Friday, February 06, 2004

I recently saw something in the news that I thought might make for an interesting discussion. As some of you know I recently accepted an academic appointment at the University of Utah, so I have been following events on campus lately. The Salt Lake Tribune ran an article this morning which began with the following paragraph.

History teachers at the University of Utah see no "intellectual or cultural merit in Mormonism," says U. religious historian Colleen McDannell. As proof, she points to the recent rejection of a controversial Mormon studies scholar for a Utah history position. In a Feb. 3 letter to U. administrators, McDannell said her colleagues' refusal to hire D. Michael Quinn, a Yale-educated author and excommunicated Mormon, is "blatant discrimination" and might be "actionable." McDannell added: "The absence on this campus of scholarly attention to Mormon history, theology and practice is profound."

The rest of the department disagrees with this assessment of the situation. They go on to say:

"Not one of the votes against Michael had anything to do with denigrating Mormon history or the Mormon church," he said. "In my mind, it was just the opposite." Goldberg said he and the five others who voted against hiring Quinn are not looking for a Mormon apologist. But they don't want an avowed critic, either.

However the last line of the piece might be the most interesting.

Jim Clayton, a senior historian in the department, said the school has no mandate to teach Mormon history. "It presents all kinds of difficulties. Who could teach it without criticism from either side?" Clayton said. "Mormons who want the church's perspective can take a class at the LDS Institute across the street."

So what is the best way to teach LDS history? Do you really leave it to CES (wince)? What are the standards of ‘objectivity’ necessary to maintain good scholarship? Lastly, it is clear to me that there is growing divide between the LDS and non-LDS world in Utah. What role could academics in general, and the University of Utah in particular, play in bridging that divide?

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

I am probably the last to read it, but I am working my way through The Metaphysical Club. I'm at the part contrasting William James and Henry James, his father. The elder James was a Swedenborg follower (more or less) and was vehemently against individualism. The younger James of pragmatism fame reacted against his father's views to adopt an individualism that even Peirce and his other friends felt excessive.

It raises an interesting question regarding Mormons and the individual versus the community. We believe that the members of the godhead are one, that we are commanded to be one, yet we simultaneously adopt a staunchly American view of individuality. (Perhaps one whose modern nature owes a great deal to James) Often it seems that we are so individualistic that the very aspects of our religion demanding unity are overlooked.

We exactly is the place of community in Mormon ethics, social structure and metaphysics? Where might a Mormon find fault with William James?