It seems that "Mormon studies" is becoming popular in American educational establishments. Endowed chairs have already been established ate Claremont Graduate University and Utah State College. Now Harvard is offering a course on, "Mormonism and the American Experience". Much has been written about this development and the link below takes you to a very good commentary on the GetReligion blog, where a lively and interesting discussion is going on and where I posted the following comment:
This is a very interesting development. First of all, it does seem inevitable because, no matter which way you cut it, Mormonism is an integral part of American history and to exclude it from serious academic study is not a serious option. However, I wish they would stop repeating the ridiculous claim (in the original article) that this is one of the fastest churches in the world. Then of course there is the fiction that they have 13m “adherents”. Adherents suggests people who take the faith seriously enough to adhere to its tenets and actively involve themselves in its programmes. This is patently not the case.
But there is the problem of the Boyd K Packer (Mormon apostle) approach to historical research:
“I have come to believe that it is the tendency for many members of the Church who spend a great deal of time in academic research to begin to judge the Church, its doctrine, organization, and leader-ship, present and past, by the principles of their own profession. Oft-times this is done unwittingly, and some of it, perhaps, is not harmful... There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher Of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful...
It is an easy thing for a man with extensive academic training to measure the Church using the principles he has been taught in his professional training as his standard. In my mind it ought to be the other way around. A member of the Church ought always, particularly if he is pursuing extensive academic studies, to judge the professions of man against the revealed word of the Lord."
The Mormon Church is not "The Church of Jesus Christ". That title goes to the body of believers in all legitimate denominations (and non-denominational believers) across the world, of which Mormonism keeps claiming to be a part. In any event, they will find it impossible to censure non-Mormon scholars with such heavy-handed methods as excommunication. And they will have to get used to having a lower level of control on what academia has to say about Mormon history, beliefs and praxis than they are used to insisting upon. This is not going to be easy for an institution built on paranoia and, surprised to find itself “respectable”, a parvenu spirit.
Further, how will academia respond to a church that guards its historical documents as jealously as governments guard their secrets? It will be interesting to see a) how far the church will co-operate with those showing an interest b) how non-Mormons will respond when they are frustrated in their attempts to arrive at historical truth and c) how successful the Mormon Church will be in insinuating their correlated version of their faith and it's history into people's minds. Will these studies find the Tanner’s lifetime’s work of collating and recording Mormon documents useful? If so, what then?