“A collaborative cohort of scholars” —Kris Black on the 2016 Mormon Theology SeminarAs a sociologist specializing in religion and congregational studies, I am always aware of the dynamics of community. I find that just as religion needs a community of believers to embody the sacred, scholarly inquiry needs an academic community to bring new life to our fields of study. I initially found the importance of an academic community when working with challenging texts while working on my bachelor’s degree in philosophy. I was consistently amazed at how much more we could accomplish as a group rather than through our own solitary reading and writing. Throughout graduate school I continued to appreciate working together with colleagues as we prepared to study for our comprehensive exams and write our individual dissertations. Since completing my doctorate I have often found myself longing for another chance to do such collaborative work; this seminar was that chance. During the 2016 Mormon theology seminar we met daily to comb through the days reading and offer our individually written exegesis of the text. I will admit that the first day of reading my essay to the group was a bit intimidating, but the group was so generous in their feedback and the learning experience so rich that soon those nerves disappeared and the daily reading of essays became something I looked forward to. To say that my need for an academic community was met within this group would be an understatement as I found the experience to be far more rewarding than I had anticipated or dared hope for. Doing such intense scholarly work was challenging, but also exhilarating. The group of scholars that the Maxwell Institute gathered was remarkable in so many ways. I was humbled to be included in the group of people whose work I had admired over the years and extremely pleased to meet new colleagues. While each of us came from a different academic discipline, we all shared the common ground of academic rigor. Given the diversity of the group we were able to work with the text with just as much academic depth as breadth. It was this collaborative cohort of scholars I enjoyed most. Having graduated from a theological school (Drew University, Graduate Division of Religion), many people assume that I am either a theologian or clergy. While I usually respond by stating that I am not a theologian and that my pulpit is the classroom lectern, for two weeks in June I really was a theologian. Not only that, I was a Mormon theologian—a rare thing indeed! I hope that as the Mormon Theology Seminar continues, doing such work will become far more common and increasingly more scholars (both LDS and other believers) will have the chance to do Mormon theology. I am deeply grateful for the generosity of the Willes family in their support of the summer theology seminar and continued Mormon scholarship. While those of us who have the opportunity to participate in the seminar benefit greatly, the field as a whole benefits even more as each year new voices and new scholarship is added. A huge thank you to the co-directors Adam Miller and Joe Spencer, as well as the other attendees for an extraordinary experience!
The 2016 Mormon Theology Seminar recently wrapped up at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. We asked seminar participants to offer a glimpse at what the Seminar’s all about. This post features Kristeen Black, who received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Drew Theological School. She is currently an independent scholar continuing her research on Mormon congregations. Read more from other participants here.