Bushman: “Rough Stone Rolling and the Intellectual Prospects for Mormonism”

By March 11, 2008

Thanks to BHodges for taking the time to transcribe Bushman’s talk and provide footnotes. Enjoy!

Rough Stone Rolling and the Intellectual Prospects for Mormonism”

Richard L. Bushman
Weber State University, Ogden, Utah
March 5, 2008

Well it’s wonderful to be back at Weber State, it’s getting to be habit. I spoke here two years ago and gave a commencement address when Paul Nelson was President so every year I get an invitation to the commencement asking for my measurements for the cap and gown and I feel like I’m really part of the community here. We’re now in California. It’s a dangerous place to live, because you very quickly become soft, and every time the temperature goes below fifty degrees you shiver and shake and complain roundly. But it’s good to be back in a real country where the temperature can go down. I did want to tell you that life in California is very strange. The other night we were driving on a Pasadena freeway and as always happens it was jammed up and slow, so we tuned into a news broadcast. And they have a different kind of news down there than they have up here. They were talking about an airport that is going to be built right on the boundary of Texas and Louisiana. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this. And they’re going to name it after two eminent politicians: Tom Delay from Texas and Huey Long from Louisiana. They’re gonna call it the “Long-Delay Airport.” [audience laughter] Maybe you saw that coming.

Well, I wanted to talk topically tonight, not going back to the past where I’ve been living while I’ve been working on Joseph Smith, but to the present moment speaking of Mormon terms, looking at the huge exposure of Mormonism over the last ten years, really. We felt it most intensely I think in the last six months or so during the Romney campaign. But really this whole ten years has been kind of a perfect storm of publicity about Mormonism; more, I believe, than any time since the Reed Smoot hearings over a hundred years ago. It began with the Olympics; a big New Yorker article on Mormonism. Then there was Joseph Smith’s birthday. I was on NPR, myself, three times in one month, December, for the anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth. And then, of course, along comes the Romney campaign and every reporter in the country-political reporter, suddenly has become a religion editor. And they have to learn about Mormonism, trying to figure out how it fits into his personality and his thought; then generally, what are Mormons about.

So it’s been everywhere. And in a way it’s been exciting but I think it has left many Latter-day Saints unsure about whether it’s good or bad, whether the old maxim “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is really true, because there’s been so much negative discussion of the Church. I think it’s been quite sobering for Latter-day Saints to discover the huge amount of anti-Mormon feeling and thinking in this country. In a way, Romney’s campaign, roughly speaking, was a plebiscite on Mormonism. And when he lost, partly-or to a large extent because of his Mormonism, the whole, all Mormons lost in a certain way. The realization is that we’re not quite first-class citizens. There can be a Latter-day Saint who is the majority leader of the Senate, in the Senate, occupy a cabinet post, be on federal courts and so on, but you can’t become President because there are huge segments of the population that don’t believe that a Mormon really is qualified to be President of the United States. And these segments, I think, are concentrated in two cultural regions.

One is among Evangelicals who, for years and years, have conducted campaigns warning people about Mormonism, teaching them how to resist Mormon missionaries. And so it was quite natural for Mike Huckabee, brought up a Baptist minister, to comment that “aren’t the Mormons the ones who believe Jesus Christ is the brother of Lucifer?”[1] That’s one of the canards that comes up in these anti-Mormon sessions, so it’s just part of the Baptist lore about the Mormons. And they see Mormons not just as heterodox, but as really satanic. It isn’t just that we have erroneous ideas, but there’s something positively evil.

And then another large segment of anti-Mormon feeling is among liberal intellectuals. In journals like the New Republic, which is quite a liberal journal and speaking, I believe, for the college-educated public. Some of you may know this journal called Slate which is an online journal and politically liberal. And there was an article there by one of the editors saying he could not trust anyone to be President of the United States who believed in gold plates and an angel. If you analyze it, it really was a piece of religious bigotry because what he’s saying is that this one belief infected the person’s whole mind and character. And on those terms, even though it could be a surgeon, he wouldn’t trust a surgeon who believed in gold plates, or a University professor, or a quarterback for the San Francisco team.[2] And so it was very peculiar form of argument, but it went out. And a lot of that scattered around in various parts of the press leading to about two weeks ago, maybe three weeks now, the article by Suzanne Sataline in the Wall Street Journal talking about the shock to the Mormon population to discover how much disliked, mistrusted, disbelieved, they were; Mormons were. And she interviewed people all over the country who sort of expressed this feeling of surprise that there was so much opposition to Mormon thought and Mormon belief and doctrine.[3]

And the question is: why were we surprised? I was talking to Howard Berkes,[4] who is one of the reporters for NPR, and anyone who has been to New York City or been in academic settings has been perfectly familiar with these kind of doubts and suspicions-and really, of dislike of Mormon beliefs. So it’s not a surprise. But for most Mormons in most places, it came, I think, as a shock and a surprise. Why should that be? Why are we so surprised? It was there all the time-all along, sort of had rumors of it, but it didn’t mean much to us. You might say it is because we are isolated in our enclaves, the large Mormon population in the region. And after that we are isolated into our wards and congregations so we don’t, sort of, get in touch with these things. But I think there’s something more behind it than that.

There was this interesting moment in 1893 that I think sort of set the pattern in the United States as far as Mormon public relations were concerned. It was a very interesting moment, it happened at the Columbian Exposition of 1893; a huge worlds fair in Chicago built this, the white city, these beautiful buildings right out where the University of Chicago is today. It marked a turning point in Mormon relations with the outside world. In the nineteenth century, beginning with Joseph Smith and through most of the nineteenth century, not only was the Mormon religion disparaged as an evil fantasy, but the Mormon people were looked upon as a degraded population because they were either dupes of this fanatical prophet-meaning they were just ignorant and primitive-or they were barbaric. “The twin-relics of barbarism,” slavery and polygamy, reflected on the whole Mormon people. They were living this barbaric retrograde way. But through the course of the nineteenth century that changed because there were lots of curious visitors who came to Utah and reported on what they saw. And they saw people living in lovely houses, there would be these events-one of them reported on where all the children came out to welcome the visitors dressed in white dresses-and they would meet educated and cultured people.[5] The visitors were especially impressed by the Women’s Exponent. The suffragists in the United States were interested in it because it was a pro-women’s vote journal. And the women in the Mormon movement, Emmeline B. Wells and Eliza Snow and many others, got to know these suffrage leaders elsewhere in the country and won their admiration.[6] And so the women sort of led the way to the view that the Mormon people were really a quite refined and loving people.

So when it came to the 1993 exposition, they were doing all sorts of things as part of that. One of the things was a choral festival. They bent over backwards in Chicago to get the Mormon choir, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, to come out and sing. And they won second place; won the hearts of people. At the same time, there was a parliament of religion that was held, which was headed by a broad-minded Protestant clergy, to invite people of all religions world-wide to come to this parliament and express their views of God and the good life. They sent out three thousand invitations to this parliament. It came up at the meeting: “should we invite the Mormons?” and they were the one group that was not invited. B.H. Roberts protested; he said “is this a parliament of tolerance or of intolerance?” And they said “we decided that Mormonism is not a religion.” To them it doesn’t qualify. He almost got in but he was forbidden to speak.[7] And that contrast-the Mormon Tabernacle Choir representing culture and the people, and B.H. Roberts representing theology and belief-represented a split that went down through the whole twentieth century. That we were a good people, but not really a sensible people.

The New York Times magazine published an essay by a man named Noah Feldman, a law professor at Harvard, on Mormonism; very well-informed essay, I’m sure some people saw it in [indiscernible]. And he said the peculiar thing about the Mormons is the extreme normalcy of the people and the extreme oddity of their beliefs. This split is so evident to him, and I’ve had scholarly friends who have made the same comment, “a wonderful community, but an empty religion” is the phrase that one of them used. Well, we have thought that because we are accepted and admired as a people, now speaking for my people, the Mormons, that our religious claims were equally respectable. And these last few years have shown that we were wrong. There’s not an equal respect universally. There’s a lot of respect in places of society, but in fairly significant places, in other Christian religions and among the academic community and scholars, there’s not that respect.[8]

Well the question of the lecture as expressed in the title is, is there any possibility of overcoming this; what are the prospects, the intellectual prospects, of Mormonism? Can Mormon belief ever be respected as, say, Christianity is, or Islam is respected, or Buddhism, or any number of other religions? We may be large, but will we be respected the way these other religions are? Well most Mormons I think, myself included, are inclined to believe the problem is that our beliefs are so fabulous. Angels, gold plates, the inspired translation-these beliefs that are so miraculous out of a world of superstition that many believed the Enlightenment suppressed years ago-we revive it and call on our people to believe things that seemed entirely out of date and obsolete. I had this interesting experience with Howard Berkes-he and I seem to always be talking to one another-during the bicentennial of Joseph Smith’s birth. He had me on the show, and you never know what they’re gonna ask, and he began by saying: “tell us in detail about the first vision” and I gave a quick summary. He wanted more detail. He wanted going into the grove, he wanted being borne down by some dark force, he wanted the two persons; and I got through that, finally. And he said “now tell us about the angel Moroni.” And I gave him a quick version, he said “no, no, we want the details.” So we went through the gold plates, the box, the Urim and Thummim, the whole works. And after he got all this laid out he said to me: “how can an educated person like yourself believe all those things?” [audience laughter] So it had been a trap that this clever man had sneakily snared me with. Well, my answer was this: all the revealed religions are based on miracles. Christianity has its resurrection, Judaism has the parting of the Red Sea and the visit of God on Mount Sinai, and Islam has Mohammed being carried by Gabriel in the night to Jerusalem for a vision. And those revelations, those miracles, are always the most controversial but the most powerful part of the religion because they represent the moment when God intervenes into the world. And it gives immense momentum to people that think that they are in touch with the divine. But at the same time they are always contested simply because they are so miraculous and fabulous. And that’s simply the state with Mormonism. We too have our revelations and they’re the very secret of our energy. And yet they’re also the secret that the opposition uses as the basis of things. Harold Bloom has this incredible admiration for Joseph Smith. In a book called Omens of the Millennium, talking about angels, said that there was a time when it was very easy to believe in angels; everyone believed in angels. But after the eighteenth century angels became contrary to the law of nature. They’re considered unscientific; impossible. We live in that age of science and Enlightenment where angels are impossible.[9]

Well how are we going to deal with this problem? There’s a new book by a man named Phillip Jenkins, a student of world religions-teaches at Pennsylvania state University-who has a book out; I’m sorry to say I brought it with me but I don’t have the title, but it’s about religions, sects, and cults.[10] And his argument is that yes, we have cults among us, we have sects among us. We always have had them in the United States, and we’ve always had them in the world. And moreover: all of the world’s great religions were at one time sects and cults. They begin as little, sort of ticking tense[?] groups, and then evolve into an established church. And the moral of the story is: lay off these groups. He hates the way they are treated in the United States and Mormons among them; he classifies Mormons in that grouping. And leave them alone because you were once that way once, too, and it’s just the way things go, and it’s a matter of familiarity. Noah Feldman made the same point, that Mormon miracles are no more extreme than the resurrection, it’s just that they’re more recent. They haven’t sort of seasoned and so they seem weird and peculiar. And I think there’s a truth to that. If you grow up Mormon the angel Moroni is second nature; it doesn’t seem weird or strange it’s just something you live with. And you become a very sane person, not wild and crazy, you just make it a part of your mental equipment. And this view, I think, leads to the idea that what is needed in order for Mormonism to be respectable is simply to age.

We spend a great deal of our intellectual effort, Mormons do, trying to demonstrate the proof that God was there, that the Book of Mormon is authentic, that there really was an angel. This will never be proven to the world. There’s no hope of proving it. You can make a case; I do it all the time myself. I think it’s impossible to think of Joseph Smith writing the Book of Mormon. It’s too complex, it’s too intricate, it has too much scope, it has too many characters, there’s just too much there for someone as unpracticed-never written anything, was not particularly known for any literary ability at all-to turn out that book. So I’m trying to drive home the point; it had to be divine. But it will never, never persuade people. And all of these efforts to demonstrate the authenticity and divinity of these works rationally we are intent on doing probably are not going to add a lot to the intellectual respectability of Mormon belief compared to the simple aging process. What is really important is for people who are so skeptical to meet sane, wise, effective, balanced individuals who can do all the things that are required in the world and do them well and still have in their heads somewhere a belief that an angel appeared to Joseph Smith; that there were gold plates. That assurance that those apparently extreme beliefs can have a place in a very ordinary, good person is what is going to have more effect in taking the edge off of the fabulous side of Mormonism than anything else. Claudia [Bushman], who is the best one I know to cope with criticism of this sort, says that someone had asked her in a moment of candor and friendship: “how can you believe in gold plates?” And her answer is: “if you’ll come to church with me next Sunday I’ll introduce you to a lot of people who believe in gold plates.” [audience laughter] And that may seem like sort of a coy, a clever answer, but actually, it’s the answer as soon as you begin to realize that lots of people believe in these things. It’s like having people around you who believe that a dead man rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. It’s just a matter of getting used to it. So in my opinion the fabulous nature of Mormonism is not a critical problem as much as we think it is and will in effect, in time, resolve itself.

What I think counts for more in Mormonism, more than we realize, is a feeling among both the Evangelicals and the liberal intellectuals that Mormonism is not just incredible, it’s dangerous; that there is something insidious about Mormonism. Jenkins, in this book, says this is always true of cults. They’re not just despised, they’re feared because it is believed that they are fanatics. And a fanatic is someone who joins belief and force. One who has the conviction that their beliefs are so certain and so powerful and important that every form of coercion possible should be used to advance God’s purpose on this earth. And it’s that belief that leads to the sense that fanatics are always connected with violence. Let me give you an example. Last Sunday, in the book review section of the Los Angeles Times, there was a review of a book by Amy Irvine, named Trespassed, telling about a young woman [the author of Trespassed] who grew up in Salt Lake. She wasn’t particularly Mormon but she was exposed to Mormon culture. At a certain point in her life she moved to Southern Utah, went into the wilderness, became very much devoted to ecology, and then wrote this memoir. And in the review-not quoting this woman, Amy Irvine-but the reviewer, Judith Lewis, talked about how Amy Irvine had legitimate Mormon ancestors. Her mother was an inactive Mormon whose grandfather had been a Mormon. And this is what the reviewer said: “Irvine can claim some of Mormon history as her own. Her great-great-great grandfather, Major Howard Egan, served as bodyguard to founder Joseph Smith and later to Brigham Young as the Mormons migrated west, across the plains and into the mountains, killing other emigrants and impregnating their daughters, but also surviving.” She just tosses that off: “killing the other immigrants, la-ha-ha! [audience laughing] On the trail, and raping the women,” as you know. And it just amazed me that she could say this and I was so irate I laid in bed all Sunday morning fuming. I finally got up and wrote a letter to the Los Angeles Times and to Judith Louis asking how she could arrive at that.[11] But it’s simple to do because Mormonism still has pasted on it this view of the fanatic. You see it in John Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, that picks up the violent episodes in our history-of which we know there are some-and make these typical. Mountain Meadows Massacre is not just an unfortunate event that occurred at one point; it represents the true inner character of the Mormon personality because it is fanatic. And a fanatic is a stereotype that’s as ancient and imbedded as any racial stereotype or any gender stereotype; this fanatic type. And it’s particularly a part of the liberal mind because it represents the exact opposite of what liberals believe in: repression, force, and authority. So Mormons are sort of linked and tarred with that brush and along with it goes the idea of secrecy. Noah Feldman’s article talked about “Mormon secrecy.” We’re always trying to conceal things. I actually was in a room with a group of reporters last spring talking about Mormonism and Phil Jenkins was one of the questioners. And he said: “What truth is there to the idea that there’s a pleasant, smiling face of Mormonism, and then if you go back into the inner corridors you find another Mormonism that is secret, and therefore, insidious?” And this is from a very educated young [indiscernible]. He was in effect speaking for the suspicions of the age, not for himself, not entirely for himself, I think.[12] So one of our big intellectual problems is to deal with this image of repressive, fanatic religion.

Can it be countered? That’s gonna be a problem because it is true that we are, in a sense, secretive. Richard Ostling, who wrote that famous book on the Mormons in America, complained roundly that the First Presidency would not open the books of the Church so he could examine income.[13] The First Presidency is never going to open the books of the Church and there’s going to be a certain sense that that’s true. It is authoritarian in the sense that there are people at the core who establish policy for the Church as whole which is obeyed and adhered to very happily by a great number of Mormons. And it’s true we do have secrets; we have secrets in our temples. So it’s going to be a little difficult to remove all of these suspicions when there is a certain fact to it. But that’s always true of stereotypes, there are always facts behind stereotypes. What stereotypes do is take a limited number of facts and generalize them; make them characteristic of the whole. That’s the nature of bigotry is that you make the worst part of any group, whether it’s blacks or gays or anything, and turn that into the standard. That’s the routine; their whole nature. How can we respond to this? I think we can make a little bit of progress. I, myself, think that Mormons are wrong to say that the Mormon temple is “sacred, not secret.” It is secret. But I came to appreciate the value of this some years ago. We were about to dedicate the Manhattan temple at 65th and Broadway in New York. And as a way of kind of marking this, or celebrating it from a Mormon angle I got the Covey Religion department, little theological school right next door, to sponsor a conference on sacred space in the city. And they were interested in this because sacred space is a major scholarly investigation of all religions, because all religions-many, many religions try to create sacred spaces. We create sacred time on the Sabbath and during the high holy days but we also create sacred space. And the Hindus do and the Muslims do; they have to find a space to pray and it’s a hard thing in the city because you have all of these highly secular, worldly, maybe evil forces in thinking of space. So we were talking about this and there were people there, some fabulous scholars and theorists on sacred space at this conference. And I realized how expert the Mormons are at creating sacred space. A few weeks earlier some of the Stake leaders had been invited to walk through the temple before the construction was completed. There was still scaffolding around, tools on the floor, and so on. But we were all asked to dress in our Sunday best. As we walked through those rooms some people had their arms folded like little Primary children going to their classes and everyone was silent. And I realized that in the Mormon mentality those temple spaces are just different from the rest of the world even before they’re dedicated when they’re just under construction. And the reason is because of these really elegant ways of being in that space [incoherent]. There’s a barrier there; not everyone can penetrate into that space, you have to prepare for it. They can go in and change out of their street clothes into white. And then in the temple you don’t speak to one another except in whispers or except as the ceremony requires, so there’s sort of this hushed tone. And then as important as anything, you don’t talk about the temple outside the temple even to people who go to the temple. We all know you can go online and find the temple ordinances-not secret in the sense the public can’t find it; it’s all there if you poke around enough. But we don’t speak to each other about it and that’s the crucial thing. It creates a sacred space. So from that point of view, secrecy is not just that you’re trying to be a cult or conceal things; it’s part of devotion, it’s a form of worship.[14]

So I think there are ways of sort of coping with this fear of Mormonism as secret, and I think the same ting is true of the authoritarianism. It’s very hard to describe the Mormon ecclesiastical polity because it is at one time as authoritarian as any church polity in the world but it’s as democratic as any polity in the world-including American democratic government-because we disperse authority everywhere. We have an open mic once a month and anybody can get up and say anything. Everybody in the congregation speaks. The priesthood is spread far and wide. We sort of force the priesthood on people “You want to be a priest!” we tell them. [audience laughter] We want everybody to get in on the act, so there’s this huge sense of buy-in because Mormons feel like the congregation really belongs to them. There’s no single paid clergyman who handles the thing. So if we could somehow describe in intelligible terms that combination, that authoritarian image would dissipate. And so what I’m saying is maybe one by one we could handle this. We are now, as you know, officially as a Church coming completely clean on Mountain Meadows. We don’t try to hide it; we tell it in all its bloody, gory truth, and we don’t try to say “well, it was all somebody else’s fault.” It was the fault of a few Mormons down there who panicked. It’s called “moral panic” in sociological terms, and was certainly part of it. So what I’m saying is that maybe piece by piece the elements of these charges against Mormonism can be coped with and gradually dissipated. So that’s my second thought. My first one was dealing with the fabulous, which is sort of patience and waiting, and so on. The second one is dealing with the fanatic, secretive image. And there we can be a little more active in responding.

The third is a problem that Latter-day Saints simply don’t recognize themselves, and that is the difficulty of categorizing us. Who are the Mormons? I grew up during World War II and we used to brag about the fact that the G.I. dog tags that Mormons wore were neither Protestant nor Catholic. We were proud of the fact we didn’t fit into any category; we had to have a category of our own: LDS. So we loved that part of it. And of course that basic apostasy/restoration doctrine sets Mormons apart from everybody else, the whole world is wrong except Mormons. But on the other hand when they tell us we’re not Christians or not another denomination like everybody else we get all upset and start whining about it. And I think personally that’s is a mistake. We should just be what we are and not worry about whether other Churches think we’re wrong. But what this represents as a larger problem is where do we stand? We, Mormons-I’m saying “we” and I know there are a lot of non-Mormons here but I can’t help it because it is Utah, [audience laughter] what can I say? We use this category of the restored Church but that is hopeless for any other person because saying “we are the restored Church” says “every other church is not restored and is wrong,” and has to be, in effect, nullified by the restoration of this Church. So we don’t apply a useful label to ourselves for people who are not going to become Mormons; they want to understand us in a way that does justice to us. But we don’t give them a label they can use.

In this case, this intellectual problem-which I think is larger than an average Latter-day Saint might think-this is a problem I think they will have to solve. We have to make the problem of Mormonism a problem they have to handle. I sensed this with a group of reporters that I talked to last spring, about twenty reporters from various newspapers and new magazines, that they were asking me questions about Mormonism, but in a new way. They were asking questions like “how can you believe such-and-such,” but the question was not meant as hostile. “How stupid you must be to believe these things.” It was a real inquiry. “How can a reasonable person accept these things?” And they had to find explanations for themselves. They had to be able to explain it to their readers how Mitt Romney-this sort of epitome of beauty and character and all sorts of virtues. He wasn’t politically very astute I’m sorry to say [small audience laughter]-how he could be a Mormon. That became a problem for them and they were looking for answers. And I think we should let these answers emerge.[15] One of the best was given by a man named Richard Land who is former head of one of the Southern Baptist associations; one of those groups that is most hostile to Mormons, but he isn’t. He is a very generous, large, good-hearted person. And his characterization is we’re the fourth Abrahamic religion. Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Mormonism. That’s good company. I thinks that’s a definition we can truly accept. And others are emerging.[16] But these kinds of characterizations or titles all will come about by people who really want to sort of illustrate to their minds. One of the persons who is doing this is Richard Mouw, the president of the theological seminary at Pasadena Fuller, the largest evangelical seminary in the world. And he is beginning to characterize us in a similar way. Joseph Smith is another Muhammad. That is, he’s someone who’s not Christian, who’s sort of outside the pale but has a legitimate religious message; that he’s going to mobilize the religions energies and devotions of millions of people. So we want to get more and more people like that thinking through these problems for us. And I think by engaging them in conversation, as they understand us and we look to understand them, these characterizations will begin to emerge. So that is another problem that I think we can get at largely through conversation. Richard Mouw has been in conversation with Robert Millett of BYU for probably six or eight years now. They meet twice a year, this group of Mormons and Evangelicals, just to talk about grace and works and atonement and all sorts of things. And out of this came this issue of “who is Joseph Smith?” And now it’s given an answer.[17] So that’s the third problem: how are Mormons to be characterized.

The fourth and my final and concluding point is that I think our intellectuals and scholars and all the people who write and try to propound Mormonism-and that includes, I think, Sunday School teachers, and many other educated Mormons who are deeply engaged in trying to understand where we are in the world-I think we need to change direction a little bit. We have devoted so much of our intellectual recourses to two activities: history and apologetics. We have a Mormon History Association, we have FARMS and FAIR. And we do a pretty good job, actually, at doing Mormon history. I’m quite proud of what Mormon scholars as a group have produced. The Journal of Mormon History is a very respectable journal and we have won the respect of historians around the country for what we do; and we always will have historians. And our apologists are not bad. Not everyone accepts the way they make their arguments but they do have arguments and they bring evidence. They are able to take virtually any criticism of any aspect of Mormonism and prepare a defense. Huge energy goes into this, a fair amount of money, and all that stuff is available on these websites. So we’ve done a pretty good job there.[18]

I think that the governing question for the future of Mormon scholarly endeavors is meaning. What is the meaning of Mormonism; its humanistic meaning? What does it mean? Tell us about the meaning and purpose of life. How does it cope with the great conundrums that are part of human existence? Helen Whitney, the woman who produced this famous television series on Mormonism, was all over the country talking to every Mormon she could get her hands on. And her perpetual question was: “What is it that you have to say that can be used by the rest of the world?” She didn’t mean “join us, become a part of the Church.” She meant “What perspective on the world do you have to offer?” Mormons think they have all sorts of perspectives on the world, these are of immense value. But no one communicated with Helen Whitney. She just couldn’t find anything. She talked to Terryl Givens, she talked to me, she talked to Kathleen Flake, she talked to all sorts of Mormon scholars in many, many situations, and none of us could give her an answer that was persuasive and won her heart. And so nothing of that, the meaning of Mormonism, got into her TV show.[19] That’s the direction in which I think Mormon intellectuals should now turn their attention. And some of it is beginning to happen. One of the best books along this line is a book no one reads. It’s a book on Enoch by Hugh Nibley, years ago, in which he took the Mormon accounts of Enoch in the Book of Moses and compared them to all the apocryphal accounts of Enoch who is a massive figure in ancient history, he generates a huge literature. And the problem of Enoch is to explain why God unleashed a flood on the world and killed all of his own children. That’s the problem of theodicy: justifying the ways of God to man. And the Book of Enoch was devoted to explaining that. And our Mormon book of Enoch is involved in that same problem. That’s a huge human issue, it’s a huge religious issue, and we need to weigh in on it using the recourses that we have.[20]

Terryl Givens, who some of you know because of his book By the Hand of Mormon, about the reception of the Book of Mormon down through the last century and a half, is writing a book on premortal life. And Joseph Smith and Mormons are going to get about half a page. He’s gone back to the very beginning and found that through human history, in order to understand the meaning of life, you had to postulate where we came from. What were the conditions under which human life emerged? Even a very secular liberal like John Rawls, who is probably the preeminent spokesman for liberal political philosophy in the twentieth century, has as his key idea that we were all in heaven. There was a time before when it was proposed to us as intelligences that we would be sent to earth and here take our place. And the way he turns it into a liberal position is that no one in this preexistence world knew where he would be placed. They might be the poorest of the poor in a remote part Africa or they might be the richest of the rich on 5th Avenue in Salt Lake City-not Salt Lake City [audience laughter] it’s in New York. Not only would we not know in advance, in the covenant he postulates we made was that all of us, we’ll agree to go down there taking our chances, but only on the provision that those who get the better deal will take care of those who get the worse deal. And that’s the basis of his liberal philosophy. Well, it’s a good example that Terryl is using to show-and it’s true for Plato and many others-how you have to think about the world before in order to understand the world as it is now. Well he will write that book, there won’t be any Mormon traces on it, but it will show how something that’s just second nature to Mormons is deeply imbedded in the problem of understanding human life.[21] We need to understand that.

I think that’s true for many of our experiences and many of our doctrines. We need to make a better story of the First Vision than simply “Joseph came out of the woods knowing that none of the churches were true.” That is not an inspiring message to tell the world; no one’s going to be interested in that. The resurrection is an inspiring story because it’s a story of hope and life and conquering death. But just to have at the conclusion of the First Vision that all the churches were wrong-they didn’t understand the nature of God and finally got it straight-that’s not an inspiring story. But the story is inspiring if you think of the invisible God that makes himself visible. The God we never see, never in our ken, suddenly comes to the earth and restores hope that God will speak to us. Somehow that story can be told. It cannot be told just by the way I’d done it, just to sum it up. It has to be embedded in a deep understanding of literature and philosophy so that we can see as Terryl Givens sees how this moment of epiphany is an answer to issues that have really riled the human spirit. So what I’m saying is rather than apologists or historians, we need people in comparative literature, comparative religion and philosophy, who will situate Mormonism in this larger scheme. And it’s only in that way that its value and meaning will be made clear. There’s this old story I used to tell all the time when I was growing up about some Catholic bishop in New York or in Salt Lake City who studied Mormonism, its belief in priesthood, and went to some Mormon to talk about authority and priesthood, and said “you don’t understand the strength of your position.” We used to tell that story because it was sort of a pat on the back.[22] But the fact is, I don’t think we understand the strength of our position because we have not put it to the test, we’ve not brought it up against all these other efforts to find meaning in human life. And that’s where I think the challenge of the twenty-first century is for Mormon scholars.

Well, I’ve got the end of my time here. Are Mormon intellectual prospects favorable or unfavorable? Are Mormons hopelessly outmoded in this secular and anti-religious world? How can we possibly survive with our primitive belief in the reality of angels and the presence of the Holy Ghost in our lives? Maybe we’ll do OK in Africa and the Philippines, but how about in the advanced societies of Europe and North America? Is there any chance at all? Well I think there are, indeed, very great obstacles. But on the side of Mormonism is this irrepressible human urge to find meaning. David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, had this wonderful column a few years ago in which he said there is nothing more vital to human life than meaning. People will die for meaning. He said that’s what motivates these terrorists. They’re not just vicious people who want to blow people up. They’re trying to find the meaning of their culture, and their place in the world history. They can only do that by attacking what they see as the great Satan; their enemies.[23] And that’s true for all of human life. And Mormons who pride themselves on knowing where we came from and why we’re here and where we’re going do have a story that is rich with meaning. And it’s simply our job to uncover those meanings and tell that story better.

I think we can get a little perspective on this if we can go back to B.H. Roberts in 1893; forbidden the chance to speak at the parliament of religions because his faith was not a religion. And compare that with the fact that Philip Barlow has a chair of Mormon studies at Utah State University; I have a chair of Mormon studies-and Claudia will be there teaching-at Claremont University.[24] Two respected universities are making permanently part, with an endowed chair, the study of Mormonism in a high academic setting. I think he [B.H. Roberts] would be very pleased and surprised, and certainly feel a lot of progress had been made. Thank you very much.


So, time for questions. Claudia, do you have someplace where you could write these down? I’m always interested in the questions because it sort of represents the state of our culture. We’re being tested. If you ask good questions you get a good grade. OK.

Question: I wanted to address your third point about having a definition of who we are. I was recently bothered by a secretary who was well-prepped by her minister, came up and said “Are Mormons Christian?” I said “well, as you define it, no. We don’t believe in Trinitarianism, we don’t believe in the Nicene creed, we don’t believe in a closed canon, we don’t believe this is all there is, we believe in a multiplicity of gods.” She said “Well, then why is it you people keep pretending that you are?” And I didn’t have a good answer to that because it seems like in many ways the Church is trying the best it can to frame itself within the Christian tradition. And we’d say “well, we’re Christians, we’re just not your kind of Christians,” where I think a more honest approach would be “according to the definition of what you understand Christianity to be, we are not. We are something else.” Is it time for us to start to redefine who we are and not wait for the rest of the world to catch up with us?

Bushman: That would be my opinion. I’m a little loathe to push it too hard because the Church is making a huge effort to combat this idea that we’re not Christians. What we have to insist on is that we believe in Jesus Christ. He is the center of our lives, of our faith, and so on. But for the title of “Christian” I don’t think that’s much worth fighting for. And in fact it goes contrary as you’re suggesting, to the fact that we believe ourselves as different. But the most common answer given nowadays is we’re not creedal Christians; we’re Biblical Christians, and I think that’s true. But it’s not a very tactful answer because it implies that your creeds are different from the Bible Christianity [Man who posed the question interjects: “so we’re the only Christians!” Audience laughter] Yeah, then we’d become the only Christians and I don’t think we want to press that too hard. That’s impolite.

Question: I’m curious to know your opinion of this 30-plus volume full-disclosure project the Church is involved in, and how it might be received by the outside world, or even by Mormons themselves.

Bushman: The question, for those of you in back, is what about the 30-volume Joseph Smith papers project that is about to launch its first volume. In fact, this very week the first volume is going to press. So in six months journal one will be out. I’ll tell you this story. The first article I published on Joseph Smith was in the-what was it, was it called the Improvement Era or the Ensign then, I can’t remember which- and I quoted from his writings. And the editors were required by policy to correct all of the misspelled words. They didn’t want Joseph Smith to appear like an ignorant country boy.[25] Now the Joseph Smith papers is bending over backwards to record every comma, every misspelled word, everything exactly as it is. And to me that represents a policy decision on the part of the Church that we’re not gonna hide anything. If it’s in the record it’s gonna be there, you just have to take it as it is. And I consider that quite a substantial change in our attitude. This will be a huge series. It will be his journals, the histories he wrote and inspired. It will be documents, letters, proclamations, revelations, that sort of thing. There will be a special series on revelations and translations. There will be one on legal papers. So it’s going to be a vast project, take probably fifteen years, and huge recourses have gone into it, especially thanks to Larry Miller who’s funding the whole thing. So I think it’s gonna be an admirable piece of work that will be respected. They’re sending it out to the National Advisory board, the general editor of the Jonathan Edwards papers is on that board so we’re trying to be right in league with the best papers projects in the country.[26]

Question: Blair Hodges, with the Children’s Friend. [laughter] The question I have is: what do you make of the dichotomy we see when people talk about “faith-promoting history” versus “objective” history? What do you make of the question of objectivity in presenting the story of the Church in the Church-among members of the church, as opposed to the academic view of objectivity and that sort of thing.

Bushman: Right. My book is thought of as a book that would try to give the objective reality, and this was shocking to some people, there were many people that were quite disgusted with it. They thought that things were brought out that just shouldn’t be there. There were other people who loved it. Now we’re sort of getting the “real” Joseph Smith. In fact, I’d have people come up and say “I really liked your book.” And after I heard a number of these comments I came to realize they were saying “I’m one of those guys who can take it.” [audience laughter] So it was a little bit “I’ve got hair on my chest.” And some people yearn for this because they think the more idealistic version is wrong and we’ve got to get rid of those illusions. And to a certain extent we do because there are a lot of younger people who grow up and when they find out Joseph Smith did drink a glass of wine once in a while it shatters their testimony and they become very angry that they weren’t told about the “real” Joseph Smith.

But I will say this. I’ll give this example. We had a young woman, convert to the Church who was in our Ward in Manhattan. Fabulous singer. She also had a very raucous sense of humor, she was always cackling and telling jokes, a little bit raw sort of person. One time at a Christmas program in the Manhattan Ward she stood there in a beautiful velvet dress, slim figure, long dress-I think it was dark blue-singing one of the great Christmas songs, I think it was Ave Maria. And I was quite close to her, I was up on the stand for some reason. And as she sang I looked at her and said “that woman is an angel. That woman is an angel.” A beautiful sound coming from her; beautiful, tall, serene posture. So the question is: who is the real person? That angel, or that raucous joke-cracking person? So what I’m saying is that idealized view of Joseph Smith is not entirely wrong. It’s just a way of looking at him in a different way that tells things about him you sort of miss as you go through every time he got beat up and every time he had to move, and all his struggles. So there’s a lace for both of them is what I’m trying to say. I didn’t answer, entirely, your question, but that’s what I had in my head so that’s what you got. [audience laughter].

Question: I recall a few years ago that Truman Madsen or you or someone wrote about when they were in Harvard in the spring doing their graduate work. They ?d always go to the back of the room and hear Arthur Schlessinger talk about American history and he’d discuss Joseph Smith. [Bushman: Yeah, that’s me.] And he’d say “here is a fool up in the northern part of the state and there were a bunch of fools that followed him.” And everybody’s cackling, laughing, slapping their thighs. I, myself, don’t think that’ll ever change; there’ll be professors that get up and say “this fool up in northern New York, and the fools that followed him” and the whole place’ll be regaling in laughter. “What a big joke, what a bunch of fools.” I don’t se how that’ll ever change. There will always be an Arthur Schlessinger saying “this is a big, funny joke.”[27]

Bushman: Yeah; I think that’s true. Helen Whitney’s assistant, Jane Barnes, has an essay in the most recent issue of Dialogue about how her experience working on the Joseph Smith documentary. And she was very attracted to Joseph Smith. In fact at one point she says “I came very close to becoming a Mormon.” But she says that why she is attracted to him is it proved to her that God had a sense of humor.[28] [audience laughter] So there always will be people; just, this is so ludicrous because of discrepancies between, sort of common sense life and these strange experiences. And, you know, we ought to go along with that. Mormons are pretty good at telling jokes on themselves, and I think it’s a sign of our maturity when we can do that without diminishing our own convictions.

Question: A year ago I think you said that only one or two of the brethren, to your knowledge, have ever looked [indiscernible]. Have others? Have you had other feedback from the brethren on the book?

Bushman: Yeah, I actually had a conversation just yesterday with one of the brethren who said that in the Church Office Building, as well as in the Church in general, there are mixed opinions. Some people loved the book, some didn’t. And I said I was very pleased with that. What I feared most was that there would be sort of a party-line announced and everyone would have to sort of hew to that line. And I liked the idea that people differed in their responses. You should respond to books, there should be differences. So I received no rebuke about the book and I have had many, many assurances that people in high places think it’s a useful piece of work. They know they need something like this to deal with this larger public, and that’s where it seems to have a place.

Question: Did your in-depth study of Joseph Smith change your testimony?

Bushman: Did the in-depth study of Joseph Smith change my testimony? I’m not sure it changed it in terms of intensity. I’ve always been a believer; I’ve had moments of doubts and I wander in and out but I always come back. And I long ago concluded when I kept asking myself the question “why do you believe”-because in the academic world that question is thrust at you continually. And my answer-this is a true answer, it’s not a satisfying answer to anyone, is I believe because I’m a believer. I just can’t get rid of it [audience laughter] it’s just a part of my life. So that didn’t change a lot. But my admiration-I will say there were points when I decided I believe in Joseph Smith but I’m not sure I like him. He was a little too brassy for me. I liked Hyrum better. [audience laughter] He was the one who symbolizes the [sage?]. But then I changed and realized just the immense force; the creeds [indiscernible], the resolve of him, and sort of the unstinting giving of himself to his cause. I just came to appreciate the depths of his personality and character much more than I ever had before.

Question: Kind of a follow-up to that Christianity question. As a matter of curiosity I picked up a conference edition of one of the Ensign‘s and counted the pictures of Joseph Smith over the pictures of Jesus Christ, and I think they numbered about a six to one ratio. And I’m thinking, well, I think we more or less isolate ourselves in this matter trying to be seen as Christian to these people. I’m kind of thinking along with the candidacy of Mitt Romney and the Christianity question, the Ensign now this month is on Jesus Christ. And I think we are trying to get back to the original, you know, cornerstone or whatever, of Jesus Christ being the head of the Church.

Bushman: I agree with that. For those of you who didn’t hear back there, the question is how come we spend so much time on Joseph Smith more than on Jesus Christ. I think that’s more true maybe twenty-five years ago than it is now. We’ve become much more Christianized. But I still think we haven’t begun to integrate Jesus Christ into our personal devotion the way we do. As an example: take the Sunday School class or Priesthood class and you’re making a list of how you can improve your life and how you can solve any problem; we’ve made a list on that before. And you watch how many times does the word “Christ” appear on that list. There are all sorts of things we do: pray, study the scriptures, go to Church, obey the commandments; does anyone say “remember the name of Jesus Christ” which we pledge to do every Sunday at the sacrament table? And then do we bring it into our lives? I think we’ve just begun to integrate it. But we’re making progress I think, with this moving in that direction. It’s turning into a sacrament meeting here with this… [audience laughter]

Question: I found your statement about how it wasn’t very inspiring when they said “all these Churches were wrong.” How could it happen for that to be changed as long as it’s part of the Mormon scriptures, it’s part of the Pearl of Great Price [indiscernible] It’s hard for people outside of the Church to accept it as long as it’s still in the scripture. Could the LDS Church ever change the idea that all these other churches are wrong?

Bushman: It’s a very good question, I think a critical question for our times. What are we going to do with the apostasy and restoration doctrine which is as deeply ingrained, almost, as the plan of salvation-coming to earth and working our way through here. It’s a problematic belief for us. It’s one of the testimony shakers for our young people. It’s fine as long as you’re in Utah and going to seminary. But when you go to New York City and you meet many wonderful people, you meet people of other faiths whose devotion to Christ far exceeds your own and to be able to say “they’re wrong. We have the one true church.” It doesn’t jibe. It really is a difficult position. And we, ourselves, are strung out. There was this interesting issue of the Ensign a couple years ago where there was one famous Bruce McConkie essay “Once in a Thousand Years” which was a big apostasy essay. And then there was an essay by Elder Packer on the Spirit of Christ laboring with all people through all time to bring us to the Savior.[29] And we’ve got that discrepancy in our minds. And right now I don’t know how to solve it. My own way of handling it is to say “what Joseph Smith discovered is that there was something essential missing from the other religions. Not that they’re all wrong, but that there is something essential missing. Namely: the belief that God will reveal Himself, and the fact that you really need authoritative priesthood to work.

Same Questioner: OK, but the Mormon Church is not the only church that believes that God reveals Himself to people today; so it’s not an exclusive doctrine of the Church. Is it? [Bushman: Well, it is…] I’m not LDS [Bushman: Yeah] and God reveals Himself to me everyday.

Bushman: Well, see, I think what Mormons should stand for is that you don’t have to be a Mormon to have God reveal Himself to you. Every person should cultivate those inner voices when they feel the Lord speaking to them. I think Mormons would say that the critical issue is additions to the canon of scripture. That we have revelations guiding the Kingdom as we did in the book of Acts and in Paul’s letters. And there, as you know, would be a little dispute on that subject. But I love your notion. You’re gonna receive revelation that’s important to you. And our aim should not be to say “only Mormons get revelation.” It should be to say “let’s all seek revelation. That is our message to the world. Listen to the Spirit.” Because there are a lot of Christians who don’t [indiscernible] I mean there are a lot who do, but there are a lot who have sort of let that [indiscernible].

Question: Back to Mitt Romney. Why do you think he bumbled the religion question so badly?

Bushman: Well you could blame it on the Church; that is, he took the stand the Church is taking, that we are a religious denomination just like every other Christian denomination. That was his starting point. In the famous speech he changed that. He said: “I am a Mormon and will always be a Mormon,” and turned it to diversity. “I will be the ally and friend of every religion in the world.” And I thought that was a pretty good speech. The one flaw in it is he left no space for non-believers. There was no room for atheists in his spiritual world. But I didn’t think he was too bad that way. I think the error was to not be himself from the beginning; he wanted to be something that would blend in. And as you’re suggesting down here in the first question, we’re gonna fail if we try to pretend we’re just like everybody else. We really are different.

Question: What writings have covered the various dispensations; the apostasies, the restorations and the dispensations over the period of the earth’s history? [Bushman: What writings, do you mean Mormon writings, or?] No, anybodies writings.

Bushman: Well, this dispensational view, which is a big part of Mormonism, is really partly a borrowing from other religions. There was guy, his name was-what was his name, Darby, anyway I forgot his name-in the nineteenth century that’s a major notion. I’m sorry, I’m not very good on bibliography, I can’t pull something up. But if you look on dispensationalism on the web you’ll get a huge array of books on that subject.[30]

Question: Through your studies over time you’ve obviously gone into lots of different ways of thinking, lots of which fall neatly, I would think, into [indiscernible] thinking in the Church. And then others that don’t necessarily jibe but at the same time[indiscernible]. Would you say is a policy or as a way of thinking, if you think it’s better to find a way, that is through research, through faith, and [indiscernible], et cetera, to incorporate them to get nearer to the truth. Or is it [indiscernible].

Bushman: Well, you see this goes back in a way to this previous question about revelation. The idea of this being “the true church” has never meant that we have all the truth. We never said that. It’s always been the notion, the restoration has all the truths that we can get, and we actually-Brigham Young sends people out to the world to find things. So it’s been by principle an absorptive religion. So even when we find something that doesn’t quite work with us oftentimes we’ll say: “I don’t understand how that fits with Mormonism,” but we’ll sense the power of it somehow. Maybe Buddhism. We’ll sense there’s some power in that. I think the Mormon mission to the world is to be the guardian of all believers. It’s exemplified by this project to translate major Islamic texts into English. We have nothing to gain from it, but we’re trying to say “those things are precious to you and therefore they’re precious to us.”[31] So I think the only way we’ll discover who we are and what our mind really is, is by coming up against those other beliefs. And it isn’t just a matter of [figuring out?] how wrong they are, it’s a matter of seeing what we can learn from them. I think that is true Mormonism; that is Joseph Smith’s Mormonism.

Question: I wrote my Master’s thesis on the psychological benefits of [family history?] and I came up continually against, you can’t even say “God,” “intuition.” So those kind of items were always red-lined and in genealogy you use intuition quite a lot. And any time I talked about my Mormon ancestors and fait and perseverance, those got x’d out because they couldn’t be duplicated in the lab. So the compromise I reached with my professor was I can say anything I want as long as I have a caveat like “I believe” or “in my experience”. How can those of us who, like if I want to pursue a PhD on Mormon psychology, how can I as a Mormon scholar still [indiscernible] the world and the scientific method, and satisfy the world and the truth of the Church?

Bushman: The question down here is when you’re working in an academic environment like writing a dissertation, how can you bring in God or spiritual inspiration which actually functions in your life but is not considered a reality under the terms of the academic world. At the end you gave your own solution which is you can say “I believe”. What you have to do in order to pull that is to turn it into a memoir of an experience so you’re presenting yourself as an exhibit. Not trying to discover the laws by which the world is governed, but just sort of giving yourself as an exhibit. That has been sort of off bounds for a long, long time. But it’s easy enough now. Memoir is one of the most potent forms of literary genre going these days. So it’s always gonna be a problem. I got really knocked in one review because there was an assumption-they thought there was an assumption in Rough Stone Rolling that God was actually revealing these things and they said “you cannot do that in the academic world”. So you’re always gonna bump up against that no matter what. Thank you all.



See Libby Quaid, “Huckabee asks if Mormons believe Jesus, Satan are brothers“, Deseret News, Dec. 11, 2007.


Jacob Weisberg, “Romney’s Religion, A Mormon President? No Way“, Slate, Dec. 20, 2006.


Suzanne Sataline, “TABERNACLE ON TRIAL, Mormons Dismayed by Harsh Spotlight“, Wall Street Journal, February 8, 2008.


Howard Berkes, “Mormons Confront Negative Ideas About Their Faith“, NPR Morning Edition, Feb 12, 2008. Other appearances by Bushman on NPR include “Explaining the Underpinnings of Mormonism“, All Things Considered, July 5, 2007, and “Mormons Mark Joseph Smith Bicentennial”, NPR Day to Day, December 23, 2005.


This could be in reference to the visit of Ulysses S. Grant, who visited Utah in 1875. Grant had unfavorable opinions of the Mormons at the time. South Temple was lined with children in their Sunday best throwing flowers in the street before the presidential carriage as it passed. Grant reportedly asked the territorial governor whose children they were and was informed: “Mormon children”. Grant is said to have muttered, “I have been deceived”. As far as being dressed in white, it is possible Bushman had in mind Wilford Woodruff’s 90th birthday where the Tabernacle filled with children dressed in white to the delight of the prophet.


For more on this topic, see Carol Cornwall Madsen, “?The Power of Combination’: Emmeline B. Wells and the National and International Councils of Women.” BYU Studies 33, no. 4 (1993): 646-73. (.pdf here.) etc.


B.H. Roberts detailed the situation in his Comprehensive History of the Church.

According to Davis Bitton, Roberts was the main catalyst to participate in the conference; the First Presidency remained lukewarm to the idea. A conference council informed Roberts the Church would not be invited because it would likely “prove a disturbing element”. Roberts pushed the issue further, and received an invitation to deliver a presentation in a small side hall.  At that point it was Roberts who rejected the offer.

See Davis Bitton, “B. H. Roberts at the World Parliament of Religions,” Sunstone 7 (Jan. / Feb. 1982) (.pdf here.)


Noah Feldman, “What Is It About Mormonism?New York Times Magazine, January 6, 2008.


Harold Bloom, Omens of the Millennium, Riverhead Hardcover, 1996. 

Bushman may be referring to Philip Jenkins, Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History, 2001, Oxford University Press, though Jenkins has several newer books.


Judith Lewis, “‘Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land’ by Amy Irvine“, Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2008.


The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Mormonism and Politics: Are They Compatible?” Monday, May 14, 2007


Richard and Joan Ostling, Mormon America: The Power and the Promise, HarperOne, 2000.

See Michelle Garcia, “Manhattan’s Mormon Temple: Sacred Space in a Bustling City“,  The Washington Post, June 5, 2004


Bushman is presumably referring again to The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Mormonism and Politics: Are They Compatible?” Monday, May 14, 2007.


Richard Land’s comments were discussed in Feldman’s article, “What Is It About Mormonism?New York Times Magazine, January 6, 2008.


Robert Millet has published several books in conjunction with Evangelicals and other religionists. For example, see Robert L. Millet and Gerald R. McDermott, Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate, Brazos Press, 2007; Robert L. Millet and Gregory C. V. Johnson, Bridging the Divide: The Continuing Conversation Between a Mormon and an Evangelical, Monkfish Book Publishing, 2007. Perhaps the pioneer book of this genre is Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide?: A Mormon & an Evangelical in Conversation, Intervarsity Press, 1997. It was voted one of Christianity Today’s 1998 Books of the Year. Mauw participated in the May 2005 International Academic Conference at the Library of Congress “The Worlds of Joseph Smith“, responding to David L. Paulson’s “Joseph Smith Challenges the Theological World”. (mp3 available here.)

The Mormon History Association (MHA) was founded in 1965 under the leadership of Leonard Arrington. The Journal of Mormon History is their quarterly publication. The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) was established by John W. Welch in 1979. In 1997 FARMS was invited to become a part of BYU, and now exists as part of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute For Religious Scholarship. The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) is a volunteer organization founded in 1997 and is staffed by volunteers.


Helen Whitney produced “The Mormons for PBS’s Frontline, American Experience series, broadcast in 2007. The full program and additional interview selections can be viewed online.


Hugh Nibley (Author), Stephen D. Ricks (Editor), Enoch the Prophet (Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol 2). Shadow Mountain, 1987. The book is also available for reading online at the FARMS website.

Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion, Oxford University Press, 2003. According to Givens’ website, When Souls had Wings: Preexistence in Western Thought will be published by Oxford in 2009. Givens recently spoke on the same titleat the 2007 FAIR conference. A transcript of the presentation can be found on the FAIR website, and discussed the project on the LDS blog By Common Consent.

The story of an educated Catholic prelate was told by Elder Orson F. Whitney, and recounted by LeGrand Richards in his A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. The account quotes the prelate:

“You Mormons are all ignoramuses. You don’t even know the strength of your own position. It is so strong that there is only one other tenable in the whole Christian world, and that is the position of the Catholic Church. . . . If we are right, you are wrong; if you are right, we are wrong; and that’s all there is to it. The Protestants haven’t a leg to stand on. For, if we are wrong, they are wrong with us, since they . . . went out from us; while if we are right, they are apostates whom we cut off long ago. See LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, Shadow Mountain; Enlarged Ed edition, 1984, p. 3.


One such article is David Brooks, “The Culture of Martyrdom“, The Atlantic Monthly, June, 2002, which discusses suicide bombing.  


In 2007 Philip Barlow, a Harvard-trained professor of theology and American religious history, was named the country’s first full-time professor of Mormon studies at a secular university. Utah State University chose Barlow for the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture. (see Wikipedia.) See also: Nate Oman, “Bushman to Claremont“, Times and Seasons (blog), September 6, 2007; Michael Paulson, “Colleges scramble to offer curriculum on Mormon religion“, Boston Globe, February 19, 2008.


Bushman is likely referring to his article “The Character of Joseph Smith: Insights from His Holographs“, Ensign, April 1977. If so, the current online version appears to have been updated with the original spelling, etc. with this footnote:

                “Joseph Smith’s holographs are being assembled and edited for publication by Dean Jessee of the Church Historical Department. The quotations in this essay are reproduced with Joseph Smith’s spelling and punctuation to help retain the flavor of his written expression. Where the original is obscure, however, spelling errors have been corrected. Minimal punctuation has been added where necessary to establish the meaning, and abbreviations have been expanded. Except where indicated, the originals are in the Joseph Smith Collection, Church Archives, Historical Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”


“While much has been written about Mormonism’s founding prophet, there has never been a complete catalog or edition of the first-hand documents Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844) and his scribes produced during his lifetime. With this in mind, the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History at Brigham Young University, in cooperation with the Church Archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has enlisted a team of scholars to locate, annotate and publish a comprehensive edition of The Joseph Smith Papers.” The Joseph Smith Papers“, LDS.org.


Richard Lyman Bushman, eds. Reid L. Neilson, Jed Woodworth, Believing History: Latter-day Saint Essays, Columbia University Press, 2006, pg. 34-35. Google Books has a preview containing the story here.


Jane Barnes, ” Joseph Smith: Lost and Found,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Spring 2008, pg. 147. (.pdf here.)


See Boyd K. Packer, “The Light of Christ,” Ensign, Apr 2005, 8-14; Bruce R. McConkie, “Once or Twice in a Thousand Years,” Ensign, Apr 2005, 54-59


Bushman is referring to John Nelson Darby, b. March, 1801.

Bushman is referring to the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative, a division of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. See http://meti.byu.edu/
The transcript includes minor edits for clarity.

Article filed under Conference/Presentation Reports


  1. Thank you, BHodges. I know a transcription of this length (plus footnotes!) required a lot of work.

    Comment by Justin — March 11, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

  2. Thanks for the transcription Blair, and for proposing that the JI print it. I only skimmed over Bushman’s remarks, but I plan to read it more closely later. Thanks again.

    Comment by Christopher — March 11, 2008 @ 3:39 pm

  3. Guys, off topic here…

    Where is your post RSS feed? I’ve looked several times and never managed to locate it. If you don’t have a readily identifiable RSS button, it’s like your blog doesn’t even exist. And I keep hearing about neat content here, and it’s bugging me.

    Comment by Seth R. — March 11, 2008 @ 4:07 pm

  4. BHodges, THOU art the man!

    Thank you!

    Comment by Jared — March 11, 2008 @ 4:10 pm

  5. BHodges, thanks for the transcription, especially the footnoting, and JI for posting it. Nice also to see my alma mater in the thick of things.

    Comment by kevinf — March 11, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

  6. And thanks to JI for posting it, thus the work won’t be for naught.

    Comment by BHodges — March 11, 2008 @ 4:23 pm

  7. In fact, this very week the first volume is going to press. So in six months journal one will be out.


    Comment by J. Stapley — March 11, 2008 @ 4:24 pm

  8. I echo the praises to Blair.

    Comment by Ben — March 11, 2008 @ 6:13 pm

  9. Thank you Blair and JI for the wonderful service.

    Comment by Joe Geisner — March 11, 2008 @ 6:40 pm

  10. Thank you for making this important contribution.

    Comment by aquinas — March 11, 2008 @ 6:41 pm

  11. Seth R.: Thanks to J. Stapley, the RSS feed link is now on the sidebar.

    Comment by David G. — March 11, 2008 @ 7:07 pm

  12. Very impressive transcription and contribution. Thanks so much for sharing.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — March 11, 2008 @ 10:34 pm

  13. Great talk. Great transcription!

    Comment by Joel — March 11, 2008 @ 11:03 pm

  14. Nice! Thanks.

    Comment by Ray — March 11, 2008 @ 11:10 pm

  15. Thanks for the effort to transcribe and post this. Bushman seems to be one of the few who can speak with full credibility to all audiences as both a Mormon and a scholar, so his remarks are always worth considering.

    Comment by Dave — March 12, 2008 @ 3:10 am

  16. Most excellent, BHodges!

    Comment by Randy B. — March 12, 2008 @ 9:41 am

  17. Astounding. Assembling those footnotes would take a lot of effort for anyone not well acquainted with current Mormon literature. I would like to know more about BHodges.

    Comment by Richard Bushman — March 12, 2008 @ 7:46 pm

  18. Did BHodges just comment as Richard Bushman?

    Seriously, it doesn’t get any better than that.

    Comment by Ray — March 12, 2008 @ 8:13 pm

  19. Unless Blair somehow got ahold of Richard Bushman’s Columbia email address, that was Richard himself.

    Comment by David G. — March 12, 2008 @ 8:25 pm

  20. It’s moments like this when you wish for smiley face emoticons. There should have been one after the first sentence in #18.

    The second sentence was serious; having Richard Bushman say that about your work is as good as it gets. Blair is my new hero. (Sorry, Margaret.)

    Comment by Ray — March 12, 2008 @ 8:47 pm

  21. 😉 = ; )

    🙂 = : )

    Comment by David G. — March 12, 2008 @ 8:53 pm

  22. Wasn’t sure if they were allowed on an academic blog like this one – you know, one on which Richard Bushman comments. 😉

    Comment by Ray — March 12, 2008 @ 9:10 pm

  23. hehe

    Comment by David G. — March 12, 2008 @ 9:11 pm

  24. If Richard Bushman was here, he may remember me as the Children’s Friend stringer.

    Comment by BHodges — March 12, 2008 @ 9:15 pm

  25. Admin note: Ray, there is a quota on emoticons that is strictly enforced here at the JI. If you surpass your monthly limit of three, you will be put on moderation status. 👿

    Comment by Christopher — March 12, 2008 @ 9:21 pm

  26. Looks like I already used two of my three…

    Comment by David G. — March 12, 2008 @ 9:22 pm

  27. I hope David’s don’t count against me, since I caused them. Although, according to Mormon doctrine, I didn’t cause them; they were a result of David exercising his agency. Whew; I’m safe.

    *end of threadjack*

    Comment by Ray — March 12, 2008 @ 9:36 pm

  28. By the way, a special thanks to Ray for thinking I posed as Bushman to compliment myself.

    Comment by BHodges — March 12, 2008 @ 10:32 pm

  29. You’re welcome. I’ll try to keep my inappropriate sense of humor in check in the future. *grin*

    Comment by Ray — March 12, 2008 @ 10:48 pm

  30. haha nicely done. [insert emoticons, etc. here]

    Comment by BHodges — March 13, 2008 @ 11:03 am

  31. […] issues: What Mormonism Offers to the World : The Millennial Star Bushman’s talk is found here: Juvenile Instructor Bushman: “Rough Stone Rolling and the Intellectual Prospects for Mormonism… Clearly, much of what we are doing is not working, and we need to think outside the box. We need […]

    Pingback by I need your help. Please take a stand with me against this brutal attack on our faith - Page 5 - LDS.net - LDS Mormon Forums — March 13, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

  32. holy crap Blair well done.

    Truly a work and a wonder.;)

    Comment by Jon W — March 13, 2008 @ 3:52 pm

  33. […] how I missed this in depth coverage thanks to Blair Hodges at the Juvenile […]

    Pingback by A humanistic meaning of Mormonism « Banner, Sword, and Shield — March 13, 2008 @ 4:01 pm

  34. […] 3/15/08:  A transcription of Dr. Bushman’s talk has been made available at the Juvenile Instructor.  It is an excellent analysis of America’s stance on Mormonism today, and the prospects of […]

    Pingback by "You Don't Speak About the Temple" Says Bushman | LDS Temple Study Blog - Sustaining and Defending the LDS (Mormon) Temple — March 15, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

  35. […] don’t know how many of you read the transcript of Richard Bushman’s talk up at Weber State. If you haven’t you really should. It’s very well written and really […]

    Pingback by What Mormonism Offers to the World : The Millennial Star — March 25, 2008 @ 2:07 pm

  36. Pssst — The creator of “The Mormons” was Helen Whitney. BHodges’ Mormonism crept into note 19 when his fingers automatically typed “Helen Mar Whitney.” (Reminds me of the gameshow contestant I heard once call out “Wilford Woodruff” when he really meant “Woodrow Wilson.”) You can fix that before anybody notices …

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — March 25, 2008 @ 2:44 pm

  37. Thanks Ardis. It’s fixed. That is pretty funny.

    Comment by Christopher — March 25, 2008 @ 2:50 pm

  38. haha! Thanks Ardis. I’ve corrected it in my original, too. Good eyes.

    Comment by BHodges — March 27, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

  39. Getting to this late….BHodges, this is so great. thanks.

    Comment by cj douglass — April 2, 2008 @ 4:07 pm

  40. […] former much more special in our minds. As Richard Bushman recently pointed out in his Weber State lecture, one of the ways we make the temple sacred is by not talking about it outside the temple. We fear […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Sacred Language — April 22, 2008 @ 6:53 pm

  41. […] Both Richard Bushman and Teryl Givens have pointed to the similarlity between the LDS conception of the council in heaven and the original position (with the veil of ignorance) of Rawls. As an LDS Rawlsian, I see the similarities. Yet, I think this lead to this question: what implications might this connection have for Mormon thought? That is where we will pick up next. […]

    Pingback by The Mormon Rawls Project: The Original Position and the Council in Heaven I | Faith-Promoting Rumor — October 13, 2009 @ 4:23 pm


Recent Comments

Ben S on What’s in a name?: “Ah, never mind. Skimmed too fast past the beginning. How embarrassing.”

Ben S on What’s in a name?: “How did you create that display?! I’d love to do something similar. I’ve looked at timeline software, and it’s all either expensive or useless.”

J. Stapley on What’s in a name?: “I'm that same boat as Ardis with the Mules. Fascinating!”

KLC on What’s in a name?: “I'm 65 and the term 'Jack Mormon' was quite common when I was growing up in the 60s and early 70s. I always understood…”

Ardis on What’s in a name?: “Am I the only one who *never* before recognized that "jack" used this way is connected to mules?? That stuns me. And delights me. I also…”

Questions on CFP: 2020 MHA Poster: “Will MHA accept proposals from students who have already sent in a proposal for a presentation or panel? If so should the poster be a…”