“A spirit of openness and generosity”—Sheila Taylor on the 2016 Mormon Theology Seminar
As an introvert who usually winced when I was put in any kind of small group when I was in school, I have to admit that I was initially a bit wary of the Mormon Theology Seminar and its strong emphasis on collaboration. But I’d heard glowing reviews from past participants, and I was intrigued by the possibility of doing intense theological work for two weeks, so I decided it was worth finding out what it was all about.
I’m happy to report that it was a fantastic experience. Our selected text was Alma 12-13, and we found it to be packed with rich material for theological discussion. Even with two weeks of intense study of these chapters, there was a lot we weren’t able to cover. For the first five days, everyone brought in 1000 words about the day’s assigned reading. We then developed just a few of the many ideas we had discussed into conference papers. I was left with a real appreciation of the depth of the text.
Our seminar included participants from a wide variety of academic backgrounds, and it was always fun to hear the unique angle that each person brought to the text. I heard so many ideas and saw so many connections that I never would have come up with on my own.
Genuine collaboration, I think, requires a certain amount of trust, and I was especially pleased to find myself working with a group of people who created an atmosphere conducive to such trust. It is an amazing thing, really, to study the scriptures with people who are simply focused on exploring ideas and insights and interpretations, and who do so with a spirit of openness and generosity. We disagreed at times, but the conversation was always constructive.
As someone interested in the development of Mormon theology, I am immensely happy that the Mormon Theology Seminar exists, and that it produces the scholarship it does. But after getting to participate in it, I also particularly appreciate the community it produces—and I feel like I’ve had a glimpse of why collaboration can be so powerful.
The 2016 Mormon Theology Seminar recently wrapped up at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. We asked seminar participants to reflect on their experiences, offering a glimpse at what the Seminar’s all about. This post features Sheila Taylor, who has a PhD in systematic theology from the Graduate Theological Union. She’s published on salvation and feminist theology, and is currently editing a volume on Mormon perspectives on grace. See more reflections here.