The LDS Intellectual Tradition: A Study on Three Lives

Main Library

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The 2014 McMurrin Lecture will serve as the keynote address for the April 12 symposium "Faith and Reason, Conscience and Conflict: The Paths of Lowell Bennion, Sterling McMurrin, and Obert C. Tanner", taking place starting at 9am at the Tanner Humanities Center (map). The symposium honors the work and legacies of these three intellectuals that, at various points in their careers, served the LDS Church, the University of Utah, their state, and the nation in pursuit of their visions of a more enlightened and humane society.

Founded in 1992, the McMurrin Lecture supports the serious and knowledgeable study of religion. The McMurrin Lecture honors beloved scholar and teacher Sterling M. McMurrin (1947–1996), who served as U.S. Commissioner of Education during the Kennedy Administration.

2014 McMurrin Lecture / Keynote Address: "The LDS Intellectual Tradition: A Study on Three Lives"

Presented by Kathleen Flake

This lecture begins with the definition of an intellectual as one who loves and is committed to the life of the mind, one for whom thought is both a delight and a necessity, a source, as well as means for human flourishing. This does not mean a life without conflicts, as illustrated by the three intellectuals—Lowell Bennion, Sterling McMurrin, and O. C. Tanner. Flake considers their intellectual loves and conflicts in relation to the religious culture out of which they came. Doing so will tell us something about whether there is a Mormon intellectual tradition and, if so, what are its distinctive features? Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more fertile place to find the answer.


Kathleen Flake holds the Richard L. Bushman Chair in Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia. She teaches courses in American religious history and the interaction of American religion and law. Her primary research interests are in the adaptive strategies of American religions and First Amendment questions of church and state.

She is the author of The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle. She has published in several scholarly journals and is on the editorial board of Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation.

Professor Flake has been awarded grants from the Mellon Foundation, Lily Endowment, Pew Charitable Trusts, and American Philosophical Society. She has held office in the American Academy of Religion, the American Society of Church History, and the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion. Frequently invited to comment on Mormonism in the news, she is also a panelist for the Washington Post/Newsweek “On Faith” blog.

She received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in History of Christianity and an M.A. in Religious Studies from Catholic University of America. Prior to her appointment at Vanderbilt, Professor Flake was a litigation attorney in Washington, D.C., having received her J.D. from the University of Utah and her B.A. in English from Brigham Young University.

Sponsored by Tanner Humanities Center. This symposium will mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Obert C. and Grace A. Tanner Humanities Center.

Location: Main Library

Contact Information: 801-524-8200