Morris Thurston is a retired lawyer, historian, writer and lecturer who administers the Miller Eccles Study Group website.

June 19-20, 2015 — Steven L. Peck

 Posted by at 8:16 am
Jan 012013

Have I Really Done My Genealogy if I Don’t Include My Fish Grandmothers?: The Case for Evolution’s Necessity in Mormon Theology

DATES:  June 19 (Fullerton) and June 20 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are pleased to have as our June 2015 Miller Eccles speaker, Steven L. Peck, a biologist and evolutionary ecologist, who will share his unique perspective on the connection between evolutionary science and religious faith.

THE TOPIC: Professor Peck will give us an overview of the past relationship between evolutionary science and the LDS church. He will then look at the science of evolution, which is among the strongest and most vibrant sciences at work today. These findings have important implications for LDS thought. Far from seeing irreconcilable conflicts, however, Professor Peck sees Mormonism fitting so snuggly with evolution that it should be considered as the default position in our creation theology. He will discuss the potential sources of conflict between evolution and LDS doctrines and make suggestions as to how to mitigate them.

Could be the one.  MEBTHE SPEAKER: Steven L. Peck is an associate professor of biology at Brigham Young University, where he teaches the history and philosophy of biology and bioethics. He has a PhD in biomathematics and entomology and currently does research in theoretical mathematical ecology, the philosophy of biology, and insects. He blogs at By Common Consent, a website designed “to provide a thoughtful, enjoyable, and reasonable place to post and discuss Mormon topics” and also runs his own blog, looking at science and faith, at Science By Steve.

His publishing history includes scientific works including over forty articles published in American Naturalist, Newsweek, Evolution, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Biological Theory, Agriculture and Human Values, Biology & Philosophy, and an edited volume on environmental stewardship.

Professor Peck has published two acclaimed novels: The Scholar of Moab, a finalist for the Montaigne Medal, published by Torrey House Press, and A Short Stay in Hell, published by Strange Violins Editions. He has a juvenile fantasy called the Rift of Ryme, published by Cedar Fort Press. In 2011 he was nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award for the poem, “The Five Known Sutras of Mechanical Man,” published in Tales of the Talisman. He received first place in the Warp and Weave Science Fiction Competition and received Honorable Mention in the 2011 Brookie and D.K. Brown Fiction Contest

His short stories have been included in Daily Science Fiction, H.M.S. Beagle, and Warp and Weave, and his science fiction novella, Let the Mountains Tremble for the Adoni Have Fallen, was published in October by Peculiar Press. Poetry by Peck has appeared in Bellowing Ark, Dialogue, Glyphs III, Irreantum, Pedestal Magazine, Red Rock Review, Tales of the Talisman, Victorian Violet Press, and Wilderness Interface Zone. A chapbook of Peck’s poetry, Flyfishing in Middle Earth, was published by the American Tolkien Society. A selection of his poetry was included in the anthology, Fire in the Pasture. Peck was selected as the second-place winner in the 2011 Eugene England Memorial Essay Contest.

Steven and his wife Lori have five children. He currently serves as a High Priest Group instructor in the Pleasant Grove, Battlecreek 9th ward.

An alternate biography, descriptive of his life using his usual wit and humor, can be found here:

Posted by Scott Volmar

May 8-9, 2015 — Eric D. Huntsman

 Posted by at 7:22 am
Jan 012013

The Search for the ‘Real’ Jesus of Nazareth:

The Jesus of Faith, History, and Revelation


DATES: May 8 (Fullerton) and May 9 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are pleased to welcome our May 2015 Miller Eccles speaker, Eric D. Huntsman, Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU, Coordinator for Near Eastern Studies, Kennedy Center for International Studies, and Affiliated Faculty, Classics and Near Eastern Studies.

Huntsman Eric 2011THE TOPIC: Throughout most of the Christian era, believers based their understanding of the life and mission of Jesus Christ primarily on the canonical gospels and to a lesser extent on references to him elsewhere in the New Testament and upon church tradition. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, scholars began to apply source criticism, extra biblical texts, and the criteria of scientific history to the study of Jesus, spawning what has become known as Historical Jesus Studies. Since that time, the search for the historical Jesus has gone through three distinct phases or “quests.” Some people of faith have been suspicious of some of the conclusions or proposals that have come from these quests for the historical Jesus, but recently some believing scholars have been using the same methodology to come up with more faith-affirming conclusions in what is coming to be known as the “fourth quest.”

Dr. Huntsman will discuss the extent to which the Jesus of Faith and the Jesus of History match the personal experiences of believing Latter-day Saints with the risen Lord in their study, prayer, and worship.  The discussion is an attempt to better know the real Jesus and humanity’s relationship with Him, which characterizes eternal life (see John 17:3).

THE SPEAKER: Eric D. Huntsman was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico and raised in New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. He graduated from BYU with a BA in Classical Greek and Latin in 1990. He earned an MA and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, both in Ancient History, where he specialized in Imperial Roman history and women in antiquity. He began teaching at BYU in Classics in 1994 and transferred to Religious Education in 2003, where he is a professor of Ancient Scripture. After teaching at the BYU Jerusalem Center in 2011-2012, he returned to BYU, where he was appointed the director of the Ancient Near Eastern Studies program.

Since transferring to Religious Education, Dr. Huntsman has specialized in the New Testament, where he has published on a number of topics, especially the writings of John and the Ministry and Atonement of Christ in the New Testament Gospels. He is  co-author of Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament,  published by Deseret Book. He has also published three monographs on Jesus: God So Loved the World: The Final Days of the Savior’s Life (a study of the Passion Narratives); Good Tidings of Great Joy: An Advent Celebration of the Savior’s Birth (a study of the Infancy Narratives); and The Miracles of Jesus, all published by Deseret Book. He is currently working on a book entitled Worship: Encountering and Being Transformed by God. He is also beginning a commentary on the Gospel according to John for the BYU New Testament Commentary series. His full vita and other details are available on Dr. Huntsman’s website.

Dr. Huntsman was a full-time missionary in the Thailand Bangkok Mission and has served as a bishop. He is currently an ordinance worker in the Provo Temple and sings with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He and his wife, Elaine, live in Provo with their two children.

Posted by Scott Volmar

April 17-18, 2015 — Mark Alan Wright

 Miller Eccles Presentation  Comments Off on April 17-18, 2015 — Mark Alan Wright
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.

Wright_HeadshotTHE 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 attributed 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,, 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 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