Q&A with Taylor Petrey, editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought

By October 14, 2019

Dr. Taylor Petrey was recently named editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. We are grateful he took time to answer our questions!

Taylor Petrey is Associate Professor and Religion and Chair of the Religion Department at Kalamazoo College. Dr. Petrey received his ThD and MTS from Harvard Divinity School in New Testament and Early Christianity and BA from Pace University in Philosophy and Religious Studies. He teaches courses in ancient Christianity and ancient Judaism, including the sacred texts that comprise the Bible for both traditions.  His teaching and research explore the use and meaning of the Bible, early Christian thought, and the history of gender, sexuality, and kinship in Christianity.

Dialogue is a hub for Mormon Studies scholarship, events, and news. For over 50 years, Dialogue has been the premiere journal in Mormon Studies. It has published some of the most important articles, personal essays, poetry, fiction, and art. Dialogue has also evolved in recent years to offer new products. We have an excellent newsletter, podcast, and social media feeds on Facebook and Twitter. These forms of engagement give our audience more ways to access great commentary on the past, present, and future of the LDS tradition.

In light of this mission, the journal stands at the center and I plan to publish ground-breaking material that is “must read.” We also have plans to expand into new ventures, including Dialogue Book Club [the first book is Melissa Inouye’s Crossings: A Bald Asian American Latter-day Saint Woman Scholar’s Ventures through Life, Death, Cancer, & Motherhood (Not Necessarily in that Order)]. We also will be working on building out our own podcasts. In addition, we are developing the Dialogue Podcast Network (launching soon!) to support great shows and bring Dialogue material to a larger audience. We now have a YouTube channel and Instagram feed, too, to share more content.

  • How did your training in early Christianity inform your ideas about Mormon Studies? Do you see Early Christian Studies providing a blueprint for what Mormon Studies could look like?

Mormon Studies is such an exciting, multidisciplinary field right now with history, literary and textual studies, social science, philosophy and theology, and more. There are all sorts of new postcolonial approaches, gender studies, analysis of race, media, and environment.  I am not sure that there is a single blueprint for this field, and I am sure that it will continue to flourish in new directions.

My training in Early Christianity focused on religious studies and gender studies which have greatly influenced the kinds of questions I have brought to my work on LDS thought and history. However, I have had to work hard to get up to speed on these topics on my own without any formal training or the opportunity to teach on LDS topics. My own scholarship has then been in two fields. That said, I have found it personally fulfilling and helpful to my scholarship in both research areas to see them each from different perspectives. Sometimes Mormon Studies can get into ruts, going over the same topics and materials (though less and less!), so engaging the larger questions in another academic field has been inspiring for me. I have also been able to bring some questions to Early Christianity that were inspired by Mormon Studies. But there are so many amazing scholars who’ve dove headfirst into Mormon Studies and brought expertise and creativity to the field, so I don’t think that there is one right way to do it.  

  • There are several journals in the subfield of Mormon Studies where historians could send article manuscripts, as well as journals in broader fields. What are the primary benefits of submitting an article to Dialogue?

Dialogue is the journal of record for ground-breaking scholarship in Mormon Studies. The list of contributors and editors to the journal includes nearly every major thinker in the field and the archives are a treasure. We are also seeking to create new features that our contributors will really love, including podcasts, and we have a large, dedicated readership so that contributors know that their ideas won’t get lost in the shuffle of new content out there. Being a part of Dialogue means being a part of one of the most important outlets for intellectual engagement with Mormonism.

I don’t have anything negative to say about the rich ecosystem of Mormon Studies journals. I think that we all benefit by supporting one another, so I also encourage people to submit to these other journals and to patronize them. Depending on the kind of scholarship, I think it is also useful to publish outside of that ecosystem too. I myself have published some of my Mormon Studies articles in non-Mormon Studies journals, including Harvard Theological Review and Sophia. But readers and scholars come to Dialogue expecting fantastic content, so if that is what you’ve written, we want to publish it.

  • Do you plan to solicit scholarship from historically underrepresented groups?

Yes, absolutely! We have already got a few great features lined up for my first few issues. This field really needs to support these scholars, and I am happy to do what I can in this regard. If any of you have ideas for articles or roundtable discussions, please get in touch!

  • History has traditionally dominated Mormon Studies publications. Do you plan to solicit scholarship from non-historians?

My very first article published in Dialogue was on theology, so I am committed to methodological diversity in the journal. Funny enough, I spent a lot of time in theology before finally coming around to LDS history in my forthcoming book, Tabernacles of Clay: Gender and Sexuality in Modern Mormonism (UNC, 2020). So, my own eclectic approach to Mormon Studies may be reflected in the eclectic content of the journal.

Dialogue has a long tradition of fantastic scholarship that goes far beyond history. We love our historians, but our articles and essays have always been multidisciplinary and will remain so under my editorship. We want to publish and our readers expect the best in a variety of fields. We are deeply committed to history, especially as it is being practiced currently in Mormon Studies, but our literature, philosophy, social science, art history, and ethnographic articles are a major focus of our attention too.

  • Many junior scholars are not able to publish in Dialogue, because they know that it has historically been an impediment to being hired at BYU. Are there plans to work with BYU to address this situation?

This one has always puzzled me. There has never been a hard and fast rule for BYU scholars against publishing at Dialogue, to my knowledge. The supposed impediment seems to have fallen on junior scholars who are seeking to get hired at BYU, and there are cases where their candidacy was shot down solely on the basis of the place of publication instead of the content or strength of their argument. Regrettably for BYU, several programs lost some amazing scholars to other schools because of this silly practice. Fortunately, I think things are already changing.

Before I started at Dialogue, because of the work of my predecessors more and more folks associated with BYU are participants or publish in Dialogue. BYU has recently hired a number of senior scholars with long publication records in Dialogue, including Terryl Givens, Fiona Givens, and Philip Barlow. BYU faculty sit on our board of directors and they publish in our pages. Several recent issues feature articles from current BYU faculty.

It no longer makes sense to say that Dialogue creates an extra hurdle at BYU when there are so many exceptions. I am committed to continuing our work to build bridges of true dialogue, representing a diversity of perspectives. That is our mission and we are all better off when we can engage one another honestly and openly.

Article filed under Miscellaneous

  1. Thanks, Taylor!

    Comment by Jeff T — October 17, 2019 @ 11:43 am

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