While out of town last weekend, I managed to obtain temporary custody of a copy of Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons (U of Illinois Press, 2000), a collection of articles and essays by Jan Shipps, a Methodist scholar of Mormonism. Her first exposure to things LDS came when she lived in Utah for about a year well before beginning her graduate work on Mormonism:
... I first thought that Logan was a more or less typical small town. It was such a friendly place that we were soon drawn into its communal life. Yet as that happened, I began to sense that we had somehow wandered into a "twilight zone," that without realizing it we had become actors in one of Rod Serling's oft-used plots: a traveler has car trouble and is towed into what appears to be an ordinary small town for help that, inevitably, is long delayed, and, as time passes, the traveler begins to realize things in this particular small town are "ever so slightly different."
Later, she realized that "Logan had a social order based on ... categories reflecting people's standing in or attitudes toward the LDS Church and Mormonism generally." Resorting to the local public library to figure out how to navigate local culture, she discovered that Brodie's No Man Knows My History and Brooks' Mountain Meadows Massacre "were locked up behind the desk, along with the so-called Kinsey Reports and other 'dirty'' books."
Interesting beginning to a career researching and writing about Mormons. But she is one of the few non-LDS scholars who brings a degree of sympathy for Mormonism to her work, which has helped her become what she calls an "inside-outsider" [a non-LDS scholar who can write with the familiarity and understanding of an LDS insider], one of two ideal types for writing productive denominational history. The other, of course, is being an "outside-insider," an experienced Mormon who can nevertheless observe and write with the detachment of an outsider.
Shipps has successfully occupied the role of "inside-outsider." For example, she opens her Prologue quoting Elder Dallin Oaks, who referred to her as "that celebrated Mormon-watcher." Elsewhere, she notes that after William E. McLellin's missionary journals were discovered "in the vault of the First Presidency of the LDS Church in 1986," she (as well as Richard L. Bushman) was asked by LDS leaders to read the manuscript journals before an official announcement of their existence was made by the LDS Church in 1991. The idea was apparently that journalists tempted to speculate on the contents of the journals would have a credible scholar or two who were familiar with the contents of the journals to consult about their story.
Note: I'll put up a post on one of the essays from the book later this week. Some time ago I posted a few comments on another of her essays, "Dangerous History," which is also included in Sojourner. That earlier post also has a link to an online copy of the essay.