Historian Richard Bushman says he was reluctant to go along with it when Jerry Bradford, former Maxwell Institute executive director, suggested a festschrift in his honor. But when Spencer Fluhman, Kathleen Flake, and Jed Woodworth started planning one anyway, he began to see the possibilities. This would be an opportunity to gather scholars—Latter-day Saints as well as people from other backgrounds—to talk about the intersection of faith and intellect, church and academy, discipleship and scholarship. Their presentations would be edited and compiled into a book published in Bushman’s honor.
“Consecration”—the idea of laying one’s gifts on the altar for God—is a longstanding point of interest for Mormons. It was a prominent theme in many sermons delivered by the Institute’s namesake, Elder Neal A. Maxwell. Speaking to scholars, Elder Maxwell once observed:
“Whatever our particular fields of scholarship, the real test is individual discipleship, not scholarship. But how good it is when these two can company together, blending meekness with brightness and articulateness with righteousness. Such outcomes only occur, however, when there is commitment bordering on consecration.”
What might it mean for Mormon scholars to consecrate their time and academic talents? This became one of the guiding questions that led to the new book, To Be Learned Is Good: Essays on Faith and Scholarship in Honor of Richard Lyman Bushman. The volume is both a product of and a tribute to a collaborative community of scholars who take religion and the academy seriously. As Bushman observes in his contribution to the volume (which you can read in full here), reconciling discipleship and scholarship in our times isn’t always easy. But we aren’t alone in the undertaking:
“I think we all feel some tension between our religious convictions and the secular times in which we live. In one way or another, modernism invades and unsettles our thinking, perhaps our thinking about our fields, perhaps our personal beliefs. What I hope we all realize is that this tension is not to be suppressed or regretted. Unanswerable as some questions are, we need not lament the discomfort they bring. The strain of believing in unbelieving times is not a handicap or a burden. It is a stimulus and a prod. It is precisely out of such strains that creative work issues forth. And we can take satisfaction in knowing that we are in this together.”