Examining the “Mormon” in “Mormon Studies” – Part 1 of 2

Originally posted April 7, 2013

The following post is co-written by Alexandria Griffin and Michael Haycock, both in the Master’s program in Religion at Claremont Graduate University. The views represented below are their own.

About a month ago, the Claremont Mormon Studies Student Association (CMSSA) had the opportunity to host a lunch meeting with BYU political philosophy professor Ralph Hancock. In preparation for our conversation, we were sent Hancock’s Times and Seasons blog posts regarding Mormon Studies.

Yet, perusing those posts, we found that the Mormon Studies about which Hancock expressed great caution did not seem to match up with our scholarship here at Claremont. Over lunch we ended up disagreeing with some of Hancock’s conclusions about the nature of Mormon Studies and had a lively discussion. Fortunately, however, through the course of our conversation we discovered that some of his caution was about belief in absolute academic objectivity, which we, as scholars, certainly share.  

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Toward “Mormon Studies”: Part 2 of 2

Originally posted April 10, 2013

Part Two was written (once again, by Alexandria Griffin and Michael Haycock) before the posting of Part One -that is, when the authors were still uncertain whether Loyd Ericson’s article was meant to be prescriptive or descriptive- and was intended as an alternative to the taxonomy of those who could be seen as doing Mormon Studies presented in Ericson’s paper. Recognizing now that Ericson intended to be descriptive, the following should be read instead as an alternative to the atmosphere surrounding much of Mormon Studies at present (which we feel Ericson described quite well). Indeed, his categories formed a helpful basis for our thoughts as we composed the post below, especially in considering how Mormon Studies has been viewed, is presently viewed, and can be viewed in the future.

We feel that with the inauguration of this blog, it is important that we not assume an intuitive definition for “Mormon Studies” but instead suggest a more rigorous one – even if it will be of necessity provisional, open to critique, and requiring revision and clarification. Further, we believe that in the light of recent discussion contrasting Mormon Studies and Mormon apologetics, we must offer our own contrast; however, we do not feel that this contrast represents the only two options for Mormon academia, nor do we feel that dismissive definitions do justice to the effort and thought that has gone into the production of apologetic work. With that in mind, these are our proposals.

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Spending Sunday Morning in the Mormon Family

Originally posted April 14, 2013

For Patrick Mason’s “Introduction to Mormonism” class this semester, each student in the course (all of whom are non-Mormon) was required to attend a full three-hour block of Mormon Sunday meetings and report on their experience. Several of his students have abridged their papers so that they could be posted on this blog. The following reflection was written by Catrina Ellis, a first-year Master’s student in religion at CGU for whom Mormon Studies is a concentration. Names have been changed.

What resonated most in my three hours at church was the emphasis on life. The building was full of life, and the service centered on life. The room was filled with sound—laughter, crying, talking, screaming. Audible conversations before the sacrament meeting were not only permitted but encouraged. These congregants were happy to be spending their Sunday together, for they genuinely liked each other. I overheard one woman saying to a man she had just embraced, “I love being at Church. It’s so uplifting,” and it appeared most others would have agreed with her.

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Mormon Studies as a Counterweight

Originally posted April 14, 2013

This blog post, written by CGU PhD student Tom Evans, references the recent CGU Conference in honor of Armand Mauss. The video will be uploaded to the CGU servers soon. Stay tuned for updates to this post and future posts that will direct you to the streaming videos of this conference and other guest speakers.

As Catrina’s post on Monday demonstrates, Claremont Mormon Studies allows for a unique space where insiders and outsiders to the tradition mingle, exchange ideas, and learn from one another.  Another one of the features of student life at Claremont Graduate University is that, due to the efforts of the Mormon Studies Council and the Hunter Chair, a stream of guest lecturers and conferences every year. We hope to highlight these events in this blog as they occur in order to analyze and discuss what top scholars are contributing to Mormon Studies.

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Unique, but Familiar

Originally posted April 21, 2013

For Patrick Mason’s “Introduction to Mormonism” class this semester, each student in the course (all of whom are non-Mormon) was required to attend a full three-hour block of Mormon Sunday meetings and report on their experience. Several of his students have abridged their papers so that they could be posted on this blog. The following reflection was written by Teresa Crist, a first-year Master’s student in religion at CGU. Names have been changed.

Stepping into the chapel, I was taken aback by its simplicity. Aside from the welcoming smiles on congregants in attendance, almost no adornments greeted a wandering eye. Having grown up in a church where youthful attention could be distracted by pretty stained glass windows or detailed woodwork when the pastor’s sermons went beyond the child-approved length, I wondered what on earth I should look at if I became bored. This never happened. The very simplicity of the surroundings rendered the details and ritual of the sacrament meeting all the more interesting to observe. Instead of being drawn to embroidered banners or detailed frescoes, my eye was drawn to the intricacy of the ceremony of distributing the sacrament, and the detail of each person’s face as he or she testified.

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Is Mormon Studies Possible at a Mormon University?

May 5, 2013

Richard T. Livingston, who contributed the post below, is a PhD candidate in philosophy of religion and theology at Claremont Graduate University and an adjunct instructor in the Comparative Religion Department at California State University, Fullerton, where he teaches an introductory course on Mormonism. He also bears the distinction of having been the founding president of the CMSSA. 

This was originally posted at Peculiar People on April 22, 2013; it can be found here. We welcome his perspective on Mormon Studies as an academic discipline and hope that it will spark productive conversation.

“Should we begin with a prayer?” One of the most common, simple, and straightforward questions for anyone who knows anything about Latter-day Saints. I mean, really, what LDS gathering doesn’t begin with a prayer? Still, this time it was different . . . very different. This time it was anything but mundane and insignificant. For one of the very few times in my life I had to think seriously about how to respond. And, if I’m being brutally honest, I was even a little upset with Richard Bushman for even asking it. I still don’t know if it was a calculated move on his part, but part of me remains convinced that he must have been conniving or scheming, because anyone who knows Bushman knows that that’s exactly the kind of fiendish person he is. In all seriousness, though, with the exception of the few times when I’ve been in the company of those who insist on praying vocally at restaurants, this common question had never generated quite so much unease.  

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