Perhaps it is just me but it seems that there is a certain greying that has been happening in the “establishment” voices of the unestablished sector of the Mormon intellectual economy.
By “establishment voices” I mean Dialogue, Sunstone, and The Journal of Mormon History. I wonder to what extent the Mormon intelligensia of my parents generation faces a crisis of replication. On the basis of my admittedly very unscientific and unrepresentative sampling, it seems to me that the pages and symposium halls of the establishment forums are inhabited by an increasingly greying crowd. This is not to say that there aren’t young people involved in these things, but I get the feeling that twenty or thirty years ago Sunstone Symposiums and the Mormon History Association were dominated by the young.
If what I am saying about the establishment alternative Mormon voices is correct (admittedly a big if), then I think there are two inter-related phenomena at work. The first is probably the spike in official hostility to such discussions that occured in the early 1990s, just as my generation was beginning intellectual adulthood. The second is the increased professionalization of Mormon intellectuals. What I mean by this, is that I think that Mormons who are very serious about ideas (and more importantly about publishing their ideas) have increasingly moved into the mainstream academy. That academy has over the same period become a much more competitive place. In the face of that competition, I think that many aspiring Mormon academics cannot afford to regularlly haunt to the pages of the establishment alternative voices less because of fear of church retribution than because of fear of academic retribution. In a publish-well-or-perish academic market it is difficult aspiring Mormon academics to justify putting together a major piece for Sunstone or Dialogue. This is not to deny that there aren’t some very smart and talented people writing in those forums, but I think there is something to the dynamic that I lay out.
In the end, I think that this move is probably bad in the short term but good in the long term. It is bad in the short term, because I think that there is a certain sterility to the discussion in many of the mainline Mormon-studies fora. In the long term, I think that the march of Mormon intellectuals into the “real world” will increase the quality of Mormon intellectual discussion. Professional Mormon intellectuals who want to talk about Mormonism will need to find ways of doing so outside of the traditional Mormon-studies fora in order to survive professionally, and I think that they will find that these fora — for all their limitations — are more demanding than Sunstone Symposia.
In the mean time, I note that Dialogue, presumeably in a bid to bring in new blood, is offering a cash reward for quality manuscripts by young writers. The road to fame and fortune is open!