The Responsibility of the Scholar

The Responsibility of the Scholar August 18, 2007

What is the responsibility of the academically trained scholar in Mormonism? As more LDSs go to graduate schools (or even various undergraduate institutions) and study religion, this becomes an interesting question. I’m defining “scholar” here as someone who has graduated from a institution of higher education focusing specifically on religion (broadly conceived). This isn’t meant to position one type of scholar above another, but to ask a specific question about what our expectations are from this group of people.

Do we expect them to “reaffirm faith”? If so, concretely what does this mean? Should they, for instance, only teach things that encourage people to come to church (for the “right” reasons of course)? Or can they opperate free from the results of their teachings in pursuit of certain questions (Was Jesus divine for the NT authors, for instance)?

Do we expect them to “challenge faith”? If so, how? Can they only challenge the faith in such a way that the challenge must be completely resolved (leaving the questioner with a “stronger testimony”, usually measured by higher activity in the church)? Or can they complicate things in such a way that the world appears more complex, more ambiguous, and less cut and dry?

Do we expect them to sit quietly in church settings and treat their profession as a separate from their faith? In other words do we have the same expectations of them that we would have from any member of the church–i.e., help out as needed (the VCR repairman is great to have around when the VCR breaks, so likewise the scholar is good to have around when a question, usually of historical nature, comes up that others can’t answer)?

I’m interested to hear from the academically trained as well. What do you see as your resopnsibility to the Mormon community?

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