The Continuing Importance of Dialogue

My first issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought is online today! It features articles by Fiona Givens, Mel Bashore, and Dennis Potter; poetry by Mark Brown, Warren Hatch, Sarah Page, Jenny Webb, fiction by Stephen Carter; a Mormon-Catholic dialogue featuring Polly Aird, Zina Petersen (!), Dan Dwyer, Mat Schmaltz, and Bob Rees; a wonderful New Voices essay by Christinah Cross; a sermon by Phyllis Barber; and insightful book reviews by Taylor Petrey, Rosalynde Frandsen Welch, Michael Austin, and Joseph Gile. I’m thrilled with this issue and looking forward to the next!

I’m happy to be assuming editorship of the journal for the next few years, and it is particularly exciting to be coming on board as we anticipate the journal’s fiftieth anniversary. (Stay tuned for details about our September 30th celebration!) The previous editor, Kristine Haglund, is going to be a tough act to follow. She demonstrated the very best of Dialogue: dedication to scholarly content, excellence in writing, and fine artistic sensibilities. She brought a vision for how bring a global perspective to Dialogue and move the journal into the internet age. She is one of the smartest and most talented people I know, and I’m honored to count her as a friend.

Dialogue began in 1966, when a group of young scholars at Stanford University envisioned an independent Mormon journal that spoke to both faith and intellect, bringing together academic rigor, artistic quality, diverse perspectives, and heart-felt conviction. In the journal’s inaugural issue, Eugene England argued that dialogue—speaking from our hearts and listening compassionately to others—is central to the Mormon project, and he saw the journal as a vehicle for understanding and healing. Constructive and charitable dialogue, England argued, “will not solve all of our intellectual and spiritual problems—and it will not save us; but it can bring us joy and new vision and help us toward that dialogue with our deepest selves and with our God which can save us.”[1]

Dialogue soon became one of the main venues where Latter-day Saints discussed national and international issues of the day, like the Vietnam War, the Equal Rights Amendment, and the Civil Rights Movement; as well as unique Mormon issues, like Blacks and the priesthood and the discovery of the Joseph Smith papyri. Dialogue has, I believe, been a positive force in Mormonism, modeling ways to navigate the channels between faith and reason, and providing a better appreciation of Mormonism’s bold and expansive worldview.

Before beginning my tenure, I read Devery Anderson’s four-part history of Dialogue[2] and reviewed the journal’s five decades of content. I am surprised at how little has changed and how relevant much of that content remains. I have also realized how revolutionary the internet has been. When Dialogue moved from California to Virginia, and then from Virginia to Utah, it required a moving truck. The journal needed extensive office space to house the staff required to publish and distribute the journal. No moving vans were necessary for the move from Boston to Orem, and email and Dropbox allow me to work with editors and production staff from around the world. The internet has also had a huge effect on Mormonism in the twenty-first century. While it has facilitated support for the various subgroups of our community, it has, unfortunately, also balkanized the conversation, creating echo chambers for like-minded individuals. Furthermore, information’s free access has sometimes led to disenchantment with and disengagement from the Church.

Dialogue is, I believe, even more important today than it was in 1966. Presently, many Latter-day Saints are struggling with women’s status in the Church, with policies about LGBTQ members, and with discovering dusty and often disconcerting corners of Church history that they were unaware existed. Dialogue is a venue where we can explore issues like these with greater depth and nuance than an internet meme or blog post allows. Dialogue has also become the flagship journal of the burgeoning Mormon studies discipline, the source scholars of Mormonism look to for the best academic writing about Mormonism.

I am committed to continuing the legacy established by my predecessors. Specifically, I envision Dialogue providing research and commentary about both contemporary and historical Mormonism that are timely, relevant, respectful, and reliable. I welcome all voices to the conversation and want the journal to model productive discussion that challenges our minds and hearts. I want to continue expanding that discussion beyond the Intermountain West, to encompass global Mormonism in all its varieties, to engage with other religious traditions as well as with secular society.

I take my editorial cues from a letter Joseph Smith wrote from Liberty Jail: “The things of God are of deep import, and time and experience and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O Man [we should add O Woman], if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost Heavens, and search into and contemplate the lowest considerations of the darkest abyss, and expand upon the broad considerations of eternal expanse; he [and she] must commune with God.”[3] Dialogue is and will continue to be a permanent record of Mormonism’s beauty, variety, complexity, and depth.

[1] Eugene England, “The Possibility of Dialogue: A Personal View,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1, no. 1 (Spring 1966): 8-11.

[2] Devery Anderson, “A History of Dialogue, Part One: The Early Years, 1965-1971,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 32, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 15-66; Devery Anderson, “A History of Dialogue, Part Two: Struggle toward Maturity, 1971-1982,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 33, no. 2 (Summer 2000): 1-96; Devery Anderson, “A History of Dialogue, Part Three: ‘Coming of Age’ in Utah, 1982-1987,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 35, no. 2 (Summer 2002): 1-71; and Devery Anderson, “A History of Dialogue, Part Four: A Tale of Two Cities 1987-1992,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 41, no. 3 (Fall 2008): 1-54.

[3] Dean C. Jessee and John W. Welch, “Revelations in Context: Joseph Smith’s Letter from Liberty Jail, March 20, 1839,” BYU Studies 39, no. 3 (2000): 137.

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