Apply for the Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture

The Mormon Scholars Foundation is currently accepting applications for the 2011 Summer Seminar on “the gold plates as a cultural artifact.” Graduate students at any level of preparation from the fields of history, literature, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, philosophy and other humanistic and social scientific fields, as well as junior faculty, are invited to apply. Click here for more information, click here to download an application. Here’s my take as a former seminar participant:

Last summer I had the privilege of participating in the Mormon Scholars Foundation’s Summer Seminar at BYU. The seminar remains the high point of my scholarly engagement with Mormonism thus far. While reflecting on the experience I was reminded of Oliver Cowdery’s description of transcribing the Book of Mormon: “These were days never to be forgotten–to sit under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven, awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom! Day after day I continued, uninterrupted…” (Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Vol. I No. 1 [October 1834]: 14).

Sound presumptuous? Here’s what I mean:

If this sounds like a sales pitch it’s actually intended to be an enthusiastic testimony. I’m not saying the seminar was exactly inspirationally akin to the translation of the Book of Mormon, but I certainly experienced days never to be forgotten. Granted, we participants didn’t listen to the dictation of inspired scripture. Instead, we sat together as ten students researching the foundations of Mormon theology with Terryl Givens.

Rather than assuming an authoritative voice, Givens facilitated discussion by asking questions and providing feedback, participating in the dialog. Other students and I were able to critique and advise, encourage and caution, as we dug through old newspapers and developed our own research themes. In a group setting the combined perspectives helped broaden my own perspective (or at other times assisted with narrowing the object of study). Meeting other students with similar interests planted seeds of friendship and fellowship that continue to grow past the 6-weeks in Provo. Also, the invited guest lecturers provided welcome perspective for up-and-comers like me. Hearing stories from researchers who’ve gone before and who continue to add to the growing body of LDS scholarship was a treat.

Being able to continue with my research “day after day…uninterrupted” during the seminar was critical. I had recently received my bachelors degree but had not started working on a higher degree yet. The $3,000 stipend made it possible for me to dedicate myself full time to research, study, and writing, while still being able to provide for my family. On the downside, after spending a month doing what I love the most I had to go back to my regular job and get paid for that instead. The stipend money was made available by donors. Their generosity,  and all of the other people who made the experience possible certainly “awakened the utmost gratitude of this bosom.”

I can’t recommend this experience enough. Go apply. The deadline is in six weeks. Feel free to email me or add a comment here if you have any direct questions about the experience, the application process, etc.

3 Replies to “Apply for the Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture”

  1. Thanks for posting this Blair. The seminar seems to be focused on 19th century cultural and religious history. Is it open to or desirable for those that wish to study gold plates in premodern societies?

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