Jan 012013

Lost in a Fertile Wilderness:

The Perils and Possibilities of Archaeology and the Book of Mormon

DATES:  April 17 (Fullerton) and April 18 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are excited to have as our April 2015 Miller Eccles speaker, Dr. Mark Alan Wright, an Assistant Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU. Dr. Wright is an an anthropologist, archaeologist and an expert on ancient Mesoamerican writing systems.

THE TOPIC: Latter-day Saints have been waiting for the earth itself to testify of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon since the time of its coming forth. Joseph Smith himself attributedWright_Headshot relics and remains unearthed in the New World to the Nephites and Lamanites, and ardent believers in the Book of Mormon have been doing so ever since. Unfortunately, too many of these claims have been made by well-meaning but misinformed enthusiasts plagued by a limited understanding of the intricacies of archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, and other related fields.

This presentation will use current Mesoamerican scholarship to problematize some of the more well-known claims that believers often point to as evidence of the book’s authenticity. It will emphasize, however, that despite these spurious claims, a strong case can still be made for maintaining a belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon (and that Mesoamerica continues to be the most plausible location). Furthermore, it will show how the contributions of qualified and respected Latter-day Saint Mesoamericanists, guided by their belief in the Book of Mormon, continue to quietly shape the academic field of Mesoamerican studies in important ways.

THE SPEAKER: Dr. Mark Alan Wright is a native of Southern California, born and raised in Long Beach. He did his undergraduate studies at UCLA and earned his MA and PhD from UC Riverside. All of his degrees are in Anthropology, with subfields of specialization in linguistics and Mesoamerican archaeology. He regularly conducts research in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. Dr. Wright is Assistant Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University and Associate Editor of The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies at the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. He has presented his research at academic conferences at Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Duke, and many other major universities. He has been published in Studies in the Bible and Antiquity, The Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, and Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, in addition to chapters published in a number of edited volumes.

He is married to Traci Wright, Adjunct Professor of History at Utah Valley University. They live with their beautiful and precocious toddler Annika on the shores of Utah Lake in the sleepy town of Vineyard.

Posted by Scott Volmar

Jan 012013


Joseph Smith’s Legal Encounters

DATES: February 20 (Fullerton) and February 21 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are excited to have as our February 2015 Miller Eccles speaker, John W. Welch, co-editor of the recently published book, Sustaining the Law: Joseph Smith’s Legal Encounters.

THE TOPIC: Joseph Smith believed in sustaining the law. This book presents his main legal encounters in the context of his day. Party to more than two hundred suits in the courts of New York, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and elsewhere, he [Joseph Smith] faced criminal charges as well as civil claims and collection matters. In the end, he was never convicted of any crime, and he paid his debts. These incidents were significant institutionally as well as personally.

Joseph Smith took the law seriously. In 1835 he published: “We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments” (D&C 134:5). In 1842 he declared, “We believe in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (Article of Faith 12). As this volume demonstrates, he scrupulously and resourcefully walked the rough-and-not-so-ready paths of the still-developing American legal system during the quarter century from 1819 to 1844 (BYU Studies Books, BYU Bookstore Book Preview).

THE SPEAKER: jack welcnJohn W. Welch is the Robert K. Thomas Professor of Law at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, where he teaches various courses, including Perspectives on Jewish, Greek, and Roman Law in the New Testament. Since 1991 he has also served as editor-in-chief of BYU Studies Quarterly. He studied history and classical languages at Brigham Young University, Greek philosophy at Oxford, and law at Duke University. As a founder of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, one of the editors for Macmillan’s Encyclopedia of Mormonism, and co-director of the Masada and Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition at BYU, he has published widely on biblical, early Christian, and Latter-day Saint topics.

John W. Welch has contributed extensively to the body of scholarly work on the Book of Mormon.  Significantly, while serving a mission in Germany in 1967,  he determined that an ancient Aramaic/Hebrew literary technique known as chiasmus, which exists in the Bible, also exists in The Book of Mormon. Chiasmus is defined as “a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order, in the same or a modified form” (Oxford Dictionaries, Oxford University Press). 

Professor Welch is also a volume co-editor of the Joseph Smith Papers and will be able to discuss recent developments relating to that project.

A native of Southern California, John grew up in La Cañada. He and his wife, Jeannie, have four children and eight grandchildren.

Posted by Scott Volmar


Jan 012013


Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact

DATES: January 16 (Fullerton) and January 17 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are excited to have as our January 2015 Miller Eccles speaker, Neylan McBaine, whose recent book, Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact, has been a runaway bestseller. Professor Valerie Hudson (who spoke at Miller Eccles earlier this year) wrote: “Such a timely, faithful, and practical book! I suggest ordering this book in bulk to give to your bishopric, stake presidency, and all your local leadership to start a conversation on changing Church culture for women by letting our doctrine suggest creative local adaptations–Neylan McBaine shows the way!”

THE TOPIC: The last several years have offered fertile ground for conversations about women, the Church and how the two intersect. Offering a call for understanding and unity and a path for more local inclusion of women, Neylan McBaine takes a middle ground between insisting all is well and advocating priesthood for women. McBaine will discuss what this middle ground looks like in the Church today and why it is important that we focus our practices to see, hear and include women more fully in our administration and services.

There have been many favorable reviews of Neylan’s book. Here is one example: “In her timely and brilliant findings, Neylan McBaine issues a gracious invitation to rethink our assumptions about women’s public Church service. Well researched, authentic, and respectful of the current Church administrative structure, McBaine shares exciting and practical ideas that address diverse needs and involve all members in the meaningful work of the Church.” — Camille Fronk Olson, author of Women of the Old Testament and Women of the New Testament 

THE SPEAKER: Neylan McBaine is the founder and editor-in-chief of the Mormon Women Project, a continuously expanding digital library of interviews with LDS women from around the world. Founded in 2010, the MWP is a tax-exempt charitable organization that has published nearly 300 interviews with women in 22 countries. Utilizing dozens of volunteers, the site posts about one new interview a week; we suggest you check it out.

Neylan has also been published in Newsweek, The Washington Post, Patheos.com, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, among others. Neylan drew on hundreds of interviews with women and men and years of studying women’s issues in the Church to write Women at Church (Kofford Books, 2014.) Professionally, she is a brand strategist for Bonneville Communications.

Neylan is a life-long member of the Church, a native New Yorker, attended Yale University and is the mother of three literarily-named daughters.

Posted by Morris Thurston

November 21-22 — David F. Holland

 Posted by at 7:17 am
Jan 012013


Joseph Smith as American Prophet and Ancient Historian

DATES: November 21 (Villa Park) and November 22 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are pleased to have as our November 2014 Miller Eccles speaker, David F. Holland, Associate Professor of Religious History at Harvard Divinity School.

THE TOPIC: When writing about Joseph Smith, observers almost reflexively invoke the term “incomparable.” The Latter-day Saint prophet can indeed make comparison difficult. And this may be particularly true of his engagement with antiquity. Smith’s forays into the ancient world, from Abrahamic papyri to American Mulekites, often appear so distinctive or peculiar as to resist analogy. But even the inimitable can be profitably compared; sometimes the more radical the differences the more illuminating the comparison. And Smith does have some interesting analogues in his pursuit of the past. The Mormon prophet, after all, was not the only American religious leader of the nineteenth century both to claim modern-day revelation and to recover sacred stories of earlier epochs. This essay looks at three American figures of the era—Mary Baker Eddy, Joseph Smith and Ellen White—and examines their approaches to the past. Incomparable in
many ways, their juxtaposition does reveal important implications arising from their respective recoveries of sacred history. Smith’s angle on the ancient world becomes both more distinctive and more meaningful as a result of such comparison.

Holland, DavidTHE SPEAKER: David Holland is Associate Professor of North American Religious History at Harvard Divinity School. He received his undergraduate degree from BYU and his MA and PhD from Stanford. His work has appeared in the New England Quarterly, Gender and History, and Law and History Review. His first book, Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America, was published by Oxford University Press in 2011.

David and his wife Jeanne have four children and live in Littleton, Massachusetts.

Posted by Morris Thurston

Jan 012013


the pretty clearly troubled but not even  close to tragic confessions of a real live Mormon missionary

DATES: October 24 (Villa Park) and October 25 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are pleased to have as our October 2014 Miller Eccles speaker, BYU Professor Craig Harline, whose primary field is European religious history. Dr. Harline has published a number of historically-based books that have been popular with readers and are held in high regard by critics (see below). Most recently he has turned his narrative skills to writing a memoir of his mission to Belgium in the 1970s (due in bookstores and online on August 30). Craig’s presentation, which will be based on his memoir, promises to be humorous and profound, an insightful counterpoint to the image of LDS missionaries as presented in much of the popular media. It will resonate not only with those who have served Mormon missions, or whose friends or family members are or were Mormon missionaries, but also with other-believers, which is why it is being released by Eerdmans, a well-known publisher of Christian books. You may find it interesting to browse on Craig’s website for more information.

THE TOPIC:  The publisher’s synopsis: When Craig Harline set off on his two-year Mormon mission to Belgium in the 1970s, he had big dreams of doing miracles, converting the masses, and coming home a hero. What he found instead was a lot of rain and cold, one-sentence conversations with irritated people, and silly squabbles with fellow missionaries. From being kicked—literally—out of someone’s home to getting into arguments about what God really wanted from Donny Osmond, Harline faced a range of experiences that nothing, including his own missionary training, had prepared him for. He also found a wealth of friendships with fellow Mormons as well as unconverted locals and, along the way, discovered insights that would shape the rest of his life. Harline’s witty and thought-provoking spiritual memoir tells the story of his coming-of-age on his mission, taking readers beyond the stereotypical white shirts and nametags to reveal just how unpredictable, funny, and poignant the missionary life can be.  

THE SPEAKER: Craig Harline writes and teaches about religious life in western Europe during the Reformation, but he is interested in religion of all shapes and sizes and times. Grants from assorted agencies and BYU don’t quite allow him to say that he divides his time between Provo and Paris, but they do allow him to do research just about every year in archives and libraries in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, England, and Sweden, resulting in books that are meant as much for general readers and students as scholars, and that try to make really old history relevant to modern minds. He has lectured at numerous universities in the US and Europe, and his books have been featured on The Today Show, Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood, National Public Radio, and dozens of radio and television programs in the US and western Europe. They’ve also been universally acclaimed, and include Conversions (selected as a Top Ten Book in Religion by Publishers Weekly for 2011), Sunday (listed among the Top Five Books on Sunday and the Sabbath by Christianity Today), Miracles at the Jesus Oak (named a Top Ten Book in Religion for 2003 by Booklist), and A Bishop’s Tale (An Editor’s Choice Book at Amazon.com for 2000).

Born and raised in California, Craig earned his Ph.D. in European History from Rutgers University. He has been a professor at BYU for over twenty years and has also been a visiting professor and research fellow in Belgium. He is married to Paula Kelly Harline, whose book, The Polygamous Wives Writing Club: From the Diaries of Mormon Pioneer Women, was recently published by Oxford University Press. Craig and Paula are the parents of Andrew, Jonny, and Kate.

Posted by Morris Thurston

Jan 012013


DATES: September 19 (Villa Park) and September 20 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are pleased to have as our September 2014 Miller Eccles speaker, Professor Adam S. Miller, one of the rising stars of Mormon philosophy, who will speak on his recent book, Letters to a Young Mormon, published by BYU’s Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Adam wrote the book as a way of expressing his Mormon philosophy in a style that would make sense to young adults, but it would be a mistake to conclude the essays are simple minded—they are sophisticated, insightful pieces that will resonate with Mormons whether they are 17 or 71.


Miller - Letters to a Young MormonAdam Miller spends his days teaching philosophy to students at Collin College in McKinney, Texas, but the most important lessons he’s prepared have been for his own children. He distilled many of those lessons into his new book, Letters to a Young Mormon. Miller’s letters are meant for a young Mormon who is familiar with Mormon life but green in their faith. In simple but profound prose, Miller addresses the real beauty and real costs of trying to live a Mormon life in the twenty-first century. He encourages Mormons young and old to live in a way that refuses to abandon either life or Mormonism and he explores what it means to be, as a Mormon, free, ambitious, repentant, faithful, informed, prayerful, selfless, hungry, chaste, and sealed. Letters to a Young Mormon is unlike anything ever written for a young Latter-day Saint audience.


Miller, Adam (2)Adam S. Miller is a professor of philosophy at Collin College in McKinney, Texas. He and his wife, Gwen Miller, have three children. He received an MA and PhD in philosophy from Villanova University as well as a BA in Comparative Literature from Brigham Young University. He is the editor of An Experiment on the Word (Salt Press, 2011) and the author of Badiou, Marion, and St Paul: Immanent Grace (Continuum, 2008), Rube Goldberg Machines: Essays in Mormon Theology (Kofford, 2012), Speculative Grace: Bruno Latour and Object-Oriented Theology (Fordham University Press, 2013), and Letters to a Young Mormon (Maxwell Institute, 2014). He is the co-editor, with Joseph Spencer, of the book series Groundwork: Studies in Theory and Scripture, published by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and serves as the current director of the Mormon Theology Seminar. He was named “Best Essayist” in 2011 by the Association for Mormon Letters.

Posted by Morris Thurston

May 16-17, 2014 — Valerie Hudson

 Posted by at 7:14 am
Jan 012013


How Gender Treatment Affects Political Stability

DATES: May 16 (Villa Park) and May 17 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are pleased to have as our May 2014 Miller Eccles speaker, Texas A&M Professor Valerie Hudson, whose remarkable book, Sex & World Peace, published by Columbia University Press, has received international acclaim and is changing the way we think about the relationship between gender treatment and political unrest.


Sex and World PeaceSex and World Peace (co-authored by Valerie Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli and Chad Emmett), unsettles a variety of assumptions in political and security discourse, demonstrating that the security of women is a vital factor in the security of the state and its incidence of conflict and war. Much of the data underlying Dr. Hudson’s research comes from the WomanStats Project, a research and database project housed at BYU that “seeks to collect detailed statistical data on the status of women around the world, and to connect that data with data on the security of states.” This database has the most comprehensive compilation of information on the status of women in the world.

Here are some excerpts from the many rave reviews Dr. Hudson’s book has received:

  • “An eye-opening contribution to our understanding of the powerful misogynist forces that still contribute to violence and war. This volume should be required reading for all students of international relations and those who make policy.” (Ann Crittenden, author of The Price of Motherhood)
  • “Sex and World Peace should be on top of every introductory International Relations reading list.” (Sara E. Davies International Affairs)
  • “[A] pioneering and readable book…. Highly recommended.” (Choice)


Hudson, Valerie 2Valerie M. Hudson is professor and George H.W. Bush Chair at The Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University. She is the author or editor of several books, including, with Andrea Den Boer, Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population, which won the American Association of Publishers Award for Best Book in Political Science and the Otis Dudley Duncan Award for Best Book in Social Demography. She was named one of Foreign Policy‘s Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2009.

Prior to coming to Texas A&M, Dr. Hudson was a professor of political science at Brigham Young University for 24 years and served as Associate Director of the Kennedy Center for International Studies there.

Dr. Hudson joined the Church in 1971, receiving her bachelor’s degree from BYU and her master’s and Ph.D. from Ohio State University. She is married to artist and landscape architect David Cassler and they are the parents of eight children.

Posted by Morris Thurston

Jan 012013


Growth of the Church — Facts and Myths

DATES: April 11 (Villa Park) and April 12 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are pleased to have as our April 2014 Miller Eccles speakers, Dr. David Stewart and Matthew Martinich, authors of a new Church almanac that provides an in-depth look at membership, retention, activity and much more. David and Matt’s work was profiled recently in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune that can be found here.


Reaching the NationsChances are we’ve all heard someone say, “We are the fastest growing church in the world; sometime during this century we’ll be bigger than the Catholics.” Indeed, some 30 years ago, renown non-Mormon sociologist Rodney Stark published a groundbreaking article called “The Rise of a New World Faith” in which he suggested the conceivable possibility that there could be more than 265 million Mormons by 2080 and that our numbers could rival other world faiths such as Islam, Buddhism, historic Christianity, and Hinduism. In 2001 the U.S. News and World Report ran a cover story about “The Mormon Moment” in which it stated, “By almost any measure, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the world’s richest and fastest-growing religious movements.” Other publications have made similar observations.

What are the facts surrounding Church expansion? Are we growing faster than any other religion? Where is this growth occurring? Where is it not? What are the reasons for growth or stagnation, as the case may be? What are the results of various programs the Church has undertaken to stimulate growth?

Dr. David Stewart, who served a mission in Russia, and Matthew Martinich, who served in South Korea, have made it their mission to investigate and analyze the growth of the Church and to determine where the truths and myths are. Their work culminated this year in the publication of their Church almanac, Reaching the Nations, a prodigious two-volume work based on careful analysis of official reports, as well as thousands of unofficial reports from members and leaders throughout the globe.


Stewart, David (1)

David G. Stewart, Jr., MD, is an orthopedic surgeon in Las Vegas, Nevada who was named as one of Las Vegas’s top doctors each year from 2010 through 2013. David is fluent in several languages has conducted research and published papers on culture, church growth, and mission outreach in over thirty-five countries. He has also written on the sociology of religion and is author of Law of the Harvest: Practical Principles of Effective Missionary Work and coauthor of Reaching the Nations: International Church Growth Almanac, as well as various articles and book chapters.

Martinich, Matt 1 (1)Matthew Martinich, MA, is a behavioral psychotherapist and clinical psychology doctoral student in Colorado Springs, Colorado who provides treatment to families court ordered for mental health services due to child abuse and neglect findings. He has conducted extensive research within the past seven years examining how contextual factors and LDS missionary tactics have influenced growth rates in the LDS Church.  He maintains a blog called “LDS Church Growth” that provides updates on growth and missionary developments worldwide.  Matt is coauthor of Reaching the Nations: International Church Growth Almananc and has written hundreds of case studies and other articles that summarize, analyze, and predict LDS growth trends.

Posted by Morris Thurston