Bruce Van Orden, a Brigham Young University professor and LDS Church historian, admitted that he plagiarized the work of several authors in a recent book.
Van Orden said carelessness in citing sources, not malicious intent, led to unattributed material taken from others in his 1996 book "Building Zion: The Latter-day Saints in Europe."Specific passages that were plagiarized, along with Van Orden's apology, are slated for publication in the Journal of Mormon History's spring 1998 edition.
"I looked into it from day one and recognized that I made some errors," Van Orden told the Deseret News. "I've pledged never to make the mistake again."
The Journal of Mormon History, a publication of the non-church-affiliated Mormon History Association, documented "59 examples of misused and inadequately cited material from 11 authors writing in eight books or articles."
Van Orden continues to teach at BYU. He said the university took appropriate action in conjunction with its policy on plagiarism, but neither he nor administrators said what that action was.
The ordeal, which started a year ago when an Australian researcher noticed that some of her work appeared without attribution in portions of Van Orden's book posted on the Internet, clearly has been difficult for those involved.
It may have the positive result of tightening standards in LDS historical scholarship. "We hope this will make expectations more clear," said Richard Jensen, book review editor of the Journal of Mormon History.
Jensen, an associate professor at BYU's Joseph Fielding Smith Institute of Church History, oversaw the work of the reviewer who brought Van Orden's plagiarism to light.
Jensen is also one of the authors whose work was plagiarized, and he is the one who brought the matter to the attention of Van Orden's supervisors in the department of church history and doctrine.
"I just didn't think that as a friend it would be proper for me to sweep it under the rug or encourage that to be done," Jensen said. "Personally, I don't think it's going to kill (Van Orden)."
Van Orden has bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from BYU. He was hired there in 1986.
Van Orden said that he began collecting materials on the growth of the church in various countries to use as lecture notes.
That packet became available for sale in the BYU Bookstore in 1996 and was used as the basis for "Building Zion," which was published by Deseret Book in May 1996. Van Orden said that in the process of researching and compiling the materials, he neglected to give proper attribution.
"Looking back now on what I did then, I can see that my major mistake was trying to accomplish the task too quickly," he wrote in a response to be published in the Journal of Mormon History.
The plagiarism was to be brought out for the first time in the journal's edition scheduled for publication in April. But a faculty member who heard Van Orden apol-o-gize during a faculty meeting mentioned the case during a recent BYU class. A student journalist heard the discussion and that led to a story in Friday's edition of the campus newspaper.
Marjorie Newton, an LDS Church member in Sydney, Australia, and author of a master's thesis on the history of the church in Australia, brought the similarities to the attention of Belgian scholar Wilfried Decoo, who had been asked by Jensen to write a review of Van Orden's book for the Journal of Mormon History.
Decoo then brought the plagiarism to the attention of Jensen. When informed of the problems, Van Orden asked that "The International Church" not be sold any longer at the BYU Bookstore and requested that materials from the packet be removed from LDS-Gems listserver and two Internet sites.
In his Journal of Mormon History analysis, Decoo decried the fact that scholarly researchers painstakingly research historical details, but writers with a broad audience take credit for the work.
Decoo noted an LDS tendency to embellish and to borrow material from others without giving credit. "The end - building the kingdom - does not justify the means," he wrote.
Van Orden said he has apologized to the authors whose work was plagiarized. Colleagues have encouraged him to continue work in the field and strive to rebuild his reputation.