This is sort of a statement of contrition as well as an advertisement for the upcoming EMSA which probably none of us can make it to.
My first trip to MHA was at the end of my master’s program. My paper was on the early Mormon branches throughout North America and why we should study them. It was well received and my mother told me someone had told someone that mine was the best paper. I felt really smart.
The next year I gave a paper on what was to become my Church History article. I think I called it “Mormonism and the Great Revival.” This year I was in a small room (though it was full) which frustrated me because I felt so important.
The next year I was in a small room with very few people. I decided that MHA wasn’t important. It was too big and too parochial, I thought.
That year I signed up to give at paper at the inaugural session of EMSA. I got a grant from my university to go and took my wife (it only covered a fraction of the costs, but why not). I really enjoyed the conference and gave an updated version of what was to become my Church History article.
I went to EMSA again the next year in Finland and gave a paper called “Mormonism and the Christianity of the Folk.” The conference was very good again. I had to stay a few extra days because I could get a cheeper flight that way so I went to church on Sunday. I don’t think they got a lot of visitors and were curious why I was there. I talked with the bishop’s wife some who had the missionaries translate for me. Afterward they (the bishop’s wife and the missionaries) all asked me about the conference and my paper (they spoke pretty good English). She asked me if my paper was pro Mormon or anti Mormon and I tried to explain that wasn’t what the conference was about. She then asked me to explain my paper. This was a bad idea because I just couldn’t turn down the opportunity to talk about my stuff. After giving it a try for a minute or two and seeing looks of total confusion and perhaps horror on all their faces. I tried to say something positive or something.
The point is that we need a usable past. Comments to that end had bothered me at MHA. “Why can’t we focus on purely academic issues,” I would think. But, of course, separating academics from confession is just a rhetorical device; it’s certainly all “religious” to the participants regardless of how they talk about it.
This last MHA, though the insider talk was still around, I saw to a remarkable degree that participants could put sessions together of the highest academic quality. I sort of felt like I had missed out on something.