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Mormon Academics Speak at McGill University 

Acclaimed scholar Richard L. Bushman of Columbia University, one of the editors of The Joseph Smith Papers project, and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave a public lecture at McGill University in early November 2014. More than 130 people listened as professor Bushman discussed the historical and cultural context of the Book of Mormon in advance of The Book of Mormon musical’s arrival in Montreal in December 2014.

Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, gave the lecture, entitled “The Perplexing Book of Mormon,” at McGill University’s Birks Heritage Chapel. He looked at the Book of Mormon’s controversial beginnings and highlighted the difficulties in explaining the book’s origins from a scholarly point of view: Where did it come from and how could Joseph Smith, a poor uneducated farmer, be the author of such a complex, socially critical book?

The professor suggested that the Book of Mormon deserves careful scholarly attention as the sacred text of a new world religion, and as a cultural phenomenon in its own right. The lecture was sponsored by the McGill University faculty of religious studies; the Concordia University department of religion, faculty of arts and science; and the Université de Montréal, faculté de théologie et de sciences des religions.

Bushman was accompanied by his wife, Dr. Claudia L. Bushman, professor of American studies at Columbia University. She spoke at both the University of Montreal and McGill University on “Mormon Feminism: Historical and Contemporary Issues.” She also joined a panel discussion, called “Women and Faith: Challenges and Opportunities,” at Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom. The panel included female religious scholars from three other faiths: Samaa Elibyari of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women; Rabbi Ellen Greenspan, rabbi-educator, Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom; and Reverend Ellie Hummel of the United Church of Canada, chaplain and co-ordinator, Concordia University Multi-faith Chaplaincy.

Attendee Eric Jarvis, director of public affairs for the Church in Quebec said, “These kinds of events foster a feeling of goodwill between faith groups and help to build bridges in our community.” Reverend Ellie Hummel commented that the panel “created some really interesting discussion.”

The Bushmans were involved in a series of lectures seeking to promote interfaith dialogue in Montreal. A respect for the diverse beliefs and unique contributions of all the world’s faiths is one of the hallmarks of Mormonism. From the earliest days of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith elevated the principle of religious liberty and tolerance: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may” (Articles of Faith 1:11). These principles foster relationships between religions, relationships that build trust and lay the groundwork for charitable efforts.

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