Sorry to our dear readers who’ve suffered in our recent absence. For me, the start of the fall TV season means big business in VCR repair. I don’t know what my co-bloggers’ excuse is…
The last few decades of Mormonism have been a period of intense assimilation. Latter-day Saints have become an increasing presence in various urban areas and increasing numbers of Mormons hold positions of influence in business, government, and academic life. There seems to be more engagement with the “world” in ways that have been mutually beneficial to Mormonism and non-Mormons alike.
In Mormon intellectual life, this trend toward assimilation has been the cause for increased interaction with other ways of thinking. With broader exposure to other peoples and ideas, there is an increasingly pressing need to interact with those peoples and ideas in productive ways. In my view, this has pulled LDS intellectual energy in two opposite directions.
On one hand, LDS acadmeics have sought for intellectual credibility by doing not only high quality historical work about Mormonism, but increasingly serious philosophical and theological work, as well as professional engagement with religious studies, anthropology and sociology, and even economic analysis and legal theory. In this way, Mormonism may be framed and made intelligible and relevant to an academic audience. As this information, and more importantly, the discourses of academic approaches in general, are more widely consumed by Mormons, it is inevitable that Mormonism as it is practiced and articulated will reflect these discourses.
One the other hand, LDS thinkers have sought increasingly close ties with evangelicals politically and theologically. While this work has been done mostly outside of academia, there have been some notable and influential LDS figures inside of academia who have focused on evangelical-Mormon dialogue, fostering greater understanding, mutual respect, and in many cases the assimilation of evangelical concepts and terms. The adoption of a common vocabulary leads to a discursive assimilation.
Is there an inevitable clash between these two trends? To speak in very broad terms, academics don’t often have much respect for contemporary evangelical political and social values, and evangelicals have often painted academics in oppositional and antagonistic terms as well. As LDSs assimilate more generally into these two cultures, is there an impending rift within Mormonism, or at least within the Mormon intellectual community? Will the broader antagonism between evangelical and academic values come to divide Mormon intellectual culture along similar lines? Has it already? Or, is this simply a false distinction altogether?