To Be Learned Is Good is a collection of essays given at a scholars’ colloquium in June 2016 that explores the tensions between faith and scholarship. This colloquium was held in honor of Richard Lyman Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Professor of History emeritus at Columbia University, who has made significant contributions to Mormon history and scholarship. Among his many publications is the groundbreaking biography Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. According to the editors of To Be Learned Is Good, the essays in this volume feature “twin commitments to academic and religious worlds” and “reflect our vibrant and productive moment in LDS intellectual life that Richard himself helped to create and shape” (x).
The book is split into six main sections, each of which comprises an introduction and three essays. The first section is titled “Historians Are Never Innocents.” In this section, David D. Hall, Philip L. Barlow, Terryl L. Givens, and Mauro Properzi discuss what to do when faith and scholarship seem to clash and how religious prejudices affect scholarship, including how to confront the fear that religious prejudices will damage one’s scholarship and how religious prejudices can actually aid scholarship. In the second section, “Anxiety and Obligation in Scholarship,” Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, David Holland, Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, and Kate Holbrook focus on how religion relates to the obligations scholars have in certain relationships, such as those between teachers and students, the living and the dead, and universality and particularity.
In the third section, “Reenvisioning Mormonism,” Ann Taves, Adam S. Miller, Deidre Nicole Green, and Jared Hickman talk about discussing and studying Mormonism from the perspective of various disciplines; they highlight specifically history, theology, feminism, philosophy, and literary criticism. The fourth section is titled “Can Historians Quest after Religious Truth?” In this section, Robert A. Goldberg, Jana Riess, Matthew J. Grow, and Matthew Bowman discuss the tension between history and religion, the issues scholarship can create in a religious setting, the dangers of using history as a basis for faith, and the importance of being objective and nonjudgmental when teaching and performing scholarly work.
The fifth section is titled “Scholarship in Its Purest and Best Form?” Richard D. Brown, Brian D. Birch, Grant Underwood, and Patrick Q. Mason focus on the problems Latter-day Saint scholars have when facing other scholars not of their faith, especially in the field of religious studies, and the relationship between religious studies and the study of Mormonism in general.
In the sixth section, “It Is Much Better to Err on the Side of Generosity,” Grant Wacker, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Armand L. Mauss, and Claudia L. Bushman discuss neutrality in scholarship and teaching, the challenges women face in academia, and the line between being a professional and nonprofessional scholar.
The book ends with “Benedictions,” a section that includes an essay from Tona Hangen and an essay from Bushman himself. Hangen’s essay discusses the challenges of being a Latter-day Saint scholar in today’s world and describes how she incorporates her beliefs into her scholarship and teaching. Bushman’s essay explores the importance, when speaking of matters of faith in an academic or secular setting, of using language that will be understood by non–Latter-day Saint scholars and the importance of engaging in and practicing such discussions. He argues that the more scholars learn about both their faith and their academic disciplines, the easier it will be for them to confront other scholars and members of their faith and to reconcile their faith with reason.
To Be Learned Is Good encourages Latter-day Saint scholars to not ignore the tensions between scholarship and faith but rather to engage with these tensions and make them a part of who they are and the type of scholars they wish to be. This book will appeal to those who are interested in the intersection of faith and academia, as well as to Latter-day Saints who wish to better understand their own faith in a secular world.