J. Spencer Fluhman, Assistant Professor of History at Brigham Young University, has been named editor of the Mormon Studies Review. Fluhman earned a PhD in history from the University of Wisconsin—Madison and is the author of A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (University of North Carolina Press, 2012). In this post, Professor Fluhman responds to seven questions about his editorship. Questions and comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment on the Maxwell Institute’s Facebook wall.
1. How did you come to be involved in Mormon studies?
I studied American religious history in graduate school and could never quite break free of my questions about the Mormon past. My book, A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth Century America, relates LDS history to some pressing questions within academic religious studies. As a result, I think of myself as working at the intersection of Mormon history and religious studies … not a bad place from which to engage Mormon studies, I think.
2. There has been a lot of discussion in print, at conferences, online and elsewhere about what constitutes Mormon studies. How do you conceive of Mormon studies?
I think the field is all over the map right now, which is both good and bad, I suppose. The field’s energy is unquestionably good, but I suspect its methodological chaos will force some reconsideration at some point. I’ll take energy over coherence at this point, but we’ve got hard questions to answer about epistemology, audience, method, and peer review.
3. Thus far, history has been the dominant field for the production of studies about Mormonism. As a historian yourself, you bring your own experience in that area to the task of editor. How do you plan to highlight and promote discussion of other disciplines within the Review?
There is enough good work being done across the academy that we’d be crazy not to engage it in the Review. I’ve asked historians to be on the editorial advisory board, to be sure, but I’ve also asked non-historians to help us where I’m less savvy. We have specialists in literature, folklore, philosophy, and theology on the board, so we’re on our way to a significant cross-section of the academy. We’ll be reaching out to other fields, too, for reviews. We want the word out: If you consider yourself a scholar connected to Mormon studies, in any way, please send us reviews of books in your field of specialization! [Note: Information on where to send reviews is forthcoming.]
4. What will set the MSR apart from other Mormon-themed publications?
Well, we’re modeling the Review in part on Reviews in American History. We’re going to chronicle and assess the field, in other words, not contribute to it in terms of original scholarship. It will be a place where scholars and other interested readers can quickly, conveniently find great minds engaging one another about the current and future state of several fields. The Maxwell Institute has other publications focused on ancient studies, so the Review will seek to complement those by leaning towards modern Mormon studies. We won’t leave the ancient world behind, but we are broadening the Review so as to work in tandem with the Institute’s other offerings.
5. The MSR’s predecessor had an energetic tradition of apologetics. Do you plan to incorporate apologetic scholarship in any form in the journal?
We’re broadening the Review’s scope, yes, but, no, we don’t intend to leave apologetics entirely behind. As one of a diverse set of academic conversations about Mormonism, apologetics will always have a place in the Review. I see us as expanding on the Review’s past in an effort to serve a broader academic readership. Doing this helps us keep pace with where Mormon studies is headed. I suppose we’re simultaneously looking back and forward.
6. Some people feel there is a chasm between academic and popular literature within Mormonism. With that in mind, who are your perceived audiences for the new MSR?
I think anyone interested in the academic study of Mormonism will want to be a part of the Review community. In the end, we’ll have something for everyone. We are going to cast a broad net and I hope that Latter-day Saints and non-Mormons alike will find the Review an important resource for understanding the academic study of Mormonism.
7. How has your work as a professor at BYU teaching classes to predominantly LDS students prepared you, or perhaps made this editorship more challenging?
I’ve written for Mormons and non-Saints. My scholarly community includes all sorts of scholars and learners. I’ve always instinctively sought a wide spectrum of minds to associate with, so the Review as we are conceiving of it suits my personal philosophy, I suppose. I’ve always been sensitive to LDS readers—I probably couldn’t change that if I tried—but I’ve been engaging with non-Mormons for so long that it’s just the way I do my academic business.