A New Mormon Periodical

Archipelago: a Mormon Studies E-journal will be published biannually.

For details, see the announcement by Ronan Head here.

[Update: Since the announcement does not allow comments, please feel free to discuss here]

23 thoughts on “A New Mormon Periodical

  1. Very interesting, Jon, thanks for the link. I am impressed with Ronan’s ingenuity in putting this together, and excited to see the results.

    That said, I was disappointd to read down and see how the names of the current editors were presented. My first impression was that the journal would be a slightly humbler, less academically-stilted entry in the world of Mormon thought. While all of those people involved in the journal are good thinkers and well-qualified, I wonder why they need to be presented with their degrees and institutions so prominently displayed? Seems like that’s just a way of buying credibility in the mode of the old-school publications, instead of being proud of having a different approach. There’s too much intellectual snobbery surrounding Mormon studies as is, so I think this journal is a good development, at least I hope it will be, if it can free itself from trying to glean the prestige of high degress and elite institutions.

  2. Interesting reaction Ryan. I am intrigued by your phrase “buying credibility in the mode of the old-school publications.” I think that this could be expanded into an issue that really needs to be discussed.

    I know that Mormon scholarship, including BYU as an educational institution, has tried very hard to gain the approval of worldly academia. BYU strives to be accredited by the university community and academic accreditors. It is important to the church’s mission for it to gain some level of influence in the world. But at what point does playing the world’s game become a case of Zion seeking credentials and authority from Babylon. If we seek accreditation from Babylon, are we rejecting the authority already granted by God?

  3. JMW: I find it very interesting that we (meaning Mormons) often see academia as a dichotomy as you have phrased it (and I think many of us do). But if were discussing medicine (which has a long history of miraculous administration through the authority of God) almost all of us would pick the U of U med school grad or the Duke med school grad over a guy who claims to have skipped med school b/c of his divine calling from his bishop to heal people.

  4. Very cool and laudable development!! I’m looking forward to this journal.

    As far as BYU scholars being approved by “worldly” academia goes, I think it has become painfully clear at the Yale conference on Mormonism and the recent Worlds of Joseph Smith conference, that some BYU religion scholars need to seriously reconsider their approach to discourse on Mormonism. That is, if they ever want to approach the issue like academics and not sound like sacrament meeting speakers…

  5. I agree with your point HL. I’m not saying that we should reject the knowledge offered by academia. But at the same time, is it not possible that by placing too much emphasis on the approval of the world we limit our ability to excel beyond the world in the way that Zion should?

    After all Elder Nelson’s groundbreaking technique in heart surgery was given by revelation in response to prayer.

  6. Good points by both of you. I tend to take a middle ground. I actually favor playing by the world’s rules when the benefits sufficiently outweigh the costs. In the case of BYU, there’s no question in my mind (and I suspect you agree, Jon) that we currently reap substantial rewards for holding a spot in the secular world. That may change someday, I suppose.

    But I do think that Jon’s point is right in that it suggests the possibility of different standards within the church. When we’re trying to build institutions that are inherently outward-looking structures (like BYU), of course they need to pass worldly muster. But in the case of Mormon thought, there ought to be more of a spectrum. Yes, there’s a very important role played by Mormon thinking that can engage the rest of the world on its own terms. But where is the forum for the less formal presentation, given by one without the secular endorsement of many letters behind his name? At some point, Mormons should be able to speak to Mormons, on the merits of the ideas, without regard to worldly status.

    I guess that is why I reacted to seeing the Archipelago announcement. It bills itself as a place that will be slightly less rigorous, perhaps a bit more welcoming to those outside the academically respected mainstream. I admit for a moment I thought “wow, this sounds neat, maybe I’d think about helping out with it. . . ” And then I saw that the call for editors asks for “academic credentials” and lists each editor in the context of their academic achievements. A bit of a contradiction there, methinks. Or maybe just disappointing for someone who doesn’t meet those standards, but would still like to play a part.

  7. I can’t find the quote right now (maybe someone can help) but at some point LDS students and LDS professors were discouraged from addressing the professors by the titles “Doctor” or “Professor” They were instructed to favor, as an alternative, the use of “Brother” for both student and professor because, in the Kingdom, they are equals and have equal access to the Lord for inspiration and knowledge and their relationship should not be based on the honors of the world.

    Unfortunately, in my experience, this instruction was not often followed at BYU.

  8. Ryan and everyone else:

    Archipelago is still a baby, blinking at the world. We have made no decisions about anything yet, and the “announcement” was designed to stir-up some interest and collaboration.

    Forgive us for donning the robes of a false priesthood. We do think, however, that credentials matter. Not that it makes us smart, but because we want to be taken seriously in a snobbish world.

    BUT, we welcome contribution from all. We will later make a call for articles; they will be judged on their quality and NOT on the letters after the names of the people who wrote them.

    I should add also that since the initial announcement we seem to have added some women to the board, in case people were worried that this would be a male-dominated Mormon project.

    Anyway, thanks everyone for your encouragement. Please feel free to email me. We are all ears.

  9. Thanks, Ronan, for the clarifications. From experience, I know how hard it can be to focus the vision and mission of a nascent organization (as well as to convey one’s desire not to be an all-male vehicle 🙂 )

    We uncredentialed masses will watch with interest as developments unfold.

  10. I actually think that Mormon Studies could do with a dose of academic snobbery of a certain variety. It seems to me that Mormon Studies is at once too nice and too mean. We seem to alternate between ever so nice back-slapping about how very insightful your paper on late-19th century hometeaching practices in Toole, and publically exoriating what are essentially theological opponents as the stupidiest, most benighted souls to ever have the misfortune to walk the planet. What we frequently lack is a disciplined and critical discussion that asks, “So what?”

    I think that there are some exceptionally smart and interesting people doing Mormon Studies, and there are some very interesting and productive discussions. On the other hand, I think that our fear of elitism does not always serve us well.

  11. Ronan, since this is the only announcement with comments turned on, here’s my thoughts:

    Since electronic journals are already considered less prestigious than print journals, ditch the appeal to young scholars. You’ll get them anyway, but you want to be a plausible venue for established people, too. If you think it necessary, add a note that you also welcome contributions from younger scholars who are new to publishing.

    Demand that people submit their best, most polished work, just as they would for a print publication. Don’t make your job as editor any harder than it has to be. If you want to lower the hurdles for submission, be open to notes as well as full-length articles.

    Get someone with tenure on your editorial board, at least as a figurehead, and pound on every advanced degree that you can add to your board. If you want to start an academic journal, you need to trumpet your academic credentials. Add ‘interdisciplinary’ in a subtitle somewhere, in case anyone wonders about the various backgrounds of the editorial board.

    The hard part will be getting material that is both good and academically respectable. The former does not imply the latter, nor the latter the former.

  12. This is actually a pretty interesting point. With reference to comment #2, I think it’s quite erroneous to suggest that BYU plays the role of “Zion” at all. If BYU’s purpose was solely or even primarily as an institution of religious education, it wouldn’t offer the secular curriculum that it does. It wouldn’t exclude temple worthy returned missionaries because of their ACT scores. It wouldn’t set academic standards that exclude the less intelligent of any form. BYU isn’t Zion, it’s just a school run by the Church. And, at the risk of offending some of us, it just isn’t as good as the top dogs. Real good second tier school (and better than the one I presently attend). But still AAA-ball.

    Spiritual authority is not inherent to things run by the Church. Church membership or affiliation does not make one more credible unless the topic in question refers to doctrine. Being a priest in the day of Isaiah and Jeremiah did not make one righteous or learned (at least, beyond the degree required by the post). Why now? Knowing and believing the testimonies and doctrines of the Restoration makes one no better as an engineer, a welder, or a political scientist. They’re different kinds of truth. And if not, why aren’t more of you Mormons supporting Harry Reid in the Senate? 🙂

    Academic credentials are not simply standards of the world, they’re proof that you’re serious about your craft and know something about the world you study. The temple recommend doesn’t make you worthy, your actions do. Same with the Church stamp of approval. BYU is only a quality academic institution to the extent that it actually expands minds. You prove that through debate and discourse, not through claims of priesthood authority. Or, you can demonstrate how that authority makes what you’ve got to say true.

  13. Jonathan: good point. The problem is that there are quality LDS journals out there. So how do we get people to publish at Archipelago if they’re good enough to publish at BYU Studies, say, unless we offer more informal venue? Help us answer that if you can.

    (And if you know any LDS German professors in South Carolina who can offer their support, please email me….:))

  14. Knowing and believing the testimonies and doctrines of the Restoration makes one no better as an engineer, a welder, or a political scientist. They’re different kinds of truth.

    I disagree strongly with the reductionistic compartmentalization of our religion from other kinds of knowledge (or “truth”) that this statement represents.

    This kind of separation of religion from “real life” is, in my opinion, contrary to the Gospel. One thing that makes the gospel, as restored by Joseph Smith, so refreshing, in contrast to other gospels and religions, is that it is so practical.

    The Gospel should have practical applications in engineering, welding, or politics that provide real advantages, in addition to giving us spiritual comfort and guidance. The principles of the Restored Gospel should put us into a position where we can, and do, draw upon the aide of heaven, through prayer and revelation, in our practical, everyday lives, including academic endeavors and dialog.

    I am very cynical about the idea that academic credentials carry any _real_ value. Just as “a temple recommend doesn’t make you worthy,” a recommend from the academy and the associated offices of the false priesthood they grant do not make one knowledgeable concerning truth. Such degrees are useful only inasmuch as they give members of the church more influence in society.

    The advances in knowledge etc. we have made in our modern society are attributable, not to human ingenuity, but to inspiration granted to individuals, even without their knowing it, from God. As members of the church we should be leveraging our access to revelation to excel beyond the world in all disciplines.

    Your reductionist separation of “secular” and “religious” stands contrary to the Lord’s declaration that all things are spiritual unto him.

  15. I am very cynical about the idea that academic credentials carry any _real_ value

    Advanced degrees carry no value in themselves, but they are supposed to symbolize that the degree holder has acheived a certain degree of competance or knowledge in that field. To the extent that one relies on the aura of degree-holding instead of the knowledge supposedly acquired, having or touting the degree is worthless. Nibley harps on this in one of his articles…

    I’ll see if I can find it.

  16. JMW, I think you misunderstood my argument. Ben points out pretty well why I’m on solid ground in terms of the academic distinction issue. A degree from Harvard isn’t good because it’s from Harvard, but because Harvard teaches more and better political science than the University of Oklahoma (my institution and my field), as proven by the legions of scholars from that institution that have moved the debate forward and the relative mediocrity of those from OU.

    Sure, the Spirit can inspire us to do better in our chosen profession. But you err in presuming that this is 1) constant and 2) inherent. My point is that being LDS or knowing truth or whatever does nothing directly to assist you in that profession. It must always come from an intermediate step. All things may well be spiritual, but this is not to suggest that all things are connected in a significant way. True, spiritual sensibility in one area helps you to move forward in others. But where’s the evidence of your claim that, specifically, BYU is superior because of this process? Remember that this is where the debate began and that this is the context in which my remarks were made.

    Honestly, this recent Joseph Smith conference tends to indicate to me that “home-field advantage” in terms of topic area got us a draw at best. Where are the fruits? Why aren’t Mormon scholars dominating their fields? Why isn’t all this going on? The point isn’t that revelation doesn’t happen and doesn’t help in “real life”, but that the direct and constant connection of revelation to every single aspect of life is much more analogous to a video game than to the actual pattern of revelation that the Lord has provided for us. As you say, you’ve got to be prepared to receive groundbreaking revelation. Elder Nelson worked darn hard to be as good as he could be and then he was blessed by revelation. My point isn’t that revelation can’t exceed what the world can provide, but that you’ve got to prepare yourself for it, as we’re told in the Doctrine and Covenants. BYU can only be the best if it prepares its students for the revelations within the professions better than other institutions. Extra credit for the religious instruction, but that doesn’t matter to the man or woman that exceeds in personal righteousness. He’ll have the Spirit and a better preparation for it at a better school, all other things being equal.

  17. JMW, I didn’t want to infer that you are arguing that BYU is the best institution in the world, but that your claim that it operates on a higher plane than the world is flawed. But, in some ways, your argument (in my judgment) infers the former.

  18. D-Train,

    Thank you for the clarification. You are right that I am not arguing that BYU is the best, nor am I arguing that it operates on a higher plane. I do not think that BYU, as it currently runs, operates on a higher plane at all. I ask the same questions that you do: “Where are the fruits? Why aren’t Mormon scholars dominating their fields? Why isn’t all this going on?” I think that it should operate on a higher plane, and wonder if its desire to be accredited by worldly standards does not hinder, in some way, its potential. You attribute the shortfall to inferior academics, I attribute it to inferior use of the Spirit. By all means we should learn as much as we possibly can in all the fields of knowledge and technology possible, but I don’t see why LDS members, both who go to BYU and elsewhere, shouldn’t expect the Spirit’s influence in both their studies and professions to be both constant and inherent.

    While one can learn a great deal through the academic system, academia is largely a self-perpetuating, incestuous system designed primarily to produce more academia. Despite being the spawning tanks for counter-culture and socio-political radicalism, universities tend, in their systematic operations, toward conformity to academia. And the grading system upon which they are built is mostly smoke and mirrors, designed more to test conformity and to provide businesses with a convenient way of ranking potential employees, than to engender innovation.

    A few years ago, a company that I worked for hired two new programmers. One had gone to college for a few years and then dropped out. He was an amazingly brilliant, creative programmer. The other programmer had a masters degree in information systems, but while he was a really nice guy, he was a terrible programmer, and a mediocre manager. The second programmer was given a salary of more than $20,000 dollars a year more than the first and started as a team leader. When I asked the chief engineer why, his answer was the most honest and blunt I have ever heard: The fact that the second programmer had a Masters Degree indicated to them that he conformed to systems and jumped through hoops and would, therefore, be easy to control and manipulate. They needed the first, un-degreed programmer because, precisely because he didn’t conform to systems and jump through hoops, he would provide the innovation and new ideas, but they knew that they could not control him as easily for the same reasons. The higher salary was just part of the system of conformity.

    We should take what we can from academia to prepare us, as you say, for groundbreaking revelations, but we should not invest to much faith in that system over the system of the Lord.

  19. Ronan, I’m actually not all that familiar with the Mormon academic venues out there. BYU Studies seems to be omnivorous, while FARMS has a specific focus on apologetics and something of a corner on the ancientness angle. What else is there in the orthodox Mormon space? (The orthodox part of the journal’s identity is a good idea, I think. Plenty of journals devoted to the Benedictines, for example, show that it can be done well.)

    But Archipelago would be the only completely online journal, right? The uniqueness of the choice of media gives it a way to position itself, but will require some serious thinking, too; what does it allow you to do that others can’t? If you’re conscioulsy aiming for the space in between the blogs and BYU Studies, one possibility would be to solicit contributions from people who write substantive posts about the intersection of their fields and Mormon studies. There are a lot of interesting ideas out there that don’t fit any of the disciplinary journals, and aren’t quite big enough for BYU Studies.

    Another thought: put BYU Studies in your crosshairs. How can you put it out of business by being just as substantive and respectable, but more flexible, relevant, and all-in-all groovy? Can Archipelago function as something like a cutting-edge preprint venue, i.e., the place where all the interesting action is?

    I still think openness to shorter contributions is a good idea. Another would be an enthusiastic willingness to work with authors to help turn their contributions into solid scholarship. Good editing is hard to find. After you get someone’s best work, it’s still too easy to accept it ‘pursuant to revisions,’ much harder to walk someone through the specific steps that need to be taken.

    Yeah, I knew a German professor in South Carolina, but he just accepted a visiting position in East Lansing and will be leaving the state in a couple weeks. Bummer…

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