Author: Ben Huff

Utah Transcends Political Tribalism

This might be the last place you would expect to see it: a state where Republicans already prefer the inclusive message of Marco Rubio over the divisive messages of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz,* even before Rubio’s strong finish in South Carolina.** That is, if you didn’t know much about Utah. Utah is the reddest state in the Union, with a 36-point gap in party affiliation. Rubio is often called a moderate, so he should be the favorite in a place where the Republicans are tinted purple, like Massachusetts or Vermont, right? Nope! They prefer Trump, by 34 percentage points in Massachusetts and 15 in Vermont! Trump is leading nationally by around 14 points, and in nearly every state. Just look at the polls. Cruz won the Iowa caucus and leads in his home state of Texas and neighboring New Mexico. Otherwise, it is all about Trump right now—except in Utah. How is the reddest state in the Union coming…

Doers of the Word: SMPT Conference Next Weekend

The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology holds its 2015 conference next Thursday-Saturday (Oct. 8-10), at BYU, on the theme, “Doers of the Word: Belief and Practice.” Speakers include Noel Reynolds, Sam Brown, David Paulsen, Jennifer Lane, and about 30 others from Minnesota to Hawaii, including T&S’s own Jim Faulconer, Rosalynde Welch, Nate Oman, Ben Spackman, Adam Miller, and Ben Huff. Session themes include analysis of Book of Mormon rhetoric, the role of choice in faith, divine foreknowledge and human freedom, renaissance thought on a Christian restoration, the role of narrative in repentance, and the social nature of the Godhead. All sessions are free and open to the public. For more information, see the conference schedule on the SMPT website.

Reminder: SMPT deadline Tuesday Sept. 1

Paper proposals for the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology’s 2015 Annual Meeting are due soon—Tuesday, September 1. There have been a number of strong submissions already, and we are looking forward to more. For full details on the conference and the call for papers, see the original announcement.

Society for Mormon Philosophy & Theology 2015 Call for Papers

The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology will be meeting at Brigham Young University, October 8-10, 2015. This year’s conference theme is “Doers of the Word: Belief and Practice.” From the Call for Papers: The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology invites paper proposals on any aspect of Mormon belief, including its philosophical ramifications. We particularly encourage submissions on this year’s theme. Religious faith is not merely a matter of belief but of action. Indeed, several passages in scripture suggest that true belief cannot be separated from action. In John 7:17, for instance, Jesus indicates that the practice of faith is a means of acquiring knowledge: “If any man will do [God’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.” Yet other scriptures seem to emphasize the intrinsic, perhaps independent importance of both belief and practice, as in D&C 131:6, “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” This year’s theme examines the…

2015 Summer Symposium on Mormon Culture, July 23 at BYU

Participants in the 2015 Summer Symposium on Mormon Culture will be presenting research papers this Thursday, July 23rd, on the seminar theme, “Organizing the Kingdom: Priesthood, Church Government, and the Forms of LDS Worship.” The symposium will run from 10am to 5pm in Room B094 of the Joseph F. Smith Building. The full program is posted on the Maxwell Institute Blog.

Symposium on Mormon Theology and Social Issues, July 9th at BYU

Participants in the Wheatley Seminar on “Mormon Theology and Social Issues” are presenting papers in the Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium at BYU on Thursday, July 9th. See the schedule below. SECOND ANNUAL WHEATLEY SEMINAR SYMPOSIUM FAITH SEEKING UNDERSTANDING “MORMON THEOLOGY AND SOCIAL ISSUES” 10:00 Brock Mason, “Marriage and Sexuality: A Mormon View” 10:30 Kim Berkey, “’As in Adam all Die’: Temple Robing and Dying in Mormon Thought” 11:00 Joe Spencer, “The Moral Stakes of Philosophy’s History” 11:30 Alan Clark, “Inheriting the Enlightenment” 12:00 LUNCH BREAK 1:30 Jonathan England/Spencer Green, “Communal Environmentalism” 2:15 Randy Powell, “Capital Punishment: A Mormon Theological Critique” 2:45 Holly Huff/Maged Lhroob, “An LDS Theology of Mental Illness” 3:30 Diana Brown, “Mormon Conceptions of Embodiment and Female Beauty Culture” 4:00 Rachel Hunt, “A Mormon Ethic of Food” 4:30 Jared Rife, “Renewing Body Energy and Spirit”

A Nation Divided

Today our government has taken another step toward moral upheaval, or, if we think more optimistically, toward a crisis that will reshape it and its relationship toward the people it governs, potentially in a constructive manner. The government of the United States of America presents itself, in Lincoln’s immortal words, as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Its premise is that the legitimacy of government depends on the consent, and not merely the passive, but the active consent, participation, and support of the governed. Today’s Supreme Court ruling mandating same-sex marriage across the Union goes against the democratically enacted laws of a strong majority of the states, and against the constitutions of many of them. It also goes against the deeply held moral beliefs of half its population, and against the moral tradition that originally made democratic self-government possible in the West. The federal government no longer merely embodies a separation of church and…

Teaching Like The Prophets

I think the recently announced changes to the CES and BYU Religious Education requirements could be really great. Far from paying less attention to the scriptures, as some have worried, I suggest the new model pays more attention to the scriptures, in what might be the most important way. In the scriptures, Christ and the prophets focus their teaching on true doctrine above all, and refer to prior accounts to support this goal. The scriptures are designed to teach us spiritual truths, and these should be the primary focus of teaching today. The scriptural texts are one of the main ways we learn these truths, but they are the vehicle through which we learn, the lens through which we see, not the focus themselves. The point of the Book of Mormon, as described on its title page, is “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ.” D&C 1 and Luke 1 announce similar purposes. When we…

12 Questions for Miranda Wilcox and John Young, Editors of Standing Apart—Part II

Here are the six remaining questions in our series with Miranda Wilcox and John Young, continued from Part I. 7. How much of what you do in this book should we understand as theology, as opposed to, say, history? Miranda: Religious communities perform theological work when they tell historical narratives. Remembering and memorializing their divine origins is crucial for communities to maintain distinctive self-identities and to realize their divine mandate. We see examples of this process when Israel retells the story of their ancestors’ deliverance from captivity in Egypt or when Lehi’s descendants retell the story of their family’s deliverance from the destruction of Jerusalem. Telling origin narratives also offers communities ways of distinguishing themselves from other communities, and typically these stories develop a legacy of antagonistic relations between communities. Sometimes communities have opportunities to redirect these relationships. For example, the book of the Acts of the Apostles tells how the Jewish Christians struggled to revise their attitudes towards Gentiles,…

12 Questions for Miranda Wilcox and John Young, editors of Standing Apart—Part I

Miranda Wilcox (BYU) and John Young (Flagler College) have recently published Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy, a collection of essays examining the Mormon narrative of apostasy and restoration in light of the history of Christianity. It is published by Oxford University Press, in both hardcover and paperback. They have kindly shared responses to 12 Questions about their project. I am including six in this post; the remaining six will follow soon in Part II. 1. What led you into this project, and how did it take shape? Miranda: Although John and I grew up listening to Sunday School lessons about the “Dark Ages,” we found the Middle Ages deeply compelling. We met as graduate students of the Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame, where I studied Anglo-Saxon England and he studied Jewish-Christian relations in the high Middle Ages. As I learned about the Christianization of early medieval Europe, I discovered much sincere devotion…

Raising an Ensign: Challenges of Scholarship on Mormonism at BYU

In his recent First Things article, Ralph Hancock argues that it is vital to the mission of BYU that it produce scholarship articulating a distinctively Mormon worldview, as a major part of its regular work. What would it take for BYU to respond seriously to Hancock’s call? Hancock notes that there is much more one would need to consider on the way to concrete action than what he is able to say in a five page article. As things stand, for such a large, well-funded, highly religious university, BYU is doing surprisingly little on this front. For the vast majority of BYU faculty, including in the humanities and social sciences, this is simply not included in their job description. Rather, what they will be recognized for professionally is scholarship done in the mode and according to the standards of the (secular) mainstream academic world. It should go without saying that the production of scholarship is a core purpose of a…

Lineage and the Book of Mormon’s Universal Audience

An excellent entry on “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies” has just appeared in the Gospel Topics section at LDS.org. It explains why studies of New World genetics can neither prove nor disprove the historical claims represented in the Book of Mormon. In the process, it provides a delightfully clear and thorough explanation of some key principles of population genetics, and of how these would apply with regard to the Book of Mormon peoples and the genetic evidence they would (or would not) leave today. Along the way it also offers some helpful observations about what the Book of Mormon record does or does not imply about the demographics of the New World in the events it describes. It is exciting to see LDS.org offer material of this intellectual depth and complexity. Of course, it is ultimately an article for a popular audience (not for professional researchers), but they obviously aren’t afraid to make their audience think a bit with…

Orihah’s Uncle, Moriancumer

Why is the brother of Jared called the brother of Jared? He is far more important in the narrative of the Book of Ether than Jared, so why isn’t Jared called the brother of Moriancumer instead? Here’s my swipe at this much-pondered issue. One might think that Jared is more of a political leader, even though his brother is clearly the more spiritual one, and it is Jared’s political importance that makes him the one with the name recognition. At times, it looks like Jared is telling his brother what to do. Jared asks him to pray for them and their friends, so that their language will not be confounded. When the revelation comes, however, Moriancumer (for short?*) is told to gather Jared and his family and friends. Jared isn’t the one to do the gathering. In fact, the Lord says that Moriancumer is to go at the head of them all as they travel (Ether 1:42). When they come…

2014 Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture: The History of the Mormon Family

In the summer of 2014, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation and the Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley Institution, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and junior faculty on “The History of the Mormon Family.” The seminar will be held on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, from June 15 to July 26. Admitted participants will receive a stipend of $3000 with an accommodations subsidy if needed. The seminar continues the series of seminars on Mormon culture begun in the summer of 1997. In 2014, the seminar will be conducted by Richard and Claudia Bushman. The question we will address is: how did the Church move in the course of a century from the most unconventional marriage system in the nation to a model of family stability? Mormons were criticized in the nineteenth century for their assault on family values. By the mid-twentieth century, they were lauded for…

SMPT at UVU: “The Atonement”

Abstracts are now available for the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology conference this Thursday, October 31st-Saturday November 2nd. Almost two dozen presentations will directly address the theme of “The Atonement,” alongside related principles such as sin, repentance, freedom, and redemption. A number of other presentations by both Mormons and non-Mormons will address other aspects of Mormon belief including orthodoxy/heterodoxy, business ethics, and the theological importance of gender. Notable sessions include: “Works,” by Daniel W. Graham (Brigham Young University) “Mormonism and the Problem of Heterodoxy,” by Dennis Potter (Utah Valley University) “Rethinking Penal Substitution,” by Paul Owen (Montreat College) “The Structure of the Book of Mormon,” by J. Christopher Thomas, Clarence J. Abbott Professor of Biblical Studies (Pentecostal Theological Seminary) “Narrative Atonement Theology in the Gospel of Mark,” by Julie Smith (Independent Scholar) “The Gospel According to Mormon,” by Noel Reynolds (Emeritus, Brigham Young University) “Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the Atonement,” by Lynn Wardle, Bruce C. Hafen Professor…

“Hearing Cosmic Harmony Again”—Dan Peterson Delivers BYU Summerhays Lecture 2013

summerhays

Thursday at 7pm in the JSB Auditorium at BYU, Dan Peterson will speak on how our understanding of the natural world through history has reinforced or weakened belief in God. His title for the 2013 Summerhays Lecture is “Hearing Cosmic Harmony Again.” Here is an introduction from the Summerhays Lecture web page: For many centuries, religious believers of all stripes have affirmed, in the words of the Psalmist, that “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handy work.” But, although the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins could still exclaim that “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” scientific discoveries had seriously undermined that view–or, at least, were being claimed to have done so–by the time of his too-young death in 1889. The serious subversion had begun, or so the story is often told, with the Copernican “revolution’s” dethronement of earth and humans from their privileged place at the center of the universe. It…

SMPT 2013 Reminder/Travel Funding

The August 23rd proposal submission deadline for the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology’s 2013 Annual Meeting is approaching. The conference will be held at Utah Valley University, October 31-November 2, with the theme, “The Atonement.” For a fuller discussion of the theme and submission information, see the Call for Papers flyer (PDF), or the Call for Papers web page. Student Travel Funding: SMPT has some funding available, on a competitive basis, to defray travel costs for student presenters. Travel funding awards of a value up to $700 each will be made on the basis of (a) merit of the proposal and (b) distance of travel to Orem. Students interested in travel support should indicate their institution, degree sought, and subject at the time of paper/proposal submission, and should provide a brief statement of need, including their point of origin for travel to the conference, major mode of transportation (e.g. air, train, personal vehicle) to Orem, and availability of travel…

On Faithful Puzzlement, Belief, and Choice

I thoroughly enjoyed Rosalynde’s FAIR talk, “Disenchanted Mormonism”! Thank you, Rosalynde! I really like the way she presents doubt as something that can be a productive and legitimate place to inhabit indefinitely, even while there is an active hope for greater knowledge and confidence in the future. I also really like how she embraces what we don’t choose, including the fact that we (at least many of us) are members of the body of Christ and of the church largely independent of personal choice. I have a question for Rosalynde, though: isn’t there still a pretty significant form of belief, and of choice, involved in the attention and observance you describe? It seems to me that while we sometimes talk about belief as though it involves a casting aside of doubt, belief can just as well, and perhaps even more legitimately should, be a form of trust exercised in the midst of doubt, trust precisely in the sense of embracing…

An Information-Rich Gospel: Correlation and the Growth and Maturation of the Church

The gospel of Jesus Christ is a rich, complex, and beautiful thing. It can’t be fully absorbed in one sitting, or one decade, or one lifetime. The gospel is information-rich. A recent New York Times article talks about Mormons who are led to question their faith by information about the church that they find, e.g., on the internet. The article seems to suggest that the gospel cannot survive in an information-rich environment. Mormons believe, however, that “the glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:6), and “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance” (D&C 131:6). Information, learning, understanding, therefore are central to what Mormonism is about. The information age should be not only welcome, but ultimately a real strength to the church and the progress of the gospel. I’m convinced it is, though we haven’t grown into it yet. The NYT article, of course, can easily be read to suggest the opposite. Here is a simple narrative…

Separation of Marriage and State?

Mormons have this fascinating relationship with America and Americanness. On the one hand, we often seem to be among the most American of Americans. Mitt Romney’s problem as a presidential candidate was not that he was weird, but that he was too normal (in a white, 1950s kind of way). To the extent that people thought he seemed alien, it was more because of his money than his religion. American political principles seem to even be more or less written into the Book of Mormon (of course, some similar material is in the Bible, too, including a denunciation of monarchy colorful enough for even Jefferson to admire). Joseph Smith himself ran for President, and the primary reason for his assassination may have been the fact that as a candidate, he spoke eloquently against slavery. On the other hand, before the church was twenty years old, the main body of Mormons had been essentially driven out of the United States at…

Good News: I Was Wrong (Sort Of)

It looks like the people of California have not been disenfranchised nearly as much as I was concerned about in my post yesterday. They have been disenfranchised at the federal level, but not at the state level. In its decision yesterday, the Supreme Court nullified the ruling of the (federal) Ninth Circuit that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. Many onlookers assumed that meant that the holding of the trial court, from which the Ninth Circuit was hearing an appeal, would be decisive for California law, and since the trial court held Prop 8 unconstitutional, that would mean that Prop 8 was nullified. But apparently only an appellate court’s decision on unconstitutionality is decisive for California law. So the trial court’s decision may apply to the specific people involved in the case, but not to California generally. The dust has hardly settled from this event, and probably won’t settle for years, but it looks like Prop 8 still stands, as decided by…

Democracy at the Discretion of the State

The Supreme Court of the United States of America today informed us that the people are no longer in charge of this country. The Declaration of Independence states that governments derive “their just powers by the consent of the governed.” In the spirit of that principle, 26 states, and many city and local governments, allow citizens to approve legislation directly by popular vote in cases where their legislature does not address their concerns. However, we learned today that if citizens put in place a law that the people in public office don’t happen to like, it can be ignored. The Supreme Court today explained that citizens may have the authority to put a law in place, but they do not have the authority to defend it in court. When California’s officials chose not to defend Proposition 8 against a constitutionality challenge, citizens stepped up to defend it, but the Court declared that they lack “standing” to participate in the case.…

SMPT at Utah Valley University, Oct. 31-Nov. 2

The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology’s 2013 conference will be held at Utah Valley University, October 31-November 2, with the theme, “The Atonement.” Here is the theme description and submission instructions from the call for papers (PDF). Call for Papers: “The Atonement” The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology invites paper proposals on any aspect of Mormon belief, including its philosophical ramifications. We particularly encourage submissions on this year’s theme. “The fundamental principles of our religion,” said Joseph Smith, “are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” The atonement of Christ is at the very center of Mormonism, as, indeed, of virtually all forms of Christianity, ancient and modern. Within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is commemorated every week as the central feature…

Joseph Smith and the Aufhebung of the Reformation (and of Catholicism)

How should Mormons feel about the Reformation? On the one hand, we tend to valorize figures like Tyndale and Luther who defied the religious authorities of their time, setting the stage in many ways for our own radical break with tradition. On the other hand, the need for a Restoration presupposes that the Reformation wasn’t good enough. Jonathan Green argues in a recent post that the Restoration represents a thorough rejection of the Reformation. He focuses on three of Luther’s distinctive teachings: salvation by faith alone, the priesthood of all believers (associated also with a rejection of sacred objects and spaces), and sola scriptura. At one level, there is no arguing with Jonathan. Mormons reject these beliefs in rather dramatic fashion. We are so set on the necessity of baptism and other priesthood ordinances for salvation that we hold it as our duty to perform these ordinances for every soul who ever lived, in case s/he should choose to convert…

Seeking New Gifts From God

“Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” Thus teaches Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:9. The things that God has planned for us are more wonderful than we can imagine. As wonderful as what we have received is, there is much more, and much greater, to come, both in this life and the next. How should we respond, then, when we are looking for something that God has not yet given us? Should we set aside our yearnings, telling ourselves to be content with what he has given us? Response round one: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that we should make sure that we acknowledge the goodness of what he has already given us. It is “unto him that receiveth” that God “will give more” (2 Nephi 28:30). I take this to mean that we need to receive, appreciate, and…

Al-Ghazali, Galileo, and Pope Benedict’s Critique of Secularism

A stunning amount of what I think is wrong with the world is poetically captured in a recent article in First Things, commenting on the relationship between faith and reason on the one hand, and Christianity and Islam on the other. Unfortunately, the author captures these problems unintentionally. The difference between his perspective and mine is both fascinating and discouraging. Hope remains, however, so hang on . . . In his article, “Benedict Face to Face with Islam,” Andrew Doran portrays Pope Benedict XVI as a rational Christian who has the (supposed) insight to see Islam as irrational, and who defends true religion as a harmonious blend of faith and reason. Doran then traces this supposed irrationalism of Islam to the Muslim thinker Al-Ghazali, who may be the most influential voice in Islam next to Mohammed the Prophet. Doran suggests that this irrationalism is a fundamental cause of the violent extremism we have seen flare up in the Muslim world…

Summer Seminar 2013: Workings of the Spirit and Works of the Priesthood

The Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture “Workings of the Spirit and Works of the Priesthood: Gifts and Ordinances in LDS Thought and Practice.” Brigham Young University June 3 – July 12, 2013 In the summer of 2013, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation and the Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley Institution, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and junior faculty on “Workings of the Spirit and Works of the Priesthood: Gifts and Ordinances in LDS Thought and Practice.” The seminar will be held on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, from June 3 to July 12. Admitted participants will receive a stipend of $3000 with an accommodations subsidy if needed. The seminar continues the series of seminars on Mormon culture begun in the summer of 1997. The seminar will be conducted by Terryl Givens, Professor of Literature and Religion and James A. Bostwick Chair of English at…

Mormonism is Romantic, Love It or Hate It

Simon Critchley had a charmingly effusive piece about Mormonism on the NYT Opinionator blog a few days back, “Why I Love Mormonism.” His effusions are not always flattering, or accurate, but he gets some important things right about Mormonism. He sees that much of the appeal of Mormonism is that it is a Romantic faith. That is to say: Mormonism is a reformulation of Christianity that leaves behind many of the more unpalatable features of traditional Christianity, as it has come down to us, and responds to many of the moral and spiritual aspirations of the Romantic movement—aspirations that many of us still share. Of course, Critchley doesn’t exactly spell this out. He says that Mormonism is a heresy “from the same climate as Whitman” and “not so far from romanticism.” Those who know and love Whitman may see his point while the rest of his readers only hear that Mormonism is a “presumptive and delusional creation.” Critchley mentions that…

SMPT at Utah State: Theology of the Book of Mormon

This coming Thursday through Saturday at Utah State University, The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology will be holding its 2012 conference, on the theme, “Theology of the Book of Mormon.” There will be over 30 paper and panel presentations, including: “The Promise of Book of Mormon Theology” —Grant Hardy, Professor of History and Religious Studies, University of North Carolina at Asheville “Gratia Plena: A Catholic View of Grace in the Book of Mormon” —Peter Huff, Besl Family Chair in Ethics, Religion and Society, Xavier University “Questions at the Veil” —Philip Barlow, Leonard J. Arrington Chair in Mormon History and Culture, Utah State University “The Book of Mormon on ‘The True Church’ and Religious Pluralism” —Charles Randall Paul, President, Foundation for Religious Diplomacy Panel Discussion: “Secular Norms and the Scholarship of Faith” —Terryl Givens, Bostwick Chair of English, University of Richmond —Ralph C. Hancock, Brigham Young University —Daniel C. Peterson, Brigham Young University Also this Thursday evening will be Terryl…

Ecology of Intellectual Culture: Bootstrapping Mormon Studies, Part IV

Intellectual life is a social endeavor, involving both a community of participants and institutions that support their activities. In this post I discuss some of the key elements of the ecosystem that is needed for a flourishing intellectual culture. In my view, these key elements include scholars, conferences, publishers and publications, academic positions, and graduate programs. At the moment, while Mormon Studies has some version of each of these elements, they are all quite limited and in many cases rather rudimentary. Yet in standard ecological fashion, each of these elements symbiotically depends on the others, and I’ll discuss why. It is an interesting question, then, how to get from our current situation of a few scattered sparks to one of established intellectual vitality. Perhaps the primary components of an intellectual culture are people who think, and thoughts. While thinkers are not necessarily associated with a school, I will call them scholars. While our thoughts may simply take place in our…