Happy New Year, everyone. Change is in the air: time to make your resolutions for the new year. This will also be a year of change at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (“MI”). There are some new things coming. Let’s tackle them one at a time, in reverse chronological order.
New Scholars. Just announced at the MI website, three new scholars are joining the MI: Terryl Givens joins MI as a permanent Senior Research Fellow, Fiona Givens joins MI as a research fellow, and Steven L. Peck joins MI as part of a joint appointment with the BYU Department of Biology. Exciting to see these well-established scholars — who have all published books aimed at the general Mormon audience — join MI. Hopefully their work with the Institute will continue that effort.
New Building. Last month, the MI website announced a planned move of the Institute from its small building across 700 East at the base of big hill on the south side of the BYU campus to a brand new building up on the main campus. The new building will replace the old Faculty Office Building, aka FOB, which I recall visiting a time or two while at BYU. Both the physical move onto the main campus and the appointment of the LDS scholars noted above will raise the profile of MI on campus and in the Church.
New MI. It has been six years since there was a change of leadership at the Institute. I would describe the resulting change of focus as a turn away from Mormon apologetics toward broader Mormon Studies scholarship. Others would describe the change in more detail and in much different terms. Personally, I think the 2012 changes were a good thing because I think apologetics is best practiced by third parties like FAIR (okay, FAIRMormon). It was perhaps a mistake for FARMS, which was originally an independent entity, to be absorbed by BYU in 1997, eventually changing its name to the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. It seems like The Interpreter is the right kind of organization to carry on the work that FARMS was originally doing. I like Mormon apologetics to be independent because it is easier to ignore it when it makes dumb arguments to defend positions it chooses to defend, and when it defines positions it chooses to defend as being orthodox or established LDS positions.
To me, moving MI to the main campus and bringing in new scholars that will raise the profile of the Institute looks like an endorsement of the New MI. Additional information on whether LDS leadership agrees with the direction of the New MI will be available when text of Elder Holland’s November 10 speech to the Institute (at the annual Neal A. Maxwell Lecture) is published. I hope it is a full transcript rather than an edited or modified version of the remarks delivered by Elder Holland. I see the current direction of the Church under its own new leadership as being 100% retrenchment. Endorsement of the work of the New MI would signal at least some degree of support for the scholarly side of Mormon Studies (as opposed to apologetics) and also support for ongoing dialogue with non-LDS scholars that the New MI (as well as a few other groups at BYU) sponsor. [Yes, I see retrenchment as basically anti-intellectual, opposed to scholarship that touches on LDS history and doctrine, and opposed to dialogue with non-LDS scholars who have an interest in Mormon topics.]
Congratulations to the Institute on these new appointments and the new building. I look forward to the continuing publications of MI and the work to be done by these new scholars.