2013 Annual Report

04.02.2014 | M. Gerald Bradford

The primary goal of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship in 2013—a pivotal year in our history—was to fully align our work with the culture, expectations, and aspirations of Brigham Young University and the broader academy. To that end, we were anxiously engaged in raising the academic bar in terms of the quality and quantity of work our research fellows and associates produce. Additionally, we reexamined and refined our publishing program to better meet the needs of scholars and other interested readers.

With renewed focus on the scriptures and related religious texts and traditions, we endeavored to contribute important scholarship in the broad field of religious studies and the emerging area of Mormon studies. As noted in our mission statement, our work aims to deepen understanding and nurture discipleship among Latter-day Saints, while promoting mutual respect and goodwill among people of all faiths. In light of this, we would like to share with you—our academic colleagues, donors, and friends—this summary of the Institute’s accomplishments in 2013.

Middle Eastern Texts Initiative

The Institute’s publishing program of scholarly bilingual texts—the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative (METI)—directed by assistant research fellow D. Morgan Davis, PhD, completed two new titles: Moses Maimonides’s On Rules Regarding the Practical Part of the Medical Art, edited and translated by Gerrit Bos and Y. Tzvi Langermann, in the Medical Works of Moses Maimonides series; and Mulla Sadra’s The Book of Metaphysical Penetrations, edited and translated by Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Ibrahim Kalin, in the Islamic Translation Series. The first text is a valuable recent rediscovery of a work by Maimonides once thought to be lost. The second text is an important treatise by the most significant Persian mystical philosopher of the late classic period.

Davis and others on the staff continued editorial and production work on a range of new METI titles, including The Alexandrian Epitomes of Galen, volume 1, edited and translated by John Walbridge, in the Islamic Translation Series; On This Day: The Armenian Church Synaxarion, volume 1, January, a parallel Armenian-English text, translated by Edward G. Mathews Jr., the first volume in a 12-part work in the Eastern Christian Texts series; and Moses Maimonides’s Medical Aphorisms, Treatises 16–21, edited and translated by Gerrit Bos, in the Medical Works of Moses Maimonides series.

Additionally, Davis continued acquisition and development work on a score of forthcoming METI titles, including the Library of Judeo-Arabic Literature (LJAL), which will publish scholarly editions and translations of Judeo-Arabic texts from all genres and geographical areas. Among the first titles in the series to be released is the famous Guide of the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides. An international team of scholars, led by James T. Robinson (University of Chicago Divinity School) and David Sklare (Ben-Zvi Institute) will help to ensure that each LJAL volume meets the most rigorous academic standards.

In an ongoing effort to build bridges of friendship and understanding with the Islamic world, Davis met with higher education leaders from Saudi Arabia, Muslim scholars and community leaders from southern California, and a Muslim delegation from China. He presented them with books from the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative as a goodwill gesture and as a way of sharing our commitment to interfaith dialogue with the Islamic world. Additionally, Davis gave two
 presentations on the idea of premortal existence in Islamic mystical thought: the first at the Mormon Scholars in the Humanities conference at BYU and the second at Oxford University.

Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies

Brian Hauglid, PhD, senior research fellow and professor of ancient scripture (BYU), was appointed as director of the Institute’s Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, succeeding Paul Y. Hoskisson, professor of ancient scripture (BYU). During his tenure, Hoskisson edited the Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture. With Hauglid as the new editor, the Institute has retitled the periodical as the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, with the next issue to be published in 2014. In keeping with the Journal’s mission to publish the best, most current scholarship on the Book of Mormon, the Institute will publish the periodical in a format similar to that of other academic journals in the fields of religious and textual studies.

The Willes Center continued to support Royal Skousen’s work on the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project, in which he conducted research and prepared material for part 1 of the forthcoming multipart volume 3, History of the Text of the Book of Mormon. Previous volumes in the project include: volume 1 (one part), The Original Manuscript of the Book of Mormon (2001);  volume 2 (two parts), The Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon (2001); and volume 4 (six parts), Analysis of Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon (2001–09).

Early on, Hauglid met with a diverse group of scholars from various institutions to discuss the current state and future course of Book of Mormon studies. In this two-day think tank, participants presented papers on various approaches to the Book of Mormon text, ranging from historical/critical studies and literary and textual studies to theological studies and Mesoamerican studies. Participants engaged in extensive discussions after each presentation, focusing, among other things, on how best to further Book of Mormon studies in the broader academic community.

Hauglid also presented two conference papers. The first, “Endowed with a Knowledge of Hidden Languages: Joseph Smith and the Egyptian Project,” was given at the BYU Church History Symposium, “Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith’s Study of the Ancient World.” The second, “The Pearl of Great Price: Its Ascendancy and Legitimation,” was delivered at a Utah Valley University conference entitled “Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism and Sacred Texts.” Additionally, he attended the national Society of Biblical Literature/American Academy of Religion meetings in Baltimore and the “Catholics and Mormons: A New Dialogue” conference at Notre Dame.

Working with Hauglid in the Willes Center is research associate Matthew Roper, who delivered a paper at the BYU Church History Conference entitled “Joseph Smith and the Ruins: Central American Archaeology and Early Views about the Book of Mormon,” which dealt with the discoveries and writings of John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood and their influence on early Latter-day Saint ideas and views about the Nephite record. Roper also participated in Hauglid’s Book of Mormon think tank and presented a paper reviewing recent work on the Book of Mormon and the ancient Near East. Finally, Roper and Paul Fields continued to use stylometrics, or wordprint analysis, in their work on several projects related to Book of Mormon authorship.

Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts

The Institute’s Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART) reached an agreement with the Vatican Apostolic Library to continue the Syriac manuscript research and publication project. The next phase of the project will focus on 80 Syriac manuscripts selected in collaboration with the project’s advisory board. The manuscripts will be available online, will be freshly cataloged and studied, and will be the subject of a forthcoming academic conference.

In another important development, CPART entered into an agreement with Brill Academic Publishers to publish the Dead Sea Scrolls Electronic Library—Biblical Scrolls, which will be available in 2014 from Brill as well as BYU’s WordCruncher website. It also published online digital facsimiles of over 200 Arabic, Coptic, Syriac, and Garshuni manuscripts from BYU’s S. Kent Brown Collection. Several student assistants helped to make these resources available. Other digital publications include selected texts from the Syriac Corpus project that are now available in HTML.

CPART also launched a dynamic website and Facebook page. The website is the forum for publishing CPART content and resources, while the Facebook page delivers news about its projects and publications, together with news and other resources relating to the study of manuscripts, manuscript culture, Syriac studies, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and other subjects.

Assistant research fellow Kristian Heal, PhD, serves as director of CPART.  He also pursues a research agenda focused on Syriac Christian texts and manuscripts. In 2013, he oversaw the publication of the first English translation of the Syriac History of Joseph in volume 1 of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, published by Wm. B. Eerdmans. Heal is working with colleagues from Yale University and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem to prepare a critical edition of this text and its Arabic and Ethiopic versions.

Heal’s other publications included encyclopedia articles on Edessa and Nisibis in Late Antiquity for The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Ancient History and a review of The Gorgias Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Syriac Heritage, which appeared in Hugoye: Journal of Syriac Studies. He also gave an invited lecture at Princeton University in February and presented papers at conferences in Provo and Toronto.

Christianity and the Bible Research Initiative

To better support research and publishing in the areas of Christian history, culture, and the Bible and other texts, the Institute formed the Christianity and the Bible Research Initiative (CBRI), with assistant research fellow Carl Griffin, PhD, as its first director. The Institute established CBRI in part to augment the publishing efforts of one of its annual academic journals, Studies in the Bible and Antiquity (SBA), volume 5 of which was published in December.

Since SBA’s inception in 2009, Brian Hauglid has served as its editor. Griffin assumed that role last year, with Cory Crawford (Ohio University) and Matthew Grey (BYU) as associate editors. The editors are currently forming an advisory board as they prepare for the release of volume 6 in 2014.

William (Bill) Gay Research Chair

Since 2002, senior research fellow John Gee, PhD, has occupied the William (Bill) Gay Research Chair. In this capacity he devoted his efforts to advancing scholarship in disciplines directly related to the study of the scriptures. Gee works in the field of Egyptology.

During 2013, he contributed six entries on the history and civilization of ancient Egypt in the Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception. Topics included history, archaeology, texts, society, religion, and culture and arts. Additionally, Gee published an article, “Abraham and Idrimi,” in the Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture and an article, “Whither Mormon Studies?,” in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture. He also presented a paper, “Using Egyptology in Biblical Studies,” at the annual conference of the national Society of Biblical Literature/American Academy of Religion in Baltimore.

Publications Program

Our publishing program, directed by Joseph Bonyata, continued to implement the mandate to professionalize its work and operations. On the operations side, we partnered with a new book distributor that has increased sales and listed our books on Amazon and iBooks for the first time. Additionally, we began rolling out our backlist titles in eBook format in a phased approach. We reduced excess inventory and put in place stringent printing and inventory-control guidelines, while reducing editorial and production costs by negotiating reduced rates with BYU’s Print & Mail Production Services and hiring new, lower-cost freelancers and outside vendors. Additionally, we ended print publication of the Insights newsletter as we introduced our new blog, resulting in significant cost savings.

Mormon Studies Review

After extensive discussion and serious consultation with a broad range of respected scholars in Mormon studies, the Institute appointed J. Spencer Fluhman, PhD, assistant professor of history (BYU), as editor of the new annual scholarly journal Mormon Studies Review. D. Morgan Davis and Benjamin Park, PhD candidate, Cambridge University, serve as associate editors. Additionally, the Institute formed an academic advisory board for the Review consisting of fifteen of the most respected scholars currently working in Mormon studies. Facing significant time constraints, the editors and board completed their work, which enabled us to release volume 1 with some fanfare at the Society of Biblical Literature/American Academy of Religion meetings in November in Baltimore.

Mormon Studies and the Living Faith Series

Responding to the need for accessible scholarship in Mormon studies, the Institute ramped up its publishing efforts, including contracting a dozen new titles in this area and launching the Living Faith book series. The latter represents our ongoing commitment to nurture discipleship among Latter-day Saints by publishing the reflections of scholars who live the ideal that Elder Neal A. Maxwell taught of allowing faith and intellect to nourish one another. Near the end of the year we released the first title in this new series—Letters to a Young Mormon, by Adam S. Miller. It received many favorable reviews and has turned out to be the fastest-selling title in our history.

Other Books Published

In November, the Institute published the illustrated, full-color book Illuminating the Dead Sea Scrolls, by Donald W. Parry, professor of Hebrew Bible (BYU), to coincide with the Leonardo Museum’s Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit. Earlier we released John Sorenson’s magnum opus, Mormon’s Codex, copublished with Deseret Book, which has been well received and has significantly exceeded sales projections.

New Publishing Agreements

In August, the Institute reached an agreement with Hugh Nibley Associates to digitally publish a selection of the papers, photographs, and other items in the extensive Hugh Nibley archives in BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library. We also formalized an agreement with Deseret Book to digitize the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley and offer the texts for free on the forthcoming “Hugh Nibley Library” section of our website. In another agreement, the Institute completed a merger with Salt Press, a publisher in the areas of Mormon studies, scripture, and theology, and acquired their list of published titles and ten new titles that are currently in development.

Public Communications

One of the Institute’s major accomplishments last year was the design and launch of our new website, mi.byu.edu. The publications group collaborated with an outside vendor to create the site, with a mandate to include responsive functionality as part of the design, meaning our new site is fully compatible with mobile devices, including iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. Additionally, our new site offers faster, easier access to our extensive backlist of books and periodicals. Most of the Institute’s research initiatives began or completed work on individual subsites that provide information, collaboration, publications, and research to scholars and other interested people. Improvements continue to be made on the new site.

The Institute also made its social media debut. With our new Facebook page, Twitter feed, YouTube channel, and podcast, more people than ever can learn about and access our research, books, and journals in innovative ways.

As noted above, we replaced the long-standing print newsletter Insights with the Institute’s new blog—a faster and much less expensive way of reaching out to interested readers. The blog features weekly updates, book notices, interviews with scholars, and other comparable content. Blair Dee Hodges joined the Institute staff as our public communications specialist.  He coordinates all such efforts.

Hodges also contributed academic work in the subfield of Mormon studies. He presented a series of papers on intellectual disability in Mormon thought and history at five academic conferences, helped initiate an oral history project on that subject with the Church History Library, published an article on “Millennialism and the Celestial Kingdom in the Development of Mormon Doctrine” (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 46/2 [2013]), and contributed a chapter on early Latter-day Saint views of Darwinian evolution to a forthcoming book on Mormon author Nephi Anderson.

The Institute also sponsored two stand-alone lectures and one lecture series. James E. Faulconer delivered the Laura F. Willes Book of Mormon lecture, James S. Jardine delivered the annual Neal A. Maxwell lecture, and Royal Skousen presented a three-part description and discussion of the Book of Mormon Critical Text Project.

Financial and Fundraising Update

As a result of successful fundraising and reductions in operating expenses, the Institute ended 2013 in a solid financial position. We received generous donor support for specific research and publication projects and for general operations. The Institute’s financial controller/HR representative Jeremy King works closely with the executive director in managing our financial affairs and human resources. LDS Philanthropies donor liaison Ed Snow maintains close contact with our donors while serving as the chair of our development committee.

Finally, we are mindful that all of our work depends upon collaboration with our colleagues at BYU and at other universities worldwide. We are grateful for the generosity of our donors and for BYU’s ongoing support.

M. Gerald Bradford
Executive Director