"Sometimes the simplest things are the most valuable" —David Gore on the 2016 Mormon Theology Seminar
Sometimes the simplest things are the most valuable. A fire, a cool breeze, a short walk with a friend, a simple, delicious meal, or a good book are among the most simple and valuable things we might encounter. These simple things, alone, are sufficient to remind us what a joy it is to be alive.
The Mormon Theology Seminar is structured around and manifests the insight that simple things are valuable. In its essence, the Seminar is just a few people, sitting around a table, reading a book and talking. These practices, too rarely pursued or implemented, reminded me again what a joy it is to study and learn.
One might think that sitting around a table reading and talking about a shared text would be the very lifeblood of the academy. Sadly, the actual behavior of academics has more to do with recurring meetings, campus politics, and sitting alone before tele-computing screens. The Mormon Theology Seminar was therefore so personally and professionally refreshing because it removed us from the usual academic rigmarole and placed us in a room with a text.
In the Seminar’s 2016 iteration, we read and read and read and talked and talked and talked and wrote and wrote and wrote about Alma 12:19–13:20, a fragment of Mormon scripture just 1,778 words long. Densely packed with theological ideas, textual allusions, plot enhancing themes, and sermonic energy, these words easily sustained hours and hours of scrutiny, criticism, discussion, and argument. In a spirit of collaboration, we pored over this fragment and in the process we grew in understanding and appreciation.
The simplicity of this format is its genius.
Through this process of textual examination I came to see as never before the rich texture of Alma’s sermonizing and the theological depth of the Book of Mormon. It is a simple and plain truth that the text of the Book of Mormon can sustain much greater scrutiny, study, and consideration than it is often given. All superficial and surface-level examinations seem to pale in comparison to the concentrated, collaborative, and charitable practices of exercises like the Mormon Theology Seminar.
Unfortunately, the simplest things are often as rare as they are valuable. For this reason I owe a debt of gratitude to the directors of the Mormon Theology Seminar, Doctors Adam Miller and Joseph Spencer, to the Maxwell Institute, and the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies for making the Mormon Theology Seminar possible. The resources that supported the Mormon Theology Seminar gave us a great and valuable gift. I hope we can, in some small way, pass on that gift with the forthcoming publication of our efforts.
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 David Gore, department chair of Communication at the University of Minnesota Duluth. See more here.