Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Researching Mormonism

So i was looking for some scholarly work on Mormon culture, and i ended up at the Brigham Young Universisty’s online library of BYU master’s theses on Mormonism. I spent more time than i should have allotted there, ’cause it really was fascinating.

One thing i discovered: Back in the 50s and 60s (and to some extent in the 70s), the theses in the collection take pains to toe the line of Mormon culture (so that, for example, even if the data pointed in a direction that went against Mormon cultural norms, there was generally a discussion of why the data was flawed or why it actually went along with those norms—even when it clearly didn’t—or somesuch). In more recent work (which includes stuff found in the general collection, now that all of the school’s theses and dissertations are online), though, there seems to be a general tendency to go wherever the data leads, even if that goes against Mormon cultural norms.*

I’ve often heard the idea (mainly from con-Mormons**) that believing Mormons can’t do serious scholarship on Mormonism ’cause it’s impossible for a faithful Mormon to run the social risk of going against the intense normativity that is involved in being Mormon. It may be that that was once true, but that that idea is now outdated.

Or, at least, that’s my hope.

* I, for one, see this as a positive development.

** “Con-Mormon” is a term that Craig Olson came up with to describe someone who isn’t anti-Mormon (that is, they aren’t after tearing down the Mormon church at any cost), but has reasoned or at least reasonable arguments against some aspect(s) of Mormonism and the Mormon church. The crucial difference between an anti-Mormon and a con-Mormon is that rational (well, as rational as religious debate can be) debate leading to a worthwhile exchange of ideas is possible with a con-Mormon.

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