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Defending the Faith: Variety of thinkers will present at Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology's annual meeting

Published: Thursday, Sept. 13 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

Symposium in honor of Richard Lyman Bushman at Springville Museum of Art on June 18, 2011. Terryl L. Givens gives plenary address on Joseph Smith, Romanticism and Tragic Creation. Tuesday, June21, 2011.

R. Scott Lloyd, Photo by R. Scott Lloyd

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From Sept. 20-22, the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology (SMPT) will hold its 2012 annual meeting in Logan.

Founded at the close of a path-breaking conference on Mormonism held at Yale University's Divinity School in March 2003, SMPT has sponsored a series of annual meetings since that time that have featured many extraordinarily interesting thinkers — both Latter-day Saints and non-Latter-day Saints — on matters relating to Mormon doctrine and scripture.

This year's annual meeting will again offer a rich and varied menu of presentations, commencing at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 20, when Terryl Givens, of the University of Richmond (Virginia), delivers the 18th annual Leonard J. Arrington Mormon History Lecture on "The Prophecy of Enoch as Restoration Blueprint" at the Logan LDS Tabernacle.

The full round of SMPT meetings will commence on Sept. 21 and continue Sept. 22, including two papers on the important Book of Mormon topic of "opposition in all things," a consideration of "The Importance of Being Meek," an evangelical approach to "The Eternality of God" and a Mormon biblical scholar's take on the creation account in Genesis.

BYU professor of philosophy James Faulconer will consider Joseph Spencer's recent book "An Other Testament: On Typology," while Spencer will also offer a paper titled "What Can We Do?" Steven Peck, an evolutionary biologist at BYU (and a poet and novelist), will enter ever-controversial but intriguing territory with a paper on "Death, the Fall, and Darwin: A More Harmonious Reading," while, at another point in the meeting, Rico Martinez ponders the important Book of Mormon text "Adam fell that men might be."

Two panel discussions will be featured in the program. Ralph Hancock, Daniel Peterson and Givens will consider the often uneasy relationship between secular and "faithful" scholarship; Rosalynde Welch, Spencer, Jacob Baker and George Handley will reflect upon Adam Miller's new book, "Rube Goldberg Machines," which seeks to introduce a fresh style of Mormon theology. (Miller, too, will present a paper at the conference.)

Loyd Ericson's "'What's Ragged Should be Left Ragged': God's Problem of Evil" considers an issue that has fueled debate, tested faith and sent anguished believers to their knees for many generations. Philip Barlow, Arrington Professor of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, will share a personal statement of his own informed belief, titled "Questions at the Veil."

At least two papers will reflect upon the all-important question of divine grace and its role in our hoped-for salvation. Daniel Graham, an internationally prominent authority on ancient Greek philosophy, will examine the question of "Free Will in the Early Church," while, on a related note, Charles Harrell will report on "Foreordination, Foreknowledge, and Free Will: The Doctrine of Preexistence in Alma 13." On a related topic, Heather Hardy's presentation will focus on "Divine Sovereignty and Human Agency."

Issues of pressing contemporary relevance will be discussed in such presentations as Margaret Toscano's "War is Hell: The Ethics of War in the Book of Mormon" and Blair Hodges' "Jacob, Isaiah, and Social Justice in the Book of Mormon." Equally relevant to modern readers — who find themselves in a perpetually shrinking world full of good, intelligent and sane people who believe deeply in widely varying worldviews, each of which claims to offer salvation — is "The Book of Mormon on the True Church and Religious Pluralism," which will be the topic of Randall Paul's remarks.

Another paper, borrowing a concept from Judaism, will propose the Pearl of Great Price as the basis of "Mormon Midrashic Tradition." A pair of presentations will provide close readings of, respectively, Alma 7:11-13 and Alma 32, while yet another furnishes "a thumbnail sketch" of "Book of Mormon theologies."

Benjamin Huff, a professor of philosophy based in Virginia (and SMPT's utterly indispensable secretary-treasurer) will argue for the Book of Mormon as "The Book of the Weeping God" (containing a distinctive view of atonement and divine compassion). James McLachlan, a former president of SMPT, will compare "Mormonism, Idealism, and Romanticism."

Listing all of these presentations has, I know, given this column something of the character of a laundry list. But I hope it's also provided a sense of the diversity of people, approaches and subjects that will be on offer at this year's SMPT smorgasbord.

Admission to the 2012 annual SMPT meeting is open to all. Further information regarding places, times and programs can be found at www.smpt.org.

Daniel C. Peterson is a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU, where he also serves as editor in chief of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. He is the founder of MormonScholarsTestify.org, the general editor of "Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture" online at www.mormoninterpreter.com and he blogs daily at www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson.

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