In 1969 Leonard Arrington asked 50 prominent Mormons to identify the “five most eminent intellectuals in Mormon history.” The following list is taken from his list first published in the LDS journal Dialogue. If you disagree with the list feel free to send me emails with your own list. Email: HBoyd@desnews.com
Ephraim Edward Ericksen (1882-1967) – Ephraim Edward Ericksen graduated from Brigham Young College in Logan in 1908. Ericksen received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in philosophy and political economy. Ericksen was a faculty member at the University of Utah and the philosophy chair for some 30 years. He was also the dean of the University’s College of Arts and Sciences for six years. His “The Psychological and Ethical Aspects of Mormon Group Life” was published by The University of Chicago Press and was an influential book for many years.
Parley Parker Pratt (1807 -1857) – Parley Parker Pratt was first introduced to the Book of Mormon by an aged Baptist deacon; subsequently, Parley was baptized a Mormon in 1830. In 1835 he was ordained an apostle. Parley served a mission to England, among many others, during which time he edited the church’s Millennial Star newspaper. Pratt gained a reputation for his poetry and his doctrinal expositions. After the Mormon exodus to the Utah Valley Pratt served as a regent of the University of Deseret (later the University of Utah) and as a member of the Utah Territorial Legislature. On his final mission Parley was killed near Van Buren County, Ark. — he is viewed by some church members as a martyr.
In the Photo: Line art of Parley P. Pratt. From the book, "History of Utah," by Orson F. Whitney, 1892.
Hugh Nibley (1910 - 2005) – Hugh Nibley attended the University of California, Los Angeles and graduated summa cum laude. He went on to earn his Ph.D. from then University of California, Berkley. Nibley was known for his extensive knowledge of languages. As a faculty member at Brigham Young University he applied his extensive knowledge of languages to Mormon apologetics. The breadth and volume of his apologetic scholarship is perhaps unprecedented in the LDS Church.
Lowell Bennion (1908-1996) – Lowell Bennion was born in Salt Lake City and educated at the University of Utah and earned his Ph.D. at the University of Strasbourg after serving a mission in Germany. He was known for his gospel scholarship, charity work and for founding the Institute of Religion at the University of Utah.
John A. Widtsoe (1872-1952) – John A Widtsoe was born in Norway and migrated to Logan, Utah, in 1884. That same year he was baptized. Later, he attended Harvard University and graduated with highest honors and went on to receive a Ph. D. from University of Goettingen in Germany. He worked at the Utah State Agricultural College and served in many faculty positions at various Utah universities, serving most notably as the president of the University of Utah. Ordained an apostle in 1921, Widtsoe was known for his extensive gospel scholarship, publishing a variety of books on the subject, including compiling the selections of the discourses of Brigham Young.
In the Photo: Members of the BYU Board of Trustees on commencement day 1933. From (L to R) BYU President, Dr. Franklin S. Harris, Church President, Heber J. Grant, Church counselor Anthony W. Ivins, Senator and Member of the Council of Twelve, Reed Smoot, David O. McKay, later President of the Church and John A. Widtsoe, both members of the Council of Twelve.
James Edward Talmage (1862-1933) – James Edward Talmage was born in England. After his baptism in 1873 he moved to Utah with his family. There he studied at Brigham Young Academy under the tutelage of Karl G. Maeser. After graduating from BYA he studied at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania and at Johns Hopkins. A prominent faculty member of the BYA, Talmage later served as the president of the University of Utah. After his call as an apostle, Talmage was commissioned to compose two major LDS-related works, which are still widely read today, Jesus the Christ and Articles of Faith.
In the Photo: Former BYU leaders, (L to R) George. H. Brimhall, James E. Talmage and Jos. B. Keeler in the 1930's.
Sterling McMurrin (1914-1996) – Sterling McMurrin was personal friends with the LDS Prophet David O. Mckay. Yet, to some members of the church McMurrin was a controversial figure due to his unorthodox opinions. Nonetheless, few doubt Sterling McMurrin’s intellectual prowess. McMurrin earned a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Utah and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Southern California. While a faculty member at the University of Utah, McMurrin was asked to be the United States Commissioner of Education under President John F. Kennedy. His book “The Theological Foundations of the Mormon Religion” is still considered an important treatise on Mormon theology.
Joseph Smith Jr. (1805-1844) – In the spring of 1820 Joseph claimed a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ. In 1823 the angel Moroni told him about gold plates containing a record of a people who had lived in the Americas. In 1829 Joseph translated the ancient record known as the Book of Mormon. In 1830 Joseph was sustained as a prophet, seer, revelator and translator by his fellow church members. He was the first president of the LDS Church. He and his followers suffered religious persecution in New York, Ohio, Missouri and Illinois. Joseph was murdered on June 27, 1844, in Carthage, Ill. “God chose this young man,” said John Taylor in an address quoted in the Journal of Discourses. “He was ignorant of letters as the world has it, but the most profoundly learned and intelligent man that I ever met in my life, and I have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles, been on different continents and mingled among all classes and creeds of people, yet I have never met a man so intelligent as he was.”
Orson Pratt (1811-1881) – Orson Pratt was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by his older brother Parley P. Pratt on Orson’s 19th birthday. Orson was ordained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1835, less than five years after his baptism. He served multiple missions for the LDS Church, wrote and edited for various LDS newspapers and served as faculty member for the Nauvoo University. Pratt was known for his great interest and knowledge of mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. Brigham Young affectionately called Pratt the “Elder Philosopher.” Indeed, Pratt’s “greatest impact upon the Church came through his precisely written theological studies,” according to David J. Whittaker’s biographical sketch of Pratt. “Within each work (Pratt) moved carefully from one axiom to the next, developing his position with the same exactness he used in presenting a mathematical proof.”
B. H. Roberts (1857- 1933) – B. H. Roberts migrated to Salt Lake City with his sister at a young age where he was later baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Reading, writing and the restored gospel became Roberts’ passions. He graduated first in his class from the University of Deseret (later changed to the University of Utah) while working as a blacksmith. He served multiple missions for the LDS Church and was ordained a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. In 1898 Roberts was elected to the House of Representatives on the Democratic ticket though he was not seated. Roberts wrote and edited for several LDS newspapers throughout his life. He wrote the following notable books (among many others):
“Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Volumes I-VI”
“The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo”
“The Truth, the Way, the Life”