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Emily W. Jensen: At symposium honoring birthday, Bushman says now is 'golden age' of Mormon historical scholarship

Published: Wednesday, June 22 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Although the title of the June 18 symposium read “Mormonism in Cultural Context: A Symposium in Honor of Richard Lyman Bushman on the Occasion of His Eightieth Birthday,” the honoree was able to deftly sidestep the spotlight and instead focus on the broader pursuit of Mormon scholarship.

“I believe we are in a golden age of Mormon history,” Richard Bushman said, rattling off the sponsors for the symposium: Church History Department, Mormon Historic Sites Foundation, Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Religious Studies Center, Springville Art Museum and Mormon Scholars Foundation.

“What do these institutional sponsorships mean?” Bushman asked. “It means that Mormon historical scholarship is not confined to scholars alone; it has an organic connection to the community. Church, university and private foundations support this work. It means that as people care about history, they want to preserve and explore.”

Additionally, Bushman explained that “we are in a golden age because of independent inquiry where scholarship is no longer judged by its partisan conclusions, but by its accuracy and insight.”

Church leaders, scholars and young minds are combining to tell more accurate history, Bushman said.

“We do not need to conceal our history," he said. "It will be more convincing, more engaging and more true if we tell it as it is. Historians thrive when they are free to pursue their own truth.”

As examples, Bushman cited the recent Mountain Meadows Massacre book, the Joseph Smith Papers Project and the participation of church historian and recorder Elder Marlin K. Jensen and assistant church historian Richard E. Turley in various history associations.

“We have the training, the smarts and the moxie," Bushman said. "Mormon scholars are doing fine.”

Claudia Bushman served to spotlight their “charmed life” as she gave a mini-biography of her husband. She told of his growing up in a home full of love where his parents encouraged intellectual development. She joked that when she married him, her own mother said, “I wonder if she’s good enough for him.”

Claudia Bushman described how hard they worked through the lean years of school and were able to graduate “without serious debt.” They were recruited by BYU right out of school and were recruited for job after job for most of his career.

“We were favored by fate," she said.

She explained that as children came into the home, they had to tighten their finances even further; they count the ability to have helped their children gain good educations as their greatest expenditure.

Claudia Bushman also described her husband as “single-minded, devoted to his work and to the church.” Richard Bushman has also spent considerable time and energy in mentoring young intellectuals and considers it one of his many causes.

To see the video from other scholars honoring Bushman's legacy, go to YouTube for part one and part two.

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