“Sorting, clarifying, mobilizing Mormon ideas”—Adam Miller on the 2018 Mormon Theology Seminar

08.12.2018 | Guest

The 2018 Mormon Theology Seminar recently wrapped up at the Cittadella Ospitalità in Assisi, Italy. In this guest post, Adam Miller talks about his experience. Miller is a professor of philosophy at Collin College in McKinney, Texas and co-director of the Mormon Theology Seminar. He is author of Letters to a Young Mormon and An Early Resurrection, among other books. See more reflections here.
Mormon studies owes its current vitality to the outstanding work done in Mormon history. This work has been so successful that, to this point, Mormon studies and Mormon history have been largely synonymous. The ambition of the Mormon Theology Seminar is to help launch Mormon theology as an essential, scholarly, and philosophically informed partner in Mormon studies. In my view, the possibility of Mormon theology as a scholarly project depends on crediting a crucial idea: the idea that, in addition to being a legitimate object of historical research, Mormonism can also function as an active agent in the broader debates that shape contemporary thought. As I envision it, the work of Mormon theology involves (1) sorting, describing, and clarifying key Mormon ideas, and (2) mobilizing key Mormon ideas in response to broadly shared questions about the nature of human suffering and the possibility of redemption. Here, the distinctively theological move is to treat the raw materials of the Mormon tradition—Mormon scripture, history, art, anthropology, sociology, etc.—not just as ends in themselves but as theological data points that can be positioned to actively intervene in and contribute to these broader discussions. This is, I think, a critical benchmark to be considered when assessing the maturity of Mormon studies as a discipline. Mormon studies broadly—and Mormon theology in particular—will have matured as a form of scholarship when Mormon ideas begin to function as contributing partners in related fields that are not themselves reflections on Mormonism. The Mormon Theology Seminar is, as a scholarly project, designed to help bridge this gap between Mormonism as a passive object of research and Mormonism an active agent in contemporary thought. Thanks to the generous support of the Maxwell Institute, the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, and the Wheatley Institution, Joseph Spencer and I directed the tenth Mormon Theology Seminar this summer at the Cittadella Ospitalità in Assisi, Italy, from June 17 through June 30. As a pilgrimage site for Saint Francis, Assisi was a fitting location to consider King Benjamin’s ringing question in Mosiah 4: “Are we not all beggars?” More, it was a fitting site to celebrate the Seminar’s tenth anniversary and our fifth year of collaboration with Brigham Young University. During the first week, the seminar met daily to work line by line through the text of Mosiah 4:4-25 from a variety of disciplinary perspectives (philosophical, historical, literary, rhetorical, political, sociological, etc.) in order to promote theologically rich readings of the text. During the second week, we wrote and workshopped conference papers and a joint-report based on the previous week’s collaboration. This work culminated in a one-day conference, open to the public, on 30 June 2018. When we began organizing the seminar in 2008, we had a vision of what the project might accomplish over the coming decades. Ten years in, more than sixty scholars—men and women from a wide range of academic disciplines—have participated and our tenth volume of collected papers is being prepared for publication. The growth of this community and the cumulative weight of this scholarship will, we hope, firmly establish Mormon theology as a legitimate partner in Mormon studies and while benefiting scholars and Latter-day Saints alike. Hear Adam Miller’s presentation here