I'm going to touch briefly — one paragraph each — on the four sessions I didn't cover in Part 1. The topics were: biographies of Joseph Smith; the HBO series "Big Love"; the mainstreaming of Mormon Studies; and Mormon women in the Bloggernacle.
Panel: Newel Bringhurst, Tom Kimball, and Todd Compton
Title: Constructing Joseph Smith's Life and Times
In a long session, the three speakers took turns evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of three recent biographies of Joseph Smith. The consensus: (1) Remini's Joseph Smith is the most readable of the three and is, by far, the shortest. But Remini used only readily available sources and was sometimes wrong on particular historical details. (2) Vogel's The Making of a Prophet is carefully written and is upfront with its naturalistic approach, and Kimball was very moved by the coverage of Joseph's family life in the first 135 pages of the book. But it's not an easy read, the arguments are sometimes strained, and it only covers through 1831. (3) Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling takes on problematic issues like polyandry without flinching and does a fine job of uniting "liberal" and "conservative" scholars, all of whom were cited and treated with respect. But there isn't really much that's new in it, it often becomes a history of the Church as opposed to a biography of Joseph, and it devoted almost no attention to his wives and children, surely a requirement of a good biography. Look for Bringhurst's print review of RSR in an upcoming issue of Dialogue.
Speaker: John-Charles Duffy
Title: "Faithful Scholarship" and the Mainstreaming of Mormon Studies
This was a fun talk, touching on some of the same themes the speaker previewed in a short Sunstone article about a year ago. What I like about his model is it puts the "New Mormon historians" and the "faithful scholars" (i.e., FARMS) toward the middle of the spectrum, with revisionists, feminists, and gay advocates on the left extreme and "Antimodernists" (i.e., the CES) on the right extreme. This suggests why Bushman was actually able to draw on both the historians and the conservative scholars: they're not really that far apart in their scholarship. Duffy notes that "faithful scholarship" (more or less defined by conservative scholars like those working with FARMS) has "become the dominant normative model for LDS scholars, replacing relatively more anti-intellectual and more naturalistic outlooks" (quoting the abstract). That's a nice way to put the positive role FARMS has tried to play.
Speaker: Panel of four.
Title: Big Love, Big Issues
Two of the speakers were women with close ties to and sympathy for plural marriage, so it was, uh, refreshingly unorthodox. They touched on issues like whether a man would have a favorite wife or love them all equally, and the difference between "free-choice polygamy" between consenting adults and the communal variety associated with FLDS. One commented, referring to Nikki, a character on Big Love: "I wouldn't want her for a sister wife." Richard Dutcher noted he quite enjoys the show. He thinks it's nice that Mormons are more or less telling their own story (well, sort of) on Big Love.
Panel: Bloggers from Exponent II
Title: Mormon Women and the Bloggernacle
I'm sure the non-bloggers found the material quite interesting. For me, it was fun to hear how the blog came into being and what caught the interest of each of the bloggers (Jana, Caroline, Dora, and Brooke were on the panel). They talked about the public/private nature of blogging, which makes it a strangely personal medium despite being quite public; the dearth of women's voices in the Church; privacy issues for female bloggers; and the desire (of all bloggers, I think) for comment and feedback, especially on fiction or poetry posted online. I thought they did a nice job portraying the Bloggernacle as a friendly and rewarding place to hang out and share comments.