Is the Work of Brian Hales Taken Seriously by Mormon Historians?

Broadly speaking, there are two general ways to know if an author's work is taken seriously in academia. 

The first is where an author publishes his work. One mark of a genuine scholar is if he is able to publish in academic journals relevant to the given field or with a university press. If a given author is only able to publish in popularized venues (such as on the Internet or with a commercial press), the odds are that he is producing work that will not be generally well-regarded in academia.


The second way you can generally know if an author's work is taken seriously is by seeing who else cites the author and where. Obviously, if the author is being cited positively that's a good sign. But even negative reaction to an author's work on the part of other scholars can be indication that the work in question is serious enough to engage at all. So the more someone is cited, either favorably or unfavorably, the more you can know that that someone is being taken seriously by academia.


To illustrate, let's look briefly at the corpus of Brian Hales on the subject of Joseph Smith's polygamy to see if he is taken seriously by other Mormon historians.


First, Brian has published his work not only with a commercial press (Greg Kofford Books), but also in such academic journals as Mormon Historical StudiesJournal of Mormon History, Dialogue, and Interpreter. He has also published articles in anthologies on plural marriage produced by John Whitmer Books of the John Whitmer Historical Association.


Clearly, then, Brian passes the first test with flying colors. 


But what about the second test? Is Brian's work being cited or otherwise engaged with by other Mormon historians in reputable venues? Let's answer this by looking at just four examples:


1. Brian's work is cited, by my count, no less than 8 times in the LDS Church's essay "Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo." This essay was prepared, in part, by credentialed historians associated with the Church History Department. In each instance Brian is cited positively.


2. Todd Compton and Patricia Lyn Scott, the former of which wrote the important volume In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith, says the following about Brian's work: "The [series] has been widely praised for its thoroughness and for Hales's willingness to face difficult subjects." Although Compton and Scott do mention that Brian's work has received criticism, they nevertheless felt his work was important enough to include mention of it alongside other scholarly treatments of the subject.


(Todd Compton and Patricia Lyn Scott, "Wrestling with the Principle: A Historical Bibliography of Mormon Polygamy," in The Persistence of Polygamy: Fundamentalist Mormon Polygamy from 1890 to the Present, ed. Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster [Independence: John Whitmer Books, 2015], 585.)


3. In a recent volume produced by Oxford University Press, the historian Kathryn M. Daynes, who has herself published on the topic of plural marriage with a university press, lists Brian's three-volume series Joseph Smith's Polygamy along other titles as recommended reading on the subject of Mormon polygamy. (Kathryn M. Daynes, "Celestial Marriage (Eternal and Plural)," in The Oxford Handbook of Mormonism, ed. Terryl L. Givens and Philip L. Barlow [New York: Oxford University Press, 2015], 347.)


4. In the latest issue of BYU Studies Quarterly, the historian Alexander L. Baugh, a history PhD who is associated with the Joseph Smith Papers Project, says of Brian's work, "The most definitive and comprehensive study on plural marriage—and in my opinion, the most balanced and objective—is Brian C. Hales’s three-volume work Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology." (Alexander L. Baugh, book review of Alex Beam, American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon ChurchBYU Studies Quarterly 54, no. 4 [2015], 199–200.)


This sampling should be enough indication whether Brian's work is worthy of the attention of other professional Mormon historians. Even those who have disagreements with his work still praise him for his scholarship.


To be clear, I am not saying this makes Brian automatically correct in his arguments. Just because one publishes in mainstream academic venues or is cited favorably by other scholars does not ensure that one's arguments are valid. Do not, therefore, mistake this post as a fallacious appeal to authority.

That being said, the above must count for something. If you therefore wonder whether Brian Hales is taken seriously by other Mormon historians, consider the evidence offered above. Is this the sort of track record we would expect from a man who is, according to some Internet ex-Mormons, a laughable "apologist" who has no credibility?

I submit that it is not.

Comments

  1. "Is this the sort of track record we would expect from a man who is, according to some Internet ex-Mormons, a laughable "apologist" who has no credibility?"

    Straw man. Exmormons recognize that his work is valuable and valid, until you get to the conclusions he draws from it. To quote the notable Mormon historian H. Michael Marquardt, "We are looking at the same evidence and coming to very different conclusions."

    You do love yourself a good straw man though. Probably helps you sleep off the cognitive dissonance at night.

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    1. I've been around the r/exmormon block a time or two. I know what Internet ex-Mos are saying about Brian and his work. Most of them haven't so much as read his books or articles, let alone spent the requisite time needed to critically evaluate his arguments. They are dismissing him out of hand for being an "amateur," led on by their ringleader Jeremy Runnells.

      "You do love yourself a good straw man though. Probably helps you sleep off the cognitive dissonance at night."

      Oh you know it. I'm practically writhing in my cognitive dissonance. Thankfully, all the money TSCC gives me for my blogging makes everything okay.

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    2. Then I suggest you talk to some ex-Mormons among the scholarly crowd instead rather than lump all of us into one group. I suppose it's a lot easier to do the latter and pretend we're all ignorant though.

      And just because you've mastered dissociation doesn't mean you're without cognitive dissonance. You're just lucky you're an intelligent, white, heterosexual male so that you're able to do it.

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  2. I think if one begins to read one of his books with a honest blank slate approach, by filtering out as many preconceived biases, either for or against Joseph Smiths practice of polygamy. One would not reach the conclusion that Dr. Hales would have hoped for.

    I have spoke with some well known LDS historians and academics specifically on this question. The answer usually is "his research is extensive, BUT his conclusions are interesting, and suspect"

    I don't think Dr. Hales should quit his day job.

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    1. "I think if one begins to read one of his books with a honest blank slate approach, by filtering out as many preconceived biases, either for or against Joseph Smiths practice of polygamy..."

      If only such were possible.

      "I have spoke with some well known LDS historians and academics specifically on this question. The answer usually is "his research is extensive, BUT his conclusions are interesting, and suspect""

      Thank you for proving my point in this post. LDS historians are acknowledging his scholarship is serious stuff, whether they agree with him or not. (This is rather typically, BTW. Scholars will disagree with each other all the time while still acknowledging the quality of the other's work.)

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    2. Nice spin, although expected. You apparently have more confidence in his works, than they seemed to have.

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    3. I have as much confidence in his work as the editors and peer reviewers do at the journals he's published with.

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  3. As an ex-Mormon, I actually find a lot of what Brian Hales has to say about Joseph Smith's polygamy to be fascinating. I plan to buy his series when I have more $ in the bank. His website(s) are pretty dang good. Do I agree with his all of his conclusions? Of course not. But, any ex-Mormon would be remiss to simply dismiss the Hales' work as rubbish, just as I think any active Mormon would crazy to just dismiss the work of Brent Metcalfe or Dan Vogel.

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  4. I've actually read and studied Brian's work, including his three books on Joseph Smith's polygamy. Unlike most, I've actually taken the time to address some of Hales' conclusions in depth. If anyone wants to see what I am speaking of, please google my article "Brian Hales Polygamy: Sylvia Lyon and the 1869 Utah Affidavits".

    I actually had a fair amount of respect for Brian until he wrote his "New Expert" article on Jeremy Runnells. I've also known Brian's researcher, Don Bradley for over five years and respect him a lot, even though I don't agree with many of his conclusions. The work that he did which appears in Brian's books (the research) is top notch. What is not, are Hales conclusions because Brian is nothing more than an Apologist for the Church. One would do much better to just go to Hales document site, (Mormon Polygamy Documents) and sift through the research yourself. I applaud Hales for releasing what he has posted there.

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    1. By the way Johnny, I think you should be commended for actually stepping up to defend Jeremy. Most of his reddit bros will pat him on the back, but few will stick their necks out and actually come to his defense when he is confronted by such overwhelming evidence of his duplicity and foolishness. So kudos to you. Your bravery is remarkable.

      One question: do you and Jeremy just ignore your own ideological/religious differences (ask Jeremy his thoughts on the portrayal of God in the Old Testament some time) for the sake of attacking TSCC together? Is this a "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" scenario?

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    2. What you see as "overwhelming evidence of his duplicity and foolishness", others do not, including many respected Mormon Historians. The attacks on Jeremy by you (your last blog article about him for example) and others (including Hales, Christensen, et. all) are truly irrelevant when it comes to the CES Letter, unless you are trying to “kill the messenger”.

      One can say that calling Jeremy a sock puppet of Satan, (as Hales did) is quite foolish, as is his manipulation of the polygamy evidence he uses to attack Jeremy with. But he goes far beyond that, calling him a liar manipulated by Satan.

      Unfortunately, it would really be a full time job to go through all of the apologetic shenanigans at FAIRMORMON's CES Website, but I've done a bit of that on Mormon Discussions and other places, enough to show that those arguments are for the most part simply apologist mumbo jumbo.

      Not sure what TSCC is an anagram for. And I'm not sure you know what my ideological/religious views really are. But if you are asking if I have differences of opinion with Jeremy, of course I do. Not sure though, what the relevance of that is. My focus has always been to concentrate on what the CES Letter claims in comparison to Mormon Doctrine/History, and to point out how Jeremy is being attacked on two fronts, one for his Historical/Doctrinal views, and the other personal attacks. (Like being called a liar).

      My mentioning Jeremy was only to point out why I became involved with critiquing Brian Hales views on Joseph Smith’s polygamy. If you want to discuss that (Hales work) I’d be more than happy to. As you probably know, I’ve addressed your attacks on Jeremy elsewhere, and commented on some of the arguments that FAIRMORMON makes to try and counter the CES Letter’s claims.

      The CES Letter has its strengths and weaknesses. Those (the latter) have been addressed by Jeremy in his “Debunking” response, and I’ve pointed out some to Jeremy that still need to be addressed (at his request). If you ever want to have a discussion about that, (the claims of the CES Letter) instead of your obvious hatred of Jeremy, let me know. The same goes for the work of Brian Hales.

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    3. "What you see as "overwhelming evidence of his duplicity and foolishness", others do not, including many respected Mormon Historians."

      Uh huh. Go ahead and name them, and include citations of where such praise has occurred.

      In the mean time, today I picked up the new groundbreaking volume on the Relief Society published by the Church Historian's Press. Wanna guess who's cited in the footnotes and bibliography on polygamy? Wanna guess who isn't?

      "but I've done a bit of that on Mormon Discussions and other places, enough to show that those arguments are for the most part simply apologist mumbo jumbo."

      Oh yes, the respected academic journal "Mormon Discussions." Must've been a doozy getting your critiques through its rigorous peer review process, right?

      "Jeremy is being attacked on two fronts, one for his Historical/Doctrinal views, and the other personal attacks."

      I'm guessing you're equally outraged at Jeremy's vicious personal attacks on Dan Peterson, Brian Hales, and others. Do you have any rambling, incoherent, bizarre blog rants addressing those over at Mormonite Musings? No? That's odd.

      "As you probably know, I’ve addressed your attacks on Jeremy elsewhere,"

      You mean that rambling, incoherent, bizarre blog post of yours? Phoney Maroni or whatever cute little half-baked pun you cooked up? Yeah, I read it. Can't say I really cared much for it, nor that I care really to demean myself by responding to it, but nonetheless, I am indeed aware of it.

      "If you ever want to have a discussion about that, (the claims of the CES Letter) instead of your obvious hatred of Jeremy, let me know."

      Please spare me the rhetorical posturing. I don't "hate" Jeremy. I deeply loathe his obtuse letter (the same way I loathe any piece of fraudulent pseudo-scholarship) and think he's a childish hypocrite and dubious wannabe martyr who doesn't have the guts to own his apostate behavior, but I don't personally hate him at all (despite his personal attacks on my friends). As for addressing the claims of the CES Letter itself, I've said most of what I've wanted to on this blog, and in the number of collaborative responses to the letter that I've participated in. You're free to write more rambling, incoherent, bizarre blog rants about my material addressing Runnells' arguments if you'd like, but frankly my time is better spent doing more important things.

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  5. “Uh huh. Go ahead and name them, and include citations of where such praise has occurred.”

    I said they do not see it as foolishness or duplicitous. Here are two: Jeremy quoted Dan Vogel on his website:

    Peterson is a polemicist, not a scholar of early Mormonism. While you have merely listed your objections, he didn't do much different by countering with an apologetic bibliography. However, the nature of your letter implies that you considered the apologetic and rejected it. Your purpose as I see it was to list the problems, not defend them against the apologists. Each issue would require a pretty hefty essay to resolve Peterson's complaint. Ironically, Peterson's Ensign article listing confirmations for the Book of Abraham ignores the problems and therefore is guilty of the same shortcoming Peterson sees in your paper. I find his critique silly in the extreme. It makes no sense to criticize a summary list as being too simple when that is the purpose.

    Brent Metcalfe is another who wrote,

    To the several folks who have asked, I suspect the reason for Jeremy’s “summoning” may be because some members are disturbed by the *answers* Jeremy provides to his questions, not merely because he’s asking questions.

    Dan and Brent sure doesn’t act like what Jeremy wrote was foolishness or duplicitous. Please go ahead and tell me that neither of them are respected Mormon Historians.

    “In the mean time, today I picked up the new groundbreaking volume on the Relief Society published by the Church Historian's Press. Wanna guess who's cited in the footnotes and bibliography on polygamy? Wanna guess who isn't?”

    Wow, a Mormon Author being published by the Church Historians Press. Astounding how that could possibly happen.

    “Oh yes, the respected academic journal "Mormon Discussions." Must've been a doozy getting your critiques through its rigorous peer review process, right?”

    You are being so silly here.

    “I'm guessing you're equally outraged at Jeremy's vicious personal attacks on Dan Peterson, Brian Hales, and others. Do you have any rambling, incoherent, bizarre blog rants addressing those over at Mormonite Musings? No? That's odd.”

    You mean Jeremy’s DEFENSE of their attacks on him? As a matter of fact, I do address those attacks over at Musings. Go look.

    “You mean that rambling, incoherent, bizarre blog post of yours? Phoney Maroni or whatever cute little half-baked pun you cooked up? Yeah, I read it. Can't say I really cared much for it, nor that I care really to demean myself by responding to it, but nonetheless, I am indeed aware of it.”

    Just what I expected. All bluster, no substance.

    “Please spare me the rhetorical posturing. I don't "hate" Jeremy. I deeply loathe his obtuse letter (the same way I loathe any piece of fraudulent pseudo-scholarship) and think he's a childish hypocrite and dubious wannabe martyr who doesn't have the guts to own his apostate behavior, but I don't personally hate him at all (despite his personal attacks on my friends). As for addressing the claims of the CES Letter itself, I've said most of what I've wanted to on this blog, and in the number of collaborative responses to the letter that I've participated in. You're free to write more rambling, incoherent, bizarre blog rants about my material addressing Runnells' arguments if you'd like, but frankly my time is better spent doing more important things.”

    Oh, I’m not posturing. It’s obvious you hate the man. It’s dripping in all your obsessive blog articles about him. And you just made my point above. Wow. Yes, time better spent attacking Jeremy. Got it.

    Like I said, if you SERIOUSLY want to discuss the claims of the CES Letter, or Brian Hales’ Polygamy, let me know. Anytime, anywhere.

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    1. "Dan and Brent sure doesn’t act like what Jeremy wrote was foolishness or duplicitous. Please go ahead and tell me that neither of them are respected Mormon Historians."

      Brent Metcalfe's historical qualifications are as good as Brian's. So, following Runnells' logic, I can dismiss him as an amateur apologist. Easy.

      Vogel's a bit better, but I'm still failing to see where he is citing Runnells' work positively in peer reviewed academic venues. (You know, like how Brian's work is.)

      Also, you said "many" Mormon historians. Got anyone else? Anyone at the Joseph Smith Papers, maybe? And I mean actual historians writing in historical journals and the like, not on Facebook or message boards.

      "Wow, a Mormon Author being published by the Church Historians Press. Astounding how that could possibly happen."

      Do you have any idea how significant this is? Maybe not, since neither you or Runnells have managed to publish, well, basically anything.

      "It’s dripping in all your obsessive blog articles about him."

      LOL. "Obsessive." There's that word again. Funny coming from you. Funnier when it comes from Jeremy "I'm going to start a non-profit foundation and make my full-time job responding to evil apologists" Runnells. Okay, so go ahead and click on the "blog index" tab above. Then count how many blog posts I've posted, and how many of them are about Runnells. Also be sure to check out my CV and online articles that have appeared elsewhere. Oh, and my work at Book of Mormon Central. Once you've counted them up, go ahead and see what the percentage is about Runnells compared to the percentage of the other non-Runnells things I'm interested in.

      Whatever "obsession" there might be on my part is not even in the same universe as Runnells' pathological, habitual, OCD obsession with his newfound career as a professionally paid anti-Mormon apologist.

      "Like I said, if you SERIOUSLY want to discuss the claims of the CES Letter, or Brian Hales’ Polygamy, let me know. Anytime, anywhere."

      Anywhere, huh? Okay, how about the pages of the Journal of Mormon History, where Brian's work has appeared? As soon as you've published your stuff there, then I'll be happy to take a look at it. M'kay? Awesome.

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