Reflections on #MIBushman

This last weekend I had the great privilege to attend “Mormonism in the Academy: Teaching, Scholarship, & Faith,” a colloquium held in honor of Richard Bushman. You can read the full program and bios at this site. It was a mix of intellectual rigor, personal reflection, and charitable engagement–all hallmarks of Bushman himself. I went through and storified all the live-tweeting here, which should give a decent (if very imperfect) overview of the various presentations.

Spencer Fluhman, the new director of the Maxwell Institute and organizer of the conference, said that Bushman specifically asked for this format: leading Mormon scholars deliver papers on how they situate Mormonism within the academic world, followed by renowned non-Mormon experts who have a connection to Bushman. There were certainly hiccups with this structure, as many of the panels were quite disparate and it was nearly impossible for the commenter–often someone with little background in Mormonism–to weave them all together. But it overall worked out quite well, as the respondents used the occasion to ruminate on faith, scholarship, and friendship. That such esteemed figures were willing to come out and participate is a testament to Bushman’s wide-reaching network. And the fact that several of them–most notably Harvard’s David Hall–opened up to share very personal and private religious beliefs demonstrates how highly they think of Bushman’s example. It was fitting that at a conference held in honor of Bushman, who has made it his quest in the last decade to show his vulnerability in terms of faith and knowledge, many others were surprisingly willing to demonstrate a similar vulnerability.

As one might expect, the praise was profuse. Richard Brown, one of the most respected historians of early America, noted that he holds no scholar in higher esteem than Richard Bushman. Duke Divinity’s Grant Wacker said that Bushman has exhibited an apologia for living a “good life” more than nearly anyone else he knows. All testified of his committed friendship and inimitable wit. After Bushman’s keynote address, one commenter during the Q&A attested to what a great Bishop he was. The breadth and depth of Bushman’s reach and touch may never be replicated. Not only is he one of the most respected historians who just so happens to be Mormon, but he is also one of the faith’s greatest emissaries. It is clear that people are as in awe of his congenial character as they are of his scholarly content.

Anyways, I look forward to the published proceedings.

One last word related to the conference. It is both ironic and fitting that this event was the first to take place after Spencer Fluhman was appointed director of the Maxwell Institute. In a way, it’s a useful transition point. Bushman represents how far Mormon scholarship has come in the last fifty years, and BYU’s appointment of Fluhman portends to where Mormon scholarship could go from here. Responsible, collegial, and academically integrative–these are the hallmarks of Bushman’s legacy, and they also happen to be attributable to Fluhman’s own approach and reputation. As Bushman once said, we are now truly entering a golden age.

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