Call for Papers: What is Mormon Studies?

By October 27, 2009

The following is courtesy of Loyd Ericson. This has been a popular topic on our blog, see here, here, and here.


The Claremont Mormon Studies Student Association

invites papers on any aspect of Mormonism.

We Particularly Encourage Submissions Related to This Year’s Conference Theme:


Transdisciplinary Inquiries Into an Emerging Field

April 23-24, 2010

Claremont Graduate University

Keynote Speaker

Jan Shipps

Professor Emerita

Indiana University-Purdue University


Given the new academic chairs that have been established in Mormon Studies, and the conferences, courses, and programs of similar designation around the world, we are entitled to ask ?What Is Mormon Studies,? and who studies in such a field? Thanks to such interest in Mormonism, the academy now faces, among others, two significant lines of inquiry.

First, Mormonism?s complexities suggest how this religious movement likely resists categorization. Is Mormon Studies a viable new field? Is it even a viable conceptual option for academic examination?

Second, from an academic standpoint, those who study Mormonism will in large part determine what Mormon Studies becomes and how it proceeds. What are the various competing visions for what should be studied and advanced under this rubric? What various aspects of Mormonism will/should be considered appropriate or germane to investigation? What aspects will/should be eliminated from academic inquiry?

As this comprehensive exploration potentially ranges through all disciplines and is therefore a trans- or interdisciplinary endeavor, we invite papers from all possible fields of academic inquiry in exploring these important questions

Preference is given to student papers.

Abstracts of 1000 words or less should be submitted no later than December 31, 2009. Authors will be notified of acceptance by January 31, 2010.

Please send submissions or questions to

[A snazzy flyer is found here.]

Article filed under Announcements and Events


  1. Ben,

    Wonderful job! How do I contact you via e-mail?

    Comment by Jake — October 28, 2009 @ 12:25 am

  2. What kind of question is that? Isn’t the real question “What should be Mormon Studies?”

    Comment by Mark D. — October 29, 2009 @ 12:58 am

  3. Mark: I think the body of the flyer explains the type of questions involved. Nit-picking the catchy title isn’t really productive.

    Comment by Ben — October 29, 2009 @ 8:43 am

  4. Mark, did you read past the title? If so, did you miss the part that incorporates your suggested question within a larger set of questions that are appropriately grouped under the heading of “What is Mormon Studies?”

    Also, I’m genuinely curious. What did you hope to communicate in the dismissive way you posed your question/comment?

    Comment by Christopher — October 29, 2009 @ 9:02 am

  5. For catchy I’d go with:

    What is Mormon Studies that thou art mindful of it?

    Comment by smallaxe — October 29, 2009 @ 9:05 am

  6. I am new to this Mormon Studies field, but I wonder about the effects of ghettoizing ourselves into an interdisciplinary subfield. Other larger groups have followed this path and it provided a flash of interest that faded out thereafter. Consider American Studies–the 1970s interdiciplinary field that is all but dead. More recently, Native American scholars have withdrawn from Western history groups to organize thier own Indian-specific groups/conferences. Chicano and Asian studies have failed to remain independent, and often collapse back into generic ethnic studies departments. These scholars isolate themselves and the young academics they train cannot compete for jobs in purist departments (e.g., history, English, anthropology, religious studies). Regardless, these sub-fields retain some momentum because they represent discrete interested groups (as does Mormon Studies), but that alone does not make them significant. Survival of the subfield should not be the point of concern–but rather maintaining its relevance among academics outside that subfield. While interdisciplinary sounds great, when it is institutionalized into a subfield of “x” studies it becomes too self-contained ironically loses valued perspective. Instead of informing our work with new inter-disciplinary perspectives, “x” studies tends to muddy the scholarship into a non-specific untrained blur of self-important theories that are not taken seriously by real scholars in more fundamental fields (e.g., history, sociology, religious studies, etc.)
    My hope is that this trend of Mormon Studies does not become such an institution, wherein young interdisciplinary grad students learn nothing but Mormon material without a real methodology and without vital context to understand that over which they claim to be experts. Of course, the Native American studies response to all this is to reply, “we don’t care; we exist to serve our group.” Perhaps that is the answer Mormon Studies will also issue, thought I for one hope not.

    Comment by Matthew — October 30, 2009 @ 12:54 am

  7. Matthew,

    It looks to me like your hopes are well founded as ultimately the different disciplines don’t like to talk to each other all that much. I don’t see “Mormon Studies” coalescing in any significant way. But people still like to talk about it (mainly philosophers, it seems).

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 30, 2009 @ 1:37 am

  8. Matthew: I share your fear in some people misinterpreting “mormon studies” to mean a singled-out discipline, distinct from other fields. I don’t think a pigeon-holed mormon studies would be desired by readers outside those intrinsically interested. Rather, I see Mormon studies as an outlook on Mormonism that plays into these other fields and looks at the broader field. In a way, I think “Mormon Studies” has to look more outside of Mormonism than what has hitherto been done. I think others share my view as well, and that many of us have the same fear as you articulate.

    But, then again, there are probably others who disagree–hence the hot debate surrounding the topic and the need for a conference like this.

    Comment by Ben — October 30, 2009 @ 8:45 am

  9. Ultimately, I don’t see “Mormon Studies” being institutionalized beyond what we’re seeing at Claremont or USU–maybe a professor who teaches courses on Mormonism combined with a minor field within a Rel. Studies or similar degree program. I don’t think we’ll see the day where a school has a full-blown “Mormon Studies” department.

    What is feasible are explicitly interdisciplinary conferences and maybe edited collections of essays exploring the connections between fields that touch on Mormonism in some way. Seems like Taysom made a comment along these lines on another thread. But in order for this to happen, young scholars need to be making solid contributions to already established fields first.

    Comment by David G. — October 30, 2009 @ 9:59 am

  10. well put, David.

    Comment by Ben — October 30, 2009 @ 10:10 am

  11. I should add that many Native American/Latina, Latino/Ethnic Studies programs are staffed by scholars in other departments (history, literature, anthropology, etc.) who teach courses within their departments but crosslist them with the interdisciplinary program. Outside of BYU and maybe USU and U of U, I don’t think there are any other schools with scholars writing and teaching on Mormonism in multiple departments that could make similar arrangements. I just think we’re a long way away from having such scenarios.

    Comment by David G. — October 30, 2009 @ 10:21 am

  12. While I think Matthew raises good concerns, Mormons aren’t really part of an ethnic group–they’re a religious group. There is no problem around the country containing Eastern religion studies, Islamic studies or Jewish studies. I think the long-term goal would be to aim for that, maybe.

    Comment by mmiles — October 30, 2009 @ 12:23 pm

  13. mmiles – Mormons are not an ethnic group?

    As I said, I’m new to Mormon Studies, but I find it difficult to exclude Mormons from such a category. Ethnicty is a debated term in the academe, but most agree that it is the synthesis of a few basic elements: imagined or real historical genesis; shared tradition/culture; some level of self-recognition; often serves an advocacy function; etc. Mormons pretty much meet every requirement that anthropologists and historians use to define an ethnic group.

    So, has the “Mormon Studies” community already determined that Mormons are not an ethnic group? I think that would be a premature conclusion.

    Comment by Matthew — October 30, 2009 @ 12:36 pm

  14. David G. – I agree that I do not forsee Mormon Studies becoming a full fledged department at various universities.
    I guess my concern is on a smaller scale. For example, there is a great guy taking classes at my university who hops around into different departments studying Mormonism. I think it is great that he is using a multi-disciplined approach; however, I do not sense he really has a strong grasp of any field he is sampling. Nevertheless, he has published an couple articles and given some presentation and will likely emerge as an expert on Mormondom when he finishes the dissertation. So, I guess I worry about a future where Mormon experts filling faculty positions and writing books know a lot about Mormonism but do not really understand the broader context or the tools we are using. In this way, we may isolate ourselves and our work, and gradually lose credibility to outsiders. That has been the a major concern about these other “x” studies fields. Of course, there is something good (very good) to be said for inter-disciplinary communication on a particular topic.
    I really do value inter-disciplinary approaches–I just worry that when it becomes the method (instead of a actual system of inquiry) we walk a dangerous line. All this said, I’m a hypocrite myself.

    Comment by Matthew — October 30, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

  15. Scholars who focussed primarily on Mormonism rather than engaging in the broader academic world have been around for a long time. I see the opposite trend with more of the young scholars much more integrated. There will always be those who want to focus primarily on the Mormon academic community and that’s okay. But again, the trend seems to going the other way.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 30, 2009 @ 2:11 pm

  16. Matthew, I think you do raise an important point; I hope my comment didn’t come across as dismissing it. I agree that Mormon studies, however we define that, can and does have the potential of ghettoizing young scholars. Bushman refers to this as the Black Hole of Mormon history. But when it comes down to it, I think the question is whether individuals who remain confined in a Mormon Studies mentality are going to make it on the job market. My sense is that it’s tough enough getting a job right now in any field; Mormon studies junkies who can’t speak the language of the disciplines they’re applying in are going to have an even more difficult time.

    As to you question about whether Mormons are an ethnic group, my coblogger Joel, who does Ethnic Studies and history at the University of Illinois, has written a couple of posts on that. I’d encourage you to check them out.

    And he promised a part three awhile back, which, if you’re reading Joel, we’re still waiting for with bated breath. 😉

    Comment by David G. — October 30, 2009 @ 4:24 pm

  17. Thanks for the links!

    Comment by Matthew — October 31, 2009 @ 12:22 pm


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