Part Six: Amateurs Are Maggots?! On Mormon Studies

Part Six
of Interviews With Myself

Amateurs Are Maggots!?!  On Mormon Studies

Daymon, the basic
question I have is this: why do you hate amateurs so much?

Right. I think maybe I’ve not made myself clear on this point. The
word “amateur” is neither pejorative, as folks with advanced degrees
might have it; nor positive in evaluation. It is just a word that describes
persons who don’t make the majority of their income from the practice of
researching and writing about Mormonism. That’s it.  And so it allows the discussion of “Mormon
Studies” to be introduced to practical matters of economy and culture.  Hence we can proceed to some analysis
concerning the production of Mormon culture.

So, why do you hate

Jeez. I don’t hate amateurs. If I said Mormon Studies was
populated with Mormons, would that be used against me?  What if I wasn’t a Mormon? “You hate
Mormons!” I’d hear.  Identity
politics can be played in many ways.  Particularly when the identity has no
definition, but many which circulate and oppose one another:  What is a Mormon is answered differently by
different Mormons.  So there’s one
problem with Mormon Studies: it lacks a subject with definition.  That is different from, say, Women’s Studies,
African Studies, even Jewish Studies.

But they argue about definitions all the time.

Right, and that generates a lot of articles, books, and so
on.  But their subject is grounded in
something other than the act of speaking: “Mormon” identity is
speech-dependent.  It comes about by
virtue of the magic of pronouncement, either from a representative of an
institution, or from one’s own self-identification.  And how one defines “Mormon” shapes how one
reacts to “Mormon Studies,” and how one reacts then shapes where one speaks to
other “Mormons.”  The construction of
“Mormon Studies” has not resolved the basic problem that “Mormon” as a way to
classify research activities is inherently bound up with pragmatics, with ways
of speaking and the effects of speaking and writing.  Field-external sources of “power,” say, cultural
or economic capital, can then wield field-shaping influence.

Could you explain that?
“Mormon” is a speech dependent identity?

Not yet.  Later.  Look, I’m looking at what is called Mormon
Studies as an anthropologist.

Ah, so that’s, why you
hate amateurs?

Fine. Yep. I do. Just because I’m evil. If I can see past the
burning boiling hatred, I might try to explain why I think amateurs are,
potentially, a strength in the study of Mormonism.  What seems clear, however, is that Mormon
Studies was and is held to be cast in the image of academic disciplines. But
there may another way to view Mormon Studies, as something other than an
academic field.  Look to Maggot.  Farmer Maggot.

What about journals?
And endowed Chairs? And research? And people saying “Mormon” at
conferences? And, and, and –

Get a hold of yourself, there, boy-o. Anyone can start a journal,
or a blog; and a few endowed chairs do not a discipline make.  In fact, an endowed chair is often a sign of a
lack of academic credibility, and also a way to control the direction of
“Mormon Studies” from within the Ivy Tower; a sort of secular “priesthood” with
all the trappings of priestcraft, perhaps.
Buying cultural capital with economic capital, rather than acquiring it
through the traditional channels by which academic posts develop.

Whoa!  My testimony is hurting right now.  Can we stop?

What are signs of Mormon Studies are all the things which require
either little capital and lots of time, ambition, and, maybe, loneliness (e.g.,
blogs, online ‘journals’, publishing with apologetic venues); or lots of
capital and little background (e.g., funding of endowed chairs): those things
people point to as evidence of a thriving Mormon Studies, as a burgeoning
respectability within academia.  We have
long been seeking respectability, and this is merely the latest, upper-class
effort.  A sort of elite PR, let’s
say.  But I think it may be something
different from an academic discipline, like a —

Hold on.  So, you want to make it out to be like all
the other “studies”, and want to be the President of Mormon Studies,

Huh? No. What I think is necessary is a Mormon Studies which is
grounded in, say, Mormonism, rather than, say, academia. Would a Mormon Studies
proponent ever present on anything driven by the methodology of
“seership”? Or would he ever claim to have seen some ancient text in
vision, and then, published on it in a bible studies journal? Or what about the
use of spirit guides to give us a new history of New Deal? Or a revelation from
Moroni regarding DNA? Never. So, what is called Mormon Studies is a
“Mormonism” rarified, bleached out, fluffy version translated into
the categories of academia.  That’s one
reason it’s like Fundamentalism.  And
like that sect, only a few benefit from the labors of many.

Who benefits from the supposed existence of Mormon Studies?  People benefiting from the claims of an
existing Mormon Studies are those who can funnel real or cultural capital, floating
around Mormonism, back their way: that is, graduate students applying for
fellowships and grants; academics looking to fluff up their cv’s, or escape the
administrative track, and a few authors. Some folks at the COB, perhaps,
looking for a little academic cover to keep them employed despite the ongoing
paranoia of too much history hurting a people’s faith.

Everyone else, maybe, is a patsy in their game: all the amateurs
whose work would be called, say, doctrinal, spiritual, or otherwise fitted into
existing genres of Mormonism, instead find their work swallowed up by the
privileged few who’d claim a Mormon Studies, and make it seem distinct from
apologetics, at least, to those who don’t like apologetics.

So, you don’t hate

No. I despise efforts to remake every aspect of our religion so
that it is respectable to some other power.
We’ve been at it too long, with the complicity of “leaders”
who just wanted to make it into a business. Make it evangelical, vaguely
Christian, feminist or misogynist, pro- or anti-homosexual, corporate, just a
topic for dry historical inquiry, a lame “community,” whatever; but
for god’s sake, the ambition seems to be, don’t let it be Mormonism with all
its kookiness, magic, potency, and demands for charity, honesty, humility,
sacrifice, empathy, serious and cautious working out, and immense discipline;
and truth, don’t forget.  No, this isn’t
Daymon the anthropologist, so much as Daymon the Elder’s Quorum teacher,
talking.  No, for some reason Mormonism
must be translated constantly into the categories of some other tradition: an
academic field, a political party, an economic justification for corporate
capitalism, a monstrosity of a corporation, a chance to play-act at being nice,
whatever. By dumping the term Mormon Studies onto anything of intellectual
value done by Mormons, or about Mormons, or about the products of Mormons, a
handful of folks have merely severed another part of Mormonism away, for their
own benefit and counsel.


So.  Mormon Studies is in
the service of Correlation, for it provides an “outlet” for Mormons
to publish without really dealing with Correlation, all the while still under
the soft regime of Correlationistas, but with the added poison of schizophrenic
Mormon Neo-Con Liberals in Academia (I’m joking, friends!), who can say things
in the name of Mormon Studies that wouldn’t be speakable at Sunday school.  But that’s where the chairs, and journals, subtle
priestly guidance, paranoia of being outside proper speaking circles, and
highly capitalized bodies come into play, as regulators of the genre.

So, what do you think
should be done about all the amateurs? Genocide, or exile?

Look, I’m here now as an anthropologist, not a problem solver. But
maybe I can point to what I would do. Lawyers generally have done good work in
Mormonism, and I don’t mean at the COB. They’ve brought a level of rigor, a
depth of reading, a care for argument into what was previously left to guys
writing pamphlets in order to recruit plural wives, or to ex-Mormons trying to
save your souls, or to overweening “leaders” looking at a red chair,
or to a few academics who thought the Mormons quant enough to be studied in the
same way Native Americans were, in a sort of salvage ethnography. There are
some real gems of scholarship from the early 1900s, from the early 1840s, from
the early 1990s, and everywhere between. What I don’t see is why these must be
named and classified as Mormon Studies, except because it is something which
makes sense inside academia. You don’t need credentials to do good work, but
credentials help when applying for grants, fellowships, chairs, and the like;
all of which are given life through a framing of Mormon Studies, which field is
watered largely by the work of amateurs, who then are excluded from the same
fruits there cultivated.  Amateurs can
present at conferences held at BYU, UVU, Yale, and Claremont, but how many are
offered positions?  Participation is not
always Participation.

So, you don’t hate
amateurs just because they are amateurs, and the word “amateur”
doesn’t hide contempt?

Ah, at last! We can get to the starting point, at last.  There is a logic to the entry points of
Mormonism as a research subject, as a cultural field with products made by
humans.  One could go to graduate school,
and either study Mormonism from some academic perspective, or merely add to
one’s training a few excursions into Mormonism, all the while mostly working
on, say, The Meaning of X, Y, and Z in A Foreign Place or Time.  Or one can enter into the research strictly
as an amateur.  Now, amateurs can do
certain kinds of research very well, the sort that makes demands on time, for
example, by sitting in the archives or just reading everything one can
find.  Here we can begin to identity how
the matter of “genre” (by that I mean, “Mormon” is a speech-dependent thing,
just as a kind of literature is), how genre interfaces with matters of text,
economy, and the production of “knowledge” as a cultural product.  There is a logic to this practice, which I
will outline soon enough, alright?

OK.  Another promise.

I will get back to the whole baptism and Holy Ghost discussion,
eventually.  But first we will wander
over to Farmer Maggot’s Farm, which should not be confused with Maggie’s Farm.  Maggot may have something to teach us about divisions
of labor in Mormonism: specifically, how amateur and professional scholarship
can intersect, and do so without the intervention of a priestly caste, highly
capitalized chairs, and a massive corporate headquarters concerned not only
with copyright and trademark, but also what you say, how you dress, who you
touch, where you tithe, and how you read.
Perhaps Tolkien Studies and Tolkien Fanzines together more closely
approximate what is called Mormon Studies; Jewish Studies or Gender Studies may
not be the most accurate analogs of Mormon Studies.

The basic link? 

A voluntary society loosely affiliated; research that is mostly
text-corpus driven and so offering a few comparative routes of research; certain
easy entry points for research, and yet highly technical scholarship; journals;
podcasts; for-credit courses at major universities; and a membership not
determined by matters of biology, ethnicity, rituals, or even belief in the
truth or falsity of statements made “inside” the community.  Both have their Maggots and their Nazgul, as
well.  But there are telling differences.

Tolkien Studies versus
Mormon Studies?

You got it.  Grudge Match.  Next time.

1 Comment

  1. day2mon says:

    By “speech dependent” I mean something closer to “symbolic sign derived”; which is to say, “Mormon” is not evident in “the body” or other “natural” sign systems, but is composed of “signs” which have arbitrary relations between the signifier = way of speaking, writing, dressing, etc., and the signified = “Mormon-ness”. As a result, there are no “indexes” of Mormonness which are not also constantly under revision.

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