“Profoundly engrossing and consistently enlightening”—Brandie Siegfried on the 2018 Mormon Theology Seminar
In June, I had the unique privilege of working with an inspiring group at this year’s Mormon Theology Seminar and came away with both a deeper knowledge of the Book of Mormon and a keener sense of just how singular Mormon theology really is. Our focus was Mosiah 4, a particularly formative influence on my moral sensibility and one of my most treasured passages of devotional literature.
I will say up front that I had completely underestimated how exhausting the intensive two-week experience would be—I typically wrote for three or four hours in the morning, took a two hour break for lunch and a walk in beautiful Assisi, then met with the group in the afternoon for five hours of robust discussion focused on the papers written for that day. No easy tasks, these, but profoundly engrossing and consistently enlightening.
Discussing the plight of the poor, the necessity of the beggar, and the extremely precarious position of the rich put me in mind of my husband’s many eye-opening experiences running a treatment center in Salt Lake City, Utah for homeless folk suffering from mental illness. There isn’t space to consider those stories here, but I was frequently touched by how thoughtful the other seminar participants were in handling difficult and sometimes delicate issues regarding those it has (in some quarters) become popular to denigrate.
Moreover, the seminar members’ generosity toward one another, their compelling insights with respect to social justice, and their perspicuity in recognizing—from multiple interdisciplinary angles—how and why societies so often fail to care for their most vulnerable members, truly inspired me.
Speaking of inspiration, the locale chosen for this year’s meeting could not have been more relevant and fitting. Surrounded by devotional art (painting, sculpture, architecture, ceramics, etc.) all focused on the life and teachings of Jesus, and enveloped by a local history steeped in the lore of St. Francis’s devotion to even the least of God’s creations, I found myself thinking about King Benjamin’s sermons in ways I simply never had before.
I was particularly moved by Luca Signorelli, the Umbrian artist who influenced Michelangelo’s depictions on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Signorelli’s work is distinguished by vibrant, twisting bodies in motion toward, or away from, the Divine—movement meant to underscore the grace on offer at every turn. More particularly, his depiction of The Deposition (when Christ’s body is take from the cross and cradled in the arms of his mother and friends) and The Resurrection of the Just each gave me a better sense of what was at stake when—at the beginning of Mosiah 4—we are told that the people felt “less than the dust of the earth.” Leaning on Signorelli allowed me to pry a little more meaning from the soil of an otherwise well-trodden passage in my personal copy of scripture. I look forward to sharing the fruit of that work with others.
Hear Brandie Siegfried’s presentation here.
In this guest post, Brandie Siegfried talks about her experience at the 2018 Mormon Theology Seminar at the Cittadella Ospitalità in Assisi, Italy. She teaches English Renaissance Literature at Brigham Young University. She earned a BA and an MA in English from BYU, and a Ph.D. in English Renaissance Studies from Brandeis University and holds an additional MA in Women’s Studies. She is currently concluding a monograph study of Margaret Cavendish’s particle theory, which follows two other recent volumes: a collection of essays titled God and Nature in the Thought of Margaret Cavendish and a modern spelling edition of Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies. See more Seminar reflections here.