Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Contemporary Mormonism : Latter-day Saints in modern America

The Intellectual Activities Of Recent Years
Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics

With limited opportunity to publish through the Church, scholars have found other outlets. One locus is Signature Books, a Salt Lake City publishing house inspired by the cancellation of the sixteen-volume series. Founded by George D. Smith, a wealthy Mormon, Signature expanded the scope of Mormon history by supporting unfettered historical inquiry. Encompassing a wide range of history, fiction, and personal essays, Signature has released a title a month for more than twenty years, or 4,000 pages a year. The staff aims to enhance the "opportunities for expression by scholars and writers within the local community." Smith claims to publish "responsible historical research," even as some conservatives call Signature an "anti-Mormon press."

Signature sees itself as partly in competition with Deseret Book, the long-standing, Church-owned publishing house. Deseret Book publishes inspiring, faith-promoting works for popular and semi-popular audiences, but in recent years it has expanded into more academic realms. In 1989, Deseret Book began publication of The Papers of Joseph Smith, an ambitious series that sought to reproduce all of the Prophet's writings and dictations with scholarly annotations. With First Presidency approval, the project later expanded to include some thirty-six researchers and staff. When completed, the Papers staff is expected to produce about twentyfour volumes "stuffed with more than 5,000 documents related to Smith, including journals, diaries, correspondence, discourses, written histories and legal cases."

Deseret Book also co-publishes with FARMS, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, a group devoted to defending the faith and authenticating the Book of Mormon. FARMS was founded in 1979 by John Welch and John Sorenson to coordinate the publication of Book of Mormon research. FARMS employs some full-time research scholars and has published the work of more than one hundred BYU faculty members. Books, articles, and reprints are churned out, making the research widely available. The founding motto "By study, and also by faith," comes from LDS scripture, showing the preferred stance for the LDS scholar. Some Mormons consider FARMS too apologetic, but the depth of the research in support of the Book of Mormon has made its work popular.

Despite its good intentions, FARMS' was too successful in broadcasting its message and in raising funds. To assure Church control, an effort began to situate it under the BYU administration, and in 1995, Brigham Young University and FARMS formalized their relationship. President Gordon B. Hinckley observed that FARMS "represents the efforts of sincere and dedicated scholars. It has grown to provide strong support and defense of the Church on a professional basis." In 2001, FARMS was absorbed under a new research entity, ISPART, the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts, engaged in such ecumenical projects as working with Islamic and Catholic scholars to publish ancient documents.

The appetite for intellectual activity extends to a series of independent or semi-independent intellectual journals that boast small but loyal followings. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, a quarterly founded by Eugene England and G. Wesley Johnson, began publication in 1966 to provide an outlet for investigations of Mormon culture. Dialogue's appearance reinvigorated BYU Studies, Brigham Young University's flagship journal, founded in 1959. BYU Studies, a "multidisciplinary" academic journal, is dedicated to the correlation of "revealed and discovered truth" and to the belief that the "spiritual and intellectual can be complementary and fundamentally harmonious avenues of knowledge." The editors believe that "faith and reason, revelation and scholarly learning, obedience and creativity are compatible." The Journal of Mormon History, begun by the Mormon History Association in 1974, followed by the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal in 1980, organized by Community of Christ scholars, foster research in all aspects of Mormon history. The Mormon History Association's annual Tanner Lecture, given by a non- LDS professional historian with strong credentials, infuses the field with new energy.

Sunstone, founded in 1975, provides an arena of lively discussion as well as a magazine of features and news. Sunstone sponsors annual forums to discuss Mormon thought and experience, and "the rich spiritual, intellectual, social and artistic qualities of Mormon history and contemporary life." Symposia are held in several cities. As the magazine celebrated its quarter century of existence, the editor noted that its "expansive, chaotic ventures have been tempered by pragmatic, stone hard realities. Its Mormon trek has been a wild, twisting, high-speed quest that kept its company wondering and a little fearful about what was next." Sunstone continues to celebrate and disseminate Mormon experience, scholarship, and art. Exponent II, a "modest but sincere newspaper," an unofficial voice of LDS women, began in 1975. Inspired by the rediscovery of the Woman's Exponent, an independent Salt Lake publication running from 1872-1914, the quarterly, published in Boston, discusses women's issues. The first issue stated, "Exponent II, poised on the dual platforms of Mormonism and Feminism, has two aims: to strengthen the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to encourage and develop the talents of Mormon women. That these aims are consistent we intend to show by our pages and our lives." This feminist newspaper, like a long letter from a dear friend, encourages submissions from readers and publishes theme issues. Some original workers are still at it.

The activity in LDS-related journals, like the large presses, can be seen as seesaw efforts between the liberal and conservative wings of Mormondom. The role of belief in historical inquiry, the interpretation of Scripture, the nature of God, the place of women and blacks, and so on, are debated vigorously.