Can Deconstruction Save the Day? "Faithful Scholarship" and the Uses of Postmodernism
Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought
During the 1960s and 1970s, scholars began writing what has been named "New Mormon History." These historians did not seek to prove history through testimony or the "role of God," but instead relied on "'psychological, sociological, and economic explanation' that claimed to be objective and neutral." Beginning in the 1980s, other Mormon scholars, called antipositivists by Duffy, used postmodern theories to refute New Mormon History. Postmodernism is concerned not as much with truth but "in investigating the historical origins of our ideas about what is true and analyzing the political implications of those ideas." Postmodernists study and uphold people who were marginalized by the ideas of the Enlightment (ideas of reason and objectivity that New Mormon History tried to follow), and feel that knowledge has been socially constructed rather than "originating in a transcendent source such as the will of God." This theory of truth is known as antifoundationalism and was used by antipositivists who criticized New Mormon History by arguing "that because knowledge is never neutral, LDS historians should abandon efforts" to be neutral observers and instead become defenders of the faith. In addition, faithful scholars also employed perspectivism or the idea that Church history written from a faithful LDS perspective, previously marginalized, could be legitimate. Perspectivism increased in the 1990s as history written from a faithful perspective "became normative and rewarding for Church affiliated scholars." Duffy concludes that postmodernism has benefited Church history scholarship as it created interest in the study of "religious minorities." But he is not sure that "postmodern appeals" will secure "academic legitimacy for faithful Mormon scholars." Instead, he thinks that these "appeals work best at assuring intellectually inclined insiders of the credibility of the faith and at discomfiting Enlightenment liberals within the Mormon community."