Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Day of Philosophy, Theology, and Law

[Cross-posted to By Common Consent]

I've received a couple of queries about the conference I mentioned in passing in an earlier post. I suppose I could write at length about the presentations given at the conference, and what I learned, and who I met, and what the purpose of the conference was as a whole, but fortunately Robert Crouch, one of the conference participants and one of the geniuses behind the wonderful Feast Upon the Word blog, has already provided all the summaries and links anyone could need. So go look there, if you're interested.

Oh, all right, if you take is that it was a brilliant little scholarly affair, and those are some of the best kind. Look at the essential ingredients: start with a wise, broad-minded and remarkably generous benefactor, in the form of Jim Faulconer, who holds the Richard L. Evans Chair of BYU (and whose presence around the Bloggernacle is sorely missed), and whose support makes just about everything the Mormon Theology Seminar has accomplished possible. Add a half-dozen whip-smart, earnest, committed scholars willing to spend a while thinking about Mormon texts: Nate Oman, Jeremiah John, the aforementioned Robert, Joe and Karen Spencer, Kristine Haglund, and throw in Matt Bowman and Ben Huff as last minute additions. Pick a truly important, and genuinely curious text: Doctrine and Covenants 42, the revelation of "the Laws of the Church of Christ," a text dealing with the legal, social, and economic organization of the burgeoning church received by Joseph Smith in early 1831... and subsequently added to, edited, and extensively rethought and rewritten in the months and years which followed. Plunk these people down at a small church college in the beautiful scenery of southwestern Virginia. Add an Italian dinner to wrap up the day, and what have you got? A day that makes being a scholar worthwhile.

The proceedings of the conference will eventually be published, and I, for one, look forward to reading it. (Not the least reason for being my desire to see what my own paper actually ends up looking like.) D&C 42 gives rise to all sorts of fascinating questions: what does it mean to have the authority to teach? can a religious community organize itself in accordance with revealed, theocratic law, while simultaneously existing in the midst of a larger, pluralistic society? just what is the relationship between plainness and beauty? what kind of justice towards those less fortunate and in need do the laws of consecration and stewardship actually entail? does the contorted textual history of the revelation teach us anything about the meaning of "canonization"? if community is founded by law, what does that tell us--if anything--about the sort of associational life which God calls us to, which elsewhere in the scriptures is defined by grace and love? And this is all just scratching the surface.

Anyway, for me it was a great, thought-provoking, and more than slightly intimidating day. Hope I can do another one someday soon.

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