Over at the Juvenile Instructor, two of the brightest and most thoughtful young scholars studying Mormon history---Max Mueller and Amanda Hendrix-Komoto---dialogue with one another about the importance of questions concerning the Book of Mormon's historicity and how they each, as scholars from outside the Mormon tradition, approach the miraculous in Mormon studies. The whole conversation is well worth the read, and not just for scholars and students of Mormonism. The questions raised here get at how all religious historians treat the miraculous, how all historians approach the subjects they study, and ultimately, the purpose of historical scholarship altogether. Here is a preview to whet your appetite.
Amanda: So, I don’t really use the Book of Mormon in my own scholarship. Instead, I spend most of my time reading women’s diaries and their letters to their husbands. The Book of Mormon seems quite peripheral to their lives. Because I don’t have a lot of experience using the Book of Mormon in my own scholarship, I wonder if you could help me out by providing an example of what you do. How do you use it in particular to understand the early Saints better?
Max: I study race. In my work, I argue Book of Mormon has a very complex understanding of race. Sometimes it seems to parallel what we would see as fairly progressive, even “modern” views of race as a social/cultural construction. Other times, it seems to parallel the (stereo)typical nineteenth century views of Amerindians and other non-white people. I see these Book of Mormon ideas popping up all over in discussions of early Saints’ relationships with modern “Lamanites” as well as African Americans. So to understand how the early Saints attempted to create their latter-day Jerusalem, which on their best days they hoped would be made up of, as Nephi (I) declared, “every nation, kindred, tongue and people,” one needs to look at the text itself.