Mormons and Politics

Readers may be interested in a recent episode of the “Research on Religion Podcast,” featuring Quin Monson (BYU) and Dave Campbell (Notre Dame) discussing their new book Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics (also co-authored with John C. Green). The book is the first full length study by professional political scientists of the place of Mormons in contemporary American politics. Scholarly discussions of Mormonism tend to be dominated by those trained either as historians or else (more recently) in religious studies. The work of Monson, Campbell, and Green is important because it brings in a bit more disciplinary diversity to the discussion. Among other things, they have actual new data on Mormon political attitudes — as opposed to opinions based on political discussions in the foyer at church — and a social scientist’s sense for what is unique about Mormons and what is not. The podcast provides a nice summary of a some of their research. Enjoy!

Reading and Writing (Genesis): Books, books, and more books

I have a few things in my way before being able to work full-time on Genesis 1– a recalcitrant article draft, some travel, volunteer work, etc. In the meantime, I’m making slow but good progress. I’m beginning to suspect the most important parts of the book will be the first two sections dealing with groundwork/assumptions and LDS entanglements with Genesis, not the last two sections on the ancient Near Eastern context or the text/translation itself. I’m interested in a lot of things that are secondary or tertiary to the main thrust of the book, such as the history of biblical interpretation, the history of interaction between science and religion, history of science, and how other religious traditions have handled the challenges to tradition, authority, doctrine, etc. It’s terribly difficult to avoid spending too much time filling out these secondary areas, but I really can’t afford the time to read everything relevant; there is a TON of relevant scholarship. Below are a few…

Doux Commerce in the City of God

I just put up an essay at the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) that readers of this blog might find interesting. It’s a response to some of Hugh Nibley’s writings on Zion and commerce. Nibley was famously critical of the mercantile ethic, arguing that trade and capitalism were fundamentally hostile to the ideal of Zion. This essay takes a more optimistic view of commerce, drawing on the ideas eighteenth-century thinkers like Montesquieu, who saw in the rise of markets a fundamentally pro-social force with the potential to limit violence and conflict. I’ll let readers judge the ultimate merits of my mash-up between Joseph Smith and Adam Smith, but hopefully it’s worth taking a look at it. Along the way, I offer a critical reading of some nineteenth-century Zion building that may interest Mormon history nerds, particularly those enamored of Leonard Arrington’s work. Enjoy! Here’s the abstract and a link to the article: Doux Commerce in the City of God: Trade…

I Need My Kids

Nicholas Cage and Holly Hunter in "Raising Arizona".

Last month, my friend Betsy VanDenBerghe wrote a piece for Real Clear Religion inspired alternately by Pope Francis and the Coen brothers’ 1987 comedy Raising Arizona about Why Children Are Better Than Pets. Her central question was: What would a society of adults skewed toward childlessness, like the perpetually barren Time magazine beach couple, look and act like without having acquired the altruism, personal growth, and wisdom that bringing up children generally bequeaths on those who undergo parenthood? Her piece really resonated with me. My life has not gone at all as planned over the last several years. Without going into any gory details, I started a new job in 2008 and the training materials bragged about inventing the mortgage backed security. A couple of months later the housing bubble burst, and a couple of months later I was part of company-wide layoffs. In the years since then, I’ve worked hard, helped to launch and run a startup, earned a second master’s…

Historians Saying Interesting Things … About Mormonism

Between the new polygamy essays at and the new religion curriculum at the BYUs, there has been a lot to argue about this week. Let’s try something a little friendlier: The Mormon History Association’s Tanner Lectures: The First Twenty Years (U. of Illinois Press, 2006). It has been on my shelf a couple of years now. I recently pulled it down as part of my new plan to actually read the LDS books that I buy. The book contains 21 articles, all variations on “Mormonism and X” but all terribly interesting. That template derives from MHA’s format for the lecture series: an accomplished historian (all non-LDS as far as I can tell) who works in a field related to LDS history but who has not studied Mormonism directly is invited to research and present something interesting about “Mormonism and X.” Here is what three of these historians talked about.

Q&A with Myself

Q. Are you an apologist or neo-apologist? A. No, I’m just a philosopher. Others have said I’m an apologist, but I’ve never been interested in apologetics. Mormonism can stand on its own two feet and it doesn’t need me to defend it.

A Crazy Wild Reformation Day


For some reason, kids in my neighborhood don’t celebrate Halloween: they do Reformation Day instead. Right around 5, the little tikes start pounding on doors, dressed as characters of the Reformation and absolutely clamoring for people to tell them more about the big event.

Constructive Thoughts on the Curriculum Shift

As I’ve stopped hyperventilating over the leak of this forthcoming change, I’ve had some thoughts. I have a general rule when I’m in Gospel Doctrine that I try not to say anything unless it’s constructive (or the teacher says something really flagrantly crazy/wrong, which is rare in my experience.) Let me open with this positiveness, then. BYU’s RelEd has some fantastic people, some new hires, and good things happening. I’ll single out the Advanced Book of Mormon class. The two Fall 2014 sections are not the first time this class has been taught. The two “regular” Book of Mormon classes are prerequisites, the syllabi I’ve seen look very good, and the profs are top-notch.  BYU still includes this aspirational statement (which I’ve cited before) about the nature of teaching in RelEd. Teaching in Religious Education is to be substantive and inspirational. Students should become familiar with the text studied in each course taken and learn the implications of the text for daily living. They should feel…

Letter to a CES Student

It’s important to keep our tough questions about Mormonism in perspective. And, especially, we need to keep the genuinely urgent questions front and center. The big problems are straightforward. We’re dying here. You and I. We’re getting sick, we’re getting old, and we’re dying. Our lives are small and our time is short. Our days are filled with suffering of all kinds: distress, worry, boredom, frustration, and loss.

Alma and Apocalypse


In Understanding the Book of Mormon, Grant Hardy argues that an important part of the Book of Mormon’s meaning emerges from how it alludes to, comments on, or patterns itself after other stories, such as Joseph in Egypt, the Exodus, and the Fall. Another such story not discussed by Hardy but central to understanding the Book of Mormon is, I think, the end of the world.

New Polygamy Essays

Read them here, here, and here. I’ll leave the squabbling over whether they fairly represented the historical situation to those who get paid the big bucks to consider those questions and instead look at a tangential issue: how they depict the way that prophets receive revelation.

Announcement: Faith & Knowledge Conference at UVa

THE FIFTH BIENNIAL FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE CONFERENCE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA FEBRUARY 27-28, 2015 The Faith and Knowledge Conference was established in 2006 to bring together LDS graduate students in religious studies and related disciplines in order to explore the interactions between religious faith and scholarship. During the past four conferences, students have shared their experiences in the church and the academy and the new ideas that have emerged as a result. Papers and conversations provided thought-provoking historical, exegetical, and theoretical insights and compelling models of how to reconcile one’s discipleship with scholarly discipline. In keeping with these past objectives, we invite graduate students and early career scholars in religious studies and related disciplines (e.g., women’s studies, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, history, literature, etc.) to join the conversation. We welcome proposals addressing historical, exegetical, and theoretical issues that arise from the intersections of LDS religious experience and academic scholarship. Final papers presented at the conference should be brief, pointed comments…

The Body of Christ

“Is the church true?” This question is, I think, poorly posed. It seems ill-suited to the kind of existential burn that might compel me to ask it. It seems like a bad fit for what I’m after in a white-knuckled prayer.

Recommended NT Resources part 2: General and Reference (updated)


Many of these can be purchased in paper, kindle, or from Logos or Accordance. (I’m a big Logos user.) As with all my recommendations, take them with a grain of salt. I neither fully endorse nor vouch for everything said in these, but you will certainly learn and grow by reading them. Samples are often available from Amazon or Google books, and in some cases I’ve linked to others here or in the past. If you missed it, part 1 is here.

Two Approaches to Isaiah

This is going to be a post about Isaiah that does *not* talk about Second Isaiah. After addressing the transmission of the text of Isaiah, I will contrast two different approaches to reading and understanding that book and, more generally, any scriptural book.

Our Prayers and God’s Messy Plans

The Council of Gods, Giovanni Lanfranco (From Wikimedia Commons)

I taught lesson 35 today, which covers Amos and Joel. As usual, I benefitted a great deal from Ben Spackman’s Patheos posts, and in particular his discussion of Amos 3:6 and Amos 3:7. The latter, of course, is the famous scripture we all learn in seminary: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” Ben included a short paper about the meaning of the word “sod” (“secret”) and its relation to the idea of a divine council. The word refers to both private discussion and the product of such discussions. The Old Testament is certainly rife with examples of the Lord involving mere mortals in His planning process and accepting their input. 30 Then he said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak. What if only thirty can be found there?” He answered, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” 31 Abraham said, “Now that I…

Recommended NT Resources, Part 1: Translations, Text, and the Bible in General

My bookshelf- Quad, UBS Greek NT, Reader's Edition of the Hebrew Bible, Jewish Annotated NT, Jewish Study Bible, NIV Study Bible

(Cross-posted at Benjamin the Scribe) We’re 80% of the way through our Old Testament, and the time has come to start looking forward. As I did for the Old, so I will do for the New. This time, I’ll break it up into a few posts, probably a few weeks apart. (Part 2, Part 3 are here.) As before, the absolute best and easiest thing you can do to increase the quality and frequency of your Bible study is to supplement your KJV with a different translation. You can do it with a free app or website, or go old school and buy hardcover. I do both. Below are some recommendations on Bibles. (If the idea of reading a non-KJV application bothers you, see my Religious Educator article at the bottom, which includes Apostolic examples of non-KJV Bible use in The Ensign and General Conference.)

Do Women Count?


Here are the words that President Uchtdorf used in his talk at the General Women’s Meeting:   I am honored to have this opportunity to be with you as we open another general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the coming week the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles will meet with all the General Authorities and general auxiliary leaders, and the remaining sessions of our worldwide general conference will follow on the coming Saturday and Sunday.