The academic study of religion has been around for a long time. And although there are many examples of books and articles that have used academic lenses to explore various aspects of Mormonism, it’s only in the past two decades that we’ve begun to see the formal rise of “Mormon Studies.” In this episode, Brian Birch and Spencer Fluhman, two thought leaders in this emerging field, help us understand Mormon Studies. What types of inquiry fit under this umbrella term–and how settled is the definition? What are the key developments in the growth of the field? What institutions have Mormon Studies programs or are otherwise engaged in teaching of Mormonism in the academy? What are the prospects for the field’s continued growth, and do prospective students have reasons to be cautious about finding academic careers should they make Mormon Studies one of their primary areas of emphasis? Birch and Fluhman are very forthcoming about these and other questions, and they also let us peek a little bit behind the curtain into past and contemporary debates at places and organizations such as Utah Valley University and the Brigham Young University religion department, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute, as well as the Mormon Studies Review and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Along with Mormon Matters host Dan Wotherspoon, who also has studied religion in the academy, they also share their own experiences studying their religion through academic lenses. How has it benefited their feeling at home within Mormonism? What other payoffs from their academic work have they felt in their own spiritual journeys?
Please listen and then share your questions and own experiences and observations in the comments section below!
Links to items mentioned in the podcasts:
Mormon Studies Review, Vol. 1 (2014). PDF of the inaugural issue, which contains the roundtable discussion spoken of on the episode, plus much else!
265-266: “Mormonism as a ‘Religion,'” Mormon Matters podcast, 3 February 2015
Stephen C. Taysom, ed., Dimensions of Faith: A Mormon Studies Reader (Signature Books, 2011)
Quincy D. Newell, Eric F. Mason, Jan Shipps, eds., New Perspectives in Mormon Studies: Creating and Crossing Boundaries (University of Oklahoma, 2013)
Terryl L. Givens, Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity (Oxford, 2014)
David Howlett, The Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Sacred Space (University of Illinois Press, 2014)
Philip A. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible: The Place of Latter-day Saints in American Religion (Oxford, 2013)
Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (University of Illinois Press, 1987 paperback)
Armand L. Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (University of Illinois Press, 1994)
Sterling M. McMurrin, Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion (Signature Books, 1965 reprint)
Sarah Barringer Gordon, The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America (University of North Carolina Press, 2002)
Kathleen Flake, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle (University of North Carolina Press, 2004
Interesting. I found this podcast exactly at the time when I was considering pursuing an online theology Master’s. This podcast answered some of my questions. I decided to go ahead and do it, so now I’ll just be looking for the right program. I already have another degree and a good job, so anything but an online format won’t work for me. I can’t seem to find any online programs that offer a Mormon Studies emphasis, so I suppose I’ll be looking for a more nondenominational program where I might be able to being in a Mormon perspective. Thank you for this podcast!
Brian, did you serve your mission in Toronto Canada around 1996-1998?
Great episode! Really enjoyed hearing about where Mormon Studies is at, where it might be headed, and how it may be defined. I had a couple classes from Dr. Birch at UVU (UVSC back then) and it was great to hear him on the Podcast. Thanks for putting this together!
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