“Reconciliations and Reformulations”:
A Conference for LDS Graduate Students in Religious Studies
Harvard University, February 20-21, 2009
Many Latter-day Saints experience their scholarship and their religion as
clashing cultures, each with its competing values and contradictory
conclusions. Religious studies students especially struggle to reconcile their
faith and the knowledge they acquire in graduate school. The forms this
reconciliation take–including the failure to achieve reconciliation–become
crucial episodes in a student’s life history. The purpose of the Faith and
Knowledge Conference for 2009 is to provide a forum for exploring these
attempts at reconciliation.
We invite paper proposals from graduate students in religious studies and other
related fields in the following four categories:
I. Gender and Sexuality
The academic discipline of religion is interacting more and more with
methodologies and theories borrowed from gender and sexuality studies. As LDS
scholars, to what extent do we engage in or disregard these methodologies? Can
we take more expansive views of homosexuality, feminism, and other related
issues than Mormon theology traditionally does without compromising our faith?
Can feminist theology, queer theory, and similar approaches be useful to LDS
scholars or must they be rejected altogether? How do more traditional
viewpoints inform our academic scholarship, and how may the more expansive
contemporary views of such issues inform both our academic scholarship and our
understanding of the Gospel? Is reconciliation possible (or even needed)
between these academic paradigms and the faith of the LDS scholar?
LDS scholars commonly perceive a tension between ?academic? and
?devotional? approaches to scripture. Can scholarly methodologies (the
historical-critical method, literary criticism, etc.) be usefully incorporated
into the study or interpretation of LDS scripture, both ancient and modern, or
must they be abandoned or subordinated to faith-based understandings? What
investments do LDS scholars of scripture bring to the academic table and in
what ways do they manifest themselves in productive or unproductive ways in LDS
scholarship? Can academic approaches to the Bible be helpful in the study of
revealed scripture, and if so, do they require some kinds of reconciliations or
transformations? Is there and/or should there be a unique LDS scriptural
hermeneutic, and what would it look like?
The approaches of religions to their own truth-claims may be divided into three
categories: exclusivist religions, which assert that theirs is the sole bearer
of truth and salvation; inclusivist religions, which recognize that other
traditions possess enough truth to qualify them for salvation; and finally,
pluralist religions, which hold that all traditions are equal paths to God. In
a time of globalization, Latter-day Saint interactions with other religions,
both Christian and non-Christian, raise questions about our view of ourselves.
As we learn to appreciate the depth of other religious traditions, we wonder if
our exclusivist view on truth is sustainable and defensible. How do we react to
the theological and political dilemmas that exclusive claims to salvation
through Jesus Christ or through Mormon rituals entail? Can a Mormon pluralism
exist, or must we take on the burden of exclusivism?
IV. The Place of Religious Scholarship in the Church
Religious scholars and scholarship occupy an ambiguous role in the Church.
Religious scholarship is cited when it supports Church teachings but rejected
when it suggests that Church positions may be problematic. Moreover, the
scholar who raises questions of this find falls under suspicion. Given current
Church culture, what can an LDS scholar of religion bring to the table? Can a
scholar utilize his/her tools and scholarship in a pastoral role? Can LDS
religious scholars work to remove the stigma in the Church associated with the
academic study of religion–and especially the academic study of Mormonism?
Specifically, in what ways can areas of religious scholarship contribute
positively to the spiritual and cultural life of the Church?
Panelist papers or presentations should last approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
Short proposals (no more than 250 words) should be submitted via the conference
website (http://www.faithandknowledge.org/submissions.php) by OCTOBER 1, 2008.
Presenters will be notified by December 1, 2008. Conference participants will
be eligible to apply for financial assistance with travel and lodging expenses.
Please send further inquiries about to the conference to