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The Past, Present, and Future of BYU Studies Quarterly

Brad Wilcox and Tim Morrison break down their analysis of 60 years worth of BYU Studies Quarterly articles.

BYU Studies Quarterly has been published since 1959. Over the last 60 years, the journal has undergone name changes, made discoveries, and published scholarship informed by the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. In this interview, Brad Wilcox and Tim Morrison break down their analysis of BYU Studies Quarterly content, including thoughts by Editor-in-Chief Steven C. Harper on the future of the publication.

Learn more by reading “Sixty Years of BYU Studies Quarterly, 1959–2919: The Narrative and the Numbers” by Brad Wilcox, Timothy G. Morrison, Kyle C. Lyons, and Jake M. Robins.


What most surprised you when analyzing the 60-year history of BYU Studies Quarterly?

Tim Morrison: When we compiled the data for this study, we discovered a one-year gap in the publication of the journal. The fourth volume closed with the Spring-Summer 1962 issue and the fifth volume year didn’t begin until January 1964.

We didn’t know why the journal had taken a one-year hiatus. We speculated that the editor may have been unable to continue his work or that funding had ended.

The test of time has certainly shown that some of the early concerns were unfounded.

After the article had been published, we discovered some other possible reasons when reading Terryl Givens’ recent biography of Eugene England, Stretching the Heavens.

Prior to the launch of BYU Studies, some senior Church leaders had been reluctant to approve the beginning of the journal. According to Givens, they feared that the contents of some articles might challenge the testimonies of Church members. They may have believed that a focus in the journal on intellectualism and new methods of conducting and reporting history could challenge the beliefs of many members. They didn’t want the Church’s flagship university to produce a journal with content that could lead some away from the gospel. However, the decision was finally made to begin publication and then see how things developed.

During those first four years, some articles dealt with topics that may have seemed too intellectual to some, like modern art and humanism, existentialism, Charles Darwin, and folklore and the Mormon personality.

But the article that received most attention was one written by Leonard Arrington in the very first issue, “An Economic Interpretation of the ‘Word of Wisdom.’”


Brad Wilcox: Some felt that Arrington treated the topic with an academic focus when a more faithful discussion would have been more appropriate. These concerns may have led to the pause in publication to reconsider the value of the journal. After extensive discussion, permission was granted by senior leadership to resume publication of the journal.

The test of time has certainly shown that some of the early concerns were unfounded. Looking over the content of the journal, there has been a faith-promoting tone throughout the years.


Where did BYU Studies Quarterly get its initial name?

Brad Wilcox: Originally, Clinton F. Larson, a professor of English at BYU, was the first to propose the idea of a literary magazine. The title he wanted was the Wasatch Review, but university president at the time, Ernest L. Wilkinson, felt that the title should be broader and represent the university by name. Thus, Brigham Young University Studies was born.


Tim Morrison: That name has been abbreviated to BYU Studies, because people had already abbreviated it when they spoke of it. In 2012, the journal became BYU Studies Quarterly. It appears that the new name has not fully been embraced due to its length and the tradition using the shorter name.


How did looking at historical context help you understand trends in the history of BYU Studies Quarterly?

Tim Morrison: We classified data into categories, topics, and key words. When looking at the frequencies and percentages of each, we were impressed with the broad range of material that has been published.

Now more people value Bushman’s book about Joseph Smith.

But we really began to see interesting trends when we examined the data by decade.

We saw differences in topics published across time. For example, in the 1960s concerns about war and communism were apparent in journal articles. But, despite the passage of civil rights legislation in 1964, nothing surfaced in the journal at that time. George Romney’s run for the U.S. presidency was in 1968, but nothing appeared about it until 1971. This lag time was apparent throughout the decades for many topics.


Brad Wilcox: This could be due to the time it takes for authors to write the manuscripts, editors to conduct peer-reviews and the publisher to produce the finished copy.

However, we have to remember the purpose of the journal is not to provide commentary on current events or political issues. It’s to present scholarship informed by the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Topics like Church History, Nauvoo, Joseph Smith, Book of Mormon, and Christ’s Atonement are not necessarily connected to current events, but they surfaced in every decade.

The logo of BYU Studies
The mission of BYU Studies Quarterly is to publish scholarship informed by the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. BYU Studies sponsors From the Desk as part of its mission.

What originally worried BYU professors about publishing in BYU Studies Quarterly?

Brad Wilcox: From the beginning, academics liked the idea of having a journal where they could express connections between their professional interests and the gospel. Traditional academic journals do not typically seek or publish such articles.

What originally worried BYU professors was what still worries current faculty. The journal has not been a viable publishing outlet for faculty members seeking continuing faculty status and rank advancement in their disciplines. They say, “it doesn’t count,” even at BYU.

The current editor, Steven C. Harper, is trying to change that. He encourages faculty to repurpose articles. For example, geneticist, Ugo Perego, and his colleagues published an article in Forensic Science International: Genetics. They then published a summary of that work in an article for BYU Studies Quarterly.


Tim Morrison: From the beginning, the editors were not overseen and were not micro-managed by university administration or Church leaders. Still, they felt the responsibility to be careful about what they published.

Due to its university sponsorship, the journal would be seen as a quasi-Church-endorsed publication. Those who wrote about topics that some considered controversial or edgy may not have submitted manuscripts to BYU Studies for that reason. They turned to other independent journals that were surfacing at the same time.


How many articles are included in your analysis of BYU Studies Quarterly content?

Tim Morrison: In all, we analyzed 1,594 entries and excluded 1,852. We were most interested in pieces that were peer-reviewed. We excluded book reviews, poetry, notices, artwork, and photographs. Some published works were speeches given at BYU that we considered peer-reviewed because they were selected following specific editorial guidelines.


Brad Wilcox: Now you know why it took so long to write the article! We really are appreciative to Kyle C. Lyons and Jake M. Robins, along with several other research assistants, who helped us wade through so much material.

I have come to learn more about how to reconcile differences among Church leaders.


Which articles did Steven C. Harper subjectively identify as those with the greatest impact?

Tim Morrison: We trusted Steve Harper’s judgments about the impact of specific articles, not only because he is the current editor, but because he has been associated with the journal for so many years.

He was mentored by Jack Welch during long editorship. Steve seemed qualified to make these judgements, even if they are subjective.

Three of the articles on his list were among the most downloaded:

  1. “A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven” (David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido)
  2. “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood” (Edward L. Kimball)
  3. “The Good Samaritan: A Type and Shadow of the Plan of Salvation” (John W. Welch)

In addition to these, Harper included two articles not on the most-downloaded list: “Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon,” by Jack Welch and George S. Tate’s “The Great World of the Spirits of the Dead,” talking about Joseph F. Smith receiving the revelation now known as Doctrine and Covenants 138.


Brad Wilcox: First, we looked at the articles that have been downloaded most frequently. That was pretty straightforward. This list includes articles about a broad range of topics across many years, from 1971 to 2019. We realized that downloads, while easy to count, do not reflect impact.


Who are the most prolific BYU Studies Quarterly authors?

Tim Morrison: Publishing an article in a peer-reviewed journal is not an easy accomplishment. One article typically takes months, if not years, to appear in print, when you consider the research and the peer-review processes. To publish many articles requires high degree of determination, as well as quality work.

Articles are not published just because someone is well known. Articles are reviewed by highly qualified peers who do not know the identity of the author. They are judging strictly on the quality of the work.


Brad Wilcox: Ronald W. Walker had a total of 36 articles published in BYU Studies over the years. James B. Allen had 26 and Richard N. Holzapfel had 23. These are the top three.

In the top 30, we also see some pioneering women, Doris R. Dant, Susan Easton Black, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher. Over the time span of the journal 260 articles have been written by female authors. In the first 30 years, only 55 female authors published, but in the second 30 years that number jumped to 205.


Eugene England had a controversial tenure at BYU. What can we make of the fact that he ranks among the most prolific authors in BYU Studies Quarterly?

Tim Morrison: Eugene England was a popular English professor at BYU and has probably been the best essayist in the Church. He was the founding editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

England wrote and spoke about a variety of issues of interest to young people during the 1970s-90s—war, women’s rights, racism, and poverty. He was well-known to students because he spoke about these and other issues in his classes and with student groups on campus. Although he was well-liked by many students, he was considered radical by others and he received pushback from some Church leaders, including his public clash with Elder Bruce R. McConkie.

England was likely published in BYU Studies so frequently because of his wide range of interests, his keen insights, and his polished writing abilities. His works were well-received in the blind review process of the journal, so 10 of his articles were published. But he also wrote 19 book reviews and works of poetry that were published in BYU Studies.


Brad Wilcox: What may appear controversial at the time can be seen with different lenses as we look back. For example, when Richard Bushman wrote Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling in 2005, the book was well-received by people who already had a solid background in Church history. Those who didn’t were reading about certain things for the first time and struggled with some of the content.

As the years have gone by, more Church members have become educated in Church history because of the publication of the Joseph Smith Papers, Gospel Topics Essays on the Church website, and the publication of the Saints volumes.

Now more people value Bushman’s book about Joseph Smith.


What are the most popular categories for BYU Studies Quarterly content? What are the most popular subjects in Church History and Culture?

Tim Morrison: We assigned each analyzed article a descriptive category. By far, the two most frequent categories were Church History and Culture and Humanities.

Church History and Culture

During the first 30 years of the journal 14.2% of articles were in the Church History and Culture category. That percentage increased to 17.4% during the next 30 years.

Humanities

In first 30 years, 13.7% of articles were in the Humanities category. Note that the percentages are about the same as Church History and Culture in the first 30 years. But in the next 30 years the percentage for Humanities decreased to 11.2%. The original literary magazine idea of BYU Studies declined.


Brad Wilcox: For each article we also assigned one subject along with the category.

Church History and Culture

In the Church History and Culture category, the three most frequent subjects were:

  1. Church Culture (e.g., early Church in Mexico, music education in the Church, impact of folklore on Latter-day Saints, identifying why people leave the Church, annotations by Elvis Pressley in a copy of the Book of Mormon shown to be a forgery)
  2. Nauvoo
  3. Pioneers

Humanities

In Humanities the three most frequent subjects were (1) art, (2) Latter-day Saint Cinema, and (3) Personal Reflection (i.e., responses to art or music and personal narratives).


Do we know anything about which issues have been the most controversial?

Brad Wilcox: Although not controversial, perhaps some of the most embarrassing moments experienced by editors of the journal were when they published articles about documents discovered by Mark Hofmann, which were later shown to be forgeries.


Tim Morrison: One controversial subject that surfaced in the late 1960s related to the work of Reverend Wesley P. Walters. He claimed there was no evidence for the religious fervor that Joseph Smith described in Palmyra in the early 1820s. By casting doubt on this detail, he led some to question the validity of Joseph Smith’s accounts of the First Vision.

A special committee of scholars under the leadership of Truman G. Madsen went to work to address these concerns. Their research demonstrated beyond any question that Joseph’s account was accurate. An entire issue of BYU Studies (vol. 9, issue 3 in 1969) reported on various aspects of this research.


What might future BYU Studies Quarterly content look like based on your analysis of historical content?

Tim Morrison: Only one article in the first 60 years of BYU Studies has addressed same-sex attraction (Ben Schilaty, 2019, vol. 58:2). We will probably see more on this topic in the future, along with attention to issues like women and the priesthood and race and religion.

These topics have already received some attention, but mostly in book reviews that we did not include in our analysis.


Brad Wilcox: I don’t think the journal will focus on controversial issues any more in the future than it has in the past. It is not central to its purpose. I think we’ll see more focus on the Book of Mormon. Not so much on literacy forms or history, but on the doctrine taught in the book.


What are Steven C. Harper’s hopes for the future of BYU Studies Quarterly?

Brad Wilcox: When we talked to Steve about this, he said we need more submissions by and about women.


Tim Morrison: He also said that efforts are being made to share the content with a larger audience of educated, but non-specialist readers.


Is there a particular BYU Studies Quarterly article that has special meaning for you?

Multiple accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision

Brad Wilcox: I remember several years ago when students started becoming aware of multiple versions of Joseph Smith’s First Vision. Some of them said things like, why has the Church been hiding this?

Several Latter-day Saint historians discuss Joseph Smith’s four firsthand accounts of the First Vision. There are nine total accounts, and historian Steven C. Harper says there may be more yet to be discovered.

I was grateful to be able to show them Dean C. Jessee’s BYU Studies article that was published in 1969 (“The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” 9:3) along with some articles in the Ensign that showed that people have been talking about this for decades.

It helped students understand that these accounts are not hidden from those who are willing to do just a little digging and not just settle for some sensational soundbite on social media.


Reconciling differences

Tim Morrison: I had just completed a master’s degree at BYU and was teaching school in Springville, Utah, when my wife and I attended the fireside at BYU on June 1, 1980. This is when Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave his “Seven Deadly Heresies” talk.

One of these heresies is that God progresses in knowledge. Elder McConkie’s position was that “this is false—utterly, totally, and completely.”

Soon after, I read an article about how Brigham Young and Orson Pratt disagreed about this and other doctrinal issues (“The Orson Pratt-Brigham Young Controversies: Conflict within the Quorums, 1853 to 1868,” by Gary James Bergera, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer, 1980), pp. 7-49).

Brigham contended that God does progress in knowledge and Orson took the opposite position.

I found it interesting that Brigham Young in the past and Elder McConkie in the then-present disagreed about this issue. So, I took interest when Eugene England wrote his 1989 BYU Studies article about this topic, “Perfection and Progression: Two Complementary Ways to Talk About God” (vol. 29, n. 3).

This article is one that I have thought about a great deal over the years. Because of it, I have come to learn more about God’s nature, how to reconcile differences among Church leaders, and the possibilities of eternal progression.


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About the authors

Brad Wilcox

Brad Wilcox is an associate professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University, where he teaches Book of Mormon and New Testament classes. He earned his BA and MEd degrees at BYU and his PhD at the University of Wyoming. He is currently serving as the Second Counselor in the Young Men General Presidency.

Timothy G. Morrison

Timothy G. Morrison recently retired from Brigham Young University, where he was an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education. He taught undergraduate and graduate courses in reading, language arts, and children’s literature. He earned his BA and MEd degrees at BYU and his PhD at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He and his wife, Carol, are currently serving a mission at the Church Office Building as literacy specialists helping to improve the comprehensibility of Church curriculum and magazines as well as implement literacy programs for Church members in developing countries.



BYU Studies Quarterly resources

Top 10 most downloaded BYU Studies articles

  1. “‘A Mother There’: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven” (David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido)
  2. “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood” (Edward L. Kimball)
  3. “Category Index” (BYU Studies Quarterly)
  4. “Historical Headnotes and the Index of Contents in the Book of Commandments and Revelations” (Steven C. Harper)
  5. “Microlending: Toward a Poverty-Free World” (Muhammad Yunus)
  6. “The Psalm 22:16 Controversy: New Evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls” (Shon Hopkin)
  7. “Second Century Address” (Spencer W. Kimball)
  8. “The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text” (Stan Larson)
  9. “Physical Evidence at Carthage Jail and What It Reveals about the Assassination of Joseph and Hyrum Smith” (Joseph L. Lyon and David W. Lyon)
  10. “Environmental Lessons from Our Pioneer Heritage” (Terry B. Ball and Jack D. Brotherson)

By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

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