Continuing our work with the 10 Questions team, we are pleased to present Kurt Manwaring’s interview with Spencer Fluhman, Director of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU and an editor of “To Be Learned is Good: Essays on Faith and Scholarship in Honor of Richard Lyman Bushman.”
Manwaring and Fluhman cover a wide range of topics during their discussion, which is well worth reading in full. A couple of highlights that stood out to me include Fluhman describing the mission of the Maxwell Institute:
The Institute is a research unit dedicated to religious topics but defined in particular by that intersection between the practice of faith and the rigorous study of it.
We ask our scholars to conscientiously serve two audiences: those academic fields interested in the study of religion and the Latter-day Saints themselves, whose religious commitments compel many to care deeply about the broader world of religious ideas and scholarship.
We can’t typically write for both audiences at once, so we take care to be clear about who we’re talking to. The two audiences demand different skills and tools.
Academic audiences expect specialized language, deep immersion in scholarly literature, and an academic tone.
LDS audiences, on the other hand, expect sensitivity to their covenantal commitments, to their regard for some texts and voices having spiritual authority over others, and for writing that is accessible rather than specialized…. Our work with the academy seeks understanding and empathy, for both ourselves and others. We recognize that to turn our backs on the world of scholarship or to “preach to the choir only” would be to fail to shape that broader world.
And Fluhman addressing the question of whether members should be troubled by the Church’s sometimes difficult history, during which he states in part:
We should not fear any true thing, even if it’s a difficult or challenging true thing. There is not an argument formed against Mormonism that I have not read or engaged in some way. Yet I feel no fear about our past.
I’ve long said that I’m a committed Latter-day Saint not in spite of my careful study of the past, but because of it.
I’ve come to appreciate the deep humanity of it. I’ve come to be humbled by the cultural-imbeddedness of it, to invent an inelegant phrase. By that, I mean that watching people wrestle with their sense of divine calling in a world of brokenness and turmoil is its own kind of sermon.
I don’t expect Saints in the past or present to be perfect. I don’t expect leaders to be infallible.
I don’t expect simplicity, ever.
My experience over two decades as a professional historian has provided other lessons.
I expect complexity. I expect believers to wrestle with living their faith in a diverse and often confounding world. I expect challenges as we strain to discern God’s mind in the cacophony of culture. I expect change and the complexities that come with it.
But I also expect to be moved by the stories I find. I expect to be inspired. I expect to find beauty and truth.