Latter-day Saint Theology Seminar: a “mutual respect for the chosen text”

09.22.2022 | The Maxwell Institute

This post was written by Mike Hansen, a participant in the 2022 Latter-day Saint Theology Seminar.

By my count, the LDS Theology Seminar was roundly successful.  As I have reflected on these successes, I think they must have stemmed from a few different factors.

The seminar was smartly designed.  In the first week, our frequent and focused interaction harvested fruit from many quarters on a narrow passage of text each day.  It was inspiring to see members of the seminar bring their unique professional skillsets to the project and to stand up to their own disciplinary standards.  This methodological exposure and cross pollination helped me to situate my own approach, and it gave me a measure of confidence as I located my own ideas relative to others.  This particular kind of collaboration is rare in the academy, and I think it turned out to be highly valuable for my own work.  In the second week, we each refined our own findings.  On the heels of the densely interactive first week, I had plenty of beginnings to push to conclusions.  With the final conference looming, I had both motivation and focus to capture something worthwhile from my saturated seminar thoughts.  Hence, the structure of the seminar supported a unique and fulfilling kind of product.

I think the seminar was headlined by our mutual respect for the chosen text.  Different approaches are good, but so is a unity of mind and aim.  Here, the shortness of the text proved to be a virtue as close readings can bring together a multitude of minds.  There is a pleasant unity in the text, and our mutual respect for that text provided the commonality sufficient to make progress together.  A shared interest in the text can bridge large methodological gaps and it can accommodate wide ranging prior commitments.  So, I think that this commonplace is to credit for much of our progress.

I suspect that much of our success depended on our mutual respect for one another in the seminar.  Good feelings abounded, and exceptionally good manors prevailed among diverse academics.  The support and interest of each member in my work, and mine in theirs, encouraged my thinking and writing in a unique and memorable way.  I owe each participant my thanks for their help!

Finally, I’m confident that a great deal of our success belongs simply to the virtue of the text itself.  It was powerful, though not surprising, to see just how fruitful, resilient, and generous the text can be under so many academic lenses.  It invites further work, as it offers so much more that our lenses can show.  Organizing the seminar around such a virtuous input all but guarantees some virtue in our outputs.  Of course, it also guarantees that my work will pale in comparison to the text it discusses.  This doesn’t worry me—a good reader will only be inspired to search out the virtue of the original text for themself.  Any light I manage to put on the text with my writing, or to reflect from the text itself, will necessarily be outshined by the light found in the text itself.