Author: Nate Oman

I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah (autobiographical blogging here), and attended Brigham Young University from 1993 to 1999. Between 1994 and 1996, I served in the Korea Pusan Mission. While at BYU, I mainly studied political science and philosophy. (I was lucky enough to take several classes from T&S's Jim Faulconer.) I also took just enough economics to get myself in trouble. After graduation, I married the fabulous and incredible Heather Bennett (now Oman) and worked on Capitol Hill for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) while Heather finished graduate school at George Washington University. Beginning in 2000, I attended Harvard Law School, escaping with my JD in June, 2003. After practicing law for awhile, I became a law professor at William & Mary Law School. Somewhere along the line, Heather and I managed to have a son and a daughter.

God and the Movies

Larry Ribstein, a corporate law professor at the University of Illinois, has an interesting blog on the treatment of business in the movies. He argues, among other things, that the generally negative portrayal of business is in film does not reflect some ideological bias against commerce. Rather, it is a reflection of the tension between the “creative types” who make movies and the studio executives who control them. I wonder if there is not a similar economic explanation for the generally poor treatment of religion in the movies.

Justice for Fornicators

The extended discussion of Matt’s last post has got me thinking about abortion. I freely admitt that this is not a subject that I have actually spent a lot of time on, so I can’t claim that what follows is informed by either deep reading or deep thinking. What I have tried to do is put together an argument that makes sense out of the Church’s somewhat modified pro-life position, i.e. no abortion with limited exceptions of for rape, threats to life, etc. Warning, what follows contains a fair amount of pseudo-philosophical rambling.

A New Guest Blogger

We are pleased to announce our newest guest blogger . . . drum roll . . . Dan Peterson. Dr. Peterson is a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Brigham Young University. He studied in Cairo and recieved his Ph.D. from UCLA. He is undoubtedly the best professor of medieval Islamic philosophy that I had during my entire undergraduate education. In addition to his work on Islam, Dan Peterson has long been associated with The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) and is the editor of the ever so aptly and felicitously named FARMS Review. Contrary to the information contained in the BYU directory, however, Professor Peterson is, alas for him, not the Director of the BYU Jerusalem Center.

Deconstructing Babar

As a child, I remember much enjoying the story of The Story of Babar the Elephant by Jean de Brunhoff, so I gave it to my son as Christmas present. Reading it to him, I have been struck by what very strange – very French – story it is.

T&S: Cheesy and Faith Promoting

Here is a brief follow-up to the discussion below about the rampant “intellecualism” at T&S. A poster on one message board for self-identified “fringe Mormons” opined that “I found [Times & Seasons] sort of cheesy (as far as I read anyway). I get those little faith promoting stories daily through spam.” You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people…

A Mormon on the Nihil Obstat

I like books. I own lots of them. Far too many of them in fact. Most of my books are on law, philosophy, or history. I also dabble just a bit in biblical criticism. By and large, I can’t stand Mormon commentaries. They tend to be a vacuous collection of GA quotes largely unrelated to the text they are purportedly commenting on. So I have turned elsewhere.

Mormonism and Commodification

One of the perennial (and perennially fun) debates in legal theory revolves around the issue of commidification. In this context commidification means the ability to take something and sell it. Thus, we have all sorts of fun debates about prostitution, markets in adoption rights, surrogate mothering contracts, and the like. So does Mormonism offer us anything that gives us any unique traction in these debates, or as Mormons do we simply argue about these sorts of issues in the same way as everyone else?

LDS Law Students’ Conference

The Mormon student group at Harvard Law School is sponsoring a conference for LDS law students to be held next month at Harvard. All interested parties are invited. Below is a message from one of the event organizers.

Covenant and Contract

I have been working on this post for a while, and I have finally given up (for the time being) on trying to make my thoughts more coherent. So be warned, what follows involves some rather rambling discussions of legal theory and legal history. I disclaim any warranties explicit or implied. Read at your own risk. Void where prohibited. One of my main academic interests is contract law and contract theory. As a result, I am fascinated by the theological idea of “covenant.” Generally, when people talk about “covenant” and “contract,” they distinguish them by saying that “covenants” involve spiritual things, while contracts are merely commercial transactions. They then go on to describe a covenant as a set of recipricol promises. We promise X and in return God promises Y. I tend to think that this whole approach to the question is wrong.

Claudia Bushman: Historian, Scholar, Blogger

We are pleased to welcome Claudia Bushman as our newest guest blogger. Dr. Bushman is a historian by training and has taught at Columbia University for many years. Her books include How America Discovered Columbus, In Old Virginia: Slavery, Farming, and Society in the Journal of John Walker, Mormon Sisters: Women of Early Utah, A Good Poor Man’s Wife, Mormon Domestic Life in the 1870s: Pandemonium or Acadia, Mormons in America (with Richard Bushman), Building the Kingdom: A History of Mormons in America (with Richard Bushman), and many others. She is one of the founders of Exponent II, a Boston-based magazine focusing on Mormonism and women’s issues. In addition, historian Richard Bushman has the distinction of being married to Professor Bushman.

Mormon Lawyers

Despite Brigham’s frequent attacks on the profession, there are a lot of Mormon lawyers. Some LDS thinkers have posited all sorts of troubling reasons why this is so. Nibley sees it as a symptom of moral decline, and I have repeatedly seen it used as evidence of excessive Mormon materialism or anti-intellectualism. However, today I realized that it might be about something else entirely: book binding.

Mormon Structuralism

There is an interesting post on “The Strange Career of Mormon Structuralism” over at the Metaphysical Elders about the relationship between structuralism and the thought of Hugh Nibley. I am not sure that I agree with everything in the post, but it does raise some interesting questions

Has Mormon History Taught Us Anything?

Since the publication of Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdon, the writing of Mormon history has largely been professionalized. The major players in the field are no longer autodidacts like B.H. Roberts or Joseph Fielding Smith. Rather, they are by and large university trained historians, generally with an emphasis on 19th century American history. So here is my question, if we think of ourselves not as Mormons but as students of history, has the “New Mormon History” (if I may use that now loaded phrase) taught us anything? My answer: Not much.

Condercet, Brigham, and Succession to the Presidency

Condercet was a French social theorist in the opening decades of the 19th century and is credited with first discovering a paradox of majority voting that bears his name. Here is the paradox: Imagine that you have a group of three people (A,B, and C) who are voting on three different alternatives (X, Y, and Z). A prefers X to Y and Y to Z. B prefers Y to Z and Z to X. C prefers Z to X and X to Y. If X is paired in a vote with Y, then X wins (A and C against B). If Y is paired with Z, then Y wins (A and B against C). But – and this is the kicker – if Z is paired with X, then Z wins (B and C against A). In other words, even if the individual preferences of A, B and C are transitive, the collective preferences of A, B, and C are…

Mere Mormonism

A while back, Russell suggested the possibility of a Mormon holiday to celebrate Joseph Smith’s birthday. Last Sunday, I took at least part of his suggestion to heart in my Elders’ Quorum lesson

A Mormon Image: Quilting the Tree of Life

What counts as art is an interesting question. We have a bias toward thinking of art in terms of oil paintings, bronze statues, or marble carvings. One of the unfortunate effects of this bias is that it makes much of the art done by women invisibile. You’ll note that most of the work done in those mediums has been done by men. However, if we expand our sense of what constitutes art, there are mediums where women clearly dominate. Consider quilting.

Mormon Cursing

While reading Wilford Woodruff’s diaries recently, I discovered that I have been living in a cursed part of the country. What am I to make of this, and the more general phenomena of Mormon cursing?

A Delicate Question

In the interest of fostering discussion, I want to solicit thoughts from the vast hordes of T&S readers (that is how we think of you). We all like to hear from loved ones, and you would hate to discourage contact from those who are far away. Thus, how do you approach the delicate issue of a loved one who spams?

Models of Women and Priesthood

A favorite topic of speculation (and angst) among many Mormons and Mormon-watchers is whether or not women will get the priesthood. It is an interesting topic, but I think that most of the discussions of it are pretty uninteresting. The reason for this, I think, is that they are in the thrall of a single, rather simple model of what it means to “get” the priesthood.

Family Honor

I just came across this story discussing a presenation that my father gave a while back at BYU. One writing professor had this to say:

What is the Purpose of the BYU Dress and Grooming Code?

BYU is often ridiculed for its dress and grooming code. The basic argument is that it is silly. It places undue emphasis on essentially trivial issues of facial hair and hemlines. A more telling critique claims that by focusing on trivialities it actually affirmatively stunts real moral development. I think that all of these criticisms, while perhaps true, miss the REAL genius of the BYU Dress and Grooming Code. Their basic mistake is that they assume that the purpose of the Code is for students to follow it, when, in reality, the whole raison d’etre of the Code is to be violated!

BYU Law School

Since we have been having a discussion about BYU, I thought I would post a little bit about BYU and my particular discipline: law. Although I went to BYU as an undergrad, I didn’t go there for law school. Still, I have friends that did, I know some of the faculty, and I have always been interested in the school. Here are some of my impressions:

A Mormon Image: Temple Murals and Art Missionaries

While many members don’t realize it, there is actually a fairly strong tradition of impressionistic painting among Mormon artistists. The origins of the tradition go back to the decision of the Church to send some budding young LDS artists to Paris as “Art Missionaries” in the late 19th century. This painting, a study for the mural in the Garden Room of the Salt Lake Temple, is an example of this impressionist tradition.

A Fun Discussion

There has been an interesting discussion over at the Metaphysical Elders on the perennial “Iron Rod v. Leahona” debate. In runs from this post to this post. Also, they seem to have added comments, although you have to go to the main page to see them, i.e. you can’t comment on archived posts.

New Blogger!

Jim Faulconer has agreed to come on board as a permanent blogger. Unfortunately, because Jim has real job he will only be posting a couple of times a week.

How to Make a Mormon Political Theory

How should Mormons use Mormonism to think about law and politics? My question is not about what the “right” Mormon answer is to this or that issue. Rather, it is about how we go about constructing a Mormon theology of politics. It seems that we have three possible alternatives.

Against Civic Religion

Some time ago, Russell and Adam challenged me to explain what was wrong with cyrpto-protestant prayers in the public schools. What follows is my response along with some general thoughts on civic religion.