Taking Nibley Back: A Series #nibley

I met Boyd Peterson at Utah Valley State College in the the Summer of 2004. We were both in a week long faculty seminar on ethics-across-the-curriculum.

I had recently read Boyd’s biography of his father-in-law Hugh Nibley. Having never attended BYU, I had not had many opportunities to discuss Nibley and I was excited to meet Boyd.

In our conversation, Boyd mentioned something that has stuck with me. He said that Nibley fans fall into two categories: 1. Approaching Zion Nibleyites and 2. Temple and the Cosmos Nibleyites. The thing that struck me about this is that I considered myself to be in both categories. I still do.

Approaching Zion (AZ) is Nibley’s great work of egalitarianism. It is a scathing critique of the greed and pride of the 1970s and 1980s. The critique very much applied to the 1990s and beyond. Nibley draws upon ancient scripture and modern prophets to tackle what has become a dominant school of thought in American socio-economic thinking…Social Darwinism.

The Temple and The Cosmos (TC) is a collection of Nibley’s essays and talks on the temple. To be honest, TC is farther from my area of expertise than is other Nibley works like AZ and Brother Brigham Challenges the Saints (BB). While I cannot comment on the academic merits of Nibley’s writings on the temple, they have helped me gain an appreciation of the temple. Mostly it has done this by teaching me to approach the temple through both a spiritual and interpretive lens. This approach has led me to love the temple, something which I had struggled to grasp.

Both of these strands of Nibley’s thought are important. They are both of great value to me. They are also complex and nuanced.

Years ago, SmallAxe challenged me to take back Nibley from the zealots. These zealots tarnish the legacy of Hugh Nibley.

So, this begins a series. In the U2 live album Rattle and Hum, Bono takes back the Beatles song Helter Skelter. Conceding Nibley to the anti-intellectuals does a disservice to not only the legacy of Nibley, but also to Mormonism. I am taking him back.

About Chris Henrichsen

Chris Henrichsen has moved Approaching Justice off of Patheos. Find his latest posts and the new Approaching Justice. Thanks!

  • http://chriscarrollsmith.blogspot.com Christopher Smith

    Awesome. Looking forward to it. :)

  • http://ethesis.blogspot.com/ Stephen M (Ethesis)

    I really have liked both aspects of Nibley’s works.

  • BHodges
  • http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com Dave

    Well, I’m not too fond of either the AZ Nibley (I find every chapter cringeworthy) or the TC Nibley if that’s defined in relation to The Egyptian Endowment (ditto). But I like the pre-Egyptian Nibley who wrote An Approach to the Book of Mormon, the World and the Prophets, and the essays in Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless. He’s better as a general social critic of Mormonism and scholar of ancient writers than as an Egyptologist or a crypto-socialist (in the positive sense). I admit I haven’t read Peterson’s biography of Nibley yet.

  • Clark

    BTW – I think social darwinism as typically used is a pretty bad straw man. I felt that way when Nibley used it too. It’s about on par with how tea partiers use indiscriminately the term socialist and then tie it to the excesses of European socialism in the 50′s through 70′s whether it fits the person in question or not. It’s also interesting that Nibley often goes after Dewey quite a lot. That was common for conservatives in the 50′s and 60′s but Nibley was himself a progressive so I always was confused by his approach there.

    Look forward to your series. My favorite book of Nibley’s was always The Ancient State. Both for the first half where I’d argue his best writings are located as well as the second half where he makes some big mistakes but illuminates his philosophy a lot.

  • http://mormonwar.blogspot.com Morgan D

    I have mixed feelings about this. As somebody who works and publishes in academic circles, I’m annoyed at the way Nibley is wielded by various Visigoths I encounter. As somebody whose passion for ancient history was inspired by FARMS, and who still operates in academia from a non traditional position, I was very annoyed at the elitism displayed by people here and elsewhere during the recent controversy. I don’t think the series will help change that impression. But, if this is the same Chris H. that I’m friends with facebook I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. So I’m really torn here, but needless to say, I can’t wait to see the posts.

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

    I am short on time for responding today. However, I want to point out that this is not an attack on FARMS in anyway. I have no issue with FARMS. I find myself in agreement with Jack Welch and Dan Peterson on quite a few things. Now, their are some self-proclaimed heirs to FARMS that fall within the scope of my motivation. But I am not blaming FARMS or them.

    Clark and Dave, I will respond to you later. Not ignoring…just busy day.

  • http://joelsmonastery.blogspot.com Gerald Smith

    I look forward to seeing how you “take Nibley back.” I personally like both Approaching Zion and Temple & Cosmos. While some of his stuff is now dated, it is quite respectable work for someone who was breaking so much ground in his day.

  • Clark

    Chris – you’re running for office. I’m surprised you have time to comment at all. (I’ve barely had time to do much since about February myself)


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