Mormon Studies in the 21st Century

Historian, author, and educator Patrick Mason tells his students that Mormon studies is just a really fun place to play. It gets to the heart of the questions we have in 21st century society.

By studying Mormonism, we can learn more about the world we live in as it touches on the following:

  • Minority/majority relations;
  • How we can organize a democratic society;
  • The role of religion in the public sphere;
  • Gender issues;
  • Marriage; and
  • Family.

Mormonism, Mormon history, Mormon theology usually has something to say about these foundational issues.

Host Russell Stevenson of LDS Perspectives Podcast interviews Patrick Mason about how the way historians do their business has changed over the last 100 years. In the 19th century, history tended to be bipolar with anti-Mormons on one end and church leaders, members, and historians offering their version from a faith-promoting perspective that acknowledged God’s involvement in affairs.

By the late 20th century, historians began to weigh truth claims in a more dispassionate manner. Their goals were less polemic and more directed toward enhancing understanding–wherever that may lead.

Please join us for this interesting discussion.

22 thoughts on “Mormon Studies in the 21st Century

  1. Patrick Mason is a Mormon Liberal, a secularist. Regarding his book, Planted:
    There is subculture in the Church that seeks to excuse itself from discipleship. Mormon Liberals demand that there be alternatives to faith. The five foolish virgins want their due. The book is not about resolving doubt. Rather, it puts forth a bizarre philosophy of embracing it.

    In a gospel understanding, lack of belief is something most have struggled with. Doubts can come to anyone. But Church members are counseled in the scriptures to have faith and doubt not. The scriptures and the prophets have abundant helps for dealing with doubt, and conversion is a process.

    But to put forth the theory that doubts in and of themselves are a healthy way of life is simple apostasy. It is disturbing to me that this book of Mormon Liberal theory-making has bluffed its way into a Deseret Book label. As noted by three other reviewers on, it does not offer solutions, it merely proffers criticisms and reasons to doubt. It is a philosophy that will not assist Church members, but dead-end them.

    It is alarming to me how Mormon Liberal philosophy is becoming more slick and sophisticated. It will mingle itself with talk of Christ—as in this book—and gain a following even among some of the faithful. “The philosophies of men mingled with scripture.” The author writes, “Faith promoting history hasn’t served the Church very well.” Here is where the book’s sheep’s clothing comes off. With the wave of an academic’s hand, we are to abandon things that promote faith. We should begin teaching our Primary kids about seer stones and the Adam-God theory, because, hey, when they get older and experience doubts they might feel like their church was hiding something all along and feel betrayed. Try to imagine the announcement in Sunday Gospel Doctrine class: “Apologies everyone. We know you have real problems and pain in your lives and that the gospel has real answers, but this week we will be focusing on the postulate put forth in Dan Vogel’s book that Joseph Smith was a pious fraud. Faith-promoting things are discouraged today.”

    Mason’s insanity of thought can best be seen in his own wordplay: “Doubt is thus less a problem in need of a solution than a common part of the mortal experience. . . For some people, the best and perhaps only way that they can describe their relationship to spiritual things is through the language of sincere doubt.” Try to find this strange philosophy in the scriptures or find it supported there. Apostle Thomas was admonished, not patronized with fad philosophies.

    The book’s title says “Belief,” but the book—in its greatest irony—is about non-belief, and adopting it as a belief system. It is the new false doctrine of Doubt.

    In earlier days, I found no difficulty being fed milk before meat. I cherished our faith-promoting history, and I unabashedly still do. When I later came across a stack of primary source documents about the Adam-God theory, I thought ‘So what?’ (I still think it’s so-what.) I was able to handle it—and a slew of other spicy issues—because I had a foundation of faith built in part from hearing and embracing the good things. Mason wants us to abandon the faith-promoting / faith-building endeavor and instead begin our spiritual quest by “doing our homework” on our leaders’ bowel habits. Instead of feasting on the body of Christ, we would focus on it’s hangnails. No wonder Mormon Liberal entities like the Mormon History Association continue to promote and honor apostates like Quinn and Vogel. In the priestcraft of the Mormon Liberal movement, warts-and-all LDS history is bannered, but their sophistry takes it further, and their output is more truthfully ‘warts-only’ history, where the divine and miraculous are distant, vague, diminutive footnotes. Belief in the principle of obedience is forever tentative, because it must agree with the Liberal intellect. Talk of latter-day prophets and Christ is there only to legitimize — as in Mason’s Deseret-published book. From earliest Eugene England / Dialogue / Sunstone days, this has been the essence Mormon Liberaldom.

    Attend Sunstone or MHA symposia, and try to breath. You might be overcome by the smell of ego and the snobbery of the Best and the Brightest. The rest of us are shallow, tra-la-la pollyanna, naïve, ignorant, haven’t done our homework. Yes, we who cherish the divine and faith-promoting just don’t get it.

    Truthfully, sometimes challenges in our LDS history will become apparent. But faithful Church scholars can always provide Faithful Perspective. Faithful perspective is something Mormon Liberal ‘intellectuals’ have always refused to provide or even acknowledge. They prefer doubt. Their effusive, word-soaked narratives are intellectualized unbelief — which they call a “more mature discipleship.”

    It is a deception to say that the only fallback is Doubt, yet that is the thesis of ‘Planted.’

    This book is a product of the polluted Neal A. Maxwell Institute. In 2012, a cluster of Mormon Liberals at BYU hijacked the Institute, summarily jettisoned its faithful, founding scholars, dumped its founding mission of apologetics, and re-wrote its mission statement in order to pander to the secular. It represents a brand-new Mormon Liberal tactical endeavor — take over a faithful LDS institution, gut it, fire its officers, and give it a wholly changed self-serving direction. The stench of secularism—warned of by Neal A. Maxwell himself—wafts the breathing air at BYU.

  2. I basically agree with Glen’s take. I’ll also add my own little tidbit that comes from many years of reading progressive nonsense: “gender issues” is really just code for “let’s jettison millions of years of human biology [edited].

  3. The man is not apart from his message. The book is his philosophy, and is germane to any showcasing of him. You might also mention his latest endeavor — his partnership with John Dehlin in a joint venture. Benign?

  4. Great podcast discussion. Mason reviews the professionalization of Mormon history over the last hundred years, including the fine work now being done by the Church Historical Department, as well as the broadening of current Mormon Studies work to include a variety of other disciplines.

    Such scholarship often requires or invites collaboration with non-LDS scholars or contributors, such as Mason’s recent online discussions with John Dehlin. This is similar to earlier collaborative efforts, such as Stephen Robinson (LDS) and Craig Blomberg (Evangelical) co-authoring How Wide the Divide? and various projects by Robert Millet, former Dean of Religious Education at BYU. That sort of “reaching across the aisle” is, like the emergence of academic Mormon Studies programs, a big step forward for the Church and for LDS scholars.

  5. The myth is that the secularization of LDS history is either necessary or has any value. Our current Faithful scholars — such as the J.S. Papers group — have done intelligent, quality scholarship without having to secularize it. What is the value of ‘bringing other disciplines’ into Mormon studies? The fact is, our history is not secular, and cannot be explained that way. It is sacred history, and responsible, faithful Latter-day Saint scholars have proved that it can be treated that way and credibility. Another myth perpetrated by Mormon Liberals is that Faithful History is not credible, nor can it ever be. That is maybe the most telling, stunning aspect of Mormon Liberal culture, and betrays its priestcraft. To pigeonhole Faithful Perspective as being same as apologetics or polemics is nonsense, but that is the song of the Liberals. For Laura Hales to showcase Mason puts her in their camp.

  6. Now, now Glen. I agree with your take on secular and liberal Mormons, but I am going to defend my friend Laura Hales, who is a really nice person in addition to be a very faithful latter-day Saint. There is a difference between interviewing somebody and “showcasing” somebody. Different perspectives are welcome. Now having said that, I can understand your very valid concerns about the secularization of LDS history. Like you, I am very concerned about the recent direction taken by the Maxwell Institute, and I think poor Elder Maxwell is rolling in his grave right now. Your comments are a nice warning for people regarding this issue. Let’s leave it at that.

  7. Hi,

    Glen obviously disagrees with Patrick Mason and as near as I can tell, is willing to label anything coming from him as unacceptable.

    It is so easy to be critical of other people, to question their motives and objectives, rather than looking at the good that the person is doing.

    Joseph Smith encountered critics too. On May 12, 1844, Thomas Bullock recorded the Prophet saying: “I never told you I was perfect—but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught—must I then be thrown away as a thing of nought?”

    I’ve listened to the podcast and find much good there.

    Brian Hales

  8. Lol, thanks Jeff. Yah, I feel certain that Laura is really good people; I have always felt that way. And I have real regard for your loyalty to good friends.
    Disagree though, with your slightly patronizing ripost, in that, it is clear that her presenting this article at all is of course a showcasing. What else is it? A spotlight is a spotlight. Discipleship requires something of us.
    God bless,

  9. I think Brian might keep in mind that imperfect Joseph was not endeavoring to publish subtle philosophies that suggest doubt as a belief system, the partnering with known apostates (Dehlin), and the marriage of Mormonism with Secularism. Really surprised at his post. He intimates that I am unfair and judgmental in dismissing Mason. Is it unwise to ‘consider the source’ when choosing an oracle? I think it is essential. Of course there is good in Patrick Mason! Nevertheless, I do not trust his thinking. And I base that on good information published by he, himself. There is, I think, no unfairness in that.

  10. Glen,

    Can’t wait to read what you think about next week’s episode after seeing your reaction to Patrick’s podcast. I’m sure you will share your insights. : )



  11. Sorry to be such a dang blowhard. Lol. I have such high regard for you and Brian. I promise to be quiet after next podcast!

  12. Glen, I tend to side with Geoff here. I think more undecideds and middle-of-the-roaders would be more likely to consider the points you are trying to get across if you expressed them in more diplomatic terms.

    I would have to concur that scholarly association or dialogue between LDS and Mr. J. D. is problematic compared to the same between LDS and sincere adherents of other faiths. JD hid his active disbelief for so long while pretending to “keep people in the church”, when he was in fact confirming people in their doubts via his podcasts, …. and that speaks for itself.

    Several of the apostles have given talks about, or mentioned in their talks, how to have online discussions defending the church. Elders Ballard, Bednar, and maybe Elder Oaks, come to mind. I have not always been as diplomatic or as kind as they have asked us to be. If I don’t post links to those talks first, please feel free to look them up and post links here.

    I have to disagree with you on one point. I think there is a place for secular history of the church as long as it is respectful. Richard Bushman made this point, I think, in the intro to, or in a blurb about, one of his books. Non-believers, to whom we wish to teach our history (or to whom we wish to untangle the misrepresentations made by critics of the church/antis), are extremely uncomfortable reading something like “Joseph Smith received a revelation that…”

    The way to not turn away non-believers from reading on would be for it to be written in a dispassionate non-partisan manner: “Joseph Smith claimed to have received a revelation that…” But the difference is entirely, or strictly, who the intended/expected audience is. Going from my memory, Bushman clearly stated a) what he personally believed, b) who his intended audience was, c) why he was writing that way for his intended audience.

    So any non-believer is going to have a better chance of making his way through Rough Stone Rolling because of the manner/”voice” that Bushman used, and therefore such reader will more likely know the “untangled” (faithful) version of such things as the “money digger” accusation.

    Of course, the use of “claimed” is inappropriate for Sunday School classes, missionary materials, and likely for BYU religion classes too. But that word, and others like it, the whole scholarly/secular tone, can get us access to more ears and eyeballs in scholarly and academic circles outside of the church.

  13. Hello Book! Always so nice to see your words. Yah, we part with our methods and our opinions, you and I. I’ve already out-worded my welcome here for now though — so as Geoff suggested to me, I should leave it at that. Lol.
    Thanks again, cheers, and God bless,

  14. ‪We don’t convert secular scholars by becoming like them. We do it by having Faithful Latter-day Saint scholars testify that Joseph saw God and angels. ‬

    ‪There is no point in drinking from a tainted fountain, hoping that that will purify the fountain, or that it will help us understand impurity. When I see good, delightful saints swim with Mormon Liberals thinking that they can gain enlightenment, I just wince. It is nuts. ‬

  15. Although many of you didn’t appreciate what Glen said, I did. I appreciated knowing something about who the sources of the information in the podcast might be so that I know to be careful. I love the LDS Perspectives Podcast and will continue listening to it; however, I had trusted that I could recommend the podcast without reservations and I have learned now that I need a little careful. I have had direct experience with those that take a secular approach to Mormonism and how they can undermine faith. I will continue to listen to that awesome podcast but probably will be more careful about recommending it.

  16. Colee,

    Patrick was talking about Mormon studies in a secular setting not in religious settings. Knowing Patrick, I believe his approach in religious settings would likely be different.

    One of the goals of LDS Perspectives is to provide different perspectives about LDS Church history, doctrine, and culture but always from a faithful perspective. I believe this podcast did just that.

    Last November we presented two opposing views of the purpose of the seer stones in the translation process, which came from two different, faithful LDS scholars.

    It is healthy to entertain different opinions within our church.

    I would hope that you would always feel that LDS Perspectives is a “safe” place to explore.

    Laura Hales

  17. ‪”We don’t convert secular scholars by becoming like them.”

    True, but is that the issue? I don’t think so. At least not yet.

    I think that if we eventually want to convert (or at least teach/preach to) secular scholars, we have to at least speak their language, and deliver the message in terms that they understand, and in terms that will allow them to consider our points. At this point, it’s not that LDS academics or scholars are trying to _convince_ them by use of logic and powers of reasoning, the LDS academics and scholars are just trying to get our side of the story _understood_ by academic outsiders and those outsiders who are turning to secular academics for guidance.

    I personally think we won’t have any in-roads with secular scholars. But they influence a much greater population. Therefore we must have secular rejoinders to their criticisms in order to make in-roads with their audience/followers.

    Academic language and the couching phrases (“claimed to..”) open a door to the secular mind. Testimony-speak right off the bat is not always called for.

    Compare Aaron’s “Repent or die!” (Alma 21:6) approach to non-believers versus Ammon’s use of schmoozing in his initial approach to Lamoni. And, when Ammon had opportunity to get to the gospel lesson, he connected with terms that Lamoni was already familiar with, such as “Great Spirit”, which while technically incorrect, was still close enough to get the ball rolling.

    I haven’t read Mason’s works. So I’m avoiding the question of whether he’s worth listening to. So whether your broad brush applies to him, I don’t know.

    But I am saying that you are painting with too broad a brush. There is a place for a secular history of the church to untangle the historical lies of critics , and a place for secular rejoinders to scholarly critics.

    Your broad brush would seem to apply to guys like Jeff Lindsay and Richard Bushman, and even M-star’s Meg Stout. And that’s not right. They are faithful believers who have often written in scholarly/academic manners to untangle some complicated history, and come up with logical and faithful rejoinders to the church’s critics.

    Meg was the first one to use historical research to untangle Nauvoo polygamy for me, the whole “Joseph’s polygamy versus Brigham’s polygamy.” To me, Meg’s picture, how she connected the dots, explained pretty much all of it, while maintaining total faith in the restoration, the doctrine, and keeping both JS and BY as official and inspired prophets of God.

    Bushman untangled the “money digger” thing about Joseph.

  18. “… if we eventually want to convert (or at least teach/preach to) secular scholars, we have to at least speak their language.”

    No, we don’t. It’s the power of testimony. A simple statement of truth. Brigham Young, the Lion of the Lord, was converted by “a man without eloquence.”

    I’m signing out of this discussion. I’m done with this.

  19. “No, we don’t. It’s the power of testimony. A simple statement of truth. ”

    _Eventually_, yes, conversion does get around to that. And while testimony is the most powerful tool, it is not the _only_ tool, and… not necessarily the _first_ tool to be used in comminicating with outsiders or anyone who has questions.

    In fact, Elder Ballard -specifically- denied that testimony was the only tool to respond to challenging questions posed to CES teachers.
    Here’s the money quote:
    Quote from the article:
    Elder Ballard said. “Gone are the days when a student asked an honest question and a teacher responded, ‘Don’t worry about it!’ Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue. Gone are the days when students were protected from people who attacked the Church.”

    With that talk, life just got harder for anyone wanting to teach or share the gospel.

    That talk gave legitimacy to what many people had already been doing in books and online, such as Dan Peterson, the Hales, Bushman, Jeff Lindsay, Meg Stout, et. al.

  20. Hi folks,

    Sorry I didn’t contribute to this discussion. I’m in isolation with spreadsheets and inkstains, trying to make sure that when people look up a name in the index to the Mar 17 update to Reluctant Polygamist that it actually points them to the correct page.

    Just yesterday in Church there was a discussion that slightly touched on the kind of useful scholarship Laura has brought to me via these podcasts. It was Ward Conference, and a member of the Stake Presidency was teaching about the organization of the Church on April 6. The discussion wound around to why the organization occurred on April 6. So I chimed in with a perspective that it isn’t entirely clear that April 6 is literally the birthday of Jesus Christ.

    Now, it isn’t something that I care about much, one way or the other. From other sources, I had learned that March 25 has been a day historically observed as connected with Christ and with calendar shifts it now lands on April 6. This bit of arcana, seen in light of Joseph’s affinity for symbolic days we don’t know much about (such as his original attempt to force his martyrdom to June 24, a day traditionally seen by Christianity as a day of martyrdom) suggest that the April 6 date was something Joseph thought was right independent of revelation.

    For those of you who listened to that earlier podcast, an argument can be made that late December is a proper date for Christ’s birth.

    Anyway, it was not whether or not there is disagreement, it was the manner in which some attempted to prove they were right. Rather than consider that there are valid scholarly positions, they cited D&C 20 and a recent talk by Elder Bednar. That was it. This was their proof.

    This cultural habit we have of believing a godly person merely because they are a godly person, without any reference to evidence, is why we as a people are so ripe for ridicule.

    Testimony is a fabulous evidence. But without agreement with supporting facts, it becomes dogma. (Ah, this is what I get for talking out loud while posting/commenting – my husband adds “My karma ran over your dogma…”)

    Let us avoid dogma. Let us avoid faithless argument. Let us remember that we are all children of an omniscient God, so both dogma and faithless argument will be rather embarrassing in the final judgement we had faith in prior to birth. When every knee bends and every tongue confesses, I’d prefer for my faith and my facts to be consistent, without large holes where uninformed belief in official pronouncements are minimized.

    I’m all for informed belief. And when the facts are confusing, my track record is to keep with the faith (because God told me to stay, gotta obey orders from Him). Now that I’m old and have done the mind work required, I no longer find the facts confusing. At all.

    This is why I am so eager for folks to read what I have written and point out where I am provably wrong. Because unless they do some mind work of their own, they will never appreciate that what I’ve put forward is not merely another opinion that can be lampooned by ridicule and ten choruses of “meat commerce.” Because they are used to a dogmatic belief on the part of Church members, they either presume that I must be dogmatic (those currently doubting their former faith) or they presume that considering my position will destroy their faith (those who have not based faith on fact and are comfortable with dogma).

    Anyway, I appreciate Laura’s bringing the LDS Perspectives podcasts to us here at M*. Dogma be damned. I want a fulness of light, which is always more glorious than uninformed belief.

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