Introducing the inaugural issue of the Mormon Studies Review

11.25.2013 | The Maxwell Institute

Benjamin E. Park is an associate editor of the Mormon Studies Review and a PhD candidate in history at the University of Cambridge. Hard copies of the new issue are in the mail. If you haven’t done so yet, you can subscribe to the Review here. We’re still working out the details about online-only and reduced-price subscriptions. —BHodges

Speaking for the editorial team—namely Spencer Fluhman, Morgan Davis, Blair Hodges, and myself—we are pleased to release the first issue of the reenvisioned Mormon Studies Review. (A PDF of the issue’s table of contents can be downloaded here.) Building upon a tradition of commitment and vigor that was proudly demonstrated by the Review’s predecessor, our goals are simple: first, to track the growth and development of the growing, if still inchoate, academic subfield of Mormon studies, and second, to serve as a bridge between Mormon studies and the wider academy.

Our annual issues will typically include disciplinary essays that engage recent trends or methodological questions, roundtables that cover a broad range of relevant topics, review essays that examine recent books as a springboard to discuss broader issues in the field, and book reviews that offer thoughtful and critical analyses of recent offerings in the fields that cover Mormonism in its numerous varieties. We are especially happy with this first volume, as it demonstrates the scope and approach of the journal in addition to reflecting the high standard we hope to reach in subsequent issues.

Volume 1 begins with an introductory essay by our editor, Spencer Fluhman. He outlines a vision of what Mormon studies could be, as well as how this journal is intended to chronicle its development. While questions and answers related to the field have been and will continue to be in flux, one “guiding principle” will steer the Review’s approach: a commitment to fostering a “good society” through “friendship.” An interview with Ann Taves then demonstrates the collaborative nature of such an enterprise as she explains the ways that Mormon studies can draw from other, more established, academic fields like Catholic or Jewish studies. Thomas Tweed’s provocative essay encapsulates how the study of Mormonism can shed light on broader methodological issues that transcend its parochial boundaries. The state-of-the-field essay by Tom Mould and Eric Eliason explains the development of Mormon folklore studies and prognosticates its future.

This volume’s roundtable answers a simple question relevant to the Review’s inauguration: What is the current state of Mormon studies? The responses offer a wide range of answers along a dynamic spectrum. Brian Birch, Daniel Peterson, Stephen Taysom, and Kristine Haglund explicitly address the issue of devotional concerns, ideological allegiances, and academic epistemology. In a field so fraught with competing interests and commitments, how is a scholar to balance these various concerns? Susanna Morrill and Melissa Inouye articulate what can be done when building upon and moving beyond these debates by asking poignant questions about how Mormon studies can speak to issues like gender and globalization.

In the review essays, significant books and questions are given rigorous examination. Matthew Bowman looks at Terryl and Fiona Givens’s The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of LIfe, which he describes as the most important book of Mormon theology since the works of Sterling McMurrin and B. H. Roberts—and more significantly, perhaps the first Mormon contribution to “the pantheon of statements of Christian devotion.” Samuel Brown engages how historians have labeled early Mormonism as “metaphysical” and whether such a category works as an academic tool. Joseph Spencer charts the development in Book of Mormon studies, and Benjamin Hertzberg asks whether there has been any significant development in constructions of Mormon peace ethics.

The volume concludes with what will hopefully be the bread and butter of the Review: smart and engaging overviews and critiques of recent books across many disciplines. Contributors range from luminaries in American religious history, like Clark Gilpin and Kathryn Lofton, to respected individuals in the Mormon studies community, like Jana Riess and Adam Miller, and including young scholars who are the future of both fields, like David Walker and David Howlett. We hope that our review section will be seen as the primary location to stay abreast of recent and exciting offerings in Mormon studies. We also included a bibliographic essay tracing previously published discussions about Mormon studies in general.

As editors, we have many thanks to offer: To the Maxwell Institute team, especially Joe Bonyata and Don Brugger, for making the issue a reality; to our editorial board, who went above and beyond typical expectations by helping aid our approach, outline our contents, and recruit our contributors; and to Gerald Bradford, upon whose vision this journal is built. We hope our audienceboth within the academy as well as within the body of Saintsare as pleased with our finished product as we are.