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F.A.R.M.S.

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The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (also known by the acronym FARMS) functioned as a research and publication center, focusing on scholarly analysis of ancient scriptural texts and temples, first as an independent nonprofit and later as part of Brigham Young University, the flagship school for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes inadvertently called the Mormon Church).[1] FARMS, which began as a nonprofit corporation in California in 1979, was formally invited to join Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, in 1997.[2] In 2006, FARMS became part of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.[3] In 2010, the organization ceased operating under the name FARMS and is now known as the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.[4]

The Beginning of FARMS

John W. Welch—a member of The Church of Jesus Christ and, at the time, an attorney specializing in federal tax law for a Los Angeles firm—organized the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies in 1979.[5] Lew Cramer and Clark Waddoups, who are also attorneys and members of The Church of Jesus Christ, helped Welch set up the nonprofit organization; they also served on FARMS’ board of directors.[6]

The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies … was organized …to promote, coordinate, finance, and popularly disseminate research on ancient scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon.[7]

The next year, in 1980, Welch joined the faculty of BYU’s J. Reuben Clark School of Law, and he and his family moved to Provo—which also opened new opportunities for FARMS.[8]

FARMS at BYU

By 1997, the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies was working closely with faculty at Brigham Young University. The BYU board of trustees decided to invite FARMS to become part of the university, and the organization accepted. An article in the Ensign, a publication of The Church of Jesus Christ, said at the time:

Though previously separate entities, FARMS and BYU have had a long-standing relationship. More than 100 BYU faculty members have participated in FARMS projects, and the foundation has provided them with financial and staff support for scholarly work, including opportunities for scholarly publication and peer review. Scholars now working on FARMS projects will have access to university services, and BYU faculty from a wide range of disciplines will be able to participate more readily in FARMS projects.[9]

The late President Gordon B. Hinckley, then-president of The Church of Jesus Christ, said:

FARMS represents the efforts of sincere and dedicated scholars. It has grown to provide strong support and defense of the Church on a professional basis. I wish to express my strong congratulations and appreciation for those who started this effort and who have shepherded it to this point. I see a bright future for this effort now through the university.[10]

The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies operated as its own research organization at BYU until 2001, when it became part of the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts, which was also known by the acronym ISPART.[11]

Neal A. Maxwell Institute

In March 2006, BYU’s Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts was renamed the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, in honor of the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell, who was a lifelong educator and, until his death in 2004, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (with the First Presidency, the governing body) of The Church of Jesus Christ.[12]

The Neal A. Maxwell Institute … aims to organize, produce, and disseminate scholarship on ancient scripture and religious history and promote the study, illumination, preservation, and accessibility of religious texts and ancient scriptural sources. The Maxwell Institute also aims to build bridges to other cultures and peoples by contributing to scholarship in many disciplines and establishing contacts with scholars at universities and centers of learning worldwide.[13]

Elder Cecil O. Samuelson, a member of the Quorum of the Seventy (Seventies, as in ancient times, are called to proclaim the gospel and build up the kingdom of God on the earth) who was serving as the president of BYU at the time, said:

By renaming ISPART, BYU honors the memory and life’s work of Elder Maxwell. This change firmly sets the future direction of the institute, which is to promote profound scholarship supporting the restored gospel of Jesus Christ—something Elder Maxwell cared about deeply.[14]

In 2010, the name FARMS was discontinued and the organization assumed its parent name: The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.[15]

Scholarly Publications of FARMS

FARMS was an educational foundation, encouraging and supporting research about the Book of Mormon (another testament of Jesus Christ and a companion volume to the Bible), the Old and New Testaments and other ancient scriptural texts. Its research interests included “ancient history, language, literature, culture, geography, politics and law relevant to the scriptures.”[16]

The organization’s mission is summarized, in part:

Although such subjects are of secondary importance when compared with the spiritual and eternal messages of the scriptures, solid research and academic perspectives alone can supply certain kinds of useful information, even if only tentatively, concerning many significant and interesting questions about the scriptures.
FARMS makes interim and final reports about this research available widely, promptly, and economically. As a service to teachers and students of the scriptures, research results are distributed both in scholarly and popular formats. FARMS hopes that this information will help interested people to "come unto Christ" (Jacob 1:7) and to understand and take more seriously these ancient witnesses of the atonement of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[17]

Periodical Publications

FARMS' original research publication was titled Review of Books on the Book of Mormon. It was then changed several times, first to FARMS Review of Books, then to FARMS Review and finally to its current title, Mormon Studies Review.[18]

The publication’s name was changed at the time the organization’s name changed. Daniel C. Peterson, a professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at BYU who was the editor of the publication at the time, wrote:

This will be the last number of the FARMS Review. But not, I hasten to add, because we're going out of business. (Lay not that flattering unction to your souls, unfortunate critics and complainers!) No, this is simply one more stage of growth. What began as the Review of Books on the Book of Mormon eventually surrendered its wonderful acronym, ROBOTBOM, in order to become, first, the FARMS Review of Books and, then, the FARMS Review. Each new title reflected the periodical's expanded vision and scope. This process will continue when, with volume 23, number 1, our favorite semiannual becomes the Mormon Studies Review. The change also reflects readjustments over the past several years in what is now known as the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship; the old title, FARMS, no longer reflects the way we're organized. (And it was always problematic, anyhow. Our receptionists grew weary of taking phone calls about 4-H projects and pig-breeding techniques.) We look forward to continuing under the new name. And, in order to illustrate continuity amidst change, volumes will continue to be numbered from the first issue of ROBOTBOM, published in 1989.[19]

Not Part of Mormon Apologetics

FARMS editors have dismissed the claim that the foundation is apologetic in nature. Apologetics “is the practice or discipline of defending a position (usually, but not always, a religious one) through the use of some combination or other of evidence and reason.”[20] Peterson wrote:

Certain critics of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mor­mon Studies (FARMS), which is now a division of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University, deny its intellectual or academic legitimacy on the basis of the “fact,” as they see it, that it is nothing more than an “apologetic” organization.
This denial, as I shall demonstrate, is misguided. But even the perception upon which they claim to justify their denial is only partially accurate. A great deal of what the Maxwell Institute does (for example, its Middle Eastern Text Initiative, its production of the Dead Sea Scrolls on CD­Rom, and its digitizing efforts in the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana in Rome, as well as at Petra, Naples, Bonampak, and elsewhere) is not apologetic under even the loosest definition of the term. But even much of what FARMS proper undertakes cannot reasonably be described as “apologetic.” To choose one very obvious example, Royal Skousen’s fifteen­year Book of Mormon Critical Text project, supported (very substantially) by FARMS since its inception, is not at all apologetic in character.[21]


Additional Resources:


References

  1. See Foundation for Ancient Research and Modern Studies in BYU’s Organizational History Project.
  2. See Foundation for Ancient Research and Modern Studies in BYU’s Organizational History Project.
  3. See Foundation for Ancient Research and Modern Studies in BYU’s Organizational History Project.
  4. Hamblin, William and Peterson, Daniel, “Hamblin & Peterson: The Holy Land is in Utah for a Few More Weeks,” The Deseret News, Feb. 8, 2014.
  5. Meet FARMS, The Maxwell Institute website.
  6. Meet FARMS, The Maxwell Institute website.
  7. Cherrington, David J., “Societies and Organizations,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism online at BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library.
  8. Meet FARMS, The Maxwell Institute website.
  9. FARMS becomes part of BYU, Ensign, January 1998.
  10. FARMS becomes part of BYU, Ensign, January 1998.
  11. See Foundation for Ancient Research and Modern Studies in BYU’s Organizational History Project.
  12. About Elder Neal A. Maxwell.
  13. “Maxwell Institute Formed, Will House BYU Studies,” Ensign, January 2007.
  14. “Maxwell Institute Formed, Will House BYU Studies,” Ensign, January 2007.
  15. Peterson, Daniel C., “Editor’s Introduction: An Unapologetic Apology for Apologetics,” FARMS Review 22(2) 2010.
  16. See Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at BYU Publications.
  17. See Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) at BYU Publications.
  18. See Past publications under Mormon Studies Review.
  19. Peterson, Daniel C., “Editor’s Introduction: An Unapologetic Apology for Apologetics,” FARMS Review 22(2) 2010.
  20. Peterson, Daniel C., “Editor’s Introduction: An Unapologetic Apology for Apologetics,” FARMS Review 22(2) 2010.
  21. Peterson, Daniel C., Editor’s Introduction: The Witchcraft Paradigm: On Claims to “Second Sight” By People Who Say It Doesn’t Exist, FARMS Review 18(2), 2006.