I think that it is important to discuss a technical term in LDS culture as it overlaps with a term in academic discourse: criticism. This term and its related forms (critical, critic, etc) is extremely important concept in both worlds, with an almost exactly opposite valuation.
For Latter-day Saints, to be “critical” is very negative. It implies a negative view of ones leaders, the Church, and by implication for many, God and Christ themselves. We covenant not to practice this kind of criticism, and we are commanded not to be “critical” of our fellow saints and neighbors. In this view, criticism is understood as disapproval, and to engage in this criticism reflects badly on its practitioner.
In contrast, in academic circles, one is required to be “critical.” The term is used approvingly to describe such things as “critical theory,” “higher criticism,” “critical inquiry,” etc. Critical inquiry is the highest value and one spends their career devoted to cultivating this virtue. To be good at this line of work, being critical is an obligation. This kind of “criticism” simply means analysis and judgment concerning one’s subject. It may include, but does not require, a negative evaluation of the subject. It more accurately means that an evaluation that meets the criteria developed by the members of the guild has simply taken place. Because such criticism does not pretend to be “impartial” anymore, criticism of the assumptions of “critical inquiry” itself has taken hold in the evaluative humanities like history, literature, and religious studies.
While it may be easy to say that these two types of “criticism” are simply different concepts altogether, such a view is not entirely accurate. In order for critical inquiry to take place, one must be open to evaluating one’s assumptions, which might include certain belief’s and ideological positions. Self-reflexivity, or the ability to recognize and evaluate one’s own presuppositions, requires that one examine oneself. Likely growing out of the West’s confessional tradition as a means of producing “truth,” one must be able to evaluate oneself as well as one’s subject. Indeed, the latter is not truly possible without the former.
What is a person who is both a Latter-day Saint and also an professional scholar? How are they supposed to inhabit both worlds? How can they fulfill both imperatives to avoid criticism and also cultivate it? Inasmuch as criticism, and even critical inquiry, are seen as counterproductive to developing one’s faith, must one suspend the skills they develop as evaluators of language, texts, and history when it comes to matters of the church? Is there a balance required? Or, as Socrates might say, is the unexamined faith worth living?