I have the best job in all of Mormondom. I know this is quite a claim, and I’m sure I’ll have a few people disagree, but when I am asked what I do for a living, my answer is generally, “I get paid to read interesting stuff.” In my book, that’s pretty hard to beat.
I am the editorial director for BYU Studies Quarterly, the original Mormon studies journal, founded in 1959 by English professor and poet Clinton F. Larson and published quarterly for almost 55 years now.
Sure, there are aspects of my job that aren’t particularly fun. Footnotes that cite sources incorrectly are a headache. Verbose, repetitious articles are a chore to weed and prune. And dealing with competing egos can give an editor a few gray hairs. But our editor in chief, law professor John W. Welch, keeps the ship moving forward. So, for the most part, all I have to worry about is the content of the journal and an occasional book. And that is where the fun comes.
BYU Studies Quarterly is a multidisciplinary LDS journal. What that means is that any topic is fair game, as long as there is some connection (no matter how tenuous) with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' history, culture or theology. For me personally, what that means is that the seven years I have spent at BYU Studies have given me an incredibly broad education. I have learned far more in the past seven years than I learned in six years as an undergraduate and graduate student.
Let me give you an idea of what I’m talking about. When I edit an article, I learn whatever it is the author is trying to share. But I also need to learn enough about the subject to be able to credibly question facts, assertions and conclusions. Sometimes this involves digging into background sources. I have to be able to see flaws in argument and logic. I also hope to be conversant enough in the topic to make sure the university is not publishing something that may prove embarrassing. And the variety of subject matter we publish is impressive, to say the least. In the past seven years, I have personally edited articles on the following topics (and this is only about half the list):
A metallurgical analysis of ancient Roman plates
A civil engineering study of how the Saints drained the Nauvoo swamp
The conversion of Karl G. Maeser
A history of Mormon cinema
Seeking the good in art, drama, film and literature
Joseph Smith and the United Firm
Dating and marriage at BYU
Eleven LDS dedicatory prayers of the Holy Land
President Spencer W. Kimball and the revelation on priesthood
The Mountain Meadows Massacre
Comparing the views of Joseph Smith and Søren Kierkegaard
The Boggs shooting and the attempted extradition of Joseph Smith
Contemporary Mormon and Iranian film
The Book of Commandments and Revelations
The Ezekiel Mural at Dura Europas
The 1930–31 LDS Church education crisis
The 1844/45 apostolic declaration regarding succession
Theology and environmental stewardship
Icelandic novelist Halldór Laxness and the Mormons
Dating the birth of Christ
Astronomy and the Pearl of Great Price
How country music can improve your marriage
Joseph Smith’s Canadian copyright revelation
The King James Bible in America
The LDS theology of matter
Creating Christian vocabulary in a non-Christian land
LDS prisoners at the Davao Penal Colony No. 502, 1944
The medical practice of Dr. Frederick G. Williams
Rediscovering Provo’s first tabernacle with ground-penetrating radar
Comparing BYU with other religious universities
The LDS Church in Italy
This partial list is chronological and does not include any of the articles edited by my colleagues that I then read as a second editor (two sets of eyes being better than one). It also does not include a longer list of articles that were submitted but, for one reason or another, were not accepted for publication.
I think you get the idea when I say it has been quite an education.
Not every topic should interest every reader. To be honest, not all of them interested me. But I learned something from each of them. Still, BYU Studies Quarterly covers a wide range of topics — from mathematics to music and from history to humanities, all of which is written by experts in the various disciplines but written for a college-educated reader.
The nice thing about the journal is that every issue is different. Each issue also includes essays, historical documents, poetry and reviews of books and other media. And 51 years of BYU Studies content is free online. The most recent three years are reserved for subscribers (but are available to anyone for a download fee).
Which of all these articles is my personal favorite? I suppose it’s a tie. Based on the importance of the article, I would have to vote for Ed Kimball’s history of his father’s revelation on priesthood in 1978. But for sheer enjoyment, the 152-page history of Mormon cinema by Randy Astle was a delightful, incredible piece of work. It was like looking at more than 100 years of Mormon history through the lens of a camera. And in this case, I’m pretty sure the book is better than the movie!
Roger Terry is the editorial director at BYU Studies, which publishes a quarterly Mormon studies journal and books on LDS topics.