The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) was founded in 1979 with the goal of fostering and publishing first-rate, cutting edge scholarship on the Book of Mormon and related subjects. Those involved in it during its early years were excited about the light that new research could shed on Joseph Smith’s prophetic contributions, and firmly believed that such attention would, on the whole, strengthen and defend testimonies.
The vision was to combine academic training and rigor with a commitment to serving ordinary members of the Church. “Never,” counseled one very senior Church leader, “forget the Relief Society sister in Parowan.” FARMS would be both scholarly and, for a particular kind of interested Latter-day Saint, practical, even inspiring.
When, in 1997, President Gordon B. Hinckley invited FARMS to become a part of Brigham Young University, campus administrators assured its board of directors (of which I was then the chairman) that the integrity of the organization and its mission would be respected. And they knew what they were getting. “FARMS,” President Hinckley said at the time, “represents the efforts of sincere and dedicated scholars. It has grown to provide strong support and defense of the Church on a professional basis. I wish to express my strong congratulations and appreciation for those who started this effort and who have shepherded it to this point.”
In 2006, with the approval of Church leaders, University administrators, and the Maxwell family—and to the delight of those of us who had counted Elder Maxwell (d.2004) as a supportive friend—the organization assumed a new name, as the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. “Allow no more uncontested slam dunks!” Elder Maxwell had sometimes admonished, encouraging Mormon scholars to defend the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Restoration. We knew that, in doing so, as well as in creating the Islamic Translation Series that was housed within the Institute, we were engaged in activities that had Elder Maxwell’s strong personal interest and endorsement.
In June 2012, the current leadership of the Maxwell Institute announced a “new course” for the organization that will, it seems—things are still not entirely clear—decrease if not altogether eliminate the Institute’s commitment to apologetics, or explicit defense of the faith. It’s a “new course” that redefines the Institute’s audience as consisting of professional scholars and academic libraries, and that appears to show much less interest in speaking to ordinary members of the Church. This “new course,” it has been explained, will bring the Maxwell Institute into better alignment with conventional academic priorities.
In connection with this shift in direction, I was dismissed as editor of the Mormon Studies Review (the new title that had just been given to the FARMS Review), which I had founded and led for almost precisely twenty-five years. In fact, publication of the Review was suspended altogether.
Unable to endorse the new direction, I resigned as the chief fundraiser and public spokesman for the Maxwell Institute.
The announcement of the “new course,” and my dismissal as Review editor, occurred by email near the beginning of a long-planned six-week absence overseas for my wife and me. Well over a month had passed before I was able to get back and try to cope with a suddenly and dramatically transformed landscape.
We returned late on Sunday, 22 July. The next Thursday, 26 July, a group of friends met at a Provo restaurant to consider whether or not we should launch a new academic publication designed to pick up the torch that the Maxwell Institute had just thrown down. We decided that we should, could, and would do it, and that we would act rapidly. Following a stunning week of volunteer effort, late on the afternoon of Friday, 3 August, I was able to close my remarks to the annual conference of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR) with the announcement that Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture was available online
I have to say that even I have been thrilled, and sometimes moved, by the enthusiasm and energy of those who have made this new journal possible, and who have accomplished it with such speed. Remarkable people have signed on to help. Interpreter is well-produced, technically savvy, peer-reviewed, and, already, graced with fascinating, substantial articles. It’s paginated and typeset like a print publication, and is readily available for print-on-demand.
As much as possible, we’re making all of this available for free. But there are inescapable expenses, and we have very little money. So we intend to commence a fundraising campaign as soon as we’re in a position to do so. We’ve flourished thus far in Interpreter’s brief but vigorous life on the basis of volunteer labor, but we know that we can’t expect people to work long hours for free forever.
Nevertheless, this effort continues to grow and develop. Our goal is to post at least one article, review, or note each week—and perhaps more. We’re in the process of setting up a tax-exempt legal entity, The Interpreter Foundation, to sponsor the journal, and we’ve already produced podcasts and audio discussions, undertaken to co-sponsor a conference on the temple www.mormoninterpreter.com , and created a blog.
This is an exciting project.