When the Juvenile Instructor was originally conceived in Fall 2007, it was by five BYU students who had at least two things in common. First: we loved Mormon history. And second: we were all significantly influenced by Spencer Fluhman, then an assistant professor of Church History at BYU. (A third point of similarity was we all loved to waste time on the bloggernacle.) Besides being a charismatic and gregarious professor, Dr. Fluhman represented the witty and integrative field of Mormon studies to which he contributed. Since that time, Juvenile Instructor flowered into what it is today, and Fluhman emerged as a leading figure in not on Mormon studies but American religious history. He moved over to the history department, published his award-winning “A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (UNC Press, 2012) which Jon Butler declared “the quintessential history book” (see our Q&A with Fluhman about the book here), and then was announced editor of the newly re-launched Mormon Studies Review (which I wrote about here). Three volumes of MSR have appeared since then, each containing reviews and essays from leading scholars in Mormon and American religious history, and the journal is now the premier arbiter for books in the field. (Note: I’m biased.)
Today, BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship announced Spencer Fluhman as the new director. You can read the official announcement here.
The institute has a long history and prolific production, of which Mormon Studies Review is just one initiative. Under their umbrella are the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies (now under the capable leadership of Brian Hauglid, it features symposia and publications focused on a more academic approach to Mormonism’s founding scripture), the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (led by Morgan Davis, it produces a number of translation series that are crucial to the field), and the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (which works on topics ranging from Syriac studies to the Dead Sea Scolls). They also feature the Maxwell Institute Podcast, hosted by Blair Hodges, which features interviews with leading scholars in religious history. (Seriously–it’s the best Mormon podcast on the market.) What I love about the Maxwell Institute is that it embodies the quest to build bridges with the broader academic community through scholarship: these are initiatives directed to scholars as much as saints, and the direct of the institute reflects BYU’s desire to participate in these broader communities.
I can’t imagine a better person taking control of such an important institute as Fluhman. More than just being a brilliant scholar who is respected by many within the academy, he is a genuinely good guy who gets along with everyone he meets. I look forward to seeing him instill a vision into the Maxwell Institute, and I’m confident that we’ll all reap the rewards.