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Abstracts for the SMPT Conference - 9-11 April 2011

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FULL PROGRAM SCHEDULE
Location: Brigham Young University
Provo, Utah

""Serving God with Our Minds — The Place of Philosophy, Theology, and Scholarship in a Prophetic Church""

While you can also view the full program schedule, here are the presenters and their topics (click on their names to go directly to the abstract of their planned presentations which are also found below if highlighted in red):

Abstracts of presentations

Jacob Baker: IN THE SERVICE OF LOVE AND TRUTH: KIERKEGAARD AND MARION ON THE TEACHER-DISCIPLE WITHOUT AUTHORITY

In a church with an established and revered magisterium, any consideration of where an independent (even if otherwise faithful) Mormon philosopher or theologian might locate himself or herself must include a consideration of the relationship with such a magisterium, and more specifically with concept of authority in Mormonism. That said, Catholic theologian Jean-Luc Marion and Protestant philosopher Soren Kierkegaard offer valuable insights into the relationship between a scholar and the authority of the tradition to which he or she is bound. Marion's "Eucharistic site" of theology has parallels with a Mormon understanding of priesthood keys and divine authority.  The Mormon community is centered around the local congregation, the temple, and the highest governing councils, all of which are administered by priesthood/priesthood keys.  These are the "Eucharistic" sites of Mormon theology, sites from which, a Mormon philosopher disconnected, appeals only to the word and not the Word.  Kierkegaard further elaborates what it might mean to be a teacher (or scholar) without authority.  As in other traditions, often to be a teacher in Mormonism is to be an apologist in some respect, but this (and apologetics in general) must be narrowly construed.  If apologists, Mormon teachers without authority are merely to expose and clarify what they consider to be authentic Mormonism, and their apologies for the faith, if not grounded in love and charity--and instead in reason and evidence alone--bring only death.   Thus the philosopher/theologian/scholar in Mormonism is a teacher/disciple visibly and manifestly without authority in the service of truth and love.

Samuel Brown: SEERHOOD, TRANSLATION, AND THE QUEST TO RELATE

This paper explores the early Mormon concept of "seerhood" as a prophetic encounter with the dead. In the biblically inflected language of early Mormonism, a seer recovered the voices of the dead that issued "from the dust." In this account of seerhood, this paper demonstrates the distinctive Mormon understanding of scripture and the centrality of the quest for pure language as a way to connect the seeker with lost generations back to the Garden of Eden and beyond. This paper also suggests one possible approach to sacred translation, within seerhood and prophethood in the earliest Church, with an eye toward applications in modern devotional life.

Morgan Davis: THE PARABLE OF THE TWELVE SERVANTS

In this paper I argue that the Parable of the Twelve Servants (D&C 88:51-61) speaks to a question that sooner or later occurs to most Latter-day Saints: Though the heavens might not be silent, why does it seem they are so much quieter than they apparently were in the days of Joseph Smith? I read the parable as making explicit a dispensational pattern wherein periods of divine disruption within history are followed by much longer periods of divine quiescence during which the Holy Spirit is ever present, but open visions of God seldom if ever reported. Evidence from the scriptures indicates that this pattern has been repeated in every dispensation for which we have adequate records, including our own.

Loyd Ericson: "WOULD GOD THAT ALL THE LORD'S PEOPLE WERE PROPHETS": LIBERATION THEOLOGY, AND SCHOLARS AS PROPHETS FOR THE OPPRESSED

The call for papers for this conference poses the question: "Does philosophy and disciplined theological reflection have a place in a [prophetic] church?" In my paper I will turn this question around and argue that the very place for philosophy, theology, and other scholarly pursuits is in an active prophetic role-to be prophets to (not for) the Church and the world on behalf of the oppressed. This is a distinct prophetic role, in the tradition of liberation theology, that differs from that held by those sustained in the Church as prophets, seers, and revelators. While the latter is authoritative for the Church by virtue of priesthood hierarchical authority, the former has no ecclesiastical authority and is only normative insofar as one accepts the argumentation presented.

Darin Crawford Gates: ETHICAL EGOISM AND THE RESTORED GOSPEL

In this paper, I will examine the relationship between ethical egoism and the restored gospel. Ethical egoism claims that we ought to only do what is in our long-term interest. It thus seems plausible to say that the gospel is a form of ethical egoism, since only righteousness is in our long-term interest---and the gospel prescribes a righteous life. However, I will argue there are significant problems that prevent us from equating the gospel and ethical egoism, in the end. I will thus argue (1) that ethical egoism does not in fact contain the same normative basis for right actions as does the gospel, and (2) that the motives required for a righteous life prevent the identification of the gospel and ethical egoism.

Rachael Givens: THE EXILE OF THEOLOGY

This paper takes a look at the role of theology in a progressive, revelation-based Church. Some have argued that theology cannot, or should not, exist in a church in which new revelation can overturn previous beliefs, or in which the energies and efforts of the leadership are directed towards more pragmatic concerns such as growth, correlation, and so on. This paper argues, however, that with a modified concept of theology that emphasizes description over prescription, theology can play a beneficial and even critical role in the Church. Improvements in missionary efforts, faith and practice, and doctrinal accuracy and clarity can follow the implementation of a coherent and historically accurate articulation of Mormonism's beliefs.

David Grandy: NEPHI AS A DISCPLE-SCHOLAR

Nephi is an exemplary disciple-scholar because he gets his priorities right: love of God first and then understanding of the meaning of human history. But this understanding is not without price. As one who wants to know, Nephi will be racked with agony, as he tells us upon witnessing the destruction of Jerusalem and the eventual destruction of his posterity. This was knowledge he could have by-passed, but chose not to. And because his quest for understanding springs from his love of God, the pain is all the more acute. He cannot be an impersonal, impartial witness to the scenes he witnesses. The same pattern is found in the Book of Moses where Enoch foresees the destruction of the human race amid the flood. We also find it in secular literature, like Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner" and Jean Paul Richter's "Dream Vision of the Infinite." Part of the price of discipleship is "sorrow . . . for the sins of the world." This is also a litmus test for the disciple-scholar.

Deidre Green: BODY, HEART, AND MIND: TOWARDS A MORMON FEMINIST EPISTEMOLOGY

Western thought considers emotion and embodiment to be corruptive of knowledge, dualistically severing the body and emotion away from the processes of the rational mind. Women are associated with emotion and the body, contributing to hierarchical and dualistic thinking, in which binaries of mind/body and rationality/emotion mirror that of male/female. This hierarchical dualism demeans women as it marginalizes embodied and affective ways of knowing. Conversely, both the Latter-day Saint canon and feminist epistemologies affirm the vital roles of emotion and embodiment in acquiring knowledge. LDS theology includes rational, corporeal, and affective paths to knowledge, lifting up women as religious knowers. Inclusion of "feminine" ways of knowing explains why LDS discourse might point to women as men's spiritual superiors, yet at the same time subverts such essentialism by demanding that men equally utilize emotion and embodied experience as ways of knowing. Mormon epistemology, like feminist epistemology, integrates body, heart and mind in the acquisition of religious knowledge and in so doing facilitates epistemic equality among women and men.

R. Collin Mangrum: MORMON THEOLOGY AND ISSUES OF JUSTICE WITHIN ZION

Philosophers, politicians, and theologians from the beginning have pondered, practiced, and prayed about the cause of justice. The cause of justice seems intimately bound up with the day-to-day conflict within the social, political, or religious community. For some theologians and philosophers such as Saint Augustine, justice will only be realized in the eternities within the City of God. In this mortal life, the imperfect justice system of the City of Man or Babylon serves as "divinely ordained order imposed on fallen men as a remedy for their sins." According to this view of fallen men, any attempt to create a perfect justice system in this world without the presence of God would be blasphemous, presumptuous, and flawed—and would demonstrates a blasphemous disbelief and impatience in God's ultimate salvation and power. Mormon theology posits a religious duty to seek the cause of Zion here-and-now, rather than waiting for eternities. This paper is about the issues of justice that arise in the pursuit of Zion.

Sanjay Merchant: ELYONIC MONOTHEISM IS NOT SOCIAL TRINITARIANISM

LDS scholars David Paulsen and Brett McDonald contend that Joseph Smith taught a form of social trinitarianism, which they have termed "Elyonic monotheism." According to Elyonic monotheism, the Father, Son, and Spirit are ontologically independent gods who share a functional unity that is sufficiently robust to constitute divine oneness by biblical and creedal standards. I argue that functional oneness is incompatible with trinitarian oneness and that social trinitarians, like their Latin trinitarian counterparts, sought an ontological ground of divine unity which runs deeper than mere familial or covenantal oneness. Moreover, Elyonic monotheism fails to meet reasonable creedal standards and, as a consequence, is entirely out of step with the general aims of trinitarian theology.

Adam Miller : WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO READ SCRIPTURE?

What are we doing when we read scripture? In particular, what are we as Mormon scholars doing when, in the context of a prophetic and authoritative tradition, we dare to read and interpret scripture? I take it for granted that reading is itself material. Reading unfolds as a kind of "material semiotics." But my approach to this semiotic materialism gives it a twist. The twist is that I understand the relationship between the "material" and the "semiotic" as something that works in both directions at the same time: signs must be understood as material but matter must also be understood as semiotic. This reciprocity is crucial to my understanding of what we're doing when we read and interpret scripture. My thesis is that when we read scripture we are helping to a build a world just as literally as if we had brick and mortar in hand.

Steven L. Olsen: PETER'S TEARS

Peter's denial of Jesus, followed by his weeping "bitterly" (Matthew 26:75), is a poignant event in the life of this "rock" of the gospel and serves as a powerful turning point in his discipleship of the Savior. A careful examination of the biblical accounts reveals Peter's complex motivations for this outpouring of emotion and provides a greater appreciation of its long-term effect on Christ's chief apostle. This study also helps modern-day would-be disciples of the Savior to better understand what it means to "come and see" (John 1:39).

Steven Peck: AFTER THE MANNER OF THEIR LANGUAGE: HERMENEUTICS OF PROPHETIC DISCOURSE

It has become clear over the last few decades that new interpretive frameworks are necessary in both science and religion. This is especially so in light of our new understanding of how complex systems can create emergent properties that are not easily put into simple explanatory models and formal theoretical systems. Complexity can epistemologically overwhelm the reductive approaches that have proven so useful in establishing much of our understanding of the physical sciences. Similarly, reductionism has privileged literalistic readings of the scriptures. I will explore how current perspectives taken in the study of emergent phenomenon are relevant to theology, and especially important in understanding the revelatory aspects of God's communicating with humans. In this paper, I examine approaches to scriptures and other prophetic discourse within these new frameworks. In particular, I look at how science has handled new information by using "adaptive management." I suggest here that it may be a productive view for both science and religion.

Sheila Taylor : THE ROLE OF THEOLOGY IN THE DEVOTIONAL LIFE

This paper examines the relationship between theology and lived religious experience. It looks at theology on an informal level and the role it plays in belief, noting that Mormons have particular incentives to articulate some kind of personal theology. It also looks at the role of more formal academic theological work in Mormonism. In this society, we have discussed at length whether theology is even possible in an LDS context; this paper moves the discussion from that to the question of what (if anything) it has to offer to Mormonism more broadly. I can see at least two potential areas where it might contribute something of value: (1) in enabling us to talk more coherently other traditions, and (2) in allowing us to draw on the resources of other faiths in grappling with our own challenging questions. Finally, it lays out several ways in which I see theological discussion as particularly relevant for contemporary believers, and why we do a disservice to both theology and faith whenever we try to divorce theology from lived experience.

Gordon C. Thomasson: ALMA, KORIHOR, & MARX: THEMATIC INTERDEPENDENCE IN ALMA XVI — OR, READING LATTER-DAY SCRIPTURES "IN CONTEXT"

By the time today's average L.D.S. missionaries becomes Senior Companions, it is to be hoped they know to ask whether a scripture is being read "in context." But what do they know of context? This paper examines how Orson Pratt's inserting comparatively random "chapters" and "verses" in latter-day scriptures have prejudiced or effectively precluded one's most fundamental reading of our scriptures in context (including both The Book of Mormon and revelations in the 1835 Covenants and Commandments). Specifically, 1830 Alma XVI (today's chapters 30–35) is examined as an essentially coherent whole, rather than as separate chapters with discrete lessons on "apostasy," "pride in wealth and worship," "faith," etc. In the broader context of chapter XVI, the prophet Alma's narrative both refutes and affirms various of Korihor's teachings.

Jack Welch: FURTHER REFLECTIONS ON LOVING GOD WITH ALL THE MIND

In 2003, I presented a BYU campus devotional entitled ". . . And with All Thy Mind." Tying that devotional in with this year's SMPT conference theme of "Serving God with Our Minds," my presentation will revisit and reflect further on what it might possibly mean to love and serve God with all our minds. The logical and theological connections between loving God and serving God will be explored, suggesting that the two are necessarily linked, which has implications for what it means to "serve" God. Distinctive LDS perspectives on such matters as the nature of the commandment to love and serve God with all of one's mind then lead to expansive considerations about ways to serve and love God with the mind, while at the same time raising serious concerns about failures to do so.

 

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