Reflections on the Mission of The Interpreter Foundation

Abstract: Among the covenant obligations taken upon themselves by faithful Latter-day Saints is the consecration of their talents, gifts, and abilities to the building of the Kingdom of God on the earth. Those who established and lead The Interpreter Foundation see their mission in terms of this covenant. The Foundation’s goal is to foster honest and accessible scholarship in service to the Church and Kingdom of God, scholarship that will be of use and benefit to our fellow Latter-day Saints. Continue reading

The Inevitability of Epistemology in Historiography: Theory, History, and Zombie Mormon History

Abstract: Fundamental changes have occurred in the historical profession over the past thirty years. The central revolutionary change is that workers in the historical profession can no longer ignore theory and philosophy of history. A built-in resistance to theory causes historians to abjure philosophical analysis of their discipline at a time when such analysis is recognized to be indispensable. If one doesn’t have an explicit theory, one will appropriate one uncritically, without the felt need to articulate and defend the theory. The dominant theory in history over the past century has been positivism, a conception of disciplinary work that ruled history and the social sciences during the twentieth century but has been stripped of rhetorical and persuasive power over the past three decades. Although positivism has been overwhelmingly rejected by theoretically informed historians, it continues to dominate among the vast majority of historians, who fear adulterating history with philosophical examination. The most common version of positivism among historians is the assertion that the only evidence from the past that is valid is testimony based on empirical observation. This essay focuses on recent comments by Dan Vogel and Christopher Smith, who deny this dominance of positivism in the historical profession, and in Mormon history in particular, by misunderstanding positivism without even consulting the large scholarly literature on the topic that rebuts their assertions. They make no attempt to engage the sophisticated literature on the transformation in historiography and philosophy of history that has made most of history written [Page 112]to standards of the 1970s obsolete and revealed it as ideologically inspired; while at the same time these historical researchers assert their own objectivity by appealing to a conventional wisdom that is now antiquated. This version of positivism is especially hostile to religious belief in general, and in particular to that embodied in the LDS tradition. Continue reading

Literacy and Orality in the Book of Mormon

Abstract: The Book of Mormon is a literate product of a literate culture. It references written texts. Nevertheless, behind the obvious literacy, there are clues to a primary orality in Nephite culture. The instances of text creation and most instances of reading texts suggest that documents were written by and for an elite class who were able to read and write. Even among the elite, reading and writing are best seen as a secondary method of communication to be called upon to archive information, to communicate with future readers (who would have been assumed to be elite and therefore able to read), and to communicate when direct oral communication was not possible (letters and the case of Korihor). As we approach the text, we may gain new insights into the art with which it was constructed by examining it as the literate result of a primarily oral culture. Continue reading

Founded Upon a Rock: Doctrinal and Temple Implications of Peter’s Surnaming

Abstract: The famous Petros/petra wordplay in Matthew 16:18 does not constitute Jesus’s identification of Peter as the “rock” upon which his church would be built. This wordplay does however identify him with that “rock” or “bedrock” inasmuch as Peter, a small “seer-stone,” had the potential to become like the Savior himself, “the Rock of ages.” One aspect of that “rock” is the revelation that comes through faith that Jesus is the Christ. Other aspects of that same rock are the other principles and ordinances of the gospel, including temple ordinances. The temple, a symbol of the Savior and his body (cf. the tabernacle with its nails in “sure” places), is also a symbol of the eternal family—the “sure house” built upon a rock. As such, the temple is the perfect embodiment of Peter’s labor in the priesthood, against which hell can never ultimately prevail. Continue reading

A Plea for Narrative Theology: Living In and By Stories

Abstract: The following are reflections on some of the complicated history, including the abuses, of what is commonly known as theology. The Saints do not “do theology.” Even when we are tempted, we do not reduce the contents or grounds of faith to something conforming to traditional theology. Instead, we tell stories of how and why we came to faith, which are then linked to a network of other stories found in our scriptures, and to a master narrative. We live in and by stories and not by either dogmatic or philosophically grounded systematic theology. Instead, we tend to engage in several strikingly different kinds of endeavors, especially including historical studies, which take the place of (and also clash with) what has traditionally been done under the name theology in its various varieties, confessional or otherwise. Continue reading