Maxwell Institute

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“From the Director’s Desk,” where Spencer Fluhman discusses the Institute’s direction and ongoing work. Follow him on Twitter @spencerfluhman.

I recently paid off my student loan balance from graduate school—exactly ten years since receiving the PhD. That’s a cautionary tale for prospective graduate students in the humanities, make no mistake, but closing that account got me thinking about debts.

After a couple of months now as Maxwell Institute executive director, I’ve become increasingly aware of the debts I owe to those who built the Institute and who have made our bright future prospects so, well, bright.

I’m a historian at heart, so I’ve begun piecing together a picture of the work and talents that have contributed to the Maxwell Institute we have today. Since so many of the key figures have intersected my life in meaningful ways, I’m glad to take a moment to acknowledge some personal and institutional debts. So, to the folks who dreamed big, raised substantial endowments, and contributed time and talents over decades, I say: thanks so very much.

The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) is one of our key institutional predecessors. In many ways, it was the brainchild of John (“Jack”) Welch, though he collaborated closely with John Sorensen, Stephen and Shirley Ricks, Kirk Magleby, Paul Hoskisson, and others. Jack is a tireless and generous builder who also personally publishes enough enduring material to thoroughly discourage (and encourage) folks like me. He’s guided BYU Studies for nearly a quarter century (!) and has left an indelible mark on the Institute and BYU. More personally, Jack published my first academic article in BYU Studies back in 2005. FARMS joined BYU formally in the late 1990s.

Daniel C. Peterson chaired the FARMS board for years and was the visionary behind our Middle Eastern Text Initiative (METI)—in my view perhaps the single most meaningful connection between the LDS and Muslim communities. He also edited the FARMS Review (which became the Mormon Studies Review) for more than two decades and directed our Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts (CPART), too. In BYU fundraising circles, Dan is something of a legend. He was as instrumental as anyone, I suspect, in laying the Institute’s financial foundation. I was a student of Dan’s many years ago. His class on Islam profoundly shaped the way I viewed that tradition—and my own—and I’ve been grateful for his influence ever since.

Noel Reynolds served BYU for many years in various capacities, and he spent an influential stint as the Institute’s executive director in the early 2000s. Noel brought the substantial initial endowment gift to the Institute and he jump-started independent funding for METI as well. He also laid the financial groundwork for what would become our Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies. Noel was generous to me in various ways as a young scholar and has continued to be generous in his retirement—helping me most recently gain historical perspective with wise advice drawn from his varied experiences.

Andrew Skinner succeeded Noel as executive director. Significantly, Andy was instrumental in arranging for our current—and treasured—institutional name. Before serving as executive director, he’d served as dean of BYU Religious Education. In fact, he was the dean who hired me at the university. Andy was a professor of mine, too—who thoroughly wowed me with his knowledge of the ancient world—so I was deeply honored to become his colleague in 2004. I was grateful for his support back then and have appreciated working with him since.

Gerald Bradford succeeded Andy as executive director. In retrospect, Jerry significantly changed the course of my career. Back in 2013, he invited my perspective about a change of course he was contemplating for the Mormon Studies Review. I gave my two cents, figured I’d helped in some small way and then was stunned when he offered me the editorship several weeks later! Editing the Review has been an unexpectedly fulfilling academic endeavor for me. It also brought me into the Maxwell Institute’s orbit, for which I’m deeply grateful. Jerry perceptively saw a critical role for the Institute with the broader academic study of the Latter-day Saints and I’m unquestionably the beneficiary of that vision.

There are many others who’ve built the Institute. Too many to thank here, no doubt. I could go on at length about those who’ve contributed scholarship, reviews, and financial support, to be sure. But these folks I’ve listed have blessed my life and work in deeply personal ways. While I cannot repay the corresponding debts in full, I’m glad to at least acknowledge them and to give credit where it’s due.

This is an exciting time for the Institute—I’m grateful for the privilege of associating with an institution that bears Elder Maxwell’s name and that aspires to such lofty goals. We’ll certainly need additional partners moving forward—whose future investments of time, talent, and resources will continue to make our important work possible!



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