19 July 2008

Faith and Knowledge Conference 2009 - Call for Papers


"Reconciliations and Reformulations":
A Conference for LDS Graduate Students in Religious Studies
Harvard University, February 20-21, 2009

Many Latter-day Saints experience their scholarship and their religion as clashing cultures, each with its competing values and contradictory conclusions. Religious studies students especially struggle to reconcile their faith and the knowledge they acquire in graduate school. The forms this reconciliation takes (including the failure to achieve reconciliation) become crucial episodes in a student's life history. The purpose of the Faith and Knowledge Conference for 2009 is to provide a forum for exploring these attempts at reconciliation.

We invite paper proposals from graduate students in religious studies and other related fields in the following four categories:

I. Gender and Sexuality
The academic discipline of religion is interacting more and more with methodologies and theories borrowed from gender and sexuality studies. As LDS scholars, to what extent do we engage in or disregard these methodologies? Can we take more expansive views of homosexuality, feminism, and other related issues than Mormon theology traditionally does without compromising our faith? Can feminist theology, queer theory, and similar approaches be useful to LDS scholars or must they be rejected altogether? How do more traditional viewpoints inform our academic scholarship, and how may the more expansive contemporary views of such issues inform both our academic scholarship and our understanding of the Gospel? Is reconciliation possible (or even needed) between these academic paradigms and the faith of the LDS scholar?

II. Scripture
LDS scholars commonly perceive a tension between "academic" and "devotional" approaches to scripture. Can scholarly methodologies (the historical-critical method, literary criticism, etc.) be usefully incorporated into the study or interpretation of LDS scripture, both ancient and modern, or must they be abandoned or subordinated to faith-based understandings? What investments do LDS scholars of scripture bring to the academic table and in what ways do they manifest themselves in productive or unproductive ways in LDS scholarship? Can academic approaches to the Bible be helpful in the study of revealed scripture, and if so, do they require some kinds of reconciliations or transformations? Is there and/or should there be a unique LDS scriptural hermeneutic, and what would it look like?

III. Pluralism
The approaches of religions to their own truth-claims may be divided into three categories: exclusivist religions, which assert that theirs is the sole bearer of truth and salvation; inclusivist religions, which recognize that other traditions possess enough truth to qualify them for salvation; and finally, pluralist religions, which hold that all traditions are equal paths to God. In a time of globalization, Latter-day Saint interactions with other religions, both Christian and non-Christian, raise questions about our view of ourselves. As we learn to appreciate the depth of other religious traditions, we wonder if our exclusivist view on truth is sustainable and defensible. How do we react to the theological and political dilemmas that exclusive claims to salvation through Jesus Christ or through Mormon rituals entail? Can a Mormon pluralism exist, or must we take on the burden of exclusivism?

IV. The Place of Religious Scholarship in the Church
Religious scholars and scholarship occupy an ambiguous role in the Church. Religious scholarship is cited when it supports Church teachings but rejected when it suggests that Church positions may be problematic. Moreover, the scholar who raises questions of this find falls under suspicion. Given current Church culture, what can an LDS scholar of religion bring to the table? Can a scholar utilize his/her tools and scholarship in a pastoral role? Can LDS religious scholars work to remove the stigma in the Church associated with the academic study of religion, and especially the academic study of Mormonism? Specifically, in what ways can areas of religious scholarship contribute positively to the spiritual and cultural life of the Church?

Panelist papers or presentations should last approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Short proposals (no more than 250 words) should be submitted via the conference website (http://www.faithandknowledge.org/submissions.php) by OCTOBER 1, 2008.
Presenters will be notified by December 1, 2008. Conference participants will be eligible to apply for financial assistance with travel and lodging expenses.
Please send further inquiries about to the conference to

16 July 2008

Brief hiatus- be patient

I'm taking a two-week break from blogging while I prepare for the Texas bar exam.  I have a couple of post ideas on deck in the ol' noggin but I don't want to get too involved in writing while I have the biggest test of my life coming up in less than 13 days.

Wish me luck...

14 July 2008

Profile of Elder Christofferson in Duke Law alumni magazine

This came in the mail last week.  See page 43 for a profile of Elder Christofferson.  There is not a lot of new information here, but it was still cool to see an article devoted to an apostle in a publication from my school.

08 July 2008

Humble About Our Certainties

NOTE: This post is NOT about gay marriage.

We are a very certain people.  To tweak the old saying, among Mormons you could cut the certainty with a knife.  After all, we are the folks that infamously exalt "I know" over "I believe."  Or, as my friend Brigham would say, Mormons like certainty.

But is all of our certainty healthy or justified?  In Isaiah, we read, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord."  Naturally, we are so certain that this scripture applies perfectly to others, but never to ourselves.  "That's the way the world thinks, but in the Church we know better." or "Bro. So-and-So believes that the Gospel requires us to do X, but I know that what the Lord really wants is Y."  Any of this sound familiar?  Sadly, these kinds of statements reveal very little about God, but incredible amounts about our own character, as I illustrate below...

I believe that I am a good and rational being, doing the best I can according to the light I have been given (which, I am certain, is more light than anyone else has).  If I did not sincerely believe that, I would change my thoughts and behavior, right?  Believing that God too must be good and rational (like me) and furthermore possessing all light and knowledge, he must act, feel, and think the same way that I do.  In the end though, this logical move constructs God in my own image rather than mandating that I conform to his.  In spite of my own certainty, the belief in our own individual goodness and rationality has lead members of the Church (among all others) to behave and think in different ways and to build gods to our own taste and specifications.  Living as a Mormon in a predominantly Protestant nation and region, as well as observing and participating in discussions in the Bloggernacle, are ample evidence of that proposition.

Another illustration: Joseph Smith said, "Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and at the same time more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect in every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be..."  Some folks (like me) grasp quickly onto the first half of this statement, embracing God's "liberality" (ignoring that this word would have lacked its modern political connotation for him) and open-mindedness as models for our own behavior.  Others (like so many of the anonymous commenters who have recently graced this blog with their presence) would likely latch onto the second half of the statement, emphasizing God's justice (always inflicted on others) and impeccable morality (which would of course conform to their own morality).  My point here is not to point fingers at any one group or way of thinking.  Blame for such hypocrisy is to be spread widely here.  Which part of the quote we prefer, as well as the types of scriptures that we prefer (from the title of this blog, my own preference is clear), ultimately tells us who we are and where we stand but does not further illuminate the nature of God.

I suspect that at some future day, when we "know as we are known," we will see that the true God is quite different than the small gods we have built for ourselves.  That goes for all of us.  I suspect that what He will reveal at that time will show us that His thinking and His plans have always been a mystery to us, seen only through a glass darkly.  And I suspect that He will care about quite a few things that we have forgotten, and likewise not give a fig for many of our most cherished certainties.  Should we not then be humble in our contemporary assertions of God's thoughts and our determination that we do know His mind and will?