To Be Learned Is Good,
If One Stays on the Rails

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Abstract: This review essay looks at certain problematical issues in the recently published collection of essays honoring Latter-day Saint historian Richard Lyman Bushman. Problems emerge from the title itself, “To Be Learned is Good,” as a result of the failure to note that the Book of Mormon passage “To be learned is good” is a conditional statement. In addition, since these essays are billed as “Essays on Faith and Scholarship,” it is odd most of them do not touch on this subject at all. I examine four essays in depth, including Adam Miller’s “Christo-Fiction, Mormon Philosophy, and the Virtual Body of Christ,” which is offered as a form of clarifying Mormon philosophy but provides more confusion than clarification. Jared Hickman’s essay, “The Perverse Core of Mormonism: The Book of Mormon, Genetic Secularity, and Messianic Decoloniality,” presents Mormonism as a religion that has much in common with Marxism, Frantz Fanon, and Sean Coulhard. While not as bold as Hickman, Patrick Mason looks at Mormonism as a modern religion and suggests that premodern thinkers are largely irrelevant to Mormonism and the modern world. Mason argues that “Mormonism is a religion that could meaningfully converse with modern philosophies and ideologies from transcendentalism, liberalism, and Marxism.” I discuss the weaknesses of this view. Attention is also given to the distinction between apologetics and “Mormon Studies” that arise from essays by Grant Wacker, Armand Mauss, Terryl Givens, and Brian D. Birch, who suggests “‘a methodological pluralism'” in approaching Mormon studies. I note that several of the essays in this volume are worthy of positive note, particularly those by Bushman himself, Mauss (who does address the presumed theme of the book), Givens, Mauro Properzi, and Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye (who also addresses the titled theme of the book in a most engaging manner).

[Page 78]Review of J. Spencer Fluhman, Kathleen Flake, and Jed Woodworth, eds., To Be Learned is Good: Essays on Faith and Scholarship in Honor of Richard Lyman Bushman (Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2017). 368 pp. $24.56 (hardcover).




The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship has undertaken a project that on its face should have been excellent — a collection of essays honoring Latter-day Saint historian Richard Bushman. It consists of 26 essays by scholars who have been students of Bushman or been influenced by him. It “reflects the vibrant exchanges from a memorable scholars’ colloquium in June 2016 in honor of … Bushman” (ix). Not surprisingly, some of the most prominent figures in contemporary Mormon intellectual circles are contributors, including Bushman himself; his wife, Claudia Bushman; as well as Terryl L. Givens, Armand L. Mauss, Adam S. Miller, Philip L. Barlow, Matthew J. Grow, Laurie F. Maffley Kipp, Patrick Q. Mason, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Grant Underwood, and Jed Woodworth (who assisted Bushman in the research and editing of Bushman’s monumental biography Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling).

For all its promise, this collection goes seriously off the rails in several ways. Most notably, the book presents itself as a series of essays on faith and scholarship, implying that the essays, or at least some of them, will consider the relationship between the two. But this important topic seems at best an afterthought for many if not most of the essays. There is even a problem with the volume’s title. Latter-day Saints will recognize that the phrase “to be learned is good” comes from Second Nephi in The Book of Mormon: “But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:29). I may have missed it, but I saw no place in this book that recognized that the statement “to be learned is good” is a conditional statement. Hence, “To be learned is good if we “hearken unto the counsels of God.” That condition is the crucial key to the relationship between faith and scholarship. This makes the failure to address the absence of the qualifying condition a mystery. Why is the conditional statement left out? Why is “to be learned is good” instead presented as a nonconditional absolute?

In the Book of Mormon, the “to be learned is good” passage is preceded by some stark warnings:

Wherefore, he has given a law; and where there is no law given there is no punishment; and where there is no punishment there [Page 79]is no condemnation; and where there is no condemnation the mercies of the Holy One of Israel have claim upon them, because of the atonement; for they are delivered by the power of him.

For the atonement satisfieth the demands of his justice upon all those who have not the law given to them, that they are delivered from that awful monster, death and hell, and the devil, and the lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment; and they are restored to that God who gave them breath, which is the Holy One of Israel.

But wo unto him that has the law given, yea, that has all the commandments of God, like unto us, and that transgresseth them, and that wasteth the days of his probation, for awful is his state! (2 Nephi 9:25‒27)

And the starkest warning of all, particularly for intellectuals (either real or feigned), is the very next verse:

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28)

The majority of the essays in this book ignore the question of the relationship between faith and scholarship altogether and seem unwilling to acknowledge the possibility that the presumed wisdom of the academic world can often be foolishness.

Interestingly enough, one person who does not ignore this question is Bushman himself, who has given serious thought to it for much of his academic career. In 1969, Bushman wrote the article “Faithful History,” a thoughtful and useful article for Dialogue.1 For this book, Bushman has written an even better essay, “Finding the Right Words: Speaking Faith in Secular Times” (295‒306). This essay, which is an elaboration on President Spencer W. Kimball’s famous 1976 “Second Century of Brigham Young University” address,2 is one that any Mormon attending [Page 80]or thinking of attending a university as either an undergraduate or graduate student would be well-advised to read.

Bushman discusses briefly but movingly a crisis of faith he had before going on his mission. Reflecting on that period in his life, Bushman writes, “I have come to believe that in actuality my problem was not faith but finding the words to express my faith” (299). These would have to be words that were comprehensible to those outside as well as inside the faith, almost like translating from one language to another. The words we might use in a testimony meeting are not necessarily going to be understood by someone outside the faith, as we might expect. That is not only a simple lesson but also a profound one.

Adam Miller and Philosophy of a Kind

This volume is divided into six sections. Section 3 is ominously entitled “Reenvisioning Mormonism.” Does Mormonism really need reeinvisioning? If it does, none of the essays in this section or elsewhere in the book offers any clue as to why it needs reeinvisioning.

Adam Miller’s essay, “Christo-Fiction, Mormon Philosophy, and the Virtual Body of Christ” (101‒10), is a representative essay in this section of the book. Miller, who is probably best known for his book Letters to a Young Mormon,3 attempts to clarify some matters, but his essay winds up creating much more confusion than clarification. It is best to turn to Miller’s own words:

For the sake of clarity, let’s borrow some language from Manuel DeLanda’s Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy. As we’ve described things, there are three elements in play when it comes to defining Mormonism: (1) the actual, (2) the potential and (3) what DeLanda, following Gilles Deleuze, refers to as the virtual. We can understand (1) what is actual as the point in space occupied by a thing in its present state, (2) what is potential as the line or vector that traces and projects the specific trajectory of a thing’s past development and future actualization and (3) what is virtual as the state space that defines a thing’s manifold of possible states and vectors — a manifold that by definition can be partially actualized only in narrow slices that, compared to that thing’s entire field of action, are exceedingly thin. (102‒103)

[Page 81]Keep in mind that this is Miller’s way of attaining clarity. He goes on to tell us that as “a philosopher, then, what I’m interested in is not just Mormonism’s actual position (Mormonism as a point in space), or even Mormonism’s potential (Mormonism as a specific temporal vector, historical or projected), but this deeper category that shapes them both. I want to know what Mormonism can do. I want to grasp the virtual state space that maps Mormonism’s field of action” (103).

Just in case this is not yet altogether clear, we should, Miller suggests, return to DeLanda

to describe the virtual kind of state space. State space is a term of art adapted from the world of engineering. In mathematical models of discrete dynamical systems, state space refers to the set of possible values a given system can generate. DeLanda simply says, “state space is a space of given possibility states,” or again, “State spaces may be viewed as a way of specifying possible worlds for a given physical system, or at least, each trajectory in the phase portrait representing one possible historical sequence of states for a system or process.” In this sense, a state space is a static representation of an agent’s dynamic range of action. (103)

Unfortunately, the essay never gets any clearer. Miller loves to remind his readers that he is a philosopher (he does so twice in the first three pages of this essay). And it is true, but he is an academic philosopher and not a Socrates.

Reading this essay reminds me of a story I used to share in many of the classes I taught. A young college freshman returned home for Christmas at the end of his first semester, a semester in which he had an introductory English course where he was taught “critical thinking,” an introductory sociology course where he was taught about the social construction of reality, and an introductory philosophy class where he learned about his place in the “space state.” When he arrives at home, his mother hands him a glass of water. He says (without a thank you), “This is a glass of water. Or is it a glass of water? And if it is a glass of water, why is it a glass of water?” Shocked, the mother is befuddled at what has happened to her son. But, keep in mind, it is good to be learned.

Jared Hickman and the Perverse Core of Mormonism

Another essay in this section, Jared Hickman’s “The Perverse Core of Mormonism: The Book of Mormon, Genetic Secularity, and Messianic [Page 82]Decoloniality” (131‒45), does, indeed, offer us a fundamentally reenvisioned Mormonism. Hickman begins by telling us that his aim

is to further my previous work on the Book of Mormon toward exposing what I will call the perverse core of Mormonism. This rubric echoes the Slovenian theorist Slavoj Zizek’s recent defense of “the Christian legacy.” In a nutshell, Zizek offers a counterintuitive Marxist response to the “Christian and other fundamentalisms” and “New Age spiritualisms” that, by his account, plague contemporary society. (131)

In Hickman’s view, “Zizek ends up arguing that Christianity harbors in its ‘perverse core’ what might seem to be its exact opposite — the atheistic materialism of Marx” (131‒32). This will lead to “a human community tasked with the revolutionary transformation of its material conditions” (132). Why stop there, though? It seems that a revolutionary transformation of Christianity as a whole is not enough for Hickman, who offers a “dialectical extension of Zizek’s argument” (132). In this extension Hickman insists that

Mormonism, understood as part of the “onslaught of new spiritualisms” [Zizek] decries, contains at its perverse core that which might well seem to be its exact opposite: decolonization, including the repudiation of Christian evangelization and the valorization of non-Christian spiritual traditions. If, for Zizek, Christianity leads to Marx, then, for me, Mormonism might be said to lead to Frantz Fanon,4 the great black Martinican anti-colonial theorist and activist who intervened within a Hegelian-Marxist tradition that had exhibited conceptual and practical difficulty with race as a meaningful category of analysis and reality. (132)

Although even more precisely in Hickman’s view,

Mormonism ushers us to Glen Sean Coulhard, the Yellowknives Dene political philosopher who, in his recent Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition, has brilliantly rewritten Fanon from an unapologetically indigenous perspective, experimentally shifting the center of radical critique from Third to Fourth World. (132)

[Page 83]Ultimately, in Hickman’s reenvisioning of Mormonism, “the Book of Mormon suggests that its faithful readers will honor and sustain Native peoples without the missionary agenda or ethnocentric paternalism found within secular history. This reading, it seems to me, commits readers to the project of decolonization, an undeniable part of which is the renewal and reinvention of non-Christian Native spiritual practices” (140).

Hickman certainly gives us a reenvisioned and different Mormonism. This is not surprising, given its foundation in Marx, Fanon, and Coulhard, that it is a primarily a political and social project, a radicalized and more malevolent version of the Social Gospel Movement of the late 19th century. The only thing missing in Hickman’s presentation is Liberation Theology. Perhaps this will follow in the future as a natural result of a reenvisioned Mormonism. The cost of this reenvisioned Mormonism is merely the loss of the Mormon soul.

Patrick Mason and Modern Religion

Section 5 of the book, “Scholarship in Its Purest and Best Form?” includes a number of essays that bear consideration. One such essay is Patrick Mason’s “A Modern Religion” (223‒36). He wisely seeks to distinguish Mormonism as a modern religion from the long-familiar view that it is an American religion, as so classified by Harold Bloom. To characterize the religion as an American religion was always far too limiting. Why? One reason is that from the very beginning, the community of Saints has seen itself as a worldwide church even when it was primarily located in North America. In the fulfillment of prophecy, the Church has now begun to become what it was envisioned at the very beginning.

Mason’s distinction is a sound and useful one. However, he reaches some odd conclusions regarding Mormonism as a modern religion. After a solid discussion of Mormon theology and the role of the human soul in that theology, Mason goes on to assert the following: “With eternity as its backdrop, Mormonism is a religion … that could meaningfully converse with modern philosophies and ideologies from transcendentalism to liberalism to Marxism” (229). (What is this fascination that some of these academics have with Marxism?) For the knowledgeable Marxist (that is, knowledgeable about his own “scientific” understanding of the world), religion, politics, philosophy, art, and literature have no independent standing. These are necessarily, in Marxist ideology, mere epiphenomena that reflect the dominant modes of production as they exist at any given moment in history.

[Page 84]This is one of the best-known features of Marxism. For example, Marx and Engels, in their book The German Ideology, explain that

in religion people make their empirical world into an entity that is only conceived, imagined, that confronts them as something foreign. This again is by no means to be explained from other concepts, from “self-consciousness” and similar nonsense, but from the entire hitherto existing mode of production and intercourse, which is just as independent of the pure concept as the invention of the self-acting mule and the use of railways are independent of Hegelian philosophy. If he wants to speak of an “essence” of religion, i.e., of a material basis of this inessentiality, then he should look for it neither in the “essence of man,” nor in the predicate of God, but in the material world which each stage of religious development finds in existence.5

In the Marxist view, all our intellectualizing is a waste of time and will bear no fruit. In this world, Mormonism, like all other religions, is a fraud; religion, philosophy, and self-consciousness are nonsense. For Marx and Engels, the term nonsense literally means there is no empirical evidence or support for the truth claims of religion, philosophy, or self consciousness. How meaningful conversations can take place with a group (in this case, Marxists) that denies the possibility of anything that someone else says of a spiritual or philosophic nature is not clear.

In his concluding paragraph, Mason writes:

Far from being an anti-modern ideology [is Mormonism really an ideology?], Mormonism in it most robust form represents a distinctive way of being modern — theologically, socially, culturally, and existentially. It stands to reason then that Mormonism’s best conversation partners are not the pre-modern luminaries Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas — though they have much to teach us — but rather modern (and often non-American) thinkers such as Emerson, Weber, Einstein, James, Kierkegaard, Sartre, Gandhi, McIntyre, and Taylor. The next phase in Mormonism’s engagement with and place in the academy may well come not by dehistoricizing a religion that insists on history, but rather in broadening our sense of just what that historicity entails. (233)

[Page 85]Mason holds the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies and is Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Claremont Graduate University. I mention this because his essay reminds me of a conversation I had 45 or so years ago with a fellow student when I was in the PhD program in government at Claremont. In a nonconfrontational way, he presented to me what he saw as the great flaw in Mormonism, namely that it is a modern religion and it did not have the long intellectual tradition that we find in Catholicism (Aquinas and Augustine), Judaism (Moses Maimonides), or Islam (Averroes, Avicenna, and Al-Farabi). These philosophers, in various ways, saw in Plato and Aristotle a rational presentation of the world and human nature which they believed matched what they saw in their sacred texts. Hence, they saw in the writings of Plato and Aristotle genuine assistance in understanding the world in which they lived.

My friend’s point, of course, was that without such an intellectual tradition, Mormonism was subject to being buffeted about by fads and fashions of the moment. Plato (particularly in The Republic) and Aristotle remain two of the greatest teachers on the nature of the soul. These “premodern luminaries” give us a richer understanding of the soul than what we find in the often soulless modern academy, where the soul has been replaced, with dire consequences, by the self. And speaking of fads, universities and colleges are institutions that seem particularly susceptible to fads; this is most notably true in the humanities and the social sciences, with economics less likely to be so victimized. Through Plato and Aristotle we see a withering critique of the world in which we find ourselves, a world in which we do not have to succumb to its follies, as opposed to Mason’s proposed embrace of what our scriptures teach is a debased and fallen world. Plato and Aristotle are of particular value precisely because they are not of the modern world.

We also have to keep in mind that, although Mormonism is a modern religion, its foundational text — the Book of Mormon — is a work from antiquity. We know that there are many who do not believe that the Book of Mormon is an ancient work (that it is, at best, “inspired frontier fiction”), but taking seriously the idea of the Book of Mormon as an ancient work makes forgoing “premodern luminaries” even more problematic.

On Apologetics and “Mormon Studies”

Not surprisingly, issues related to defense of the faith6 and the presumably broader and more rigorous field of Mormon Studies arise at several [Page 86]points. Hence Grant Wacker informs his readers that he “has never been much impressed by theological apologetics. For every argument pro there is an argument con” (244). Of course, that statement is true of almost all academic endeavors. Wacker and every other academic are in the business of defending, as best they can, whatever it is they believe. This is, or at least ought to be, what takes place in every university and academic publication.

In his highly interesting intellectual autobiographical article, sociologist Armand Mauss discusses his move away from a kind of apologetics approach to his study of Mormonism but also recognizes that apologetics is “a perfectly legitimate category of theory, sometimes used with great erudition and sophistication” (260). Mauss offers Terryl Givens as an example of such erudition and sophistication (268n4).

In his own essay entitled “The Poetics of Prejudice” (21‒33), Givens cites Gadamer’s warning “that there is such a thing as methodological sterility, that is, the application of a method to something not really worth knowing, to something that has not been made an object of investigation on the basis of a genuine question” (29, emphasis in the original). As Givens puts it,

A genuine question is a question we ask at personal risk. This is one of those intersections where pure religion and intellectual integrity powerfully align. Openness to risk may in fact prove a useful differentiator between apologetics so-called and a more religious studies-oriented scholarship. Apologetics, like cult, may be a term that has been too deformed in contemporary discourse to be a useful designation. Its semiotic value is too encumbered with pejorative connotations that overlie its distinguished history. And like cult, it has been wielded as a cudgel to discredit and dismiss, under the guise of applying some kind of objective rhetorical label. Since all academic activities involve formal argumentation in defense of a position, we are all apologists of a sort. So let me say instead that Gadamer’s “genuine question,” which exposes the interrogator to genuine risk, should be a hallmark of any work done in the field of religious studies, by a secularist or by a committed believer. And in its absence we may find the kind of work that deserves the label of “apologetic” in the pejorative sense. (29‒30)

[Page 87]In his essay “On Being Epistemologically Vulnerable: Mormonism and the Secular Study of Religion” (199‒211), Brian Birch seeks to promote what he calls “a methodological pluralism” in approaching Mormon studies — the primary purpose of which [is] to identify the conditions under which apologetic scholarship may contribute in academically productive ways to this subfield” (204). He then explains that he “took up this issue with the aim of proposing a constructive way forward in the debates between the apologetics community and scholars advocating the development of critical methodologies in the academic study of Mormonism” (204).

I see two problems with Birch’s project. First, it presumes that heretofore apologetic scholarship has not contributed in academically productive ways. Second, so-called “critical methodologies” take many forms, but they tend to share a largely unexamined bias of reductionism of one type or another. This bias tends to prevent those who hold it from taking most apologetics seriously. For example, Birch finds it “fascinating” that the Maxwell Institute, with its change in focus, has been accused of “opening the door to a creeping secularism — that the quest for academic legitimacy7 has led to an unhealthy compromise of spiritual values” (205). Birch cites BYU political science professor Ralph Hancock as one who has been among the “most vociferous” in openly expressing concern that “Brigham Young University is ‘succumbing to a secular paradigm’ and thus losing the distinctiveness of its institutional mission” (205). Birch then quotes Hancock: “There comes a point where the secular framework … can no longer be translated into the community’s authoritative religious idiom. When this happens, faith is left speechless, defenseless, resourceless” (205).

Birch’s reply to Hancock’s concerns is his “methodological pluralism” with its underlying and unexamined assumptions, which is most likely a “solution” that is doomed to failure, due in part at least to an embrace of the sterile methodologies that Givens decries. Birch admits that “vigilance is a virtue in retaining the religious vitality and distinctiveness of Mormonism,” but he warns that “there is a considerable danger in the isolationism that comes with assuming a monolithic Mormon idiom — authoritative or otherwise” (206). So, as Birch presents it, our choice is between religious vitality and “a monolithic Mormon idiom.” While certain beliefs and practices are fundamental to Mormonism and define the Mormon identity, this is a far cry from some vague “considerable [Page 88]danger” that Birch calls “a monolithic Mormonism.” It is hard to walk on the campus of Brigham Young University and see a monolithic representation of Mormonism, or anything approaching it.

Rays of Light

While there is much that is problematic about some of the essays in this volume, there are also several fine essays, a few of which have already been mentioned. It is perhaps fitting that the man who has been honored, so to speak, with this collection, Richard Bushman, has produced one of the best essays in the book. The Terryl Givens essay also well warrants a careful reading, as does Armand Mauss’s look back at his scholarly career. Mauro Properzi’s essay, “Truth, Community, and Prophetic Authority” (35‒46), is of interest. In addition, in her essay “Above, Beyond, and in Between: A Teacher’s Role,” Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye (69‒79) takes the overall theme of the book in a uniquely productive way. In a delightful and thoughtfully engaging manner, Inouye discusses how her Mormonism influences her teaching and her relationships with students. This is one of the finest reads in the book, and those who are or who aspire to be teachers will serve themselves well if they read this essay.

What seems clear from this collection of essays is that the Maxwell Institute remains adrift. The failures of this book bring to mind numerous other anthologies that have been published over the years which have dealt more effectively with the issues raised or ignored in this volume. Of particular note is Expressions of Faith: Testimonies of Latter-day Saint Scholars, a nice collection of essays put together over two decades ago by historian Susan Easton Black and published by FARMS.8 No less than Richard Bushman himself has a fine essay in that volume.


1. Richard L. Bushman, “Faithful History,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 (Winter 1969), 11‒25.
2. Spencer W. Kimball, “Second Century Address,” BYU Studies Quarterly 16, no. 4 (1976): 445‒58.
3. Adam S. Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon (Provo, UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2013). A second edition of this book was published in January 2018.
4. Fanon was really big in college Marxist circles approximately 50 years ago. He is probably best known for his book The Wretched of the Earth (1963).
5. Karl Marx and Frederich Engels, The German Ideology (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1968), 170‒71.
6. Defense of the faith is a phrase largely synonymous with what is called in the New Testament apologia, a word meaning to set out reasons or evidence as one would in a court, and from which we have the words apology and apologetics.
7. This very choice of wording is symptomatic of the unexamined bias of which I speak. Embarking upon a “quest for academic legitimacy” implicitly asserts that academic legitimacy was previously lacking, else there would be no need for such a quest.
8. Susan Easton Black, Expressions of Faith: Testimonies of Latter-day Saint Scholars (Provo, UT: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 1996).

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About Paul C. Peterson

Paul C. Peterson is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the department of politics at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, where he taught courses in American government and political philosophy for 34 years. He has published numerous articles, reviews, and professional papers in his teaching areas as well as related to popular culture. In 1985-86 he served as a program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities. Peterson graduated from Brigham Young University in 1968 with a BA degree in political science and minors in economics and philosophy. The following year he received an MA in Political Science from the University of California, Riverside, and in 1980 he received his PhD in government from Claremont Graduate School in California. Now retired, Peterson lives in Provo, Utah, with his wife, Pamela Jackson Peterson.

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74 thoughts on “To Be Learned Is Good, If One Stays on the Rails

    • I think that it might be a viable criticism. If a University professor struggles to understand a chapter, then maybe the problem is with the presentation of the idea. Or maybe, not?

      However, I found the last sentence to be an unnecessary snarky remark.

      Hopefully, this doesn’t get blown out of proportion because critique of Latter-Day work from other Latter-Day Saints hopefully is like iron sharpening iron.

      • “I think that it might be a viable criticism. If a University professor struggles to understand a chapter, then maybe the problem is with the presentation of the idea. Or maybe, not?”

        Not. Each discipline has it’s own jargon and assumed background. A typical English professor is not going to do well with a physics critique for instance. In this case really his argument is he’s not familiar with the jargon Adam is using. Which is fine of course but not much of a critique beyond a desire for all the arguments to be written for a popular audience. But if that’s the critique just make it. Say I wish this article was written for a popular audience rather than assuming more background on the part of the reader. That seems a valid criticism since I think Adam’s argument is actually pretty simple and could easily have been made in a fashion understandable by a lay audience without a background in philosophy.

    • I found the criticism, and sample, useful as a kind of triage. We all have limited time and energy to pursue ideas and understanding. I would rather spend time on useful study, rather then symantec gymnastics and abstract over-complication masquerading as profundity. It does seem a bit enamored of itself. I know it’s a matter of personal taste; to each their own. Again, it was useful to me.

    • Is it “I don’t understand it” or “That is objectively gibberish”? The latter is on a par with a common criticism of Deleuze and the Deleuzians, as voiced by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont and Norman Levitt and even so mild-mannered an academician as Jeremy Gray.

      • If the argument is that it’s gibberish then he’s just plain wrong. Sorry, but it’s a fairly straightforward argument well within philosophical tradition. Adam chose to use the jargon of more recent philosophy but really the whole argument reduces to a distinction between (1) what an organization/movement is now (2) what that organization/movement may be in the future and (3) what that organization/movement could have been past/future given different events in the past. So he’s just making a distinction between possibilities as possibilities in the future and possibilities as possibilities of past/future. More or less the question of what is essential to a named thing which has been a concern of philosophy going back to Plato. His whole argument is really just that as theologians we should be concerned with this essence of Mormonism that is true in all possible worlds and the possibilities given that essence.

        Now one could easily object to that being the proper concern of a theologian. But I think it’s a very defensible view well within the mainstream of philosophy.

          • I have a copy of the book but haven’t read it yet except for Adam’s paper. So I can’t really comment well there. I assume it’s oriented towards an academic audience since I believe most of the papers were originally presented at an academic conference. With regards to Adam there actually is a reason for the jargon he uses. Adam comes out of the object oriented ontology movement in philosophy as does DeLanda. There are some pretty key differences in how they conceive of ontology as compared to say Leibniz whom I mentioned in passing in one of the comments. I’ve not kept up on that sub-discipline so I can’t say too much about it beyond suspecting the jargon largely comes out of that tradition. Further that’s probably why he doesn’t use simpler language like “essence” since there are big ontological differences from other philosophers. I suspect those not already familiar with the writings of object oriented philosophy like Adam, Levi Bryant, Graham Harman, etc. will miss those aspects. My guess is that the metaphors used come out of DeLanda’s work on assemblage theory. Not having read DeLanda though I can’t say that for sure. It’s also possible it arises out of Badiou who is a large influence on Adam. I know just enough Badiou to be dangerous so I can’t say too much there either.

    • Why is it weird to expect an essay to be intelligible? And Bravo to Dr. Peterson for this review. I might add one other critique. There is page after page of “Mormonism” critiques but almost no mentions whatsoever of Jesus Christ and almost no mention of the name of the Church. Shouldn’t a collection of essays on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at least mention the name of that church or even the Author of the name of that Church at least once in a while? Over and over as I plowed through the dense verbiage and odd things like equating Marxism with the beliefs of the Restored Church (see? It’s not all that hard to include acceptable references to the Church of Jesus Christ), I found myself wondering if President Nelson didn’t have this book in mind when he got his recent revelation on promoting the use of the Savior’s and Church’s name.

      Regarding MIller’s essay, I counted the use of the non-capitalized term “christo-fiction” 6 times, the “body of Christ” 3 times, the name of the Church once, and the term “Christ” once. Simply not adequate for the subject of faith and scholarship. Thanks.

      • Mark doesn’t this critique just reduce to, “I wish they’d written about different topics.” Disliking a book for not being interested in the topic is completely fine of course. I dislike many books for that very reason. However if one is *reviewing* the book one would hope for a deeper level of critique than “I don’t like the topic” or “I didn’t understand it.”

        As I said in other comments, I think there are lots of valid criticisms one could make of the paper. It’s just very odd to me the particular approach the reviewer took.

        • “doesn’t this critique just reduce to, “I wish they’d written about different topics.”

          Not really. In an essay with the title “Body of Christ” referring specifically to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I would say expecting at least a passing reference to the Church once in a while would be expected.

          As you note, there are plenty of other valid criticisms of this book and the other essays. But his essay is pretty representative of a lot of this book – nearly unintelligible.

          I think the Maxwell Institute has fulfilled Dr. Peterson’s prophetic prediction of the Institute becoming an “elitist project of little relevance to ordinary members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”. This publication solidifies that prediction.

          • I loved the old FARMS, even if I took exception to some of the things that ended up getting published at times. I think there’s definitely a need for an organization to do apologetics for regular members. I’m very glad the Interpreter is doing that now. Honestly if anything I think the quality has improved over the old FARMS even if I still cringe at some things that get through.

            However this seems again to just be the “I wish they wrote about different topics” critique. I get that you want the Maxwell Institute to be different from what it is. You want it to still be FARMS. But ignoring all the hard feelings and conflicts for a moment and just looking at the status quo, we have The Interpreter for that. Why require that the Maxwell Institute do that too? I’ll stay out of the old wounds that resulted in the split.

            My point is just that if you don’t find this topic interesting, that doesn’t mean it has no value. I’d probably agree it doesn’t have much relevance for the average member. But so what? That’s true of nearly all work done at universities. It doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.

            To your main complaint though I think Adam uses the term “Mormonism” to refer to the Church. So to say there’s not even a “passing reference to the Church” seems quite odd. Almost as if you didn’t read the chapter at all.

    • Paul Peterson’s comments concerning Adam Miller’s essay are not at all odd or weird. Instead, what he demonstrates is that Miller’s essay is an exercise in learned obscurity. Peterson shows that there are essays in this volume that cannot be read as an effort to build and defend the Kingdom of God. The fact is that academics can and sometimes have no intention of doing this. Instead of writing to deepen the faith of fellow Latter-day Saints, they write for an audience of of scholars who at best is tiny and who only have as marginal interest in the faith of Latter-day Saints.

      • Who do you write for Louis? From my experience reading your work and your numerous comments on related threads your audience is a group of mostly American Mormon men who have an interest in academically related subjects but have little to no training in any specific one. That provides you the opportunity to throw shade at people like Adam Miller and the people who work at the Maxwell Institute as if those good people are out to ruin the faith of Mormon members. You know that isn’t true, but you do it anyway. Partly because you and Dan Peterson were members of an elite group riding the coattails of Nibley at BYU, you guys were almost untouchable and were able to create a cushion around yourselves where any and all criticism was anti-Mormonism, so you continue to think and argue that if anyone within Mormonism presents an alternative faithful approach to the religion then they must be tearing down faith. That’s pretty sad, especially since Paul Peterson argues that BYU is anything but monolithic and you represent a tradition that fights against any kind of individuality unless it aspires to be part of the FARMS team.
        You don’t actually care about what Adam Miller is saying, or the Latter-day Saint faith of the people at the Maxwell Institute, or whether or not they’re actually helping people in your own faith community. All you care about is your team.

        Thank you, by the way, for sharing all of the details in your numerous online comments. You say things that often go unstated about who wanted the change in direction at the Maxwell Institute that helped me to understand better the misrepresentation of what actually happened in 2012, especially that it wasn’t a coup unless you think the Board and Samuelson were under Dan Peterson somehow.

        • Translation: the creeping, measured but insistent osmotic infusion of concepts, assumptions and philosophical categories derivative of modern academic cultural Marxism and postmodernism have been detected by those (and Dr. Midgely is a well-versed detector) who are themselves philosophically familiar with them (as well as with the generally horrendous state of the academic humanities and social sciences across the academic landscape, broadly speaking) and found them subject to critique from a gospel perspective, and part of any such a critique is going to be, by its very nature, showing that any number of “alternative” understandings of the gospel are, while certainly alternative, hardly faithful in any salient sense.

          The post-FARMS, Bradfordized and “bracketed” NAMI, and the very realm of “Mormon Studies” itself, while not in any way wholly illegitimate, is also no longer, in critical ways, concerned with LDS apologetics in a substantive, overarching sense, nor with faith qua faith and its interconnection with intellect and the scholarly life, which is what Peterson is attempting to point out, as I read his critique.

    • Yeah, I agree. I understood the chapter and I only have an undergraduate degree. I’d never heard of DeLanda before.

      From what I understand, he’s saying that because of continuing revelation and whatnot, Mormonism is constantly evolving. So to understand any point in Mormon history, you have to understand not only where Mormonism is at that point and where it’s going, but also all the places it has the potential to go. He borrows language from this DeLanda guy to describe that. Am I way off-base?

      I think you can absolutely make the case that Miller’s writing is unclear in this chapter and that using DeLanda’s terminology is not useful. But in that case, say that and give arguments. After reading this essay’s take on Miller, I feel like I’m walking away with nothing more than the knowledge that Peterson didn’t like his style, which I guess is fine, but again a weird critique of an academic-oriented paper.

      • This seems right. In an other comment I defended somewhat Adam’s jargon choices since he’s analyzing Mormonism in terms of object oriented philosophy. So there are some important reasons he choses the language he does, although not being in that field I’m limited in what I can say. I was reasonably well versed in it years ago but just haven’t kept up since it’s not a sub-field that interests me too much. (Despite suspecting that in content Adam’s views actually are quite similar to my own in many ways)

        DeLanda’s assemblage theory is a kind of formalizing of certain approaches in object oriented philosophy using certain tools of mathematics. Badiou, who is a big influence on Adam, tends to use set theory a lot to develop ideas about “the Event.” I suspect some of the language arises from there.

        The introduction to DeLanda’s book is available online and might be useful for orienting Adam’s paper. I’ll confess to being largely ignorant of DeLanda and even his place in contemporary Continental Philosophy.

        https://edinburghuniversitypress.com/media/wysiwyg/pdfs/samples/DeLanda-Assemblage_Theory-Introduction.pdf

  1. “Learnedness” produced this? I guess I am not learned enough because for me too many essays are near incomprehensible. And too few connecting learning to obedience. What is hardest to understand is that this book is sponsored by the Neal Maxwell Institute,a apparentky with the approval of Brigham Young University? I find this disheartening.

    • This collection of essays, as Paul Peterson points out in the concluding paragraph of his excellent review essay, is an example of what has taken place following the disgusting coup d’état, when those either indifferent or hostile to defending the faith took control of what Brethren had named after Elder Maxwell. The fact is that the Brethren, including especially Elder Packer, who with Elder Maxwell, was fond of the endeavors of the old Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS).

      Paul Peterson might not have gone far enough in indicating that it “seems clear from this collection of essays…that the Maxwell Institute remains adrift.” Be that as it may, this collection of essays is a further indication of the “new direction” that was fashioned after the successful coup, which was driven by low motives–that is, by envy and petty personal hostility, and not even by some strange revisionist ideology, at least according to what was an abject apology issued by one of those involved in the plot to expel Daniel Peterson (and his associates) from the Maxwell Institute.

      • Louis, you’ve said in past comments that Samuelson was part of this “coup” that you, Dan, and Bill like to talk about. How exactly is that a coup when you have the president of the university behind a shift away from polemics and toward respectable scholarship? Was Dan Peterson somehow in a higher position than anyone up top that wanted that shift? And how is a shift away from aggressive polemics toward kindness a bad thing? I really fail to understand where you guys have been coming from the last six years except to think that it’s all about the team.
        Also, how do several essays written by Mormons that don’t work at the Maxwell Institute, that are writing to honor the legacy of Bushman, represent the Maxwell Institute? This could have been published jointly with the RSC and Deseret Book and been just fine. It’s more than a bit disingenuous to suggest that these essays somehow represent a shift at the Maxwell Institute. It would be a bit more truthful to say that you, Dan, and friends are still bitter about 2012 so this is another opportunity to remind your readers that you hate the Maxwell Institute, and that the shift that you guys see represented in this publication is not a shift at the Maxwell Institute but a shift in more respectful, academic research within Mormonism. You and the FARMS/Interpreter group may not like that, but this should show you how far you guys have removed yourselves from academia within Mormonism, to say nothing of scholarship outside Mormonism.

        • “Yacov b. Tov”: “How exactly is that a coup when you have the president of the university behind a shift away from polemics and toward respectable scholarship?”

          President Samuelson signed off on the change. So far as I can tell, he neither initiated it nor conceived it, and I’m relatively confident that he didn’t see its implications.

          “Yakov b. Tov”: “You [Professor Midgley], Dan, and friends are still bitter about 2012 so this is another opportunity to remind your readers that you hate the Maxwell Institute.”

          As I’ve pointed out, neither I, nor Professor Midgley, nor anybody else connected with the Interpreter Foundation commissioned or requested Paul Peterson’s essay. Nor did we tell Dr. Peterson what to write.

          Incidentally, I note throughout your comment your contrast of the “respectable scholarship,” the “more respectful, academic research,” and the “kindness” that have emerged out of the New Maxwell Institute to the “polemics” and the “aggressive polemics” that it has replaced. I take it that you disapprove of us?

          • Are you sure that Samuelson didn’t see or understand the implications of the shift? In previous comments Louis has specifically stated that Samuelson, “approved the “new direction” now being followed by the Maxwell Institute, which remains in place.” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/enigmaticmirror/2015/02/10/seems-odd/) Do you have something else in mind when you implications other than what came with the so-called “new direction”? You and Louis need to remember as well that prior to 2012 the Maxwell Institute was not FARMS. FARMS was one of many organizations under the Maxwell Institute’s wing, and you were of course involved with the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative which you were not fired from. You were only let go as the editor of the FARMS/Mormon Studies Review, they didn’t fire you from the Maxwell Institute as a whole. There’s also nothing about your relationship to the Maxwell Institute in 2012 that can be construed as a coup, but the situation is described that way all the time.
            Again, how exactly is it a coup when your boss (Jerry Bradford), and his bosses (the Academic Vice President and the President of the university) decide that the FARMS/Mormon Studies Review (not the Maxwell Institute) needs a change of pace? You worked underneath all of them, so it was not a coup in any way.

            I have also nowhere suggested here that you or anyone else at the Interpreter “commissioned or requested” Paul Peterson to write this essay. That has nothing to do with my point. It is clear that Peterson is making this book about the Maxwell Institute based on the narrative that you have sold your audience for the last six years, Paul being a part of that audience. The book he reviewed here was published by the Maxwell Institute, but the essays don’t represent the Maxwell Institute. They represent the thoughts, scholarship, and approaches of each individual Mormon author. How many authors are there in the book that work for the Maxwell Institute? This book represents how far you, Louis, and your friends have distanced yourselves from others who study the history of Mormonism within the LDS church.
            Whether or not I approve or disapprove of Interpreter has no relevance here. What is relevant is that you and Louis continue to describe a false narrative about the Maxwell Institute, and continue to make everything about the Maxwell Institute, when it is clear that nothing is really changing. The “new direction” only applied to that one journal, you and Louis want to make it seem bigger than it really is. The unfortunate thing is that many in your audience simply buy the story.

      • A member of Maxwell Institute was discussing the Kavanaugh issue and I mentioned that there was a long pro kavanaugh discussion going on Dan Petersen’s blog and his response was “I don’t take any notice of what he says” Wow there must be some acrimony at BYU. There are Mormons on Gospel Tangents who have interviewed without acrimony Sandra Tanner and Simon Southerton. I see Gina Colvin writing about what she is unhappy about with the LDS church and women. They tell women to reduce their time online.It seems they have been outdone by men being online.

        • I hope that Noel will clarify the point he is making. I can’t find any connection between what he has posted above and the collection of essays and the discussion of the collection of essays honoring Richard Lyman Bushman.

          Why, for instance, does he mention Gina Colvin? For many years she has been hostile to the faith of Latter-day Saints. She has recently severed all ties with the Church of Jesus Christ by becoming an Anglican.

        • There is little question that some among the current leadership of the Maxwell Institute heartily disapprove of Dan Peterson. (Note the spelling). That’s hardly news; it’s why he was shown the door.

          On the whole, though, given what I know of academia personally and what I’ve heard about other places, I would say that there’s relatively little acrimony at BYU.

          On the matter of women and time online, President Nelson has thus far asked the youth and now the women to consider reducing the time they spend on social media, at least for an interval. I can’t imagine that, on the whole, there will be many people who regard that as bad or unhealthy counsel. And I expect that adult men will be given the same challenge somewhere in the not too distant future. It’s not a matter of gender.

          Feel free to say something about Paul Peterson’s essay!

          • Hi, Dan. It was nice seeing you and Debbie at the FairMormon conference. The Institute’s current leadership includes executive director Spencer Fluhman and associate director Phil Barlow, and neither of them “heartily disapprove” of you. Although you’re no longer connected to the Institute, from what I’ve seen they wish you well in your work. As do I.

          • I can solve that mystery. On my Facebook wall Noel asked if I’d seen something you apparently wrote about Kavenaugh. The discussion had nothing to do with you, and I replied I don’t follow your writings. It seems to me he was trying to stir the pot. I don’t know how that got turned into claims about the Institute’s leadership, they have nothing to do with what Noel said, and it only came up because Noel brought it up.

  2. Well done review, very helpful. How one can be a marxist-anything is beyond me, since it is bankrupt system, having always failed. Fruit of the poison tree and all that.

    An essay that isn’t easily understood to any well educated person is without meaning. There is no “there” there. Occasional Sokal like essays help expose the moral corruption of the academy. Brother Peterson has saved me time and energy, all thanks to him.

  3. Very helpful review. Two points: (1) the reviewer is an academic. If he doesn’t understand the argument, then the argument is incoherent, Clark. Academic writing needs the occasional Sokal to smoke out pretension and empty rhetoric; (2) I am puzzled about how the name of Marx shows up, or how any serious person can use any part of Marx in a religiously oriented collection, since it is universally a catastrophic system of government and clearly more evil than Nazism, at least in terms of murders. Generally, it makes me fear the Maxwell Institute has betrayed its own name and taken a long term lease on a high rise without any foundation. I hope I am wrong; I am afraid I am right.

    • Marxism is esteemed by many academics whose one-sided training involved training by other Marxists, all out of touch with the danger of total power in the hands of dictators and bureaucrats, however smart they may be. May the authors fawning over Marxism be granted time in Venezuela for a much-needed sabbatical.

    • Lynn, since you have doctor in front of your name, I assume you have a PhD. I also assume I could give you numerous well respected physics papers you couldn’t understand. That doesn’t make the paper incoherent. It makes the reader ignorant. Which isn’t a problem at all. Rather than assuming for something to be academic it must be understood by all academics we should just confess our ignorance of many fields.

      This has nothing to do with Sokal since the point there was that those who published it didn’t understand it. But that’s a very different argument. Here the original argument is that a person outside of the field not understanding it means it’s bad. With Sokal the argument was that a person *inside the field* understanding something that was gibberish besmirched the field. Which actually didn’t follow since at best it just shows the journal in question was flawed, but since I’m quite sympathetic to Sokal I’ll allow. But mainly because I’m already familiar with the field Sokal was critiquing and have done the work of trying to understand many of the arguments.

      • Clark, thank you for your challenging reply. You might well be correct, although I do understand papers by my brother, professor of chemical engineering, when my doctorate is psychology. Not because I know the physics or chemistry, but because he strives to write clearly.

        So link me a paper, and I will try to draw it with a crayon. (Recall Feynman who liked to visualize all processes, and when teaching in Brasil, told a student his answer was wrong because Feynman had visualized a beam of light as the student was working the problem.) Jargon, even gibberish is present in my field as well, and when I don’t understand a paper from my neighborhood, it is because there is mystification, either accidental (someone writing obscurely because they know no better) or intentional
        (Post modernists tried to invade my field with incoherent arguments, but eyes glazed over and therapists lost interest.).

        If I can’t draw it with a crayon, I can ask my son, master’s in engineering, to translate the math and together we can draw it.

        My core argument: If one is writing for a general release book like this one, one has a moral imperative to write clearly.

        • Writing clearly though again depends upon what one is writing about. I suspect that as a non-physicist you’d be able to understand some of the papers at the arxiv repository for instance. But there are probably many, perhaps the majority, you couldn’t unless you had a solid grounding in at least undergraduate physics and for many graduate level physics.

          In the case of philosophy it’s worse since there are numerous subdisciplines each with their own jargon and assumed background. A person exposed primarily to Analytic Philosophy is very likely not going to be able to follow a paper in Continental Philosophy. Particularly because the style of writing is considerably different. Continental Philosophy tends to make use of far more metaphors and assumes a strong literary background in major figures in Continental Philosophy. Not just those from early modern through the end of the 19th century but more recent figures like Heidegger, Husserl, Deleuze, Gadamer and others. In this case it’s even more narrow as Adam’s writing from an object oriented philosophy perspective. So you probably need to have read the classics in that field too.

          It’s worth noting that Feynman had a very negative conception of philosophy. Largely on the basis of a bad experience at MIT when he took a class on Whitehead. So I’d be careful appealing to him here. (Philosophy had its ultimate revenge when Feynman’s son became a philosopher) Feynman largely ridicules metaphysics in general, which admittedly was popular at that time in American academics due to the outsized roll of the positivists in philosophy. His own approach is in many ways similar to instrumentalism which came out of the pragmatic tradition – particularly Dewy. As such he’d dismiss Adam’s whole approach which is very metaphysical. Object oriented philosophy came out of the speculative realism movement which was attempting to rehabilitate metaphysics without so much focus on epistemology. Epistemology type approaches had dominated thought in both Analytic and Continental philosophy. Now I think this is ultimately a mistake and one big reason I don’t care for object oriented philosophy. But I think we have to at least make clear what premises are shaping our critique.

          The point being ultimately that there are reasons for the jargon Adam uses. I think one can critique those reasons but one has to take them up.

          The meat of your critique though is that this is a general release book. That is it’s targeting a general audience. I just don’t think that correct. First off the book arose out of an academic symposium. As such that really takes it out of the lay audience. Further the whole focus of the book is how academics and faith intersect. (Although one can forgive people who only read the review for missing this fact) As such its inherently a very navel gazing book looking at all the ways academics should approach the Church and Mormonism in general. (I probably should say Latter Day Saint theology – given recent requests by the prophet) So inherently just given the topic I’m not sure I’d call it a general release book.

          • Thanks, Clark, for further clarification. In the case of Feynman, I wasn’t using him as an example because he thought nothing was equal to the study of physics. He didn’t seem to have much respect for my field, for what that’s worth. Rather, there are videos of him lecturing on physics, and he is wonderfully clear.

            RE: your hypothesis about the market for the book: For that matter, if this is a collection of writings celebrating Bushman, shouldn’t there be a theme of making the writings accessible to Bushman fans, of which I am one? Perhaps the editorial/marketing thinking about the book was muddled?

            Bushman himself is a clear writer. Dan Peterson, an unlikely lightening rod in this discussion, speaks and writes clearly and accessibly. So I, a potential buyer of the book, am warned away by jargon-infused (arcane?) philosophical language and what is worse, by Marxist apologists. I greatly appreciate the warning.

            PS: I apologize for the signature. I meant no offense with the “Dr” title, it is just the default on this computer; the title means practically nothing. It won’t last beyond this material life. When I made my living as a carpenter, I was the same person, trying to contribute to society and earn a living. Anyway, blueprints are wonderfully easy to read, and I have always preferred clarity.

          • “In the case of Feynman, I wasn’t using him as an example because he thought nothing was equal to the study of physics. He didn’t seem to have much respect for my field, for what that’s worth. Rather, there are videos of him lecturing on physics, and he is wonderfully clear.”

            He’s clear, although his beloved introductory physics lectures are actually not that great as an introduction. But they’re fantastic as a way to rethink the beginning physics we all take for granted. I love my set. My point was just that his clarity was in some ways due to limiting what he talked on by avoiding philosophy. Even relative to quantum mechanics. Once you start discussing philosophy things get a bit trickier for various reasons. Also even when Feynman wrote for a popular audience and attempted to avoid technical language it could end up misleading his audience. His _QED_ and _Character of Physical Law_, both excellent books, are also a case where clear non-technical language can actually be misleading. (IMO)

            You’re right though that he thought of psychology much as he thought of philosophy. Perhaps worse if anything.

            Ultimately my point is just that sometimes language that references uses in other texts you only refer to is unavoidable. My point in referring to arxiv is just to note that jargon is often unavoidable. If a paper is talking about say spinors in physics, probably even many people with a solid undergraduate background won’t know what’s going on. While what Adam is doing using vectors and so forth isn’t quite the same it is similar in certain ways.

            Again I’ve tried hard not to dismiss all criticisms. I think there’s a lot of room for debate. I just think far too many have been dismissive because they didn’t understand the argument.

            (And I certainly didn’t intend to be criticizing the use of “Dr” – my apologies if it came off that way)

          • This conversation seems interminable, and I am ashamed and embarrassed to prolong the agony.

            RE: clarity vs. jargon, Walter Williams sent me this today:

            “Universal Economics'” 680 pages, not including its glossary and index, reflect a friendly chat I had with Professor Alchian during one of the UCLA economics department’s weekly faculty/graduate student coffee hour, in which he said, “Williams, the true test of whether someone understands his subject is whether he can explain it to someone who doesn’t know a darn thing about it.”

            My hope was to encourage academics when writing a festschrift paper to make it adhere to the crayon test. I need to regularly examine my underlying motives, and I hoped to encourage Miller and others to examine theirs. Why are we trying to mingle a corrupt and satanic system (Marxism) with the gospel, the story of God? Or, why write obscurely about philosophy? But as Clark says, the book is not aimed at me. Better to leave it alone!

            So I now acknowledge Clark has the upper hand and concede the argument to him.

  4. The comments are sharper and meaner than I believe they should be. The points may be discussed, but please cease the harsh tone. This can quickly escalate, and if it happens, such posts will not be approved.

  5. Thank you for an interesting review. I am reminded of Peter’s comment regarding some of Paul’s writings. I’m even tempted to buy this book, although I’m sure much will go way over my head. I certainly believe there is room in the Kingdom for intellectuals. God loves all his children and we must love our intellectual neighbor. Perhaps the Maxwell Institute is reaching out to the intellectuals in a way that no other could. More power to them.

  6. This essay has elicited some strong responses (here and elsewhere), as I anticipated that it would.

    Permit me to offer a few explanations that might help and that will respond to points made (here and elsewhere) and/or to questions that might have arisen in some minds.

    1. Paul Peterson isn’t a relative of mine; I don’t know that we’ve ever met.

    2. This essay wasn’t commissioned or solicited by the Interpreter Foundation. It was submitted to us in the same way that almost all other papers and reviews are submitted.

    3. This essay isn’t part of a “campaign” or “crusade” against the current direction of the Maxwell Institute. The Interpreter Foundation has very consciously, very deliberately, never engaged in such a “campaign” or “crusade.”

    4. We did not “rush” the publication of this essay. It went through the normal procedures at the normal pace.

    5. If anything, we gave it a bit of extra thought, since we knew that it might be perceived as a purposeful Foundation-ordered attack on the Maxwell Institute’s current course. However, I concluded that, just as we wouldn’t go out of our way to criticize the Maxwell Institute, we also shouldn’t go out of our way to shield them from criticism. If an otherwise acceptable manuscript criticized some aspect of the Maxwell Institute, we would not intervene to excise such criticism, so long as it fell within the bounds of good taste, normally acceptable academic commentary, and so forth.

    6. On a specific point raised by “Yakov ben Tov,” above: I’m unaware — as I’ve said numerous times in response to numerous iterations of the claim — of any solid reason to believe that the BYU Board of Trustees were involved in my dismissal and in the “change of course” that occurred at the Maxwell Institute in 2012. On the contrary, I have a number of very solid reasons to believe that they were not. However, if they were, multiple members of the Board of Trustees must necessarily have gone out of their way, on their own initiative and without my asking, to lie to me about what happened. I don’t believe that they would do so.

    • One of the main problems that I have seen voiced here (by myself and others) and elsewhere is that it is doubtful that this book actually says anything about the Maxwell Institute. The majority of the authors do not work at the Maxwell Institute, they work at various organizations both inside and outside the Mormon church. This calls into question the process of reviewing and accepting these kinds of essays, particularly book reviews, by the Interpreter editorial team because there should have at least been push back on the very strong connection made between the contents of what the authors say and some sort of ideology at the Maxwell Institute.
      As I have already said in a few comments above, the distance that you, Paul Peterson, Louis Midgley, and others feel when reading this book is not between you all and the Maxwell Institute. This is not about a six year old “new direction” at that organization. It is between you all and Mormon scholarship within the church, to say nothing of scholarship outside of Mormonism.

      • YBT: If one finds questionable the editorial decisions of Interpreter Foundation in publishing this review essay (and holds them responsible for such a decision), should it be equally acceptable to find questionable the editorial decisions of the Maxwell Institute in publishing the essays in the book at point?

        We are all ultimately responsible for what we allow to be published under our imprimatur.

        • No Allen, because these are two very different things. The Interpreter has been voicing a very specific narrative about what happened to Dan et al in 2012 that has purposefully invited and cultivated exactly these kinds of book reviews from its audience. No one at the Interpreter has to seek out reviewers like Paul Peterson, Duane Boyce, or Steven Densley. The way that Interpreter is organized does that for the group, all that you (Allen) and the board have to do is get it source checked, edited, and published. You don’t have to keep publishing book reviews or articles that go after the Maxwell Institute but that’s a part of the origin story of Interpreter itself. It’s natural that these kinds of submissions would come in and it’s kust as natural that the editorial team would be more than happy to publish them, even if the book says nothing about the Maxwell Institute.
          On the other hand, the book of a published version of a symposium held to honor Richard Bushman. In this case you have a much larger group of authors coming from several different institutions inside and outside Mormonism representing themselves and doing their best to say thank you to Bushman and his work. The essays represent the individual work of each author, and if the Maxwell Insitutute had not been able to or open to publishing the festschrift then it would have gone to the RSC, or Kofford, or whatever other publisher. It doesn’t represent a unified narrative that the Maxwell Institute has been trying to convince an audience about for the last six years.
          Paul Peterson gives this away when he states that the Maxwell Institute is “adrift” with no explanation. He knows that the audience agrees with him on that point so he doesn’t need to explain. The editors did not have him correct it because they are also telling that same story. It’s the story of the origin of the Interpreter, and it’s an accepted tradition within the group that goes unquestioned. That can be alright within the group, but to everyone outside it looks less than professional and honestly just odd. It makes a lot of us wonder when or if it will ever stop.

          • YbT: First of all, thank you for recognizing that we do source checking, but you forget (as many do) that we also perform peer review on our articles. This includes book reviews.

            Second, you seem to be under a false impression about how a festschrift is put together. Sometimes it is the proceedings of a symposium, but more often than not it is the result of editors at a publishing entity soliciting articles from the peers of those being honored by the festschrift. (I know this from having been involved in the production of several of them.) I believe that is how this particular festschrift was also produced, though I could be incorrect. Do you have knowledge that indicates these were the result of a symposium and not of solicitation on the part of the Maxwell Institute?

            -Allen

          • YbT: “You don’t have to keep publishing book reviews or articles that go after the Maxwell Institute but that’s a part of the origin story of Interpreter itself.”

            Among the literally hundreds of articles and reviews that Interpreter has published, to say nothing of its books and podcasts and radio shows and recorded discussions, only a tiny proportion have had any connection at all with anything related to the Maxwell Institute. (And, as I say, none of them have been commissioned or solicited.) You yourself have probably posted more comments here on the topic than we have published articles even obliquely mentioning it.

            YbT: “The essays represent the individual work of each author. . . . [The festschrift] doesn’t represent a unified narrative that the Maxwell Institute has been trying to convince an audience about for the last six years.”

            The Interpreter reviews and essays that you decry likewise represent the individual work of each author. They emphatically do not represent a unified narrative of which the Interpreter Foundation has been trying to convince an audience for the last six years.

            YbT: “It makes a lot of us wonder when or if it will ever stop.”

            Writers will stop writing the way they do when they choose to stop writing that way. It’s up to them. They are free individuals, and they see things as they see them. I presume that that’s true with you, as well.

            But our campaign will never stop because it’s never existed.

      • You state “One of the main problems that I have seen voiced here (by myself and others) and elsewhere is that it is doubtful that this book actually says anything about the Maxwell Institute.” I think it says a whole lot. One cannot hide from the decisions one makes about what is worth writing about and publishing.

  7. In simple mathematics, a function is a correspondence or rule f between two sets A and B, and can be represented by f: A –>B. Trying to understand what Adam Miller is speaking of in his article, as quoted in the review from pages 102-103 of his essay, I come up with a ‘point in space’ represents an element in the range B of some function f, a ‘potential’ is a line or vector in B, and the ‘state space’ is a manifold, or set of points in B. For me to comprehend what Miller is trying to clarify, I need to understand what the sets A and B consist of, and how the function f is defined.
    From the brief description in the material following the essay quotation, we have Mormonism is a point in space, or in set B, but Mormonism’s potential is a vector in B. Thus it seems already that the set B is not well-defined. Further, Mormonism’s field of action is the virtual state space, or again, is a set in B. The field of action is thus claimed to consist of a set of Mormonism’s potentials. So set B is hopelessly confused in my mind. What the function f is, or what the domain A might be, is also very much a mystery. How a manifold can be ‘partially actualized’ is also unclear. To this retired mathematician, the ‘clarification’ of Miller makes no sense whatsoever.
    Can anyone help me get all this straight?

    • I’ll fully confess to not liking the jargon Adam chose for the article. However more or less what he’s after is the actual structure in the present, the possibilities of that structure in the future given the actual structure of the present, and then the possibilities past and present of the possible structures. More or less he’s talking about present, future, and all possible worlds.

      This use I believe goes back to Leibniz at least. So I’m not sure why Adam brings up manifold in engineering, although the uses are related. Rescher has a nice paper on Leibniz related to these discussions. “Lebiniz on Possible Worlds” While I ultimately disagree with Rescher on several points, he does a good job translating talk between Continental Philosophy, Analytic Philosophy and the terminology more common in say mathematics or physics. (Although he doesn’t focus on the latter) While I’d have to check to be sure, I think the jargon Adam is ultimately making use of actually gets popularized by Husserl who talks of a manifold of experiences. That then gets taken up in various ways over the next 70 years or so.

    • We have actually been using and defining the term to “throw shade” for several decades now, and it is really effective in its imagery. Take, for instance, Patrick Johson’s description, originally written in 1995:

      “The nonverbal counterpart to reading is called “throwing shade.” To throw shade is to ignore a person altogether, even if the person is in immediate proximity. If a shade thrower wishes to acknowledge the presence of the third party, he or she might roll his or her eyes and neck while poking out his or her lips. People throw shade if they do not like a particular person or if that person has dissed them in the past.” (Philip Auslander, ed., Performance: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies, Volume III [London: Routledge, 2003], 178).

      This describes exactly the kind of imagery that I imagine Louis performing as he writes his comments here and elsewhere about others in his faith that he disagrees with.

  8. A brief response to “Yakov ben Tov,” above:

    YbT: “Are you sure that Samuelson didn’t see or understand the implications of the shift?”

    As I said above, I’m “relatively confident” that he did not.

    YbT: “You and Louis need to remember as well that prior to 2012 the Maxwell Institute was not FARMS. FARMS was one of many organizations under the Maxwell Institute’s wing, and you were of course involved with the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative which you were not fired from.”

    Having been one of the senior leaders for many years of what was eventually known as the Maxwell Institute — including chairman of its board — I’m quite well aware of how it was organized and structured.

    I wasn’t fired from the Middle Eastern Text Initiative in June 2012. I was frozen out of it from June of 2012, and, realizing the impossibility of the situation, I eventually gave in and resigned in 2013.

    YbT: “Again, how exactly is it a coup when your boss (Jerry Bradford), and his bosses (the Academic Vice President and the President of the university) decide that the FARMS/Mormon Studies Review (not the Maxwell Institute) needs a change of pace? You worked underneath all of them, so it was not a coup in any way.”

    Theoretically, on paper, you have a point. To anybody familiar with the history of the organization, though, you really don’t.

    YbT: “I have also nowhere suggested here that you or anyone else at the Interpreter “commissioned or requested” Paul Peterson to write this essay. That has nothing to do with my point.”

    You’ve insinuated that Paul Peterson’s essay is part of a campaign in which I’m centrally involved. Otherwise, why bring me into the discussion of it?

    YbT: “It is clear that Peterson is making this book about the Maxwell Institute based on the narrative that you have sold your audience for the last six years, Paul being a part of that audience.”

    That’s not even remotely clear. Moreover, I suspect that Dr. Peterson is capable of thinking and observing for himself.

    YbT: “This book represents how far you, Louis, and your friends have distanced yourselves from others who study the history of Mormonism within the LDS church.”

    How does this book, or this review, “represent” me at ALL? I wrote neither of them.

    YbT: “What is relevant is that you and Louis continue to describe a false narrative about the Maxwell Institute, and continue to make everything about the Maxwell Institute”

    I’ve said nothing false about the Maxwell Institute. In fact, I had said nothing at all here, false OR true, until you brought my name into the matter.

    I rarely speak about the Maxwell Institute privately. I almost never speak publicly about the Maxwell Institute (if, indeed, I ever have). I don’t write about the Maxwell Institute. I don’t believe that everything, or even much of anything, is about the Maxwell Institute.

    The Interpreter Foundation certainly isn’t “about the Maxwell Institute.” Nor is my teaching at BYU. Nor are my newspaper columns. I seldom think about the Maxwell Institute.

    Professor Peterson’s article, written at his own initiative and expressing his own thinking, does nothing whatsoever to demonstrate what I think about the Maxwell Institute nor even THAT I think about the Maxwell Institute.

    YbT: “it is clear that nothing is really changing.”

    The change in the nature of FARMS/Maxwell publications overall between the pre-2012 period and the post-2012 period is manifest and undeniable.

    YbT: “The unfortunate thing is that many in your audience simply buy the story.”

    They have eyes and ears and are quite capable of judging for themselves. I think that they have done so.

    • Dan, I’ll respond to both your comment above and this comment here.

      “Among the literally hundreds of articles and reviews that Interpreter has published, to say nothing of its books and podcasts and radio shows and recorded discussions, only a tiny proportion have had any connection at all with anything related to the Maxwell Institute. (And, as I say, none of them have been commissioned or solicited.) You yourself have probably posted more comments here on the topic than we have published articles even obliquely mentioning it.”

      You have solicited book reviews and at least one or two of the actual essays. Commissioned, no, of course not. It’s all volunteers. What I was referring to above is not specifically the percentage of essays or book reviews that take shots at the Maxwell Institute or other Mormon scholars but the way that you, Louis, and others in the group present Interpreter. You have been able to get the donations that you have based on your account of what happened in 2012. Interpreter essentially exists because of your successful portrayal of the Maxwell Institute as “adrift,” to use Paul Peterson’s language here. It makes sense why you would do that, and why you would want other people to think that your being let go from the editorship fo the FARMS Review was some sort of coup (you have used that term before, Louis and Bill Hamblin have used it often in the past)–even though if anyone actually thought about the hierarchy at the Maxwell Institute and BYU that makes absolutely no sense.

      “The Interpreter reviews and essays that you decry likewise represent the individual work of each author. They emphatically do not represent a unified narrative of which the Interpreter Foundation has been trying to convince an audience for the last six years.”

      There is still a major difference here that you are not seeing. Paul Peterson has probably been following Interpreter for a few years. He is clearly aware of your portrayal of the Maxwell Institute as being “adrift”–again, to use his words–and he assumes that his audience knows that it is adrift. He wrote this book review through that specific lens and had no other reason than that belief to write the review of the book the way that he did.

      “Writers will stop writing the way they do when they choose to stop writing that way. It’s up to them. They are free individuals, and they see things as they see them. I presume that that’s true with you, as well.

      But our campaign will never stop because it’s never existed.”

      These writers, especially Paul Peterson, write this way specifically because of the way you have told your story about what happened in 2012. They may be “free” individuals, but you cannot deny your influence. The week that everything happened that year you sent around your story and were able to secure enough donations to start another independent journal, as some people have said, FARMS 2.0. You have kept telling that story, and Bill Hamblin continued it while he was still online and Louis Midgley continues to describe it often in comment sections.

      • YbT: “the way that you, Louis, and others in the group present Interpreter. You have been able to get the donations that you have based on your account of what happened in 2012.”

        That is, overwhelmingly, not true. First of all, as I’ve pointed out here, perhaps as little as one percent of the materials that we’ve published have ever touched even obliquely and in passing on the Maxwell Institute.

        Moreover, I seldom mention the Maxwell Institute while fundraising and, if I do, I do so only in passing. It’s certainly not a major theme for me. Not even close. And I’m fairly confident, since my fundraising meetings are almost invariably quite small, with only three or four people present (including me, one or two potential donors, and maybe, during the past couple of months, the person who’s helping me to raise money), that you haven’t been in the room for them.

        YbT: “Interpreter essentially exists because of your successful portrayal of the Maxwell Institute as ‘adrift.'”

        Not so. There are people giving to Interpreter who know nothing, or next to nothing, about the change at the Maxwell Institute in 2012, simply because they like what Interpreter is doing. There are others who, on their own, without my prompting, have lost interest in the Maxwell Institute because it no longer does work that they find interesting. But they like what Interpreter is doing. That’s their prerogative.

        I’ve been engaged in no campaign against the Maxwell Institute. From the very beginning, I’ve made it expressly clear that Interpreter would not position itself as an adversary to the Maxwell Institute, and we’ve followed that policy. I categorically deny your accusation.

        YbT: “It makes sense why you would do that, and why you would want other people to think that your being let go from the editorship fo the FARMS Review was some sort of coup”

        Each approach to a potential donor is distinct, individual, but that simply hasn’t been a significant part of any approach that I’ve made. In fact, the subject has only rarely even come up at all.

        YbT: “you have used that term [“coup”] before, Louis and Bill Hamblin have used it often in the past–even though if anyone actually thought about the hierarchy at the Maxwell Institute and BYU that makes absolutely no sense.”

        The coup didn’t simply occur in June 2012. It was a longer-term project than that.

        I can easily defend the term, and I’ll probably do so in writing when I deposit my papers with BYU Special Collections. (I owe that to future historians.) But I haven’t laid out my full thinking and all of what I know; you grossly exaggerate what little I’ve written and said about the case to this point.

        The term that I actually prefer is “purge.” But I’ve said relatively little about even that over the past six years. Much less than I could have. Much less than I eventually will.

      • YbT: “Paul Peterson has probably been following Interpreter for a few years.”

        He may have been. He may not have been. I have no idea, and I suspect that you’re merely guessing.

        YbT: “He is clearly aware of your portrayal of the Maxwell Institute as being “adrift”–again, to use his words–and he assumes that his audience knows that it is adrift. He wrote this book review through that specific lens and had no other reason than that belief to write the review of the book the way that he did.”

        To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never spoken with him. Have you? Do you have any actual evidence, beyond what he wrote, regarding what he was aware of and what his motives were?

        YbT: “These writers, especially Paul Peterson, write this way specifically because of the way you have told your story about what happened in 2012.”

        That’s possible, but I doubt it. Do you have any actual evidence for your assertion?

        You seem to be trying to represent Professor Peterson as my unthinking puppet. I rather doubt that he feels that way.

        YbT: “They may be “free” individuals, but you cannot deny your influence.”

        Yes, it’s possible that their “freedom” is only illusory and that they’re completely under my mystically mesmerizing power — is it just me, or is this claim becoming weirder and weirder with the passage of time? — but, in the absence of actual evidence, I can and do deny the malign potency of my allegedly hypnotic “influence.”

        YbT: “The week that everything happened that year you sent around your story and were able to secure enough donations to start another independent journal.”

        When the history of the Interpreter Foundation is written up, it will be readily seen how comically incorrect your description of what happened is. For one thing, we started the journal without any money at all. None. Not a cent. We didn’t even have a bank account. And when unsolicited donations began to arrive, we had to use somebody else’s bank account until we could set our own up.

        You’re creating your own myth, and you’re believing it.

  9. Allen,

    I am commenting down here because the website will not allow me to reply above.

    “YbT: First of all, thank you for recognizing that we do source checking, but you forget (as many do) that we also perform peer review on our articles. This includes book reviews.”

    Allen, not all book reviews at Interpreter go through the peer review process. Some of them do, but many of them do not.

    YbT: First of all, thank you for recognizing that we do source checking, but you forget (as many do) that we also perform peer review on our articles. This includes book reviews.

    “Second, you seem to be under a false impression about how a festschrift is put together. Sometimes it is the proceedings of a symposium, but more often than not it is the result of editors at a publishing entity soliciting articles from the peers of those being honored by the festschrift. (I know this from having been involved in the production of several of them.) I believe that is how this particular festschrift was also produced, though I could be incorrect. Do you have knowledge that indicates these were the result of a symposium and not of solicitation on the part of the Maxwell Institute?”

    I work in academia, I know how festschrifts work. When I was describing the festschrift above I assumed that it would be obvious that I was not describing every festschrift, just the festschrift that we are talking about. It would make sense that if you had reviewed this book review thoroughly you might have easily come across this video of the actual conference from 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-snfzeC5nU&list=PLOrN0FV73AsKiAkBb1pNc1hP_jq2jw5ch.
    You could have also come across another video from earlier this year when some of the authors and two of the editors spoke about the background of the project (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8_5hsVAuyU). How the Maxwell Institute wanted to honor Bushman with a standalone festschrift volume, and he said no unless the topic was on the intersection of scholarly and spiritual lives of those within Mormon Studies that he had trained in the past. The entire theme of the festschrift comes from Bushman and what he wanted to see done, so it’s really a disservice and insult to Bushman that this review was not given more thorough scrutiny. But that’s been a theme the last couple of years, seemingly bent on going after good Mormon scholars like Terryl Givens, Patrick Mason, Phil Barlow, etc.

    • YbT: You are correct–not all book reviews at Interpreter go through a formal peer review process. Do you claim some knowledge as to whether the book review at point did or did not go through such a process?

      By the way, thanks for the video links. I remember the colloquium in honor of Richard. I particularly enjoyed Spencer Fluhman’s recounting of how the festschrift came about (it was in the second video link you provided). I see nothing in his recounting, however, that indicates the Maxwell Institute was not editorially responsible for the content of first the colloquium and later the printed festschrift. Thus, my original point remains–if the Interpreter Foundation is editorially responsible for what they publish, the Maxwell Institute should be held to the same standard. Therefore, you are free to “review” the Interpreter Foundation’s works and what you see as the motives behind those works (as you are in the midst of doing) and Paul Peterson is free to do the same relative to the Maxwell Institute.

      I strongly disagree that there anyone is at the Interpreter Foundation “bent on going after good Mormon scholars like Terryl Givens, Patrick Mason, Phil Barlow, etc.”

  10. YbT: “But that’s been a theme the last couple of years, seemingly bent on going after good Mormon scholars like Terryl Givens, Patrick Mason, Phil Barlow, etc.”

    There has been no such “theme.” There has been no coordinated campaign.

    Some individual writers — on their own, at their own initiative, with no directive from us and, so far as I’m aware, with no communication among themselves — have criticized certain work by certain scholars.

    This happens routinely in academia and in book reviews.

    But the Interpreter Foundation has no “corporate” axe to grind against Professors Givens, Mason, and Barlow.

    Moreover, I personally like and respect all three and, so far as I’m aware, remain on good terms with them. In fact, just a couple of months ago, I spent several hours on an interview with Terryl Givens for a major film project that’s being carried out under the aegis of the Interpreter Foundation.

  11. Not being an academician nor involved with the Maxwell Institute or the Interpreter Foundation, I found the above comments entertaining at the very least. As a lay-person (meaning non-academician,) I will have to admit that many years ago, –apparently prior to 2012– I was an avid follower of the work going on at the Maxwell Institute, including its involvement with FARMS. Also as a lay-person, I have to admit that from my perspective, something happened post-2012 and I no longer received the same kind of uplift that I had prior from the Maxwell Institute’s publications. Sometime near the year 2013 or maybe 2014, I happened to stumble upon the Mormon Interpreter online, and was instantly captivated. Not realizing that many of the people had previously been involved with the Maxwell Institute, I recognized the type of research and unabashed Gospel defense that I had so previously enjoyed hitherto. Until I read the comments on this review just now, whether the Maxwell Institute continued to this day I could not have stated for certain.
    The point I’m trying to make here is that IF the Maxwell Institute HAD been continuing in the type of research and apologetics it had been promoting prior to 2012, then I STILL would have been following it. Since it obviously didn’t, I found something else which filled the niche for me. This fulfillment happened to be the Mormon Interpreter. It was a chance discovery, but I have learned an amazing amount of information over the last several years. Where else but a venue such as the Interpreter would the disparate likes of Royal Skousen, Stanford Carmack, Julie M. Smith, Neal Rappleye, Matthew L. Bowen, Jeff Lindsay and Brandt Gardner find common ground for their essays? From my perspective, the Interpreter has been Heaven-sent!
    Finally in conclusion, THANK GOODNESS for the Interpreter, it has filled a niche that from my perspective appeared to be needing to be filled. Can I say it? Yes, it does appear to me to have been heavenly assisted in its mission. I envision it continuing long after Dan Peterson and it’s current board are long gone.
    btw, without the funding of BYU, I cannot make such an assured claim for the Maxwell Institute, especially after reading the comments herein from those who apparently represent it.

    • Hi, Timothy. To be clear, I’m the only representative of the Institute in this current discussion. What publications and events from the Institute since 2013 did you find unfulfilling? We receive daily feedback from people who find our work uplifting, but we also pay attention to those who haven’t found edification in our work. What books, journal articles, podcast episodes, videos etc. did you have in mind? Thank you for your candor.

      I’m glad you continue to find outlets which inspire. As Latter-day Saints our work is much too large for any single organization to do alone. I refer you to Elder Kevin Pearson’s recent FairMormon address on that subject.

      • Thank you for responding to my comment. I didn’t really want to parlay back-and-forth, as this really isn’t my argument. Still, I found that you twisted my words slightly. You implied that I was unfulfilled by certain publications or events that I could pinpoint with accuracy. This isn’t exactly what I said. I said that I was no longer able to find the same type of Gospel-oriented defense that had existed prior to. Whether it disappeared because of this “coup” that has been mentioned, I know not. All I know is that about this time, I discovered the Interpreter and it fulfilled the rigorous Gospel defense that I felt I needed in order to combat the wiles of the world which are so prevalent today. There are so many who would attack us and yet as Christians, I would never consider going to another sects website and attacking that particular denomination. Nevertheless, that’s neither here nor there, but regardless, perhaps to help answer how I see things from my perspective, an analogy would help. Like all analogies, it’s not perfect and if pursued too deeply, will fall apart, but I honestly believe some things might just apply.
        Let’s start by reciting the outlines of the analogy. It goes like this: Once upon a time, there was this huge company. For convenience, let’s call it GenMotors. GenMotors was flush with cash and decided to allow a new concept-type of company, a fledgling, to grow up under them. This new company, let’s call it, Saturnia, would be totally autonomous. It would be started as just a mild experiment to see if GenMotors could foster and create something totally new.
        Much to everyone’s surprise the little company, Saturnia was incredibly successful, perhaps beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. Each year the little company seemed to grow a little more, but over time, incapable of not exerting their corporate control, the managers of GenMotors decided that they needed to be more involved in the governance of the little fledgling company. After all, they were Saturnia’s much wiser parents, obviously knew what was best and besides which, they could make things more profitable if only they tweaked a little here and a little there. Slowly at first, but more rapidly when the economy started to tank, the parent-company inserted themselves more and more into the management of the little autonomous startup.
        Well, for whatever reasons, once the management of the big conglomerate exerted control, the little startup, our little Saturnia, sputtered and fell out of favor with the general public. Their automobiles were no longer cutting-edge, nor dependable, nor even totally desirable. Perhaps these generic automobiles were too academically pleasing, or too bland or perhaps just too out-of-fashion for the general public, I just don’t know for sure. All I know is that the wild euphoria that had once greeted its earlier automobiles, now was no longer as evident. Who can say exactly why, especially because they are personal opinions which drive those tastes, and not something you can readily put your finger on.
        Anyway, the parent corporation gave it several years, but ultimately GenMotors was faced with the decision to close it completely or just sell Saturnia off for whatever they could get out of it. It had become an albatross around their necks.
        Now, as a newly independent company, whether Saturnia would then find its way back to the cutting-edge niche that they once held, depended totally upon themselves once again. They either had to reinvent themselves or die. Truthfully, the jury is still out on that question and we may not know for awhile whether they can reinvent themselves or whether the glorious talent they once had managed to acquire in order to build their fantastic cutting-edge automobiles would ever come floating back to them.
        As for the big corporation, our GenMotors, well personally, I’m certain that they could find no wrong in what they had done, after all, it was just a little company and an experiment at that, and being the parent company, they most certainly knew best how to handle their foundling company, –especially they felt vindicated in raiding its finances and attempting to absorb its popularity back into the parent company.
        Now as a final question to our analogy: whatever happened to those erratic but hugely talented and resourceful employees that those managers had driven off? Well, who knows? They could have ended up just about anywhere, but if you believe in divine intervention, then you believe that they probably ended up someplace where they were sorely and desperately needed. After all, the universe is loathe to waste good talent.

        • I apologize for misinterpreting you, Timothy. When you said “something happened post-2012 and I no longer received the same kind of uplift that I had prior from the Maxwell Institute’s publications,” I wondered what things you had in mind that failed to give you that uplift. You mentioned “research and gospel defense,” which are things the Institute has continued to do, which is why I asked for some examples.

          From your analogy: “Well, for whatever reasons, once the management of the big conglomerate exerted control, the little startup, our little Saturnia, sputtered and fell out of favor with the general public.”

          Under BYU’s direction the Maxwell Institute’s current primary mission is “to gather and nurture disciple-scholars”—to help cultivate scholars in a close-knit research community, and to mentor students therein, in order to help them produce scholarship reaching any number of readers, from average Latter-day Saints to those more academically inclined. You might say the Institute is focused on producing fewer widgets in order to train those who can go on to produce widgets.

          That being said, the Institute still produces materials meant for diverse audiences, from everyday church members to the more academically inclined. Not all of them are couched in a rhetorical “defense” position, but some of them directly are. And if we look at numbers alone (not the best measure, perhaps, but you mentioned “favor with the general public”), the Institute has actually been performing very well. Over the past 5 years it has published its best-selling books of all time (except for the Hugh Nibley books, which are in a league of their own, most of which preceding the actual founding of the Institute). These books include Adam Miller’s “Letters to a Young Mormon,” now in a second edition with Deseret Book, and Patrick Mason’s “Planted.” Not everyone will like these books. But they’ve sold a lot of copies, as has Ashley Mae Hoiland’s “One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly.” The Living Faith series is going strong. We’re just wrapping up our “Proceedings of the Mormon Theology Seminar” series, which includes interesting essays on Latter-day Saint scripture (Julie M. Smith, who you mentioned, is editor of one of the volumes and contributor to several, if I recall correctly). In addition, our Maxwell Institute Podcast currently reaches over 14,000 listeners per episode. Some episodes feature Terryl Givens interviewing people about faith and scholarship, some in a directly apologetic mindset. And the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies maintains a healthy subscriber base, effectively as large as it has ever been.

          By noting these accomplishments I don’t intend to diminish the Institute’s previous work, or the work of the entities which preceded the Institute (including FARMS, the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, and other things). I also don’t intend to challenge the stature or relevance of the Interpreter, Book of Mormon Central, or any other similar entity. In fact, I think each entity can reach many of the same people, although their audiences don’t need to completely overlap in order for them to be successful. In fact, it would seem somewhat redundant if they did exactly overlap.

          I’m fond of an invitation Elder Neal A. Maxwell delivered at BYU a number of years ago when he said that the Book of Mormon has barely even begun to be studied by members of the Church. He compared the scripture to a mansion with many rooms, saying “All the rooms in this mansion need to be explored, whether by valued traditional scholars or by those at the cutting edge. Each plays a role, and one LDS scholar cannot say to the other, ‘I have no need of thee’ (1 Corinthians 12:21).”

          I think it’s critical, considering the stakes, that Latter-day Saint scholars avoid telling each other they have no need of each other, but rather that we agree where we can, disagree where we must, and do so always in a spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood and critical faithful engagement. This runs counter to the spirit of competition suggested by your business analogy, and by some of the impulses we see in academia today. But if we are aiming at disciple-scholarship, it seems like the best path forward.

          As I said before, I’m glad you have venues like Interpreter which you find engaging and fulfilling. I hope you and others will also be engaged and fulfilled by works from many different organizations, including the Maxwell Institute. You might be interested, for example, in our forthcoming Study Edition of the Book of Mormon, edited by Grant Hardy (December). Or perhaps you’d like to attend our upcoming Maxwell Lecture featuring Elder Jeffery R. Holland (November). Video will be available online afterwards, too, along with videos of many of our other public events.

    • I don’t recall if the front matter specifies this, but I personally know that Dr. Bushman provided the conference organizers (one who works with the Church History Department, one at BYU, and one in a Mormon Studies chair in Virginia) with names of scholars he wished to participate. It’s an eclectic group of women and men from a variety of academic disciplines. The question for Bushman wasn’t how relatively obscure any particular scholar or discipline is, or whether every participant could reach every Latter-day Saint. Bushman was and remains interested in how one’s relationship to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints intersects with their academic work. Or vice versa.

      And so by its very nature, such a collection will have contributions which will seem irrelevant or even alien to some readers. That’s not uncommon for a festschrift, and it actually provides the opportunity for scholars and readers to take a look over the fence at what people in other disciplines are doing, even into areas that seem confusing or disorienting to a newcomer. Such a collection becomes an opportunity to think about how scholars risk being cut off from other conversations from other fields. (I think, Cassandra, you’d be particularly interested in the contribution from Deidre Green.)

      Considering that Richard Bushman was directly involved in organizing the conference and selecting the participating scholars, I would expect a more charitable reading of the collection–understanding it would likely embody all the normal strengths and drawbacks of that genre–than what we’re seeing here.

      I wouldn’t object to rigorous engagement, even energetic disagreement, with points offered by particular essays in a collection like this. That’s the bread and butter of academic exchange. But here it seems the criticisms are three-fold: one, “I’m not interested in that,” two, “I don’t understand that,” and three, “this essay or that essay didn’t tell me what I already think/know.” A fourth related concern is “the average church member won’t understand every essay.”

      This all reminded me of the criticism Hugh Nibley faced when he was tasked with writing a Book of Mormon manual for church curriculum. He was told it was too academic, too elitist, for church members to read. I believe it was David O. McKay who insisted the manual go forward, saying he believed it was good that the Saints had something they’d need to “reach for.”

      I think this collection provides that sort of thing. There are contributions that most English-speaking Latter-day Saints will understand and benefit greatly from, as Dr. Peterson acknowledges here in his review. There are also essays people will need to reach for, a few which may be even beyond their grasp (there’s one in particular I can’t wrap my head around at all!). I think the collection’s diversity is a positive thing, then. And I think publications like Interpreter do much the same thing. Not everything published here is going to be interesting, relevant, or comprehensible to many church members. But as President McKay said of Nibley (whose work still puzzles many of the readers who try it out), let them reach for it. I appreciate Clark’s responses, pointing out his own tastes in response to Adam Miller’s essay, offering criticism but having sought to get what Adam was trying to do. And recognizing that as a diverse collection of essays, some will connect with him and others won’t.

  12. To answer Allen’s question above, this book originated when former Institute director Jerry Bradford invited Spencer Fluhman, then of BYU’s history department, to initiate a scholar’s colloquium with an eye toward a festshrift. Fluhman then worked with Jed Woodworth of the Church History Department and Kathleen Flake of the University of Virginia. They collaborated directly with Bushman to select the speakers.

    There were also many cosponsors of the event in addition to the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, including the Richard Lyman Bushman Professorship of Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia, the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah, the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University, the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYU’s Religious Education department, the Religious Studies Program at Utah Valley University, and a few private sponsors including H. Brent and Bonnie Jean Beesley, David A. and Linda C. Nearon, and Tom and Cheryl Quinn.

    Collectively, these groups both believed in and appreciated the colloquium and were pleased to see its proceedings published in honor of a Latter-day Saint scholar so many of us love and admire. As with any collection in this genre, it was understood from the outset that its eclecticism would mean some readers would enjoy some essays and some would enjoy others. A few rare readers would enjoy them all, but more often a reader might be inspired by a part of the whole.

    (P.S. Please keep in mind I’m not a disinterested party; I work for the book’s publisher and also attended the colloquium from which it sprang. I also consider Richard Bushman a friend and distant mentor.)

  13. My transition from following the Maxwell Institute to discovering The Interpreter roughly parallels Timothy’s. When the first FARMS Review came out after the change in direction, I distinctly recall thinking “I am not the intended audience. It is now a publication by scholars for scholars, but not for me”. And when one of the reviewers of a book on the Book of Mormon confessed to never having actually read the Book of Mormon, my disinterest was confirmed. I was no longer getting what I needed.

    So what did I need? As Dr. Bushman is quoted as saying regarding the crisis of faith he had before going on his mission,“I have come to believe that in actuality my problem was not faith but finding the words to express my faith.” This is exactly what I needed! I no longer found this in the pages offered by the Maxwell Institute. I have no use for words I do not understand, for I cannot use them to express my faith to others.

    I am not a scholar, but have a Masters in a scientific discipline. If a topic interests me, I can usually get through it with a decent understanding.

    Blair Hodges, thank you for participating in these comments. I have enjoyed some of your work in the past. In fact, I actually have some relevant, first hand, information with respect to your topic in the FARMS Review 21/2 back in 2009.

    Cheers.

    • Thanks, John. It sounds as though you were as much a fan of the FARMS Review as you were of the Maxwell Institute, perhaps more so, so that losing that publication changed the nature of the entire Institute for you. I’m aware of other people who feel that way. I’m also aware of many who were not interested in the FARMS Review at all who very much appreciate what the Institute does today. So we can’t appeal to everyone now, just as the Institute couldn’t appeal to everyone when it was publishing the FARMS Review. In my experience, those who now express disenchantment with the Institute aren’t very familiar with our current work. Most haven’t so much as read a book or listened to a podcast episode. If all they attend to is the Mormon Studies Review (or read, say, one book containing the proceedings of a single conference) they are missing the vast majority of the work the Institute has been doing for the past five years. And some of them use such acontextual evidence to claim the Institute is “adrift.” That’s unfortunate.

      • Thank you for taking the time to explain your viewpoint. My displeasure with the direction of the Institute, worded too harshly and disrespectfully above for which I apologize, is nonetheless not the result of a view that the Institute does little or no good or valuable thing as pertains to our faith. It does. One of my favorite books is Mormon Codex, published by the Institute. And there are other efforts that have benefitted me. So thank you. I suspect my personal viewpoint about the changes the Institute opted to make some five years ago will not make much difference to the Institute or be resolved in these comments. I do believe (in the trenches here), however, that the need for top notch apologetics, helping members and seekers to better understand their faith in proper context with accurate understanding has never been greater. The Interpreter and others do a great service. I wish I saw more of the Institute doing the same. I wish you well.

        • No problem, Brent. I invite you to try out the Maxwell Institute Podcast and to check out some of the books in the Living Faith series, some of which more overtly undertake negative (or “defensive”) apologetics, whereas others are examples of positive apologetics. That is, some of them raise and then respond to criticisms or questions about our faith (negative; they negate something). Others guide the conversation from the outset, fortifying readers against whatever criticisms they may encounter in the future (positive). “Planted” by Patrick Mason is an example of the former and “One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly” by Ashley Mae Hoiland is an example of the latter. Other books in the series do both negative and positive apologetics to various degrees, such as Steve Peck’s “Evolving Faith,” Sam Brown’s “First Principles and Ordinances,” Adam Miller’s “Letters to a Young Mormon,” and Tom Rogers’s “Let Your Hearts and Minds Expand.”

          I don’t think every podcast episode, or every book in the series, is going to resonate with you in equal measure. But I guarantee you’ll find at least something there that is quite uplifting and worthwhile.

          I believe neither negative nor positive apologetics should be thought of as the one true way to do apologetics. I think it’s healthy for church-related entities to expand their vision about what constitutes apologetics. No single approach will be able to reach everyone. Different styles have strengths and weaknesses to them. Different organizations (BoM Central, Interpreter, Fair Mormon, the Maxwell Institute) are positioned to serve as best they can and need not be in competition.

    • P.S. You’re referring to Lofton’s review of Gutjahr’s biography of the Book of Mormon from Princeton University Press. I wouldn’t expect a non-member scholar to have read the entire Book of Mormon in order to review a biography of its reception, though it could be helpful. I’m very interested in what such a scholar would have to say about such a biography not having completed the BoM itself, though. (She said she’s read to Jacob multiple times, though. Making it through Second Nephi should count for something!) And as I was saying, not everything will be of interest to everyone. And that’s ok.

  14. You left out the most interesting parts of the phrase’s origin.

    https://www.businessinsider.com/where-the-expression-throw-shade-comes-from-2015-3

    I’ve heard it said (and guess I’ve witnessed) that many of today’s trends have similar origins.

    So in a contest do you think Louis or Rihanna would best throw shade?

    (Please forgive the digression. This book review and the comments are highly interesting. I’ve followed as much about the referred-to events as I’ve found. Honestly it’s all a bit concerning as I could realistically have my two oldest at BYU in the next few years. I guess I’ve taken for granted that BYU is inherently different from other schools. It’s a bit naive, I know. I had a few nutty English professors myself while there.

    But the assumption is that BYU is singular because it has something singular.

    I wouldn’t expect the same from, say, Claremont, even though they have a Mormon Studies Department. [Bracket away at Claremont, I say.] And I wouldn’t send my kids to NYU, or SMU for that matter, without expecting them to be exposed to, well, whatever can be imagined. These are known quantities.

    I always fancied–though I really know better–that sending kids to BYU would be sending them among friends. False friends are more dangerous than known enemies and often, I’ve found, certain professors relish a bit in the tackless disabusing of a youthful mind. [Emphasis on the method, not the end.]

    Certainly I don’t think this is endemic at BYU, but the trend is concerning and is not limited to a single department.

    I know we all want to be taken seriously in the broader community of scholars [I’m not a scholar, if you missed that] and at the gym, but at what cost? We’ll end up conceding everything and yet remain forever the lapdog. It’s just one of the hard realities. You can only serve one master.

    I’ve gathered that Dr. Bushman is pretty open to the many directions things could go. He seems to have, on multiple occasions, indicated so. I suspect he doesn’t share my concerns. Maybe he’s right. Who am I to say? I’ve read his books and think highly of him. But I couldn’t miss the fact that in retrospect he wishes he would have written RSR with a more faithful tone. He said as much, if I remember the source correctly, in his travel log/journal book (?) published just after RSR. I have it on my shelf, just can’t remember the name.

    • CC: Yes, yes. I taught OT lesson 40 yesterday, and I “went off the reservation” to teach the significance of Cyrus (Isaiah ch 44-45) who let the Jews return to build up the temple. The Official Lesson Manual doesn’t mention Cyrus, to my shock. I took the position that the academics who traditionally taught Isaiah I, II, and III were simply wrong. My evidence was The Great Isaiah scroll ca. 300 BC (a mere 220 years after the return) and Josephus who points out that to convince Cyrus, the Jews showed him 150 year old manuscripts with his name. The presence of the Isaiah Scroll in the Dead Sea Scrolls shows that there were multiple copies of Isaiah around 300 BC, and they mostly agree with what we have in the KJV. How on earth would these anonymous deuteronomists be able to insert ch 40-55 and 56-66 into all those extant scrolls? It boggles the mind.

      A couple in my class brings their BYU attending daughter, and she mentioned after that she took an Isaiah class where the instructor said the name is likely an interpolation from the post-exile period. He was caught up in the whole deutero-Isaiah nonsense. She said my classes make her want to read Isaiah, whereas the result of the BYU class she took last year was that she gave up on Isaiah.

      Isaiah is about not worshipping the popular social gods, and staying true to Jehovah, what Kipling writes about in “The Gods of the Marketplace.” Clearly the academy even at BYU is somewhat corrupt, if I can be allowed to leap to a conclusion. The whole deutero-Isaiah argument is based on the materialistic fallacy that one cannot know something before it occurs, and certainly Isaiah cannot know a pivotal person’s name 150 years in the future. So they have to make up thin arguments about how the style changes after chapter 39. E.g., Andrew Klavan did not write A Great Good Thing because it isn’t like his other books which are crime thrillers. Other than that, I have no strong opinion.

      • Out of curiosity why do you date the Great Isaiah scroll to 300 BC. Don’t most date it to around 125 BC? And Josephus seems to be writing so long afterwards I’m not sure the value of his testimony (or more importantly the source of his belief). My understanding is that while some of the papyri for the Great Isaiah scroll dates to the 3rd century other ones date later and most linguistic arguments place it around the later date. It’s fair to be critical of linguistic arguments for dates due to the paucity of sources. In particular I think arguments based upon the presence of Aramaic in the Isaiah text have been criticized by some as necessarily indicative of a later author. However even if one rejects the arguments for the later date that doesn’t necessarily mean the earlier date is correct. At best it would seem to me to mean we know less than it appears.

    • Hi, CC. The book you’re referring to is “On the Road with Joseph Smith.” There have been various “faith-promoting” and “faith-demoting” rumors about Bushman’s thoughts about his book “Rough Stone Rolling.” In “On the Road” he talks about how his efforts to split the divide between believing readers and non-believing readers (most especially, historians of religion) were less successful than he hoped. Wherever he would speak he would have some church members asking him, in essence, to bear his testimony. He would also have non-Latter-day Saints, some academics, asking if he really believed those strange things about golden plates and so forth.

      Through these Q&A sessions—some of which he details in that fascinating little book—he came to believe he could’ve done more to invite readers explicitly to try to learn about Joseph Smith from a believer’s perspective. He wrote the book with that in mind already, but he wasn’t explicit enough: “It would not take many changes to rewrite the book in that way,” Bushman writes. “A few alterations in the introduction, a few others at other key points would do the job. At these junctures, I would step forward and say, This is where a Mormon and non-Mormon historian will part company. Here is what you can learn if you follow me. Once again, candor is the best policy. Why didn’t I see that earlier? Live and learn.” (See pages 116-117).

      So I think Bushman is saying he wishes he wrote “with a more faithful tone,” but that he could have been more explicit about the benefits of the “faithful tone” he already wrote with.

      I’m not saying Bushman is either right or wrong in his overall approach, but I think this is an important distinction.

      As for how this connects with the festschrift, Bushman wanted a wide variety of scholars to either exemplify how they negotiate these factors within their own professions, or to reflect directly on that negotiation.

      As for concerns about your children and BYU, some of the finest most thoughtful and faithful Latter-day Saints I’ve ever met teach here. I don’t teach, I’m just a public communications specialist. But I would be more worried about cliquish college behavior in a university setting than about professors trying to pull kids away from the gospel. BYU isn’t perfect and it doesn’t work exactly the same for everyone, but amazing things can happen here.

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