Scholars Terryl and Fiona Givens discuss life, love and their new book, 'The God Who Weeps'
“It occurred to me that Mormonism had been studied extensively through the lens of history, but never or very seldom through the lens of literary representations,” he recalled. “I soon realized that was a veritable gold mine to be excavated by focusing more on the texts and literary representations rather than the historical record. That is what brought me to where I am today.”
Givens has since written or co-authored several books on topics related to Mormonism.
“You are kind of wiped out by his productivity. He writes books so easily and so rapidly, it seems beyond human capacities,” said Richard L. Bushman, a friend, LDS scholar and history professor at Columbia University. “I think he is very well-informed in the canons of Western thought. He knows so many large thinkers and intersperses their insights into his description of Mormonism. His familiarity there leads him to see the depths of Mormonism.”
Robert L. Millet, a professor of religious education at BYU, said Givens is a “very significant and welcome voice in our time.”
James Faulconer, a BYU philosophy professor, said there are two things that stand out about Givens’ work.
“His ability to explain LDS history and ideas to non-LDS without using either LDS or academic jargon,” Faulconer said, “and his ability to see LDS ideas within the broader context of human cultural production.”
Grant Hardy, a history professor at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, said there is no one he would rather argue with than Givens.
“He’s articulate and he’s sharp; very prolific,” Hardy said. “I don’t always think he gets everything right, but he gets things wrong in interesting and provocative ways, and that’s useful for scholarly dialogue.”
Givens doesn’t believe in separating spiritual commitments from his professional vocation, thanks to a statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith, which reads, “It is our duty to concentrate all our influence to make popular that which is sound and good.” The LDS professor was determined to integrate his faith and professional life.
“It behooves us both as scholars and disciples to find that which is praiseworthy and celebrate it,” Givens said. “Whether that’s in the spirit or in the mind, intellect or culture, that’s what I’ve sought to do as a professional and a disciple.”
One good thing Givens found was his wife, Fiona.
Fiona Givens was born in Nairobi, Kenya. She and her siblings were raised in the Catholic tradition. At the proper age, they were sent to boarding school in England, she said.
At age 19, Fiona was living in Germany when a personal crisis entered her life. Without going into detail, she said she prayed earnestly for direction during this dark time and ended up befriending a woman who was a Mormon.
“We talked about God a lot," Fiona Givens said. "I found her views about God expansive."
Her friend invited her to church and introduced her to the missionaries. With time, study and a series of deep discussions, Fiona had what she described as a “Pentecostal” experience, with “great outpourings of the Spirit.”
“I was immersed in the Spirit. I’ve never experienced anything (like it) since,” she said. “But the word most often repeated in the Book of Mormon is ‘remember.’ So when I reach dark periods of my life, crevices, I remember.”
One of the highlights of Fiona’s early life was meeting Mother Teresa, whom she greatly admired. Fiona and some friends were walking through a cathedral where Mother Teresa was visiting and happened by a chapel as the Catholic nun emerged. Fiona said the experience reminded her of meeting LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball.
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