Latter-day Saint Theology Seminar: Directors’ Report

09.01.2022 | The Maxwell Institute

This post was written by Adam Miller and Joseph Spencer, co-directors of the Latter-day Saint theology seminar.

Thanks to the generous support of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Studies, and the Institute’s Executive Director, Spencer Fluhman, we were again able to direct a co-sponsored summer seminar in Latter-day Saint Theology, this time at Columbia University in New York City from June 19 to July 1, 2022.

We were able to live and work on the Columbia University campus for two weeks without distractions or the ordinary obligations of everyday life. This greatly facilitated the intense focus and sense of close-knit community that are crucial to the seminar’s success. It also facilitated the participation of guest scholars from Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Johns Hopkins University, scholars who wouldn’t have been able to join us otherwise.

As in the past, the seminar’s directors and six participants worked for two weeks on this year’s text, Enos 1:1-18. These eighteen verses in Enos constitute an extraordinarily rich and deeply personal text about Enos’s own “wrestle” with God as he sought forgiveness for his sins and then, in turn, pled for the future of his own people and his brothers, the Lamanites.

The first week of the seminar was dedicated to generating close, collaborative readings of the text, treating just three or four assigned verses each day. Seminar participants focused each morning on writing a short, formal paper on the day’s assigned verses. They then spent five hours each afternoon informally discussing the details and implications of the day’s verses and sharing the formal work they’d prepared that morning. This first week of seminar-style work is extremely intense, with participants often working ten to twelve hours each day to prepare for and then participate in the day’s collaborative work.

The second week of the seminar then centered on writing individual papers, grounded in the first week’s shared work, to be presented at a public conference on the seminar’s final day. Participants drafted full conference papers in less than three days, workshopped those papers on Wednesday, and then presented polished drafts at the conference on Friday.

These papers will now be collected, published, and preserved in a new volume of the seminar’s proceedings.

When we began organizing the seminar in 2008, we had a vision of what the project might accomplish over the coming decades. That vision turned on the conviction that, as a long-term project, the value of these seminars would be compounding, with each new seminar expanding the community of scholars who have participated and with each new volume of proceedings deepening the value of the publications that preceded it.

With more than a decade’s worth of work under our belt, we believe this vision is proving true. And we hope that it will continue to prove true for many years to come.