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 Studies, Journal 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 Church, BYU Studies Quarterly 54, no. 4 , 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.