Q&A Part 1 with the Editors of The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism & Sacred Texts August 29 2018
Hardcover $35.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-637-6)
Part 1: Q&A with Blair G. Van Dyke (Part 2)
Q: How is the Mormon Studies program at Utah Valley University distinguished from Mormon Studies programs that have emerged at other universities?
A: The Mormon Studies program at UVU is distinguished by the comparative components of the work we do. At UVU we cast a broad net across the academy knowing that there are relevant points of exploration at the intersections of Mormonism and the arts, Mormonism and the sciences, Mormonism and literature, Mormonism and economics, Mormonism and feminism, Mormonism and world religions, and so forth. Additionally, the program is distinguished from other Mormon Studies by the academic events that we host. UVU initiated and maintains the most vibrant tradition of creating and hosting relevant and engaging conferences, symposia, and intra-campus events than any other program in the country. Further, a university-wide initiative is in place to engage the community in the work of the academy. Hence, the events held on campus are focused first and foremost for students but inviting the community to enjoy our work is very important. This facilitates understanding and builds bridges between scholars of Mormon Studies and Mormons and non-Mormons outside academic orbits.
Q: Where did the material for The Expanded Canon come from?
A: The material that constitutes volume one of the UVU Comparative Mormon Studies Series came from an annual Mormon Studies Conference that shares the title of the volume. We drew from the work of some of the scholars that presented at that conference to give their work and ours a broader audience. Generally, the contributors to the volume are not household names or prominent authors that regularly publish in the common commercial publishing houses directed at Mormon readership. As such, this volume introduces that audience to prominent personalities in the field of Mormon Studies. It is not uncommon for scholars in this field of study to look for venues where their work can reach a broader readership. This jointly published volume accomplishes that desire in a thoughtful way.
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 solid scholarship while simultaneously broadening tents of inclusivity. To date, we have invited guests that span spectrums of thought related to Mormonism. 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.
Author Spotlight: David Bokovoy November 15 2017
Can you give us a little background into your education and how you became interested in religious studies/biblical criticism?
I majored in History and minored in Near Eastern studies at BYU. I did my graduate work at Brandeis University, a non-sectarian Jewish institution. I received my MA in Jewish Studies and my PhD in Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. I’m currently the online professor in Bible and Jewish studies at Utah State University.
I developed a passion for the study of Mormon history, doctrine, and theology in my late teenage years. This passion continued to develop during my two-year mission for the LDS Church in Brazil. As hard as it was, I would try to wake up an hour early to read the material I wanted, but that weren’t part of the official Mormon Missionary library—things like Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Discourses of Brigham Young, the Great Apostasy, and Doctrines of Salvation. I thought that if I was willing to sacrifice my sleep to read this unofficial material, I could justify breaking the rules a bit. Other than that, I was a very obedient missionary.
I loved my mission, but I longed for the days when I could devote hour after hour to serious Gospel study. When I returned home, I took an LDS Institute class from a teacher who knew a little bit of Hebrew. I knew right away that I had to learn that language to improve my understanding of the scriptures. That study eventually led to the pursuit of graduate work in the field of historical criticism and the Bible.
How can biblical criticism compliment faith?
I have come to believe that a critical approach to scripture is, in fact, an essential part of a spiritual journey. Historical criticism is an effort to read religious texts in their original historical context, independent from one’s own religious tradition. This allows religious readers to understand the way that people from different time periods and cultures understood divinity. Religious paradigms exist in a perpetual state of flux. So, the way we understand God today is not the same way that people in the ancient world understood God. Learning to see and appreciate their approach can provide a religious reader with new ways of appreciating the divine.
Despite its religious merits, scripture should not be seen as an infallible manual to divinity. Instead, scripture is the textual result of a human effort to reflect the divine. Though inevitably flawed by mortal hands, scripture can inspire meaningful spiritual growth. This is true even when a reader encounters a construct in holy writ that she rejects, since that problematic paradigm has caused the reader to define her own spiritual conviction in opposition to the one held by the author. I believe that scripture is not a manual; it is a springboard. And I believe that historical critical analysis can help lift a reader to higher levels of enlightenment. Like Joseph Smith, I believe that Mormonism is a religion that seeks to embrace all truth, let it come from whatever source it may, including historical criticism.
What are you hoping readers will gain from reading your first volume of Authoring the Old Testament?
The first volume was a highly personal work. I had been told by a couple of my BYU professors not to pursue degrees in biblical studies because we had not ever had an LDS person pass through such a program and retain his or her testimony. I wanted to share with an LDS audience how I make sense of my faith in light of my passion for critical biblical scholarship. I wanted to show that one could be a faithful Mormon and a critical scholar.
Can you give us a sneak peek into some of the themes you’ll be exploring in the next volume?
In volume two of the series, I will introduce LDS readers to a critical reading of the prophetic books of the Bible. I hope to show how a critical historical approach to this material can help religious readers make sense of complicated works like the book of Isaiah.
Part of the Contemporary Studies in Scripture series
“Members of the Church will be introduced to some of the results of over a century of biblical scholarship they’ve likely never heard about.”
— Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
Also check out David Bokovoy's chapter contribution to Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics.