FAIR Conference ends as new Mormon scholarly journal begins

Published: Saturday, Aug. 4 2012 9:15 p.m. MDT

Dr. Daniel Peterson speaks about the role of Mormon apologetics during the 2012 FAIR Conference in Sandy.

R. Scott Lloyd, Deseret News

SANDY — Daniel C. Peterson, former editor of "Mormon Studies" for the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at BYU, took advantage of the spotlight afforded to him as the concluding speaker during Friday's final session of the 2012 Conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) to announce the formation of a new resource for those interested in scholarly perspectives on the scriptures of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture (www.mormoninterpreter.com) is intended as a "nonprofit, independent, peer-reviewed educational journal" focused on LDS scriptures, Peterson said.

"We will exist primarily online," said Peterson, professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at Brigham Young University and a regular Deseret News columnist. "Our goal will be to increase understanding of scripture."

Peterson, who has a reputation as a bold and aggressive defender of Mormonism, acknowledged that Mormon apologetics — defined earlier in his presentation as "defending the position of the LDS Church through the use of evidence and reason" — will be part of Interpreter's mission and ministry.

"We won't be solely apologetic," Peterson said, "but we won't be afraid of apologetics, either."

Peterson was affiliated with BYU's Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship until recently when a series of changes led to his dismissal as editor of the Institute's Mormon Studies Review.

Peterson has been critical of the changes, which he says includes a significantly reduced emphasis on apologetic research. That is problematic, he says, because the Institute has been specifically charged with "describing and defending the Restoration."

Maxwell Institute officials disagree, indicating that widespread assumptions that "the change of editorship we have recently announced for the Mormon Studies Review signals some kind of fundamental rejection of apologetics is incorrect."

Incorrect or not, Peterson believes that "apologetics is an important part of religious studies." He hopes that in addition to doing ground-breaking scholarly research in areas related to LDS scriptures, Interpreter will continue in the apologetic tradition of Peter and Paul from the New Testament and Alma from the Book of Mormon in "giving reasonable, rational arguments in support of the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Peterson's announcement was the last item on a FAIR Conference agenda that covered a wide range of LDS-oriented topics in front of the largest number of conference attendees ever ("We were essentially sold out," FAIR president Scott Gordon said, indicating that 409 tickets to the conference were sold, and 80 people listened to conference proceedings online). In addition to Peterson, a FAIR favorite, conferencegoers heard from BYU law professor Jack Welch, who is known for his groundbreaking research into the existence of an ancient Hebrew literary form called "chiasmus" within the Book of Mormon text.

Welch said "it is highly unlikely" that Joseph Smith knew anything about chiasmus when he translated the Book of Mormon, which contributes to the book's truth claims.

"Beyond that," Welch continued, "it also proves that the book is orderly and not chaotic, that it appears to have been carefully written, that it is more profound than some had assumed and it also enhances our appreciation for the book's beauty.

"I know this book to be true," Welch testified. "I also know it to be beautiful."

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