Q&A with Patrick Mason on the Global Mormon Studies Center at CGU

By September 5, 2017

We are pleased that Patrick Mason, Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, has responded to questions asked by JI bloggers about his plans for the Global Mormon Studies Center. You can find more about the Global Mormon Studies Center here.

  1. The Global Mormon Studies Center is the first research organization directly connected to Mormon Studies. Do you see the Center as a part of the program’s draw for students, or as a separate research center attached to CGU?

The Center for Global Mormon Studies – let’s just say “the Center” – would be unique in terms of focusing exclusively on Mormonism outside the United States.  Scholars have recognized this need for many years now; those of us on the board of the Mormon History Association would be rich if we had a nickel every time someone bemoaned the lack of attention to Mormon history outside the U.S.  The LDS Church History Department has recognized this need, and is doing tremendous work in decentralizing their archives and encouraging the collection of local stories from around the world.  But it’s essential for this kind of work to also be sponsored at a center that resides outside the institutional framework of the LDS Church or any other church-related body like BYU.  Our independence has been one of our greatest strengths at Claremont, and I would say we have maintained a high level of academic rigor while also maintaining a respectful relationship with the communities we study, especially Latter-day Saints and the LDS Church.

To answer your question directly, certainly we hope that the Center will attract top-notch students from around the world who are interested in studying global Mormonism and putting it in conversation with broader theories, histories, literatures, and other religious traditions.  A major portion of the Center budget will go to student fellowships, as we are especially keen on sponsoring students from places around the world that don’t have the same higher education infrastructure that we do here in the U.S.  But the Center itself will reside outside the departmental structure of the university, and exist as an independent research institute within the university.  It will not offer degrees nor have tenured faculty.  It will exist to sponsor research, with CGU as a hub but most of the work occurring all around the world.

Finally, not to quibble, but I’m not sure that the Center for Global Mormon Studies would in fact be the first research center dedicated to Mormon studies.  The Maxwell Institute at BYU has long played that role, and has provided outstanding leadership in the Mormon studies arena with the publication of the Mormon Studies Review, the sponsorship of summertime seminars, and the fellowships they are providing to scholars of Mormonism.  The Tanner Center for the Humanities at the University of Utah has also been doing incredible work fostering Mormon studies research in recent years, for doctoral students, postdoctoral fellows, and established scholars.  I would be very pleased if our Center at Claremont could approach the kind of success that these other research institutes have had.

  1. Are there any research or academic centers from which you have based the idea for the center upon?

I had the tremendous opportunity to spend many years at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, first as a graduate student and then in two different stints on the staff and faculty.  I’m not imagining the Center for Global Mormon Studies being anywhere near as ambitious or far-reaching as the Kroc Institute, which received $50M from Joan Kroc in addition to major gifts from other benefactors.  But during my time there I saw what an Institute could do, in terms of taking advantage of all the resources of a university while also having the intellectual and administrative freedom to operate independently from the inherently conservative structure of departments and schools/colleges.  A center can and should be innovative, cutting-edge, and entrepreneurial.  My university president (formerly provost) often says that the graduate research university is one of humanity’s greatest inventions.  I believe that, and research centers and institutes are on the forefront of that intellectual exploration.

  1. The video mentions that the center hopes to translate major works of English-language Mormon scholarship into multiple languages. Do you have a sense yet of which languages, how the translations will be accomplished, and whether (living) authors will be involved in the process?

We want to go as far as our resources will take us.  It won’t be a surprise to say that Spanish and Portuguese will probably be first and second, given the size of the Mormon population in Central and South America.  French will be high on the list, not just because of its continuing significance as a language of European scholarship but also because of Francophone cultures in Africa, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean.  In some respects, the Center will follow the scholars and the scholarship.  If the work is in the Philippines, then we’ll do Tagalog and Cebuano translations.  At a certain point resources constrain feasibility, but our vision is ambitious and truly global.

Our aim is to begin with translations of the work of current scholars.  At some point, resources allowing, we could think about translating already published work.  But our focus will be on making the new scholarship accessible in the languages of the peoples and cultures that are being studied.

  1. How will the director of the center ensure the center engages with global Mormonism on its own terms (so as not to replicate Americentric norms and interests)?

It’s a great question.  Leadership will be absolutely crucial, especially in the early years.  My ideal director – and we won’t be writing the job ad until the money comes in – will be someone who has already done academic work in this area, and may even hail from outside the United States.  Certainly the person will have to possess a genuinely cosmopolitan, global outlook, and be familiar with – or at least sensitive to – postcolonial theory and related conversations.

But while I expect that the Center will do a great deal to set an intellectual agenda through sponsoring conferences, selecting research fellows, awarding research grants, and so forth, I also anticipate that the Center’s leadership will follow the lead of the scholars, privileging non-American voices and not just non-American research topics.  Of course I don’t want to be reductionist here and say that all Americans are hopelessly Americentric and everyone else is perfectly cosmopolitan, but a major goal of the Center is to identify, support, and promote the voices of scholars and communities all around the world.  We need to not only listen to those voices but also follow their lead.

  1. What sort of research fellowships do you anticipate being hosted at the center, if any?

At least three kinds.  First, we will have graduate fellowships for MA and PhD students.  Second, we will have visiting research fellows who are given a semester or year on campus to work on their writing projects.  Third, we will have international research fellows who participate in annual workshops at various locations around the world and then receive funding from the Center to engage in original research on Mormonism in their home countries.  Research will be the heart and soul of the Center, and we want to promote many voices doing many things, and then interacting with and informing one another as much as possible.

The bottom line is that if we want to truly understand global Mormonism in all its diversity, we will have to dedicate the resources to make that happen.  Scholars can do great things as individuals and in networks, but intellectual discovery is exponentially increased when you create a community of scholars supported in their production of original research and sustained over time.  Because individual scholars and even professional associations like the MHA have been constrained by a lack of resources, Mormon studies is far behind Mormonism in its worldwide scope.  It’s time for our understanding of global Mormonism to catch up to global Mormonism itself.

 

Thank you, Patrick!

 

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Thanks, Patrick! It’ll be very interesting to watch the center as it develops. Sounds like a very ambitious project that promises to do much to globalize the field.

    Comment by David G. — September 5, 2017 @ 7:03 am

  2. Thanks for taking the time to answer questions, Patrick! I’m looking forward to seeing how everything develops.

    Comment by J Stuart — September 5, 2017 @ 8:20 am

  3. Can you please state in a few lines why you think it is “essential” that this work be done outside the institutional church, and why you think your independence is one of your “greatest strengths”? What exactly are you saying about work produced within the institution?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 5, 2017 @ 11:09 am

  4. Ardis, great question. Those statements were in any way intended to deride the quality of work being done by the Church History Department, BYU, and any other official LDS institution. To the contrary, I’m constantly impressed, even amazed, by the quality and quantity of work that they produce, including in the area of international Mormonism.

    I’m simply speaking of the need for multiple perspectives. It would not be healthy for Mormon history or Mormon studies to be dominated by any one institution or viewpoint. There is certain kind of work that can be done within the Church History Department that cannot be done at Claremont, and vice versa. I can host certain speakers, or discuss certain topics in my seminars and public events, that would be difficult in an official church setting. Official church sponsorship is a clear benefit in some situations, whereas independence is better in others. When it’s all added up, the whole is hopefully greater than the sum of the parts.

    Comment by Patrick Mason — September 7, 2017 @ 11:02 am

  5. Argh. The sentence should read “Those statements were NOT in any way intended to deride…”

    Comment by Patrick Mason — September 7, 2017 @ 11:03 am

  6. I’m so happy to see this come to be and look forward to seeing it unfold! I’ve spent a fair amount of time in LDS churches outside the US as a non-mormon observer and can’t wait to see the fascinating research that is sure to come out of this initiative.

    Comment by Saskia — September 7, 2017 @ 10:29 pm


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