The 'New Mormon History' Reassessed in Light of Recent Books on Joseph Smith and Mormon Origins
Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought
Hill believes that there is not an entirely 'new Mormon History' in terms of the issues argued or points of view expressed, and certainly not in the negative sense that some would describe it. He points out that in 1959 he found a group defending the Church on the right with 'faith promoting' history, a group of professionals in the center (some Mormon some not) who focused on questions other than 'Is Mormonism true?', and a group on the left who insisted that Mormonism was historically untrue, a religious corruption, and a fraud. He believes these general categories still hold up, except that more Mormon scholars now fit the center. He notes that, despite their high degree of professionalism, most Mormons who write in this vein are strongly committed to the Church, and often have had spiritual experience of their own but do not base their work upon these. They find other reasons for faith and avoid 'empirical proofs.' Leonard Arrington is the best example of this. In the conservative mold, he considers Richard Bushman to be the best example, and thinks his Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism exemplifies Mormon conservative writing at its best and 'constitutes one of the few conservative works which tries to bring Church opinion of Joseph Smith up to date with new sources and new historical insights.' Hill also discusses several other conservative, centrist, and left-leaning works, pointing out strenghts and weaknesses as he sees them and observing that the distinctions between right and center blur at times. If there is anything really new or remarkable, he says, about Mormon historiography since 1960, it comes in the number of solid works which have come from the right and center. He also says that the charge by some critics that the 'New Mormon History' undermines faith is not so, and he basis his conclusion on conversations with adminstrators and faculty at BYU and the University of Utah.