Category: Guest Bloggers

The Anthropocentric Shift: Secular Age, round 6

Links to posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 In the last several posts, we’ve covered how the enchanted, hierarchical world of pre-modern Europe slowly shifted in the sixteenth and seventeenth-centuries to a “disciplinary” society, where human beings began to perceive themselves as rational agents and masters of their own will and destiny, and increasingly related to each other in terms of mutual benefit, exchange, and equality. This shift corresponded with the changes in scientific views (with the “mechanized” universe), sociopolitical views (i.e. government as an instrument for mutual benefit), and economic developments (the rise of the “invisible hand” free market) . In this post covering chapters 6 and 7, we’ll see corresponding religious changes during the Enlightenment in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, resulting in what Taylor calls “Providential Deism” — the bridge between the transcendence of pre-modern Christianity and the immanence of secular humanism and atheism. Providential Deism encapsulated what Taylor calls the anthropocentric shift, or the reduction of…

‘A Reason For Faith’: A Review

During the lesson in Elders Quorum this past Sunday, we discussed ways to enhance our study of the scriptures. As usual, I raised my hand and recommended that we study the scriptures within their historical and cultural context so that our “likening” of them does not turn into “making stuff up.” I said that this should also include a study of Church history in order to understand our own doctrines, revelations, and controversies. And to top it all off, I suggested we work on developing religious literacy in order to have fruitful conversations with those outside our faith tradition. This class discussion also featured a number of stories about gospel conversations with co-workers. This reminded me of an encounter I had with a manager a couple years ago.

Modern Sources of Belonging– Secular Age, round 5

The changes in construals of the self discussed in the last post were merely the flip side of new construals of sociality. This pairing helps correct narratives about the modern “rise of individualism” at the expense of community; individualism is learned, not natural, and “belonging” is an innate need that does not disappear with modernity. Rather, the sources of belonging become impersonal, direct, and “flattened.” We shift from a pre-modern social model where members are embedded within a hierarchical chain of being to one in which members of society perceive their fellow citizens and the political order as instruments to achieve common benefits— security and prosperity—from a position of (theoretical) equality among free individuals.  How did we get there? Not unlike how we got to the buffered, disengaged “individual” self in our last post: we develop objectified, instrumentalist ways of understanding the social and political order.  Changing notions of natural law and moral order, the emerging focus on the economy, and…

New Construals of the Self: Secular Age round 4

(Links to Rounds 1 , 2, and 3)  In the previous chapter, Taylor outlined some of the main “bulwarks” of enchanted belief that had to give way for exclusive humanism to eventually emerge. In Chapter 2, the “Rise of the Disciplinary Society,” Taylor examines some of the new construals of self and society that would help make that shift possible: the development of a “disciplined, disengaged stance to self and society” (136). In doing so, Taylor continually reminds us of the  “zigzag” nature of this trajectory; instead of an inevitable subtraction of enchanted beliefs or transcendent references that culminated in a purely immanent humanism—secularism’s irresistible march– new imaginaries were generated by initially religious motives. For example, the early modern devotional effort to bring the Incarnation’s sanctifying force to all the ordinary contexts of life “led people to invest these contexts with a new significance and solidity” (144) ; a significance that would eventually become self-sufficient and severed from transcendent roots. Taylor continually emphasizes the…

Clark Goble on deck.

We’re delighted to welcome Clark Goble back to T&S! Clark grew up in Canada in that part that appears like a strange looking foot extending south and east of Maine. There in the city of Halifax he watched the church grow from a small branch into numerous wards eventually even getting a temple. His father taught physics there which must have been addictive since both Clark and his brother studied physics as well. Clark always dreamt of going on a foreign mission and prayed that this would be so. He soon realized that God both had a sense of humor and that it was tied to overly literal interpretations of prayers when he was sent from Canada to Louisiana. Upon returning to BYU Clark decided he had a masochistic streak and studied mathematics, physics and philosophy until being informed by numerous letters that he had far too many credits to be allowed to continue at BYU. During this era Clark…

“A Supreme Act of Love”

This past Sunday, we covered chapter 6 of the Howard W. Hunter manual titled “The Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The lesson quotes President Hunter as saying that the Atonement “was an act of love by our Heavenly Father to permit his Only Begotten to make an atoning sacrifice. And it was a supreme act of love by his beloved Son to carry out the Atonement.” We lingered on this section for a while, which prompted me to comment. I recalled how I had been asked before, “What does the Atonement mean to you personally?” (Or something along those lines.) This is obviously a deep and rather broad question, but for me, the Atonement sends at least one major message: I’m worth something. I rest this largely on the evangelical favorite John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” In an ancient world full…

Introducing Rachael Givens Johnson

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I’m pleased to introduce Rachael Givens Johnson as a guest blogger here at Times And Seasons. Rachael will be doing a series of posts on Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. Rachael is a PhD candidate in the history department of the University of Virginia. She studies Baroque Catholicism in the Iberian Enlightenment and is writing a dissertation on how marginal social groups preserved corporeal, communal religious practices. She’s blogged at Peculiar People and Juvenile Instructor, and lives in Charlottesville with her hubs, Bryce, and their two cats until archival research takes them to fun and exotic places (gods of the grants be willing). Rachael is the daughter of Terryl and Fiona Givens (which also makes her my sister.) Her first post will be up shortly!

The Influence of the Book of Mormon on the Mormon Temple

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One of Joseph Smith’s earliest impulses was to build temples. Just 5 months after the Church’s organization, September 1830, Smith sent a delegation to the west to the Lamanites, but also, according to the delegation’s leader Oliver Cowdery, “to rear up a pillar as a witness where the Temple of God shall be built, in the glorious New-Jerusalem.” This was an unusual quest in a world of cathedrals, basilicas, chapels, and synagogues. “During the course of his life,” wrote Richard Bushman, “[Joseph Smith] never built a standard meetinghouse, even in Nauvoo, where the Mormon population exceeded 10,000.” Smith’s singular temple impulse was remarkable, but defining what temple worship should be in a modern world was a mystifying challenge. Smith saw his role as a restorer of truths once lost. But where could he turn for inspiration? To heaven for sure, but what would he restore since, according to Christian tradition, the purpose of the ancient temple had been fulfilled with…

The Provenance of Mormon Baptism

Mikveh in Herodium, late Second Temple period, approximately 69 CE. Photo by Deror avi.

This is the second in a series of guest posts by Gerald Smith covering the release of his book Schooling the Prophet, How the Book of Mormon Influenced Joseph Smith and the Early Restoration. Read the first one here. Fifteen years ago a professor friend of mine at Boston College – a Jesuit Catholic university – walked into my office and asked a puzzling question: Why did the Catholic Church not recognize Mormon baptisms? It recognized the baptisms of other Protestant faiths – Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, etc., but not Mormon. Thus a Methodist converting to Catholicism, for example, would not need to be baptized again; however a Mormon converting to Catholicism would. What could explain this unusual policy? After all some Protestants baptize by immersion just as Mormons do – for example, Baptists or Adventists. The Mormon baptismal prayer invokes the name of Jesus Christ and concludes in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, invoking the Godhead,…

The Provenance of Mormonism

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Thank you Nathaniel for your introduction, and thank you to Times & Seasons for the opportunity to share my thoughts and observations with you. A curious paradox of modern Mormonism is how Mormons and non-Mormons frame its heritage. Mormonism appeared in early nineteenth century North America as a new religion amidst a largely Protestant setting. Joseph Smith proclaimed new revelation – the First Vision of 1820; followed by a vibrant stream of additional revelations in the decades that followed; and new scripture – the Book of Mormon – introduced in the visions of Moroni beginning in 1823. All of this leads naturally to an outsider’s framing of Mormonism as a revealed religion, but less so as a historical religion with a palpable religious provenance or lineage tracing back through time to an original source. Thus Yale scholar Harold Bloom admired Joseph Smith as an imaginative genius, but he dismissed the Book of Mormon as Joseph’s “first work; it is the…

Introducing Gerald Smith

Schooling the Prophet

I’m pleased to introduce Dr. Gerald Smith for a round of guest posts here at Times & Seasons. He will be sharing a series of posts about his new book, Schooling the Prophet, How the Book of Mormon Influenced Joseph Smith and the Early Restoration (published by BYU Press and the Maxwell Institute.) I was lucky enough to be an early reader for the project, and was really struck by his unique approach to studying the Book of Mormon and how it had shaped the views and beliefs of Joseph Smith. Outside of Mormon studies, Dr. Smith is a business professor at Boston College in the Carroll School of Management, advisor to American and European business leaders, and advisor to leaders and administrators in education. He is an award-winning teacher and has been featured in leading executive programs at corporations and universities throughout the world. In business his latest book, The Opt-Out Effect: Marketing Strategies that Empower Consumers and Win…

Beatus Vir

Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 10434, fol. 17r.

Throughout the middle ages, the popularity of the Book of Psalms caused it to be reproduced in Latin as a separate volume of devotional literature called the Psalter. In medieval manuscripts, the opening phrase of Psalm 1, “Beatus vir,” was often richly decorated, as in this example from the thirteenth-century. The Latin Beatus is related to the modern English words beatific and beatitude and translates as happy or blessed. Vir is the Latin word for man with variations persisting in modern language: virile, virtue, and virtuoso. The King James Version of the Psalms (which did not exist yet in the middle ages) opens with the close English equivalent “Blessed is the man.” The university library in Utrecht preserves an early ninth-century manuscript of the Psalter, likely originating from the family of Charlemagne. This rare volume, known today as the Utrecht Psalter, is unique in that it presents pen-drawing illustrations for each of the 150 psalms. It recently became available online,…

The Sabbath Day: Its Meaning and Observance

This was a talk I gave a month or so ago as part of High Council Sunday. In preparation for this talk, I read through Elder Nelson’s April Conference address on the Sabbath, in which he stated, “I am intrigued by the words of Isaiah, who called the Sabbath “a delight.” Yet,” he continued, “I wonder, is the Sabbath really a delight for you and for me?”[1] Well, Joseph Smith revealed that the Lord’s day should consist of “confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord” (D&C 59:12), so here’s my confession: the answer to Elder Nelson’s question, for me personally and on average, is a big No. My Sabbath experience has often been far from a delight. Maybe some of you can relate to this. For one, I work every other weekend. Half of my Sabbaths each year are typical workdays. But even those I have off don’t fend much better. I end up leaving church with…

The General Conference Mirth Index – Take 2

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I always enjoy the opportunity to laugh a little bit in general conference. In January, I introduced the General Conference Mirth Index (for the October 2014 conference), which sums up the number of laughs for each talk. As we enter into the next General Conference this weekend, let’s see how much laughing we did last April. A quick recap. To calculate this, I listen to each conference talk and record the number of instances of laughter that I hear. (Note that I’m not counting jokes or judging what is a joke; I’m only counting what induces laughter.) I listen to each talk in the language in which it was delivered, since the English voiceover often covers the laughter. I then adjust by the length of the talk. This has limitations – it weighs equally Elder Gibson’s chuckle from not eating dinner with Elder Pearson’s medium-sized laugh from #spaciousbuilding. Big picture. More than half the talks had at least one laugh…

Introducing Meg Conley

Utah wedding and portrait photography

I am excited to introduce Meg Conley as our newest guest-blogger here at Times and Seasons! Meg Conley is a freelance writer and blogger specializing in topics of womanhood and motherhood. Her website, megconley.com, is quickly becoming a nationally recognized platform for women’s issues and day to day inspiration. She has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline and The Steve Harvey Show. Her writing regularly appears on The Huffington Post. She is also, as she puts it, “the mother of two sparkling girls and married to the kind of man that lights the days.” I’ve been a big fan of Meg’s writing for a long time now, and I’ve been consistently nagging her to write for Times and Seasons. She will be joining us for two posts a month over the next two months. I’ve already read her first post, and it’s great. I hope y’all enjoy her pieces as much as I do.

Data, Doctrines, & Doubts: Improving Gospel Instruction

I’m grateful for the invitation and excited to participate here at Times & Seasons. The following is a talk I gave in our recent Stake General Priesthood meeting as the newly called Stake Sunday School President. While many of the ideas below were conceived independently, I was heavily influenced by some of Ben Spackman’s writings (especially the quotes) when it came to their final form. Big thanks to him. I’ve been asked to speak tonight on improving gospel instruction in the home and at church. So much time could be dedicated to analyzing the best teaching methods and the how-to of engaging gospel lessons. However, I will forgo these particulars partially due to time constraints, but mainly because they don’t really get to the heart of the matter. There are plenty of resources provided by the Church that can assist us in improving the mechanics of our teaching. Manuals like Teaching, No Greater Call or Preach My Gospel as well as Leadership and Teaching tutorials…

Introducing Walker Wright

After citing him on multiple occasions here at Times and Seasons (for example here and here), I’m very pleased to announce that Walker Wright will be joining us for a guest blogging stint. Walker is an MBA student at the University of North Texas, and his primary interests are in the theology of work and sacralizing the mundane. Walker has written for Square Two, presented at Sunstone, Mormon Transhumanist Association, Faith & Knowledge, and Mormon Scholars in the Humanities, and is contributing a chapter to Julie Smith’s forthcoming Come, Let Us Reason Together: Dialogues with Scripture. He also blogs at Difficult Run, Worlds Without End, and at his own blog The Slow Hunch.

Guest Post: The Parable of the Two Sons

My friend and neighbor has written a beautiful parable that I am pleased to share with you today. David Harding works actively in his ward and neighborhood. His daughter is my daughter’s best friend. As those of you with children know, it is a great blessing to have your offspring fall in with good people who help support them as they grow into themselves. Periodically, maybe once or twice a year, David writes something that he thinks could be shared beyond his close circle. The topics range, but as often as not they are gospel related. And so I’m introducing David, and one of his writings, to you.   The Parable of the Two Sons by David Harding The master of the vineyard was setting out to travel foreign lands for a number of years. He had two sons whom he loved more than anything else. They had recently come-of-age and now had their own budding households. The first son was…

Guest Post: Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability Part 5: The “Greater Sin”/ Sane Repentance & Forgiveness

[This is the fourth in a series of guest posts on Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability. The first three installments are available here: Part 1:”Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death” (Mark 14:34), Part 2: Causes and (Mis)Attributions, Part 3: Fractured Images of God, Self, and Others, and Part 4: Accommodations in LDS Activities and Meetings] Now knowing a portion of my background, you can probably guess I’ve had opportunity to give a fair amount of consideration to the concepts of personal responsibility, repentance, and forgiveness. Please take this post as exactly that, my own considerations on these topics, long thought out, studied, prayed about, discussed, and applied, but still open to question/ suggestion/ correction/ reinterpretation. This is also about individual, rather than institutional forgiveness, though I’d love to hear insights from any who have served/ are serving as church leaders where their judgments about people are required in their church work. We’ve talked a bit about accountability in relation to mental illness. I want to start…

Guest Post: Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability Part 4: Accommodations in LDS Activities and Meetings

[This is the fourth in a series of guest posts on Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability. The other installments are available here: Part 1:”Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death” (Mark 14:34), Part 2: Causes and (Mis)Attributions, Part 3: Fractured Images of God, Self, and Others, and Part 5: The “Greater Sin”/ Sane Repentance & Forgiveness] During graduate school (in a different field of study), I worked in the university’s office for staff and students with disabilities.  I learned a great deal about the Americans with Disabilities Act, and about how individuals with a variety of disabilities qualify for and obtain accommodations in their work and schooling to enable them to do the work they otherwise (disability aside) are able to do.  As a neophyte, I was most surprised by accommodations given for “invisible” disabilities.  For example, did you know that an individual with certain types of anxiety can qualify for a handicapped parking permit, giving them accessibility to classrooms and other needed campus resources they would…

Guest Post: Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability Part 1:”Exceeding Sorrowful, Even Unto Death” (Mark 14:34)

[This is the first in a series of guest posts on Mental Health, Mortal Life, and Accountability. The subsequent installments are available here: Part 2: Causes and (Mis)Attributions,  Part 3: Fractured Images of God, Self, and Others, Part 4: Accommodations in LDS Activities and Meetings, and Part 5: The “Greater Sin”/ Sane Repentance & Forgiveness] Not many years ago, a younger sibling of mine sought to stop her unbearable emotional pain by ending her mortal life.  While she succeeded in completing her suicide, she did not consciously chose this path, and she is not fully accountable for her desperate and tragic actions. In some ways, she is in a safer place, as she is now beyond reach of some of the individuals, circumstances, and influences that had power to destroy her soul. I also believe that many of her challenges continue, and some may even be greater.  I do not know the ultimate destiny of her soul. But I know for sure that…

The Opposite of Epistemic Humility

[This is Part 4 of a 4-part series. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.] In my first three pieces I’ve spent an awful lot of time talking about epistemic humility. Now I’m going to talk about what I consider to be the antithesis of epistemic humility: extremism. My definition of the term is non-standard, but I believe it both fits as the antithesis of epistemic humility and matches our intuition that there’s something to extremism that is more than merely being far removed from the mainstream. After all, if you live in a society where child sacrifice is the norm and you consider it an abomination you are an extremist in a technical sense, but that lacks the pejorative connotations that we typically bundle in with the term. People believe things for a lot of reasons, but the very last reason is that they have gone through some kind of rational evaluation of the evidence and logic and concluded that the belief in…

On Learning from False Models

[This is Part 3 of a 4-part series. Part 1. Part 2. Part 4] In this post I want to present a secular example of epistemic humility. As with the religious example, I hope that this one will also provide some intrinsically interesting ideas. I also plan on reusing these ideas in the next couple of posts. Like my first example, the second highlights the fertility that arises from knowingly maintaining contradictory views. In this case the conflict is between the highly stylized model of human behavior used by economists (homo economicus or the rational agent) and real, live human beings. It was John Stuart Mill and Adam Smith who put homo economicus through an early beta stage, but it was the generation of economists writing in the early 20th century who created version 1.0 of this model by rendering it mathematically precise. They did this because economics was suffering at the time, and perhaps suffers acutely to this day, from physics…

Faith is a Work in Progress

[This is Part 2 of a 4-part series. Part 1. Part 3. Part 4] I appreciate the kind welcome to T&S and all the good comments and questions. I know I haven’t responded to some of them yet, and I’ll try to rectify that soon, but I wanted to make sure I had this post ready to go. My goal is to live up to my promise to walk through a religious example of epistemic humility in action. At the end of the last post, I suggested that one of the dangers we face when our beliefs conflict with each other is that we will fictionalize one of those beliefs by compartmentalizing it. At the other extreme, we can so privilege certain beliefs that anything which contradicts them is dismissed out of hand. Both of these approaches spare us from the anxiety and frustration of cognitive dissonance, and both of them also cut us off from further growth. The alternative, and this is…

The Wise Man Doubts Often, And Changes His Mind

[This is Part 1 of a 4-part series. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4] I’m happy to have a chance to do a guest stint here at Times and Seasons, and over the next two weeks I want to use my borrowed soap box to talk about epistemic humility. Epistemic humility is an awareness of the limits of our ability to know. It is an admission that we are ignorant of things that are true and that we accept as true things which are not. Hence the title, which comes from a longer saying of Akhenaten: “The wise man doubts often, and changes his mind; the fool is obstinate, and doubts not; he knows all things but his own ignorance.” In this piece I hope to explain why epistemic humility is a serious concern, and in subsequent pieces I’ll shift the focus to implications and responses. Although it has become something of a buzzword recently, the philosophical history of epistemic…

Nothing to Apologize For (Part II)

[Times & Seasons welcomes the second in a pair of posts from Ralph Hancock this week, who previously guested with us in 2010] I argued in Part I that the move from “apologetics” to “Mormon Studies” requires a bracketing of truth claims that may serve legitimate scholarly purposes, but that carries with it certain significant risks.  The New Mormon Studies presents orthodoxy as stifling and itself as intellectually liberating, but it risks purveying a more subtle and powerful conformism, the conformism of secular academic prestige and careerism.  This is intended, not as a condemnation, but as an alert.  We ought to embrace opportunities for rich and productive dialogue with those who do not share our Answers, but we ought not set aside our interest in Answers and thus in effect elevate human (especially professional) “dialogue” itself to the highest status. On with the bracketing, I say, but let us beware of the definitive brackets, those that will not allow themselves to be bracketed.  …

Nothing to Apologize For (Part I)

[Times & Seasons welcomes the first in a pair of posts from Ralph Hancock this week, who previously guested with us in 2010] The recent unpleasantness at BYU’s Maxwell Institute has, the reader will have noticed, triggered much comment on the internet, including celebrations in some quarters over the supposed demise or at least eclipse of certain defenders of the faith at the Institute —characterized by some as apologists — who have been willing over the years to call out arguments they see as weakly reasoned and hold critics of the Church to account for their claims.   Although I do not know enough to assert that my friends at the Institute have always been right or have always succeeded in striking the most appropriate tone, it will surprise no one to learn that I appreciate a spirited defense, when it is judicious and well-founded, and that I expect that celebrations over developments at the Institute by critics are likely premature. Happily, however,…

Globetrotting, Mormon-Style

In front of the Manila Temple

One of the things almost sure to be heard in testimony meeting after someone has traveled (whether it’s across the ocean or just to the next town over) is an expression of gratitude that “the Church is the same no matter where you go.” To a certain extent, it’s true. We all sing the same hymns, although every ward congregation seems to have its particular favorites. We all read the same scriptures. Sunday meetings follow the same general format, even if the meetings are in a different order. Thanks to Correlation, Sunday School and other lesson manuals are standardized and translated into over a hundred languages, and on any given Sunday the whole worldwide Church is studying the same lesson (give or take a week or two depending on how organized the local Sunday School teacher happens to be). We’ve traveled and moved around the world quite a bit, and I’ll admit that I do appreciate the general “sameness” of…

Single Moms and Adoption — Another Perspective

I have been fascinated by the idea of adoption for a long time. Growing up, I knew a few people who were adopted, and the idea of bringing home your baby from Korea or the Ukraine always seemed exotic to me. But my obsession really took off when I got my Patriarchal Blessing. After gushing about the children that would be born to me, a totally out-of-the-blue paragraph began with the words, “I bless the love of your family to extend to other children . . . ” Suddenly, adoption was part of my envisioned Mormon “happily-ever-after,” and I embraced the idea delightedly. When my husband and I were newly married and trying for a baby, I recall telling him that if we didn’t have a baby before we went on our field study to the Philippines the next year, we were adopting one there. Two biological children later, my compulsion to adopt has only increased, and we’re finally preparing…

Homeschooling Then and Now

As was mentioned in my introduction a week or so ago, my parents homeschooled us “back in the good old days when homeschooling was weird and subversive, not hip and progressive.” I’m now homeschooling my own children, and it’s interesting to note how the movement has evolved during the past 25 years. My adjectives describing the change don’t fit perfectly, of course, but they are representative of general trends, at least in how the perception of homeschooling has changed. When my mother decided she’d like to keep me home from kindergarten in 1985, it was a bizarre and scary thing to do. She’d learned about homeschooling while taking a class from Reed Benson at BYU. He lent her a copy of his doctoral dissertation on homeschooling, and told her about his nine homeschooled children. So she hunted down some of the books he recommended by John Holt, the father of the modern American homeschooling movement, and decided to try out…