Thursday, August 6, 2015

To the Maxwell Institute's New Director

The Maxwell Institute is seeking a new director. Here is the announcement from Alan Harker:

The mission of the Neal A. Maxwell Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship is “to deepen understanding and nurture discipleship among Latter-day Saints and to promote mutual respect and goodwill among people of all faiths through the scholarly study of religious texts and tradition.” Brigham Young University seeks an energetic and accomplished scholar to lead the Maxwell Institute as its executive director. A demonstrated record of faithful scholarship and strong interpersonal skills are essential to this position. (emphasis mine)

The Maxwell does an excellent job in three out of its four initiatives:

  • William (Bill) Gay Research Chair
    Supports scholarship in fields of study related to ancient scriptures, such as Egyptology and other disciplines and relevant languages.
This one, however, needs work:

Contrary to the Church's formal position of neutrality on Book of Mormon geography issues, the Maxwell Institute has adopted a particular geography--Mesoamerica--and refuses to consider alternative perspectives, engage with scholars who have different views, or publish anything that doesn't support the Mesoamerican geography.

I encourage the new director to implement the Maxwell Institute's mission with respect to Book of Mormon studies. I recommend two first steps:

1. Purge (or at least peer review and edit) the Maxwell Institute publication of the old FARMS material that is dogmatic and contentious. (some examples among many are this, this, and this).

NOTE: I've been informed that the Institute can't delete the FARMS material because it is part of history. That makes sense. What I propose instead is that the Institute publish new material to update the research and rectify the things published by FARMS. The Institute hasn't published anything on Book of Mormon geography since Mormon's Codex, but that book is not the final legacy the Institute should be known by, for the reasons I've mentioned among others. Far better would be a legacy built on documented Church history that recognizes and supports Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Joseph Smith, while also explaining the historical facts regarding the 1842 Times and Seasons articles.

2. Adopt the Church's formal position of neutrality on Book of Mormon geography issues and publish alternative perspectives, particularly with a view of deepening understanding and nurturing discipleship. For example, instead of claiming that Joseph Smith was speculating, uncertain, or changing his mind about these issues, all of which undermines faith in his prophetic leadership, I would encourage the Maxwell Institute to reorient its approach to bolster faith in Joseph Smith.

In other words, I encourage the Maxwell Institute to go back and read what Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith wrote and undo the sophistry used by FARMS to cast doubt on them.

1 comment:

  1. As perhaps one of the foremost professional researchers in ancient scripture, and an expert on the Book of Mormon (read or studied it more times than I am years old), I would invite the two camps to stop "trying to prove", and instead learn how both camps have some truth. The Maxwell Institute did not reject, but copied my book (by permission), "Where Does the Two Cumorah Theory Stand?", which has sufficient evidence for both camps to readjust. Of the dozens of books and theories on the subject, which I have researched over the past 40 years, I have not found one that in some way does not contradict the Book of Mormon in some way or another. L. La Mar Adams (Ph.D. in Ancient Scripture, 1969)