s Thoughts from the Physics Chick: Sharing the faith

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sharing the faith

Last weekend, I had the unexpected opportunity of hearing a lecture by Dr. Kathleen Flake at a conference on Latter-day Saints in Religious Studies. This opportunity was so unexpected, in fact, that I actually missed most of the lecture and arrived just in time for a Q&A session.

The theme of the conference was "Faith and Knowledge" (and the presumable tension between the two). Along those lines, someone asked Dr. Flake if she had a lot of opportunities to share her Mormon faith with her academic colleagues. She responded that it doesn't really come up much, which seemed to disappoint her questioner. (After all, why squander the opportunity of hobnobbing with so many academic elites?)

I wasn't disappointed with the answer, rather, I felt as if something I'd fuzzily tried to figure out for years was finally coming into focus.

I'm a private person, generally, but especially when it comes to matters of faith and spirituality. As you might imagine, this means that I'm not exactly handing out copies of the Book of Mormon to strangers on the bus or siccing the missionaries on my coworkers.

Of course, this was all sort of a moot point when I was growing up in Utah because almost everyone I knew or interacted with was Mormon, and I certainly wasn't going to be one of those people who terrorizes those poor Utah non-Mormons. But since I moved out of Utah, my behavior hasn't changed much — I've had a lot more opportunities to talk about or explain the Church — but I'm still not aggressively trying to convert people, and I've felt a bit guilty about it.

A couple of weeks ago, I read the transcription of a speech that Richard Bushman gave at a conference sponsored by the Pew Forum. The speech was given in May 2007 and is now somewhat dated because the primary focus was Mitt Romney's bid for the presidency. However, a large portion of the meeting consisted of a fabulous Q&A session where a panel of religion reporters from the top newspapers and news magazines grilled Dr. Bushman on various topics pertaining to Mormon culture and history and he answered their questions expertly. So the transcription is still well worth reading, even if the presidential race turned out very differently than Mitt Romney might have hoped.

Dr. Bushman said many interesting things, one of which was that he hoped more Mormons would become involved in public life so that people would have to question many of the false stereotypes commonly held about Mormons. (I.e., Mitt Romney is clearly not a polygamist, regardless of how you feel about his politics.)

So, all of this was in the back of my mind as I sat listening to Dr. Flake's lecture and her response to the person who asked if she shared her religion with her coworkers. I raised my hand and asked if she thought it was possible to bear one's testimony "in reverse," in a sense — not by constantly talking about the Church but by calmly going about one's life as a testament to the fact that Mormons are, in fact, basically normal people.

Dr. Flake agreed with my basic idea and expressed it this way: "If you're willing to enter into the world of another person to engage with them, they'll be willing to learn about your world, as well."

I can live with that.


At March 01, 2009 11:48 PM, Blogger Th. said...


I like the way she phrased that.

How was it that you were able to attend that conference? Not to sound careerist, but I didn't know librarians were invited.

(My home teachee was there; this is how I know about it. I presume you know her?)

At March 02, 2009 1:06 PM, Blogger Katya said...

I think anyone was able to attend the first session. (Or they weren't checking badges at the door, at least.)

Is your HT-ee Melyngoch's sister? (The California one?)

At March 02, 2009 5:06 PM, Blogger Petra said...

I like this, mostly because it justifies me as well as you: my classmates, at least the ones I am close to, know tons about Mormonism now. Not because I'm sharing the gospel, per se, but because religion is on my mind a lot lately, and I'm not a private person, not a private person. Hence, while I enter in their words, they enter into mine.

Though, of course, we should both be giving out the Book of Mormon on the bus.

At March 06, 2009 12:04 PM, Blogger Th. said...


Yes to you both.

At March 08, 2009 3:27 PM, Blogger Queen Zippergut said...

I liked this as well. We just had a RS lesson today where Joseph Smith was quoted extensively about allowing others to worship as they may, that we don't force our religion on others. I think if they're interested, I'm happy to offer information. I liked Elder Ballard's talk on a gospel-centered home and I gathered that you basically live your life the way you do and it may influence others positively. I can live with that.

At March 09, 2009 3:44 AM, Blogger Ginsberg said...

Share faith with academic colleges? Hah. Maybe I'm just in the wrong department (This question might require an entire blogpost, which would, in fact, require a blog.), but most academics I interact with here aren't terribly interested in things like believing in or practicing religion. On Saturday someone asked me if I was "raised Mormon." I proudly said yes. It wasn't until today that I realized that their choice of words was significant: in asking if I was "raised" Mormon, they more or less assumed--since I am, in fact, an academic in training--that I'm much to smart for that now and that I naturally don't believe in anything. I wish I knew how to better convey the fact that I believe in stuff to my academic peers without being laughed at or lynched. Somehow just being a kind person isn't enough. (Sorry, yet another long comment.)

At March 20, 2009 4:43 PM, Blogger Katya said...

Petra - Good point. (I forget everyone's not as pathologically shy as I am.) So maybe the larger takeaway point is not to have an agenda when you enter into others' worlds and let them into yours.

Ginsberg - I think the point of the original question to Dr. Flake was that she's so highly respected in her field that she could probably get away with sharing her religion in the workplace. So I agree that the academic community is generally hostile to it. (That said, you might want to let your colleague know that you're still a practicing Mormon, just to clear up any confusion. ;) )


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