, but he does seem to have been treated discourteously, to put it mildly.

    The ongoing FARMS/FAIR/etc. demand for instances of polemical or vicious or other ugly behavior on the part of Dr. Peterson and his supporters is mind-boggling. Any normal human being can read just about anything they have ever published — including some of the posts in the current debate, including some of the comments in the current thread — and recognize an attitude and a voice that doesn’t belong in either scholarly debate or anything that represents Mormonism. Yet those speaking in this ugly, biting voice refuse to recognize it; they ignore it and continue to call for examples (which they then ignore), or they brush it off by saying that anyone who doesn’t enjoy their biting sarcasm is too stupid to enjoy their special wit. There’s just no talking to them. They refuse even to consider that they should be ashamed of how they present their defense of the Church, how inappropriate it is to defend the Lord with words and tone that, according to the record, have never come out of his own mouth.

    Thanks again for this post. If these people had any real concern for the Church or for the Maxwell Institute or for BYU, they would be acting with more dignity in public, working out their problems behind the scenes, and doing whatever it took to help the Maxwell Institute move ahead in a worthy direction.

  • SmallAxe

    No more talk of the war in heaven. That war’s over, or at least maybe we should dance around the word and pretend we’re not in a real fight against evil that seeks to destroy everything that is good, just, and true.

    Bryce, first notice that you are not moderated the way that we are moderated at your blog.

    Second, I’m not saying that “the war’s over”; I’m saying that an academic institution is not the grounds for carrying out your war.

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

    “Most scholars and academics involved with Mormon studies, at least most grad students and young faculty, find no controversy in the move, and have in fact been hoping for such a change for a long time.”

    Ben, if these people don’t find anything wrong in this swift and unbelievably unprofessional dismissal of an entire team of scholars, who have worked for decades with this institution, then there is something very wrong. I would hope they would give more respect to Dan and his team than that. There should be at least some common courtesy and decency shown to these people after all the work they have done, which was all but completely absent in this debacle. (Note, we do have both sides of the story, since emails from both Bradford and Peterson have been leaked.)

    SmallAxe, you are free to moderate me on your blog, just as I am to moderate you on mine. As for the war, are you saying that the Church is no longer engaged in a war on evil that began in heaven (since it is now “my” war, not ours)? Or just that our best and brightest minds should not be engaged in that war? Leave it to the Primary kids?

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Ben P

    “(Note, we do have both sides of the story, since emails from both Bradford and Peterson have been leaked.)”

    This, Bryce. Keep this firmly in mind before making your sweeping generalizations of an “unbelievably unprofessional dismissal,” the MI’s lack of “respect to Dan and his team,” and the lack of “common courtesy and decency shown to these people.” This is a narrative constructed by a certain side of the story, and we would (rightfully) call out people who, say, left the Church and went public with their version of what happened. The Maxwell Institute, like the Church, have chosen to remain silent on the causes and background to the immediate context of the firing, and I assure you that silence is not only because they have things to hide; it is just the professional way to do things. It’s unfortunate that others don’t take the similar high road.

    And, just like the OP mentions, despite however the shakeup happened, I think most agree that the MSR has needed a new direction for quite some time to meet their academic institution and the expectation’s of today’s scholarly field. Fighting a war against evil is an important and worthwhile thing, but it is not the thing done in an academic field–it is reserved for its own type of platform, just like testimony-bearing is not the right lingo for, say, a biology presentation. Like you–I hope, anyway–I hope those displaced from this move either regroup in FAIR or rebuild the original, independent FARMS organization so they can do what they wish without the academic institutional oversight of the expectation to meet mainstream academic standards. It’d even be great if they could work out something with the MI and move ownership of past issues of the FARMS Review over to the organization and start with issue 23.2, just where they left off.

    I’m with you on saying that much of the blame should fall on BYU for originally bringing FARMS under their institutional umbrella–it was a wrong-headed move that has proved harmful for both institutions. But that doesn’t remove the right for the Maxwell Institute to change things 15 years later.

  • g.wesley

    Taking this bit from Peterson circa 1990s …

    “But the attacks of the critics create casualties. (I think of my correspondent from abroad. I think of other presumably far more numerous, who may be troubled but who do not write.)”

    … there is no doubt that he and others want to help. And I’m sure they have helped some. Others not. They see themselves as saving fellow combatants that have been wounded. Yet the act of saving amounts to hunting down the enemy, revenge. It’s as if the shooting/stabbing of the ‘anti-Mormon’ will somehow heal the wounded and even bring life back to the casualties. There is no stopping to consider that maybe the bullets are flying in multiple directions, including friendly fire.
    That maybe some of ‘our’ battles lines were established a tad hastily and/or ad hoc rather than by direct order of the commander in chief, are just not sustainable (anymore), and that by insisting on maintaining them we could actually be sending future recruits to their doom.

    Too poetical, I know. Sorry.

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

    “SmallAxe, you are free to moderate me on your blog, just as I am to moderate you on mine.”
    Yet, we don’t.
    Wait? Why is that?

  • Allen

    TT said:I’m confused…

    You asked me, originally, whether I had “specific evidence that the polemics were the things that [Hinkley et. al.] were approving” when they decided to extend the invitation to FARMS to become part of BYU. In order to understand you better (since I’ve never communicated with you before), I asked for specific, concrete examples of what you consider polemic. In that way I could best judge where you are coming from in your request.

    Contrary to many people’s assumptions, polemic rhetoric is a very subjective area. What you view as polemic, others may view in an entirely different light. In most academic discourse that I have read, the term “polemic” is used in one of three general ways: (1) something that is in “attack mode” or aggressive in nature, (2) something that disagrees with long-held positions that the user thinks should be self-evident to everyone, or (3) something for which the user doesn’t like the tone.

    The first usage is, to me, the most interesting because it is so open to personal interpretation. To make a long story short, I have never, that I can recall, read anything that FARMS has published that I’ve considered polemic according to this usage. Do I believe that FARMS publications stake out a position and defend it (no matter how small the position or topic)? Sure. Do I believe that some FARMS publications can vigorously resist a perceived criticism of LDS theology or practice? You bet. But to my thinking there are two things to remember about this. First, anything published in defense of a position is, by nature, defensive–not aggressive–and therefore not polemic under this common usage. Second, writing of such a style is common within academia, in all disciplines, and to single out FARMS as being somehow particularly vile for their perceived violations of rhetorical decency seems naive, if not capricious.

    The other two usages of the term “polemic” are, I believe, a bit less interesting. The second is more to score rhetorical points than anything else; it comes down to “yes you did, no I didn’t.” Such usage should charitably be viewed as differences of opinion among honest people. The third usage is the most imprecise usage of the term; it boils down to what people look for and accept in their writing. Authors always select tone for a specific audience, and then write to meet the expectations of that audience. This is common in any field of writing. If one doesn’t like the tone, one can assume that they are not in the audience and go find a different audience in which they are more comfortable.

    I hope that helps to clear up the confusion a bit. If you can provide specific examples of (as I mentioned) polemic FARMS writings from, say, 1995-1997, then I can get a better sense of what you mean by the term and then, in turn, can perhaps answer your original question.

  • http://bycommonconsent.com BHodges

    Thanks for the post, smallaxe. Like others have mentioned, there are various narratives being weaved about the current circumstances with various folks rallying to their respective standards. It’s ugly to watch, especially considering there is plenty of stuff behind the scenes we may never be privy to. As for the folks asking for examples of “violence,” the war metaphors, the triumphalist tone, the almost uniform resistance to admit an inch of ground to any supposed “enemy” are all good examples of the excesses of FARMS in the past. At the same time, many are overlooking the non-polemical stuff that has appeared in the FR over the years. It seems to me the snarky stuff has allowed people to overlook the more quality materials. I’ll have more to say about it in the future, perhaps.

  • http://bycommonconsent.com BHodges

    Allen:

    1) there is more than one way to skin a cat.

    2) avoiding the appearance of evil is good advice

    3) the perception of attack or meanness ought to be enough to create pause and cause one to reassess one’s tactics so as to cut off as much as possible the accusations which otherwise harm to utility of the author’s work.

    4) Various academic battles outside of Mormonism aren’t nice places to play, either, it should be noted.

    5) We’d hold ourselves to a higher example if possible.

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

    Ben, I’m still confused as to why we only have “a certain side of the story.” We may not have the entire 10-volume collector’s edition of the story, but we have a lot of it. Please explain.

    Nothing will ever, ever, Ben, be professional about firing a long-time sitting renowned academic scholar, and his entire team of associate editors, by email. And we know for a fact that happened. Silence is not always professional; Peterson’s team not hearing of their own dismissal until reading about it in the proverbial morning paper is beyond the pale. Yet this was allowed to happen through dismal leadership on the part of Bradford.

  • Nat Whilk

    I object to the pseudonym “smallaxe” because of its violent connotations.

  • Daniel Bartholomew

    Are university scholars truly too altruistic and civilized to engage in heated rhetoric or violent imagery? Certainly academics can be highly politicized and can engage in heated arguments. I don’t doubt that many academics write perfectly antiseptic and anodyne articles – but how much time and digging would it take to refute the idea that university scholars are above-all-that?

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Ben P

    Bryce: I just suggest that the “facts” that you think happened may not actually be as sure or clear as it is being presented.

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

    It is worth noting that Dan Peterson was not fired. He still has his position at BYU. He is still receiving his salary. Midgely has been retired for well over a decade. They were removed from honorary positions at the MI and they were removed from a publication which isn’t even a journal.

  • http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com Rameumptom

    For me, I have no problem with MI wanting to get out of the apologetic arena. If Bradford’s vision goes elsewhere, then fine.
    That said, instead of dramatically changing the program as he did, wouldn’t it have been better to just release FARMS from its BYU/MI moorings and let it be an independent program again? He could easily have created the Mormon Studies Review to do the research he wants, and allow the independent FARMS community to manage the original Farms Review.
    Also, firing a major player like Dan Peterson via email, when he’s outside the country for several weeks is underhanded. Period. Bradford showed himself to not be a professional in any of this. I only hope he can right the boat, and perhaps save his reputation.

    So, who are applauding his methods in firing Peterson and making these changes surreptitiously? Liberals, Dehlinites, anti-Mormons, and perhaps a few that just do not like apologetics. But anyone who has read and profited from Nibley, Sorensen, Welch, or any other FARMS material over the past decades will realize there is something wrong with this current picture.

    Will MI survive? As long as Bradford does not mess with METI or CPART as he did with FARMS, then yes. Will FARMS survive? In some other form, yes. But you can be certain in the future, if BYU invites any organization to become part of it, they will think twice before saying yes.

  • TT

    Allen @5:02
    Welcome to our blog and thank you for your thoughtful contributions. Poke around!
    Let us say that we could find some examples of works in the Review from those years that we could agree cross a line of respectable academic discourse. (I found some in about 2 minutes, but it is not clear that we could agree on that given your claim that you don’t believe that the FARMS review has ever engaged in polemic. but let us pretend that we could find something that we agree to). I don’t deny that a great deal of things in the Review are perfectly acceptable. I myself have benefited greatly and learned much from much of what they have published before and after the merger with BYU. (In fact, I think that the fact that the vast majority of what they produced was appropriate actually helps my argument.) But back to our hypothetical. Let us say that we found something that we agreed on was inappropriate. On what basis would you be able to tell me whether or not Hinckley and Maxwell approved of that specific example? Certainly we could not conclude that they endorsed every and all things that FARMS produced, either in terms of content or tone or logic, during that period simply because they advocated for the merger. What evidence would you point to in your argument that a specific polemical attack was approved?
    Further, even if we could agree not only that one example was both inappropriate scholarly discourse, as well as approved by Hinckley and Maxwell, could we therefore conclude that all inappropriate scholarly discourse that FARMS would produce over the next 15 years would also be approved? That is, does Peterson enjoy a sort of divine right where, by definition, he cannot commit sin because 15 years ago the leaders of the church encouraged that his organization fall under the umbrella of BYU?
    I don’t think that our disagreement is a disagreement over what counts as polemic, but rather what counts as evidence for your assertion that those particular leaders of the Church would be in favor of what Peterson or any other person had done, would do in the future, or whether or not his dismissal now is warranted.
    Finally, there are a number of speculations that General Authorities were directly involved in suppressing this article. (Personally, I don’t approve of their intervention in these matters). If those rumors turned out to be true, would that affect your view? Or, would those current General Authorities have violated the spirit of what Hinckley and Maxwell had previously condoned?

  • TT

    Ram,
    “wouldn’t it have been better to just release FARMS from its BYU/MI moorings and let it be an independent program again?”

    I’ve seen this suggestion in a number of places. While this may be a nice outcome, it is probably not possible. I doubt that Bradford has the authority to divest one of its assets or even money that has been given to the foundation. Even if he could, how would the decision be made about what resources would go with it? They have an endowment and other funds. There is no way be able to quantify how the money should be split. Further, he is the director of the program and has no obligation to give up its resources to any employee or former employee. There is, of course, no reason why Peterson couldn’t start up another journal. That is the much simpler solution that would avoid lengthly negotiations that Bradford has no obligation to entertain at all.

    Also, remember that we only have one side of the story to know the circumstances that led to the need to fire him over email (being out of the country might be one of those circumstances). And whether or not firing someone over email is bad form is not a particularly relevant issue. There are lots of reasons that I can think of that might make that necessary (I know it is done in the corporate world in certain circumstances, such as when an employee refuses to show up to work). But ultimately this is a side issue. The question is not how he was terminated, but whether it was justified and whether it is good for the organization.

    “So, who are applauding his methods in firing Peterson and making these changes surreptitiously? Liberals, Dehlinites, anti-Mormons, and perhaps a few that just do not like apologetics.”
    I’m not sure that is an accurate picture of who is in favor of this and who isn’t. I find it striking that not one professional scholar has come out in support of Peterson, excluding one of his close friends. These various groups all might have quite different motives. And those who think that this is ultimately good for MI and BYU don’t have to “applaud his methods in firing Peterson” to think so.

  • TT

    Just a quick note… visiting lecturer Jeffrey Neilson was dismissed from BYU by letter. I don’t recall any of you freaking out about that. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Nielsen
    This is not so uncommon that it is somehow beyond the pale, and it appears that BYU engages in this method when it is necessary.

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

    Nielson actually lost him employment. Peterson has not.

  • SmallAxe

    Sorry, I’ve been away from the computer. I’ll try to catch up.

    Allen,

    If you are opposed to the word “war” and use it as prima facia evidence of “violence,” then you fail to understand that competing ideas are always bound to clash. How else would one characterize diametrically opposed viewpoints, passionately held and vigorously defended?

    I’m not against disagreement, I’m against portraying those I disagree with as my “enemy combatants” where I labor with one hand while the other holds a sword.

  • SmallAxe

    SmallAxe, you are free to moderate me on your blog, just as I am to moderate you on mine.

    Bryce, this isn’t a question of freedom, it’s a question of dealing with disagreement. Despite our disagreement I don’t silence you.

    As for the war, are you saying that the Church is no longer engaged in a war on evil that began in heaven (since it is now “my” war, not ours)? Or just that our best and brightest minds should not be engaged in that war? Leave it to the Primary kids?

    Neither. We can talk about a war against evil that began in heaven and is continued on earth; and our best and brightest should be engaged in that war. An academic institution, however, is not the battlefield.

  • SmallAxe

    At the same time, many are overlooking the non-polemical stuff that has appeared in the FR over the years. It seems to me the snarky stuff has allowed people to overlook the more quality materials.

    I agree with you.

  • SmallAxe

    I object to the pseudonym “smallaxe” because of its violent connotations.

    What makes you think I intend “smallaxe” in a violent sense? I’ve been blogging with this pseudonym for over 6 years. I’ve been involved in numerous heated debates. I don’t recall ever using violent imagery like that used by Peterson. Lastly, rest assured that when I publish something in an academic setting I don’t publish under the name smallaxe.

  • SmallAxe

    Are university scholars truly too altruistic and civilized to engage in heated rhetoric or violent imagery?

    No, but they should be. I can’t think of anything in my field that approaches the level of violent imagery that MSR does. If there were, it would be an embarrassment to the field.

  • SmallAxe

    So, who are applauding his methods in firing Peterson and making these changes surreptitiously? Liberals, Dehlinites, anti-Mormons, and perhaps a few that just do not like apologetics. But anyone who has read and profited from Nibley, Sorensen, Welch, or any other FARMS material over the past decades will realize there is something wrong with this current picture.

    In adding to TT’s response, I think this comment is disingenuous. I don’t see anyone here “applauding his methods” in removing Peterson, and I don’t see how these changes (assuming that we’re talking about a change in direction) were done “surreptitiously”. Even Hamblin acknowledges this was an on-going struggle: http://mormonscriptureexplorations.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/what-the-maxwell-institute-controversy-is-really-about/ Those, such as myself, who are lauding the direction of the Maxwell Institute, are those who care about the reputation of BYU. And FWIW, I think most of us here would count ourselves as beneficiaries of FARMS previous work.

  • H_Nu

    Perhaps Chris H could explain how his work with BYU-I ended.
    Letter? Email?
    Just curious what your feelings aret about this.
    Does it bring up any feelings?

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

    I was hired for 3 years to fill-in for a mission president. After three years, I moved on. My BYU contract was explicitly for just one year. If I don’t get tenure at Casper College…I will let you know in January one way or another. :)

    Of course, Peterson has not been fired, dismissed, or demoted by BYU. I think I have said that before.

  • SmallAxe

    I hear Kim Clark took him out for a fancy dinner, congratulated him on a job well done, and after a tearful goodbye sent him in a limo down to Provo.

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

    My chair actually offered me a 4th year. CES limits visiting full-timers to 3 years. I was blessed to teach at CES schools for 4 years, but I have been very happy to be at a public institution. This is where the Lord wants me to be.

  • smallaxe

    Just going back over some of the comments.

    I actually think that Mormon Studies Review (or, if they rename it, whatever the new name is) can be a relevant and important journal in the field, and separate itself from BYU’s Religious Studies Center (which mostly publishes books, anyway) and BYU Studies Quarterly. If they cut it down to one issue at first (to emphasize quality over quantity–a lesson Journal of Mormon History should have learned), pattern itself after something like American Historical Review (only interdisciplinary), and aim to publish 1-2 original, quality, and academic articles along with 4-6 review essays that address major themes and issues throughout all the disciplines in Mormon studies, that would be a great periodical–and one that the field needs. For instance, review essays could include an overview of recent developments in Mormon philosophy and theology (reviewing recent books by Salt Press and Adam Miller), the use of polygamy in Mormon fiction (reviewing The Lonely Polygamist), or the new direction in Mormon biography. That could be a great journal.

    Ben P., this is a great idea. In the long run, though, how would it differ from BYU Studies? In the “review” aspect and/or in some other way?

  • Glenn Thigpen

    Aside from the fact that the Maxwell Institute may well just begin to duplicate functions of other BYU groups, the change of direction is really moot. Bradford seemingly is well within his rights in his position to take the MI wherever he wishes. It is also evident that there are many who do not care for that direction and it just may be that another F.A.R.M.S. will spring up, independent of BYU as it was before. That may be the best for all concerned.

    Glenn

  • http://juvenileinstructor.org Ben P

    Smallaxe: I would see the difference largely in the focus on review essays. Granted, that would diminish the number of quality issues it could do, but I’d be very happy to see an annual publication that emphasizes quality over quantity. As it is, there isn’t really a place to write a 15 page review/methodological/state-of-the-field essay for many of the disciplines within Mormon studies; the MSR can provide that. For me, places like Reviews in American History routinely provide the most sophisticated research, even more than traditional journals.

  • http://Loydo38.blogspot.com The narrator

    Looks like smallaxe is the next person to be called a liar by Peterson on his blog.

  • http://Loydo38.blogspot.com The narrator
  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    I have a concern: people like me who are not academics are frozen out of the MI. I’m not in Mormon studies. I’m not in academia. Yet Dan was willing to take what I wrote on its merits and publish it. I am afraid that the MI is now beholden to the publish or perish crowd — and I don’t have those pressures at all. There is a great deal of freedom in not having to publish and having one’s writings based on their merit rather than the credentials that follow the name.

    I don’t believe that TT’s link to Dan’s comments is at all persuasive of inappropriate dialogue or scholarship. If it is we had better rip every copy of “Onward Christian Soldiers” from the Hymnal and heaven knows that there is no place for the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Heck, even the “Ants go Marching” is suspect by this kind of “it talks about war so it is bad” knee jerk reaction.

    In addition, Dan is a remarkably well-rounded scholar. The comments about surprise that an Islamicst would lead FARMS or MI only support my view that there is an elitest motivation behind this kind of move. The only worthy contributions are by historians or those in the religious studies disciplines. That is something that I think is holding Mormon studies back in general and in this case in particular. Admittedly I have a vested interest — but then I have invested a lot of time in things Mormon as well.

    I don’t support the “new” direction of the MI (and Elder Maxwell was particularly close friend of mine with whom I discussed FARMS and its work on several occasions. I hate to say it, but those conversations may have lead to BYU taking FARMS in house to provide added support). I don’t support the shoddy way that Dan and his team were treated. I suppose I am part of the “old” guard. If that is the case, then I am not enthused about the prospects for the new Mormon studies crowd. Honestly, suggesting that Dan is somehow part of an older generational blind-spot that should be superseded by the newer and better Mormon studies crowd is just so much crap in my view.

  • g.wesley

    Again, sticking to the fine example from the opening post.

    Compare and contrast what Peterson writes about Inventing Mormonism by Marquandt and Walters with what Bushman writes in the actual review of that book in the very same issue of the FARMS Review (6.2). Call me crazy, but I think it points to the same kinds of tensions that are manifesting now and have been around basically forever.

    I know this is a ghastly long comment, but I think the comparison and contrast will be worth the time.

    In the intro, Peterson reproduces a letter from “a local leader of the Church in a distant country.” According to the letter as reproduced, the man does not describe himself as “troubled” necessarily, much less as a “casualty” resulting from “attack” in some “war.” Unless it occurs elsewhere in a portion of the letter that was not reproduced (and if so why would that not have been used?), it is Peterson who couches the letter in this language.

    The man simply asks whether there has been “any refutation of the claims” in a Signature Books publication, in the book Inventing Mormonism (also essentially published by Signature), and in some articles in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Again, he does not say that the authors of these publications are on the attack or that he is a casualty of war. What the man says is:

    “I am almost persuaded that Joseph Smith was the author of the Book of Mormon, the First Vision and … of the temple ceremonies. … If their claims are valid, it deprives Mormonism of its special appeal….Their arguments and evidences, I think, are solid. I’m asking for more compelling evidences or arguments.”

    The man may or may not have been considering the prospect of leaving the church as a result of this near persuasion. But let’s say that he was. At any rate we know that he was a local church leader in his area, and that he found what he had read to be rather convincing.

    So how does Peterson respond? He sends along a copy of the previous issue of the FARMS Review (6.1), the issue reviewing the first Signature Books publication mentioned by the man. In Peterson’s intro there, the man would have been quickly brought up to speed on the feud between FARMS and Signature, or vice-versa, and glancing at the table of contents he would have seen from Midgley’s contribution that there was a “Current Battle over the Book of Mormon.” If he had pursued Midgley’s review further, he would have found Midgley “Surveying the Battlefield,” starting with Brodie’s well-known biography.

    Back story, which the man could have gone on to discover: among other things, two years before in FARMS Review 3.1, BYU Religion professor Stephen Robinson opened his review of another Signature Books publication with the now famous quip: “Korihor’s back, and this time he’s got a printing press.” This was of course in reference to the satanically deceived anti-Christ who is eventually trampled to death in Alma chapter 30. Based on this and two other FARMS pieces, Signature (implicitly) threatened to sue unless there was some kind of retraction. On my reading, Peterson defended Robinson at length in spite of a call from England, founder of Dialogue, for “Healing and Making Peace—In the World and the Church,” and there was anything but a retraction in the FARMS Review.

    See http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/review/?vol=4&num=1&id=78#ref2

    Returning to the intro to 6.2, Peterson says that he “was very pleased” to send 6.1 to the man, and that he is “also happy” that 6.2 treats the book Inventing Mormonism which the man referred to in his letter. This pleasure and happiness seem to be tied to the hope of saving the man as a soon-to-be or already lost casualty of war, even if the local church leader did not know he was one.

    Next something curious happens. Suddenly there is a move from the publications that the man mentioned in his letter to the way these publications are being used by “hardcore anti-Mormons.” Such as:

    “Utah Missions Incorporated, of Marlow, Oklahoma, enthusiastically offers Inventing Mormonism for sale, along with classics like Latayne Scott’s Why We Left Mormonism and The Mormon Mirage, David Reed and John Farkas’s Mormons Answered Verse by Verse, and a volume of Colleen Ralson’s dreadful anti-Mormon cartoons. Luke Wilson, of Gospel Truths Ministries in Grand Rapids, Michigan, remarks of the same book that it provides ‘airtight and inescapable evidence’ of Joseph Smith’s dishonesty.”

    So it is not only about the publications that have nearly persuaded this local church leader. It is about the less than academic world of outright religious rivalry. Here the pugilistic and martial language enters … the French saying about a vicious animal defending itself from attack, etc. “We did not pick this fight with the Church’s critics,” Peterson says, “but we will not withdraw from it.”

    Wait, what fight and with whom? With the authors of the publications mentioned in the man’s letter? With ‘hard core anti-Mormons’ that are using and selling these publications along with others less professional? It is impossible to sort out in Peterson’s intro and perhaps intentionally so. Answering the man’s letter, reviewing the publications he mentions in it, and one-upping the antis are rolled into a single enterprise.

    And where might this polarizing technique leave the man himself? By his own account, this local church leader was ‘almost persuaded’ by the publications, thinking their arguments and evidences to be ‘solid.’ In other words, it is safe to say that the man was torn. The rhetorical force of Peterson’s intro to 6.2, assuming the man read it, is to put immense pressure on the tear until only one part or the other is left. Peterson does not suggest ways in which the tear might be patched or stitched together, not to mention how it might have been avoided in the first place with more pliable fabric.

    Now compare and contrast this with the actual review of Inventing Mormonism in the FARMS Review, where Bushman concludes:

    “All in all, Inventing Mormonism is a far cry in both spirit and substance from the iconoclastic studies of Mormonism that descend from E. D. Howe and Alexander Campbell to Fawn Brodie and the early Wesley Walters. The book assembles material that has not been part of the record before, and in good faith offers variant readings of Joseph Smith’s history. I have taken exception to the most critical conclusions, but I like the book. I admire the research, and I appreciate the generous, fair-minded tone of the writing. The book makes a genuine effort to be irenic, and I hope that Mormon readers will accept the work in the spirit in which it is offered.”

    The contrast is unmistakable. There is disagreement here, perhaps a kind of apologetics even. But instead of polemical language the book under review is said to have a ‘generous, fair-minded tone,’ and to make ‘a genuine effort to be irenic.’ Instead of ruling it out as guilty by association with Peterson’s ‘hard core anti-Mormons,’ Bushman says he likes, admires, appreciates ….

    Bushman hopes that ‘Mormon readers will accept the work in the spirit in which it is offered.’ Did they? I would venture that Peterson for one did not in his intro to 6.2 or in his reply to the man whose letter he reproduced. Hopefully the man himself did.

  • Pingback: Are Book Reviews Scholarship? Explosive Tensions Within the Mormon Studies Review | Times & Seasons

  • H_Nu

    TT,
    You superficially compare Jeffrey Nielsen to Dan Peterson. I think your insinuation is wrong, but grant that a comparison is merited. Let’s do it now.
    Nielson Peterson
    Job Status Fired Fired
    Lost Income Yes Yes
    Lost All Income Yes No
    Tenured Job No Yes
    Year to Year Yes No
    Broke commitment Yes No
    Church calling lost. Yes No.
    Nielson was a year-to-year contracted professor who broke his committment not to fight against BYU. Peterson had worked at one job for 23 years. TT insinuates there is no financial repurcussions for Peterson, but that seems to contradict Peterson’s supposed email. I also highly dou even doubt that even Jeffrey Nielsen would be stupid enough to suppose he would still have his job. If he did think he could retain it, maybe he was released for sheer stupidity rather than “broken contract.”

  • Aaron

    If it is true that the Church’s action is based on a desire for more civility in our discourse with others, then it is a good thing. Would that we could do so in our national discourse as well.

  • http://www.clobberblog.com Ms. Jack

    H_nu ~ You forgot a category for “Released From a Position at BYU via Correspondence” / “Yes Yes.” Which is what TT was addressing.

    Numerous people—even some who are not traditional defenders of Dan and FARMS—have been decrying Bradford’s decision to release Dan as editor while he was out of the country. In the comments at the article at M*, Bryce Hammond said, “[D]o you really think BYU supports Bradford firing Dan while he’s out of the country via email? Has BYU really sunk down to such an unprofessional level as that?” And one of the commentators at one of the message boards I visit who is often critical on different LDS issues said, “Personally, I think Bradford’s doing this while DCP is traveling on the other side of the world reeks of cowardice.”

    I disagree with the sentiment that this was either cowardly or unprofessional. Dan was slated to be out of the country for weeks, and the MSR is already three issues behind schedule. The decision having been made, Bradford probably just wanted to get the ball rolling on searching for a new editorial team. I suppose he could have done this on the down low while Dan was out of town, but then he probably would have been accused of behaving in a sneaky and underhanded fashion had word of it gotten out.

    In any case, the Nielsen firing shows conclusively that BYU has, in the past, released people from positions via correspondence, which is essentially what Bradford did. If that counts as unprofessional behavior, then yes, BYU is that unprofessional, and has been since 2006 at least.

    Incidentally, I was laid off from my job in the TIU library in May of last year, and my boss notified me via e-mail. The thought never even occurred to me to accuse him of cowardly or unprofessional conduct.

  • http://www.clobberblog.com Ms. Jack

    Whoops, it was Rameumptom who made the first comment that I quoted just now, about BYU being unprofessional. My apologies to Bryce.

  • Allen

    TT said: I don’t think that our disagreement is a disagreement over what counts as polemic, but rather what counts as evidence for your assertion that those particular leaders of the Church would be in favor of what Peterson or any other person had done, would do in the future, or whether or not his dismissal now is warranted.

    I see. It appears that your misunderstanding of my original comment has now led to the creation of a caricature of that comment. I’m sorry for any part in that misunderstanding. Here is my original comment:

    FARMS was engaged in this work before BYU took it under its wing, at the behest of President Hinckley. Assurances were given that the nature of what FARMS did would not be changed and would, in fact, be protected.

    Here is the caricature:

    …could we therefore conclude that all inappropriate scholarly discourse that FARMS would produce over the next 15 years would also be approved? That is, does Peterson enjoy a sort of divine right where, by definition, he cannot commit sin because 15 years ago the leaders of the church encouraged that his organization fall under the umbrella of BYU?

    I disagree with the caricature, but stand by my original response. FARMs did engage in apologetic discourse (some of it “down and dirty” and to the dislike of some, if not many) before it was folded into BYU. And Hinckley did offer assurances that FARMS would be free to continue its own course. And, I should note that my statement did not imply 100% approval for every word written by FARMS authors, nor would I claim such.

    A call for such proof–that all things FARMS, in their entirety, without exception, is apostalically approved and therefore protected–is mere diversion; it gets away from the larger picture. The Maxwell Institute has now, with Bradford’s action, been gutted (to use “violent” rhetoric) of the distinctive thing that made FARMS what it was. The Maxwell Institute does many, many things besides produce what is now called the Mormon Studies Review. However, all those many things were added after FARMS became a part of BYU. If everything of FARMS that existed before assimilation is now gone, of what value were assurances by Hinkley et. al. that FARMS could continue to do what it had been doing and enjoy the scholarly and publishing freedom to do so? How is Bradford’s latest move to remove apologetics from the Maxwell Institute consistent with the original vision of FARMS and the assured continuance of that vision within a BYU framework?

    This doesn’t have to do with whether FARMS and its publications were perfect. It has to do with the fact that FARMS was one thing, that one thing was valued and expected to be “protected,” and now that one thing has been transmogrified into an entirely different thing from its origin.

    Sorry, again, for any confusion.

    Now, lest there be additional confusion, I am not saying that Bradford’s stated desires are wrongheaded. What is wrongheaded, to my thinking, is the transmogrification of FARMS into something it never was intended to be and, in the process, the killing (violent rhetoric, again) of what FARMS was. Something that was valuable–and whose value was, to one degree or another, recognized by Hinckley et. al., has been devalued and destroyed. That is not only wrong, but something that I see as a profound loss. Bradford could have just as easily allowed the FARMS Review (under whatever title) to continue and started an additional journal (or twenty such journals) to fulfill his vision. The success of his vision did not necessitate the complete trashing of an earlier vision with which he may have disagreed.

  • http://www.timesandseasons.org Ben H

    Smallaxe, thank you for articulating so well a reaction shared by many, for reasons that I largely respect. It seems to me the objections you express in the original post stem from a category mistake, however, due to applying the standards of straight-laced, buttoned-down, conventional scholarship to material that is not intended to fit that genre, material we might think of as journalism. This is an understandable mistake because there are multiple genres present in the FARMS Review/MSR, including conventional scholarship alongside more journalistic material, but still a mistake. I explain this point further in a blog post I just put up.

    I appreciate your later acknowledgment that there is significant value in this more popularly-oriented material. I would say that this thread actually includes a number of illustrations of how the Review includes a variety of genres, with different goals, and different methods and styles to go with them–variety essentially along the lines of my analysis–and a number of remarks along the way seem to be moving in something like this direction.

    Based on your comments later in the thread, it looks like you might agree with those who want to see the material you object to in OP as unscholarly continue to be published all the same. If that is your desired outcome, though, I am having trouble seeing why you would laud the journal’s current situation.

  • TT

    H_Nu,
    Ms. Jack is absolutely right. I am not making an equivalency between Peterson and Jeffries in any other way than the manner in which they were notified.

    Allen,
    “FARMs did engage in apologetic discourse (some of it “down and dirty” and to the dislike of some, if not many) before it was folded into BYU. And Hinckley did offer assurances that FARMS would be free to continue its own course. And, I should note that my statement did not imply 100% approval for every word written by FARMS authors, nor would I claim such.”

    I think that we largely agree here, though we might be emphasizing different aspects. What it means for Hinckley to assure that FARMS could pursue it own course is not self-evident, and certainly doesn’t mean that Hinckley implicitly or explicitly condoned “down an dirty” apologetics. As we have all agreed, FARMS did a lot more than that, even most of their work not falling into that category. My point is that we cannot say that this particular article written about Dehlin, nor any particular article that a director may judge to be in poor taste or counterproductive, should be published simply based on either the legacy of FARMS nor the past “approval” of FARMS by LDS leaders. Bradford or any others in charge can make informed editorial decisions about particular articles and their redeeming or damning qualities, and the suppression of this or any other article does not constitute a betrayal of FARMS, Hinckley, or anyone else.

    “the transmogrification of FARMS into something it never was intended to be”

    That may be the case, and you and I might even agree on that point. But we would have to know, of course, both what FARMS was intended to be, and what it will be transmogrified into. FARMS has ceased to exist in the way that it once was long ago, including the time while Peterson was still there running it in part. All institutions change over time, and it seems to me that evaluating those changes should take more into consideration than simply what was originally intended. The changes at MI may be good or may be bad, but that determination should not be restricted to whether the changes are simply different from what once was.

    “Bradford could have just as easily allowed the FARMS Review (under whatever title) to continue and started an additional journal (or twenty such journals) to fulfill his vision. The success of his vision did not necessitate the complete trashing of an earlier vision with which he may have disagreed.”

    In fact, the MI sponsors a variety of journals to fulfill that vision. And there is no reason to assume that letting go an editorial team constitutes a “complete trashing of an earlier vision.” The journal title and scope changed at least four times under Peterson. It is clear that the journal itself has evolved. It is worth noting that journals often change editors, often more frequently than every 25 years. The direction that the Review will take going forward is not yet clear, but not having Peterson does not necessarily mean that it cannot fulfill its intended purpose, even the purposes for which Peterson may have intended.

  • http://blakeostler.com Blake

    FARMS was always intended to be a publication accessible by the general public to assess writings and publications that either support the restored gospel and its unique scriptural texts or to respond to those that cast them into doubt. It is no longer accessible to the public; rather, it is just another academic outlet. In that respect it is now something quite different than it was intended to be. It is also entirely superfluous.

    It was intended also to and did address hidden agendas behind publications that pretended to be an objective look at Mormonism but which were motivated by a desire to undermine faith in the restored gospel — something like the Signature Books agenda which was anything by truly objective. I suspect that the same approach underwrites the assessment of Dehlin (which I haven’t seen). I would say the same of Inventing Mormonism.

    It is appropriate to review the purported stance and the actual stance in life of the author of a work (heck scholars have been doing it with Heidegger and Comte for years). That is not to say that ad hominem attacks are ever justified or that nastiness is appropriate. It is simply that pointing out a motive other than the one expressly claimed in the publication itself can be assessed. It is common to start a broadside against the restored gospel with “I really care and for and love Mormons, but . . . .”

    However, I believe that something really good can come out of this. A FARMS like organization can separate itself from BYU, not be beholden to the views of just one person to determine its future, and rely on contributions like FARMS originally did. I shuddered and suspected that something like this would eventuate when FARMS was taken in house at BYU. Perhaps FAIR can create a more scholarly arm that has a review that is published at regular intervals.

  • Casey

    It’s interesting, in reading Peterson’s response to this little comments thread (posted above by narrator), that he’s doubled-down on using exactly the sort of rhetoric he denies: First he quickly dismisses the writer as “some anonymous person,” calling to mind a drive-by internet commenter rather than an established blogger on fairly well-known, academic-leaning blog. Rather than focusing solely on the critiques here, he immediately ties this post in with “others, elsewhere” who have accused him of a “reign of terror,” which nobody here has done. Then he mentions the irony of people using violent language to accuse him of the same — which, once again, doesn’t remotely characterize the OP. Since he doesn’t link to this post, one might be forgiven for thinking that this critique came from a freewheeling ExMo forum. Finally, he suggests that the author may also have issues with certain hymns, indicating that he has not understood or has willfully ignored the argument about whether an academic journal is an appropriate venue for confrontational rhetoric.

    So we’re seeing hyper-polarization, misleading rhetorical juxtaposition, and broad characterizations of real and imagined enemies…in short, exactly what people are criticizing him for. I’m suspect that if pressed, Peterson might argue that he didn’t intend to lump FPR with his more obstreperous foes, but that’s the language he chose to use. Good and evil, friends and enemies, attacks and counter-attacks — that’s the rhetorical world in which he seems to thrive. Admittedly, a personal blog shouldn’t be held to the standards of an academic journal — violent rhetoric is at home on the internet! — but his post was characterized by the same kind of language as can be found in some MI publications (including the examples already provided above), so it’s a useful illustration.

  • SmallAxe

    I have a concern: people like me who are not academics are frozen out of the MI. I’m not in Mormon studies. I’m not in academia. Yet Dan was willing to take what I wrote on its merits and publish it.

    I think this is a legitimate concern, and something that deserves serious attention. My hope is not that academics end up talking with only each other (although this certainly does happen), excluding others from the conversation. Surely there are those who are not academics that publish in academic venues. In Mormon studies I would think of people such as Ardis P. and J. Stapley (in my field I could name several others). While not academics themselves their work meets certain standards and is published without “the credentials that follow the name.” This is to say that the direction of MI will not necessarily exclude non-academics from participating.

    I don’t believe that TT’s link to Dan’s comments is at all persuasive of inappropriate dialogue or scholarship. If it is we had better rip every copy of “Onward Christian Soldiers” from the Hymnal and heaven knows that there is no place for the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Heck, even the “Ants go Marching” is suspect by this kind of “it talks about war so it is bad” knee jerk reaction.

    I believe you’re refering to my link over to Dan’s work. I’m not arguing that violent rhetoric is inappropriate period; I’m arguing that violent rhetoric is inappropriate in certain conversations such as those held at academic institutions. Could you perhaps point me to examples of Dan using the same rhetoric in his work on Islamic studies? I’ve only read a few of the things he’s done there, and I see nothing of the sort.

    In addition, Dan is a remarkably well-rounded scholar. The comments about surprise that an Islamicst would lead FARMS or MI only support my view that there is an elitest motivation behind this kind of move.

    No doubt he’s a well-rounded scholar; however I think someone whose primary area of research is closer to Mormonism is more equipped to determine what is quality and what is not quality scholarship. FWIW, that rules me out as well, so I don’t see this as an elitest motivation on my part.

  • SmallAxe

    g.wesley, although your comment is quite long, I think comparing Peterson’s review with Bushman’s review is revealing.

  • oudenos

    g. wesley’s comment should be a post, really. It demonstrates the pugnacity and bunker mentality so many others have mentioned.

  • SmallAxe

    Hi Ben H.,
    We’re always glad when you stop by.

    It seems to me the objections you express in the original post stem from a category mistake, however, due to applying the standards of straight-laced, buttoned-down, conventional scholarship to material that is not intended to fit that genre, material we might think of as journalism.

    I understand your point, but I fail so see how this is a category mistake. What reasons do we have to take MSR as journalism (and even so, how would this measure up to the ideals of journalism)? The direction of MI I support doesn’t see MSR as journalism:
    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/news/index.php?id=150&type=news
    Relevant paragraphs:
    The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship is continually striving to align its work with the academy’s highest objectives and standards, as befits an organized research unit at Brigham Young University. Our areas of endeavor include the study of LDS scripture and other religious texts and related fields of religious scholarship, including the burgeoning field of Mormon studies.
    We are proud of the accomplishments of the FARMS Review. But to better position the new Mormon Studies Review within its academic discipline, we are now assembling a board of scholars in this field to advise us and will appoint a new editorial team. We regret that we must suspend publication during this period of reorganization and reorientation, but we are certain that our current—and many new—readers will find the new Mormon Studies Review a valuable scholarly resource for the discipline.

    Based on your comments later in the thread, it looks like you might agree with those who want to see the material you object to in OP as unscholarly continue to be published all the same. If that is your desired outcome, though, I am having trouble seeing why you would laud the journal’s current situation.
    While there are many things published in MSR that already meet these standards, I would encourage those things that do not meet these standards to seek publication in other venues. I would imagine that these other venues might include those places that have a more explicit apologetic focus.

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

    “Of course, Peterson has not been fired, dismissed, or demoted by BYU. I think I have said that before.”

    Chris, Bradford clearly fired, dismissed, and demoted Peterson as the editor of the Review, which he has headed for 23 years, and which has been a major part of his job. So what you say is simply not true.

  • TT

    Thanks Bryce. The link was already provided above and Casey gives some interesting analysis.

  • TT

    Bryce, Peterson is a professor at BYU where his responsibilities include teaching, administration, and research. Nothing has changed with respect to that. Peterson also served as the editor of the Review that is part of the MI, which is an semi-independent academic institute at BYU. They have their own staff and faculty that work there full time. Peterson seems to have lost his position there, but that is not where he is employed full time. The MI is essentially a separate place from the regular faculty at BYU.

  • Allen

    TT said: Thanks Bryce. The link was already provided above and Casey gives some interesting analysis.

    Interesting, but not persuasive. Let’s see…

    Casey said: First he quickly dismisses the writer as “some anonymous person,” calling to mind a drive-by internet commenter rather than an established blogger on fairly well-known, academic-leaning blog.

    Unless you can demonstrate that (1) smallaxe is his/her legal name or (2) DCP knows the real name behind the pseudonym, why would you decry the phrase “some anyonymous person”? Surely smallaxe is a person, and surely he/she values his/her anonymity, as explained on the blog’s About Us page. Perhaps you hold DCP to a different standard than The Narrator, who provided the link you critiqued and stated that at the link DCP called smallaxe a liar (which he did not).

    Casey said: Rather than focusing solely on the critiques here, he immediately ties this post in with “others, elsewhere” who have accused him of a “reign of terror,” which nobody here has done.

    Let me get this straight: You point out that, in DCP’s words, “others, elsewhere” said something about him but then feel it necessary to also point out that “nobody here has done” it. OK. I can accept that.

    Casey said: Then he mentions the irony of people using violent language to accuse him of the same–which, once again, doesn’t remotely characterize the OP.

    And, again, DCP never said that it did.

    Casey said: Finally, he suggests that the author may also have issues with certain hymns, indicating that he has not understood or has willfully ignored the argument about whether an academic journal is an appropriate venue for confrontational rhetoric.

    Actually, I don’t think it reflects that at all. What it reflects is DCP’s dry wit and humor which, unfortunately, is lost on some people. What else seems to be lost is that DCP did, indeed, understand the argument and did not ignore it–he specifically said in his post that he denys the assertion. And, if one will but read the link provided in the original post, one will see that it is an argument that DCP addressed and denied, at a minimum, 8 years ago.

  • g.wesley

    Since my last comment is burdensome, I admit, here’s what I consider to be the take away, with some elaboration, still too long:

    As a case study, the contrast between Peterson and Bushman in the same issue of the FR is unmistakable (details above). I think this supports what has been pointed out on this thread (e.g. BHodges’ comment) and elsewhere about there being a mix even in the FR itself. For a long time.

    Bushman disagrees with the authors of the book he is reviewing, and perhaps he engages in a kind of apologetics even. But instead of framing his review in polemical language with scriptural examples of holy war and highly charged examples of more recent civil/political unrest as Peterson does in the intro, Bushman says that the book has a ‘generous, fair-minded tone,’ and makes ‘a genuine effort to be irenic.’ Instead of ruling it out as guilty by association with Peterson’s ‘hard core anti-Mormons,’ Bushman says he likes, admires, appreciates ….

    If Bushman says the book is ‘irenic,’ where is this attack and thus requisite defense that Peterson is talking about? It’s a product of his own framing, based on the us-versus-them dichotomy. Peterson is picking the very fight that he suggests is so bothersome and that he would rather not have to get involved in. Or at the absolute very least, he is perpetuating/escalating it. Bushman could see a difference between the earlier and later writing of one of the authors. Peterson not.

    Bushman hopes that ‘Mormon readers will accept the work in the spirit in which it is offered.’ Did they? I would venture that Peterson for one did not in his intro. All this was circa 1994. Things are not all that different now. With TT, I find Casey’s analysis of Peterson’s response to this thread to be interesting.

    And to go a bit further, I would tend to understand the fact that Peterson does not link here to be part of his standard technique of isolating and marginalizing his ‘opponent’ rather than addressing arguments. Friendly or polite or at least critical but non-personally-hostile argumentation is not even an option. The technique is so engrained (notice the title of his response is ‘Peace,’ which I actually think he genuinely means despite his apparent inability to recognize the irony) that it goes without saying that anyone who disagrees with him must be of questionable membership, if a church member at all.

  • BHodges

    Blake: The only worthy contributions are by historians or those in the religious studies disciplines

    I’m in the field of religious studies, and if anything, it’s given me an even greater appreciation for the contributions people can make from a variety of fields and backgrounds, and hasn’t done very much to cool my enthusiasm for good work produced by “amateurs” however you want to construe that label.

  • BHodges

    I’d like to see Allen and others respond to g.wesley and Casey’s very specific and very excellent posts.

  • Allen

    Blair,

    I did respond to Casey’s post; perhaps you missed it. (Bottom line: I didn’t find his critique convincing.)

    As to g.wesley, I haven’t gone into his critique in depth, but in concept (what concept I could gather from a quick reading) I find nothing problematic in it. He points out differences in approach by two different authors. Different authors write to different audiences using different skills. To point out those differences doesn’t take a lot of time or effort. To draw conclusions from those differences does. I know some people who don’t like Peterson’s writing. That’s fine. I’ve also known people who don’t like Bushman’s writing. That’s fine, too. To each their own, as they say.

    If one doesn’t like the style of an author, then (1) someone can find a different author to read and (2) we can be grateful that FARMS saw fit to publish essays and reviews by a wide variety of authors.

  • Allen

    Blair,

    Of course you missed it my comments on Casey’s post–in going back and looking at it, that message has been placed in moderation for some reason. Perhaps it will see the light of day at some point.

  • TT

    Found it and fixed it. All those links automatically make it get moderated. If it happens again just let us know.

  • BHodges

    Allen: Can you respond specifically to the comparison between Bushman’s review and DCP’s review which appear in the same issue of the FR? Thanks.

  • BHodges

    * DCP’s introduction, not review.

  • SmallAxe

    Ben H.,

    I’ve read through your post at T&S and wanted to clarify a few things. If I’m following you correctly, you point out that MSR/FARMS Review has published three kinds of pieces in the past: articles, reviews done for scholars, and reviews done for a more popular audience.
    You say that, “Reviews of scholarly work are aimed at scholarly readers, written in a scholarly tone, and written by scholars. Reviews of other work, which we might just call popular work, because it is for a broad audience, don’t have to follow any of these rules. Depending on the nature of the work it is responding to, the appropriate tone, style, and content may vary dramatically. It would seem silly to write a book review of a popular work in a scholarly tone.”

    While you then go on to offer some general guidelines for this last category of reviews, I’m not sure you’ve adequately responded to my concerns (not that your post was written solely to me). Surely scholars can review relevant material in a way that is accessible to a popular audience. As pointed out in the OP, though, I have a problem with what has been deemed relevant as well as the way in which it is sometimes made accessible to a popular audience. I don’t think doing a popular book review in a journal run by an academic institution allows for a kind of stripping away of the rules that you seem to advocate. Are there other reasons you can provide for this?

  • BHodges

    Ben seems to show that a certain mixture of styles is apparent in the FR, but doesn’t address whether the same goals could be met using different styles.

  • Allen

    Blair,

    I’m not sure what you are looking for from me. Dan wrote an Introduction using the style and tone that Dan uses. In it he addressed things he chose to address. In the same issue Richard wrote a review using the style and tone that Richard uses. The two pieces overlapped in some of the things they addressed.

    Obviously the way that Richard writes resonates better with g.wesley and that resonance makes him posit that his writing style and tone are better than Dan’s. That’s fine; I have no problem with that. I know other people for whom Dan’s writing resonates better. Which is correct? Those who prefer Dan’s writing or those who prefer Richard’s?

    The answer is that neither is correct, and both are. The FARMS Review catered to a wide audience with many different tastes. Most people in this thread have stated some variation on the statement “FARMS provided some valuable scholarly resources except for _____.” If you asked 500 people you’d probably get a wide variety of responses to fill in that blank. You may fill it in with “…except for the snarky stuff.” Someone else might fill it in with “…except for the polemic stuff.” Somebody else might fill it in with “…except for the scholarly stuff I can’t understand.”

    The fact is, FARMS provided material for all audiences. That was one of its strengths and, to some people, its fatal flaw.

  • BHodges

    Allen: I think the differences between Bushman and DCP in that issue are more than merely cosmetic/stylistic. Their fundamental framing is entirely different, as are the conclusions reached–although both seem to recognize problems with the book under consideration.

    You make an argument of pluralism–that multiple voices are or should be welcome. I’m sympathetic to that argument. That said, you seem to be arguing that DCP’s more acerbic pieces are entertaining for you and that they represent his “style.” So yes, there is an element of style at play, but as I mentioned and as the earlier analysis argues, there is also a different framing of the work in question. And even DCP knows it’s not an appropriate style when it comes to his more academic works on Islam. His own FAIR presentation on “humble apologetics” also calls attention to the need for authors to be cognizant of the stumbling blocks their writing can present to those who are feeling unsteady on their path. Would you dismiss his earlier words? You are boiling things down to an argument about taste, and saying “if you don’t like it, lump it.” But you’re entirely ignoring the pragmatic perspective, the perspective which suggests maybe the fun and games snarkiness is detrimental to the wider goal of apologetics–actually helping people, and hopefully more fundamentally in the LDS context, strengthening faith in Christ. It tends to actually turn many people away from otherwise interesting or useful resources. Meanwhile the same fundamental goals could be met employing different approaches.

  • Allen

    Blair,

    There is a fascinating exposition and discussion related to polemics and apologetics now occurring over at Mormon Dialogue. Given the discussion on this thread, you might enjoy it tremendously.

  • Allen

    Blair said: I think the differences between Bushman and DCP in that issue are more than merely cosmetic/stylistic.

    I appreciated your comments, and they are well received. I had a few thoughts on some of them, however.

    Blair said: …you seem to be arguing that DCP’s more acerbic pieces are entertaining for you and that they represent his “style.”

    Actually, I said nothing about what they are for me, but I do believe that they represent his style for this particular audience.

    Blair said: …as I mentioned and as the earlier analysis argues, there is also a different framing of the work in question.

    You seem to see a differentiation in framing and style. Framing–or choosing the context for the arguments you will present–is actually a subset of style. If someone chooses to frame his arguments in a combative manner (as some here assert Dan often does), then that is a choice by the author in how to approach the presentation of his topic; it is an element of his style. (I should note that there is a difference between a “combative manner” and using “combat,” “war-related,” or “conflict-oriented” metaphors. I believe that Dan–and many other authors–do the latter much more frequently than the former.)

    Blair said: And even DCP knows it’s not an appropriate style when it comes to his more academic works on Islam.

    Of course; different audiences demand different styles. When I write here, my style is different than when I write my weekly computer-related newsletters. It’s different than when I write letters to my Dad. I chose a different style when writing (my one article) for the Maxwell Institute. Still another style is chosen when I write magazine articles. (In case anyone doesn’t know it, I’m a writer by training and trade.) And the style I use in writing a sacrament meeting talk is different than them all.

    I don’t fault Dan for picking a different style for his Islamic articles than he picks for his LDS apologetic works. I would be surprised if he would use the same style, and I certainly don’t consider differences in choice to be evidence that he somehow considers one to be inferior to the other. Each is simply appropriate to different audiences and different needs.

    Blair said: His own FAIR presentation on “humble apologetics” also calls attention to the need for authors to be cognizant of the stumbling blocks their writing can present to those who are feeling unsteady on their path. Would you dismiss his earlier words?

    Not sure what you mean by “dismiss his earlier words.” In the analysis presented by g.wesley, the words were penned circa 1994, long before his 2008 FAIR Conference presentation. I would always preference later words over earlier words, as would most people (and as we would want most people to do with us).

    Blair said: But you’re entirely ignoring the pragmatic perspective, the perspective which suggests maybe the fun and games snarkiness is detrimental to the wider goal of apologetics–actually helping people, and hopefully more fundamentally in the LDS context, strengthening faith in Christ. It tends to actually turn many people away from otherwise interesting or useful resources.

    I reject the implication that Dan’s approach to apologetics can be reduced to a synonym of “fun and games snarkiness.” Has he employed such an approach from time to time? Sure. So have you and I. But it isn’t the sum total of what we create, nor is it with Dan. Those who try to reduce the corpus of his apologetic work to such (and I am not saying that you are) are typically doing so for rhetorical points and well poisoning.

    At the end of the day one must always, of course, judge approaches by results. That Dan’s approach doesn’t work for you and for others is evident. An assertion that it doesn’t work for all people (or even most people) is belied by the fact that Dan receives much personal e-mail and other correspondence that states his approach does work for them. Dan is not a dummy; he doesn’t suffer from some mental illness that prevents him from analyzing his selected approaches against his desired results. It is shortsighted to assume that he picks his approaches based on stupidity, malice, or character flaw.

    Blair said: Meanwhile the same fundamental goals could be met employing different approaches.

    No doubt.

    Thanks, by the way, for a great, thought-provoking discussion.

  • BHodges

    I don’t frequent the message boards much anymore, partly for lack of time, partly for changing interests. If I get a chance in the next week or so I’ll try to check it out. I wish you’d respond here rather than directing me to someone else’s discussion, though.

  • http://mightycw.blogspot.com Casey

    Allen, I’m genuinely puzzled by some of your comments.

    You’ve chosen to read Peterson’s “anonymous person” jab as an neutral, descriptive term, but insisting on niggling literal definitions of his words while ignoring connotations strikes me as willfully obtuse. Still, I guess there’s space for your reading if you prefer.

    You are correct that DCP doesn’t directly accuse the OP of the worst offences — I said as much in my second paragraph. However, he makes no distinction at all between the temperate, reasoned arguments here and the seething anger he presumably finds elsewhere. Since he did not link to FPR, a reader not already familiar with this post has no reason to suspect that it’s any different from the “reign of terror” nastiness of “others, elsewhere.” Again, by rhetorically juxtaposing the two he conflates them into a single adversary (just more sour grapes from the anonymous internet horde trying to slander him). To put an apologetics spin on it, it would be like criticizing Jan Shipps by noting how mean Sandra Tanner is. One may not like either, but they are fundamentally separate and mentioning them together without clear distinctions is dishonest.

    Finally, setting aside DCP’s wit, of which he is undeniably proud (more than anything his writing reminds me of Anne Coulter, which I guess could be good or bad depending on your perspective), the 1994 FARMS article is telling precisely because, as smallaxe showed earlier, it relied on exactly the rhetorical violence he claims to deny; it is its own rebuttal. The same goes for his blog post.

  • George

    ” . . . I laud Gerald Bradford for making the difficult choices to continue to move the Maxwell Institute in a more respectable direction.”

    This is a telling phrase. Ambrose Bierce defined respectability as “the product of a liason between a bald head and a bank account.” A hankering after respectability is pretty much fatal to any religious movement. Just ask the mainline churches.

  • h_nu

    Um Narrorator,
    Perhaps you should review the dictionary definition of liar.
    I don’t want to sound pedantic, but it seems you obviously don’t know it.
    A liar is someone who tells a lie.
    Peterson stated that smallax had claimed a bunch of things and had provided no evidence. Since smallax’s statements were personal attacks on Peterson, I think it fair for Peterson demand some evidence. I’m reminded of a scene from Star Trek TNG. Troy is trying to counsel Warf and his son Alexander who are fighting. Troy suggests they set rules for one another. The son, says, “No yelling.” Yelling in reply, Warf roars, “I do not yell!” with his voice becoming normal at the end of the sentence. Troy then says, “Then it should be an easy rule for you to follow.”

    The fact of the matter is, like most things, there are at least two sides to this. There’s one side that sees dry whit, well reasoned arguments, metaphors and opinions. The other side sees warfare, literal threats, and demagoguery. That’s fine that the two sides see differently. The problem is, you expect everyone else to just take your word for it. Obviously, you haven’t proven yourself trustworthy to Dan Peterson.

    What’s amazing is the hypocrisy. Absolute hypocrisy.

    Looks like smallaxe is the next person to be called a liar by Peterson on his blog.

  • KLC

    casey, I’m certain that DCP would not describe his “anonymous person” comment as neutral, I doubt that Allen does either. It is classic Peterson, he’s smart enough to know what he’s doing, he doesn’t need a grad student to explain rhetoric to him. But the fact is, DCP has been attacked personally in LDS internet venues for years now, and when his employer dumps him and a large part of his life work he is being attacked personally again. So when some anonymous person going by smallaxe hides behind his handle and takes potshots at him I think he has every right to wryly frame the issue as some anonymous guy on the internet.

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

    “when his employer dumps him”

    His employer is BYU.

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

    “So when some anonymous person going by smallaxe hides behind his handle and takes potshots at him I think he has every right to wryly frame the issue as some anonymous guy on the internet.”

    The only thing threatening about SmallAxe is his stellar looks.

  • http://www.clobberblog.com Ms. Jack

    So when some anonymous person going by smallaxe hides behind his handle and takes potshots at him I think he has every right to wryly frame the issue as some anonymous guy on the internet.

    Really, KLC? What exactly does smallaxe’s anonymity have to do with the quality of his/her arguments? If the answer is “nothing at all,” then why engage in that kind of ad hominem?

    In any case, anonymity does not matter with Dan. He has been known to not properly cite the people he engages online whether they are anonymous or not. I don’t know why, but I know that it keeps his readers from being able to look up the arguments he is addressing in context and frees him from the responsibility of having to represent them accurately.

    He is known for doing this.

  • BHodges

    “A hankering after respectability is pretty much fatal to any religious movement. Just ask the mainline churches.”

    If truth is identified on the basis of how much snark one must display which thus turns off one’s interlocutor then I say forget truth. There is a clear difference between capitulation and being agreeable even while disagreeing.

  • BHodges

    Allen, thanks for the longer response:

    Has he employed such an approach from time to time? Sure. So have you and I. But it isn’t the sum total of what we create, nor is it with Dan.

    Have I been acerbic in some blog discussions? Yep. Am I proud of it, or do I think it should be defended? No. Have I employed a bullying tone anywhere in print? No. Deliberately to the contrary, actually. My book reviews? No. I got tired very quickly of having to defend issues of tone rather than dealing with substantive arguments. I think people that whine about tone too often may just as well be doing so to ignore more substantive points. So here’s a fun trick: remove the possibility for that complaint. It’s only worth arguing about precisely because there is some truth to it. And DCP deflects by blowing any claim about it out of proportion and conflating any and all complainers into the same group of creepy internet “apostates” and so forth. I wish he wouldn’t. He is able to deliver good stuff in his Islamic studies. The audience you speak of can be just as fulfilled, if not more so, were DCP to approach Mormon studies more the way he does Islamic studies.

    Those who try to reduce the corpus of his apologetic work to such (and I am not saying that you are) are typically doing so for rhetorical points and well poisoning.

    And the funny thing is, DCP himself provides all the ammo and then jokes about it. In fact, sometimes he seems to actually enjoy all of it. My argument is that DCP could be much, much, much more effective–and even maintain his characteristic wittiness–without his more acerbic snark. You say framing is a “style” issue, and you show that style and framing are related. I agree, but with the proviso that they shouldn’t be equated, and that there are “weightier matters” to consider.

  • BHodges

    I should add, Ms. Jack’s post is a great example of the other side of the coin that irritates me in all of this fallout. In her comment, DCP is entirely dismissed based on certain aspects of his behavior, basically a handful of instances when he’s mentioned online discussions without adding direct references to them in the footnotes. Do I think such things are fairly lame? Yep. Do I think they warrant dismissing him because he is “known to do this”? No. To do so is, frankly, lazy and inaccurate. For hell’s sake, the guy just lost his journal he’s edited for 20-some-odd years. But the thing is, DCP himself has provided the ammunition for such easy dismissals. And he didn’t have to.

  • smallaxe

    Obviously the way that Richard writes resonates better with g.wesley and that resonance makes him posit that his writing style and tone are better than Dan’s. That’s fine; I have no problem with that. I know other people for whom Dan’s writing resonates better. Which is correct? Those who prefer Dan’s writing or those who prefer Richard’s?

    The answer is that neither is correct, and both are.

    And then,

    I don’t fault Dan for picking a different style for his Islamic articles than he picks for his LDS apologetic works. I would be surprised if he would use the same style, and I certainly don’t consider differences in choice to be evidence that he somehow considers one to be inferior to the other. Each is simply appropriate to different audiences and different needs.

    Allen, my sense is that DCP doesn’t use the same style in his Islamic studies work because (among other things) it isn’t acceptable in his field. My argument here is quite simple–it isn’t acceptable in Mormon studies either. This isn’t a matter of taste. It’s a matter of standards. There are different standards for different venues, yes; but venues associated with academic institutions should strive for those relevant standards. If it helps, “I hereby shame all academic publications that do not adhere to these standards”; but truth be told, I’m embarrassed in this case because 1) I’m a BYU alum. 2) I’m Mormon 3) I care about the way in which Mormon studies is done and perceived by the larger academic community.

  • smallaxe

    A hankering after respectability is pretty much fatal to any religious movement. Just ask the mainline churches.

    I’m not asserting that our religious movement aim for respectability (at least not here). I’m asserting that BYU should aim to be a respectable academic institution.

  • http://www.clobberblog.com Ms. Jack

    In her comment, DCP is entirely dismissed based on certain aspects of his behavior

    lolwut? Can you direct me to the part of my comment where I suggested dismissing Dan altogether? Because I can’t find it. All I see is me pointing out the irrelevance of smallaxe’s anonymity.

  • smallaxe

    So when some anonymous person going by smallaxe hides behind his handle and takes potshots at him I think he has every right to wryly frame the issue as some anonymous guy on the internet.

    I sympathize with the fact that Dan has taken a lot of criticism over the years from a variety of people. I’d like you to define “potshots” though, and explain how things might be different if I weren’t hiding behind my handle.

  • KLC

    Ms. Jack anonymity says nothing about the quality of argument or its validity, does that need to be stated? I think if you go back you’ll find that I didn’t make that assumption.

  • C. L. Foster

    I have a few comments about this posting by smallaxe. He/she/it claims that addressing the arguments of ex-Mormons, etc. “are not the primary audiences an academic institution should be engaging.” No, and they never were. FARMS (now MI) has traditionally addressed a very diverse audience and has researched and written on a wide range of subjects — as it should. Smallaxe went on about scholarship and academics. Well, one of the defintions of academics is education and that is the aim of MI, to educate.

    Certainly smallaxe would agree that education is conducted and accepted at differing levels and in differing ways. Apologetics was one way Peterson and the various authors of articles in Mormon Studies Review endevoured to teach and inform their readership. Indeed, apologetics played an important role in the education and understanding of a number of readers.

    Another point I found to be rather riduculous was the asserion by smallaxe that “Some of those involved with FARMS have no training in religious studies (broadly conceived) or Mormon studies (more specifically). Even Peterson, who fits the first criteria, does not fit the second.” Perhaps these authors did not have “training in religioous studies” but that did not and does not, by any means, suggest they are not expert enough with the subject on which they published.

    For example, who is smallaxe to suggest Peterson does not have training in Mormon studies? I searched in vain to find scholarly articles on Mormonism published by smallaxe, hatchet, or anything close to that name and strangely enough, I could not find one scholarly article in a scholarly journal authored by smallaxe. While there were few ruminations on blog sites, I would not consider them to be scholarly pieces and i find it very hard to take seriously anything written by a smallaxe. Thus I am left asking who is smallaxe to judge who has and who has not been “trained” in Mormon studies.

    Finally, smallaxe ended his missive with “As far as Mormon Studies Review is concerned, this may entail cutting it loose since I think it will always be tied to a particular tradition of (violent) apologetics.” Perhaps the writings of Peterson, Midgely, Hamblin, and others bruised and wounded smallaxe’s delicate soul, but I would wager (if I was a betting person) that most of the readers did not see it that way. Bradford’s cowardly actions have done a disservice to a lot of people out there in Mormon studies.

  • KLC

    Potshots would be citing an 18 year old article which uses some metaphors and calling that “violent rhetoric”, potshots would be impugning his academic standing by stating how surprised you are that a trained Islamicist should be appointed an editor of a Mormon studies review. As I said before, you are an anonymous guy on the internet. No one knows your qualifications or how suited you are to anything at all. These kind of comments are directly personal attacks on his ability and character, certainly sinking much lower than any perceived violent rhetoric you see as one of the great failings of FARMS apologists.

  • TT

    Craig, you’re right about one thing. You don’t know who smallaxe is. Not that you have any need to know, but hurling insults about the academic credentials of people that you don’t know anything about can make you look like an idiot.

  • http://www.clobberblog.com Ms. Jack

    KLC ~ Ms. Jack anonymity says nothing about the quality of argument or its validity, does that need to be stated?

    Apparently it does, as you’re bringing it up (or rather, defending Dan’s decision to bring it up).

    I think if you go back you’ll find that I didn’t make that assumption.

    That’s good to know, but that doesn’t answer the question of why you were mentioning it at all.

  • KLC

    Ms. Jack it would be silly to confuse an opening riposte for an argument, I didn’t do that, DP didn’t do that and I would hope you wouldn’t either. Dan’s argument follows, it’s there to read after you get by his honest irritation at being personally slammed, once again, by some anonymous guy on the internet.

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

    I should clarify:

    TT, SmallAxe, Mogget, jupiterschild, aliquis, oudenos, and The Yellow Dart all publish, teach, and hold callings using their real names.

    At FPR, they only use their superhero names.

    We have been doing it this way for a long time.

  • http://www.clobberblog.com Ms. Jack

    KLC ~ I think calling smallaxe “some anonymous guy on the Internet” in the way that Dan uses it is an ad hominem swipe. Not because it’s inaccurate, but because it’s irrelevant to the quality of the argument. Yes, Dan makes an argument after that (a bad one, which I think Casey dismantled in this thread earlier), but that doesn’t really excuse the ad hominem swipe or the lack of a link to the post he is responding to.

    I don’t understand what’s so irritating about being respectfully critiqued by an anonymous person at an academic blog. Dan used to post anonymously as “Free Thinker” and “Logic Chopper” on a message board years ago, and even critiqued me a few times, but I never would have thought to be annoyed at him over it just because of his anonymity.

    Nor do I see any “personal slam” in smallaxe’s post.

  • smallaxe

    KLC,

    Perhaps you can clarify. I can’t see why either of those are potshots. Would you like me to find a more contemporary example? Would you not find it odd that the editor of a journal for Buddhist studies was actually trained in Jewish studies? Perhaps you can define potshots. I also fail to see how not being anonymous would help here. Which of the points I’ve made would be strengthened or weakened based on my identity?

  • Gregory Taggart

    Ah, the easy libel, and in the apprpriately academic passive voice too. Fortunately this isn’t an academic journal, so we don’t have to get upset about tone.

  • C. L. Foster

    TT, call me idiotic but when someone is trying to make a scholarly point or wants to have any hope of professional credibility, they give their real name, not some silly moniker like smallaxe. I guess I’m old-fashioned, you obviously think idiotic, but it really is hard to review and judge the value of the comments of someone if you have no idea their background.

  • smallaxe

    Also, thanks, Ms. Jack; you’ve said many things better than I could have.

  • C. L. Foster

    Chris H. wrote: “TT, SmallAxe, Mogget, jupiterschild, aliquis, oudenos, and The Yellow Dart all publish, teach, and hold callings using their real names. At FPR, they only use their superhero names.”

    And I could very well recognize the names if I saw them and be duly impressed. I’m not trying to be rude, but it is very difficult to give credence and respect to the statements of someone named smallaxe when I have no idea what their background or experience is.

  • http://www.clobberblog.com Ms. Jack

    smallaxe ~ Happy to oblige. I enjoy FPR, but usually feel y’all are way out of my league.

    C. L. Foster ~ TT, call me idiotic but when someone is trying to make a scholarly point or wants to have any hope of professional credibility, they give their real name, not some silly moniker like smallaxe.

    Or “FreeThinker”? Or “Logic Chopper”?

    lol.

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

    C.L. Foster,

    Welcome to FPR.

    Chris H.

  • http://www.clobberblog.com Ms. Jack

    Except for Chris. He’s totally in my league.

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

    That must mean that I have moved up to the big leagues!

  • KLC

    smallaxe, perhaps you could clarify how a few uses of martial metaphors in an article 18 years ago proves a culture of violent rhetoric? In other words we are probably at an impasse here. I don’t think you have proved your points, you don’t think I have proved mine.

    As I was reading the last few comments my sons were watching Top Gear. I have educated, sane and thoughtful family members that think Jeremy Clarkson is a horrid, horrid man who spews vile hatred. I have educated, sane and thoughtful family members that think Jeremy Clarkson is witty, wry and funny. Where is the Stig when you need him?

  • http://Loydo38.blogspot.com The narrator

    “Would you not find it odd that the editor of a journal for Buddhist studies was actually trained in Jewish studies? ”

    Fwiw, I don’t think this is a good comparison. Whether or not Mormon studies is an actual academic discipline is still up in the air, and even if it is, unlike Jewish or Buddhist studies, there is not a single scholar out there with formal training in Mormon studies–meaning a degree in or emphasis in something called “Mormon studies.” In fact, as far as I am aware, there is only one institution where you can get a graduate degree with the words “Mormon studies” on it, and that is CGU’s general religious studies MA, where you can select Mormon studies as one of your areas of emphasis.

  • TT

    Craig (if that is your real name),
    I’m not saying you are an idiot. In fact, I’m quite sure you’re not. You aren’t familiar with us. That’s fine. But all the more reason not to assume something. We’ve been commenting on Mormon issues for 7 years under these identities (and longer than that under different identities) and were invited to blog at Patheos knowing that we use pseudonyms. I would say that we don’t really consider credentials particularly relevant to our arguments, or any argument. We don’t try to impress people with credentials, but with thoughtful analysis. And as has been pointed out, Peterson has regularly used pseudonyms for years and I’m sure would agree that that does not discredit his arguments.
    Perhaps, you might say, this seems to be in tension with smallaxe’s argument that editors of academic journals of Mormon Studies should be trained in the relevant fields. Perhaps smallaxe can address this tension more fully, but he did say in the OP that he thinks that Peterson is perfectly capable of making significant contributions and that he believes that he should, regardless of his official training (and I think we’ve all noted that he most certainly has made significant contributions). The point I saw smallaxe making was about the professionalization of Mormon Studies and the desire to see someone more formally trained in this field going forward as editor of a journal on it.

  • smallaxe

    Well, one of the defintions of academics is education and that is the aim of MI, to educate.

    Certainly smallaxe would agree that education is conducted and accepted at differing levels and in differing ways.

    I agree with this. And BYU as an academic institution is an educational institution. Like other educational institutions there are certain standards it should meet. FARMS Review, while publishing many things that meet these standards, is problematic as a whole for the reasons we’ve been discussing (one of which I’ll pursue below).

    Perhaps these authors did not have “training in religioous studies” but that did not and does not, by any means, suggest they are not expert enough with the subject on which they published.

    I’ve said several times that those with no formal training should participate, but should also be held to the same standards as those that do have formal training. My point, though, is that those running a journal (the editor in particular) should be in a position to judge whether or not the work submitted meet these standards. While someone trained in an area of religious studies might be able to recognize some of the general characteristics of these standards in all areas of religious studies, only someone trained in a specific area of religious studies will be able to tell if the submitted work meets more of the criteria.

    I’m not claiming to be the person who recognizes what all of these criteria are in the case of MSR. I don’t think I need to be this person though, in order to question whether or not DCP is in fact qualified to judge this criteria. I’m open to being proven wrong here. Perhaps you can start that by point me to something that Peterson has published on Mormonism in a journal that uses a double-blind peer review process; the same process that’s used when he publishes much of his work on Islam.

  • smallaxe

    I’m not trying to be rude, but it is very difficult to give credence and respect to the statements of someone named smallaxe when I have no idea what their background or experience is.

    Perhaps you can tell me how knowing my background would strengthen or weaken my arguments. Are there specific credentials that might help here?

  • Allen

    smallaxe said:Would you not find it odd that the editor of a journal for Buddhist studies was actually trained in Jewish studies? … I also fail to see how not being anonymous would help here. Which of the points I’ve made would be strengthened or weakened based on my identity?

    I’m actually surprised that you don’t see the validity of the argument and a certain sense of irony. With DCP we know his credentials. Because we know those credentials, you can make the determination that you “find it odd that the editor of a journal called Mormon Studies Review is a trained Islamicist” and analogous to someone trained in Jewish studies to be editor of a journal in Buddhist studies. In other words, his credentials make him less suitable for writing about his topic, i.e., making arguments in an specific area.

    Yet, we cannot judge your credentials because you use a pseudonym. By doing so, you have effectively removed the viability of the very standard by which you judge Peterson. Would your argument be strengthened by knowing your real name and credentials? Perhaps or perhaps not; the reader has no way to know.

    Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying that your arguments in this matter should be summarily dismissed because of your chosen anonymity. The irony, however, is that you choose to dismiss the adequacy of Peterson’s qualifications because he has not, in this instance, chosen anonymity.

  • BHodges

    I don’t particularly care that DCP is a professor of Islamic studies and that he edited a Mormon journal. I’m more concerned with the obvious difference by which he approaches the former compared to the latter. The former with diplomacy even in strenuous disagreement, the latter sans the diplomacy in many cases. As narrator mentioned, there ain’t no academic specialist in “Mormon Studies” in existence presently, and I also think one can be astute in an area in which one did not specialize for academic credential reasons.

  • SmallAxe

    smallaxe, perhaps you could clarify how a few uses of martial metaphors in an article 18 years ago proves a culture of violent rhetoric? In other words we are probably at an impasse here. I don’t think you have proved your points, you don’t think I have proved mine.

    KLC, I think we’ll avoid an impasse if we can agree here on some terms. I supplied an example of what I see as violent rhetoric and explained why I consider this inappropriate for an academic venue. So far, if I understand you correctly, you’re not disagreeing with my analysis, you’re disagreeing because of the age and size of the example. Is that right? If this is not right, please tell me where I’ve misunderstood. If I am right, then how many more examples do you need, and how contemporary do they need to be? You also still have not defined “potshot” or explained how knowing my credentials would change your analysis of my argument.

  • SmallAxe

    Fwiw, I don’t think this is a good comparison. Whether or not Mormon studies is an actual academic discipline is still up in the air, and even if it is, unlike Jewish or Buddhist studies, there is not a single scholar out there with formal training in Mormon studies–meaning a degree in or emphasis in something called “Mormon studies.”

    IMO, there’s a difference between “Mormon studies is not an academic discipline so let’s have someone trained in Islamic studies run an academic publication about Mormon studies” and “Mormon studies is not an academic discipline so let’s have someone trained in 19th century American religious thought run an academic publication about Mormon studies.”

    FWIW, I’ve tried to be consistent (although there are a few places I’ve been sloppy) to speak of Mormon studies as a “field” rather than a “discipline”. Fields are the areas where disciplines are brought to bear. For instance, scholars of Buddhism can come from disciplines such as history, philosophy, philology, etc. (religious studies tends to encompass aspects of these); and their area or field of expertise is Buddhism (usually of a particular place and/or time period). Of course the reality is more messy than this, but when I say “training in Mormon studies” I mean coming from a particular discipline where one brings those skills of analysis to bear on things Mormon. There need not be a “program” of Mormon studies in order to do this (at least IMO).

  • SmallAxe

    Yet, we cannot judge your credentials because you use a pseudonym. By doing so, you have effectively removed the viability of the very standard by which you judge Peterson.

    Allen, the difference is that I’m not the editor of MSR. In your opinion, what kind of credentials does one need in order to question why the editor of an academic publication about Mormon studies is not trained in Mormon studies? If I were to tell you that I have a PhD from Chicago Divinity School in religious studies and that I’m a tenured professor at a research university how would change your analysis versus if I told you that I’m some 16 year old high school drop out?

    If you don’t find that explanation satisfying, then try this. Do you have the credentials to judge my credentials in judging Perterson’s credentials? What kind of credentials does one need to evaluate someone else’s credentials to do a particular task?

  • SmallAxe

    I don’t particularly care that DCP is a professor of Islamic studies and that he edited a Mormon journal. I’m more concerned with the obvious difference by which he approaches the former compared to the latter. The former with diplomacy even in strenuous disagreement, the latter sans the diplomacy in many cases.

    I also think one can be astute in an area in which one did not specialize….

    These are both great points.

  • Allen

    smallaxe said: If I were to tell you that I have a PhD from Chicago Divinity School in religious studies and that I’m a tenured professor at a research university how would change your analysis versus if I told you that I’m some 16 year old high school drop out?

    So which are you? (I’m teasing. See below.)

    smallaxe said: Do you have the credentials to judge my credentials in judging Perterson’s credentials? What kind of credentials does one need to evaluate someone else’s credentials to do a particular task?

    I’m not claiming that any credentials are needed. I think that a very strong argument can be made that one should judge by the arguments themselves. In fact, this is what you essentially did when you asked (in multiple places) whether your argument would be enhanced if your credentials were known.

    However, you (not I) question the propriety of Peterson editing MSR when he lacks, in your judgment, the credentials to do so. In other words, you ignore the substance of his arguments (which you claim in your own case) and focus on his credentials (the need for which you eschew in your own case).

    Readers are left to wonder why the standard applies in Peterson’s case but not in yours. As you say, the salient differentiator is that he is editing the MSR and you are not. Is that differentiator enough, however, if one is really only considering substance over style and arguments over credentials?

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

    He isn’t editing the MSR anymore.

  • smallaxe

    Readers are left to wonder why the standard applies in Peterson’s case but not in yours. As you say, the salient differentiator is that he is editing the MSR and you are not. Is that differentiator enough, however, if one is really only considering substance over style and arguments over credentials?

    Yes the difference is enough, and here is why: We can pose two questions, 1) What kind of qualifications should someone editing an academic journal of Mormon studies hold? 2) What kind of qualifications should someone raising question 1 hold?

    Now, in the case of question 2 we’ve already agreed that very few if any qualifications are needed. Ok, so I am raising question one–what kind of qualifications should someone editing an academic journal of Mormon studies hold? Now, I’ve expressed what IMO those qualifications should be, and when I measure Peterson with those qualifications he seems to fall short. FWIW, I fall short of those qualifications as well, but we’re not measuring me because I am not the editor of MSR. We can debate those qualifications and who fits them and who doesn’t, but as long as we’re in agreement on the answer to question two my credentials are meaningless.

    Now, I should also clarify. I think DCP has done some wonderful things for the LDS community. He’s always been pleasant in our interactions, and I really don’t have anything personal against him. My point, though, is that the field of Mormon studies is changing. What counted as “qualifications” 25 years ago are not necessarily what counts as qualfications today. DCP is no slouch, and he’s done some wonderful things in FARMS. I believe, though, that the editor of an academic publication on Mormon studies should nowdays be someone trained in Mormon studies, or at the very least proved him or her self in the field of Mormon studies by publishing in other academic venues on Mormonism. I would feel confident that Grant Underwood, for instance, would be able to able to judge the quality of work submitted to a journal that he ran on Mormon studies. I would feel less confident about someone like Grant Hardy (who, like Peterson, is not trained in a field related to Mormonism), but unlike Peterson (as far as I can tell), Hardy has published on Mormonism in other academic venues, which leads me to believe that he may be qualified to edit a journal (of course, other things such as managerial skills are also important and who knows how they would rank there). Again, I haven’t seen DCP’s cv; and I’m willing to alter my view, but it will take things such as peer reviewed publications in other academic venues on Mormonism by Peterson to begin to convince me.

    Anyways, the short of this is not that I think DCP is some wanna-be, or anything like that. Rather, I think what we’re seeing is a tension that is developing as Mormon studies continues to become a legitmate field of academic inquiry. Those standards are changing, and any academic institution that wants to be a part of this will have to accord with those standards.

  • BHodges

    smallaxe: Do you think such concerns about credentials and publishing in non-LDS publications as part of a litmus test of sorts to determine the fitness of the editor of a Mormon Studies Review journal are at least in part based on the desire to have the MSR be more acceptable to the wider academic community?

  • TT

    BHodges, I will let smallaxe give his answer, but if I had to guess, his answer to that would be that MSR is a publication by an academic institute at university. One expects that given its representation of that institution, it should be more acceptable to a wider academic community. The standard is not an arbitrary wish, but an expectation that is already there given who sponsors it.

  • KLC

    smallaxe, thanks for your thoughtful and even tempered response. My reaction after reading your point #2 in the OP was that you, like so many internet LDS commenters, are convinced that there is overwhelming evidence that DP and his review engage in distasteful, inapropriate, embarrassing, or in this specific case violent discourse. It is a theme that pops up over and over again when DP is discussed on the internet. As evidence of that you provide us with one article written 18 years ago. Your evidence cannot show a pattern or a culture or a predilection for what you deem distasteful, and it cannot do that since it is only one instance written almost 2 decades ago. So yes, I object to the age and size of your example. How many more examples do I need? The burden of proof is on you and all of the other LDS commentors who claim this pattern to prove it with real data not one isolated citation.

    But I also object to your analysis. That article does not show DP calling people vulgar names, it doesn’t show him threatening anyone, it doesn’t show him telling his enemies to meet him at the back entrance of temple square for a fist fight. Nothing in that piece supports your conclusion of violence. DP does show himself to be truly concerned about another member’s troubles as well as a stylist with a fondness for vivid metaphors, but a metaphor is not an argument nor is it proof. If he had said, “the ball is in your court” would that somehow prove that DP and his review engage in playground rhetoric?

  • g.wesley

    Allen, KLS, and whoever else may be interested,

    Regarding preferences of style, tone, and framing as a subset of these.

    I think the issue is much larger than this, that what we are calling framing amounts to more than simple inflection and diction. Tell me if you don’t agree.

    Someone might write something, and in response it might be said: those are the worst arguments ever made. Or less forceful: those arguments are unsubstantiated, illogical, etc. That would be a difference of style and tone.

    To say that someone’s arguments are the worst ever is not nice and would have to be considered hyberbole. But as long as counterarguments are made with evidence given, it would not be that big of a deal. In fact it would be far preferable to the kind of framing at issue.

    Framing is something else/more, where it is said: that person is an anti-Mormon, critic of the church, heretic, ‘our’ enemy, not one of ‘us,’ of questionable membership in the church, if a member at all. These terms only have meaning within larger frameworks, such as the framework of the cosmic battle of God and company versus Satan and company, faithfulness versus apostasy, with no ground in between.

    Unlike style and tone, this has little to do with argumentation and evidence. It is a strategy used to delegitimize the author as a person, not to engage arguments. Indeed in settings where the framework invoked to delegitimize the author is commonly accepted, there may be not even be a need for much counterargument, with scarce evidence given.

    Prof Peterson has provided a demonstration in his reply to this very post. After attempting to delegitimize the author, all that was left for him to do was state: “I deny this, and I note that the blogger provides no examples.” Done.

    Denial doesn’t amount to much without engaging arguments. And as was already pointed out, at least one example was provided in the opening post. But both points are essentially irrelevant to those who accept the framework that Prof Peterson is invoking.

    He implies that the author, or at least those with whom Prof Peterson associates the author, is guiltier than he is. But as far as I can tell, neither the author of this post, nor anyone else on this blog has attempted to delegitimize Prof Peterson as a person by undermining his status as faithful member of the LDS church. I’m also not aware of anyone here having any doubts about his sincerity, true concern for those he seeks to help, or the earnestness of his defense of a church that he clearly loves.

    What I think people are objecting to is the way he has gone about that. This is serious business, far more pervasive and recurring in LDS history before FARMS. Present circumstances are such that the backlash is being directed at Prof Peterson in particular. No doubt there is even some unfortunate projection going on, both among those who have left the LDS church (where I think Prof Peterson is involved in a bad relationship at least in part of his own making) and among Mormon scholars who are embarrassed by and/or disillusioned with the FARMS approach (which is of course short hand for a lot of different things). As strongly as I object to the kind of apologetics that his FARMS work represents, I do empathize and can only imagine that this is a difficult time for him.

  • smallaxe

    KLC,

    Since you object to my analysis, it won’t matter how many examples I cite. So let’s first see if we can come to an agreement on the analysis. Let me begin by asking you a couple of questions. In the piece I cite do you see anything inappropriate for an academic publication? If no, then why is there such a gap between the kind of language Dan uses in that piece and the kind of language he uses to write about Islam?

    Let me venture some thoughts on that last question, which will also explain a bit more of what I mean by violent rhetoric. I may also restate some of the things others have said in comments above.

    Dan’s language in these two arenas is different because (among other things) he treats his interlocutors differently. While they are indeed different people, he still has arguments that he wants to assert in both groups as well as differences in understanding the material in question. His approach to Islamic studies, I’m sure, is a particular kind of approach situated among other particular approaches to the same material. Yet, at least in the pieces of his Islamic work I’ve read, he does not use what I’ve called “violent rhetoric” to describe those he is arguing against.

    Violent rhetoric is more than just using a few metaphors of war in articulating an argument. And language need not extend to physical threats in order to be violent. Violent rhetoric, in my opinion, is a language of force intended to situate an interlocutor in a less than dignified position (Or as g. wesley states, “delegitimizing the author as a person”). By “position” I mean a mental space that represents one’s view of the world. In line with g. wesley’s comment, this repositioning is an attempt to situate someone within a larger framework of meaning.

    Looking at the example I cite, Dan (at least whenever that was written) sees the journal as a place to carry out a war of words. “Combatants” “fight” against their “enemies”; “swords” are held in one hand while the other holds a pen, there are “casualties,” etc. In other comments way above, g. wesley cites other articles that cast the Review as “the battlefield.” In another instance, interlocutors are cast as Korihor, or frequently as “anti-Mormon”. What this does is several things:

    For one, it draws a (metaphorical) line–those on that side of the line are to be treated with contempt. They are bad, in a verbal war with us, and less than dignified. Since in this scheme there are only two sides to the conflict, if you are not with Dan, you are against him; and if against him then you will be treated with the same contempt. This space of contempt–”enemy,” “anti-Mormon,” etc. becomes the position he situates his interlocutors in and the space he hopes his readers will situate them in as well. This kind of hyper-polarization misrepresents the variety of views out there; and his characterization of interlocutors as enemies is less than dignified and is even uncharitable.

    This isn’t a problem of simply using metaphors. It’s that the metaphors reveals how he views the larger project, in this case the project of the Review. And in this case Peterson sees himself involved in an all or nothing knock-down verbal brawl. This isn’t a matter of taste where some might like being in this brawl and others do not. As I mentioned above, it’s a matter of standards and treating your interlocutors as less than dignified should not be welcome in academic discourse.

    Now, I readily admit that part of Dan’s rhetoric is a result of who he has chosen to engage with; and I readily admit this in the OP. I’m not making the strong claim that violent rhetoric has no place anywhere (if he wants to continue this in venues unrelated to BYU, I don’t have a problem with that); rather I’m making the weaker claim that this rhetoric has no place in an academic publication.

    Let me know if I haven’t been clear.

  • SmallAxe

    smallaxe: Do you think such concerns about credentials and publishing in non-LDS publications as part of a litmus test of sorts to determine the fitness of the editor of a Mormon Studies Review journal are at least in part based on the desire to have the MSR be more acceptable to the wider academic community?

    I’ll second what TT said and add that in my view the editor shapes the content of the journal. In addition to other things s/he acts as a filter of sorts to judge the quality of material submitted to the journal. In most journals I’m aware of, the editor looks over submissions, determines the general quality of the piece and sends it off to external reviewers who do not know the author (the authors name removed from the piece). These reviewers ofter a written critique making a suggestion to the editor about whether or not it should be published. The editor makes the final call. Now, things may be different in a publication that primarily does reviews of books/articles. The reviews that I’ve done were not sent out to external reviewers, but those were relatively short. In either case, the editor is the gate-keeper of sorts and responsible (to the readers, to the institution supporting the journal, and to the field it represents) to publish quality pieces.

  • g.wesley

    Edit: KLC not KLS. Sorry.

  • TT

    KLS is going to rock you!

  • Parasox

    g.wesley, your analysis is extremely incisive. The tactic you are describing as problematic is one that Peterson and Midgley-style apologists used again and again. They stigmatized, branded, or labeled authors as wolves, disingenuous apostates, anti-Mormons, and enemies of the truth. They reserved the right to do this to anyone whose conclusions or interpretations of the evidence seemed to be at odds with the orthodox narrative, or what they considered to be the orthodox narrative.

    Once the apologists had issued their verdict on an author, she was, as far as many of their loyal readership were concerned, forever anathema. There was no middle way of the kind that Bushman represents, who, when he disagrees with an author’s conclusions or methods, does so nevertheless while acknowledging whatever he can of the value of the author’s effort. He assumes the best of those with whom he disagrees until forced to conclude otherwise. The FARMS apologists assumed and loudly proclaimed the worst they could—without resorting to libel—of those with whom they disagreed. Once their work was done, the actual arguments or issues raised by their victims could be safely ignored, if they wanted to ignore them; for, why would anyone bother to engage with someone so morally bankrupt as an “anti-Mormon,” an “apostate” or a “wolf” about anything where the stakes were high? Now their data, evidence, and reasoning were not to be trusted, let alone their conclusions.

    As further evidence of this tactic, consider how differently works by “faithful” scholars were reviewed—even when some of these were deeply flawed—compared to how substantive, serious work by someone who come to the “wrong” conclusions (by the apologists’ lights) was treated in the Review. A negative review of a “faithful” scholar’s work—i.e. someone who’s arguments and conclusions, though flawed, nevertheless supported the orthodox line—was full of benefit of the doubt, tentativeness, suggestions for improvement, and appreciation for whatever contribution could be discerned in the work, even if, in the end, it could not be fully endorsed or recommended. In short, charity was proffered, the kind that Bushman is seen offering to those with whom he disagrees. It is not that the FARMS apologists could not proffer such charity, or intellectual patience, then; it is just that they reserved it only for those whom they regarded as friendly to their cause. The tone was markedly different for an author who came to the “wrong” conclusions. Then, no quarter was given, no benefit of the doubt was allowed. There was no attempt to open a dialogue so as to possibly bridge a divide or resolve a misunderstanding. Summary judgment was passed on the author’s scholarly and spiritual bonafides, and the game was over. Granular, exhaustive critiques, sometimes extending to book-length excess were issued. Rebuke and reproof and calls to repentance were the order of the day.

    The difference was stark and embarrassing—not just because it was so transparently partisan and biased, but because it was so counterproductive. In the end, it undermined, in the minds of many readers, the credibility of the entire enterprise. Indeed, almost by definition, you could not be a fair-minded reader and like what you saw in the Review, because the Review was manifestly less charitable to those with whom it took exception than to those whose positions it approved. The double standard is evident in practically every single issue.

    I know that I have offered no concrete examples of my claims. I shouldn’t need to for anyone who has read the Review with any regularity. Still, there will be some who will not be satisfied without evidence. So, let the evidence be brought. I defy anyone to bring an example of a single issue of the Review in which the work of a disapproved author was uniformly treated (thus, Peterson’s introduction negates the Bushman example given above) with the kind of conspicuous generosity, temperance, or hope for fruitful dialogue that approved authors were in the Review. Conversely, I defy anyone to show where a “faithful” author was subjected to the kind of minute scrutiny and sustained, disdainful critic that unapproved authors were. And if such can be brought, I defy anyone to show that their example was not in stark contrast to the norm for the FARMS Review, may it rest in peace.

  • KLC

    Of course it will matter how many examples you cite smallaxe. Look, I have no academic, educational or experiential standing to critique or even comment on the majority of the comments surrounding the dismissal of Peterson, apologetics in the church, etc. I decided to enter this conversation to address one single idea, that Peterson/FARMS engage in systematic vitriol, violent language, etc. etc. One example does not prove that. And, in my opinion, y0ur one example fails to demonstrate a single instance of that behavior but that is really beside the point. If you claim a pattern, a culture, a preponderence of anthing then isn’t it your responsibility as a thinking, educated, ethical adult to actually demonstrate it is true? And how else would you demonstrate it than by many examples over many years that prove it to be so? I’m not asking you to undertake this task, I’m only asking you to stop making negative assumptions that y0u haven’t proved.

  • KLC

    I should add that this bothers me not because I’m a lawyer demanding strict evidence before any discussion can begin. This idea that Peterson/FARMS engage in a pattern of vitriol seems to be received wisdom on the LDS internet. It is one of those things that “everyone knows” and thus becomes a starting point for most conversations about the man and a written in stone conclusion for many who I doubt have ever read a word he has written. It automatically poisons every conversation I’ve ever read on the internet about him before they even begin.

  • SmallAxe

    KLC,

    I fear you misunderstood my previous comment. Before I can establish a “pattern” we’ll have to agree on what counts as an example of violent rhetoric. Once we agree on that I can work toward a pattern (if I can’t determine what you would count as violent rhetoric then there’s no point in moving forward). Please reread my previous comment and tell me how my argument regarding my initial link is not an example of violent rhetoric.

  • KLC

    smallaxe thanks for staying engaged with me. As I said, I feel a little out of my element here although I regularly stop by and try to learn something new. I will read what you said again and try to respond, although it may not be timely. We began remodeling my house today and my wife just sent me a photo, the whole front half is now gone. I’m entering turbulent waters.

  • SmallAxe

    KLC,

    No hurry. As you can imagine, I too have neglected other things and spent too much time on this thread.

    Good luck with the remodeling.

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  • TT

    Bryce Hammond has repeatedly denied that “violent rhetoric” has ever been employed by apologists. At the same time, he positively condones a threat to punch FPR folks in the face.
    http://www.templestudy.com/2012/07/02/attacking-hugh-nibleys-work/#comment-6699
    “I am a 77 yr old lady and I have read and re read and own everything of Nibley’s I could obtain.
    Send those critics to me…..and I will punch em in the nose. They are simply jealous of his brilliant
    mind and scholarship.”
    Bryce’s approval of this comment is here:
    http://www.templestudy.com/2012/07/02/attacking-hugh-nibleys-work/#comment-6700
    “Haha! Way to go Lynn! I think even our not-so-friendly friends might smile at that proposal.”

    I want to be clear that none of us takes this seriously, but rather point to it as an example of the kind of problematic discourse that has been allowed to flourish, and even celebrated in some circles of apologetics. I also want to be clear that such comments would never be condoned by FPR.

    We take Mormonism very seriously. We take thinking about Mormonism seriously. We are all sincerely dedicated to doing both well. We have dedicated our lives to do just that. If I can speak for my co-bloggers, we have been frustrated with what we consider to be poor reflections of Mormonism and apologetics, building houses on sand. We know from experience that these sand foundations will not sustain faith, and we testify that violent rhetoric will certainly destroy it.

    Dear Sister Lynn, if you are reading, we offer our hand in fellowship and strive toward mutual understanding, if you will unclench your fist.

  • Tim

    Bryce Hammond has also stated, “I believe WALL-E is another card in the deck of fear-mongering tactics employed by our common Enemy to get power, money, control, oppress mankind with false “prophets,” and terrorize prior to the return of the Savior.”

    WALL-E? The cartoon about a friendly, peaceful robot? Perhaps we shouldn’t take what Bryce Hammond says too seriously.


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