Mormon Scholars Testify

DP: It's fairly widespread, though I don't really know how seriously it's held.  Maybe it's only a flippant jab.  Just yesterday, somebody wrote to me to tell me that "Mormon scholar" is an oxymoron.  And, on one Website, there is a claim that Mormons are required by their faith to abjure modern science.  I can't see how anybody can hold to such a view, but some claim to.  I actually encounter it pretty frequently, which provided some of the impetus for creating the site.

I've been told that only irrational and/or uneducated and/or unreflective and/or uncultured and/or provincial people can find Mormonism convincing and satisfying.  This site doesn't exist to argue against that dismissive stereotype, but I hope that its sheer existence will render that view less plausible.

SG: Because of criticisms on the Internet and coming into the FAIR Website about Mormon scholarship, I wrote an article on it a few years ago. So this topic really interested me. Contrary to the belief of some, Mormons do have a large scholarly community and value good scholarship. 

Does MST have an apologetic or evangelical purpose?

DP: Yes.  The argument isn't "Smart people believe in Mormonism, so you should, too."  I'm not that stupid, I hope.  But there is an implicit argument, for those inclined to consider Mormonism with at least some minimal degree of open-mindedness, to the effect that, if you think Mormonism too simple, too shallow, too obviously false to be even worth a moment's attention, you might want to reconsider your view:  Plainly, intelligent and informed people do find it profound, rich, and convincing.  The scholars featured on the site are just such people.

I would say the same thing about Islam and Catholicism and Judaism and other faiths, of course.  This site won't, in and of itself, convert anybody.  But those other faiths are already taken reasonably seriously; they have indisputably great traditions of intellectual effort behind them.  Mormonism (like ancient Christianity itself, in the first centuries) is still struggling to be taken seriously.  I simply want people to stop and take a more sustained look.

SG: Sure it does. I think it tells people that other people who are trained to study and even be skeptical find something in Mormonism. Maybe Mormonism deserves a closer look.

Who is the intended audience of the site?

DP:Anybody who'll look at it.  But I suppose I'm most interested in reaching those on the edge -- either doubting their LDS faith or considering LDS faith.  The benefits of the project, should there be any, will probably be most apparent in such cases.

SG: I think there is a group of people who believe that the more you learn, the more education you receive, the less religious you become. But, studies show the opposite happens within Mormonism. I think this site is for those people who are interested in thinking things through and might even be a bit skeptical about religion.

Given their proximity, training, and affiliation, BYU professors are obviously some of the first academics to be featured on MST. How are you reaching out to the many faithful LDS academics who are not at one of the BYU campuses?

DP:Obviously, it's easiest for me to recruit BYU people.  I see them every day.  But I'm also contacting people that I know elsewhere and asking for referrals.  I'm hoping that the project will take on a momentum of its own.  I've already had some people volunteer to submit testimonies, including some from far distant countries.  If there are any Latter-day Saint scholars out there, I hope they'll contact me.  There is a contact e-mail on the site.

On a related question, is there any kind of issue (as Richard Bushman has talked about) with academics in more secular settings "coming out" as faithful and believing Mormons?

DP: Yes.  Some -- particularly graduate students and junior faculty -- have expressed reservations about participating for that reason.  And at least one senior scholar has said that, because his/her work impinges on religious issues, s/he must retain his/her public image of neutrality, so s/he rigidly separates his/her devotional life from his/her academic life. 

Has anyone invited declined to participate for those or other motivations?

4/8/2010 4:00:00 AM
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