The call for papers for the Third Biannual Faith and Knowledge Conference for LDS Graduate Students in Religion contains a sentence that is, I think, wrong in three different ways.
The Latter-day Saints are now a powerful institutional presence on the American scene, but they are not likely to have a significant intellectual presence in the Academy until scholarship and intellectuality are more fully integrated into Mormon life.
I think it’s a mistake to think that Mormons are not already a significant presence in American academia. On many campuses, the LDS Institute is as prominent as the Hillel Foundation or Newman Center and similar institutions. The number of BYU graduates who complete Ph.D.s puts BYU in the top rank of undergrad alma maters for those who not only start but actually complete doctoral programs (with a slightly higher enrollment in the humanities than the national average, the last I checked). In my experience, wards located near universities have substantial numbers of Mormon graduate students and faculty members. It doesn’t make sense to long for a significant Mormon presence in the academy: it’s already here. (One may wish for the Mormon presence to be different in some way. The precise distinction between a presence in academia and an “intellectual presence in the Academy” isn’t clear to me, but it suggests that the dissatisfaction is perhaps due to the quality of the Mormon presence, not its absence.)
I think tracing a lacking or flawed intellectual presence in academia to a deficient intellectuality within Mormon life is, additionally, a mistaken claim of Mormon exceptionalism. It is true that there is occasional friction between scholarship and the broader institution. Welcome to America. Welcome to every state in the Union, and every nation in the world. Beyond that, the cliché of Mormon anti-intellectualism is not just tired, but false. Do the cool kids in seminary mock the straight-A students for “acting gentile”? No, absolutely not. Do church leaders discourage higher education? Just the opposite, in fact. FARMS isn’t perfect, but it sponsors some first-rate research, and you have to respect the resources invested in mediating research in the humanities to a broad public.
Finally, I think it’s a mistake to see the nature of the Mormon presence in academia as a function of what non-academic Mormons think about scholarship. Rather, if one wants a significant Mormon intellectual presence in academia, then Mormons in academia need to focus on the quality of their work, and the visibility of their religious identities.
Otherwise, it sounds like an interesting conference and I hope all who attend have a great time.