Faith and Knowledge Conference(s): Call for Papers and Past Experiences

Several years ago, a conference was organized by Richard Bushman, Terryl Givens, and several LDS graduate students. Concerned by perceptions of a general abandoning of faith among LDS grad students in religion-related fields, the conference’s  focus was encapsulated in its title, Faith and Knowledge.

A recent call for papers went out for the third Faith and Knowledge conference to be held at Duke in February of 2011. (http://www.faithandknowledge.org/) The deadline has been extended to November 1, so there’s still time to get something in. Funding is available for travel and accomodations for presenters. Check out the site for more information, it’s a great opportunity for LDS grad students to get their feet wet presenting at a conference and meet LDS in similar academic circumstances.

This is the third such conference. I presented at the first (Yale, 2007, on whether the Book of Mormon is compatible with the documentary hypothesis) and attended the second (Harvard, 2009). Although both were well worth attending, the second conference differed markedly from the first in several ways. Yale was a closed conference. As I recall, the only really established people there were Bushman, Givens, and Jim Faulconer (of BYU’s Philosophy dept.) The structure of the conference (panels followed by 20 minutes Q&A, break, panel) combined with its closed nature lead to very open and frank discussions of issues confronting LDS in religious studies and related fields.

Although a wide variety of perspectives and viewpoints were expressed, nearly everyone commented at some point upon the feeling of unity and camaraderie built and expressed over those two days, as well as the frank openness and sincerity of the Q&A sessions. I imagine it was somewhat like a Mormon in a small French branch who attends General Conference and suddenly feels much less alone because she’s discovered like-minded people who understand her perspective.

The second conference, in my experience, was nothing like that. Perhaps the first conference happened to be the perfect wave of topics, presenters, and attendees that can never be recreated. Perhaps it was that my own academic circumstances changed, or some other factor, but I tend to think that the open nature of second conference to the public made it a very different kind of conference than the first. Mormonism aside, it was like most other conferences I’ve attended; interesting, but somewhat guarded and dispassionate. Talk between sessions was much less lively. Perhaps I’m losing interest in Mormon studies (whatever it is), or that the presentations focused less on issues that are of interest to me. In any case, both conferences were well worth attending, at the very least to meet lots of interesting people, including many bloggers. For example, I first met Blair/LifeOnGoldPlates there, and Kristine the Dialogue editor (whose uncle, nephew, brother, and sister-in-law I’d known previously).

You still have a week to submit something. Check it out.

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