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Addendum to closed thread about alleged Elder Packer request

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18 minutes ago, BHodges said:

There does seem to be some confusion on this point, virtually all of which has been generated by critics of the Institute who have a stake in casting it in a negative light to differentiate it from their own efforts. The claim that the Maxwell Institute abandoned apologetics in favor of "secular religious studies" is false. I've objected to this accusation with counter-evidence so often I've lost count. The work the Institute itself has supported and published since 2012 proves the allegation false. Such work includes but isn't limited to the following:

An eight-volume book series investigating key passages of Latter-day Saint scripture; the 6-volume-and-growing "Living Faith" book series in which scholars affirm, defend, and fortify faithwhile discussing things they've learned by engaging in the life of the mind in the academy; a 4-volume scripture study series by Latter-day Saint philosopher James Faulconer, specifically crafted to assist the church's Gospel Doctrine instructors (possible updated versions pending); over eighty episodes of faith-promoting and professionally produced podcast interviews with Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint scholars alike, reflecting on faith and reason, the academic study of religious faith, Latter-day Saint scripture and history, responses to criticism of church belief/practice, and explorations of intersections with other faiths like Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism; dozens of public lectures specifically for Latter-day Saints from speakers like John W. Welch, Terryl Givens, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Deidre Green, Janiece Johnson, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and more—almost all of which having been made available online, reaching thousands and thousands of viewers; and six volumes of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies.

What's more, I personally oversaw a project making over a hundred FARMS Preliminary Reports freely available online for the first time ever. We're currently working on an even more stable and accessible home for these past catalog items. In terms of books alone the Institute has published more, not fewer, books fortifying the faith of Latter-day Saints since 2012 than in the Institute's prior 6 or so years of existence—approximately 19 books from 2006 to 2012 compared to 27 books between 2013 and 2018. These new books have sold more copies than anything the Institute had previously published—perhaps with the exception of some of the Nibley books, which were a FARMS legacy and not unique to the Institute itself. We've generated wide-spread interest in these works. We've partnered with Deseret Book to make them more widely available than previous Institute publications. The vast majority of people who follow the Institute today know us because of these works. 

However, given all of these commending and defending examples—and there are even more than these—where did anyone get the impression that the Institute had become nothing but a venue for "secular religious studies," that it "abandoned apologetics"? In my opinion, this misconception stems mainly from the transformation of the FARMS Review into the Mormon Studies Review. The former was geared specifically to Latter-day Saints. It responded to books deemed critical of the church, but it also included many contributions which explored various historical, theological, and philosophical topics some Latter-day Saints might find interesting. The MSR, by contrast, was geared specifically to the academy as a way to track the emerging field of Mormon studies, to help professionals around the country and beyond grapple with scholarship about the church, to encourage responsible engagement with our tradition, and to inspire Latter-day Saints who are interested in such work (a minority of Saints, to be sure). That transformation occurred during the so-called "Mormon moment" when the church had a great interest in helping the public, the media, and the academy to better understand our tradition, to have a credible seat at the discussion table. That shift in the Review—from facing Latter-day Saints to facing the academy directly—was held up as the only relevant piece of information about the Institute, as the reason for the Institute's entire existence. For those who only knew about the Institute through the FARMS Review (a large portion of its followers at the time according to my anecdotal experience), it seemed as if the Institute itself had turned away from the Saints and from commending and defending the Saints. As my list above suggests, however, aside from the shift in the new MSR, the Institute actually increased and diversified its other publications to bolster and defend the faith of the Saints. 

The Mormon Studies Review has subsequently been moved to the University of Illinois Press. After its current issue the Institute no longer owns or oversees its production. In accordance with the Institute's new mission statement, which took several years to craft in consultation with BYU administration and Board of Trustees (which includes members of the Quorum of the Twelve), the Institute has shifted its priorities more than ever to inspiring and fortifying Latter-day Saints in particular. This is why our Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI) was transferred to the internationally renowned publisher Bill, why our Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART) was wound down last year. These were difficult decisions and they didn't happen without leaving some sadness in their wake. But they happened so that time and resources and personnel could be more dedicated to the new mission statement and in accordance with the wishes of the Institute's current administration and BYU. These developments didn't generate much public outcry compared to the Mormon Studies Review, with the exception of Dr. Peterson and one or two others voicing their regrets and sorrows. But these eminently scholarly endeavors weren't held up as signals that the Institute was abandoning its academic mission and its work which directly faced the academy. 

In sum, the Institute continued to focus on fortifying and inspiring the faith of Latter-day Saints in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ when the FARMS Review changed, and we are even more committed to this mission now, formalized in our actual mission statement and embodied in the work we continue to produce and will continue producing. 

 

Well I"m glad you chimed in with this.  I'm not too concerned either way, and haven't given the MI a great deal of attention.  So when I say what I do, I'm doing this from what other apologists characterize MI work as (since 2012).  Indeed, certain folks of the former MI have invoked Holland in his apparent dislike for secular religious studies and have been so confident that he is talking specifically of MI since 2012, that they don't know what more needs be said to prove the connection between Holland's condemnation and the MI.  Well that's what Greg Smith said in one of those comments on Peterson's blog this past week.  I should let you guys quibble about what is defending the faith and what is not, since I haven't taken much part in defending the faith in recent years.  I seem to recall Peterson himself telling the story that Bradford told him he wanted to do secular religious studies and apologetics, and Peterson saying ok, until Peterson went on the trip and was fired, or re-assigned or whatever he was via email, because Bradford wanted to take the MI in a direction other than the one his predecessors did.  Peterson while understandably upset of how that happened, has been pretty clear in his objection of the MI course since.  

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1 hour ago, stemelbow said:

  I should let you guys quibble about what is defending the faith and what is not, since I haven't taken much part in defending the faith in recent years.

Thanks, stemelbow. Personally I think such quibbling among fellow members is unnecessary and largely counter-productive to the message of the gospel.

I'm not surprised to see church leadership (most recently Elder Holland) offering explicit direction to the Maxwell Institute in particular, given that it is a third-party affiliate of the Church itself. We appreciate such guidance and encouragement, whether in public or behind the scenes. I'm also not surprised to see some church leaders publicly voice support—though not so much direct oversight—for non-affiliated entities like FAIR Mormon, Interpreter, or Book of Mormon Central. Each can perform much needed work in their respective parts of the vineyard. This isn't a contest between jealous siblings fighting over the approval of their parents. 

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2 hours ago, BHodges said:

There does seem to be some confusion. The claim that the Maxwell Institute abandoned apologetics in favor of "secular religious studies" is false. I've objected to this accusation with counter-evidence so often I've lost count (like here, for example). The work the Institute itself has supported and published since 2012 proves the allegation false. Such work includes, but isn't limited to, the following:

An award-winning eight-volume book series investigating key passages of Latter-day Saint scripture; the 6-volume-and-growing "Living Faith" book series in which scholars affirm, defend, and fortify faith while discussing things they've learned by engaging the life of the mind in the academy; a 4-volume scripture study series by Latter-day Saint philosopher James Faulconer, specifically crafted to assist the church's Gospel Doctrine instructors (possible updated versions pending); over eighty episodes of faith-promoting and professionally produced award-winning podcast interviews with Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint scholars alike, reflecting on faith and reason, the academic study of religious faith, Latter-day Saint scripture and history, responses to criticism of church belief/practice, and explorations of intersections with other faiths like Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism; dozens of public lectures specifically for Latter-day Saints from speakers like John W. Welch, Terryl Givens, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Deidre Green, Janiece Johnson, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, and more—almost all of which having been made available online, reaching thousands and thousands of viewers; and six volumes of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies.

What's more, I personally oversaw a project making over one hundred FARMS Preliminary Reports freely available online for the first time ever. We're currently working on an even more stable and accessible home for these past catalog items. In terms of books alone the Institute has published more, not fewer, books fortifying the faith of Latter-day Saints since 2012 than in the Institute's prior 6 or so years of existence—approximately 19 books from 2006 to 2012 compared to 27 books between 2013 and 2018 by my count. These new books have sold more copies than anything the Institute previously published—perhaps with the exception of some of the Nibley books. We've generated wide-spread interest in these works. We've partnered with Deseret Book to make them more widely available than previous Institute publications.

Given all of these examples of inspiring and fortifying—and there are even more than these—where did anyone get the impression that the Institute had simply become nothing but a venue for "secular religious studies" or that it "abandoned apologetics"? In my opinion, this misconception stems mainly from the transformation of the FARMS Review into the Mormon Studies Review. The former was geared specifically to Latter-day Saints. It responded to books deemed critical of the church, but it also included many contributions which explored various historical, theological, and philosophical topics some Latter-day Saints might find interesting. The MSR by contrast was geared specifically to the academy as a way to track the emerging field of Mormon studies, to help professionals around the country and beyond grapple with scholarship about the church, to encourage responsible engagement with our tradition, and to inspire Latter-day Saints who are interested in such work (a minority of Saints, to be sure). That transformation occurred during the so-called "Mormon moment" when the church had a great interest in helping the public, the media, and the academy to better understand our tradition, to have a credible seat at the discussion table. That shift in the Review—from facing Latter-day Saints to facing the academy directly—was implicitly held up by some as the only relevant piece of information about the Institute, as the reason for the Institute's entire existence. For those who only knew about the Institute through the FARMS Review (a large portion of its followers at the time according to my own anecdotal experience), it seemed as if the Institute itself had turned away from the Saints and from commending and defending the Saints. As my list above suggests, however, aside from the shift in the new MSR, the Institute actually increased and diversified its other publications to bolster and defend the faith of the Saints. 

As I mentioned in the other thread, the Mormon Studies Review has subsequently been moved to the University of Illinois Press. After its current issue the Institute no longer owns or oversees its production. In accordance with the Institute's new mission statement—more than mere window dressing, it took several years to craft in consultation with BYU's administration and Board of Trustees (which includes members of the Quorum of the Twelve) and with input from an external review in 2014 before the appointment of the current director—the Institute has shifted its priorities more than ever to inspiring and fortifying Latter-day Saints in particular. This is why our Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI) was transferred to the internationally renowned publisher Bill, and why our Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART) was wound down last year. These were difficult decisions and they weren't painless. But they happened so that time, resources, and personnel could be even more dedicated to the new mission statement. This is what the Institute's current administration and BYU wants. These developments didn't generate much public outcry compared to the Mormon Studies Review (with the exception of Dr. Peterson and one or two others voicing their regrets and sorrows, offering their perspectives). But the departure of these eminently scholarly endeavors wasn't held up as a signal that the Institute was abandoning its academic mission and its work which directly faced the academy. 

In short, I've seen the Institute continue to focus on fortifying and inspiring the faith of Latter-day Saints in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ when the FARMS Review changed, and I see now that the Institute is even more committed to this mission now as formalized in its actual mission statement and embodied in the work Institute scholars continue to produce and will continue producing. The Institute is publishing more work than ever before (sans the Review), and it's housing more scholars and student research assistants who are working directly on Latter-day Saint topics than ever before.

While those works might have value they do not sound like they are apologetic in nature.

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4 hours ago, The Nehor said:

While those works might have value they do not sound like they are apologetic in nature.

How many have you read, watched, or listened to? The podcast and Living Faith series most especially qualify as apologetic. The balance is generally toward positive apologetics as opposed to negative apologetics, but both positive and negative apologetics can be (and have been) easily found by people who have actually spent time with the publications. 

Edited by BHodges

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6 minutes ago, BHodges said:

How many have you read, watched, or listened to?

None, I am boycotting the institute. I came to this conclusion based on the titles and descriptions and they do not sound apologetic in nature. Some, like that weird poetry one earlier just sound plain ridiculous. I am surprised it got published and I got a literature degree in college so I have seen some nutty stuff.

The closest one to apologetics looks to be “scholars affirm, defend, and fortify faith while discussing things they've learned by engaging the life of the mind in the academy;” Then you realize it says “life of the mind in the academy” and realize someone is probably talking complete egotistical rubbish.

Your podcasts claim to have defense but that seems like a rather small part assuming it is accurate and overall I am not getting the apologetic vibe I got back in the pre-coup days. 

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Well I can hardly think of a better endorsement for the Institute than being boycotted by someone who goes by "the Nehor." 😂

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14 hours ago, BHodges said:

Thanks, stemelbow. Personally I think such quibbling among fellow members is unnecessary and largely counter-productive to the message of the gospel.

I'm not surprised to see church leadership (most recently Elder Holland) offering explicit direction to the Maxwell Institute in particular, given that it is a third-party affiliate of the Church itself. We appreciate such guidance and encouragement, whether in public or behind the scenes. I'm also not surprised to see some church leaders publicly voice support—though not so much direct oversight—for non-affiliated entities like FAIR Mormon, Interpreter, or Book of Mormon Central. Each can perform much needed work in their respective parts of the vineyard. This isn't a contest between jealous siblings fighting over the approval of their parents. 

So do you take Holland's words as some amount of condemnation for not doing it as they should have been?  It sounds kind of like he's preaching to the choir in a sense, to me. Seeing as you all need to revere him as an apostle I"m sure you can't just dismiss his words, and keep moving forward as you were.  I suppose apostles have a benefit in that they can talk as if the masses are failing and need to pray more and be more righteous because people simply aren't perfect.  Is this more than that?  

I can't tell if he's basically said a vanilla "do better, pray more" kind of thing or if he's saying you guys need to stop, collaborate and listen, changing course, making direction changes to avoid Bradford's previous religious studies pursuit?  I mean you can't deny that Peterson and company have seen his words as delicious just desserts to a problematic institution.  If you don't see a contest between jealous siblings fighting over the approval of their parents, it seems to me you need to convince the other side of that.  Many times over the past 6.5 years it seems that's exactly what it has been.  

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7 hours ago, BHodges said:

Well I can hardly think of a better endorsement for the Institute than being boycotted by someone who goes by "the Nehor." 😂

The Nehor's point is germaine though.  It seems to me that Holland would rather see some direct attacks lobbed out of your shelter rather than some fancy attempts to speak on a higher snobbish plane.  I mean I think the snobbish plane thing you've tried to establish can be interesting, I"m not certain or sold myself, but it surely isn't an attempt to speak tot he old lady in Parowan or Patagonia or whatever.  

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47 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

So do you take Holland's words as some amount of condemnation for not doing it as they should have been?  It sounds kind of like he's preaching to the choir in a sense, to me. Seeing as you all need to revere him as an apostle I"m sure you can't just dismiss his words, and keep moving forward as you were.  I suppose apostles have a benefit in that they can talk as if the masses are failing and need to pray more and be more righteous because people simply aren't perfect.  Is this more than that?  

I can't tell if he's basically said a vanilla "do better, pray more" kind of thing or if he's saying you guys need to stop, collaborate and listen, changing course, making direction changes to avoid Bradford's previous religious studies pursuit?  I mean you can't deny that Peterson and company have seen his words as delicious just desserts to a problematic institution.  If you don't see a contest between jealous siblings fighting over the approval of their parents, it seems to me you need to convince the other side of that.  Many times over the past 6.5 years it seems that's exactly what it has been.  

Elder Holland's address is a Rorschach test of sorts. For people at the Institute who have been involved in discussions about the changing mission statement and the redirection of Institute resources and efforts over the past 5 years, and more intensely over the past two years, his address signaled the increased attention, and called for even more attention, being given to Latter-day Saints in particular and not the broader academy. Particularly regarding Mormon studies. The bulk of Elder Holland's most challenging remarks addressed the problem of Mormon studies and the term Mormon itself, something he sympathized with the Institute on, saying the Church as a whole was reckoning with how to realign with President Nelson's counsel on that term and what it represents. So his charge wasn't vanilla, certainly, nor is the Institute dismissing his words. It has already been moving to align better with them, as witnessed by the departure of the Mormon Studies Review

I think you're right that the Rorschach test has been interpreted by others as a severe rebuke and an affirmation of their narrative about a "coup" and ignoring the Saints. People are picking up on a flavor of schadenfreude in these critiques. The Institute itself has avoided squabbling with entities like Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, despite what I think are some unfair criticisms coming from some of the people associated with those entities. Convincing the other side of that (a side which itself has some different perspectives about the Maxwell Institute as evidenced by the reassurance of friends I have who work with each of those entities) is a difficult task. 

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1 hour ago, stemelbow said:

The Nehor's point is germaine though.  It seems to me that Holland would rather see some direct attacks lobbed out of your shelter rather than some fancy attempts to speak on a higher snobbish plane.  I mean I think the snobbish plane thing you've tried to establish can be interesting, I"m not certain or sold myself, but it surely isn't an attempt to speak tot he old lady in Parowan or Patagonia or whatever.  

I think Elder Holland was more concerned about Institute scholars wearing their faith on their sleeves, while doing the best academic work possible, and sometimes in answer to criticisms of the Church or more directly to bolster the faith of the Saints, than he was with "lobbing direct attacks out of a shelter." Nothing in his remarks called for hostile, snarky, sarcastic, parodying attacks or flagrant fouls. Here's another excerpt from Elder Holland which Dr. Peterson didn't emphasize in his selective reading about how Institute scholars are trying to reach multiple audiences, those in the academy and those in the pews (and the few who reside in both):

Quote

By speaking to two audiences, I’m not suggesting you be two-faced. This is not a call to hypocrisy but precisely the opposite. When you’re writing for the household of faith, you should never write anything that would give your doctoral adviser just cause to accuse you of dishonesty. Likewise, when you are writing for an academic journal, you should never write anything that would give your ministering companion just cause to accuse you of disloyalty. Your soul must be one—integrated, intact, and whole—even as your voice may speak in different languages to different audiences. This is a daunting thing we are asking of you, but we see the Maxwell Institute as a rarified training ground where gospel athletes stretch their abilities to speak in grace and truth to all of our Father’s children. But that can be only if you never, ever lose sight of your call to be true to the kingdom of God.

He followed this up with a stirring excerpt from George MacDonald. Not to be missed, forthcoming in our annual report which is going to the printer this week. Interesting to me is Elder Holland's qualification of "just cause to accuse." He doesn't call for people to accuse or police the Institute, although some set themselves up in that role. He's aware of unjust accusations and the presence of people who are trying to police the Institute and wants us to be on guard. 

We aren't endeavoring to set up a "snobbish plane"; we're recognizing that honesty and integrity in scholarship is part of a negotiation that happens with doctoral advisers and other people with certain expectations in the academy. And the academy has also carved out spaces for people of faith to write from perspectives of faith, as Elder Holland discusses. Navigating those shoals can be difficult, but it's part of what makes the Institute special and important to the church as well as the academy. 

Parenthetically, the accusation of snobbishness can easily be leveled at any of these entities. A glance at recent Interpreter offerings, for example, shows articles with Latin titles, explorations of names in the Lord of the Rings versus the Book of Mormon, and observations about Assyria's attack on Northern Israel. I don't know that any of these would appeal to a Relief Society President in Parowan. Should they not be published? Or should we think more highly of the RS president? 

Edited by BHodges
added a parenthetical
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4 minutes ago, BHodges said:

Elder Holland's address is a Rorschach test of sorts. For people at the Institute who have been involved in discussions about the changing mission statement and the redirection of Institute resources and efforts over the past 5 years, and more intensely over the past two years, his address signaled the increased attention, and called for even more attention, being given to Latter-day Saints in particular and not the broader academy. Particularly regarding Mormon studies. The bulk of Elder Holland's most challenging remarks addressed the problem of Mormon studies and the term Mormon itself, something he sympathized with the Institute on, saying the Church as a whole was reckoning with how to realign with President Nelson's counsel on that term and what it represents. So his charge wasn't vanilla, certainly, nor is the Institute dismissing his words. It has already been moving to align better with them, as witnessed by the departure of the Mormon Studies Review

I"m surprised you have referred to it as a Rorschach test.  I"ve seen others say as much.  Did Holland really put out images to watch your response and do a psychological evaluation?  When I saw others call it a Rorschach test I got a bit of a chuckle out of the notion and didn't think Holland would stoop to such a venture.  He's testing his subjects to determine their psychological makeup?  Am I missing something here?  IT's a silly kind of idea.  But in truth, I can't put such a thing past the leadership of the Church.  There does seem to be an effort to look down on their subjects at various times and in various ways.  

4 minutes ago, BHodges said:

I think you're right that the Rorschach test has been interpreted by others as a severe rebuke and an affirmation of their narrative about a "coup" and ignoring the Saints. People are picking up on a flavor of schadenfreude in these critiques. The Institute itself has avoided squabbling with entities like Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, despite what I think are some unfair criticisms coming from some of the people associated with those entities. Convincing the other side of that (a side which itself has some different perspectives about the Maxwell Institute as evidenced by the reassurance of friends I have who work with each of those entities) is a difficult task. 

It sounds like Holland is just sitting back and watching your response.  I wonder if he'll come and praise you about how you've passed, he'll just ignore you from now on thinking you passed and you don't need any more attention, or if he'll come back and condemn you further for not passing his test--not changing enough to be considered responsive to his initial rebuke.  Thinking of this as  Rorschach test really puts the comedy to this drama.  

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1 hour ago, stemelbow said:

The Nehor's point is germaine though.  It seems to me that Holland would rather see some direct attacks lobbed out of your shelter rather than some fancy attempts to speak on a higher snobbish plane.  I mean I think the snobbish plane thing you've tried to establish can be interesting, I"m not certain or sold myself, but it surely isn't an attempt to speak tot he old lady in Parowan or Patagonia or whatever.  

I do not think he wants direct attacks. I suspect he does want direct defenses as opposed to rarefied gobbledygook masquerading as academics to impress the unenlightened masses.

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2 minutes ago, BHodges said:

I think Elder Holland was more concerned about Institute scholars wearing their faith on their sleeves, while doing the best academic work possible, and sometimes in answer to criticisms of the Church or more directly to bolster the faith of the Saints, than he was with "lobbing direct attacks out of a shelter." Nothing in his remarks called for hostile, snarky, sarcastic, parodying attacks or flagrant fouls. Here's another excerpt from Elder Holland which Dr. Peterson didn't emphasize in his selective reading about how Institute scholars are trying to reach multiple audiences, those in the academy and those in the pews (and the few who reside in both):

He followed this up with a stirring excerpt from George MacDonald. Not to be missed, forthcoming in our annual report which is going to the printer this week. Interesting to me is Elder Holland's qualification of "just cause to accuse." He doesn't call for people to accuse or police the Institute, although some set themselves up in that role. He's aware of unjust accusations and the presence of people who are trying to police the Institute and wants us to be on guard. 

We aren't endeavoring to set up a "snobbish plane"; we're recognizing that honesty and integrity in scholarship is part of a negotiation that happens with doctoral advisers and other people with certain expectations in the academy. And the academy has also carved out spaces for people of faith to write from perspectives of faith, as Elder Holland discusses. Navigating those shoals can be difficult, but it's part of what makes the Institute special and important to the church as well as the academy. 

Okie dokes.  I"m curious why the impression is out there amongst members who are seemingly opposed to the Institute that Holland was clearly rebuking the institute for embracing secularly religious studies.  It seems to me the main problem with his position is trying to create a dichotomy between secular religious studies and non-secular religious studies.  IF the institute puts out scholarship that is an attempt to legitimize or speak to the secular religious studies world, then it seems to be doing exactly what Holland opposes.  If the Institute fears to speak to secular religious studies in any of it's pieces then it can't really be taken seriously, it seems to me.  If Holland was doing as you suggest, he's a bit conniving, it seems to me, and he's really trying to get you to play with your hands behind your back, all to make sure any opponents know he really disrespects them.  I used to tie my right hand to my side and play basketball with my son and his friend, when they were younger.  I'd still beat them even though my right hand is dominant.  It helped them get better in time and soon I wasn't able to beat the two of them with both my hands free.  Is he trying to tell the rest of the scholarly world that you guys can beat them without hands and until they listen you will have your hands tied behind your back wooping them?  

It's as if he's using you to attack one of the three main enemies of the Church--the intellectuals.  

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13 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

I"m surprised you have referred to it as a Rorschach test.  I"ve seen others say as much.  Did Holland really put out images to watch your response and do a psychological evaluation?  When I saw others call it a Rorschach test I got a bit of a chuckle out of the notion and didn't think Holland would stoop to such a venture.  He's testing his subjects to determine their psychological makeup?  Am I missing something here?  IT's a silly kind of idea.  But in truth, I can't put such a thing past the leadership of the Church.  There does seem to be an effort to look down on their subjects at various times and in various ways.  

It sounds like Holland is just sitting back and watching your response.  I wonder if he'll come and praise you about how you've passed, he'll just ignore you from now on thinking you passed and you don't need any more attention, or if he'll come back and condemn you further for not passing his test--not changing enough to be considered responsive to his initial rebuke.  Thinking of this as  Rorschach test really puts the comedy to this drama.  

Holland didn't refer to it that way, of course not. It's basically a way of saying that a person's interpretation is heavily influenced by the experiences, perspectives, and biases that a viewer (or in this case a listener) brings to the table. Someone with a jaded, cynical, or negative view of the Institute will interpret it in that register. Someone with a hopeful, invested, participating perspective will receive the lecture in that register. Thanks for the questions. 

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16 minutes ago, The Nehor said:

I do not think he wants direct attacks. I suspect he does want direct defenses as opposed to rarefied gobbledygook masquerading as academics to impress the unenlightened masses.

We've never aimed at "rarefied gobbledygook masquerading as academics to impress the unenlightened masses," and we've published direct defenses, as I said, in the form of both positive and negative apologetics. Not everyone is going to understand everything we publish, or that our scholars publish, of course. But we continue to reach for broader and broader Latter-day Saint audiences. As you said, you're not interested in reading or listening but prefer to evaluate these things based on my brief descriptions of them. A boycott is a boycott and I respect your right to it. 

Edited by BHodges

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12 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

Okie dokes.  I"m curious why the impression is out there amongst members who are seemingly opposed to the Institute that Holland was clearly rebuking the institute for embracing secularly religious studies.  It seems to me the main problem with his position is trying to create a dichotomy between secular religious studies and non-secular religious studies.  IF the institute puts out scholarship that is an attempt to legitimize or speak to the secular religious studies world, then it seems to be doing exactly what Holland opposes.  If the Institute fears to speak to secular religious studies in any of it's pieces then it can't really be taken seriously, it seems to me.  If Holland was doing as you suggest, he's a bit conniving, it seems to me, and he's really trying to get you to play with your hands behind your back, all to make sure any opponents know he really disrespects them.  I used to tie my right hand to my side and play basketball with my son and his friend, when they were younger.  I'd still beat them even though my right hand is dominant.  It helped them get better in time and soon I wasn't able to beat the two of them with both my hands free.  Is he trying to tell the rest of the scholarly world that you guys can beat them without hands and until they listen you will have your hands tied behind your back wooping them?  

 It's as if he's using you to attack one of the three main enemies of the Church--the intellectuals.  

So that's a pretty cynical reading of Elder Holland. As people will see in the published remarks, Elder Holland is aware of some of the methodological disagreements in the diverse field of religious studies. He cited scholars Jon Levenson and Stephen Prothero as exemplifying approaches that include open acknowledgement of the faith commitments of scholars, approaches which he wants the Institute to pursue. My recent podcast interview with Robert Orsi and my older interview with James K. A. Smith speak directly to these issues, as will a forthcoming episode with Catherine Cornille. 

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16 hours ago, The Nehor said:

While those works might have value they do not sound like they are apologetic in nature.

I agree, but think it's a good thing. I would characterize the MI as now engaging in faithful scholarship (that is, scholarship that is complementary to and enhances faith) but not religious apologetics (meaning scholarship aimed at defending or promoting religious claims.)

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43 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

I"m curious why the impression is out there amongst members who are seemingly opposed to the Institute that Holland was clearly rebuking the institute for embracing secularly religious studies.

 

1 hour ago, BHodges said:

Elder Holland's address is a Rorschach test of sorts.

I think part of the problem is that there were basically two voices and point of views in Holland's address. Based on the prepared copy of the talk that I've read, you have: 1) President Nelson, who explicitly does not even know what Mormon Studies is (“Part of the Maxwell Institute problem is its identity, [never more obvious than in the subset titled] ‘Mormon studies.’ [Is this] an institute for studies on the Book of Mormon? ... or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? ... or the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ? ... [We] need to [help them] know who they are and why they exist.”) and is (IMO) distrusting of secular scholarship. (He is hasn't hid is disdain and mockery of evolution.) and 2) Elder Holland, who makes it clear throughout his talk that he is acting as a messenger, has in the past been a chief advocate of Mormon Studies among The Brethren, and is trying to balance out his duty as a messenger while trying to soften the message.

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1 hour ago, BHodges said:

 

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By speaking to two audiences, I’m not suggesting you be two-faced. This is not a call to hypocrisy but precisely the opposite. When you’re writing for the household of faith, you should never write anything that would give your doctoral adviser just cause to accuse you of dishonesty. Likewise, when you are writing for an academic journal, you should never write anything that would give your ministering companion just cause to accuse you of disloyalty. Your soul must be one—integrated, intact, and whole—even as your voice may speak in different languages to different audiences. This is a daunting thing we are asking of you, but we see the Maxwell Institute as a rarified training ground where gospel athletes stretch their abilities to speak in grace and truth to all of our Father’s children. But that can be only if you never, ever lose sight of your call to be true to the kingdom of God.

He followed this up with a stirring excerpt from George MacDonald. Not to be missed, forthcoming in our annual report which is going to the printer this week. Interesting to me is Elder Holland's qualification of "just cause to accuse." He doesn't call for people to accuse or police the Institute, although some set themselves up in that role. He's aware of unjust accusations and the presence of people who are trying to police the Institute and wants us to be on guard. 

We aren't endeavoring to set up a "snobbish plane"; we're recognizing that honesty and integrity in scholarship is part of a negotiation that happens with doctoral advisers and other people with certain expectations in the academy. And the academy has also carved out spaces for people of faith to write from perspectives of faith, as Elder Holland discusses. Navigating those shoals can be difficult, but it's part of what makes the Institute special and important to the church as well as the academy. 

Parenthetically, the accusation of snobbishness can easily be leveled at any of these entities. A glance at recent Interpreter offerings, for example, shows articles with Latin titles, explorations of names in the Lord of the Rings versus the Book of Mormon, and observations about Assyria's attack on Northern Israel. I don't know that any of these would appeal to a Relief Society President in Parowan. Should they not be published? Or should we think more highly of the RS president? 

Thanks for sharing this additional excerpt from the talk.  I find it insightful and important to consider these dynamics.  I'm actually quite impressed with the way that Elder Holland articulated this section as it really gets to the heart of the matter.  

I love that he is emphasizing scholarly honesty on one hand, which I think if this is practiced effectively, it will essentially eliminate all the problematic apologetics of the past.  I see this principle centered around engaging with the academy using rigor and the tools that are accepted by the scholarly community.  Essentially to give legitimacy to the work being done in a respectable way.  

The second emphasis on not causing your ministering companion to accuse you of disloyalty, is more about the tone with which the material is delivered.  He's speaking about writing in academic journals.  Author who write for these publications are already encouraged to write in a dispassionate and respectful tone.  So this second pillar of his emphasis would be supported by the expectations of reputable scholarship already, and its speaking more directly at the tone and way that people write than the actual content.  

I see this section of Elder Hollands address to be completely supportive of the recent direction we've seen from the MI, and also very encouraging from my vantage point.  It means that things will continue down a wise path going forward, and that we are not going to return to the politics of the past.  I'm not sure how Dan Peterson missed this important section when he wrote his article, perhaps he needs to go back and re-read it.  

I also like your comment about people who have appointed themselves as police making criticisms/accusations of the MI.  Some of these same people also must feel a calling to set themselves up as defenders of their interpretations of orthodoxy and they justify tactics that in some ways do harm to the culture and institutions that the very church they believe they are defending is trying to uphold.  I think these people need to re-evaluate what it is that they are doing in the name of defense and orthodoxy.   

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1 hour ago, the narrator said:

I agree, but think it's a good thing. I would characterize the MI as now engaging in faithful scholarship (that is, scholarship that is complementary to and enhances faith) but not religious apologetics (meaning scholarship aimed at defending or promoting religious claims.)

I don't think such an obvious distinction needs to be made between work that "enhances" "promotes" or "defends" religious faith. There are different registers, sure, but not necessarily mutually exclusive. Some distinguish between positive apologetics (apologetics which drive the conversation, bolsters faith, inspires) and negative apologetics (in the sense of responding to direct criticisms or answering particular questions), either of which can enhance, promote, be complementary to, or defend religious faith depending on how things are framed. I get the sense that people at the Institute don't usually use the word "apologetics" to characterize its work publicly because most Latter-day Saints aren't familiar with or comfortable with the term. I understood FAIR Mormon's re-branding from F.A.I.R. as being influenced by the same dynamic, though they continue as an apologetic organization. (I could be mistaken about that motivation.)

Elder Holland used the word "apologetics" once in his Maxwell Lecture, interestingly enough. That doesn't mean apologetics don't matter, but that there are a variety of ways to talk about apologetics, some of which don't even have to emphasize that single word. A word, incidentally, which is rooted in the New Testament itself, 1 Peter 3:15: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear..."

This scripture has been used to support all sorts of brands of apologetics. Two things stand out to me. First, it is specifically talking about giving reason for the hope, i.e., Jesus Christ. This resonates with President Nelson's thoughts about Mormon studies, at least as it is pursued at BYU. The scripture also crucially directs the manner of apologetics, which is to be done in "meekness and fear," or reverence, respect, etc. With that in mind, I believe what he described and much of the Institute's work should be considered faithful scholarship as well as apologetic in a variety of ways. 

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25 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

 The second emphasis on not causing your ministering companion to accuse you of disloyalty, is more about the tone with which the material is delivered.  He's speaking about writing in academic journals.  Author who write for these publications are already encouraged to write in a dispassionate and respectful tone.  So this second pillar of his emphasis would be supported by the expectations of reputable scholarship already, and its speaking more directly at the tone and way that people write than the actual content.  

 

I think he's also speaking of being careful about trying to disprove fundamental faith claims of the restored gospel. The goal of scholarship at BYU isn't to challenge the truths of the gospel as taught by the church but to enhance, bolster, support, and point to its richness. So the content and packaging alike should reflect the truths of the gospel. When true things are put in aggressive, angry, contentious, snarky, mean-spirited, or loud-laughter-inducing packages the truth content is compromised. Untruths packaged up in pretty or apparently kind and loving words likewise faith to deliver gospel truths. 

Edited by BHodges
added "the goal of scholarship" line
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25 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

 I see this section of Elder Hollands address to be completely supportive of the recent direction we've seen from the MI, and also very encouraging from my vantage point.  It means that things will continue down a wise path going forward, and that we are not going to return to the politics of the past.  I'm not sure how Dan Peterson missed this important section when he wrote his article, perhaps he needs to go back and re-read it.  

 

Completely supportive, but also challenging to keep raising the bar and to properly focus priorities, right? Personally I think some people are focused on the role of the Mormon Studies Review, formerly the FARMS Review. As I said above, those who saw the Review as the most important or perhaps even the only apologetic element of the Institute pre-2012 can easily claim that the Institute abandoned apologetics because the Mormon Studies Review changed significantly, and now because it is no longer to be at the Institute at all. A few people have also focused on one book or another here or there, selectively trying to make a general complaint rooted in that same concern. But from where we stand at the Institute they aren't fully taking into account the its work as a whole, especially one fundamental aspect of its new mission, which is to gather and nurture disciple-scholars who go on to publish disciple-scholarship and other work elsewhere. We'll have 15 or so scholars at the Institute working on a variety of projects which will inspire and fortify the Saints.

The idea, I think, is that each of us in our respective stations and as individuals are trying to contribute to the Kingdom in our own venues and in our own ways. We ought not be at war with each other about how to do it. As stemelbow's comments suggest, some people very much enjoy watching friendly fire. I don't think that's a healthy exercise. We should be extremely cautious not to contribute to such divisiveness. 

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12 minutes ago, BHodges said:

I don't think such an obvious distinction needs to be made between work that "enhances" "promotes" or "defends" religious faith.

But religious apologetics involves promoting or defending the truth of religious claims. There is a difference between doing scholarship that may (or is intended) to enhance or faith, and scholarship done with the intent of promoting or defending the truth of particular religious claims. The current (or at least pre-Nelson/Holland talk) mission of the MI seemed geared at doing the former and has (at least as far as I have seen) avoided doing the latter, whereas the emphasis of the DCP-era MI and FARMS (or at least what was emphasized in retrospect by those involved) was the latter.

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18 minutes ago, the narrator said:

But religious apologetics involves promoting or defending the truth of religious claims. There is a difference between doing scholarship that may (or is intended) to enhance or faith, and scholarship done with the intent of promoting or defending the truth of particular religious claims. The current (or at least pre-Nelson/Holland talk) mission of the MI seemed geared at doing the former and has (at least as far as I have seen) avoided doing the latter, whereas the emphasis of the DCP-era MI and FARMS (or at least what was emphasized in retrospect by those involved) was the latter.

Check the new mission statement:

Quote

The Maxwell Institute both gathers and nurtures disciple-scholars. As a research community, the Institute supports scholars whose work inspires and fortifies Latter-day Saints in their testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and engages the world of religious ideas.

Inspiration and fortification, along with gathering, nurturing, and engaging. Fortification can be defensive like walls or health-inducing like taking our vitamin pills, to borrow a phrase from Pres. Nelson. 

Picking a few books at random:

Schooling the Prophet, a book which argues that through Joseph Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon he received instruction from God about how to organize and direct the 19th century restored church based in part on ancient elements of Zion/Israel. 

Evolving Faith, a book which counters the claim that science disproves religious claims, challenges fundamentalist and atheistic assumptions, argues that LDSaint theology is disproven by or incompatible with biological evolution, among other things. 

First Principles and Ordinances, which bolsters gospel perspectives on the role of grace in comparison with some Reformation views of the same, among many other things. 

Planted, which addresses a number of criticisms of the church based on history, practice, belief, and invited church members to healthier ways of building Zion. 

What specifically is the difference you're seeing between between enhancing faith versus promoting or defending the truth of particular religious claims? Those are all things, I think, the Institute has done and will continue to do. 

Edited by BHodges
added mission statement
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4 minutes ago, BHodges said:

Picking a few books at random:

Schooling the Prophet, a book which argues that through Joseph Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon he received instruction from God about how to organize and direct the 19th century restored church based in part on ancient elements of Zion/Israel. 

Evolving Faith, a book which counters the claim that science disproves religious claims, challenges fundamentalist and atheistic assumptions, argues that LDSaint theology is disproven by or incompatible with biological evolution, among other things. 

First Principles and Ordinances, which bolsters gospel perspectives on the role of grace in comparison with some Reformation views of the same, among many other things. 

Planted, which addresses a number of criticisms of the church based on history, practice, belief, and invited church members to healthier ways of building Zion. 

What specifically is the difference you're seeing between between enhancing faith versus promoting or defending the truth of particular religious claims?

Schooling -- haven't read it, but sounds more like something assuming Joseph's prophetic calling rather than promoting or defending it.

Evolving - not apologetic. Rather, than promoting or defending the truth of religious claims, it's showing how science does neither. Instead it's of theology to show how those who begin with a premise of faith can embrace scientific views and how those views can better than beliefs.

First Principles - this is a work of theology, not apologetics. Like evolving, it begins with a premise of faith.

Planted - haven't read it, but from what I understand Patrick is neither trying to defend or promote religious beliefs but is rather taking a pastoral approach to help people through challenges. Michael Ing and Seth Payne have both argued for this approach, and Payne calls it pastoral apologetics, but I wouldn't call it religious apologetics.

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