Advocacy and Inquiry in the Writing of Latter-day Saint History



Our epigraphs suggest that knowledge and spirituality are not mutually exclusive, but rather are essential concomitants in understanding the significance of life and living it fully. Recent debate in Latter-day Saint circles, however, seems most often to stress the incompatibility of spiritual faith and historical knowledge, whether the emphasis be on the supposed lack of faith in Latter-day Saint historiography or on the purported lack of history in Latter-day Saint apologetics. However, the debaters often seem to rely on different underlying assumptions, to utilize different historical forms, to address different audiences, and to argue along intellectual lines which lie in different dimensions. In short, each faction seems to defend a different definition of history and of its function. The situation is manifestly unproductive, and more than a few onlookers have expressed impatience with it. Thomas G. Alexander, a leading practitioner of the so-called New Mormon History and one of the central figures in the ongoing debate between professional historians and apologists, has recently declared it to be “imperative that we begin building bridges” between spiritual faith and historical knowledge. The present article attempts to assist in the work of construction.

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