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juliann

Mormon History and the Secular Academy

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I attended the first lecture given by Grant Underwood in the Positioning Mormonism in Religious Studies conference. http://www.cgu.edu/pages/1621.asp He spoke in layperson language, beginning by explaining the meaning of "academy" and giving a quick overview of the philosophical changes that drive how we view history and religion. As the Enlightenment mentality (scientific reasoning can unlock the meaning of the world) took over religion became compartmentalized. However, in the 60s a new viewpoint arose in America that recognized that there was no universal way of thinking, i.e., cultural relativism.

We need to study religion in a different way than we study religions. The academy utilizes religion as a case study; is there a common human element? Religion is analyzed and examined but not in order to determine the truth or falsity of religion but to understand the religion in its broader context. The securlar acadmeny is not interest inprovign your religion true or false. That debate goes on in homes, Bible studies, etc.

One's faith and conviction is an interior phenomena. We have no tools with which to validate or denigrate it, "testimony" is seaprate from the academic study of religion.

What does academic study offer?

1. Comparative religion. When comparisons are made we can sometimes notice what has not been noticed. (Example of the study of the Islamic Hadith to the memory and influence of JS in early Mormonism).

2. People who do history are influenced by surroundings. In the 60s the prevailing "consensus history" was challenged along with the establishment. It was recognized that voices had been overlooked or suppressed. This opened a space for Mormonism and other groups not considered to be mainstream. The Mormon History Association was founded in this period (1965) and the Church established a history division, appointing an academic for the first time. (This has since gone to BYU, JFS Institute). History served a religious purpose. The primary function of this history division was to write the Mormon experience using tools and techniques of academic historians.

Underwood warned of tying testimony too tightly to interpretation of the past. The past can be strengthened by employing tools of the academy, using exegesis rather than eisogesis. We can consider, weigh, evaluate and it does not effect testimony. We may need to use a different model of understanding, i.e., one that does not rely on such things as administrative flowcharts rather than focusing on the ministry. Comparisons between the common LDS usage of "prophet" and "apostle" as opposed to the much broader usage in the NT were given. We can benefit by understanding these differences and our model of understanding can be changed without diminishing our testimony. We are strengthened not challenged. Underwood compared this to those who refuse to use the tools and techniques of the academy and understand only one way, can accept nothing but that way and if it is not that way... it is false and "I'm outta here".

The answer to "is it safe" is a resounding "yes!"of course. The secular academy is open to diversity and plurality, and the tools and techniques used are not equipped to judge truth claims.

Great care is being taken to talk to the layperson. The remaining lectures will be followed by break out groups that will be chaired by professors to enable particpants to ask any questions that they may have as to terminology or why something is considered important, etc. Every care is being taken to reassure Mormons who are used to a negative and combative approach to their religion. The group also will serve the purpose of giving CGU feedback as to what the community considers important.

Add'l information:

Claremont Graduate University has set up eight councils, one of which is LDS. They intend to make the university a place that makes its resources available to the community (a home). They have recently received a grant from the Nat'l Endowment for Humanities for the study of comparative religion. The next Mormon conference is planned in 2005 to coincide with the JS bicentennial.

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The answer to "is it safe" is a resounding "yes!"of course.

When you posit the question, "is it safe," I don't get what you mean.

"Safe" as opposed to "unsafe" or "dangerous?" What could we expect from it, or what would be its attributes, if it were actually "unsafe?"

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That was the title of the lecture. I believe it was a rhetorical question since the lecture seemed directed to the lay Mormon by explaining what the "academy" was, how it worked and why it would not attack religion. One can entrust their religion to the scrutiny of liberal secular scholarship without any concern about it being abused since the academy has no tools with which to judge the inner spiritual aspects of religion where faith resides. We can only profit from learning more about the "outside".

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Day 2: Kathleen Flake (oral canon) and Teryl Givens (BOM as literature). Very erudite and technical presentations at breakneck speed which made it almost impossible to take notes. Three respondents to each lecture (e.g., Flake's respondents included scholar from Judaism and Islam).

Conclusion was that it was time for the academy to take the BOM seriously.

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Conclusion was that it was time for the academy to take the BOM seriously.

Is that your conclusion or their conclusion?

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Their conclusion and a foregone one considering that the conference is doing just that. I will be more specific. Twelve hour conferences are tiring.

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