Last week, I got my copy of the summer issue of Dialogue in the mail, and it left me scratching my head at the editorial practices (and politics) in Mormon studies. In particular, I was puzzled by the sudden facination with Quakerism.
If you look at the table of contents for this issue, you will notice that only two out of five articles have anything to do with Mormonism. The first article, “Living and Dying with Fallout,” is about nuclear testing and the plight of the down winders. Fair enough, you say, there were many down winders in Utah, and perhaps there will be some interesting Mormon angle here. Not so. It is just an article/personal essay on the horrific impact of nuclear testing on its victims. An important subject to be sure, but a little puzzling in a forum that claims to be “A Journal of Mormon Thought.”
Then we have the two Quaker articles. The first is simply the transcript of a Quaker sermon delivered at a Salt Lake Unitarian Church on peace and pacifism. The second article is an interview with the person who gave the sermon. Okay, you say, perhaps there was some Mormon angle here, perhaps a pacifist Quaker jeremiad against Mormon jingoism. Nope. Both interviewer and interviewee are basically uninterested in Mormonism (except for one or two pro forma questions that recieved unusually unilluminating replies), and instead we are treated to a rambling dialogue about Quakerism and how pacificism has been expounded in Mennonite pamphlets. No joke.
Now there are a couple of possible explanations for the article choice. First, Dialogue may be short of good submissions right now, and we should treat these odd editorial choices as a plea for help. Someone, somewhere, please submit something on Mormonism to Dialogue! A second explanation is that Dialogue is fufilling some deeper and important mission, talking up peace in a time of war and calling us all to deeper reflection on the problems of violence in the world. All well and good, but the last issue was devoted entirely to articles on war and peace. Been there, done that. Let’s move on folks. A final explanation is that Dialogue has simply been siezed by one of the spasmodic attacks of ecumenicalism that sometimes overtakes Mormon studies. We are being invited into a conversation with other believers and being reminded to quit being so dang self-obsessed. Okay, message delivered, thanks. The problem, of course, is one of comparative advantage. I subscribe to Dialogue because I am interested in Mormon studies. It is hardly my only source of religious or scholarly thought. In fact, frankly the reason that I shell out $37 a year is to read articles on Mormonism, or at least articles that have some identifiable Mormon content. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask.
Of course, I suspect that the main reason for the odd Quaker-centrism of the most recent issue can be explained in terms of bylines. The interview was conducted by Allen Roberts, who is also presumeably responsible for the inclusion of the sermon. Roberts, of course, has impeccable credentials within the Wasatch front Mormon intelligensia. He has been an editor at Sunstone and Dialogue. He has served on various boards, and been to lots of symposia. Hence, he gets to inflict whatever random manuscript strikes his fancy on unsuspecting Dialogue subscribers. Thanks, Allen.
UPDATE: My anonymous sources within the Wasatch front establishment inform me that the situation at Dialogue is even more bizarre than it appears from the table of contents. Apparently the now departed editor of Dialogue wanted to do three — yes THREE! — issues devoted exclusively to issues of war and peace (actually mainly peace, how many Mormon realist manifestos do you think they got — or considered). The editor who was determined to serve up this single subject marathon has now departed for personal reasons, and so the three issue installment has been parred down to one and a half issues. Thank goodness! An interesting data point for those who think that the political obsessions of editors play no role in the content of academic journals.