Mormon Studies, without the Rose-colored glasses

My view on the issue of Mormon studies.

Mormon Studies

Update and Clarification:  Several people have apparently misunderstood my use of the term Mormon studies.  Mormon studies is typically used in two ways.

First, as a description of the study of anything to do with Mormonism–history, art, literature, politics, religion, economics, etc.

Second, Mormon studies is used in parallel to Islamic studies or Hindu studies–that is, as a subset of religious studies.  That is how I am using the term in this essay.  I thought it was clear from my discussion that I was referring to Mormon studies as Mormon religious studies, that is, a subset of religious studies in general to which I compared it throughout my discussion.  I’m sorry if this ambiguity was a cause of confusion.

Thus, for example, Mormon history has its own professional organization, its own annual conference, its regular professional journal.  On occasion, Mormon history encompasses Mormon religion, but it also does the history of Mormon colonialism in Utah, or Mormon political impact in the early twentieth century, etc.  Mormon religious studies does not.

I have argued that, as a professional discipline in academia, Mormon religious studies basically does not exist.  The exception might be the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology (, but theology is only one subset of religious studies as a whole.

6 thoughts on “Mormon Studies, without the Rose-colored glasses

  1. I think you make valid points but the questions that linger are : Why does not BYU have a Mormon Studies program? Is it because there would be no job opportunites at the end of the line? And why doesn’t someone like Karen Armstrong write on Mormonism? Is it because there is no monetary gain for a publisher or perhaps Armstrong would be refused access to Church history materials or sign away editorial rights if such access was granted.
    I find it hard to believe that Mormon scholars ,loyal to their faith, could actually produce important studies on Mormonism that would be objective enough to be accepted by non-Mormons and faithful enough to not incite the General Authorities. In saying that I am recalling the tight rope that German Dr./Fr(priest) Hans Kung has walked for decades with the Roman Catholic hierarchy because of his scholarship on important issues such as papal infallibility. I would love to see a Hans Kung emerge in the field of Mormon Studies-nominations?

  2. Pingback: A Reponse to Hamblin on Mormon Studies

  3. One has to ask Bill’s assessment of the Mormon Studies programs in various academic venues, including GTU, CGU, and the annual Richard Bushman seminar & symposium at BYU, among others. They clearly include religion, among other aspects of the larger Mormon culture.

    I’d also suggest that BYU does not want to encourage anything more ambitious than CES preparation, thus forcing young scholars interested in theology and religion to pursue regular academic degrees elsewhere. Isn’t that ultimately a good thing?

  4. Reblogged this on Symphonyofdissent and commented:
    This is from Mark Hamblin and I think he raises some very valid concerns about Mormon Studies that I have been thinking about in the past few weeks.

    “The goal of a religious studies scholar should be to describe a religion in a way that believers who read his book will truthfully respond, “That’s
    exactly right. That’s what I believe.” Unfortunately, religious studies scholars in general, and
    Mormon studies specifically, regularly fail to do this. Their works too often leave the believer
    puzzled, wondering how there could be another religion called Mormonism which is so
    fundamentally different from the religion the believer knows and practices and loves. While
    non-Mormons can certainly study Mormonism and offer whatever insights they may have, we as
    Mormons would be very unwise to allow ourselves to be defined by the assumptions and dictates
    of Mormon studies.”

  5. Pingback: Maxwell Institute Blog | A Mormon Studies Blogliography

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