Salt Lake Tribune, Mar. 29, 2003
By Peggy Fletcher Stack, The Salt Lake Tribune
Like most tightknit faith groups, Mormons tend to talk to each other about their beliefs. Or they discuss Mormon precepts with those they consider potential converts. Rarely, though, do they engage in scholarly dialogue about their faith with outsiders.
That is what makes this weekend’s conference at Yale Divinity School so groundbreaking, said organizer Kenneth West.
The two-day conference, “God, Humanity and Revelation: Perspectives from Mormon Philosophy and History,” has brought together historians and philosophers from several Utah campuses, including LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, the University of Utah, Utah State University and Utah Valley State College, as well as from Vanderbilt, Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Richmond, the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill, Wellesley, University of St. Andrews in Scotland and the Claremont School of Theology in northern California.
Nearly 300 people have registered for the conference held on Yale’s New Haven, Conn., campus and between 30 percent and 40 percent are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“This is the most significant event in Mormon scholarship for a very, very long time,” West said as the conference was getting under way Friday. “I don’t think we’ve ever assembled this quality of scholars or number of attendees before.”
Speakers include Richard Bushman of Columbia and Kathleen Flake of Vanderbilt, James Faulconer, Kathryn Daynes, Jill Derr, Robert Millet and David Paulsen of BYU, and Marilyn Adams, Christopher Beeley and Nicholas Wolterstorff of Yale, among others.
They will discuss such topics as Mormon understandings of founder Joseph Smith, his claims to visionary experiences, his narrative theology, the Book of Mormon and future of Mormonism, plural marriage and the Mormon family, LDS notions about eternal personhood, redemption and the Trinity.
Jan Shipps, an emeritus professor of American history and religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, will detail where Mormon theology fits on the American landscape of beliefs.
All respondents to those presentations will come from other faith groups or philosophies from the divinity school or other universities, West said.
“My hope is that there will be serious discussions where Mormon ideas will be challenged and defended,” he said. “This is not about apologetics.”
West first conceived the idea for a scholarly symposium on LDS beliefs in 2001, while finishing his degree in philosophy at BYU.
He began to work on it immediately after arriving at Yale, where he is working toward a master of divinity degree. West hopes to become one of only a few LDS chaplains in the U.S. military.
For more information about the conference, go to http://www.yale.edu/mormon_conference/