Adam Miller: Mormon Theology Seminar about to bear more fruit

06.26.2014 | The Maxwell Institute

This post by Adam Miller is also at Times & Seasons where you can leave questions or comments. Miller is director of the Mormon Theology Seminar, which recently entered into partnership with the Institute’s Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies. This year’s Seminar drew to a close last week, but its fruits are yet to be fully gathered in. Podcasts of the papers presented at the Seminar will soon be available both through the Seminar website and through the Maxwell Institute podcast. Plans to publish the whole collection are also in the works. The proceedings of the previous conferences on Alma 32 and 2 Nephi are being printed and bound as we speak. More information about these new books to follow, as well as blog posts from seminar participants describing their Seminar experience. —BHodges

What I tend to lack in quality, I hope to make up for with quantity. And what I lack in training and credentials, I hope to gather and borrow.

In many ways, these maxims have guided the time I’ve invested in a project called the Mormon Theology Seminar.

The Seminar takes a very specific tack in relation to the work of Mormon theology: it privileges a hermeneutic approach that takes close readings of scripture as a critical starting point for doing theology and it organizes this work as a collaborative venture.

Close and careful readings of scripture can show us things that we haven’t seen before and seeing new things can open room for theological exploration.

Working collaboratively on a text—typically with 6-8 other people over a period of weeks or months—both increases the likelihood of seeing new things and then tempers the quality of the theological work that follows.

Last week, the seventh Mormon Theology Seminar successfully concluded.

Seven seminars, now.

If we can keep gathering 6-8 people per seminar and continue conducting seminars for the next 30-40 years, I hope to have compiled something whose sheer size (100 seminars? 500 contributors? criss-crossing the whole of Mormon scripture?) will leave a deep theological footprint in Mormon Studies that could endure for hundreds of years.

This seventh seminar, though, was special and it marks a turning point in the larger project.

For the first time, the seminar was conducted live and in person over a period of two weeks. We spent the first week collectively reading 1 Nephi 1 verse by verse and word by word. And we spent the second week workshopping individual papers based on that joint effort.

It was a remarkable (unparalleled, for me) professional experience. I’m especially grateful to the others who participated and made it possible: Jim Faulconer, George Handley, Brian Hauglid, Ben Peters, Julie Smith, Joseph Spencer, Michaël Ulrich, and Miranda Wilcox.

But, in the end, this kind of live, two-week summer seminar was only possible because Brian Hauglid, the director of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, invested serious resources (in both time and money) to make it happen. And, more, it was only possible because of the original endowment generously gifted by the Willes family.

I hope to help organize many more seminars in the years to come. And I hope to organize more than a few of those seminars in collaboration with the Willes Center.

Many thanks to Brian Hauglid for believing in this project and trusting us with it.

And, more, many thanks to the Willes family for believing so tangibly in the value of Book of Mormon scholarship.

We’re currently planning a second two-week seminar for next summer. We’ll issue a call for applications in the fall. Perhaps you’ll join us!