I suspect that sometime in the next few decades, historians will look back on the 1990’s as the worst period for Mormon studies. In fact, they may even say that it was so bad that it destroyed an entire generation of young Mormon scholars. This decade may have even set Mormon studies back a few decades from its entry into mainstream academic circles, erasing the progress made in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. I think that there were several factors, but our biggest enemy was definitely ourselves.
First, the prominent excommunications of many LDS scholars wiped out a certain generation of scholars, but more importantly had a chilling effect on scholarship. The boundaries of how hard one could push were still being drawn, and many young faithful scholars were either pushed out or decided to play it safe and avoid any controversial topics altogether. The stories and effects of these excommunications and disciplining are well-known and need not be rehashed.
These excommunications were part of larger trends in this decade, including the implicit and explicit discouragement of scholars to participate in Sunstone and Dialogue. This had a effect of radicalizing these publications for a brief period because the moderate voices stayed away. This also had the result of producing amazingly narrow research into Mormonism, focused on historical wrangling over Joseph Smith and Book of Mormon origins, leaving most of the rest of the other periods and disciplinary approaches practically untouched.
Another major factor in disrupting LDS scholarship in the 1990’s were the FARMS-Signature wars. While in many ways the 1990’s were the most productive times in Mormon scholarship, the productivity was often fueled by animosity and contention that is uncharacteristic of normal scholarly feuds. Perhaps this antagonism can be traced back to the 1991 review of Vogel’s The Word of God (Signature, 1990) in the FARMS Review of Books which escalated into publication and counter-publication for the remaineder of the decade. I think that this level of aggressiveness of both sides of this debate drove out moderate voices and scared off non-LDS scholars who had no intention of intervening in this internecine conflict.
In many ways, these factors continue to affect Mormon studies into the new millennium. There is still open hostility in the water. I remember a few years ago seeing a prominent FARMS writer ask a very prominent Old Testament scholar who had been invited to speak on the Book of Mormon if “he was under the delusion” of some such thing. Speaking this way to non-LDS scholars is not likely to garner interest or sympathy from the academic elite.
But perhaps the biggest set back was the chilling effect that these three trends produced. Young (and old) scholars were scared away from Mormon studies by the threat of discipline and intense ideological boundaries. I think that this decade left a major hole in the scholarly chain, leaving very few scholars who finished their degrees in the 1990’s or early 2000’s with a desire to pursue Mormon studies. Between Bushman, Givens, Barlow, and Flake, there is a virtual desert until you get to young scholars in their early 30’s.
Ironically, the highly charged environment of the 1990’s inspired many of the upcoming generation of Mormon scholars to enter into the field. With the naivety of undergraduates who often fail to see the stakes of an academic carreer, to many young LDS scholars going to college in the 1990’s the spirited debates were exciting and inspiring, prompting many of them to pursue scholarship as a career. But the romance soon wore off for many who after entering into graduate work, found that the stakes of Mormon scholarship were perhaps higher than they bargained for.
Of course, the boundaries of the 1990’s are not hermetically sealed. One can point to episodes in the 1980’s and even earlier that may have mimicked all of these events in the 1990’s. But what I find most interesting is the lacuna of mid-level scholars working on Mormonism. The field seems to be dominated by very senior scholars, and young scholars, and I can find no other explanation for this gap than the tumultuous effect the 1990’s might have had on the young scholars from that time.
78 Replies to “The Terrible 90’s for Mormon Scholarship”
Looks like it had an effect on grammar too. Hole, not whole.
Technically, that is spelling…but thnaks!
Do you think, though, that this terrible period was necessary in forcing people (especially people in charge) to reevaluate the Church’s stance on history? Was it in any way a necessary evil that led to greater things?
Also, do you think some the controversy was fueled by a victim mentality within the church?
Interesting thoughts, TT. While I do agree that the 90s were an era of underproduced scholarship in Mormon studies, I don’t think it’s as bleak as you portray. The 1990s did see significant publications like Grant Underwood’s The Millennarian World of Early Mormonism, and Armand Mauss’s The Angel and the Beehive. In additions, the 90s marked the publication of several books by non-LDS scholars who treated Mormonism in their analyses of larger issues (I’m thinking here of Nathan Hatch, Jon Butler, and John L. Brooke, among others). Also, while the students you mention in the late 90s/early 2000s that became disillusioned upon entering grad school are surely a real body of individuals, there are several notable exceptions, including Spencer Fluhman, Steven Harper (don’t let their affiliation with BYU’s religious ed department fool you … they’re legitimate scholars that are published in significant academic journals), Matt Grow, and Pat Mason.
Not to be picky, but Fluhman didn’t get his PhD until 2006, which is already on the other side of the hole TT is describing.
Yeah, but he entered grad school in 1998, got his MA degree in 2000, and didn’t get his PhD until 2006 largely because he began teaching full-time at BYU in 2004, all of which places him squarely within the time frame TT outlines.
“leaving very few scholars who finished their degrees in the 1990’s or early 2000’s with a desire to pursue Mormon studies…. There is a virtual desert until you get to young scholars in their early 30’s” [of which Fluhman is one, I’m guessing]. That’s the criterion I was referring to, but now I feel REALLY picky…
I think the internet is opening the door for non-scholars to become scholars, or at least make them think they are scholars, like reading one website makes you an expert. I do not consider myself a scholar in any way, but I try to read both sides. The excommunications and disciplines of the early 90’s happened before the internet was popular, and now, there is an entire movement happening regardless if the church likes it or not.
One related point that might be added is an acknowledgment of the audience for works on Mormon studies.
I was taking Institute classes when the Institue I was attending was forced to discontinue their subscription to Sunstone and Dialogue. It was made pretty clear to us that it was no longer appropriate to read these journals because of their unacceptable content. So there was a chilling effect on the potential scholarly audience as well as the scholars during this period.
I believe the interest in Mormon history has fluctuated since the beginning, but I disagree with your belief that the 90s is some sort of pariah in Mormon studies. You lament the FARMS/Signature wars, but both brought forth a lot of material (some poor, some excellent) through the entire decade. Additionally, you’re talking about a generation interested in making a buck. People are going to school generally to make money. I know some excellent folks were somewhat pressured, and unfortunate things happened (but again, I feel this has been the case in almost every decade since the restoration.)But all in all, I don’t know that it is accurate to label the entire decade as dismal, especially since we are not far removed just yet.
Thanks for pointing out some specific people. Of course, my argument here is based on generalizations, but such generalizations should be tested with specific evidence. However, I think that the only scholar that you mention that meets my criteria is Harper. Also, to further clarify, I am not saying that no one at all received a PhD in relevant fields to Mormon studies in the 1990’s. Rather, I am looking for the up and coming leaders in the field by looking at mid-level scholars. For mid-level scholars, I have in mind those working on a second or third book.
JC, I think that your suggestion that this was a necessary evil has some merit, but perhaps only for a period. What happened in the 90’s was not the vision that those writing in the 1970’s could have predicted. That is to say, I don’t necessarily see Mormon studies progressing towards a blessed telos out of necessity. Things can always go either way.
Perhaps that is the case, but I am reluctant to psychoanalyze any of the individual actors.
I think that you are right that the internet has definitely changed things, but we also might overestimate its effect on regular Mormons.
I think you are absolutely right, and I think that this has persisted longer than the chilling on scholarship itself.
I think that you are right, and I should clarify my point. What I am actually saying is that the 90’s were incredibly productive for Mormon scholarship, but that this had the effect of producing major casualties on the youngest generation of scholars finishing up degrees in the 90’s. By one measure, the 90’s were the most prolific in Mormon studies history but that the series of events that I outlined actually had the counter-effect of creating a gap in future leadership in the field.
TT, I think you’re exactly right. Another measure worth looking at is the subscription rate to Sunstone and Dialogue, both of which were cut roughly in half in the early 90s. It wasn’t just the production of scholarly work that suffered from the ugliness of the early 90s, but also the reception of it among believing and curious, but non-specialist church members. The whole idea that it was possible to be active and believing and also curious and open to a broad range of scholarly opinion was threatened, with the result that I’m one of very few of my age cohort (I’m staring down the barrel of 40) who stayed in the church and kept asking questions. I think Mogget and I might be the only ones 🙂
Interesting. I was going to say that the 90’s was the golden age of Mormon scholarship. More interesting things were being said then than before or since. It seems that new and interesting work has really slowed the past 7-8 years.
While what you say about politicization is true, consider what actually was done as scholarship. Admittedly there are still interesting things to come. Rough Stone Rolling is admittedly a milestone. I eagerly await the forthcoming book on Masonry and Mormonism. But while the records are now more easily available what new and significant has really been said?
I can’t resist it. Speaking of events that chilled a generation of LDS scholars:
a prominent FARMS writer ask a very prominent Old Testament scholar who had been invited to speak on the Book of Mormon if “he was under the delusion” of some such thing
Geez. I think we were mostly all there, as was pretty much the entire U.S. academy with any interest in Things Mormon because it was 2005, the 200th anniversary of JS’s birthday. Every time I think about it I remember the dead silence after he spoke, and before the moderator cut in.
I had invited four of my friends to attend the session with me, since the OT scholar was such a big name. I was so very, very, relieved that they had declined in favor of another session.
Clark, the slowdown you describe could potentially be caused by the situation TT describes. If a generation of scholars were driven away (or into other careers), that might explain why nothing new is coming. Scholars, like athletes, tend to do their best work earlier in their careers.
This reminds me of an article written by Peggy Fletcher Stack in the fall of 2005 on the effect of Mark Hofmann on the field of Mormon history. Ron Walker also referred to a missing generation of scholars.
My take on the disciplinary actions of the ’90s is that shortly thereafter the senior leadership figured out it was a strategic mistake, hence the fact that it hasn’t been repeated. In the most recent actions (Palmer and Murphy) the targeted writers were not even excommunicated.
But realizing a mistake was made doesn’t automatically undo the damage, namely that the conservative side of the already conservative LDS religious spectrum has been emboldened. The fact that LDS Institutes are not allowed to subscribe to a journal with the subtitle “a journal of Mormon thought” suggests that the deepest effect of the events of the ’90s may be the closing of the LDS mind. I see the whole episode as having gutted the CES, sort of like a scene in one of those techno-thrillers where the guided missile misses the intended target, then circles around to hit the plane that fired it.
Speaking of perceptions of Dialogue, the latest FARMS Review features a 2007 paper on the JS Papyri delivered by John Gee to a group of Egyptologists. Alluding to Robert Ritner’s article on the papyri, Gee states, “It is worth knowing, for example, that while Dialogue was a Mormon journal in the 1960s when [Klaus] Baer published in it, over the years it has changed so that many members of the church no longer consider it to be Mormon in any meaningful sort of way.”
Hey, would somebody inside shoot me an email (or post internally) on what scandalous conference session this was? Inquiring minds want to know!
Justin, thanks for reminding us. Ugh. Among other things to be disgusted about in Gee’s comment is that he doesn’t even have the nerve to own the slander himself, preferring the safety of “many members of the church”…
Interesting post, TT. I think you’re on to something here, but there is perhaps another obvious factor: the lack of job opportunities for individuals that wrote on Mormonism for their dissertations. In a quick search, I found four dissertations written on Mormonism during the 1990s or early 2000s.
Susan O’Neal Stryker, “Making Mormonism: A Critical and Historical Analysis of Cultural Formation,” (PhD. Diss, UC Berkeley, 1992), advised by Chuck Sellers.
Janet Ellington, “Becoming a People: The Beliefs and Practices of the Early Mormons, 1830-1845,” (PhD. Diss., University of Utah, 1997).
Dan Moos, “Asserting Americanness: Race, Religion, and Nationalism in the Turn-of-the-Century American West,” (PhD. Diss., The State University of New York at Buffalo, 2002).
Michael H. Madsen, “Mormon Meccas: The Spiritual Transformation of Mormon Historical Sites from Points of Interest to Sacred Space,” (PhD. Diss., Syracuse University, 2003).
None of these individuals got great jobs coming out of grad school. Susan Stryker (who grew up as a Mormon boy) is now doing work in transgender studies, and has done post-grad work at Stanford, but to my knowledge does not have a tenure-track position anywhere. A google search for Ellington doesn’t find me anything. Dan Moos is an Assistant Visiting Professor at Bowdoin and was able to get his dissertation published, but is not doing anything in Mormon studies to my knowledge. I think that Madsen is at BYU-H, and he just got an article published in JMH, but it doesn’t look like he’s in a position to be publishing a lot.
Anyway, my point is that these folks have not landed good jobs at research institutions that have given them the leeway to continue writing on Mormonism. Or, as in the case with Stryker, they may have chosen to leave Mormon studies behind for reasons of their own.
The folks that came after them (Fluhman, Harper, Grow, and Mason) have jobs, but it’s still too early to see if they make it far in academia.
Justin, I think it important to note that there were valid reasons why many Mormons were quite uncomfortable with Dialog, Sunstone, and so forth. While I think Dialog perhaps got tarred a bit unfairly by the Sunstone brush one has to acknowledge that both took not just scholarly stances but also fairly political. Plus, to be honest, there were some pretty horrible articles that some cynically felt made it in because of the stance they took.
I’m not saying all that is fair. But there is some justification for why people felt the way they did. Calling the Church Office building a phallic symbol in a fairly rude article isn’t exactly going to endear you to people.
Now don’t get me wrong. FARMS had its fair share of the problem. Although just as the problem in Dialog and Sunstone got exaggerated so too did the claims about various FARMS journals. In fact whenever FARMS gets brought up at many blogs the inevitable comments usually appear.
To the earlier point that perhaps a lot of the actions in the 90’s led to the lack of original research in the last decade I’m not sure I buy it. For all the problems of the 90’s I think the opposition also brought people to think about issues in a more passionate way than they have since the overt problems disappeared. Even RSR, arguably the most important work of the last decade really isn’t that original. At least I didn’t see that much in it that wasn’t already known. It’s significance is in organizing it all.
But were I to be a bit of the contrarian I think the opposition leads to better research. I’m a big fan of the competition system in scholarship and think it leads to better work so long as it doesn’t get out of hand.
I recognize most might not agree with me. But I, for one, can’t wait until some of Metcalf’s works come out and the close readings of LDS scripture resumes in the productive form it took in the 90’s. The last big ‘eruption’ was the DNA issue and while that was perhaps a tad too superficial in many ways it still led to a lot of interesting thinking and research. But compare and contrast that to what went on in the 90’s.
Even a lot of the stuff prior to the 90’s could be seen as arising due to Evangelical criticism or concern with the ‘sanitized view’ and that conflict led to some of the interesting “New Mormon History” IMO. It was when the NMW brought about a new movement of fairly skeptical stances towards Mormon history, theology, and exegesis that the countermovement arose and then Signature.
Color me hoping for the next conflict.
Clark, maybe we have different definitions of what constitutes “new” and “significant,” but I’d say that the books by Kathleen Flake, Sally Gordon, Kathy Daynes, Bushman, Givens, Ethan Yorganson, Greg Prince, Mauss, and Paul Reeve certainly qualify. I don’t think we can come up with a similar list for the 1990s.
David G. (#23) Michael Madsen is a geographer at BYU-Idaho. He seems to like it. That must be because he is in the same department as me. Lucky guy. He is making a difference by teaching numerous LDS kids. Of course, we teaching institution-types might not count.
Chris H.: Chances are, I’ll end up at one of those teaching-type institutions myself. I don’t doubt that Madsen is making a difference at BYU-I, but in terms of pumping out academic studies of Mormonism, teaching institutions don’t provide a lot of resources.
At the risk of sounding like one of the youngest on here, and also at the risk of sounding naieve by attending BYU-Idaho, I was very intrigued by the article.
I’ve noticed that the comments have centered around publications such as FARMS, Dialogue, and Sunstone. When I originally found out about the excommunications of 1993, it seemed as though these journals were blacklisted as being “radical,” “liberal,” and basically detrimental to the membership of the church. I agree with Dave, #19, about how possibly senior leadership of the Church recognized in hindsight this might have been a mistake (especially seeing how public it was) and have been very careful since.
Yet here’s my limited 24-year old insight. I’m amazed at the people my age who have never heard of Dialogue and Sunstone, and those who have seem to distance themselves and think of it as “rebellious.” The internet also has contributed to the downfall of those two journals.
While there might have been a downfall in scholarship, I would almost attribute that to 5 decades of research into a religion that’s only been around for 150 years (estimates). How many times can you revisit the same subjects? DNA and the Book of Mormon was brought up as finding some traction earlier on. Yet if that was beat to death, then what?
I could go on and on, but I almost think there needs to be more emphasis from Dialogue and Sunstone towards my younger generation. What happens when the generation that reads these journals now passes away? The journals will pass with it.
David, I suspect we are using “new” and “significant” in different ways. To me what is key some new facts that change in a major way how we think about events or some new theory to organize the facts we have.
So to me Bushman’s very important but his new and significant work was in his earlier book Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism. Maybe there’s some new organizing principle or fact in the rest of the book but I can’t think of it. That’s not to deny it’s importance in bringing the account together in a popular account. But it wasn’t ground breaking.
Ditto for Givens. Maybe People of Paradox has some new ideas. I’ll confess I’ve not read that one yet. But his other books seem to me to primarily be beneficial in terms of collecting existing ideas under a single cover.
Kathleen Flake may well have some new stuff. I’ve not read that one yet but I’ve not heard people talking about it as getting new ideas out that weren’t in say Thomas Alexander’s Mormons in Transition, many articles in the 80’s and 90’s on the topic in various ways or even some of Quinn’s writings. If there is something new and significant in terms of fact or theory in Flake I’d definitely be interested. If so I might pick it up.
Sarah Gordon I’ll grant you added to the polygamy discussion. But I believe her book came out at the end of the 90’s. (I don’t have the book handy, but I know the paperback came out in 2001.) I believe a significant number of the chapters were also published in various history and law journals during the 90’s. But also note all the books that had already been written in the late 80’s and 90’s related to the subject. Is what she did as significant as say Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness ()? There were some pretty significant structural theories in that book even if much of the biography could be found elsewhere. Then there was Hardy’s Solemn Covenant (1992) And let’s not forget Van Wagoner’s Mormon Polygamy: A History (1992). There are some interesting new books coming out on the topic. And one you neglected to mention is Nichol’s Prostitution, Polygamy, and Power: Salt Lake City 1847 – 1918. That I’ll concede is important. But I think for polygamy the big breakout decade was the 90’s and not the last decade.
Kathy Dayne’s More Wives than One is important. But then it just barely missed the 90’s as I recall – coming out in 2001. (I notice there is a new edition coming out – I don’t know if there are any significant changes) So one could well argue that it was developed in the 90’s. But while this is very good and important as a nice overview studying the demographics I believe a lot of that information was already out in various articles in the 80’s and 90’s. However by focusing in on a more limited region it is a very nice illustration of patterns. Even if she perhaps doesn’t deal with post-manifesto polygamy well. But she does a nice job on the larger sociological issues and that is important.
Ethan Yorgonson’s book I’ve not read but I believe most of the issues he deals with were already pretty heavily discussed. Since I’ve not read it what is the theoretical or factual issues that he brings up that were new?
Greg Prince’s bio of Snow I enjoyed a great deal. But I don’t believe there were any surprises there. It was nice to have it all in one place though. I put this in the category of Bushman even if I don’t consider the book nearly as good. (I’d say the Spencer W. Kimball bio also fits there.)
I know zero about Paul Reeve’s book. I’d honestly never even heard of it before. Which isn’t a slam on Reeve but makes me wonder about its significance. I’m willing to be enlightened here.
When you say Mauss are you talking about Armand Mauss? Then that came out in 1994 although I don’t see it as that significant. The Angel and the Beehive is a good book although its been an awfully long time since I read it. Or were you talking about All Abraham’s Children? I’ve not read that but let’s be honest. There were a lot of discussions of this during the 90’s. It’s a nice summation but I’m not aware of anything new in it. Once again I’m willing to be shown wrong on that point.
As for my counterlist here is a partial list. Not necessarily because I like or agree with the books but because I think they made significant changes to how people thought about Mormon history especially in theory.
Carmon Hardy, Solemn Covenant
Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy
Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View While there were elements of folk magic discussed before this I don’t think the importance of Quinn’s book can be overstated even though it’s an amazingly flawed book in both its versions.
Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power; Origins of Power (2 Volumes) Once again many chapters are expansions of papers but most of those were from the 90’s anyway. Many of the more controversial points are flawed but there’s a lot of significance here.
Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness
David Berger, Mysteries of Godliness Yeah, mainly edited from a few articles plus (one suspects) a certain thesis that has been passed around a lot. But terribly significant.
Various, Encyclopedia of Mormonism This broke huge ground in making a lot of new scholarship available to lay members. While it’s dissemination ultimately was small it’s significance in breaking the JFS/BRM hold on Mormon thinking was huge. This also really made many positions like evolution mainstream.
Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents. Yes the series continued into the new century. But those early volumes got a lot of important documents out to the masses. The process has continued but I think that much of the process got started in the 90’s.
Lyndon Cook & Andy Ehat, Words of Joseph Smith Arguably more important than Vogel’s. It’s sad this is out of print (although a PDF version is available at BYU for download) This had a huge effect in terms of how even regular people read Joseph’s sermons leading to a bit of a renaissance (IMO)
Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion Yeah some may balk here and it was reprints but this had a pretty significant effect in the Church IMO.
William Hamblin & Stephen Ricks, Warfare in the Book of Mormon. Sorenson’s book had already made LGT mainstream but this one arguably made a huge difference by bringing out serious rethinking of how to read the text in terms of the model set by Sorenson. More work has been done since but this book really was a big revolution. There actually was a long line of books and articles like this. The last 10 years just haven’t seen the activity that the 90’s saw.
Charles Larson, By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus: A New Look at the Joseph Smith Papyri. Obviously this is one I strongly disagree with but it really pushed the arguments that had been made in the 70’s and made a lot of the images available to the public. One hopes Metcalf’s book will do this same whenever it finally comes out. This book then made FARMS and others once again take the Book of Abraham seriously leading to a lot of interesting theories and scholarship.
Grant Underwood, The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism. Great for providing structures for thinking about early and contemporary Mormonism. A very underrated important book. (I guiltily confess I only recently finally read it)
Stephen Lesuer, The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. If ever there was a topic that cries out for further writing the military history and context of early Mormonism is it. This is still the best book.
Stephen Robinson, How Wide the Divide?. A book I don’t care for but unarguably hugely important in Mormon theology.
Maxine Hanks, Women and Authority. Famous for it’s connection to Quinn’s excommunication. But there were unarguably some very significant essays and papers in it even if one strongly disagrees with them.
There were a few others I considered. I thought about Quinn’s book on J. Reuben Clark but one could argue that this isn’t new relative to his earlier book on Clark back in ’83. I also considered Mormons in Transition then checking the copyright page I discovered it was ’86 and not ’96 when it came out. (’96 was the Illinois edition) I thought about Bigler’s Forgotten Kindgom as well. A good, if flawed book. One wishes a more thorough book would take up the topic. (I hear one is coming) I’m sure if I thought I could come up with more.
Of course I could come up with a few more for the last decade. For instance I think Blake Ostler’s trilogy on Mormon theology is invaluable even if I am agnostic about a few of its key points.
I note I also didn’t even go to the journals where there was a lot of important stuff in the 90’s. (I think much more than the recent decade but I don’t have time to look up examples for that)
Whoops. Screwed up the paragraphs a bit. Could you fix that?
To add, in case I made it seem otherwise, there were a ton of important books in the 80’s as well.
Sarah Gordon I’ll grant you added to the polygamy discussion. But I believe her book came out at the end of the 90’s. (I don’t have the book handy, but I know the paperback came out in 2001.)…Is what she did as significant as say Todd Compton’s In Sacred Loneliness ()?
Gordon’s book was published in 2002. Marti Bradley has described Gordon’s book as a “blockbuster.” Klaus Hansen has called it “sophisticated” and “magisterial.”
Clark, I am puzzled by your counterlist. It seems that you are indicating that the books were published in the 1990s, but many of them were not.
Van Wagoner’s Mormon Polygamy was published in 1986 (3d. ed. in 1992).
Quinn’s Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (first ed.) was published in 1987.
Cook and Ehat’s Words of Joseph Smith was published in 1980.
Hugh Nibley’s Approaching Zion was published in 1989.
LeSueur’s The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri was published in 1987.
This topic came up over at Juvenile Instructor recently. Like I did there, I’d recommend the Spring 2008 (Volume 14, No. 1) issue of Dialogue. John-Charles Duffy wrote a treatment of the evolution of Mormon scholarship – “Can Deconstruction Save the Day? ‘Faithful Scholarship’ and the Uses of Postmodernism.”
He writes that during the 60s and 70s, Mormon historical work was dominated by the “new Mormon historians” like Leonard Arrington and Thomas Alexander. This group was defined by modernist sensibilities and sought to “objectively” treat Mormon history (usually by bracketing “faith claims”). Jan Shipps also got lumped in with this group.
According to Duffy, in the 1980s a new faction of Mormon scholars began to attack the “new Mormon history” as a treasonous sellout to liberal academic prejudices – namely the idea that objective scholarship is even possible. Louis Midgley and David Bohn are cited as spearheading this critique. They basically argued that there is no such thing as “objectivity” in history and they said that the new Mormon historians were sellouts and ought to be arguing from a pro-Mormon standpoint as “defenders of the faith.”
Midgely and Bohn’s approach (joined by Daniel Peterson) got a lot more traction when Boyd K. Packer jumped on the bandwagon with his famous “The Mantle is Far, Far Greater Than the Intellect” where he accused “objective” scholarship, with respect to Mormonism, of giving “equal airtime” to Satan.
Duffy then speaks of “the Petersen inquisition” where apostle Mark E. Petersen instructed local Church leaders to conduct interviews of “more than a dozen LDS writers, including Thomas G. Alexander, Armand Mauss, Linda King Newell, David John Bueger, and Lester E. Bush.” The implication being it was basically meant to send a message to Mormon historians that their membership could be taken away if their writings were not correct.
Neal A. Maxwell popularized the term “faithful scholars” in the late 1980s – where he also became heavily invested in FARMS. BYU also incorporated “faithful scholarship” language in its mission statement during that time period.
The “September Six” excommunications are, of course, mentioned.
Duffy goes on to point out how the antipositivists, such as Midgely, Bohn and Petersen used post-modernist justifications to back up their positions. The idea that all human inquiry is relative and such things as “true objectivity” do not exist, are not even possible, and to attempt them is misguided. He claims such arguments were used in a bid to win academic respectability for pro-Mormon scholarship, but he points out that relativistic paradigms don’t really fit well with a religion that aspires to absolute faith claims.
He quotes Richard Bushman “By giving in to tolerance, there is a danger that Mormonism will be treated like voodoo” – publicly respected, privately dismissed. “Wouldn’t we prefer,” Bushman wrote in 2001, “to be taken seriously enough to be directly opposed rather than condescended to?”
Duffy claims that the most recent Mormon historians such as Bushman, have been trying to walk a fine line, but have been gradually moving away from the antipositivists of the 80s and 90s.
Ben over at Juvenile Instructor mentioned that Duffy possibly takes an unnecessarily cynical view of “faithful scholarship.” Maybe he does. I’m just summarizing the article for those who don’t get Dialogue in print.
The pdf version of Words of Joseph Smith that was mentioned, I’m having trouble getting access to it. Anyone any idea what I’m doing wrong?
WoJS has been removed. FWIW, someone associated with the library told me in late April that it should be back online soon.
Clark, yes, we do define “significance” very differently. I think that in part stems from two separate but overlapping conversations. The first conversation is very insular, dealing with questions that Mormons primarily are concerned with. I group most of what is published by FARMS, Signature, Dialogue, Sunstone, BYU Studies, Journal of Mormon History, and Mormon Historical Studies within that conversation. While BYU is involved in some of this, most of what is published here falls outside of a university setting, and from my perspective cannot be properly categorized as academic. Although I would grant that this conversation is important, its importance is only recognized within narrow confines.
As to the second conversation, I group together scholars that either teach at a university or publish with university presses. These scholars treat Mormonism within frameworks developed in mainstream academic settings and are therefore interested in engaging scholars of American religion, the American West, and American studies in general. To me, it is this conversation that is significant. All the authors that I mentioned in my initial comment either hold teaching positions at universities, or, like Prince, have pubished with university presses. As Justin points out, many of the books you list were actually published during the 1980s. For the remainder of your list, only Hardy, Robinson, and Underwood really qualify, although I’d also consider including Vogel’s document series. Quinn’s work has been influential in wider conversations, but his failure to publish with an academic press has really hurt his long-term significance, imo. Apparently that has also been a contributing element into why he hasn’t been able to land a job since he left BYU.
Most young scholars that I associate with that have recently graduated with their PhDs or are still in grad school (in history or religious studies departments) care very little about participating in the first conversation and really only see the second as significant (Mark Ashurst-McGee is a good example of a young scholar interested in both conversations). Maybe that’s another reason behind the shift that TT has pointed out.
What a good article — it raises some interesting points. I think there exists a fear with some Mormon scholars that they might have their association in the LDS church severed if they say something out of line. I guess for others, they have merely focussed on a vocation that really interests them — after all many scholars do not have history, mormon studies, theology or what have you as their own professional focus, however, they act more as a scholarly hobbyist.
Thankfully in time, the younger scholars will become the middlings, then the senior scholars….. in the words of a big corporation, scholars…”Isn’t it about time?” Bushman, Mauss, et al. were all young scholars at one time or another. Maybe the LDs church is opening up more, in light of the Mountain Meadows events, the events surrounding the 1978 priesthood to all males 12 years and over, and the scholarly approach of the Joseph Smith Papers project.
I also wonder how many would attribute the fault to many in Utah who keep Mormon studies so insular, and focus their efforts towards their own Mormon circles? Maybe if more published in well established respectable journals out side of the Wasatch Front maybe more people outside of the LDS church might be interested? There is some great work going on in South America and Europe — I don’t think there is an easy answer.
OK. That’s embarrassing Justin. That’ll teach me to make a list using the internet to look up publication dates. Unfortunately I only had about half of those in my library and so I didn’t even bother looking up first hand. Perils of not being at an university. (Yeah, I know I only live a mile away from BYU – but with parking and young kids it’s harder to get up on campus than I would have thought)
Anyway, that leaves about half my list. And certainly the 80’s were a massively productive period although one wonders how much of that is the benefit of low hanging fruit.
I’ll try and make up a better list tonight. But I think my point remains.
Re 23, Ellingson teaches history as an adjunct professor at the Univ. of Utah.
Good find, Justin.
Whoops. Sorry. I didn’t close my bold tag properly on the first line.
Thanks David for clearing up the confusion. Clearly we were talking past one an other by focusing in on different things. While I think Mormon Studies of the sort of interest to non-Mormons is important I confess that it is in self-understanding by the Mormon community that I find the most significance and importance.
Seth, I really need to read that article. I wonder if Peterson, Midgley and company would agree with it. No one wants to take pity on someone who has trouble getting up on campus and send me a PDF?
I haven’t read the published version of the article, but was present for Duffy’s presentation of an earlier version of the paper at MHA last year. Midgely was in the audience, and stood up during the Q&A to respond and made quite a scene. If I remember correctly, he was very upset that Duffy had lumped he and David Bohn together.
While I think Mormon Studies of the sort of interest to non-Mormons is important I confess that it is in self-understanding by the Mormon community that I find the most significance and importance.
I’m not so sure such a clear distinction can be made. Isn’t what you refer to as work of “interest to non-Mormons” also a critical part of “self-understanding [of] the Mormon community”?
I wasn’t there for Duffy’s presentation, but I think that that response is typical when I’ve seen reactions to his other presentations or papers. While I think Duffy’s narrativization of Mormon studies is very useful and largely correct, his tendency to create neat categories of scholars is frequently overly schematic and creates for strange bed-fellows. Sometimes his categories become more important than the data in telling the story he wants to tell.
Smallaxe, I agree that such books can be part of self-understanding but don’t exhaust self-understanding. For one thing the problem of writing to non-Mormons raises its head. Bushman comes closest to straddling the line but by and large to write to non-Mormons you have to significantly change the discussion.
I freely admit some of this is going a wee bit over my head. Howevever, I have enjoyed reading the post and intelligent conversation. I would like to comment on something brandt #28 touched upon that I think should not be lost:
“The internet also has contributed to the downfall of those two journals”.
At the risk of sliding a little left of topic I would like to suggest that the internet poses an extremely important shift regarding LDS conversation. Sunstone, et. al no longer can claim exclusivity to their ‘progressive’ LDS ramblings. Indeed, they teeter on becoming extinct, or at least viewed as pase to the rising generations. The opportunity to publish intellectual (or otherwise) thought within seconds to a global audience is stunning! This is effecting a rapid change to our culture. The 90s may as well be the 50s. It becomes mute. Scholarly texts are more and more exclusively published electronically. (this is already entrenched in the medical field which I am a part of) Not only does it save trees, it is practical and essential. Why purchase a textbook when we can download an entire library during our lunch breaks? Access and assimilation of up-to-the-minute info and research data can now be absorbed at a dizzying pace. Our 21st century brain-capacity is certainly being tested! All of these shifts cannot help but “thaw the chill” so to speak among the LDS scholar community. I anticipate it will germinate a much larger crop of Mormon scholars and intellectuals than ever before.
It has been fascinating to me personally to watch the evolution of the church’s stance towards rank-and-file members “speaking out”. Ability to offer personal opinion, read opposing views and participate in deeper discussion (such as this page) is unprecedented. Although many of the official organizations and lower leadership remain suspicious of the “new media” and find it an “unsettling” direction, the floodgate of change cannot be held back. They will adjust eventually, or die out. A younger, more savvy and vibrant community of Latter-day Saints are rising. Elder Ballard’s recent strong encouragement to use our “new media”, specifically naming “blogging” to open up intelligent dialog has generated an astounding leap. One recent report in the Mormon Times claims that within the past 6 months alone, a minimum of 2K new LDS blogs were born. This was a conservative estimate. It is opening doors to the young and young-at-heart LDS to expand not only our vocabulary but also launching a quest for deeper thinking. The forward direction of our higher leadership shows their secure belief and foresight that scholarship does not need impede testimony, but rather fortify.
In conclusion, I see this as the beginning of the most liberating era the church and its members has ever seen. It is fabulously exciting! And quite frankly, all due respect to your original thesis, I am more than happy to kiss goodbye to the 90’s. As President Hinckley might have sagely responded to this conversation: “We have nothing to worry about. The best is yet to come”.
I think we need to be careful with how we deal with FARMS and personalities like Daniel Peterson and Louis Midgeley. Such folks certainly have used a great deal of forceful language in the studies and their publishing work, but they have also contributed a great deal to Mormon Scholarship by introducing philosophical, historical, and other scholarly arguments for Mormonism and against anti-mormon work. This has certainly done good things for us. Apologetics is a field we have made flying leaps in. Of course I can’t think of any apologist that emerged in the nineties, to Connect back to TT’s points.
At the risk of a bit of psycho-analysis lemme throw in a theory. Only a theory, and I am happy to be called wrong. I believe that many of those who wrote in the nineties suffered from a sense of being victimized by Secular and non-secular anti-Mormonism. Anti-Mormonism became much more vocal, or at least was better heard, with the development of the internet, and received much more scholarly attention with the expansion of FARMS. Such feelings of victimization (perhaps justified?) fueled the fires of bitter and attacking scholarship. This could be what led to the denunciation of “liberal scholarship”, a fear that it would lead to further attacks on the church’s claims.
This mindset seems to continue in some places still.
Clark, everyone that I know that writes on Mormonism for an academic audience would claim to be, at some level, engaged in a quest for self-understanding. Smallaxe is right to say that your categories are a bit off. All of the books that I listed above, although written for an academic audience, certainly have had an impact on Mormon self-understanding at some level.
I agree Trevor. I actually felt a tad uncomfortable even relaying Duffy’s article due to the appreciation I have for Midgely and Petersen on the apologetics front. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see Duffy’s point.
David, that’s not what I’m saying. Certainly what you say is true and I don’t think I indicated otherwise. Although I can see what you are saying. However there is a big difference between taking a stance where revelation, angels and the like are taken seriously versus writing in a fashion acceptable to non-Mormons. Certainly the Mormon authors can still be engaged in self-understanding. And the non-Mormons are also going to be aiding Mormon-self understanding. But it seems undeniable that there is a gap with a lot excluded.
The issue of naturalism is but one example of the gap. One can write such that this doesn’t pop up but it can. As I said RSR is a great example of trying to straddle the gap. But most aren’t like that. You’ll never see something like Sorenson’s book in the arena of non-Mormon literature but arguably stuff like that (even non-apologetic stuff) is crucial for Mormon self-understanding.
Smallaxe, I agree that such books can be part of self-understanding but don’t exhaust self-understanding.
I think you may be missing my point. There are many discourses on the topic of Mormonism–apologetic, popular, devotional, academic (done by LDSs and otherwise), fictional, etc. These overlap and come and go depending on a variety of factors. Certain people value some of these more than others in terms of their contribution to “self-understanding”. If I’m understanding TT correctly, the 90’s saw a virtual elimination of one kind of discourse. TT perhaps hasn’t clearly identified this discourse in its relation to the others (a particular kind of academic discourse done by LDSs?), but it seems to be one that TT values rather highly; whereas you seem to be arguing for the value of another kind of discourse.
Right, but I think my original point still stands. That this vastly overstates the effects in the 90’s despite my having got some dates wrong.
To add I know understand why some of my list might be excluded (although often the lines are blurry – isn’t RSR somewhat of an apologetic work?)
Right, but I think my original point still stands. That this vastly overstates the effects in the 90’s despite my having got some dates wrong.
Clark, the problem is that the dates happen to be key in making the argument. You can’t have a point that still stands when most of the evidence for the point has been dismissed.
What part of the following do you disagree with? The 90’s witnessed the narrowing of permissible academic work in the field of Mormon Studies done by “faithful” LDSs. This narrowing created a lacunae in the field.
Perhaps you’re defining “Mormon Studies” slightly differently?
I’m not convinced that “faithful LDS” applies broadly to the September Six. Yet I do feel that many of us perceive fuzzy boundaries, all the more restrictive because they are undefined, in what positions can be argued for. If there are to be litmus tests, I’d like to know what they are.
Thanks all for the great comments! Just to pick a few.
Thanks for the great sleuthing for Mormon studies PhD’s! I love you historians of modernity with all your abundance of data!
Many of the scholars mentioned here who wrote important books in the 2000’s don’t qualify as the younger midlevel scholars that will qualify as the future leadership in the field (with the possible exception of Yorganson). The others mentioned are all older. Gordon might qualify here, but I am not sure she is a “Mormon studies” person.
I think that you make an interesting point about the internet. I suspect that you are probably right that the internet changes things, but I am not necessarily optimistic that progress is the only direction that the future can take. I think that what happened in the early 90’s was a step backward, and such steps backward are always within the realm of possibilities, so we will just have to see what heppens.
I think that you offer an interesting theory, and you are definitely right to suggest that the “apologetic” branch of Mormon studies was reacting to perceived “threats.” Likewise, the reaction from the more secular side of the divide ramped things up on their own as well.
I am not entirely sure where your disagreement lies. You seem to be defending an internal conversation as legitimate, but I think that this is besides my point. I am attempting to account for the lack of mid-level scholars in Mormon studies. Perhaps such voices exist in the internal conversation that you are citing? In any case, there does seem to be a gap in the kinds of scholars that populated the 70’s and 80’s than those that populated the 90’s, and this seems to have taken its toll on the younger scholars. At the same time, I noted that paradoxically the 90’s inspired many young scholars to enter into graduate school in the 90’s and early 2000’s.
Smallaxe depending upon what you mean by “Mormon Studies” I’d strongly disagree. I’m afraid that term is being thrown around a lot and I’m still not entirely sure how everyone is using it. For instance is Women and Authority a text in Mormon Studies or not?
While some of the dates I looked up were wrong, that only accounts for part of my list. And I can get other books. Have I time tonight I may do that. However I think there undeniably are a bunch of good book and papers from the 90’s. Quinn’s stuff which I mentioned being one. While the first edition of Quinn was in the 80’s the second edition has so much additional material that I think is very significant. (i.e. the stuff on Kabbalism which admittedly had been written on before – in the 90’s – although I’ll be the first to admit Quinn does a bit of an embarrassing job with it)
I don’t have time yet to give a full list. But here are some significant works from my library. (And since I have these physically I can confirm the dates)
Walker, Wayward Saints(1998)
Cook, William Law (199
Bigler, The Forgotten Kingdom (1998)
Various, Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History (1994)
Brook, The Refiner’s Fire (1994)
Various, Kingdom on the Mississippi Revisted (1996)
Hallwas & Launius, Cultures in Conflict (1995)
Buerger, The Mysteries of Godliness (1994)
Bates & Smith, Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch (1996)
There were a few others on my shelves (such as Quinn’s stuff) and then some stuff that I’m not sure whether you’d categorize as Mormon Studies (such as the Women and Authority volume). One could quibble that two of the texts are compilations and that many of the entries were written before the 90’s. (I nearly put The New Mormon History in but all of its were) But one could argue that they were making the works available to a much wider audience. Further I obviously could (and may if I have time) go and look at the main journals and what was published in the 90’s.
(Some of my dates look weird because WP interpreted them as smilies)
TT, your comment came while I was writing mine.
I’m not just reacting to your post but also to some of the comments. I was more discussing whether the 90’s were this dead zone for good scholarship. That’s a bit orthagonal to the issue of an up and coming generation of mid-level scholars.
I think one problem is that it’s tricky to understand what a mid-level scholar is. Presumably you’d discount Quinn because he was established. And some of the others didn’t continue to do work in Mormonism. (Say Buerger) Some weren’t Mormon at all. (Brook)
I don’t think that anyone is disputing that some great contributions were made to Mormon studies in the 90’s, at least I am not. Rather, I am arguing that the particular environment created in the 1990’s deterred young scholars coming up in the decade from entering into the field, which accounts for the slowdown of the 2000’s.
TT, I was mainly replying to David’s comments in #25. Sorry for going down a tangent.
As I indicated, most of the original post I didn’t have trouble with.
The main different is that I’d say the environment of the 90’s led to a lot of new thinking that was very valuable.
What slowdown of the 2000s? I thought you were suggesting in this post that the 90s were a terrible decade of scholarship, not the 2000s. (Perhaps I misunderstood?) David’s comment #25 lists plenty of authors that have published very significant books in the 2000s.
Clark, regarding your comment #29:
Maybe you should read a couple of the books you admit to have not read before you dismiss their significance. Actually, you definetely should.
It’s tough for me to believe that you really think Bushman’s first book on JS is more significant than RSR. And your dismissal of Givens seems unfair. While your critique might be valid in reference to By the Hand of Mormons, I don’t think it works for Viper on the Hearth, and definetely doesn’t work for People of Paradox. Kathleen Flake’s book is significant precisely because it used much of the same research as Alexander but used it to examine larger themes, especially as the title suggest, the politics of religious identity. You should definetely pick it up. Sally Gordon’s book likewise is more significant than Compton and Hardy’s work because it examines larger themes, and not only adds to our understanding of the dynamics of Mormon polygamy, but also the anti-Polygamy movement, the federal government of the era, and American society at large. I’ve only skimmed Yorgason’s work, but IMO, its important because it addresses regional cultural issues in Mormonism that had not been thoroughly treated previously. Prince’s bio of McKay (not Snow) is probably the most significant work on 20th century Mormonism to date, and actually contained quite a bit of new info, primarily because it utilized sources previously unavailable. You must have a much better understanding of the innerworkings of the Mormon hierarchy in the mid-20th century than the rest of us to not have found anything new. Regarding Reeve’s book, if you didn’t mean your comment as a slam on Reeve, it certainly came across that way. You having never heard of it probably says more about your understanding of Mormon scholarship than it does about the significance of the book itself. It has been praised by academics (in the Journal of American History, H-Net reviews, and the American Historical Review, among other places), as well as by Mormons (including reviews at BCC and JI). It takes an entirely new approach to the interactions of Mormons and Indians (as well as others) in the 19th century America west that prompted one historian to deem it “ahead of its time.” Regarding All Abraham’s Children, again, please read the book before dismissing it. Just because the issues were dealt with in conferences and articles previously doesn’t negate the significance of Mauss’s work. And yes, much of what he discusses is new.
Thus my comments on each one that I’d be interested in comments about why some see them as significant. I can but go on discussions I’ve had and things I’ve read.
Certainly it wasn’t meant as a slam. Just that I haven’t heard it discussed a lot. On the other hand I’ve been rather busy the past couple of years. (You may have noticed I wasn’t even blogging much) So I’m of course fully aware this may be my fault. I tried to indicate that in the comments but I guess that didn’t come off.
Just to add, rather than saying something was new could you tell me what specifically was? Your comments on Reeve were helpful if rather vague.
For instance in the McKay book (sorry – Snow was a typo as I was writing late at night). What do you see as new and significant? I confess I didn’t see it. That’s not to say it’s not significant but rather I’m missing it. Thus I am the ignorant seeking for knowledge.
I am really sorry that I have not been more clear in my argument. I am suggesting that the environment of Mormon Studies in the 90’s was terrible for Mormon studies, not that Mormon studies in the 90’s was necessarily terrible. I am trying to suggest that the major contributions made in the 2000’s have been made by very senior scholars (or older scholars in some instances), rather than the rising generation of mid-level scholars.
Clark, can I suggest reading a book review or two if you don’t have time to read the books you’re criticizing? Most of the books mentioned by myself and Christopher have been well-reviewed in major academic journals. I suggest you also check out Jared Farmer’s recent On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (we have a couple of posts on it at the JI), which was published by Harvard and has been endorsed by essentially every major historian working in western American studies today.
One thing that strikes me is the amazing crop of young PhD.s that have graduated during the 2000s, namely Matt Grow, Spencer Fluhman, Pat Mason, Steve Taysom, Jared Farmer, Reid Nielson, Steve Harper, David Holland and Paul Reeve. All of them either have tenure-track positions or are close to getting them (granted, none of them are at big universities). Grow, Farmer, and Reeve have had their dissertations published or are on contract (by Yale, Harvard, and Illinois) and are working on their second books now. Fluhman, Mason, Nielson, Holland, and Taysom are all in negotiations now to get their dissertations published (Harper did a non-Mormon topic). Kathleen Flake also fits in this group, even though she’s quite a bit older.
For the 1990s, I can think of Kathy Daynes (1991) and Gordon(1995).
For the 1980s, I can think of Underwood and Barlow that finished their degrees in the decade, published their dissertations, and stayed in academia. LeSueur and Ken Winn did their degrees during that decade (and got published), but neither stayed in academia long.
This decade has seen tremendous success (in comparison) in terms of students writing on Mormon topics and staying in academia afterwards.
TT: I agree with everything in your post, and I don’t think I’ve ever said that about any post. Having begun attending the Sunstone Symposium in the mid-1980’s and remaining a very active Latter Day Saint, I’ve witnessed just what you discribe. Good job.
Thanks larryco! I am honored. Drop by again sometime and shower me with more compliments.
I understand you are also trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind. obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
David, I actually make it a policy to read lots of reviews. But I don’t claim to read everything.
However the point I was making was much less about how a review characterizes a book (although I agree that is relevant) than how things are discussed over time. Regardless of how one considers the 90’s one has to admit that Quinn’s books, Buerer’s book, and others were discussed widely. You almost couldn’t read something without encountering Quinn. Now I think the McKay and RSR books are an example of this in the last 5 years. However I just don’t see that level of discussion for the other books mentioned. I’d be the first to admit that this may just be me looking in all the wrong places and not reading enough. But my point was that those other books end up entailing pretty thorough discussion in all sorts of avenues.
Now acknowledging the two different threads going on in the discussions (the issue of new young scholars of Mormon Studies vs. Mormon Studies as focused on Mormon self-understanding) perhaps that difference applies to your point as well. i.e. perhaps the books just aren’t targeted towards those questions which is why they don’t encounter the wide discussion that say Quinn engendered.
I don’t know.
As I said, I’m not just stating the way things are. Rather I’m throwing out my experience to see why folks feel otherwise. What’s interesting is that what’s so significant for Mormon self-understanding in these texts hasn’t been pointed out. (I’m not saying there is nothing of significance in them – and I’m more than willing to be wrong about my skepticism)
I really believe money plays a bigger part here than we have seen emphasized in the debate thus far. Still, some fascinating observations. I’ve greatly enjoyed this discussion.
Just another minor note in the David/Clark debate. I wonder if David’s status as a 19th c. historian impacts what he priveleges in terms of “Mormon Studies” and “significant.” Not that there is anything wrong with 19th c. history, only that I would not necessarily restrict Mormon studies to that field.
TT, you’re probably right. But point me to another subfield where Mormon scholars have seen comparable acceptance in mainstream academia like what we’ve seen in historically-oriented studies. Some of the folks I listed above did their work in either religious studies or theology programs, but their work has been historical in nature. I think we’re still a ways away from seeing studies of Mormon scripture, theology/philosophy, literature, ect. that is not historical in nature getting published by academic presses.
Blair (#71): I’m certainly not going into academia because of a desire to get rich. There are far easier ways to make money than teaching at middle-tiered universities. But you’re right in the sense that I know I won’t get a job at that type of institution if I write my dissertation on something like Adam-God, a topic which is widely discussed in Clark’s circles but is barely a blip on the radar in mine.
I think a main point David and Chris are trying to get across that is being missed by others is the ability of this new decade of scholars to place Mormonism within the larger historical framework. Most of the books that Clark mentions are very narrow in scope when compared to the books Chris and David bring up. That is why recent scholarship is much more important than say, Quinn’s research. The fact that authors Givens and Reeve are given good review by academic presses not generally associated with Mormon studies is significant.
Needless to say, I personally believe that the future of Mormon scholarship depends on placing Mormonism within larger frameworks, something that the “new mormon history” of the 80’s and 90’s were not particularly successful at.
I just wanted to add that part of the dearth of midlevel scholars might be attributed to the fact that many of the important scholars of Mormonism haven’t taught at places where they could mentor graduate students. Very few people outside the academy realize how important the relationship between advisers and advisees is in producing important scholarship and obtaining employment.
Also, I think the tension between Clark and David represent larger historiographical trends in the academy. As historians have embraced smaller and smaller stories to tell, they have been forced to justify the scope of their stories by connecting them to larger questions, theories, and frameworks. This represents a drastic shift from the basic social history that had often informed the best Mormon scholarship.
Great point Joel.
I’m not sure though there’s a tension between David’s point and mine. I actually largely agree with much of what David said. However I think we’re mostly talking Apples and Oranges. That is there are two different issues going on.
Ben, I actually also agree there’s a huge need to place Mormonism within larger frameworks. I think it a bit unfair to suggest Quinn didn’t do this, whatever his flaws. There was actually a whole new discipline of esoteric studies in American history inspired by Magic World view along with a journal. One good example of this is Versluis’ The Esoteric Origins of the American Renaissance (which I reviewed here several years ago). His work on same sex dynamics also had influence well beyond the narrow place of Mormonism.
Having said that I do agree that one big problem with the New Mormon History was that it didn’t grapple with larger frameworks. I think Joel’s point is well made.
My personal view though is that as we engage with larger theoretical frameworks that will also help with Mormon self-understanding.
But I fully admit that what I was focused in on was a more narrow topic than some others were discussing.