The Study of Mormonism:
A Growing Interest in Academia
The Study of Mormonism: A Growing Interest in Academia*
M. Gerald Bradford
The academic world is showing increased interest in Mormonism
as a distinct religious tradition. It is being studied from perspectives such
as American religious history, literary and cultural studies, women’s studies,
and religious studies, to name a few. The number of scholarly books on the
subject recently published by academic presses is large and growing. This
comes on top of a considerable amount of scholarship being published by scholars
at Brigham Young University (BYU), albeit much of this is geared for a Latter-day
Saint readership. Several dissertations and theses have been written recently
on different aspects of the tradition. Classes on the subject are being taught
at a few universities, in addition to the three BYU campuses. And perhaps
most significant of all, the faith is poised to become a focus of study in
additional religious studies departments in universities in this country and
I will document these developments in this paper and explore the implications
of studying the tradition alongside other faiths. Given the likelihood that
much of this growing interest will be pursued under the auspices of religious
studies, I will spell out what I understand this approach entails. Then, based
on this, I will call attention to topics and issues in the study of Mormonism
that I think will need to be pursued in more depth before this effort reaches
its full potential.
It is one thing for major academic publishers to show interest in titles
dealing with the tradition and for a few classes on the subject to be taught
at universities. It is something else for it to be studied in explicit comparison
with other religious traditions in established religious studies programs.
The best work done in this regard should result in an enhanced understanding
of the faith. In any event, one thing seems certain, as a recent headline
put it: “Mormon Studies: Not Just for Mormons Anymore.”1
Mormonism: A Growing Interest in Academia
No doubt one of the factors accounting for the growing interest in Mormonism
in the academy is that since the 1950s the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints has been growing rapidly and is today a worldwide church with well over
twelve million members.2 Study of the
tradition has been on the rise for quite some time now and is proceeding on
its own accord. Scholars working in various fields of study are turning to the
subject for a host of reasons. They will make of Mormonism what they will. Consider
the following evidence of this trend:
The past ten years or so have seen a marked increase in scholarly publications
on Mormonism by academic and university presses and even by a few large commercial
publishers (see appendix 1).
Professional Associations and Periodicals
A growing number of professional associations and periodicals, independent
of BYU or its sponsor, the Church of Jesus Christ, are devoted to advancing
scholarship on aspects of the religion. Note the following: the quarterly Dialogue:
A Journal of Mormon Thought began publication in 1966;3
the Mormon History Association, formed in 1965, publishes the triennial Journal
of Mormon History that started in 1974;4
the Mormon Social Science Association (formerly the Society for the Sociological
Study of Mormon Life) was formed in 1976;5
Sunstone, a bimonthly magazine, first appeared in 1976;6
the John Whitmer Historical Association, established in 1972, publishes the
annual John Whitmer Historical Association Journal that started in 1980;7
the Association of Mormon Letters was formed in 1976 and began publication of
Irreantum: A Review of Mormon Literature and Film, an annual, in 2000;8
and the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, formed in 2005, publishes
Element: The Journal of the Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology,
the first biannual issues of which came out the same year.9
Dissertations and Theses
At least thirty-eight dissertations (several of which have subsequently been
published as books) and sixteen theses written since 1994 have focused directly
on issues central to Mormonism. While many of these are historical studies,
others approach the tradition from the perspective of area studies and disciplines
ranging from literary studies, family and women’s studies, and theology and
philosophy to anthropology, sociology, and political science. This list also
indicates where Mormon studies is being pursued even if not in formal religious
studies programs (see appendix 2).
Mormonism in Religious Studies Programs
A few courses on Mormonism are being taught at universities other than the
three BYU campuses.10 However, the trend
that may well prove to be the most influential, in terms of furthering understanding
of the faith, is the effort by several universities to include Mormonism in
their religious studies programs.
At the University of Durham, in Great Britain, this course of study has been
going on since 1997. Durham’s Department of Theology and Religion focuses
almost exclusively on Christian studies. It offers MA degrees in theological
research and in classics and theology.11 It
also maintains a program called the Study of Religion, which includes the
study of Mormonism as one area of emphasis. The program is supervised by Douglas
J. Davies, professor in the study of religion. His research interests include
anthropology and sociology of religion, death studies, and Mormon studies.
Davies has taught courses on Mormonism and has supervised PhD students elsewhere
working on a range of Latter-day Saint topics including salvation theology,
music, higher education, and the status of the faith in Great Britain.12 He has published many titles on Mormonism
and is a leading figure in demonstrating what can be achieved by approaching
the tradition from the vantage point of religious studies.13
Utah Valley State College (UVSC), in Orem, Utah, supports a relatively new
operation known as the Center for the Study of Ethics, an effort that includes
a program in religious studies, supported by faculty in several departments.
Twenty-two courses in the program, ranging from “Myth, Magic, and Religion,”
“Literature of the Sacred,” and “Medieval Europe” to “Introduction
to Western Religions” and “Current Topics in Sociology,” are
drawn from the Departments of Anthropology, Communications, English, History,
Philosophy, and Sociology. Included in this curriculum are three courses on
Mormonism: “Anthropology of Mormonism,” “Mormon Cultural Studies
(Special Topics in Mass Communication),” and “Mormon Literature.”
Each spring term the program sponsors The Mormon Studies Conference, which
is designed to explore topics in LDS theology, history, culture, folklore,
and literature. UVSC is scheduled to offer a minor in religious studies. At
present, this is the only undergraduate religious studies program in Utah’s
public system of higher education.
Two other universities are planning to include Mormon studies in their curricula.
Utah State University, in Logan, is forming an undergraduate religious studies
department. It will coordinate an interdisciplinary program, drawing on faculty
from several departments. Funding has been secured to endow the Leonard Arrington
Chair in Mormon History and Culture. The first occupant will be Philip Barlow.
He will teach courses on Mormonism. Presently, courses on Mormon folklore
and literature are taught. The university also supports an annual lecture
series on Mormon history. The new department will include the Charles Redd
Chair in Religious Studies. Professor Charles Prebish, a specialist in Buddhist
studies from Pennsylvania State University, was recently appointed to this
position. In addition, funding is being sought to support three other faculty
positions in the department: one in Islamic studies, one in Jewish studies,
and one in the study of South Asian religions.14
The School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California,
offers MA and PhD degrees in Hebrew Bible, the history of Christianity, New
Testament, philosophy of religion and theology, women’s studies in religion,
and theology, ethics, and culture. It recently announced plans to fund a chair
in Mormon studies. If this effort is successful, courses on Mormonism will
become a focus of graduate studies. The school has formed several councils,
made up of representatives from various faith communities in the greater southern
California area, with which it consults on the development of courses and
programs. In addition to the Council on Mormon Studies, the school has organized
councils to deal with Catholic studies, Indic philosophy and culture, Islamic
studies, Jewish studies, Middle Eastern Orthodox Christian studies, Protestant
studies, and Zoroastrian studies.15
Not surprisingly, the way Mormonism is approached at these universities differs
markedly from the way it is dealt with at BYU. In the wider academic world,
within religion programs in private, nonaffiliated, and public colleges and
universities, such study is conducted in a diverse intellectual environment.
At BYU the subject is approached from a perspective of institutional and individual
commitment. While BYU does offer a few courses on other religions, it does
not maintain a religious studies program. It is devoted, in other words, to
teaching students the “language of faith” more than the “language
about faith.” The Departments of Ancient Scripture and Church History
and Doctrine (as well as comparable departments at BYU’s Hawaii and Idaho
campuses) teach courses on the subject to virtually all undergraduates each
semester. Several units on campus are charged with producing and publishing
scholarly work (books and periodicals) dealing with many facets of the religion,
most of it written for interested LDS readers. The more prominent ones include
the Religious Studies Center,16 the
Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship,17 BYU
Studies,18 and, until recently, the Joseph Fielding
Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History.19
It is too early to tell what impact, if any, the study of Mormonism at other
universities will have on comparable work done at BYU. One thing, however,
seems certain. Scholars at BYU who in the past have geared their writings
about the tradition mainly toward an LDS audience and who want to contribute
to the kind of scholarship relied upon by those working in broader religious
studies programs will need to write for a wider academic audience if their
work is to be published by recognized scholarly presses.
These developments invite consideration of how the study of Mormonism is
likely to be pursued in religious studies programs. But before turning to
this, I want to describe religious studies in general. This will provide a
context for further reflection on the academic study of Mormonism.
Some think of religious studies as an assortment of separate area studies or
specializations (e.g., popular culture and media studies, ritual studies, biblical
studies, women’s studies) each of which has its own particular subject matter
and objectives, one of which (but not necessarily the most important one) may
be to determine how such subjects are influenced by or may inform aspects of
I take a more traditional approach and view religious studies in terms of
the following characteristics: (1) It necessarily requires the study
of more than just one tradition; in other words, it is inherently a comparative,
even cross-cultural, endeavor. (2) It advocates studying religious traditions
in comparison with known ideological and philosophical challenges to religion
that often function much the same way in society. (3) Because of the
multidimensional makeup of systems of faith, it requires that such phenomena
be studied from the perspective of several disciplines. (4) It proceeds
on the basis of maintaining a distinction between descriptive and structural
studies on the one hand and attempts at grappling with religious value judgments
and truth claims on the other. (5) And, of particular importance, it
requires that students learn how to approach their subjects from the vantage
point of those they are studying.21 I will
say more about each of these in turn.
Recent events in the United States and around the world give the lie to the
view, long held by many, that religion is irrelevant and should be relegated
to the private sphere since it represents little of public or political worth.
In the global world in which we live, understanding core beliefs and values
held dear by others has become vitally important. The academic study of religion
represents an increasingly important way in which people can become educated
about such matters in a systematic and relatively open manner.22
Religious studies as a separate, multidisciplinary approach started in the
1960s. Because it emphasizes, among other things, the comparative study of
many traditions, it has proved to be an important and influential alternative
to theological approaches that have been, and continue to be, the way religion
is most often studied and taught in this country.23
A number of factors contributed to its emergence. For instance, the 1960s
were a time of increased interest in world religions, particularly Eastern
traditions and cultures. Key decisions handed down by the United States Supreme
Court during this period made it possible for the academic study of religion
to flourish in public colleges and universities and in secondary school systems.
Major professional societies in the field were either formed during this period,
such as the American Academy of Religion,24 or
significantly expanded their memberships, which was the case, for instance,
with the Society of Biblical Literature25 and the Society for
the Scientific Study of Religion.26 Also, at about this time federal funding
became available for the study of subjects such as comparative religion and
Comparative and Cross-Cultural Studies
Religious studies rests on the premise that a proper study of religion requires
that more than one tradition be the subject of inquiry. To appreciate the history
of a single faith requires comparing it with the history of other faiths. Likewise,
to discern, say, patterns of religious experience expressed in a particular
tradition requires noting resemblances with similar traits in other traditions.
Comparative studies is one of the best means of testing competing theories put
forward to explain aspects of the structural makeup of traditions. Also, to
describe and explain a religion properly requires gaining insight into what
it is like for those who follow it. And to do this requires sympathetically
and imaginatively entering into the lives and experiences of believers, a technique
that is an inherently comparative exercise, among other things.
In addition, religious traditions need to be studied cross-culturally. Particular
and distinctive insights into various faiths can be gained only when different
ones are studied in the context of different cultures—for example, varieties
of Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam in India, Thailand, or Indonesia; or of Judaism,
Christianity, or Islam in the Middle East, Great Britain, or the United States.
A variation on this approach can also be achieved by studying expressions
of different traditions in a single culture. Such cross-cultural studies reveal
how apprehension of a tradition will vary depending on how it is situated
in, is influenced by, and may in turn influence different cultures. Indeed,
an individual tradition will often manifest itself differently not only over
time but even in a single culture. Consider, for example, how Shi’ite Muslims,
Sunni Kurds, or Sunni Arabs contrast with one another in a country like Iraq.
Put simply, “to know one religious tradition is to know none.”
Religious studies programs may emphasize certain traditions to the exclusion
of others for many reasons, including limited faculty, resources, or student
interest, but in principle such efforts must be transreligious and such phenomena
need to be studied comparatively and cross-culturally.
Religions and Ideologies
The study of religions should also be done in comparison with influential ideologies—Marxism,
various forms of nationalism, secularism, and scientific humanism, for example.
This is because such views of the world often function in society much like
religious traditions (allowing, of course, for obvious differences) and because
they are often bent on challenging and competing with established systems of
faith. On this view, religious traditions and comparable ideologies should be
dealt with along similar lines; that is, they need to be studied historically,
structurally, and theoretically. In both instances, attempts should be made,
to the extent possible, to see things from the perspective of such believers
and followers. And before attempting to resolve questions of truth or value,
the goal should be to show the influence and power of these ideas and practices
in the real world and to discern how they interact with other aspects of human
In other words, students of religion need to become familiar with well-established
critical positions on the question of religion—materialist views, espoused
by Marxist critics and others, atheistic and secular humanistic interpretations,
along with various reductionistic views of religion, articulated in, say,
forms of positivism or numerous psychoanalytical interpretations of religion.
Precisely because such ideologies rival traditional systems of religious belief,
they should be studied together. If this is not done, if one position is privileged
over another and is thereby granted unquestioned status in the academy (something
that, unfortunately, often seems to be the case), then a genuine, open-ended,
and pluralistic approach to the study of religion becomes even more difficult
Multidimensional and Multidisciplinary
Religious traditions are multifaceted phenomena. If attempts to describe and
explain what a given tradition may mean to individual adherents, as well as
to grasp the whole of it, fail to come to terms with its multidimensional structure,
such efforts are bound to end in distortions and reveal only partial glimpses.
Furthermore, the different dimensions of a religious tradition are intricately
interwoven. The meaning of one, such as the doctrinal dimension (which often
tends to be overemphasized), needs to be understood in relationship to and in
the context of all the others.
Most religious traditions are made up of at least seven dimensions: (1) experiential,
with its emphasis on a wide range of human experiences that are significant
in the formation and development of traditions and in the ongoing lives of
adherents; (2) ritual, centering on practical aspects of belief manifest
in activities such as prayer, fasting, worship, meditation, pilgrimage, sacrifice,
sacramental rites, and healing activities; (3) mythic, with a focus on
narratives and stories contained in scripture, sacred writings, creation accounts,
and so forth (used in this context and seen from the perspective of a given
faith, myth refers to the way things
are, the truth about things, and thus is in stark contrast to the way the
term is used in popular parlance); (4) doctrinal, meaning sacred teachings
and beliefs, often expressed in relatively abstract theological or philosophical
terms; (5) ethical and legal, where the focus is on aspects of belief
that incorporate moral and legal imperatives and that prescribe a wide range
of behavior—religious, social, political, and otherwise; (6) social,
dealing with aspects of belief manifest in society and in social organizations
and institutions, their makeup and leadership, and so on; and (7) material,
aspects of belief manifest in material forms, such as special clothing, diet,
artistic expressions ranging from architectural achievements (chapels, cathedrals,
temples, and mosques) to works of art (icons, statuary, paintings, illuminated
manuscripts, music, and even aspects of the natural world), pilgrimage sites,
and so forth.
Precisely because of this intricate structural composition, traditions need
to be studied by scholars trained in several relevant disciplines. Because
systems of faith are dynamic—with a past as well as a capacity for future
development—they, first and foremost, must be studied historically using
the disciplines of history, archaeology, philology, textual studies, and other
relevant approaches. In this respect, traditions are approached externally
(that is, based on their historical record and on various forms of outer expressions
such as ritual practices, sacred writings, social and political organizations
and institutions, and material expressions).
But religions are also rich and complex phenomena made up of, as noted, a
number of dimensions or aspects that, when studied in relation to one another
and in comparison with similar traits in other religions, synchronically and
over time, reveal the nature and significance of a faith’s basic pattern or
structure. Here the approach shifts to more internal, structural, and theoretical
investigations aimed at gaining a deeper understanding of a given tradition
and by experiencing it as much as possible from the viewpoint of its followers.
Many disciplines and area studies are called upon in such investigations.
For instance, psychology is used to deal with the experiential dimension and
to some extent is also employed in the study of myths and rituals used to
give expression to such experiences. Anthropology, in particular, has been
used to do pioneer work in mythic and ritual studies. Linguistics and literary
and textual studies are involved in the study of scriptures and sacred texts.
Theology and philosophy, along with the history of ideas and the study of
religious thought, play a role in the study of a tradition’s doctrinal element.
Ethics, particularly comparative ethics, along with study of the law, is used
in dealing with the moral and legal dimension. Sociology and social anthropology
are employed to study social or institutional aspects. Various types of cultural
studies, including art history and the history of architecture, are typically
relied upon in studying a tradition’s material dimension.
Theology and philosophy play a leading role when the focus shifts from straightforward
descriptive and structural investigations toward more informed reflection
on religious truth claims and values. In reference to the former, such perspectives,
provided they are properly identified as either Christian theology or Muslim
theology, and so on, are indispensable in articulating and assessing competing
religious value judgments and truth claims. Likewise, philosophy, viewed broadly,
is employed in trying to adjudicate such competing claims, in advancing criteria
needed to resolve comparable questions of meaning and truth, and in studying
traditional topics such as proofs for the existence of God or the problem
of evil. It also plays a central role in efforts at clarifying competing claims
made by religious traditions and ideologies and in sorting out various theoretical
and methodological issues involved in the study of religion itself.
Descriptive Studies and Dealing with Religious Truth Claims
As noted, it is helpful to distinguish between historical, descriptive studies
and reflections on religious values and truth claims. Indeed, historical studies,
coupled with phenomenological, structural, and theoretical investigations, can
be seen as having a certain logical priority over efforts at dealing with questions
of the truth of religion. That is, it seems emphasis ought to be given first
to understanding religious traditions and the influence they yield before attempting
to grapple with their claims to truth and value.
This prioritizing can be discerned in the amount of work that is informed
by what can be called a phenomenological sensitivity, attempts at describing
and explaining religions in ways that accurately portray the practices, values,
beliefs, and attitudes of various adherents without either endorsing or rejecting
them. Put another way, religious traditions need to be studied in ways that
do not privilege one particular tradition over another and in ways that result
in descriptions and explanations that are not only well informed but also
evenhanded. Such approaches typically do not aim at threatening individual
faiths, nor do they acquiesce to reductionistic views about religion bent
on explaining such phenomena away as irrational or as acts of projection.
The superiority or inferiority of a particular tradition is a matter of personal
judgment and evaluation, of bias or belief, and such personal views are neither
helpful nor relevant in describing and explaining what the faith is, what
its many manifestations are like, or what it is like to be a follower. Religious
traditions are what they are and wield the power and influence they do in
the world regardless of what others think of their worth, truth, or rationality.
If for no other reason than this, they are inherently worthwhile subjects
But such study requires that more be done. There is also a need and a place
in religious studies for critical assessments of truth claims and value judgments
made by religious traditions. The focus here is usually on claims made from
the vantage point of particular theological perspectives or from various philosophical
and ethical stances. The objective is for these reflections to be as well
grounded in an accurate understanding of the faiths under investigation as
From the Vantage Point of Adherents
Religious traditions differ significantly in terms of how their adherents view
the world and what they take to be sacred. They also differ on the meaning of
important notions such as “history” and “time” and consequently
on how questions of meaning and truth are settled. They even differ on what
it means to be religious.
Thus in order to properly describe and explain a tradition, students need
to gain insight into and an appreciation for the way of life of its adherents.
To do this, they need to cultivate a particular approach, one that requires
them to bracket or suspend, as much as possible, their own beliefs and values
(particularly ones that might either endorse or come into conflict with what
it is they are trying to understand). In addition, they should try sympathetically
and imaginatively to enter into the lives and experiences of those they are
studying. By employing informed empathy, they can gain some access into the
complex of intentions and experiences of religious adherents.27 Finally, students should seek to portray
accurately the rich array of ritual practices, symbols, experiences, and beliefs
they observe from this insider perspective.
Students also need to be sensitive to ways in which the academic study of
religion itself, one that proceeds for the most part along a well-established
Western, post-Enlightenment path, may at times get in the way of their fully
grasping what it is that others are doing and how they experience and act
in the world.
The reason behind trying to internalize a religious tradition’s worldview
is not sentiment, nor is it an attempt simply to be neutral. Rather, it is
to get at the ways things are, to get at the facts, which include importantly
the way religious followers feel and think about the world. What is being
emphasized here lies at the heart of religious studies, methodologically speaking.
It is a technique long known and practiced by anthropologists, sociologists,
and other students of the human experience.
The Worth of Religious Studies
What those who study religion hope to achieve by approaching the subject from
the perspective of religious studies is ambitious. There are many who are skeptical
of such endeavors, who disparage any attempt to come to terms with such phenomena
or to resolve such competing truth claims. From their perspective, what religious
studies entails is dismissed out of hand as not worth the effort. However, to
follow their counsel would be a mistake. Circumstances in the world today confirm
more than ever the wisdom behind various systematic attempts to better understand
today’s most important views of the world—religious and otherwise—and
to gain a greater appreciation for the indispensable role such ideas and symbol
systems have played and continue to play in shaping civilizations and groups
and in influencing the lives of individuals. Regardless of how we may view such
traditions, given the interconnected world in which we live it is vital that
we be familiar with them and the power and influence they wield in the real
world. Then, once they are understood, we need to educate ourselves on how best
to make informed, critical assessments of them. Religious studies is an important
way both of these goals can be achieved.
The Study of Religion in the United States
In the last century, one of the most comprehensive assessments of religious
education in the United States and Canada was a nationwide survey sponsored
by the American Council of Learned Societies and conducted by Professor Claude
Welch, who at the time was dean of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley,
California. The report, entitled Graduate Education in Religion: A Critical
Appraisal, came to be known as the “Welch report.”28
Among its many findings is that by the early 1970s religious education in
this country was undergoing significant change. Prior to this, the study of
religion at the undergraduate level was done almost exclusively under the
auspices of various schools of theology or seminaries affiliated for the most
part with private Christian colleges or universities. According to the Welch
report, of 348 Protestant schools surveyed, 94 percent had programs or departments
of religion or theology; of 246 Catholic institutions, 93 percent had such
programs; and 71 percent of 87 other religiously affiliated colleges and universities,
many of them Jewish, also maintained such programs. At the same time, among
212 private, nonsectarian colleges and universities surveyed, 48 percent maintained
programs or departments of religion or religious studies, while for the first
time several public institutions began teaching courses and offering degrees
in this subject. The report estimated that 30 percent of 418 four-year public
institutions of higher learning surveyed had such programs.29
In regard to graduate studies in religion, the Welch report found that among
institutions surveyed, while 40 private colleges and universities associated
with schools of theology or divinity schools and offering graduate degrees,
mainly in theology, still dominated the field, an increasing number of nonsectarian
private universities (26 in total) offered MA and PhD degrees in religious
studies. And for the first time, three public universities—the University
of Iowa (the first in the nation to do so), the University of California,
Santa Barbara, and the University of Wisconsin—also offered comparable
The trend spelled out in the Welch report of more and more private, nonsectarian,
and public colleges and universities in the country offering courses and degrees
in religious studies has continued over the intervening thirty-plus years.
Today it is estimated there are just over 1,100 institutions of higher learning
with programs or departments of theology, religion, or religious studies in
the United States. During the academic year 2000–2001, the American
Academy of Religion (AAR) conducted a survey of these colleges and universities.31 One scholar, commenting on the results,
estimated that nationwide there could be as many as 8,000 faculty teaching
in the field, 40,000 undergraduate majors, and nearly 50,000 individual religion
courses being taught, nearly 25 percent of them in public institutions.32 Another scholar estimated that the
academic study of religion is a central focus in approximately 40 percent
of all institutions of higher learning in the country.33
In terms of undergraduate studies, the AAR survey found, in comparison to
the 1971 Welch report, that the study of religion continues to be done primarily
in private, religiously affiliated institutions—324 Protestant colleges
and universities (compared to an estimated 327 such schools in 1971), 153
Catholic colleges and universities (compared to 228 Catholic schools surveyed
earlier), and 15 Jewish or other institutions (compared to 61 identified and
surveyed in the 1971 report).34 At the same time, the
study documented an increase in the number of private, nonsectarian colleges
and universities sponsoring undergraduate programs or departments in religious
studies—183 currently, compared to 101 in the 1970s. Also, an estimated
222 public institutions of higher learning currently offer courses and degrees
in religion, compared to 125 such schools identified in the Welch report.
This trend is even more dramatic in terms of graduate education. More than
thirty years ago, the Welch report identified 26 nonsectarian, private institutions
of higher learning in the country that offered MA and PhD degrees in religious
studies. Today that number has grown to as many as 50. Presently there are
at least 29 public colleges and universities offering these degrees, a significant
increase over the situation that prevailed in the early 1970s when less than
a handful of public institutions sponsored graduate programs in religion.
Over the same time period there has been a sharp increase in private, religiously
affiliated colleges and universities offering graduate degrees in religion
and theology. Available data suggest that presently as many as 157 institutions—119
Protestant, 29 Catholic, and 9 Jewish or other institutions—currently
pursue graduate studies in religion, compared to 40 such schools surveyed
in the Welch report.35
The Study of Mormonism
Mormonism, according to one observer, has long since “transcend[ed] denominational
categories.”36 While it remains
linked in important ways to the larger Judeo-Christian heritage, it functions
today as a separate tradition.37 Claremont
Graduate University, Utah State University, and other universities acknowledge
as much by working to incorporate study of it in their religious studies curricula.
Based on the view of religious studies that I have spelled out, I want to
anticipate the kind of study of Mormonism likely to be pursued under the auspices
of such programs. A perusal of titles in appendix 1 and an assessment of work
that remains to be done reveals that this effort is far from being firmly
entrenched. Furthermore, once this is achieved, even more work will need to
be done before the benefits of investigating the religion this way are fully
In brief, while a great deal of historical work has been done on aspects
of the tradition, more is needed comparing its history with the history of
other faiths. Also, given the worldwide growth of the Church of Jesus Christ
in recent decades, more scholarly attention needs to be paid to the ways in
which the faith manifests itself in other countries and cultures. The need
for more comparative studies is also apparent when the focus shifts from historical
investigations to studies of the multidimensional makeup of the faith. In
this regard, while a great deal has been written about Latter-day Saint scripture,
doctrine, and its social dimensions, more is needed along these same lines.
At the same time, more attention needs to be paid to other aspects of the
tradition. The sooner these deficiencies are made up, the sooner a better
understanding of Mormonism will emerge. The best of such historical and structural
studies should be able to pass the test of being fully recognizable to followers
worldwide. Then, with such work as a basis, scholars will be in a much better
position to make headway on other fronts, including dealing with the tradition’s
values and truth claims.
Mormonism is a Western religious tradition grounded in a historical sense of
reality. Because of this and the availability of massive amounts of historical
records that have been collected, beginning in the very early days of the tradition,
it is not surprising that a preponderance of the scholarly work focused on Mormonism
is historical in nature.39 A great deal
of this will be directly relevant to study of the faith in various religious
studies programs. What is particularly needed is for more religious historians
to write about it in explicit comparison with other religions that have an established
presence throughout the world.40
Also, more needs to be done comparing Mormonism to religious movements indigenous
to this country. Recent works along these lines include, for instance, Paul
K. Conkin’s American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity and
Eric Michael Mazur’s The Americanization of Religious Minorities:
Confronting the Constitutional Order (see appendix 1 for full bibliographical information
on these and other works not specifically footnoted). In recounting the history
of what he identifies as the country’s most “distinctive types of Christianity”—Mormons;
Restorationists such as the Disciples of Christ, Unitarians, and Universalists;
Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses; Christian Scientists; and Holiness and
Pentecostal movements—Conkin looks at how much these traditions have
in common in rejecting a range of Calvinist beliefs and practices, while discerning
how much they differ from one another and from other expressions of Western
Christianity, particularly in regard to belief about God.41 Mazur likewise compares Mormons with
Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as with Native Americans, but mainly in terms
of how these groups confronted and negotiated with forms of Protestant Christianity,
the dominant culture in this county, in striving to secure religious freedoms
afforded them by the Constitution.42
Mention should be made in this regard of Richard L. Bushman’s recent biography
Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, a comprehensive historical treatment of the founder
of Mormonism. While not a comparative study in the mode of Conkin or Mazur,
Bushman’s biography positions Smith and the tradition within the larger religious
world of nineteenth-century America. It focuses on Smith’s distinctive teachings
that have become normative for the tradition, accounts in detail for his indispensable
role in bringing forth what the faithful accept as new scripture alongside
the Bible, and otherwise deals with his role in forming the Church of Jesus
Christ and guiding it during its formative first few years.43
Over the last fifty years or so, the Church of Jesus Christ has expanded its
presence in numerous countries and different cultures around the world. A better
understanding of it depends on cultural historians and others turning their
attention to how it has taken root in various places, how it manifests itself
in these regions, and, in turn, how it is influenced by such cultures. A review
of some recent publications suggests this is a promising area of study.44
Armand Mauss anticipates some of what this may entail in the concluding chapter
of his The Angel and Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation,
where he puts forth his view of the tradition’s recent search for self-identity
in an American context while simultaneously establishing itself in other cultures.
Terryl L. Givens hints at what such investigations may require in the last chapter
of his book The Latter-day Saint Experience in America. Also, Douglas
Davies, in his anthology Mormon Identities in Transition, includes specific
studies dealing with the tradition in South America, Africa, and India.
When the focus shifts from historical and cross-cultural studies to structural
and phenomenological investigations of the faith, a good place to begin is by
looking at recently published works on LDS scripture. As with historical studies,
what is sorely needed in this regard is more work comparing such texts with
sacred writings in other traditions.45
These investigations need to take into consideration the fact that Latter-day
Saints adhere to the notion of an open canon and to a principle of continuing
revelation. This means that focus must be not only on the Bible but also on
the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants,46
and the Pearl of Great Price.47 Such
studies need to explore the makeup and the central role these scriptures play
in the life of the religion as a whole, determine what is distinctive about
each of them, and give some indication of how they are read and interpreted.
Furthermore, such studies need to appreciate how this mythic or scriptural dimension
informs all other dimensions.
In reference to the Bible, more effort needs to be spent determining how Latter-day
Saints find meaning in this authoritative text compared with those in other
faiths. A good example of this is Philip Barlow’s Mormons and the Bible.
Barlow describes and accounts for the role this scripture has and continues
to play in the history of Mormonism. He focuses on several important issues,
such as the profound role of the Bible in the country prior to Joseph Smith’s
time and how Smith and his contemporaries were significantly influenced by this
work and, over time, developed a distinctive understanding and use of the Bible,
one that has had a lasting impact. He deals with challenges the tradition faces
by continuing to use the King James Version and by having to negotiate inroads
made by biblical studies. Importantly, Barlow deals with these and other factors
in comparison with the role the Bible has played and continues to play in other
American religious traditions.48
A recent effort on the part of several LDS New Testament scholars to explicitly
engage their perspectives on the Gospels with views and interpretations of
these narratives held by other New Testament scholars is relevant here. Richard N.
Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment have edited and published a three-volume
series entitled The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ.49 Their contributions and those of their
colleagues represent a breakthrough in LDS scholarship on the New Testament.
This series will make an important contribution to Mormon studies; unfortunately,
it may not be as well known in academic circles as it should be because of
how and where it was published.
Book of Mormon
A number of recent studies of the Book of Mormon aim principally at an academic
audience. Grant Hardy’s The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition contains
not only a complete, reader-friendly version of the text (relying on the 1920
edition), but also a detailed introduction wherein the editor recounts the basic
narrative, reviews the text’s origin, and takes into account issues such as
its transmission over time, its language, and its religious significance. It
also includes several helpful appendixes that provide information on witnesses
to how the book emerged, a chronology of the translation process, a discussion
of a lost portion of the original manuscript, an account of various plates and
records mentioned in the text, treatment of the scripture as literature, and
significant textual changes. Terryl Givens’s By the Hand of Mormon: The American
Scripture That Launched a New World Religion is the first full-length study
of the Book of Mormon written for a general academic audience. Unlike Hardy’s
book that deals specifically with the text, By the Hand of Mormon focuses
on the role the scripture has played in the history of the tradition while,
at the same time, locating it among other examples of American religious literature.
It recounts and deals with a range of criticisms leveled at the book and at
the tradition and also shows how it has been defended and the indispensable
role it plays in the lives of adherents.
Givens has recently noted that current trends in literary studies bode well
for future academic study of the book. According to him, “much remains
to be written on the way the Book of Mormon responded to issues of passionate
concern in 19th c[entury] America, how it comported with powerful American
myths about frontiers, self-fashioning, autonomous societies, moveable Zions,
etc. On another front, the book poses a wonderful case study of how a text
becomes a scripture.”50 Givens looks forward to the day when
textual studies of the book situate it firmly in antiquity and it is studied
alongside other ancient texts. A significant amount of work has already been
done along these lines.51 But Givens is right that more needs
to be done comparing this sacred text with other scripture and with other
ancient writings. The book also needs to be dealt with in the larger context
of increasing interest in the nature and meaning of scripture, canon, and
sacred texts and, in particular, as noted, how such writings become scripture.
The work by Hardy and Givens, along with Doubleday’s recent publication of
a new edition of the scripture intended for a broader audience, has opened
a door. Scholars interested in the text need to take full advantage of this
It may turn out that nearly as many books have appeared in recent years dealing
with Mormon beliefs and doctrines as with Mormon history. Most of these come
from LDS publishers and are aimed at interested LDS readers. Progress on this
front, in various religious studies programs, will require more effort showing
how this dimension informs all others and comparing such teachings and beliefs
with those in other traditions, particularly other forms of Christianity. Recently
a few titles, published by academic presses, have attempted to do this. Consider
John L. Brooke’s The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644–1844
and Kurt Widmer’s Mormonism and the Nature of God: A Theological Evolution,
1830–1915. In the former, Brooke focuses on several distinctive Mormon
beliefs, such as the nature of spirit and matter, on what is referred to as
“celestial” or eternal marriage, and on the idea that humans have
the potential to become as God. He maintains that a proper understanding of
these teachings, and hence of the tradition as a whole, can be obtained not
by tracing them to biblical and Christian sources, as the faith maintains, or
by viewing them as responses to economic or social pressures of the day, but
by finding their origins in a combination of influences that were marginally
present on the postrevolutionary New England frontier: ancient esoteric teachings
of hermeticism and alchemy, Freemasonry, and certain teachings associated with
the left-wing Reformation tradition.53
While Brooke deals with a range of Mormon beliefs, Widmer concentrates on
the tradition’s idea of God and argues that this belief has changed over time.
Using the formal language of theology, he explains how these different positions
can best be labeled and understood. In 1830, and for the next few years, according
to Widmer, the LDS view of Deity can be seen as a modalistic form of monotheism
(one God who appears or is manifested in three different modes: God the Father,
God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). Widmer maintains that subsequently,
for a period of time in the mid-1830s, this view shifted from a monotheism
to what he describes as a form of binitarianism (the notion that only two
beings, God the Father and God the Son, make up the Godhead). Then, beginning
in the 1840s and culminating in the early twentieth century with a belief
that is normative today, is the emergence of what Widmer calls the “new
Mormon theology,” typified by a henotheistic understanding of Deity (a
position distinct from monotheism, one that recognizes the existence of many
gods but regards one particular god over all the rest).54
Another title, contributing to work on this aspect of the faith, is the recent
publication, edited by Roger R. Keller and Robert L. Millet, entitled Salvation
in Christ: Comparative Christian Views. It includes reflections on the subject by scholars
representing Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and LDS perspectives.55
While there is little in the way of explicit comparative studies in this collection,
it nevertheless represents the kind of scholarly foundational work needed
in order for subsequent comparative studies of such topics to be pursued in
Social Scientific Studies
There is a growing body of literature dealing with the social dimension of
the faith, broadly viewed. Armand Mauss and his colleagues have surveyed much
of this work.56 Mauss is also a major
contributor; see his The Angel and the Beehive and All Abraham’s Children:
Changing Mormon Concepts of Race and Lineage.57
The theoretical focus of both these books is the relationship between organizations
and ideas—that is, how organizations are influenced by ideas and how ideas
change as a result of organizational developments and imperatives. From this
perspective, Mauss deals with LDS identity formation and its transformation
over the last several decades as the church positions itself in an increasingly
secular world and expands its missionary efforts worldwide. In the first book,
Mauss tests a sociological model intent on accounting for how, following a period
of successful assimilation with the larger American culture (beginning in the
last part of the nineteenth century and continuing through the end of the Second
World War), the tradition has reversed this trend and is undertaking various
efforts at “retrenchment” aimed at recovering some of its earlier
distinctive characteristics.58In All
Abraham’s Children he studies the tradition’s views and dealings with Jews,
Native Americans, and African Americans and offers a theory to explain how such
positions have changed over time, largely as a result of the church’s expanding
missionary efforts around the world. According to Mauss, Mormonism today embodies
an inclusiveness and universalism quite different than in the past: “For
modern Mormons, the blood of Christ has far more theological significance than
the blood of Israel.”
Douglas Davies, as noted above, likewise sheds light on this dimension. See,
for example, his edited anthology Mormon Identities in Transition
and his The Mormon Culture of Salvation: Force, Grace, and Glory.
Papers in the first title deal with various aspects of contemporary Mormon
life and culture (for example, issues of identity, LDS emotional and social
life, women’s issues, Mormon scripture and theology, early Mormonism, as well
as the expansion of the tradition throughout the world, as noted above).59
The Mormon Culture of Salvation is
a more ambitious effort, focusing as it does on the tradition’s distinctive
view of salvation. Davies compares this teaching with analogous beliefs in
other Christian traditions while showing that the Mormon view is intimately
tied to what he sees as its particular views of death and the deceased, its
notion of “exaltation,” as well as LDS temple rituals and obligations
associated with everyday family and community life. Davies’s thesis is that
this culture of salvation—articulated within a distinctive approach
to truth, sacred scriptures, and leadership; framed by a particular view of
history, time, destiny, and the individual; and advanced around the world
by a large missionary force—best accounts for how the church has been
able to emerge from a regional sect to become a world faith.
Such theories need to be tested and evaluated and new ones developed and
put forward. And all of this work needs to be done in comparison with how
this dimension functions in other religious traditions and how it relates
to other aspects of Mormonism. Particular subjects that fall within the scope
of this broad characteristic, such as religious authority (which in this instance
means the distinctive LDS notion of priesthood), also need to be explored
in comparison with how different forms and expressions of authority function
in other traditions.
The experiential, ritual, ethical and legal, and material dimensions of Mormonism
all have one thing in common: relatively little attention has been paid to them.
These elements need to be integrated with other dimensions of the faith and
compared with like characteristics in other religions before the tradition’s
structural makeup is fully portrayed. What it means to be a Latter-day Saint
is reflected in the experiential and ritual dimensions of the faith every bit
as much as in what adherents believe or in the sacred writings they hold dear.
In terms of religious experiences, despite the fact that the tradition is noted
for having collected massive amounts of firsthand personal accounts in the form
of correspondence, diaries, journals, and so on, there is a dearth of academic
studies dealing with this dimension. Approached from the vantage point of psychology
and other relevant disciplines, such studies would include work on types of
religious conversion; on encounters with the divine through inspiration, promptings,
visions, and other kinds of sensory experiences; and on experiences with prayer
and fasting, with types of sacrifice, as well as with various types of revelation,
if not mystical experiences. These studies would also explore ideal types of
religious personalities, charismatic religious figures, and so forth. In other
words, what is needed is more comparative study of religious experience among
Latter-day Saints, along the lines pioneered more than a century ago by William
Likewise, the study of the ritual or ceremonial dimension of Mormonism, in
everyday life and worship, is of vital importance in gaining a better appreciation
of the tradition as a whole. This aspect also needs to be studied in comparison
with patterned celebrations and formalities manifested in other traditions.
The same holds true for the ethical and legal aspect of the faith. Here the
focus rests on various ways, divine and otherwise, that ethical principles
and legal injunctions are seen to be grounded, ways in which they prescribe
individual as well as collective behavior, how conformity to such imperatives
is intimately tied to what it means to be a member of the faith, and the role
individual agency plays in ensuring the meaningfulness of making such choices.
As one observer put it, “Mormonism is a religion far more interested
in ethical behavior than correct belief.” This dimension, once properly
investigated, may prove to be far more important in understanding the whole
of the tradition than the lack of scholarship on the subject up to this point
Finally, there is a growing body of literature dealing with all facets of
LDS material culture.61 While this work may be relatively well
known to interested Latter-day Saints, it is not well known in the academic
world, and little if any effort has been made to show how the material aspect
of the faith relates to other dimensions of the tradition and the importance
it plays in the lives of adherents. Givens, in a recent interview in which
he comments on his forthcoming book People of Paradox: A Cultural History
of the Mormon People, indicates he will
deal with, among other things, common threads that might be found in expressions
of LDS material culture, especially works of art, music, and literature.62
While more work needs to be done on all these fronts, two recent publications
deal with many of these neglected dimensions: Douglas Davies’s An Introduction
to Mormonism63 and Terryl Givens’s
The Latter-day Saint Experience in America.64
Both titles evidence a solid grasp of the tradition’s history and provide
informed treatment of several of its key aspects. Both are models of the kind
of scholarship that can result from an in-depth and sustained investigation
of the faith, following guidelines and standards associated with a religious
studies approach to the subject. They bode well for the future.
Assessments of Value Judgments and Truth Claims
Religious studies sees a distinction between descriptive and structural studies
of a given religious tradition on the one hand, and assessments made of its
value judgments and truth claims on the other. It holds that the latter need
to be solidly grounded in an understanding of the tradition’s history and its
Since the beginning of Mormonism, material has been published dealing with
the tradition’s values and truth claims. Much of it is seriously lacking in
terms of an understanding of the faith’s history and its structural makeup.
In contrast to this, consider a recent essay by James Faulconer entitled “Scripture
as Incarnation.” This article well illustrates the kind of critical assessment
of the tradition that can emerge from an informed understanding of the faith.65
But before turning to this, I want to call attention to recent examples of
writings that deal with LDS teachings and truth claims. This kind of thing
lies in the background of any attempt at better understanding the faith. The
intent of much of it is to marginalize Mormonism in the larger religious culture.66 Some of it represents a particular
type of apologetic writing aimed at challenging LDS truth claims,67
while other examples are rather straightforward instances of secular criticism
of the faith.68 There is no doubt that such material
is influential, but precisely because it differs in kind from the type of
informed critical studies referred to above, it is difficult to know what
role, if any, it should play in the academic study of Mormonism.
What does play a role are studies such as Faulconer’s “Scripture as
Incarnation.” In his article he challenges prevailing LDS thinking on
the nature of scripture and on what it means to be religious by contrasting
two views of history: the modernist position, which he thinks is the way most
within the Christian heritage, including Latter-day Saints, deal with scripture,
especially on issues having to do with the historicity of scripture; and what
he calls the premodern position, which is the stance he argues for and thinks,
if adopted, would result in a better way of understanding scripture and a
better appreciation for what it means to be religious (again, addressing not
only Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians but also Latter-day Saints).
According to Faulconer, for a premodernist, scripture (which is never viewed
as being on a reduced par with other writings, as is the case for a modernist)
is valued precisely because it does much more than make reference (accurately
or not) to historical events or even to another reality (the modernist position),
and this is because it is essentially viewed as an incarnation or an enactment
of a symbolic ordering of the world. And while it follows that a modernist,
by definition, relies on reason to understand history (as well as scripture,
taken as the Divine in history), a premodernist turns to divinely revealed
writings but also to ritual behavior, objects, and language to give meaning
This reliance on ritual for the premodernist also alters what it means to
be religious. From this perspective, to be religious is not to assent to particular
propositions or assertions (i.e., beliefs in the modernist view), though such
assent follows from the fact that one is religious. Rather, to be religious
is to recognize and reverence the sacred and to live in a world of which the
contents, including beliefs, are ordered by the sacred, made meaningful by
the sacred, and are true in terms of the sacred (all of which differs fundamentally
from the way issues of meaning and truth are resolved for a modernist).
My goal has been to identify a range of work that will be required in order
for a well-rounded view of Mormonism to emerge from academic study of the tradition.
Judging from recent publications most likely to be relied on by scholars, it
becomes readily apparent that while a solid foundation of scholarship has been
laid in many areas, other crucially important aspects of the faith remain to
be studied. This is a daunting task. The jury is still out as to whether or
not this endeavor will, in the long run, bear fruit. Success will depend on
how well these gaps are filled, on the quality of work produced in these and
other areas, and on many other factors. For instance, how many well-qualified
scholars, particularly younger scholars, will choose to devote all or a portion
of their scholarly careers to this effort? How will they elect to approach the
subject? What aims and objectives will prevail in the academic programs in which
this course of study will be conducted? What impact will other academy-wide
trends likely have on this endeavor?
Those who elect to study Mormonism, like scholars everywhere, regardless
of their individual disciplinary expertise, come from many perspectives and
bring with them a host of preconceptions and assumptions. They will approach
their studies in numerous ways. In describing and explaining the religion,
will they strive to do so in a dispassionate and nonjudgmental manner? Will
their critiques of LDS truth claims be evenhanded and grounded in a well-informed
understanding of the faith?69 As we have seen, work
that is questionable in this regard sometimes still gets published by mainline
academic presses, and consequently less-than-reliable views about the tradition
get thrown into the mix.
The issue of what individuals bring to their studies and how they will conduct
them also applies, of course, to LDS scholars. In regard to this group, two
factors will likely impact future study. Until recently, most scholarly work
on Mormonism has been done by Latter-day Saints. Their primary audience has
been other interested Latter-day Saints. This is bound to change as study
of the tradition moves into other venues. In the meantime, LDS academics will
need to come to terms with how best to incorporate their scholarship with
that which is being produced by colleagues who are not insiders.70 In addition, LDS scholars do not always
agree on important matters having to do with the tradition. Just as it is
commonplace today to find, for instance, religious Jews classifying themselves
as either Orthodox or conservative at one end of the spectrum or as Reformed
or liberal at the other, depending on how they resolve key issues about their
tradition, so it is among devout LDS scholars who view and understand their
own faith differently. Some emphasize certain beliefs to the diminution of
others, value the ritual dimension of the faith differently, read and interpret
the scriptures in certain ways, tell the history of the faith differently,
and search for and find ways of reconciling their faith with the contemporary
world that are pronouncedly at odds with how others do this. Differences such
as these are bound to play a role in the academic study of Mormonism and in
the kind of results that are produced.
I have put forward one particular view of what religious studies entails
and what it requires as a disciplined approach to the study of religion. I
am fully aware that others view religious studies quite differently and hence
have other aims in mind in this regard. The type of religious studies that
is pursued in individual programs will have a bearing on the outcome of any
future study of Mormonism.
Within the academy itself, what the future holds for the study of religion
in general and Mormonism in particular is uncertain. What is to be made, for
instance, of those who call into question how religion is studied and whether
such effort even has a place in the academy?71
I began on a note of inevitability, given that there is every reason to think
Mormonism will continue to be of interest in the academy. In the face of work
that has to be done and challenges that have to be met, what are the chances
we will have a better understanding of the tradition tomorrow than we do today?
I think the proper response ought to be one of guarded optimism. Some very
good work has recently been produced. Other promising projects are under way.
Still, much remains to be done. Latter-day Saints around the globe who orient
themselves to the larger world, find meaning and significance in their lives,
and set their moral compasses by adhering to a distinctive set of practices
and beliefs ideally should be able to see themselves in the best of what is
produced along these lines.
Appendix 1: Publications 1994–2006
The following titles deal with aspects of Mormonism, such as Mormon history
and thought, the Bible and the Book of Mormon, as well as social, political,
and economic issues. This list is representative of those who come at the tradition
from the vantage points of literary and cultural studies, women’s studies, ethnic
and legal studies, and gender studies, among other approaches. The list also
reveals the range of academic publishers interested in Mormon studies. (I should
note that of the more than four dozen titles listed, nearly a third of them
were published by the University of Illinois Press. Since the 1960s, UIP has
published approximately sixty Mormon studies titles, thanks in large part to
one of its editors, Elizabeth Dulany, who recently retired.)
Allen, James B., Ronald W. Walker, and David J. Whittaker, eds. Studies
in Mormon History, 1830–1997: An Indexed Bibliography. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
Armstrong, Richard N. The Rhetoric of David O. McKay: Mormon Prophet. New York: Lang, 1993.
Barlow, Philip L. Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints
in American Religion. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1991, reissued 1997.
Bennion, Janet. Women of Principle: Female Networking in Contemporary
Mormon Polygyny. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Bitton, Davis. The Ritualization of Mormon History and Other Essays. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.
The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, translated
by Joseph Smith Jr. New York: Doubleday, 2004.
Bringhurst, Newell G., ed. Reconsidering No Man Knows My History: Fawn
M. Brodie and Joseph Smith in Retrospect.
Logan: Utah State University Press, 1996.
Bringhurst, Newell G., and Darron T. Smith, eds. Black and Mormon. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004.
Brooke, John L. The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644–1844. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Bush, Laura L. Faithful Transgressions in the American West: Six Twentieth-Century
Mormon Women’s Autobiographical Acts.
Logan: Utah State University Press, 2004.
Bushman, Claudia L. Contemporary Mormonism: Latter-day Saints in Modern
America. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006.
Bushman, Claudia L., and Richard L. Bushman. Building the Kingdom: A History
of Mormons in America. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2001.
Bushman, Richard L., with Jed Woodworth. Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. New York: Knopf, 2005.
Bushman, Richard L., author, and Reid L. Neilson and Jed Woodworth, eds.
Believing History: Latter-day Saint Essays.
New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
Conkin, Paul K. American Originals: Homemade Varieties of Christianity. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
Cornwall, Marie, Tim B. Heaton, and Lawrence A. Young, eds. Contemporary
Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.
Cowan, Douglas E. Bearing False Witness? An Introduction to the Christian
Countercult. Westport: CT: Praeger, 2003.
Davies, Douglas J., ed. Mormon Identities in Transition.
New York: Cassell, 1996.
Davies, Douglas J. The Mormon Culture of Salvation: Force, Grace and Glory. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2000.
Davies, Douglas J. An Introduction to Mormonism.
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Daynes, Kathryn M. More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage
System, 1840–1910. Urbana: University
of Illinois Press, 2001.
Denton, Sally. American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, September
1857. New York: Knopf, 2003.
Eliason, Eric A., ed. Mormons and Mormonism: An Introduction to an American
World Religion. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.
Flake, Kathleen. The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating
of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
Forsberg, Clyde R., Jr. Equal Rites: The Book of Mormon, Masonry, Gender,
and American Culture. New York: Columbia
University Press, 2004.
Gellinek, Christian, and Hans-Wilhelm Kelling. Avenues Toward Christianity:
Mormonism in Comparative Church History.
Binghampton, NY: Global Publications, Binghamton University, 2001.
Givens, Terryl L. The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction
of Heresy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Givens, Terryl L. By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched
a New World Religion. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2002.
Givens, Terryl L. The Latter-day Saint Experience in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2004.
Givens, Terryl L. People of Paradox: A Cultural History of the Mormon
People. Oxford University Press, forthcoming.
Gordon, Sarah Barringer. The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional
Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America.
Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
Hardy, Grant, ed. The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003.
Hazen, Craig James. The Village Enlightenment in America: Popular Religion
and Science in the Nineteenth Century. Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 2000.
Heaton, Tim B., Stephen J. Bahr, and Cardell K. Jacobson, eds. A Statistical
Profile of Mormons: Health, Wealth, and Social Life.
Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 2005.
Hicks, Michael. Mormonism and Music: A History.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989, 2003.
Iber, Jorge. Hispanics in the Mormon Zion, 1912–1999.
College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2000.
Kerstetter, Todd M. God’s Country, Uncle Sam’s Land: Faith and Conflict
in the American West. Urbana: University
of Illinois Press, 2006.
Kauffman, Ruth, and Reginald Wright Kauffman. The Latter Day Saints: A
Study of the Mormons in the Light of Economic Conditions.
Urbana: University of Illinois, Press, 1994.
Leonard, Glen, Richard Turley Jr., and Ronald W. Walker. Tragedy at Mountain
Meadows. Oxford University Press, forthcoming.
Mauss, Armand L. The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.
Mauss, Armand L. All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of
Race and Lineage. University of Illinois Press, 2003.
Mazur, Eric Michael. The Americanization of Religious Minorities: Confronting
the Constitutional Order. Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1999.
Morrill, Susanna. White Roses on the Floor of Heaven: Mormon Women’s Popular
Theology, 1880–1920. New York: Routledge,
Nichols, Jeffrey. Prostitution, Polygamy, and Power: Salt Lake City, 1847–1918.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
Ostling, Richard N., and Joan K. Ostling. Mormon America: The Power and
the Promise. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1999.
Phillips, Rick. Conservative Christian Identity and Same-Sex Orientation:
The Case of Gay Mormons. New York: Lang,
Prince, Gregory A., and Wm. Robert Wright. David O. McKay and the Rise
of Modern Mormonism. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005.
Remini, Robert V. Joseph Smith. New
York: Viking, 2002.
Shepherd, Gary, and Gordon Shepherd. Mormon Passage: A Missionary Chronicle. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1998.
Shipps, Jan. Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years among the Mormons. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
Stark, Rodney, author, and Reid L. Neilson, ed. The Rise of Mormonism. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.
Underwood, Grant. The Millenarian World of Early Mormonism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
Walker, Ronald W., David J. Whittaker, and James B. Allen. Mormon History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001.
Wicks, Robert S., and Fred R. Foister. Junius and Joseph: Presidential
Politics and the Assassination of the First Mormon Prophet.
Logan: Utah State University Press, 2005.
Widmer, Kurt. Mormonism and the Nature of God: A Theological Evolution,
1830–1915. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000.
Yorgason, Ethan R. Transformation of the Mormon Culture Region. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003.
Appendix 2: Dissertations and Theses 1994 to 2005
(arranged in reverse chronological order)
Holland, David F. “Continuing Revelation: An Idea and Its Contexts in
Early America.” Stanford University, 2005.
Simpson, Thomas Wendell. “Mormons Study ‘Abroad': Latter-day Saints
in American Higher Education, 1870–1940.” University of Virginia,
Goren, Joshua Abram. “Religion between the Testaments: Biblical Reconciliation
in Antebellum-American Literature and Thought (Joseph Smith, James Fenimore
Cooper, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and John Brown).” Columbia University,
Jones, Megan Sanborn. “Rapists, Murderers, and Turks: Anti-Mormon Melodrama
and American Identity, 1845–1900.” University of Minnesota, 2004.
Atkinson, Walter L. “The Barbarism Exposed: An Interpretive Analysis
of Newspaper Coverage of Mormonism, 1887–1888.” University of Utah,
Carter, Steven E. “The Mormons and the Third Reich, 1933–1946.”
University of Arkansas, 2003.
Cyr, Mark Allen. “‘I Would Not Be a Master': Democracy and the Political
Culture of Mastery in Illinois, 1837–1858.” Washington University,
Murphy, Thomas W. “Imagining Lamanites: Native Americans and the Book
of Mormon.” University of Washington, 2003.
Finlayson-Fife, Jennifer. “Female Sexual Agency in Patriarchal Culture:
The Case of Mormon Women.” Boston College, 2002.
Morrill, Susanna. “White Roses on the Floor of Heaven: Nature and Flower
Imagery in Latter-day Saint Women’s Literature, 1880–1920.” University
of Chicago, 2002.
Satterfield, Bruce Kelly. “The History of Adult Education in Kirtland,
Ohio, 1833–37.” University of Idaho, 2002.
Basquiat, Jennifer Huss. “Between Eternal Truth and Local Culture: Performing
Mormonism in Haiti.” Claremont Graduate University, 2001.
Phillips, Richard D. “Saints in Zion, Saints in Babylon: Religious Pluralism
and the Transformation of American Mormonism.” Rutgers State University
of New Jersey, New Brunswick, 2001.
Smith, Nola Diane. “Reading across the Lines: Mormon Theatrical Formations
in Nineteenth Century Nauvoo, Illinois.” Brigham Young University, 2001.
Walker, Kyle Rex. “The Joseph Sr. and Lucy Mack Smith Family: A Family
Process Analysis of a Nineteenth Century Household.” Brigham Young University,
Barlow, Laurel L. “Terry Tempest Williams: Ecofeminist, Storyteller,
Activist.” University of Pennsylvania, 2000.
Bush, Laura L. “Faithful Transgressions in the American West: Five Twentieth
Century Mormon Women’s Autobiographical Acts.” Arizona State University,
Carrigan, Cky John. “An Assessment and Critique of the Distinctive Christology
of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Southeastern Baptist
Theological Seminary, 2000.
Flake, Kathleen. “Mr. Smoot Goes to Washington: The Politics of American
Religious Identity, 1900–1920.” University of Chicago, 2000.
Mitchell, Hildi Jan. “Belief, Activity and Embodiment in the Constitution
of Contemporary Mormonism.” Queen’s University of Belfast, 2000.
Paul, Charles Randall. “Converting the Saints: An Investigation of Religious
Conflict Using a Study of Protestant Missionary Methods in an Early 20th Century
Engagement with Mormonism.” University of Chicago, 2000.
Riess, Jana. “Heathen in Our Fair Land: Anti-polygamy and Protestant
Women’s Mission to Utah, 1869–1910.” Columbia University, 2000.
Taylor, Lori Elaine. “Telling Stories about Mormons and Indians.”
State University of New York at Buffalo, 2000.
Tice, Elizabeth T. “Cognitive Dissonance and Commitment in Contemporary
Mormonism.” Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center, 1999.
Evans, Roy Tripp. “Classical Frontiers: New World Antiquities in the
American Imagination, 1820–1915.” Yale University, 1998.
Nichols, Jeffrey D. “Prostitution and Polygamy: The Contest Over Morality
in Salt Lake City, 1847–1918.” University of Utah, 1998.
Ellingson, Janet. “Becoming a People: The Beliefs and Practices of the
Early Mormons, 1830–1845.” University of Utah, 1997.
Kerstetter, Todd M. “God’s Country, Uncle Sam’s Land: Religious Exceptionalism,
the Myth of the West, and Federal Force.” University of Nebraska, Lincoln,
Bernardi, Debra. “Domestic Horrors: Disfiguring the American Home, 1860–1903.”
University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1996.
Haldeman, Pamela D. “Conversion to Conservative Religion in Contemporary
America within the Context of Marriage and the Family.” University of
Southern California, 1996.
Hazen, Craig J. “The Village Enlightenment in America: Science and the
Emergence of New Religious Ideas, 1830–1860.” University of California,
Santa Barbara, 1996.
Lynott, Patricia A. “Susa Young Gates, 1856–1933: Educator, Suffragist,
Mormon.” Loyola University of Chicago, 1996.
Sears, L. Rex. “An Essay in Philosophical Mormon Theology.” Harvard
Wotherspoon, Daniel. “Awakening Joseph Smith: Mormon Resources for a
Postmodern Worldview.” Claremont Graduate University, 1996.
Chandler, Brian K. “Marital Satisfaction and Commitment among Mormons:
An Application of Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love.” Indiana University
of Pennsylvania, 1995.
Waugh, Richard A. “Sacred Space and the Persistence of Identity: The
Evolution and Meaning of an American Religious Utopia.” University of
Cribb, Robert M. “Path to Glory: The Social Impact of the Growth of
Mormonism.” Carleton University, 1994.
Forsberg, Clyde R., Jr. “In Search of the Historical Nephi: The Book
of Mormon, ‘Evangelicalisms’ and Antebellum American Popular Culture, c. 1830.”
Queens University at Kingston, 1994.
Mylroie, Erin Elizabeth Renouf. “Nauvoo, Illinois, 1839–1846: The
Rise and Fall of a Mormon City.” California State University, Dominguez
Cartwright, Dixie L. “Geographical Change in Religious Denomination
Affiliation in Mississippi, 1970–2000.” Mississippi State University,
Reeder, Steven Lynn. “William Blake and Joseph Smith: Prophets of the
Old and New World.” California State University, Dominguez Hills, 2001.
Valentine, Stephen J. “Comparing Zion and Babylon: Conflict, Interaction,
and Change in Corinne and Brigham City, Utah.” Utah State University,
Ready, Bryan Eugene. “William Heth Whitsitt: Insights into Early Mormonism.”
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2001.
Ashurst-McGee, Mark. “A Pathway to Prophethood: Joseph Smith Junior
as Rodsman, Village Seer, and Judeo-Christian Prophet.” Utah State University,
Farnsworth, Sonja. “From Polygamy to Monogamy: Mormonism on Gender,
Marriage, and the Family.” San Jose State University, 1999.
Stull, Kenneth Lee. “A Comparative Study of Religious Violence in Frontier
America.” Truman State University, 1999.
Lane, Jay Carlton. “Continuous Revelation: An Analysis of the Mormon
Philosophy.” California State University, Dominguez Hill, 1998.
Richardson, E. Jay. “Personal Revelation in Mormonism.” University
of Manitoba, 1996.
Harper, Steven Craig. “The Evangelical World of Early Mormonism.”
Utah State University, 1995.
Larsen, Timothy P. “Appropriate Incongruity in Mormon Humorous Expressions.”
Utah State University, 1995.
McQuilkin, Carol Ann. “Journey of Faith: Mid-nineteenth Century Migration
of Mississippi Mormons and Slaves.” California State University, Fullerton,
Poulter, Mary D. “The First Ten Years of Latter Day Saint Hymnody: A
Study of Emma Smith’s 1835 and Little and Gardner’s 1844 Hymnals.” University
of Massachusetts, 1995.
Valdes, Karla Michelle. “Mormonism, Revitalization and Multiculturalism:
An Anthropological Study of an American Religion.” California State University,
Widmer, Kurt. “Unity and Diversity in Mormon Thought.” University
of Calgary, 1994.
* Several friends and colleagues, here at BYU and elsewhere, read early drafts
of this paper and offered helpful criticisms and suggestions. I very much appreciate
this. I want to thank in particular Daniel McKinley and Matthew Roper, who helped
me pull together the titles and statistics cited in the paper.
1. This headline
comes from the print version of the following article: Scott McLemee, “Latter-day
Studies: Scholars of Mormonism Confront the History of What Some Call ‘The
Next World Religion,'” Chronicle of Higher Education, 22 March 2002, A14–16. Available at chronicle.com/free/v48/i28/28a01401.htm
(accessed 25 January 2007). See also Philip Barlow, “Jan Shipps
and the Mainstreaming of Mormon Studies,” Church History
73/2 (June 2004): 412–26. Barlow, professor of theology at Hanover College
in Indiana, highlights the role Shipps, an emeritus professor of religious
studies at Indiana University-Purdue University, has played in this regard.
He focuses on her most recent book, Sojourner in the Promised Land:
Forty Years among the Mormons (see appendix
1 for full bibliographical information on this and other works), in the course
of documenting the emergence of academic interest in Mormonism. He notes that
this began slowly in the early part of the twentieth century and then mushroomed
recently into a significant area of scholarly concern. Barlow deals mainly
with historical studies but also looks at some of the other studies addressed
in this paper.
2. The term Mormon
studies means different things to different people. For some, such as
David J. Whittaker, professor of history and curator of western and Mormon
manuscripts at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library, it is synonymous with Mormon historical
studies. See his chapter in Douglas J. Davies’s Mormon Identities in Transition
entitled “Mormon Studies: Progress and Prospects,” where he surveys
only recent and forthcoming work on Mormon history. Many probably use the
term this way, given that the lion’s share of scholarship on the tradition
is historical in nature. Others, like Terryl L. Givens, the James A.
Bostwick Professor of English and Religion at the University of Richmond in
Virginia and a major contributor to work on Mormonism, use the term to connote
a broad range of investigations, including historical work. Givens contends
that the term should not suggest a separate field of study if this means studying
the faith in isolation. Rather, he speaks positively of a recent Claremont
Graduate University conference in which participants explored ways in which
Mormonism can be “positioned” within several area studies. See Givens’s
online interview, “12 Questions for Terryl Givens,” 31 January
2005, question 11, on the Times and Seasons blog at www.timesandseasons.org/?p=1914#more-1914
(accessed 25 January 2007). In this paper, I use the term to refer to
a range of efforts likely to contribute directly to work on the tradition
in various religious studies programs. J. Michael Hunter, a librarian
at BYU, maintains an online resource guide to scholarly material on all aspects
of Mormonism. See his Web site at mormonstudies.byu.edu (accessed 25 January
By the end of 2003, more members of the church resided outside the continental
United States (nearly 6.5 million, primarily in the Western Hemisphere) than
inside (just over 5.5 million), and English was no longer the majority language.
See the 2005 Church Almanac (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 2004), 597,
624–29, for worldwide figures. In the United States, the church is the
third-largest Christian-related group, behind Protestants and Catholics. See
the Pew Research Report for March 2002, “Americans Struggle with Religion’s
Role at Home and Abroad,” 49. Available at pewforum.org/publications/reports/poll2002.pdf
(accessed 25 January 2007).
3. The journal’s
Web site is at www.dialoguejournal.com.
4. See the publications
link at www.mhahome.org.
5. See the Web
site at www.mormonsocialscience.org.
6. The magazine’s
Web site is at www.sunstoneonline.com.
7. See the Web
site at www.jwha.info/publications/default.asp.
8. See the Web
site at www.aml-online.org.
9. See the Web
site at www.smpt.org.
10. Linda Fantin and Peggy
Fletcher Stack, “Creed and Classroom,” Salt Lake Tribune, 21 February 2004, C1, claimed courses were being
taught in the Department of Religious Studies at Arizona State University
and in the religious studies program at the University of Wyoming. This turns
out not to be the case. Mormonism is one of many subjects dealt with in two
courses (“Religion in the American West” and “Religion in America”)
at the University of Wyoming, where there continues to be talk of forming
a Mormon studies professorship; and it may be dealt with in general survey
courses at Arizona State. In Utah the subject may also be part of courses
offered in the history departments at the University of Utah in Salt Lake
City, Weber State University in Ogden, and Southern Utah University in Cedar
City. At other institutions, the subject appears to be taught solely on the
basis of personal interest by a few faculty members. For instance, Laurie
F. Maffly-Kipp, professor of religious studies at the University of North
Carolina, Chapel Hill, teaches a course on “Mormonism and the American
Experience,” and Charles W. Nuckolls, professor of anthropology at the
University of Alabama, teaches one on “The Anthropology of Mormonism.”
11. The department includes
faculty who work in Old Testament, New Testament, Judaism in antiquity, Christianity
in late antiquity (Patristics), Christianity in modern Europe, contemporary
theology, theology and culture, Christian ethics, philosophy of religion,
sociology of religion, anthropology of religion, religion and film, Catholic
studies, and Anglican studies. In other words, the department has a decidedly
Christian orientation. It is important to keep this in mind in terms of how
Mormonism is viewed and studied within such an academic culture.
12. Before coming to Durham,
Professor Davies was at the University of Nottingham, where he first taught
courses on Mormonism and developed a center of Mormon studies.
13. In addition to his three
books listed in appendix 1, Davies has also written Mormon Spirituality:
Latter Day Saints in Wales and Zion, published
by the University of Nottingham Press in 1987, and the entry “Mormonism”
in the Encyclopedia of Protestantism, edited by H. J. Hillerbrand and published in 2004 by Routledge.
14. No mention has been made
of the study of Christianity in the religious studies program that Utah State
University is setting up. In any event, the university is clearly on track
to be the first public university in the state to establish an undergraduate
department in religious studies and to offer both a minor and major in the
subject. In the meantime, Utah is one of only a handful of states in the nation
that do not offer an undergraduate degree in religion or religious studies
at a public university.
15. The study of religion at
Claremont Graduate University has a long history. Its School of Theology,
affiliated with the United Methodist Church, began in 1957. In 1960, a department
of religion, independent of the school but with strong ties to it, was established
and became the School of Religion in 2000. While the study of Christianity
may continue to dominate the school’s curriculum, this presumably will become
less so as the study of other traditions becomes better established. In the
meantime, any study of Mormonism at CGU, at least in the near term, will likely
be analogous to the situation at the University of Durham, where it is couched
within an academic environment that privileges the study of Christianity.
16. Associated with the College
of Religious Education, this unit has published over seventy titles (some
jointly with other publishers) since 1978. Twenty of these deal with the Book
of Mormon and other LDS scriptures; others deal with LDS history and other
aspects of the tradition. The center also publishes (since 2000) The Religious
Educator, a periodical that appears two
to three times a year. Its Web site is www.religion.byu.edu/rsc.htm.
17. Established in 2006, the
Maxwell Institute houses the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies
(FARMS), which from 1985 to the present has published (sometimes with other
publishers) thirty-two titles on the Book of Mormon, six on the Bible, and
four on the Book of Abraham, as well as five Festschrifts, five apologetic
works, and thirty-five titles on other subjects, including reference works
and study guides. It publishes four periodicals: Insights, a newsletter that first appeared in 1981 and has been published six times
a year since 2001; the Journal
of Book of Mormon Studies, a biannual
publication since 1992; the FARMS Review, a biannual publication since 1989 (first five volumes through 1993 were
annual); and Occasional Papers,
which has produced four installments since its inception in 2000. The Maxwell
Institute’s Web site is www.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu.
18. Now associated with the
Maxwell Institute, this quarterly began publication in 1959. Since 1994, it
has also sponsored publication of dozens of books (some jointly with other
publishers, five of them in conjunction with BYU’s Smith Institute for Latter-day
Saint History) dealing with different aspects of the tradition, mainly LDS
history. Its Web site is www.byustudies.byu.edu.
19. The Smith Institute was
established in 1980. Faculty associated with the Institute have published
sixty-five books (with a number of publishers) and hundreds of chapters in
books and articles in journals dealing with aspects of LDS history. The Institute
ceased operations in the fall of 2005. Its Web site is www.smithinstitute.byu.edu.
20. Jan Shipps can be interpreted
as seeing things this way. Consider, for instance, the session she organized
and participated in at the American Academy of Religion national meetings
held in Philadelphia in November 2005. It was called “What the Study
of Mormonism Brings to Religious Studies.” She and four other scholars,
all recognized authorities in various areas ranging from media studies to
biblical studies, gave papers intended to show how such study might enrich
their respective fields of specialization. Unfortunately, nothing much came
of this, in large part because all of the participants, other than Shipps,
admitted in public that they knew nothing about the tradition and had never
21. My characterization of
religious studies is influenced by a concise statement on the subject written
quite some time ago but never published by a longtime colleague and friend
of mine at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the late Ninian Smart.
At the time of his death, Smart was emeritus professor of religious studies
at UCSB. He was an internationally recognized authority on comparative religions
and the philosophy of religion. Readers interested in pursuing Smart’s views
on the subject may want to read his “Religion, Study of,” in The
New Encyclopedia Britannica (1975), 15:613–28.
Smart describes the comparative and cross-cultural nature of religious studies
in his Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs
(New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1983), 17–22; Religion and the
Western Mind: Drummond Lectures (New York: State University of New York Press, 1987),
3–8; and Dimensions of
the Sacred: An Anatomy of the World’s Beliefs (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 1–8. He was one
of the first to recognize the need to comparatively study both religious traditions
and certain influential ideologies, many of which challenge and compete with
religions. He often refers to both as worldviews. See his Beyond
Ideology: Religion and the Future of Western Civilization (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1981), especially chapter
2; Worldviews, 1–6; Religion
and the Western Mind, 8–13; and
Dimensions of the Sacred, 1–3. On the multidimensional makeup of religious traditions and
the need for them to be studied using a number of disciplines, see his The
Religious Experience of Mankind (New York:
Scribner’s Sons, 1969), 6–16; The World’s Religions (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1989), 10–21;
and Dimensions of the Sacred. Smart’s claim that a distinction needs to be maintained between descriptive
and structural studies and more reflective studies devoted to dealing with
religious truth claims is spelled out in his Dimensions of the Sacred,
especially 18, 20. Finally, see Smart’s Worldviews,
15–17; Religion and the Western Mind, 3–5; and Dimensions of the Sacred, 1–3, on why he thinks it imperative that students
of religion learn how to approach their work from the perspective of those
they are studying. For a good, overall introduction to what is involved see,
“Why Study Religion,” on the American Academy of Religion’s Web
site. Available at www.studyreligion.org.
22. Stanley Fish agrees and
goes even further. When asked recently, “What would succeed high theory
and the triumvirate of race, gender, and class as the center of intellectual
energy in the academy?” he answered in one word, “Religion.”
See his, “One University, Under God?” in the Chronicle of Higher
Education, 7 January 2005. Available at
chronicle.com/weekly/v51/i18/18c00101.htm (accessed 25 January 2007).
Fish is dean emeritus of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University
of Illinois at Chicago and resident academic iconoclast.
23. This important distinction
is reflected in the fact that many major universities maintain both approaches.
For instance, Yale University has a department of religious studies that offers
undergraduate and graduate degrees. Yale is also affiliated with the Yale
Divinity School, which in turn is associated with the Berkeley Divinity School
at Yale, an Episcopalian-affiliated school, both of which offer graduate degrees
in theology. A similar situation prevails at Harvard University. It pursues
the study of religion (offering both undergraduate and graduate degrees) under
the auspices of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Center for the Study
of World Religions, and the Women’s Studies in Religion program. At the same
time the university is associated with the Harvard Divinity School, which
offers graduate degrees in theology. One of the professional schools at the
University of Chicago is its Divinity School. Chicago also offers undergraduate
and graduate degrees in a religion and humanities program and a religious
studies program as well as through the auspices of other cognate programs
and departments. As noted, Claremont Graduate University offers graduate degrees
in theology and religion under the auspices of its Schools of Theology and
Religion, respectively. All of the Claremont undergraduate colleges offer
degrees in religion or religious studies.
24. See the Web site at www.aarweb.org.
Growing out of an earlier emphasis on biblical studies, the AAR was formed
in 1964 as a broad-based association devoted to the study of religion in general.
It sponsors a number of publications; chief among them is the quarterly Journal
of the American Academy of Religion, which began in 1966.
25. See the Web site at www.sbl-site.org.
Formed in 1880, the Society is one of the oldest professional associations
in the country. It sponsors a number of periodicals and publications, including
the Journal of Biblical Literature, a quarterly that began in 1881.
26. See the Web site at www.sssrweb.org.
The SSSR began in 1949 as an interdisciplinary association made up of scholars
representing all the social and behavioral sciences. It publishes the Journal
for the Scientific Study of Religion, a quarterly that began in 1961. Two related associations
were also formed around this time: the Religious Research Association, which
was established in 1951 and publishes a quarterly, the Review of
Religious Research, which started in 1959;
and the Association for the Sociology of Religion, which was formed earlier
but adopted its present name in 1971. The Association has published a periodical
since 1941; since 1993 it has been titled Sociology of Religion:
A Quarterly Review.
27. Krister Stendahl calls
attention to this goal in what he refers to as his “rules for interfaith
discussions.” Stendahl is emeritus professor of New Testament, former
dean of Harvard Divinity School, and former Lutheran bishop of Stockholm,
Sweden. He recently spoke about his rules while being interviewed by Truman
G. Madsen, emeritus professor of philosophy at BYU, in a video dealing with
the subject of LDS temple worship. It is entitled Between Heaven and Earth and was produced by the Church of Jesus Christ in 2002.
Stendahl’s first rule is that if you are going to ask the question, “What
do others believe in their various faiths?” ask them, not their critics
or enemies. Stendahl added, “Because what one religious tradition says
about another is usually a breech against the commandment: Thou shalt not
bear false witness.” His second rule is that if you are going to compare,
don’t compare your best with their worst. Compare best with best. As Stendahl
points out, “Most people think of their own tradition as it is at its
best. And they use caricatures of the others.” Finally, his third rule
requires that in such encounters one leave room for holy envy. “Let me
give you an example of my holy envy for the Latter-day Saints,” he said.
“We Lutherans, when we lose our loved ones, we have funerals, we have
cemeteries, but that ends our concern with those who have gone before. The
Latter-day Saints care about their forebears to the point that they want to
bring the blessings of Christ’s atonement to them. So they build temples and,
according to Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians, they perform baptisms
for the dead.” Stendahl at that point smiled and added, “I have
holy envy for that. I could think of myself as taking part in such an act.
Extending the blessings that have come to me in and through Jesus Christ.
That’s generous. That’s beautiful and should not be ridiculed or spoken badly
28. Claude Welch, Graduate
Education in Religion: A Critical Appraisal
(Missoula: University of Montana Press, 1971).
29. Welch, Graduate Education
in Religion, 168, fig. 9-1.
30. Welch, Graduate Education
in Religion, 257–59, appendix A.
31. The actual figure is thought
to be 1,131. Of these, nearly 900 (897) participated in the AAR survey. The
results of the survey can be found on the AAR Web site, www.aarweb.org/department/census/default.asp.
32. Jonathan Z. Smith, “What
Does the Census Data Say about the Study of Religion? A Private Sector Response,”
AAR Religious Studies News, March 2002,
33. Linell Cady, “What
Does the Census Data Say about the Study of Religion? A Public Sector Response,”
AAR Religious Studies News, March 2002,
34. The finding that private
religiously affiliated colleges and universities continue to dominate in the
study of religion means that the study of Christianity continues to hold center
stage. Professor Hans J. Hillerbrand, from Duke University, recently commented
on this phenomenon. “It surely has been a widespread notion in the field
that during the past generation or so departments of religion or religious
studies changed from reflecting the model of Protestant seminaries to a new
kind of department in which the study of Christianity, not to mention Protestantism,
was no longer privileged over the study of other religions. The 2000 survey
indicates, however, that the nature of the field has changed far less than
this might have suggested. The academic study of religion in the U.S. continues
to be foremostly the study of Christianity.” AAR Religious Studies
News, March 2004, 6.
35. These figures resulted
from consolidating information obtained as part of the recent AAR survey (see
www.aarweb.org/department/census/default.asp) with data provided on the Web
site gradschools.com (accessed 25 January 2007).
36. The quotation is from Givens’s
online interview, “12 Questions for Terryl Givens,” question 7;
see note 1 above.
37. In other words, Jan Shipps
is right in her 1985 book, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition,
published by the University of Illinois Press. Terryl Givens provides a rationale
for why the term tradition is best used in speaking about Mormonism. See the introduction
to his Latter-day Saint Experience in America, xiii–xxi. The sociologist Rodney Stark also deals with Mormonism as a separate
tradition in his Rise of Mormonism.
Gerald R. McDermott, professor of religion, Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia,
challenges some of Stark’s claims by recounting prevailing differences among
scholars over what it means to call such a faith a “world religion.”
He joins the ongoing discussion as to whether or not the tradition has the
ability to adapt to foreign cultures and hence to continue its worldwide expansion.
See his article “Saints Rising: Is Mormonism the First New World Religion
since the Birth of Islam?” Books and Culture: A Christian Review
12/1 (January/February 2006): 9–11, 42–46.
38. It should be pointed out
that some groundbreaking work comparing Mormonism with other traditions was
achieved nearly thirty years ago. In the mid-1970s, Truman Madsen and John
Dillenberger, who at the time was president of the Hartford Seminary Foundation
and former president of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California,
taught a course at GTU on religions in America dealing with, among other traditions,
Mormonism. Out of this grew the idea of conducting a symposium that would
bring together a number of leading authorities working in various fields of
Jewish and Christian studies—Robert Bellah, David Winston, Abraham Kaplan,
Jacob Milgrom, David Noel Freedman, W. D. Davies, James H. Charlesworth,
Krister Stendahl, Edmond LaB. Cherbonnier, John and Joan Dillenberger, and
Ernst Benz—to reflect on aspects of Mormonism and draw comparisons with
the larger Judeo-Christian heritage. Such an event was held on the BYU campus
in 1978. The conference dealt with a number of LDS teachings and practices,
including the idea of Deity, premortal existence, grace and works, the Book
of Mormon and the New Testament, ritual practices such as temple worship,
the Abrahamic tradition, Israel and the land, and LDS art. BYU’s Religious
Studies Center published the proceedings the same year as Reflections on
Mormonism: Judaeo-Christian Parallels,
edited by Madsen (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1978). Virtually
all the papers in this collection represent precisely the kind of insight
and understanding of the tradition that can result from careful, well-informed,
and well-intentioned comparative work. Any number of related studies could
be pursued today, building on the initial thoughts and reflections of these
contributors. This collection is a model of the kind of work that needs to
be done in the future, especially under the auspices of various religious
studies programs. Nothing quite like it has appeared since.
Madsen’s latest contribution along these lines is an
edited collection (with David Noel Freedman and Pam Fox Kuhlken) entitled
On Human Nature: The Jerusalem Center Symposium
(Ann Arbor, MI: Pettengill, 2004). It is a collection of papers given at an
earlier conference by nine scholars, some of whom also contributed to Reflections
on Mormonism. They represented Jewish,
Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Protestant, Islamic, and Mormon perspectives. It
is unfortunate that neither of these books was published by a major academic
press. Had this been done, it is more likely that interested LDS readers would
have benefited but also that important aspects of Mormonism would have been
introduced to the wider academic world via the reflections of several of its
most esteemed members.
39. David Whittaker and his
colleagues have compiled two major bibliographies dealing with this literature.
Their Mormon Americana: A Guide to
Sources and Collections in the United States
(Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 1995) assesses LDS document collections in twenty
universities, libraries, and other institutions throughout the country. It
includes a number of important bibliographic essays on Mormon material culture,
architecture, folklore, literature, photographs, museums, performing arts,
science, technology and culture, and the visual arts. For an appreciation
of the sheer volume of work done in the field of Mormon history, the reader
needs to consult James B. Allen, Ronald W. Walker, and Whittaker’s definitive
Studies in Mormon History, 1830–1997: An Indexed Bibliography. The three also wrote a companion volume, Mormon
History, a collection of bibliographic
essays on Mormon history from its beginnings to the present.
most recent entry in this field is Excavating Mormon Pasts: The New Historiography
of the Last Half Century, edited by Newell
G. Bringhurst and Lavina Fielding Anderson (Salt Lake City: Kofford Books,
2004). Two of the bibliographic essays in this collection are particularly
helpful: Klaus Hansen, emeritus professor of history at Queen’s University
in Ontario, in his “Mormon History and the Conundrum of Culture: American
and Beyond,” offers an assessment of how scholars, most of whom are not
Latter-day Saints, attempt to come to terms with Mormonism by placing it in
a larger comparative cultural setting. David L. Paulsen, professor of philosophy
at BYU, in “The Search for Cultural Origins of Mormon Doctrines,”
provides a detailed study in the history of ideas in an attempt to better
understand the religious and cultural world out of which Mormonism emerged.
Finally, Philip Barlow presented a paper at a 2004
Claremont Graduate University conference entitled “Positioning Mormonism
in American Religious History,” in which he provides a detailed analysis
and critique of work on LDS history up to the present.
Eduard Meyer’s The Origin and History of the Mormons, with Reflections
on the Beginnings of Islam and Christianity is a good example of this.
The book was initially published in Germany in 1912; it was subsequently translated
into English and published by the University of Utah Press in 1961.
41. A later study that likewise
sees Mormonism as branching off from Calvinist Christianity is Christian Gellinek
and Hans-Wilhelm Kelling’s Avenues Toward Christianity: Mormonism in Comparative
42. Constitutional and related
legal and political issues are the context for other recent studies. See,
for instance, the following, all listed in appendix 1: Sarah Barringer Gordon,
The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century
America; Kathleen Flake, The
Politics of American Religious Liberty: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot,
Mormon Apostle; and Robert S. Wicks
and Fred R. Foister, Junius and Joseph: Presidential Politics
and the Assassination of the First Mormon Prophet.
43. The Church of Jesus Christ’s
Department of Family and Church History recently announced an ambitious long-term
publication project. It will produce a comprehensive collection of all firsthand
documents written or dictated by Joseph Smith during his lifetime (1805–1844).
The material will be cataloged and published as The Joseph Smith Papers.
This project will include written texts of Smith’s revelations, teachings,
sermons, and discourses; his personal writings such as letters and journals;
written histories; and legal and business documents. It is expected to result
in twenty-five to thirty volumes. The project has been endorsed by the National
Historical Publications and Records Commission of the National Archives and
will be published by the church, using a special imprint.
44. Consider, for instance,
Gary Browning’s Russia and the Restored Gospel (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997), R. Lanier Britsch’s From
the East: The History of the Latter-day Saints in Asia (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1998), Emmanuel A. Kissi’s
Walking in the Sand: A History of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints in Ghana (Provo, UT:
BYU Press, 2004), and Grant Underwood’s edited Pioneers in the Pacific:
Memory, History, and Cultural Identity among the Latter-day Saints (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2005). A
number of related article-length studies can be found in periodicals such
as the spring 1996 issue of Dialogue
that featured work on the church in Europe, Latin and Central America, Australia,
New Zealand, and Japan. While few of these titles represent comparative work
and all of them were written mainly for Latter-day Saints, they nevertheless
represent work that may well prove to be a reliable resource for future cross-cultural
45. See Literature of Belief:
Sacred Scripture and Religious Experience, edited by Neal E. Lambert and published by BYU’s Religious Studies
Center in 1981. This anthology includes the proceedings of a conference held
at BYU in 1979 that brought together a number of scholars, all of them authorities
on various Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and LDS sacred
writings and scripture. The goal of the papers was not to compare such writings
as much as to give readers a better appreciation for the diversity and rich
scriptural heritage of many of the world’s major religious traditions.
46. Initially known as The
Book of Commandments for the Government of the Church of Christ and intended
for publication in 1833, the book did not appear until September 1835, at
which time it bore a new title: Doctrine and Covenants. The book was accepted
as scripture at a special conference of the church held in August 1835. At
present, it contains revelations and letters, grouped into 138 sections, and
two official declarations, covering the period 1823 to 1978. It is intended
for the establishment and direction of the Church of Jesus Christ. All but
seven of the sections are attributed to Smith. The rest were written by other
church leaders. A brief historical account and a verse-by-verse commentary
of each section and both official declarations are contained in Stephen E.
Robinson and H. Dean Garrett’s A Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants
(four volumes, published by Deseret Book in 2000, 2001, 2004, and 2005). Further
scholarly study of these important writings will be enhanced by publication
of The Joseph Smith Papers,
which will include all the material by Smith that initially appeared in the
Doctrine and Covenants; see note 43 above.
47. This collection of writings,
first assembled and published in Liverpool, England, in 1851, was accepted
as scripture by the Church of Jesus Christ in October 1880. Some items in
the collection were subsequently deleted. However, since 1921 the Pearl of
Great Price has included the following: (1) selections from the Book
of Moses, Joseph Smith’s inspired revision and expansion of Genesis 1:1–8,
18 (Moses 2–8), along with a record of Moses’s encounters with God and
Satan meant by Smith to serve as a prologue to his revision of Genesis (Moses
1) (see below); (2) the Book of Abraham, Smith’s inspired expansion on
the writings of the patriarch as recorded in Genesis, influenced by Smith’s
work with some Egyptian papyri acquired by the church in 1835 (see below);
(3) Joseph Smith—Matthew, Smith’s inspired revision and expansion
of Matthew 24 in the New Testament (see below); (4) Joseph Smith—History,
excerpts from Smith’s history of the church dealing with important events
in early church history; and (5) the Articles of Faith, part of what
was included in a letter written by Smith to John Wentworth in 1842, outlining
basic LDS beliefs.
A detailed study of this latter book of scripture is
contained in Richard D. Draper, S. Kent Brown, and Michael D. Rhodes’s The
Pearl of Great Price: A Verse-by-Verse Commentary (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005).
Items 1 and 3 above are included in manuscripts prepared
by Smith and others in the course of their study of the Bible, soon after
formation of the church in 1830. Smith and his contemporaries referred to
these writings as the “New Translation of the Bible.” Over time,
they came to be known as the “Joseph Smith Translation” or simply
the JST. Three recent studies will contribute significantly to an understanding
of this work by Smith and will aid in better appreciating how Latter-day Saints
read and interpret the Bible. The first is Joseph Smith’s New Translation
of the Bible: Original Manuscripts, ed.
Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews (Provo, UT:
BYU Religious Studies Center, 2004). A definitive study of the JST, this massive
work (851 pages) is a carefully prepared transcription (along with accompanying
critical notations and a history and explanation of each of the manuscripts
dealt with) in the form of a typographical facsimile aimed at rendering, “as
exactly as possible, the integrity of the original manuscripts” of the
JST. BYU’s Maxwell Institute, in cooperation with BYU’s Religious Study Center,
will soon make available a CD-ROM that will included a searchable version
of this study of the JST, digital images of some of the pages of the original
manuscripts, and other related material. The second deals with one of the
JST manuscripts referred to as “Old Testament 1″ and containing
narrative known as “Selections from the Book of Moses,” a text that,
as noted above, was eventually canonized and is contained in the Pearl of
Great Price. Kent P. Jackson, professor of ancient scripture at BYU, building
on the work he and his colleagues did on the JST, has prepared a critical
edition of “Selections from the Book of Moses” entitled The
Book of Moses and the Joseph Smith Translation Manuscripts (Provo,
UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2005). The third, by Thomas A. Wayment,
professor of ancient scripture at BYU, focuses on JST manuscripts that reflect
Smith’s work on the Gospels and other New Testament writings. It is entitled
The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the New Testament: A Side-by-Side
Comparison with the King James Version.
In reference to item 2 above, important work has recently
been published and other work is underway. Building on a considerable amount
of study of the Book of Abraham by the late Hugh Nibley, emeritus professor
of history and religion at BYU, and others (much of it comparative in nature
but little known outside of LDS circles because Nibley and others chose not
to publish in scholarly venues), one title in particular stands out in terms
of its contribution to scholarship on the figure of Abraham. It is a sourcebook
compiled by John A. Tvedtnes, Brian M. Hauglid, and John Gee and entitled
Traditions about the Early Life of Abraham (Provo,
UT: FARMS, 2001). Because of how these studies have been or will be published,
they may not be as well known in the academic world as they should be. This
is unfortunate since they represent precisely the kind of work on the Bible
and related LDS scripture likely to be of interest to other scholars.
48. Barlow recently shared
some additional thoughts on these and related issues and on what he thinks
about the future of Mormon studies. Read his online interview “12 Answers
from Philip Barlow,” 6 and 9 March 2005, parts 1 and 2, on the Times
and Seasons blog at www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=2040 and www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=2057
(accessed 26 January 2007).
49. Richard Holzapfel is professor
of church history and doctrine at BYU. Volume 1 in the series is called From
Bethlehem through the Sermon on the Mount, volume 2 is entitled From the Transfiguration
through the Triumphal Entry, and volume
3 is From the Last Supper through the Resurrection. All were published by Deseret Book in 2005, 2006,
and 2003 respectively. Holzapfel and Wayment recently collaborated with their
colleague Eric D. Huntsman in writing Jesus Christ and the
World of the New Testament, a companion
to their three-volume series. The book was published by Deseret Book in 2006.
50. The quotation is included
in his online interview, “12 Questions for Terryl Givens,” question
4; see note 1 above. Givens deals with the Book of Mormon and other LDS scripture
in these and others ways, albeit briefly, in his chapter, “Making Scripture:
The Mormon Canon,” in his Latter-day Saint Experience in America, 135–64.
51. BYU’s Foundation for Ancient
Research and Mormon Studies, as mentioned in note 17 above, has published
nearly three dozen titles on the subject by authorities such as S. Kent
Brown, Hugh Nibley, John Sorenson, and John W. Welch, positioning the
text in ancient Old World and New World settings and comparing it literarily
and otherwise to the Bible and other ancient writings. BYU’s Religious Studies
Center has likewise published a number of titles on the Book of Mormon; see
note 16 above.
52. Mention should be made
of important groundwork being laid by another ongoing Book of Mormon project.
Royal Skousen, professor of linguistics and English language at BYU, is producing
a critical text. This effort is based on a meticulously prepared transcription
of what remains of the original manuscript and the entire printer’s manuscript,
a detailed analysis of textual variants found in these initial versions and
twenty subsequent editions, and a history of the text. To date, the following
volumes have been published by BYU’s Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon
Studies: The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile
of the Extant Text (2001); The
Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon: Typographical Facsimile of the
Entire Text (in two parts, 2001); and
parts 1–3 of Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon
(2004, 2005, and 2006). This study should
have a major impact on subsequent scholarly work on this sacred text.
53. One of these was millenarianism,
a belief emphasized in early Mormonism and in other restoration movements.
Grant Underwood deals with this complex subject in comparison to the teachings
of William Miller and his followers in his Millenarian World of Early Mormonism.
Scholars have long noted the influence of Freemasonry on Mormonism. This connection
is further developed, particularly in terms of the Book of Mormon, by Clyde R.
Forsberg Jr. in Equal Rites: The Book of Mormon, Masonry, Gender,
and American Culture. John-Charles Duffy, a graduate student in religious
studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, has written a helpful
article dealing with both The Refiner’s Fire and Equal Rites, in which he collects and summarizes all the major published
reviews of Refiner’s Fire and
notes that while many acknowledge Brooke has added to our understanding of
radical Reformation influences in America during the period leading up to
the emergence of Mormonism and has contributed to recent interest in hermeticism,
when it comes to his treatment of particular LDS beliefs, opinion is decidedly
divided. Virtually all Mormon scholars, and even some non-Mormon scholars,
see Brooke’s book as basically flawed and “unilluminating” in terms
of providing an alternative explanation for such teachings. At the same time,
other non-Mormon scholars praise the book and conclude that it “forever
changes our comprehension of Mormonism’s development” and “radically
alters our understanding of Mormon origins.” From, respectively, Charles L.
Cohen, review of Refiner’s Fire, in William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser. 53/1 (January 1996): 214; and Curtis D.
Johnson, review of Refiner’s Fire,
in Journal of American History 82/2
(September 1995): 684. More important (especially when viewed from the perspective
of how such scholarly efforts ought to proceed in attempting to add to our
understanding of the tradition), Duffy identifies major methodological shortcomings
in Brooke’s book and offers a theory to account for how unchecked preconceptions
marred the work while at the same time making it possible for Forsberg’s book
to be published. For instance, Duffy agrees with those who fault Brooke for
failing to give due consideration to what certain Mormon beliefs could mean
in terms of the tradition’s own claim that they are grounded in biblical and
Christian sources (what, for instance, E. Brooks Holifield does when
he positions Mormon beliefs within the larger context of Christian thought
in America; see his Theology in America: Christian Thought from
the Age of the Puritans to the Civil War
[New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003], 331–40) and consequently for
not being in a position to balance this view against the alternative, speculative
explanations he puts forward. But, according to Duffy, an even more serious
problem plagues Brooke’s work in that he fails to approach his study in an
evenhanded manner. Duffy claims Brooke evidences a predisposition to view
the faith in a certain way from the outset. “It is apparent that the
writers I have examined [namely, Brooke and Forsberg] tend to regard Mormonism
as an Other trying to pass as Like.” Duffy theorizes that “these
writers approach Mormonism with exotic expectations already in place, leading
them to create representations of the movement that are sometimes inaccurate
but that in any case serve to reinforce Mormon difference. For these writers,
it is a given that Mormonism is an essentially non-Christian, or at least
not traditionally Christian, movement trying either to cover up this fact
or to remake itself in the image of evangelical Protestantism” (p. 21).
When Duffy turns to Forsberg’s book, he documents how Refiner’s
Fire blazed a trail for Equal Rites and how Brooke personally played a role in getting
the latter published. Duffy points out that reviews of Equal Rites
that have appeared so far see the book as “‘fundamentally
flawed'” and suggest that it is not even a “‘legitimate scholarly
work'” (p. 4). How, if this turns out to be the case, did a major
university press come to publish such a work? Duffy’s answer is along the
same lines as before: “Even if a scholarly consensus emerges that is
dismissive of Equal Rites, the
book’s publication on John Brooke’s recommendation still indicates how great
the gap is between the horizons of plausibility that different camps of scholars
bring to the study of Mormonism. Hermetic readings of Mormonism appeal to
non-Mormon scholars who approach the movement with exotic expectations; these
readings appeal also to heterodox Mormons whose own religious convictions
run in hermetic directions” (pp. 23–24). In pointing this
out, Duffy provides a much-needed reminder of how scholars should approach
and conduct such studies. He also highlights challenges facing LDS scholars
who come at these issues from a faithful perspective and who must advance
solid, plausible accounts of such matters, often in the face of suspicion,
if they hope to gain a fair hearing in the academy. See Duffy’s “Clyde
Forsberg’s Equal Rites and the
Exoticizing of Mormonism,” Dialogue
39/1 (2006): 4–34.
54. The most sustained treatment
of Widmer is an article-length review. See Ari D. Bruening and David L.
Paulsen, “The Development of the Mormon Understanding of God: Early Mormon
Modalism and Other Myths,” FARMS Review of Books 13/2 (2001): 109–69. In it the authors acknowledge
that LDS understanding of God has undergone significant development over the
years. However, they argue that Widmer’s three-part account of this transformation
cannot be substantiated by the available evidence. The authors take particular
exception to Widmer’s description and understanding of the prevailing Mormon
view of Deity as a form of henotheism. Official LDS doctrine on this key belief,
according to the authors, is best seen as either a tritheism or a form of
social trinitarianism (a movement within Christian theology associated with
thinkers such as Cornelius Plantinga; see his “Social Trinity and Tritheism,”
in Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement: Philosophical and Theological
Essays, ed. Ronald J. Feenstra and Cornelius
Plantinga Jr. [Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989], 21–47).
Paulsen has published widely on the notion of the corporeality
of God in early Christian thought (a view closely allied with prevailing LDS
thinking about Deity). See Paulsen’s “Must God Be Incorporeal?”
Faith and Philosophy 6/1 (1989): 76–87;
“Early Christian Belief in a Corporeal Deity: Origen and Augustine as
Reluctant Witnesses,” Harvard Theological Review
83/2 (1990): 105–16; “Must God Be Incorporeal?” in Davies’s
Mormon Identities in Transition,
204–9; “The Doctrine of Divine Embodiment: Restoration, Judeo-Christian,
and Philosophical Perspectives,” BYU Studies
35/4 (1995–96): 7–94; and “Augustine and the Corporeality
of God,” with Carl W. Griffin, Harvard Theological Review 95/1 (2002): 97–118.
55. The book was published
by BYU’s Religious Studies Center in 2005.
56. Mauss is emeritus professor
of sociology at Washington State University and currently visiting professor
in the School of Religion at Claremont Graduate University. See his and Dynette
Ivie Reynolds’s “A Topical Guide to Published Social Science Literature
on the Mormons,” in Allen, Walker, and Whittaker, Studies in Mormon
History, 1830–1997, 1057–152.
Mauss also has a bibliographic essay, “Flowers, Weeds, and Thistles:
The State of Social Science Literature on the Mormons,” in Walker, Whittaker,
and Allen’s companion volume, Mormon History, 153–97.
57. Mauss was the subject of
a recent online interview on the Times and Seasons blog where he talked about
his recent books and shared his views on the future of Mormon studies. See
“12 Questions for Armand Mauss,” 26–27 April 2004, parts
1 and 2 at www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=728 and www.timesandseasons.org/index.php?p=734
(accessed 29 January 2007). Of course, many of the issues addressed by
Mauss are also explored by other sociologists. See, for instance, the anthology,
edited by Marie Cornwall, Tim B. Heaton, and Lawrence A. Young, entitled
Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives,
which deals with Mormon missionary experience, LDS church growth and corresponding
organizational changes, the nature of Mormon society and culture, and women
and minorities in the tradition. For book-length treatments of many of these
topics, see, for example, Kathryn M. Daynes, More Wives Than One:
Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840–1910; Newell G. Bringhurst and Darron T. Smith,
Black and Mormon; Gary Shepherd and Gordon
Shepherd, Mormon Passage: A Missionary Chronicle; Tim B. Heaton, Stephen J. Bahr, and Cardell K. Jacobson,
eds., A Statistical Profile of Mormons: Health, Wealth, and Social
Life, and James T. Duke, ed., Latter-day
Saint Social Life: Social Research on the LDS Church and Its Members (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1998).
58. See a related study by
Ethan R. Yorgason, Transformation of the Mormon Culture Region.
59. In his introduction, “Scholars,
Saints and Mormonism,” Davies comments on how the tradition views and
understands the role of temples and the university (meaning the campuses of
Brigham Young University) in inculcating faith as well as knowledge. How this
is reflected in Mormon studies accounts, in part, according to Davies, for
why study of the tradition is of particular interest to other scholars of
60. Mention of the need for
more study of religious experience among the Mormons highlights an ongoing
challenge in the academic study of religion. It surfaces on a number of fronts,
but particularly when dealing with such things as the experiential and ritual
dimensions of most faiths—namely, how should scholars, following closely
the dictates of various disciplines, deal with or factor in what are taken
by adherents to be divine influences? The psychologist and philosopher William
James is famous for pointing out inherent deficiencies in explanations advanced
by those who dismiss such influences out-of-hand, those he calls “medical
materialists.” James also pushes the envelope in terms of how he thinks
such influences ought to be dealt with, as illustrated in his attempt at understanding
religious experience. See James, The Varieties of Religious Experience,
first published in 1902. The definitive critical edition was published in
1985 by Harvard University Press, volume 13 in The Works of William James
series, edited by Frederick Burkhardt and Fredson Bowers. Scholars continue
to be influenced by James in this regard. A recent example of this is Wayne
Proudfoot’s edited collection William James and a Science of Religions:
Reexperiencing “The Varieties of Religious Experience”
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2004). I also deal with James on this
score in my “William James on Religion and God: An Introduction to The
Varieties of Religious Experience,”
in Revelation, Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen, ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen
D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 1–54.
61. See entries in the bibliography
Mormon Americana, cited in note 39
above. Much of this is monitored by the Association of Mormon Letters.
62. See Givens’s online interview,
“12 Questions for Terryl Givens,” question 7; see note 1 above.
63. In this book, Davies locates
Mormonism within the larger, variegated world of Christianity. He does this
by carefully looking at, for instance, the role of prophetic leadership and
sacred scripture in the Mormon tradition and its belief in the divine and
in how individuals can become like God. He also reviews what, in his earlier
book, he calls “the Mormon culture of salvation” and deals with
the social and ethical aspects of the faith, the LDS view of religious authority,
and the role of ritual and temple worship in the lives of individual members.
He concludes by returning to a subject he has written about before, namely
the tradition’s search for self-identity in light of its expanding presence
in the world.
64. In The Latter-day Saint
Experience, Givens provides an overview
of the history of the tradition in America while recounting examples of the
anti-Mormon sentiment that has accompanied the faith from the outset. He compares
and contrasts Mormon thought with normative Christian teachings, deals with
the range of LDS scripture, focuses on the ritual and organizational makeup
of the tradition, looks at examples of the church’s influence in society,
considers its intellectual and cultural life, and, as noted earlier, concludes
with a study of the faith’s recent worldwide expansion.
65. Faulconer is professor
of philosophy at BYU. His article appears in Historicity and the Latter-day
Saint Scriptures, ed. Paul Y. Hoskisson
(Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2001), 17–62.
66. Writings of this type began
to appear thirty or so years ago, produced by individuals and groups loosely
associated with what has come to be called the evangelical Christian countercult
movement. This diverse association uses terms such as cult in pejorative ways to label various religious traditions—Mormons,
Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and Roman Catholics—thereby
demonizing those they view as a threat. See Louis C. Midgley, “Anti-Mormonism
and the Newfangled Countercult Culture,” FARMS Review of Books
10/1 (1998): 271–340. A definitive critical assessment of this movement
is Douglas E. Cowan’s Bearing False Witness? An Introduction to
the Christian Countercult.
In The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and
the Construction of Heresy, Givens deals
with earlier forms of this type of writing. He focuses on examples of nineteenth-century
works of fiction that depict Mormons and the tradition in various negative
lights and spells out the role these disparaging views played in terms of
the complicated relationship between Mormonism and America’s larger mainline
Christian culture. He also shows how such views have persisted, in one form
or another, down to the present. A companion to Givens’s work is Matthew J.
Grow’s study of how Mormons and Roman Catholics were viewed in nineteenth-century
Protestant America and how they viewed each other. See Grow’s “The Whore
of Babylon and the Abomination of Abominations: Nineteenth-Century Catholic
and Mormon Mutual Perceptions and Religious Identity,” Church
History 73/1 (March 2004): 139–67.
Finally, attention should be drawn to a forthcoming
electronic publication that may prove to be a valuable resource for further
study of this type of writing. BYU’s Maxwell Institute is preparing a CD-ROM
that will contain all known literature on and about the Book of Mormon published
during Joseph Smith’s lifetime (nearly 500 documents)—articles from
early American periodicals, selections from books and pamphlets that deal
specifically with the text, and all related LDS publications from the same
time period. Edited by Matthew P. Roper, it is tentatively entitled Recovery
of the Book of Mormon: Early Published Documents, 1829–1844.
67. Consider, for example,
a spate of recent apologetic work written by various evangelical scholars
and some LDS academics. Ostensibly seeking to find common ground, contributors
often end up challenging one another’s views, many times without being as
well informed of their opponent’s position as they ought to be. The encounter
began nearly a decade ago with Craig L. Blomberg, professor of New Testament
at Denver Seminary, and Stephen E. Robinson, professor of ancient scripture
at BYU, writing How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997). This was followed by an article,
written by two evangelical scholars, Carl Mosser (now teaching at Eastern
University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania) and Paul Owen (professor of biblical
studies at Montreat College, North Carolina), entitled “Mormon Scholarship,
Apologetics, and Evangelical Neglect: Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It?”
in Trinity Journal, n.s.,
19/2 (1998): 179–205. An entire
issue of BYU’s FARMS Review of Books
(11/2, 1999) was devoted to reviewing How Wide the Divide? mainly from an LDS perspective. However, the issue
also includes a lengthy review essay by Mosser and Owen that itself became
the subject of several essays by other LDS scholars.
An assessment and critique of a range of LDS beliefs
and practices, written by several evangelicals and included in an anthology
edited by Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen, appeared in a volume
entitled The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of
a Fast-Growing Movement (Grand Rapids,
MI: Zondervan, 2002). The editors recommend Richard and Joan Ostling’s Mormon
America: The Power and the Promise as
a companion volume. Latter-day Saint scholars responded to chapters in The
New Mormon Challenge in subsequent issues
of the FARMS Review; see
FARMS Review of Books 14/1–2 (2002):
99–221; FARMS Review 15/1
(2003): 97–258; and FARMS Review 16/2 (2004): 277–312. Mosser and Owen then published “Mormonism,”
in To Everyone an Answer, A Case for the Christian Worldview: Essays
in Honor of Norman L. Geisler, ed. Francis J.
Beckwith, William Lane Craig, and J. P. Moreland (Downers Grove: InterVarsity,
Robert L. Millet, professor of ancient scripture at
BYU, wrote A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005); the book caused
a firestorm of controversy in certain evangelical circles, largely because
of who published it.
And recently the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
devoted an entire issue, 9/2 (2005), to the subject of Mormonism. It includes
articles by Beckwith, Mosser, and other evangelicals. Louis Midgley reviewed
this issue in “Orders of Submission,” FARMS Review 18/2
68. This kind of writing is
reflected, for instance, in reviews and comments about Bushman’s two recent
books: Believing History: Latter-day Saint Essays and his biography Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. In reference to the latter, see in particular two prominent
reviews, one by Walter Kirn, “Latter-day Saint,” in The
New York Times Book Review, 15 January
2006, and one by Larry McMurty, “Angel in America,” in the New
York Review of Books, 17 November
2005. The tone of both is noticeably condescending; both reviewers seem to
be incredulous about most things Mormon and are genuinely baffled that Bushman
would write about such a subject, let alone believe it. Kirn, for instance,
implies that reason alone in the guise of historical method will reveal whatever
can be known about Smith and repeatedly mocks Bushman’s attempts at dealing
with the sacred. “For Bushman, the fact that [Smith’s] church continues
to grow is proof that he was onto something. . . . For logicians, this is
tantamount to arguing that Santa Claus probably exists because he gets millions
of letters each year from children. But since logic played almost no part
in Joseph Smith’s life, it may be fitting that it’s largely absent from this
respectful biography as well.” McMurty favors Fawn Brodie’s biography
over Bushman’s because she dismisses the Book of Mormon as fiction and hence
Smith as a genuine religious leader. In a response to letters he received
about his review, McMurty reveals, in a subsequent issue of the New
York Review of Books, where he is coming
from: “Fawn Brodie’s book is still the single best book about Mormonism.
She saw the fraud at the heart of Mormonism and she describes it. Professor
Bushman pitty-pats around it.” McMurty, “Angel in America,”
New York Review of Books, 23 March
This same tone is echoed in comments about Bushman’s
Believing History. The book was reviewed
by Elesha Coffman in “The Historian as Latter-Day Saint: Faith, History,
and the Virtues of Evangelical Diffidence,” Books and Culture:
A Christian Review (November/December
2004): 38–39. Bruce Kuklick, a philosopher at the University of Pennsylvania,
commenting on Coffman’s review, indicates that he has respect for Bushman’s
writing, but still gives him the back of his hand: “Now this: the golden
plates, the translation, and, as Coffman points out, even the stories about
the ancient battles between Lamanites and Nephites for supremacy on the American
continent. It never happened; to believe it is lunatic, madcap.” See
his “Believing History,” Books and Culture: A Christian
Review (March/April 2005): 6. Bushman’s response, in the same
issue, p. 6, goes to the heart of Kuklick’s charge by contending that
there are different forms of rationality and Kuklick has no ground to stand
on in claiming his notion of historical rationality trumps all others. Mark
Noll, an evangelical historian, responded to Bushman and Kuklick in the same
issue, p. 7, and made the important point that history qua history cannot
confirm or deny supernatural claims, it cannot act as an independent judge
of the reliability of accounts of miracles, and by themselves history and
science cannot adjudicate such truth claims. “Only much fuller considerations,
which are self-consciously moral and philosophical [read, normative in nature],
as well as rigorously empirical and experiential, can do the job . . . and
they must be read against the lives of individuals and communities who make
the truth (and anti-truth) claims in order to arrive at convincing conclusions.”
69. It is encouraging to know
that others are sensitive to such issues. For instance, Seth Perry, a PhD
student in the history of Christianity at the University of Chicago Divinity
School, intent on pursuing Mormon studies and writing recently in the Chronicle
of Higher Education, wonders why it is
in the study of religions that Mormonism always seems to be classified as
a religious oddity. He thinks the answer lies in the fact that the tradition
is too close to the de facto point of reference for all comparative studies
of religion—that is, Christianity and Judaism. In other words, the rule
that requires that traditions never be reduced to some essence or caricature
is often forgotten when dealing with Mormonism, as if everyone knows that
the religion is merely an “odd” arrangement of the benchmark traditions.
Perry illustrates his point by telling how the delicate subject of LDS temple
garments came up in one of his classes. He rightly objects to how the thing
was handled but is equally upset by the fact that such insensitivity could
be found among what he calls “the most self-reflective group imaginable—a
group of graduate students in a class on the historiography of American religion.”
While he can be forgiven a bit of hyperbole here, his point is well taken.
See his “An Outsider Looks In at Mormonism,” in the Chronicle
of Higher Education, 3 February 2006.
Available at chronicle.com/weekly/v52/i22/22b00901.htm (accessed 25 January
70. Seth Perry reflects on this
issue as well in the article just cited. He calls this the “insider versus
the outsider” problem. According to Perry, until recently the relatively
closed insider interest in Mormon studies has resulted in “a certain
tone and set of habits within the discipline.” What he means is that
when LDS scholars engage others not of their faith, they more times than not
do so defensively and in a tone of exhortation rather than viewing such encounters
as opportunities for academic discussion. He also notes that while many LDS
scholars are open to the tradition being studied within the academy, the issue
is complicated by the fact that the church, which encourages and even supports
a significant amount of serious study of the tradition, also has a stake in
this. He rightly observes that from the church’s perspective faith must always
act as a check on scholarship. Perry implies that such issues will work themselves
out as the study of Mormonism becomes more entrenched in the academy. Perhaps.
But the likelihood of such divergent claims being successfully balanced is
directly proportional to the extent to which such study is conducted under
something like the kind of religious studies approach spelled out above—an
approach that methodologically anticipates such issues and theoretically provides
a way for their resolution.
71. See, for example, the recent
exchange between Michael V. Fox, professor of Hebrew and Semitic studies
at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and Jacques Berlinerblau, professor
of comparative literature and languages at Hofstra University and visiting
professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University, on the Society
of Biblical Literature blog called “SBL Forum.” Available at www.sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleId=490
and www.sbl-site.org/Article.aspx?ArticleId=503 (both accessed 29 January
2007), respectively. Fox equates scholarship with science, as if looking at
the situation through a pair of positivistic lenses. Seen this way, it follows
for him that faith-based study of, say, the Bible (or any religious text,
for that matter), even religion itself, has no place in the academy. According
to Fox, the fault lies with postmodernist thinking that inculcates in the
academy a culture that encourages ideological scholarship and advocacy instruction.
The only way a real appreciation of the Bible will emerge in the academy,
Fox claims, is when a “secular, academic, religiously-neutral hermeneutic”
is adopted and followed. Berlinerblau agrees on the need for secular study
of the Bible (he calls for this in his The Secular Bible: Why Nonbelievers
Must Take Religion Seriously [Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2005]). However, he sees this as an uphill battle,
given the history of biblical studies and the fact that most involved in the
enterprise today come from faith-based perspectives. But rather than drive
a wider wedge between secular and faith-based biblicists, as Fox seems wont
to do, Berlinerblau thinks the academy should confront the issues of how religious
belief should interact with scholarly research and how the secular university
should properly study religion. Consistent with his stance, Berlinerblau deplores
those who think it chic to denigrate all forms of religious thought, calling
them “today’s Celebrities of Nonbelief” (he may have in mind such
popular titles as Sam Harris’s The End of Faith: Religion, Terror,
and the Future of Reason [New York: Norton,
2004], a well-written expression of this view). This phenomenon, Berlinerblau
claims, illustrates the cultural impoverishment of present-day secular thought
that, he thinks, is moored in the late nineteenth century, the age of religion’s
cultural despisers. What secularists need, he says, is more serious engagement
with religious thought, not less.