Q&A Part 2 with the Editors of The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism & Sacred Texts September 11 2018
Hardcover $35.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-637-6)
Part 2: Q&A with Brian D. Birch (Part 1)
Q: When and how did the Mormon Studies program at UVU launch?
A: The UVU Mormon Studies Program began in 2000 with the arrival of Eugene England. Gene received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to explore how Mormon Studies could succeed at a state university. A year-long seminar resulted that included a stellar lineup of consultants and guest scholars. From that point forward, the Religious Studies Program has developed multiple courses complemented by our annual Mormon Studies Conference and Eugene England Lecture—to honor Gene’s tragic and untimely passing in 2001. The program also hosts and facilitates events for independent organizations and publications including the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, the Dialogue Foundation, the Interpreter Foundation, Mormon Scholars in the Humanities, Association for Mormon Letters, and others.
Q: How is the UVU Mormon Studies program distinguished from Mormon Studies programs that have emerged at other campuses?
A: Mormon Studies at UVU is distinguished by the explicitly comparative focus of our work. Given the strengths of our faculty, we have emphasized courses and programming that addresses engagement and dialogue across cultures, faith traditions, and theological perspectives. Permanent course offerings include Mormon Cultural Studies, Mormon Theology and the Christian Tradition, Mormon Anthropology, and Mormon Literature. Our strengths lie in areas other than Mormon history, which is well represented at other institutions—and appropriately so. Given the nature of our institution, our events are focused first and foremost on student learning, but all our events are free and open to the public and we welcome conversation between scholars and nonprofessionals.
Q: How long has the annual UVU Mormon Studies Conference been held, and what have been some of the topics of past conferences?
A: As mentioned above, the Mormon Studies Conference was first convened by Eugene England in 2000, and to date we have convened a total of nineteen conferences. Topics have ranged across a variety of issues including “Islam and Mormonism,” “Mormonism in the Public Mind,” “Mormonism and the Art of Boundary Maintenance,” “Mormonism and the Internet,” etc. We have been fortunate to host superb scholars and to bring them into conversation with each other and the broader public.
Q: Where did the material for the first volume, The Expanded Canon, come from?
A: The material in The Expanded Canon emerged came from our 2013 Mormon Studies Conference that shares the title of the volume. We drew from the work of conference presenters and added select essays to round out the collection. The volume is expressive of our broader approach to bring diverse scholars into conversation and to show a variety of perspectives and methodologies.
Q: What are a few key points about this volume that would be of interest to readers?
A: Few things are more central to Mormon thought than the way the tradition approaches scripture. And many of their most closely held beliefs fly in the face of general Christianity’s conception of scriptural texts. An open or expanded canon of scripture is one example. Grant Underwood explores Joseph Smith’s revelatory capacities and illustrates that Smith consistently edited his revelations and felt that his revisions were done under the same Spirit by which the initial revelation was received. Hence, the revisions may be situated in the canon with the same gravitas that the original text enjoyed. Claudia Bushman directly addresses the lack of female voices in Mormon scripture. She recommends several key documents crafted by women in the spirit of revelation. Ultimately, she suggests several candidates for inclusion. As the Mormon canon expands it should include female voices. From a non-Mormon perspective, Ann Taves does not embrace a historical explanation of the Book of Mormon or the gold plates. However, she does not deny Joseph Smith as a religious genius and compelling creator of a dynamic mythos. In her chapter she uses Mormon scripture to suggest a way that the golden plates exist, are not historical, but still maintain divine connectivity. David Holland examines the boundaries and intricacies of the Mormon canon. Historically, what are the patterns and intricacies of the expanding canon and what is the inherent logic behind the related processes? Additionally, authors treat the status of the Pearl of Great Price, the historical milieu of the publication of the Book of Mormon, and the place of The Family: A Proclamation to the World. These are just a few of the important issues addressed in this volume.
Q: What is your thought process behind curating these volumes in terms of representation from both LDS and non-LDS scholars, gender, race, academic disciplines, etc?
A: Mormon Studies programing at UVU has always been centered on strong scholarship while also extending our reach to marginalized voices. To date, we have invited guests that span a broad spectrum of Mormon thought and practice. From Orthodox Judaism to Secular Humanists; from LGBTQ to opponents to same-sex marriage; from Feminists to staunch advocates of male hierarchies, all have had a voice in the UVU Mormon Studies Program. Each course, conference, and publication treating these dynamic dialogues in Mormonism are conducted in civility and the scholarly anchors of the academy. Given our disciplinary grounding, our work has expanded the conversation and opened a wide variety of ongoing cooperation between schools of thought that intersect with Mormon thought.
Q: What can readers expect to see coming from the UVU Comparative Mormon Studies series?
A: Our 2019 conference will be centered on the experience of women in and around the Mormon traditions. We have witnessed tremendous scholarship of late in this area and are anxious to assemble key authors and advocates. Other areas we plan to explore include comparative studies in Mormonism and Asian religions, theological approaches to religious diversity, and questions of Mormon identity.
Upcoming events for The Expanded Canon:
Q&A with Voices for Equality Editors June 23 2015
Edited by Gordon Shepherd, Lavina Fielding Anderson, and Gary Shepherd
Approx. 425 pages
Paperback $32.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-758-8)
Pre-order your copy here.
Q: What led the three of you to this project? How did it come together with so many authors?
Gary Shepherd: Lavina, of course, is a long-time Mormon feminist who has been at the forefront in challenging the LDS Church to re-examine traditional assumptions about a variety of issues and to become a more open, flexible, and tolerant organization. Gordon and Gary have written about processes of change in Mormonism and the LDS Church for over 30 years, and specifically predicted in their first co-authored book, A Kingdom Transformed (University of Utah Press, 1984), that women’s status would become a major issue in the church in the decades to come. When OW first began to stir publicity for its cause in March of 2013, Gordon and Gary saw an opportunity for first hand sociological observation of what promised to be a potent new expression of LDS women’s movement towards status equality with men. The three of us were well- acquainted from many years of overlapping scholarly involvements and agreed that a book that drew from a wide spectrum of Mormon scholars and activists on this subject could be an important stimulus for a larger, constructive discussion within LDS circles on the prospects for change. Lavina was especially well-connected with key people involved in both OW and Mormon feminism generally, and we were able to successfully tap into her network for authors who could address the various issues we thought were important.
Q: Who are the intended audiences for this book? What do you hope each get out of it?
Gary Shepherd: We hope the book will particularly have wide enough appeal to attract a general, lay LDS readership. Many LDS members know only what they read and see in media sources about Mormon feminist goals and their rationale, or what they hear in church from both leaders and ordinary gossip. At the same time, Mormon women tend to be uncommonly well-educated, especially younger generations, and their personal experience in contemporary secular society—in school, careers, organizations, and every other arena of social life—fosters increasingly taken-for-granted assumptions about their equality with men. When these assumptions are not institutionally applied within the LDS religious realm, it must cause some degree of dissonance and at least private musing about the causes, consequences, and possible resolutions of this significant discrepancy. So this is the first audience we hope will be reached, at least enough to provide an impetus for further personal reflection and conversation with family, friends, and colleagues.
Otherwise, there is enough of a scholarly approach taken in many chapters of the book to certainly appeal to Mormon intellectuals, academics, and scholars. For those among these categories who are themselves committed in various ways to advance gender equality in the Church, we think this book will help crystallize views and perhaps serve as a catalyst for more effective efforts to bring about change through writing, speaking, discussion, and assignment of the book as a text in Mormon studies courses.
Q: This book appears at a time when social media and podcasting have soared in popularity as perhaps the primary ways, especially among young people, to communicate about people, events, and ideas. How does an academic book like this fit into that crowd? Can it say and do things that these other forms of communication cannot?
Gary Shepherd: Yes, certainly. As you note, we have brought together a relative large and diverse set of authors—some activists, some scholars—in one place—this book—and have solicited and organized their diverse, expert, well-reviewed, written contributions around a set of pre-planned, coherent topical subjects. We don’t think you can easily get this kind of all-in-one-place coherent, quality education from popular social media sources.
Q: The title of your book, Voices for Equality: Ordain Women and Resurgent Mormon Feminism implies that in Ordain Women there is both an intimate connection but also possibly a significant divergence from prior iterations of Mormon feminism. Is this the case? And if so, how?
Gary Shepherd: Ordain Women is not exclusively a younger generation movement, but certainly many of the leaders are of a younger generation (e.g, 20-40 or so years of age), and many of the women (and men) who have posted OW Profiles on-line are also younger. These are the generations mentioned above who take-for-granted gender equality in a modern, secular world and yet experience its absence in the realm— religious and spiritual—that for many is most important to them. They are action oriented, more prone to speak directly to power, and are genuinely committed to bringing about the gender equality they see lacking in their church within their own lifetime. At the same time, OW would not even exist without the conceptual framework and organizational foundations established by second wave Mormon feminists in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s and the steps they took to challenge established patriarchal traditions through their persistent and persuasive writings and personal witness. And, in fact, several of the founding and continuing leaders of OW are older Mormon feminists who have never stopped working for change and are grateful to see that their earlier contributions are now being incorporated into this new, energetic, and concrete activist expression of hope for reform. This intimate connection you speak of between prior expressions of Mormon feminism and current OW activists is, in fact, one of the points strongly made in several chapters of Voices.
Q: In the preface to the book, Lavina writes that she considers this volume to be the third literary voice in an intensifying conversation about women in the LDS church, along with Sheri Dew's Women and Priesthood, and Neylan McBaine's Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact. Tell us more about this dynamic and how Voices for Equality makes its contribution.
Gary Shepherd: Simply that Dew’s position—although perhaps had it been given voice several decades ago would likely have been perceived as quite liberal for simply discussing issues of equality—currently occupies the most conservative end of the contemporary continuum. McBaine’s book occupies middle ground, advocating changes that give women more recognition and participation opportunities in worship and ecclesiastical affairs but not fundamentally moving LDS women into the same sphere of equality within the Church that they claim as their intrinsic right in the larger world. It is movement into this ultimate sphere that of course OW advocates. Our book, represented by a diverse set of authors, is not unanimous in its endorsement of OW strategies and goals or single-minded in its preoccupation with OW per se. But anyone who reads our book in its entirety with an open mind should at least be forced to re-examine prior assumptions and begin thinking more clearly and systematically about the values and changes that Mormon feminists are so earnestly and persuasively advocating.
Q: There are a variety of methodological approaches you and the various authors have taken in documenting and narrating the phenomenon that has been Ordain Women within the wider context of Mormon feminism. Tell us a little about these various approaches and how they contribute to our understanding of these events, people, and ideas.
Gary Shepherd: No issue of broad social scope can adequately be comprehended by a single method or point of view. There is always a historical, social, and cultural context within which every current concern is embedded. So we have solicited historians to identify and narrate the complex of interrelated events that generated both original Mormon feminism and subsequently OW. We have solicited sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists to explore both past and present patterns of social interaction and cultural meaning that give shape and substance to Mormon feminism and OW and reveal the nature of conflict between these movements and the established institutional authority and traditions of the LDS church. Theologians have helped us to understand the rationale behind authoritative proclamations of belief, doctrine, and religious practice and how, within these proclamations, there is ground for change and reinterpretation. And, importantly, individuals who have made history by engaging with others in thought, hopeful prayer, organizational participation, and direct action are drawn upon to provide accounts of their own lived experience.
Q: How do you see Voices for Equality positioned within the wider universe of Mormon feminism and questions revolving around Mormon women? What might you hope to see in the future as far as scholarship on these subjects is concerned?
Gary Shepherd: Most of all we hope that Voices will prove to be a stimulus for both continued and more informed conversations among lay members and church leaders, as well as a stimulus for ongoing scholarly research building on cues and directions suggested by virtually all of the chapters in this book. The newest expression of Mormon feminism through the very public actions of OW is ripe for such further research and investigation as news stories in the national media, Mormon feminism in general, and OW in particular have become a big deal, with major articles regularly appearing in such outlets as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post and coverage by all the major TV networks. This coverage is deemed newsworthy because the LDS Church, given its significant international expansion and growing political and even economic influence, is deemed newsworthy. What journalists report on as current news becomes a roadmap for subsequent in-depth studies by scholars of the fresh issues that are uncovered. Perhaps our book will get some media coverage in this regard, or at least significant reviews, and thus bring suggested directions for new or supplementary research to the attention of a larger audience of scholars beyond regular MHA, Dialogue, and Sunstone contributors.