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BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (MI) made a profound change in direction when, on Thursday, June 14th, 2012, Executive Director M. Gerald Bradford fired Daniel C. Peterson, a founder of FARMS (Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies) and long time advocate of Mesoamerican theories, along with his editorial staff. Director Bradford cited a desire to “take the Review (Mormon Studies Review, formerly FARMS Review) in a different direction.” The “shake-up” involves several of the most ardent critics of the Heartland Model Geography research.
A Brief History of FARMS and the Maxwell Institute
The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS), was founded in 1979 by John W. Welch for the purpose of defending the Church through scholarly research and apologetics. As it grew others became involved in the organization, such as Daniel C. Peterson, Kirk Magleby, John Sorenson and others.
FARMS Founded to Promote Mesoamerican Theories
During an interview with PBS in 2006 FARMS board member Daniel Peterson briefly described the beginnings of FARMS by stating, “We wanted to use the training we were getting in ancient languages, ancient history, Middle Eastern studies and so on to examine the Book of Mormon on the assumption that it really is an ancient text with roots in the Middle East or in Mesoamerica.”
FARMS was founded by individuals who believed that the lands of Mesoamerica were the primary lands of the Book of Mormon. They set out “on the assumption” that evidences there would support its historical authenticity or historicity. The organizations logo featured a Mayan glyph as the upper right character which represented “Mesoamerican studies.” The organizations focus was related to Book of Mormon research with its underlying assumption that the history occurred in Mesoamerica. In the PBS interview, Dr. Peterson draws several parallels from Mesoamerican culture and archaeology. Ultimately FARMS was organized and funds were solicited and raised, in large part due to the efforts of Peterson, in its support. Over a number of years it became one of the premier apologetic organizations outside of the Church and its influence grew as did its promotion of Mesoamerica as the setting for the Book of Mormon.
FARMS Merges with BYU's Newly Organized Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
In 1984 FARMS partnered with Deseret Book to begin publication of the collected works of Dr. Hugh Nibley and a year later John Sorenson’s book, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, which sets out a potential setting in Mesoamerica, debuted as one of the first serious studies on Book of Mormon geography and was heavily promoted by both FARMS and Deseret Book. FARMS grew to prominence within the scholarly community at BYU and was approached by the university in late 1997 to join with them under the newly formed Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (MI). According to William Hamblin, who served on the board of FARMS at the time, the offer from BYU was initially rejected, but after further negotiations the board of FARMS finally agreed to the takeover. Agreements were negotiated such that FARMS could continue on, but now with the support of the university and under their direction. The board of FARMS was dissolved and the university appointed directors to oversee operations. Many former FARMS board members retained positions within the new organization (MI).
Maxwell Institute Fires FARMS Review Editorial Board To Begin New Direction
The original vision of the FARMS board was to engage scholars “conversant with biblical studies, ancient languages, Mesoamerica, archaeology, etc., which were the bread and butter of FARMS scholarship” to advocate those views and theories. However, current Executive Director of the Maxwell Institute, Dr. Gerald Bradford, has signaled that the organization will “align its work with the academy’s highest objectives and standards” (outlined in MI’s Mission Statement) which is a different direction than that of the former FARMS organization. This change in direction was made clear when, on Jun 14, 2012 director Bradford fired Daniel C. Peterson as chief editor of the FARMS Review along with his editorial staff, including Louis Midgley, George Mitton, Gregory L. Smith and Robert White. The former FARMS Review is being renamed Mormon Studies Review to reflect this dramatic change in publication style and direction. (See the Maxwell Institute official announcement on their website here).
Peterson Announces New Apologetic Organization
Daniel Peterson announced the formation of a new organization to be called Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture which is to focus on LDS scriptures and apologetics. He has appointed several of his former editorial team who were fired from BYU’s Maxwell Institute, including Midgley and Mitton, to positions within his new board of editors. It would appear that Peterson’s fund raising capabilities has made it possible to restore many of the former FARMS board members to their pre-Maxwell Institute status and given rise to an organization that is again free from the direction of BYU and Church leadership. They will now be able to continue in the former tradition of FARMS unimpeded. That Peterson intends to do so is evident in his presentation at the 2012 FAIR conference. It will be interesting to see if their style of apologetics changes.
FIRM Foundation Mission Statement and Goals
The FIRM Foundation (Foundation for Indigenous Research and Mormonism) is dedicated to providing support for the historicity of the Book of Mormon. Its purpose is to show forth evidences for the Book of Mormon in order to bring people to Christ. FIRM’s mission statement and goals are outlined on the FIRM Foundation website. We, the executive board members of FIRM, seek a professional working relationship with the management and editors of Mormon Studies Review in exploring the truths of the Book of Mormon “while promoting mutual respect and goodwill among people of all faiths” which is in accord with the current mission statement of the Maxwell Institute.
We extend our gratitude and best wishes to all who have devoted so much of their lives to the pursuit of understanding and appreciation with respect to this latter day work.
All the best to each,
The FIRM Foundation Executive Board
Peterson's PBS interview; FARMS organized for Mesoamerica promotion
A Timeline of events surrounding the firings at Maxwell Institute
Director Gerald Bradford’s email firing Peterson June 14, 2012
Peterson’s reply to Bradford, June 14, 2012
Salt Lake Tribune Article, June 26, 2012 “Shake-up hits BYU’s Mormon Studies Institute”
Maxwell Institute’s official announcement of a “New Beginning”
Peterson’s view of his firing on his blog
Three articles on the divergent visions for Maxwell Institute by Hamblin, for an insider’s view. 1. What the controversy is really about, 2. Two different visions for Maxwell Institute, 3. Hamblin’s assessment of the situation at Maxwell Institute
Bryce Hammond, FARMS sympathizer’s view of the relationship between former FARMS and Maxwell Institute on his website Temple Study
Another sympathetic view of FARMS about the conflict and controversy from the The Millennial Star website
Daniel C. Peterson announces new organization, Deseret News article
Interpreter: Editorial Board listing, which includes certain of those fired from Maxwell Institute