To whom it may concern:
I’m thrilled that you’ve taken an interest in Mormon studies. I think that there is much interdisciplinary work to be done in this emerging (sub)field and welcome the perspectives you bring from your own discipline. There seems to be some confusion on your end, though, about what historians do. Let me try and assuage your concerns by assuring you of two things:
1) Professionally-trained historians are very aware and appreciative of the contributions made by previous generations of scholars. Those historians you accuse us of dismissing in favor of the latest cutting-edge scholarship have, in fact, been our mentors, advisors, and our friends. We have learned from their careful and thoughtful scholarship and their patient and proactive mentoring and seek to incorporate their findings into our own research and to consider their own hermeneutics very carefully when thinking about our own. Dare I say that as historians—as persons trained to interpret the past—we are particularly and peculiarly aware of past scholarship?
2) We have read Derrida. And Foucault. We’re intimately familiar with Hayden White’s argument, as well as the arguments of many other theorists. Your field is not the only one that reads and incorporates theory into your scholarship. I’m unaware of a single graduate program in history that ignores theory or pretends like it does not exist. In fact, I’m unaware of a single undergraduate program in history does so. This is perhaps even more true of religious studies programs. Just because we don’t rehash ad nauseam “bracketing” truth claims when studying religious history does not mean we are unaware of the issues at stake in such discussions (nor does it means we think such discussions pointless or not worthy of our time. Several of the most insightful and thoughtful discussions I’ve read on the subject of bracketing come, appropriately, from historians). You are, as one of my colleagues recently put it so well, “tilting against a flimsy and weatherbeaten cardboard cutout of Leopold von Ranke.”
If you want to engage in these discussions, that’s wonderful. Please familiarize yourself with the scholarship and scholars you dismiss before doing so, though. Consider this an invitation to read (apparently for the first time) all of the excellent scholarship that has recently been written by historians and others studying Mormonism. If you need suggestions, just ask. We’re all too eager to catch you up to speed, just as we are anxious to learn from you and your unique disciplinary perspectives.