My view: Mormon women, incredible intellectuals

By Kaimipono D. Wenger and Jessica Steed

Published: Thursday, June 30 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

We read the recent list of "Top 10 LDS Intellectuals" with great interest. It is commendable that the news is highlighting important pieces of Mormon studies scholarship, including Leonard Arrington's classic article, "The Intellectual Tradition of the Latter-day Saints" (from which the list was drawn), which examined the possibilities of a Mormon intellectual identity.

Unfortunately, we fear that some plain and precious truths were lost during the abridgment of Arrington's article. For one thing, the reprint seems to calcify the particulars of Arrington's list. That list may have been accurate in 1969 but is less so today because it necessarily omits the work of the many vibrant scholars who have contributed to Mormon studies over the past four decades.

Another weakness is acknowledged in the original article, where Arrington frankly notes that his list (based on the responses of 50 scholars) contains no women, probably due to the failure of historians to call attention to the contributions of women in Mormon history.

We at WAVE are concerned that reprinting Arrington's list in short form may perpetuate the false idea that Mormon women cannot be intellectuals. That absurdity — to borrow a line from one prominent Mormon intellectual — "makes reason stare." After all, women from Eliza R. Snow to Terry Tempest Williams to Laurel Thatcher Ulrich provide proof of women's contributions to Mormon intellectual life.

We have recently launched two WAVE projects to further make clear the intellectual role of Mormon women. The first is a web page listing women intellectuals in the LDS community. It is located at www.ldswave.org/?p=870. It is a work in progress, and we invite readers to participate and make suggestions. Second, we have asked 50 prominent LDS intellectuals to list their top Mormon women intellectuals. Once we have collected responses, we will publish the results. This will help make clear that — with a nod to Elder Quentin L. Cook and to Wallace Stegner — Mormon women can be incredible intellectuals.

Kaimipono D. Wenger and Jessica Steed wrote this on behalf of the Board of LDS WAVE (Women Advocating Voice and Equality).

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