I will soundly argue that the answer to the question above is an unequivocal “No!” Just playing. The formation of Mormon Studies Chairs at Utah State University and Claremont Graduate School with similar programs in the works at other institutions of higher learning suggests an affirmative answer to this query. I think it is obvious that our intellectual predecessors have worked long and hard to make this possible, and consequently we should be grateful. The formation of chairs, along with other movements in the media and politics, mark a new era in the scholarly study of Mormonism, as universities “scramble” to create classes in Mormonism. Sunday night I attended a fireside in Pasadena where Drs. Richard and Claudia Bushman spoke of this exciting time. As Claudia was speaking she mentioned the idea that we had the opportunity to become intellectual pioneers. This struck me. To be honest, I felt rather overwhelmed thinking about the legacy that budding scholars of Mormonism have to live up to. Further, it seems that we must participate in forming the idea of what it means to study Mormonism at a graduate level. Consequently, I think the important question relates to what kind of place we will create for ourselves at the academic table.
At Claremont Graduate University The Council for the Study of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and The Claremont Mormon Studies Student Association (organized under the School of Religion at CGU) are both in the process of helping create a place for Mormon studies in academia. The student organization (CMSSA) has sponsored various events including a conversation between Claremont Graduate University’s Dr. Hamid Mavani and Brigham Young University’s Dr. Daniel C. Peterson on Islam and Mormonism, a discussion with CGU professor of religion Dr. Vincent L. Wimbush on approaches to reading scripture, and a panel discussion between eminent Process Theologian John B. Cobb, CGU Religion student Richard T. Livingstone, and Mormon thinker Truman G. Madsen on “Does Religion Need Philosophy.” CMSSA has also held various student presentations, and is looking forward to holding its first student conference. Along with these events, Brian Birch (Director of the Religious Studies Program at UVSC and CGU alum) is teaching a course this semester in “Mormonism and Christian Theology.” Next semester both Richard and Claudia Bushman will be teaching classes on Mormon history and theology. (It should be noted that Armand Mauss has taught classes at CGU for a number of years and is still very involved). Although in its beginning stages, the prospects look bright here at CGU.
It is quite possible that I am overstating the importance of these movements. Consequently, I am going to turn over the blogging to you. How will the formation of Chairs in Mormon Studies affect the perception of Mormonism as a viable field of academic study? Have the announcements of Chairs alone already affected this perception? In The New Mormon Challenge Stephen Parrish concluded that, “In general, I would venture to say that Mormons have not yet done enough philosophical work to make their view a viable position.”  Does his view about Mormon philosophy hold weight in relation to scholarship in general? Have we done enough scholarly work to make Mormonism a viable field of study? If these were yes and no questions I think I would know what your answers would be, but they’re not, so why is Mormonism worthy of academic analysis? Perhaps more important, in what ways will graduate students studying about and writing on Mormon topics influence the field of Mormon Studies?
I think these questions are pertinent and important. I am sure they have been discussed frequently on blogs and in other venues, so forgive my blog ignorance if these are well-worn topics. Yet, I am interested in your ideas and answers to these questions, so selfishly, I am hoping you will indulge me. If not, I will go back to my movies and sleeping.
By the way, if anyone is thinking about studying here at CGU it is a great place-“The City of Trees and PhDs.” What more can you want? The history department here is small, and as I mentioned, no one specializes in US Religious History. Yet, the professors are open and encouraging in allowing the student to write on topics of his/her choice. Last semester I wrote two papers on Mormonism and one on religion in American Studies. The professors here are great to work with. Professor Brodie (Fawn Brodie’s daughter-in-law) is the current chair of the History Department and she is excited about working with Richard Bushman (even though he will be in the Religion Department), and has no problem allowing students (just me for now) in the History Department work with him.
That is all for now.
 Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen, eds., The New Mormon Challenge, 218.