Regular readers of this blog may recall that I participated in a two-week intensive seminar on the Book of Mormon back in June, and that I loved it. (See my reflections on it here.) It was intellectually stimulating and spiritually nourishing, and I made some remarkable friends.
Now the Mormon Theology Seminar is looking for six new scholars who, along with directors Adam Miller and Joe Spencer, think that dissecting a chapter of the Book of Mormon all day every day for two weeks is their kind of fun. (Fly that geek flag proudly, people! I’m right there with you.)
Here’s the basic info:
The 2016 Mormon Theology Seminar for graduate students and faculty will be devoted to reading Alma 12–13. It will be hosted by Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, from June 1 through June 15, 2016. Travel arrangements, housing, and a $1,000 stipend will be provided for admitted participants. The seminar will be led by Adam Miller and Joseph Spencer, directors of the Mormon Theology Seminar, with assistance from Brian Hauglid, director of the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies.
Applications for the third annual Mormon Theology Seminar are due on January 15. The application and more information can be found here if you or someone you know is interested. I also talked briefly with Joe and Adam about their hopes for this year.
RNS: Why did you choose that particular passage (Alma 12:19 to 13:20) to focus on this year?
Joe Spencer: It’s a theologically rich text, because the last part of Alma 12 is a retelling of the Garden of Eden situation, and the beginning of Alma 13 is the Book of Mormon’s only statement on priesthood at all. It’s closely related to the letter to the Hebrews. It’s intertextually rich, and deals with uniquely Mormon themes.
Adam Miller: As a practical matter, you need a text that’s rich enough to support people from a variety of different disciplines—from a literary perspective, theological, historical. You also need something that’s relatively self-contained too.
RNS: What are you hoping to explore or accomplish?
Joe Spencer: It would be beautiful if we could see some serious reflection on priesthood. And the Garden of Eden story is so central to Mormonism. It’s at the heart of the temple, and it’s obviously theologically important for all kinds of reasons. So it would be nice to see what we can do with that.
When we were at Richard Bushman’s place last summer, he said that the task of the theology seminar is making the Book of Mormon great, and we hope to do more of that. What I think he meant was that if the Bible were just dropped into the world without any history of interpretation, people would see it as a mess. But there has been so much work done on the Bible that people can see it in context and understand the history of ideas. The Book of Mormon still looks like a mess to most readers. Part of our task is to highlight the themes, to find the richness of the text.
RNS: Why did you start this seminar a few years ago?
Adam Miller: We were looking for a way to do theology that would be uniquely Mormon. There were two things we felt were crucial: the seminar needed to center on a reading of scripture and it needed to be collaborative. And so we started experimenting with possible formats. Initially the seminars were conducted entirely online. We would do the work of reading the material together over the span of three months, and then people would write individual papers, and then we would get together for a live conference.
RNS: In my experience the best part of the seminar was all of us being together every day, helping each other hone our ideas. It reminded me of that proverb about iron sharpening iron.
Adam Miller: There are some advantages to doing it asynchronously online because the pace is so much slower, and all of the conversations themselves are archived. But in the end the live two-week format has been more productive, because what you generate in terms of heat and momentum more than compensates.
Joe Spencer: What I would say about the experience is that the spirit of camaraderie and collaboration is unlike anything I’ve experienced elsewhere in the academy. Beautiful souls working on beautiful texts. You can’t anticipate how beautiful it is to be together.
RNS: What kind of people are you looking for?
Adam Miller: We really want a mix of younger scholars—graduate students and junior faculty—and senior faculty and people who are further along in their careers. This is not intended just for graduate students. We will take six people [in addition to Adam and Joe].
Also, we’re not looking to collect a bunch of people who already have a bunch to say on Alma 12 and 13. We’re looking for people who can bring their skill sets and collaborate, not for prepackaged content. Smart people, basically, is what we want.