The flowing of Mormon studies in the print world has been well-documented. Presses are rushing for more titles on LDS topics, partly because they sell consistently well. While the quantity has sometimes overshadowed the quality of this movement, I think it is safe to say the field is much stronger as a result.
But publications are only one part of the integration of Mormon studies into the academic world. Another important element is the inclusion of Mormonism in academic classrooms. This is done through several ways. The first is through better integration of Mormonism into broader courses (including classes on American Religous History, New Religious Movements, the American West, or even the classic American history survey). This is mostly accomplished as scholarly work on Mormonism becomes better known, and thus professors are more aware and likely to include it in their lectures, readings, or comprehensive exams. (I was interested to find out that here at Cambridge, the only question on religion in an undergraduate American history exam from a couple years ago was on the Mormon trek west.) Joseph Smith is always a popular topic for undergraduate students, and the Book of Mormon often serves as a surprisingly rewarding text for students to engage. Many have said that Sally Gordon’s The Mormon Question is the go-to text for teaching the intersection of religion and law in the nineteenth century. I imagine this will, and should, continue, as Mormon history becomes more intimately intertwined with the academic study of religious history.
The second, if more rare, form of Mormonism entering the classroom is through courses dedicated to Mormonism. In the last half-decade, there have been courses specifically on Mormonism at a number of institutions, beyond the obvious universities that house Mormon studies programs like BYU, Utah Valley University, University of Utah, Utah State, Claremont, and Virginia. Other colleges that have featured Mormon courses include Graduate Theological Union, Harvard, North Carolina, Columbia, Hannover College, and CSU-Fullerton. These are, admittedly, few, and are mostly dependent on their housing a faculty member who has an interest in Mormonism. And most have been a variation of the classic “Mormonism and the American Experience,” framework, which mostly uses Mormonism as a lens to understand the broader development of the United States in the past two centuries. But there has been a variety in approaches, whether it be methodological like history or anthropology, or topical, like politics or gender. It might be fun, then, to take a step back and consider specific approaches we take to teaching Mormonism, and what that tells us about the field writ large.
This series is simple. I invite a number of people with academic experience to talk about either a course they have taught or a course they would like to teach that heavily involves Mormonism. This could include broader classes (like Prophecy and American Culture, World Scripture, or Religion and Gender) that prominently feature Mormonism, or a specialty class that focuses on Mormonism (like Mormonism and Politics, Mormonism and Gender, The Worlds of Joseph Smith, etc.). Contributions will address four basic question: 1) what is the course’s objective? 2) what primary sources would you use? 3) what secondary sources would you use? and 4) what class activities, specifically related to the course, would you use?
I hope these posts will generate dynamic discussions, as well as serve as a useful resource for scholars in the field.