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 take?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 ( 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
[email protected]

25 comments for “Call for Papers

  1. The Right Trousers
    July 21, 2008 at 12:21 pm

    This sounds like an awesome conference. It almost makes me wish I wasn’t doing CS.

  2. Ugly Mahana
    July 21, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    I find it interesting that these questions appear to invite discussion of how scholarship may complicate faith, not how Latter-day Saint belief and faith may enrich secular scholarship. Surely both sides of the coin are important.

  3. Ugly Mahana
    July 21, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    I should also say that these are interesting questions worth discussing. They just seem a bit one-sided.

  4. Raymond Takashi Swenson
    July 21, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    On III, Pluralism, you list 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.” The Restored Gospel certainly rejects “pluralist” views as described here, but I don’t think it falls within either the “exclusivist” view or the “inclusivist” view. Article of Faith 13 makes clear that we see value all over the place, and Section 76 makes clear that other religions can take a person to a significant degree of salvation, probably as much as they actually are taught to expect. The position of the LDS Church is rather that its claims to truth and soteriological value are superior, though not exclusive. The LDS Church is what the other Christian churches should aspire to be, if they really understood the Bible.

    One indicator of this is the fact that many theologians in traditional Christianity are, through study of the Bible that looks at it with less of the coloring of traditional official interpretations (including the Creeds), are finding in it many of the same doctrines that have been part of the Restored Church since its early days. This includes salvation for the dead, and a branch of that, salvation for unbaptized infants (with the Roman Catholic Church officially abandoning the idea of Limbo). It also includes the materiality of the Resurrection and the transformation of the earth into a celestial abode worthy of celestial inhabitants, noted by N.T. Wright, Anglican Bishop of Durham, England.

    Given this fundamental aspect of LDS belief, which I think takes us out of the usual categories, shouldn’t the call for papers be modified a bit, indeed, made more accurate? (It actually goes on to assume that Mormons are “exclusivist.”)

  5. Julie M. Smith
    July 21, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    I just wanted to clarify–if it needs clarifying–that I didn’t write this and I’m not affiliated with it. It was in my inbox and I thought it might be of interest to some of our readers, so I passed it on.

  6. ABL
    July 21, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    As one of the organizers of this conference and one of the writers of the call, I think I can safely say that if we got you both responding to and thinking about these issues, Ugly Mahana and Raymond, the call is doing exactly as we intended.

  7. Ugly Mahana
    July 21, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    #6 – Huh?

  8. July 21, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Raymond, would you agree, though, that Mormonism is exclusivist when it comes to exaltation? Because I think you can make a good case that Mormon exaltation plays a similar role to that of salvation in other Christian soteriologies. Whether or not a multi-tiered Mormon afterlife warrants finer distinctions in possible approaches, a statement like
    The LDS Church is what the other Christian churches should aspire to be, if they really understood the Bible sounds to me like a classical exclusivist position, albeit one that takes on an inclusivist veneer by locating its epistemological authority in a broadly communally acknowledged source (the Bible) rather than framing Mormonism’s privileged access to truth in more traditional, internally legitimized terms (priesthood authority, effective rituals, divinely appointed magisterium, etc.). In your statement, Mormon claims (in this case in interpreting the Bible) are implicitly being used as the standard whereby the validity of other traditions’ claims are measured, and I think the question is getting at whether or not such an undertaking is defensible.

  9. July 21, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    The Restored Gospel certainly rejects “pluralist” views as described here, but I don’t think it falls within either the “exclusivist” view or the “inclusivist” view.

    The prompt is loosely adopting the categories of John Hick, major proponent of religious pluralism. In his view Mormonism falls under the category of ‘inclusivism’ because it asserts that other traditions provide a kind of salvation, but not the penultimate salvation that Mormonism provides. Hence it does not ‘exclude’ them from salvation, nor does is it affirm a ‘pluralistic’ view of salvation, but it ‘includes’ them under the Mormon umbrella of salvation.

    On another note, I agree that Hick’s categories are problematic.

    In any case, in submitting a paper to this kind of conference I would imagine that one need not agree with the assumptions of the composer. I think this was part of ABL’s point in #6.

  10. Julie M. Smith
    July 21, 2008 at 9:40 pm

    penultimate salvation?

  11. Jim Donaldson
    July 21, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    My online dictionary doesn’t have “soteriologies” and the blog spell checker hates it too. What does it mean? You easterners and your big words…

  12. Julie M. Smith
    July 21, 2008 at 9:58 pm

    Jim, it just means ‘theology of salvation.”

  13. Edje
    July 21, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Soteriology is the study of salvation.

    (At the risk of pedantry… in Google, type [define: soteriology] and it pulls up various definitions.)

  14. Edje
    July 21, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Sorry for the cross-post.

  15. July 21, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    penultimate salvation?

    forgive the improper usage, i ain’t got all the smarts Julie does…

  16. Julie M. Smith
    July 21, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    SmallAxe, I wasn’t trying to be snarky, I thought you had shot and fired over *my* head on that one!

  17. July 21, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    well julie, way to disappoint. I thought I was getting a free English lesson ;>)

  18. Wonderer
    July 22, 2008 at 7:22 am

    While useful for some, this is essentially a faith-centered venture clothed in academic garb. And somebody still wonders why Mormon studies is viewed with suspicion by many seasoned scholars?

  19. July 22, 2008 at 8:20 am

    While useful for some, this is essentially a faith-centered venture clothed in academic garb. And somebody still wonders why Mormon studies is viewed with suspicion by many seasoned scholars?

    I don’t get the point here. Is it that ‘faith-centered’ activities are not welcome in academia, or that ‘clothing’ one’s faith in academic garb is a disservice to the faith?

  20. TT
    July 22, 2008 at 9:24 am

    I would add another question to SmallAxe’s about Wonderer #18- in what way does this conference constitute “Mormon studies”?

  21. July 22, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    By some of your comments (I’m looking at you Wonderer and Ugly Mahana), you are making it clear that this sort of thing isn’t for you.

    The conference is not at all about Mormon studies- in fact, almost no one at the conference last time around actually does Mormon studies (with the exception perhaps of Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens). Most of the students are doing almost anything but Mormon studies- early Christianity, biblical studies, East Asian religions, theology, etc. Its about doing academic work in the broader field of religion as a Mormon rather than academic work in the field of Mormonism.

  22. christopher j
    July 22, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    The LDS church pamphlet on homosexuality indicates that celibacy will help homosexuals “ultimately receive all the blessings of eternal life.” I wonder if heterosexuals would like to voluntarily join an organization in which they take a vow of celibacy as well. I haven’t come up with an appropriate name for the organization, yet. But it would obviously be very meaningful to homosexuals if heterosexuals took a more “expansive view” on the issue, although difficult for both groups. But according to the pamphlet, “you can be happy during this life, lead a morally clean life, perform meaningful service in the Church, enjoy full fellowship with your fellow Saints” without having sexual partners you are naturally attracted to. So it should work well for everyone of any sexual orientation, and it would really mean a lot to gay/lesbian Mormons. If you’re a single, heterosexual man like me, then joining the organization is going to be pretty simple. If you’re married you could just commit to sleeping in a different room from your spouse, never kissing passionately, or showing any sexual interest in your spouse. Yes, it will be challenging: maybe more challenging than anything you’ve ever experienced. But I think it could work for heterosexuals as easily as it can for homosexuals. And it is the only way we could understand the sacrifice that homosexuals are making to fit the doctrine. And if you’re worried that nobody will have kids, we can to in vitro fertilization to allow everyone the blessing of posterity. Wouldn’t this be a way to build bridges and show support of all humanity within the current LDS system? Also, if the LDS church accepts that homosexuality is part of human nature for some people, then the church could have a program for gay adoption for gay (but celibate) couples (who sleep in separate rooms, of course). It could be a program in which very fertile couples can donate their extra children to gay families. I can almost feel the extra sun shining on a bright, loving future already.

  23. christopher j
    July 22, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    Also, does the church provide permission to homosexual celibate members of the church to have same-sex roommates? Isn’t that cohabitation if they’re gay or at least bi-curious? Would a bishop counsel a gay man to move-in with females? That would make sense, but I’ve never heard of it happening.

  24. July 22, 2008 at 6:35 pm

    I just want to clarify that “christopher j.” (comments #22 and 23) is not me (though I share his last initial).

  25. July 28, 2008 at 11:39 am

    christopher j,

    I wonder how familiar you are with LDS members, because many heterosexuals do give up marriage and sex “for”/ because of the LDS Church. Other LDS members have given up their lives instead of just sex and marriage (which might not come close to your standard, but I think it\’s higher in mine). Others give up sex/ marriage because of disorders, syndromes, mental illness, etc. of themselves and/or partner.

    While homosexuality is not easy, to think that homosexuals are somehow completely different than all other sinners and/ or people with problems is wrong. To think that homosexuals are somehow completely beyond the call of sacrifice and duty of other members is also wrong.

    Obey the commandments, including temple covenants, which also cover this. If you need to sacrifice, do it. Blessings for sacrifice? Yes.

    Do what you can, do the best at it. Hard to fault someone who does that, though it might have to wait until later to get a Jesus judgment.

    Homosexuals can check out NLP, EFT, etc. and see if that helps.

    The point is not who your roommate is; it\’s about obeying the law of chastity.

    Well, give your experiment a try; I’ll link to your website of the report!

Comments are closed.