About the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology
The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology has been formed at a time when interest in Mormon Studies is blossoming. In the latter part of the twentieth century, there was an increasing recognition of the importance of the Latter-day Saints within the history of the United States, especially the history of the West, and the history of constitutional interpretation regarding freedom of religion. There was also a recognition of the interesting position that the Latter-day Saints occupy in the landscape of American culture: so unique that they were violently expelled from the U.S. in the 19th century, and yet reflective of many deep-running currents in the American soul.
As The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints becomes an increasingly global church, SMPT calls attention to the Latter-day Saints' distinctive theology, and its philosophical context and implications. Moreover, it provides a forum for Latter-day Saints and other interested scholars to explore in a disciplined way the message of LDS scriptures and prophets. The Society holds an annual conference, and publishes a journal entitled Element: a Journal of Mormon Philosophy and Theology.
Three events in particular laid the groundwork for the formation of SMPT. One was the formation of an email discussion list by Dennis Potter in 1995, called LDS-Phil. This forum brought together scores of individuals interested in using philosophical methods to structure their reflections on LDS beliefs, and set a precedent for earnest and respectful dialogue wherein the commitments of faith are taken seriously. Another was the Mormon Philosophy Conference held at Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University) in March 2002, which brought together persons of similar interests in a more formal context, to present some of the best of their thought. Brian Birch, director of the sponsoring Religious Studies Program at UVSC (now UVU), was key to making this conference possible. More recently, the conference, "God, Humanity, and Revelation: Perspectives from Mormon Philosophy and History," organized by Kenneth West at Yale University Divinity School, and taking place March 27-29, 2003, brought together a much wider group, and displayed a wealth of first-class scholarship on Mormon topics. This conference showed how much work has been done, and suggested how much work remains, using established methods of scholarship to advance faithful Latter-day Saints' understanding of their own heritage. It also unmistakably demonstrated that scholarly discussion between Mormons and non-Mormons can and should be rewarding for all concerned. With these precedents to look to, the organizers felt an ideal time had arrived to form the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology.
The Society was formed March 28, 2003, in a lecture hall at Yale Divinity School, by a group that had gathered for the conference, "God, Humanity, and Revelation: Perspectives from Mormon Philosophy and History." A Secretary and an Organization Committee were selected to draft a constitution and oversee the election of officers. The Constitution and By-Laws were ratified by the Society in February 2004, and an Executive Board was elected in March, assuming leadership of the Society at the Society's First Annual Meeting at Utah Valley State College (now Utah Valley University), March 19-20, 2004. Conferences have since been held at Utah State University (2005, 2012), Westminster College (2006), Brigham Young University (2007, 2011), the University of Utah (2008), Claremont Graduate University (2009), and again at UVU (2010).