In early June, Kris and I organized a “publication workshop” for graduate students and early-career scholars working on projects related to Mormon History and American Religious History. Thanks to the generosity of the John C. Danforth Center for Religion and Politics at Washington University at St. Louis, we were able to meet in a central location before the meetings of the Mormon History Association (lots of capital letters!). I thought that it would be useful to share what I learned at the event and also share what I view as the primary benefits of organizing writing workshops.
STATE OF THE FIELD
In the morning, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Spencer Fluhman, and Patrick Mason spoke to our ten participants about the present and future of Mormon Studies. Dr. Maffly-Kipp noted that there is a lot of room for growth in thinking about Mormonisms, meaning all religious groups that have a heritage to the movement started by Joseph Smith. She also called for more work on “lived religion” in Mormonism, and made a persuasive argument that Mormon Studies is where American Catholic Studies was before Robert Orsi. She also called for more work on global Mormonism. All in all, she called for more de-centering of Mormon Studies, both away from the United States and from the words of LDS leadership and Latter-day Saints.
Professor Mason spoke to us about a forthcoming funding campaign for a Center for Global Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. His graduate students are already doing exciting things in Mexico, Botswana, India, and other locations. The new center will help students and those interested in Mormon Studies across the globe write and publish their work.
Dr. Fluhman addressed concerns that he had when he began the Mormon Studies Review, a publication designed to review the best works and trends in Mormon Studies in a given year (you can read more about the publication and its board of editors here). Primarily, he wondered if there were enough exemplary works in Mormon Studies to keep the Review alive (“YES!”) and would scholars that do not identify as Mormon Studies scholars be willing to contribute to the volume (“YES!”).
The benefits of organizing (and participating in) writing workshops are legion. First, organizing a workshop provides an excellent opportunity to network. I had not met many of the participants in the workshop, even in the relatively small field of Mormon Studies. That allowed me to encounter work on a variety of projects with which I was not familiar and allowed me to make new friends and connections in the broader field of American religion. Kristine and I also felt it was valuable to use the workshop to include independent scholars, public historians, and to include as many participants from underrepresented groups as possible.
Second, organizing the workshop gave Kristine and I the responsibility to select participants, secure a location, and craft funding requests. While every student should develop skills related to writing funding applications, selecting participants forced Kristine and I to make tough decisions about participants. While the work is not “fun” by any means, it sure gave me a lot better perspective on the difficult that conference and workshop organizers face when they receive a wealth of wonderful proposals.
Third, organizing the workshop has helped me to overcome the natural jealousies that occur when students and young scholars work in the same field. We compete for funding opportunities, graduate school slots, and publications—it’s one of the less than pleasant realities of working in the same fields and subfields. Workshops have helped me gain an intellectual “buy-in” for those that I interact with. I genuinely want each of their articles and books to be published and I believe they want the same for me.
Fourth, it was a lot of fun. I knew several of the folks that participated but had not spoken to many of them in person or read their work. It’s amazing how such a small group can form such a collegial atmosphere with a shared interest, a tasty lunch, and walks across a beautiful college campus.