This fifth annual summer seminar will again adapt the Mormon Theology Seminar’s practice of facilitating intense, exploratory, interdisciplinary, and collaborative readings of Mormon scripture for a live two-week format. During the first week, the seminar will meet daily to work word-by-word through the text of Mosiah 4:4-25 from a variety of disciplinary perspectives (philosophical, historical, literary, anthropological, rhetorical, political, archeological, sociological, etc.) in order to promote theologically rich readings of the text. The second week will workshop conference papers and a joint-report based on the previous week’s collaboration and will culminate in a one-day conference, open to the public, on June 30, 2018. The conference proceedings will then be gathered and edited for publication.

The seminar welcomes applications from a wide variety of academic disciplines, cultural backgrounds, and geographic locations. Graduate students, junior faculty, and scholars based outside the U.S. are especially encouraged to apply, though applications from senior and independent scholars are also welcome.

Applications should be submitted by December 22, 2017. Notifications will be sent by January 22, 2018. Application materials should include (1) a full curriculum vitae, (2) a 200-word statement regarding the applicant’s interest in the seminar, and (3) a 500-750 word essay that demonstrates the applicant’s ability to offer a close, creative, and theologically substantial reading of Mosiah 4:13.

I’ve applied every year, and I’ve shared my thoughts on my personal blog. In past entries I talked about Giddianhi plundering the Nephite narrative, and possible type scenes in Abinadi’s preaching. I only had 750 words so I had to be painfully brief, but I hope to expound upon this in the future either at the seminar or on my own:

Reading Mosiah 4:13 through the lense of Chinese political and military philosophy highlights Daoist beliefs that wars result from a lack of virtue.  This reading hinges on two phrases in 4:13, the first that men should “have a mind… to live peaceably,” and the second to give “every man according to that which is due.”  Given the context before and after this verse, LDS readers reasonably assume that this refers to spiritual salvation and the donation of physical goods to the needy. But the connection between spiritual and physical in “begging” invites us to consider how the two statements respectively refer to the preferred method of keeping peace, and a justification for waging war in a fallen world.

Political scientist Alastair Johnson argued that Chinese thought held what he called the Confucian Mencius view. One of the prominent beliefs included the idea that the righteousness and good governance of a ruler could prevent conflict.[1]  Confucian historians considered the resort to warfare as an admission of the ruler’s moral bankruptcy.[2] Much like Doctrine and Covenants 121: 121:46, the Confucian Mencian belief held that a righteous ruler would have power “flow unto [him] forever and ever.” Or in the words of military theorist Wu Qi: “The Sage rests the people in the Way [Tao], orders them with righteousness, moves them with forms of propriety [li], and consoles them with benevolence.”[3]

All societies still contend with warfare, and because of the difference between the utopian ideal and warlike reality Chinese military theorists often synthesized Confucian ideals into a just form of warfare. Sunzi invoked the semi mythical “antiquity” to lend moral weight to his analysis of military strategy. He said that “In antiquity those that excelled in warfare first made themselves unconquerable in order to await [the moment when] the enemy could be conquered. Being unconquerable lies with yourself.”[4] In this analysis, the proper mental preparation of a general included elevating his moral character and carefully making strategic plans based on the aptitude and aims of the armed forces, which could then make power flow to him (like water, see below),  and make his forces “unconquerable.”

Once in the battle, similar principles regarding flowing power led to victory.  The very first line of Sunzi’s Art of War for example says that “warfare… is the way to survival or extinction.”[5] This way likey refers to Confucian teachings about the proper forms of conduct necessary to lead and govern a nation.[6]  Sunzi frequently referred to flowing water to describe a victorious army.  For example, “the combat of the victorious is like the sudden release of a pent up torrent down a thousand fathom gorge.”[7] Theory said that managing the army according to righteous principles granted them power equal to a flood that could wipe away their enemies.

In short the idea that power flows to a person through their righteous behavior is seen in every phase of warfare, from the proper conduct of rulers, to the character and skills of the general, to the strategic maneuver of soldiers, and finally to the tactical conduct and outcome on the battlefield. The famous Three Kingdoms ruler Zhuge Liang summarized how righteousness relates (and helps avoid) each phase of battle: “Anciently, those who excelled at governing did not send forth armies. Those who excelled at sending forth armies did not form up for battle. Those who excelled at battle formations did not actually war. Those who excelled at warring did not lose. Those who excelled at losing did not perish.”[8]

There is a good deal of difference between Chinese moral principles and Christian thought, and Chinese writers warned against “merely remembering and reciting [empty words of classic theorists]” instead of thoroughly penetrating its depths,[9]  but there are enough similarities to justify a Confucian reading of Mosiah 4:13, and we might conclude that those who excelled at a peaceable mind advocated by King Benjamin, did not need to “render” using armies, but that military leaders needed to exercise righteous principles in order to give to every man according to their due.

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[1] Alastair Iain Johnson, Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History (New York: Princeton University Press, 1998) 155.

[2] Ibid., 62.

[3] Wuzi, Ralph Sawyer trans., The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, (New York: Westview Press, 1993), 207.

[4] Sunzi, the Seven Military Classics, 163.

[5] Sunzi, The Seven Military Classics, 157.

[6] Johnson, Cultural Realism, 64.

[7] Sunzi, The Seven Military Classics, 164, 165, 168.

[8] Cited in Johnson, Cultural Realism, 119.

[9] Questions and Replies between Tang Taizong and Li Weigong, Seven Military Classics, 359-360. The text contains some pretty great warnings about superficial knowledge that can also apply to LDS members’ use Hugh Nibley’s writings and is the foundation of future research.