Blair Hodges’s MI Podcast review

Recently, a scholar friend mentioned that during the announcement of the new Joseph Smith Papers Project and seer stone photos, those in attendance were seated in separate groups. Those who were friends of the Maxwell Institute sat on one side of the room, while Mormon Interpreter fans sat on the other side. Those agnostics that did not belong to either camp found themselves uncomfortably sitting in the middle.

As I pondered what he said, and how events that occurred  three years ago are still causing divisions and contention among those LDS scholars that should be leading the way towards unity, I wished for a new beginning for everyone.

Given that many here at Millennial Star are conservatives that squarely sit on the side of the Interpreter, I wish to share with everyone and encourage them to open themselves up to the quality work being done at the Maxwell Institute. For example, its Living Faith series of books is providing a fresh view of the gospel, with excellent books, such as Adam S Miller’s “Letters to a Young Mormon”, and Steven Peck’s upcoming volume, “Evolving Faith” (which I reviewed here).

Today, I’d like to share with you a great series of podcasts that the Maxwell Institute provides.  Hosted by my friend, Blair Hodges, these are a great series of interviews.  Unlike the excellent podcasts at Mormon Interpreter, Blair’s interviews complement MI’s work by providing us interviews from many sources, not just LDS scholars.

Listening to Blair, his voice and rhythmic discussions remind me of Guy Raz of NPR’s TED Talk program.  From the questions he asks and the points he brings up in the interviews, you can tell that Blair has done his homework.

In recent podcasts, he interviewed scholars, who have written books such as the “Annotated Jewish New Testament” (edited and written by Jewish scholars), a book of papers from a conference on religious freedom, and a book written by a female Episcopalian priest entitled, “Wearing God”.

In these examples, Blair brings up poignant and important passages and concepts from the books discussed. In discussing Roger Williams’ views on religious freedoms, he is well aware of Williams’ controversial views on religion, while still pushing to separate church and state.  His understanding of the topic at hand enriches the interviews.

Given that many of his subjects are not LDS, the podcasts are valuable for both LDS and others, as well. In discussing religious concepts with non-LDS, Blair is building bridges of understanding between LDS and the outside world – one which many Mormons do not cross, because they are too comfortable with the gospel they already know. Sadly, we miss out on finding a lot of richness in the gospel by locking ourselves behind the doors of Mormonism.  In his interview with the author of “Wearing God”, they discuss the different ways in which the Bible explain God, and how we can enrich our understanding and relationship of God by considering those things that make us feel uncomfortable. This is not to say we have to accept everything at face value, in fact it means the opposite. We are encouraged to dig deeper to see what greater value we can find, and how it can make scripture more alive for us.  As noted in the interview, we are commanded to worship God with all our heart, might and mind – and what better way to worship with all our mind than to dig deeply into scripture?

Blair’s Maxwell Institute Podcast is a treasure for the Church’s benefit. Sadly, it often seems like it is a treasure that is hidden in plain sight. Because many Mormons are comfortable with what they already know, or are dogmatic about being angry at the Maxwell Institute, they lose out on a pearl of great price.

Blair, keep up the great work.  I hope someday that the BYU wars will die down, and so an occasional project can be done between MI and the Interpreter Foundation.  In the meantime, I encourage everyone to listen to the Podcasts.

http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/tag/podcast/

 

11 thoughts on “Blair Hodges’s MI Podcast review

  1. In my opinion (as one who doesn’t care much about either the Interpreter or the Maxwell Institute) we are currently at a place in our history where we don’t have a mature understanding of our past.

    I have no idea what the folks at the Maxwell Institute might think of my view regarding Joseph Smith and polygamy. I know some folks at the Interpreter have been dismissive of my assertions.

    When we lack a mature understanding of the past (in my opinion, a mature understanding would be one that finds Joseph to be even more courageous, compassionate, and good that either MI or Interpreter now see him to have been), the risk of embracing outside thinkers is that we are too easily pulled from our own foundation.

    So, I agree that it is good to conduct dialogue with great thinkers on spiritual things beyond our own parochial borders. But it might be wise to first make sure we actually understand matters within our own parochial borders.

  2. Rame, I agree with you that the contention between MI and the Interpreter people is unfortunate. But Blair has not done himself a lot of favors by his online demeanor, which, as many people can attest, is mean-spirited, sarcastic and snarky to the people with whom he disagrees. As is usually the case, I am sure he is not like that in person. There is something about the anonymity of the internet that turns many nice people into monsters when they go on-line.

    Having said that, he is a very good interviewer and extremely knowledgeable about his subject, so I agree with you in recommending his podcasts. Thanks for this post.

  3. Interesting observation about the Joseph Smith Papers press conference. So far as I know, I was the only one there from the Interpreter Foundation. I came before things started and sat on the front row. I didn’t recognize anyone there as being from the MI except for Blair, who I didn’t see until after the press conference. I didn’t see where he was sitting, but would have been happy to sit next to him.

  4. I’ve also seen what Geoff talks about above. I don’t want to contradict your thesis that these podcasts are worthwhile–in fact, I’ll commit to checking out a couple just based on the strength of this post–but some things need further comment.

    There’s an implication here that MI is focused on outreach and wider perspectives, while Interpreter is not.

    First of all, though works of synthesis are valuable, they can’t be the primary focus of such institutions. Mormon scripture and history studies are far too young NOT to still be focused on producing substantial, foundational work in their own unique areas of interest. In that vein, Interpreter produces far more such material in an average season that MI has produced in three whole years. Yes, even if you think that some of Interpreter’s work is not top shelf stuff, it has still produced much more quality work than MI has, which, frankly, seems to have produced almost nothing of this sort.

    Second, the academically ecumenical interests of the Interpreter are getting shortchanged. I was at their dinner in August, which featured two speakers of other faiths. The current article on their site reviews books from scholars of other faiths whose work may shine a new light on our study of our own scriptures. Let’s not forget it was the diplomacy of the old FARMS that brought the Dead Sea Scrolls to BYU in the 90s.

    I agree with your major point, that the rift between MI and Interpreter should be healed, and it was good to hear such an impressive recommendation of a worthwhile MI product on M*. Now let’s hear the MI cadre offer such praise for the work of the Interpreter.

  5. I love Blair’s podcasts, especially with biblical scholars. He puts some fantastic, unique products out there, previously not as readily accessible to an LDS audience. One of my favorite things about both The Maxwell Institute and The Interpreter Foundation is that they offer so many free resources to the public, along with BYU Studies and RSC. What’s not to like about free books?

    The Maxwell Institute definitely adds a new voice and reaches an untapped, hungry audience. As long as their scholars and administration are humble and respect the scholarship of outside voices, they will build up an even larger following.

    As I have told Blair in the past, he is simply the best podcaster in Mormondomland, IMHO.

    On a side note, can we all agree that the Internet is a proper noun until Merriam-Webster or the people at AP tell us otherwise?

  6. Can Blair be snarky on the Internet? Of course. But so can many of us (including me).

    Does Interpreter produce some great stuff? Definitely. I just finished rereading one of their volumes, and beginning another. I know many people who will read Interpreter, but not MI, simply because of the method in which Daniel Peterson was fired 3 years ago. I do not agree with how he was fired, it was very UnChristian-like. That said, moving forward is the path towards growth and healing, not clinging to the past hurts. I know Daniel. He is not a victim, which is why he created the Interpreter, as a way to move forward things that are important to him.

    Interpreter has a different mission overall than the Maxwell Institute, and so they can complement each other, as long as we can get past the past and move with unity towards the future.

  7. Gerald, thanks so much for taking the time to listen to the podcast and then to write your thoughts about it. Like Steve Densley, I didn’t notice divisions at the Joseph Smith Papers event. I came in the nick of time to grab one of the remaining seats and sat there surprised at some of the breaking news, not least of all being the images of the seer stone.

    Geoff B.: I recall some snarky online conversations with you perhaps about 4 years ago, but haven’t really done much blog commenting more recently. I apologize for any rudeness I’ve leveled at you in the past.

    Thanks everyone else for the kind words. I hope you keep enjoying the podcast. More episodes to come.

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