12 Questions for Armand Mauss, part one

We are pleased to present our first installment of “12 Questions,” with sociologist and Mormon Studies scholar extraordinaire Armand Mauss (here is a mini-bio). Thanks to everyone who sent in questions. As you will see, they generated a wide-ranging and thoughtful set of responses. Questions appear below in bold, and Brother Mauss’s responses follow in plain text. [Click here for part two.] 1. You have spent your academic career largely outside of church-affiliated schools. As a Mormon studies scholar, what are the advantages and disadvantages taking this route from your perspective? How does it inform and/or impede your work in Mormon studies?

Theo-democracy and the Redemption of Politics

I am finding it difficult to get very excited about politics this election year. Given that we are faced with momentus issues of war and peace this is a bit odd. This seems like a time when politics really matters. Part of the problem is that I am considerably less than enthusiastic about either candidate. However, I find that I am increasingly less interested and passionate about politics. In college I played at being a political activist. I worked on campaigns, did voter registration drives, etc. (In retrospect I admit that my political involvement was largely about meeting girls.) After college, I worked in Washington, D.C. because I wanted to be in politics. (And it happened to be where my wife was going to graduate school.) Hence, I am not an inherently apolitical guy. My current political funk leads me — of course — to theo-democracy.

Thanks, Richard and Welcome, Ben!

Alas, today we bid farewell to guest blogger Richard Bushman, whose first entry broke records for the rate of immediate commenting (I’m guessing–not even Kaimi is nerdy enough to keep those statistics!), and whose last flurry of posts should keep us in interesting topics for a month or two! Thank you very much, Richard, for asking such good questions and helping us think about interesting things in new ways. Fortunately, we will not lack for good new discussions–Steve Evans continues his stint for another week, and today we welcome another guest, Ben Huff. Ben’s animal magnetism has been discussed here, but he’s not just another pretty face! He’s currently finishing up a Ph.D. in Philosophy at Notre Dame, writing his dissertation in Ethics, focusing on the relationship between virtue and happiness. He earned his undergraduate degree from BYU, in philosophy and math, after serving a mission in the Japan Tokyo South mission. Prior to his mission, he spent a year…

Aaron Brown’s Catholic Experience

Apparently, longtime T & S commenter and BCC contributor Aaron Brown has been doing something most members would never imagine — he’s been officiating (along with some LDS missionaries) at a Catholic Mass! He writes about this experience in his latest BCC post. An excerpt: About a year ago, Father Hans approached me with an unusual request. Convinced that LDS missionaries are ‘angels,’ and that they obviously love and follow Christ more than anyone in his congregation could ever hope to, Hans wanted to organize a Catholic-Mormon ‘hybrid’ Mass. He proposed that my four full-time missionaries and I (the Ward Mission Leader) play an active role in his services. He would conduct as usual, waving the incense, reciting the liturgy and preaching a short sermon (complete with occasional Book of Mormon or D&C quotations – without attribution). We would stand on the stage with him as representatives of Christ, read excerpts from the Bible at key junctures and offer the…

Sister Benson

I’m reading President Benson’s biography. You probably already know that he grew up, the oldest of eleven children, on a sugar beet farm in Idaho. At one point, when his mother was expecting her eighth child, his father was called on a mission.

Higher Powers

This morning as we were leaving for church, I ran over my daughter’s scooter, which she had left behind the mini-van. It was firmly wedged under the rear axle, with the handle bars turned to make removing it impossible. While we were puzzling over what to do, and trying to remember how to work the jack, Louisa (age 5) piped up, “I know what to do!” We immediately thought it was going to be one of those testimony meeting moments, where a child in sweet innocence asks for the immediate and practical help of angels. Our sappiness was quickly dispelled when she said excitedly, “Let’s call the Car Talk guys!” (This one’s for you, Nate; I know how you love NPR!)

Book of Mormon

What do you think is the most gorgeous and inspiring thing about the Book of Mormon? Be specific; don’t just say it testifies of Christ. I am searching for ways of putting across the power of the book to non-Mormon readers.

Chicken Marsala

I hear conflicting statements about the propriety of using alcohol in cooking. For example, chicken marsala, which is one of our family’s favorite dishes. Some members say that alcohol evaporates during the cooking. I am sure that at least some of the alcohol evaporates during cooking. At the same time, I am doubtful that it all evaporates. I also hear that some de minimus amount is probably allowable, since homemade bread contains trace amounts of alcohol (from the yeast fermentation) and that’s a Mormon staple. Again, I’m not sure of the veracity of this tale. Does anyone know of an official statement about this? Alternatively, does anyone have information to support or discredit the Mormon myths about cooking with alcohol? What think ye?

Joseph

How would you map Joseph’s thought. If you had to reduce his thought to four or five major areas, what would they be. The ones I am using are: a. The simple gospel of faith, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, and endurance. b. Zion, gathering, the millennium. c. Priesthood, ordinances, endowment of power, temple, rituals. d. Family bonds: baptism for the dead, priesthood marriage, sealings. e. Stories of eternity: the accounts of God’s history and nature, the nature of individual free intelligences, the purpose of life, the hereafter and human destiny.

Contradiction

Are we prepared to accept contradiction, plurality, and even ambiguity as an integral part of our theology? Is the aim absolute precision and consistency, or is built-in ambiguity a requirement of a theology that comprehends reality?

The Grand Alliance

Do you think it is proper to say that God is recruiting us for the great cause–joining Him in the work of eternal life? Rather than simply being saved from our sins, we are being mobilized? Does this mean, in turn, that God benefits from our worshiping Him, that bringing to pass eternal life for His children adds to His glory? Is priesthood (including women) another name for the grand alliance of those who have joined God in His great work?

Cosmology

I have a line in my book about Joseph Smith being the Copernican theologian par excellence. Does that stimulate any thought? Does Joseph Smith’s theology exploit the possibilities opened up by an infinitely expanding universe?

Compendium

Since my time as a blogger is drawing to a close, I am going to riddle you with all the ideas I jotted down for possible entries. To permit people to respond to them individually, each one will occupy an entry but with no development. You can develop them as you wish. The first on my list: How does this group come down on the classic questions of God’s power? Is he an absolute God who created everything, knows everything, and has all power? Or is he a contingent God who a) learned to be God, b) is eternal but so are we, c) organized the earth out of pre-existent matter, d) is teaching us to be gods like himself.

More Bloggernacking

Over the past few days, I’ve noticed (inter alia): Steve Evans (Thurston-Evans?) musing about hyphenation of last names in the LDS world; Mat Parke discussing having Elder Eyring in the class he taught; David Sundwall noting news items about the new Manhattan Temple; Jeremy Grimshaw discussing (unreasonable?) abortion regulation in Utah; and finally, not in the Bloggernacle but over in neighboring St. Blog’s Parish, an incredibly interesting series of posts (1, 2, 3, 4) over at the Mirror of Justice, dealing with laws against religious conversion in India, and of issues that proselytizing creates more generally.

Thank you!

Yesterday — exactly five months after the counter started — we received our 50,000th visit. I guess we must be doing something right, because folks keep on coming back. We’re getting between 800 and 900 visits per day. I want to say thank you, to all of our readers. Reader participation has made this site what it is today. Oh, many or all of us — Nate, Gordon, Matt, and certainly myself — are quite capable of chatting on for hours, with or without an audience. But this blog has become more than Kaimi or Nate chatting on about issues we find interesting. It has become a community of sorts. And it has done that because of our readers. So thank you, thank you all, because I really enjoy participating in the community that T & S has become.

Polyamory

As is often the case, Matt Evans was way ahead of the curve when he discussed polyamory back in January with the post, “The Conservative Case for Group and Sibling Marriage.” But here is a new angle (at least to me): some Unitarians are now actively promoting polyamory. The money quotation: It’s the new polygamy, and according to the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness, their relationships are at least as ethical as other marriages — gay or straight. At least as ethical? The implication, of course, is that they may be even more ethical. How so? Consider this from Jasmine Walston, president of the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness: “Polyamory is not an alternative to monogamy. It’s an alternative to cheating. For some of us, monogamy doesn’t work, and cheating was just abhorrent to me.” As Meg Ryan said (often) in Joe Versus the Volcano: “I have no response to that.” But I am sure someone else here does.

The Bloggernacle – It’s Official

David Winer, whose full-time job as a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School is to track the blogging phenomenom, and is therefore as authoritative as anyone on blogosphere nomenclature, has referred to the LDS corner of the blogosphere as “the Bloggernacle.” Times & Seasons delivers! Our own Kaimi Wenger raised the issue, Grasshopper coined the moniker 26 minutes later, and the rest is one month of history.

Belated notice

I just noticed the recent debate raging (again) in the blogosphere about baptism for the dead. Not that there are a lot of new ideas on the topic, but it’s somewhat interesting to see the same ideas get kicked around again. (See here and here; see also Adam’s recent post on the same subject here). And, while I was noticing this little debate, I also noticed that one of the members of Begging to Differ is a self-identified Mormon (who also, I should note, has stated that he does not intend to blog much about religion).

All Night Long

Two nights ago, I stayed up all night finishing a draft of my paper for a conference this Friday. At 2 a.m., one of my eight-year-old twins emerged from his bedroom and was wondering whether he could have breakfast. I sent him to bed, but he was back an hour later. Of course, I was in no mood to debate, and I sent him to bed again. The next morning, my wife reminded me that he had been sick and had not eaten well for a couple of days prior. Arrrgghh!! Guilt … welcome to my life as a nocturnal father of five.

A New Blog

I just came across a new site, The BYU Law Blog by a recent graduate from J. Reuben Clark Law School. The site is worth checking for the picture of conference protesters surrounded by counter-protesters. My favorite is the guy holding the sign reading “There is no Dana, only Zuul!” Ghostbusters, of course, is one of the great neo-liberal movies of all time! Entrepreneurs save the world, which is nearly destroyed by an officious and ignorant EPA regulator. Classic!

Infantilizing Our New Converts

Several weeks ago a friend bore his testimony, and I was amazed at his warmth and power. He spoke precisely in the manner which Richard Bushman has suggested, relating in simple terms how the Gospel has affected his life. I’ve been this man’s friend since he came into the Church. I taught him in gospel essentials, and I watched him as he went to the temple. But it wasn’t until this testimony that I saw him as an equal.

LDS Hermeneutics

My least favorite thing about graduate studies in biblical studies was coming to the realization that there was a multisyllabic, Latin- or Greek- derived word for everything, and that precious few of these words would be found in a standard dictionary. Elder Dallin H. Oaks had an experience with this:

Quick bloggernacking

I haven’t a lot of time today, and the bloggernacle keeps getting bigger (and harder to keep track of). Here are a few things I’ve noticed over the past few days: Jordan Fowles’ interesting discussion of the topic “Is God a Retributionist or a Utilitarian?” (spoken like a true law student); DP’s comments on why church members should turn off the TV this week; Discussion of garments for sale, by Kim Siever and DP; The Baron of Deseret comments about how we should view polygamy today; he also discusses recent LDS-mainstream movies; Sunstone editor and BCC contributor John Hatch asks, “What can Mormonism offer to young people?”.