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Behind the Scenes on DNA Essay (Part 4 of 8)

Following his brush with Church discipline, Dr. Thomas Murphy was surprised to get an invitation to discuss his DNA research at BYU!  Tom tells more of this surprise meeting, and how BYU reacted to his scholarship.

Thomas:  I get an email asking me if I’d come to BYU and present an article on DNA and the Book of Mormon. Now, I remembered what happened back in 2002. I remembered that.

Thomas:  As I’m making this strategic move back into Mormon studies, do I want to be defined as the DNA guy?  I did not really.  I don’t want that to define me because my work is much broader than that. I also thought, “Well, I’m a little bit uncomfortable with the idea of BYU editors editing my article on DNA and the Book of Mormon. So, my response was, “I’m not really interested in writing about DNA.” But instead, I proposed a different topic:  an article that was called “Other Scriptures: Restoring the Voices of the Gantowisas to an Open Canon.” So, this basically follows my Haudenosaunee ancestry, the Mohawk ancestry and the Seneca as well. It looks at the Book of Mormon through the lens of Mohawk and Seneca oral tradition. I proposed that instead of the DNA article.

Thomas:  Brenden Rensink and Jane Hafen actually enthusiastically accepted that. So then they turned to Ugo Perego, and asked him to do the DNA article.

Thomas:  Now, shortly after I had accepted this invitation to BYU, I get an email from Matt Harris and Newell Bringhurst…I get this invitation from [Newell], and now he’s asking me to write an article on DNA and the Book of Mormon, and I had just said no to BYU. I’m like, “Okay, I’ll take this one on.” But I gave them conditions.

Thomas had some interesting interactions at BYU.

Thomas:  Matt Harris and Newell Bringhurst were very patient with us. But that was not what they were looking for. Ironically, if we had submitted that same article–if I had accepted the BYU invitation, I think if we had submitted that same article to BYU, they would have accepted it. And I would have never predicted that. I would have never predicted that. I had misconceptions.

GT:  So is BYU liberal now? Is that what you’re trying to tell me?

Thomas:  I don’t–committed to engaging in the academic disciplines more broadly, I think is the way I would put it.

GT:  Because there is a movement that says BYU is going too liberal. They’re too secular and they need to become more conservative.

Thomas:  I can see why people might say that. It surprised me. I think that article would have been, as it was written, would have been acceptable, whereas…

GT:  You know the conservatives are going to watch this video and they’re going to say, “Look, even Thomas says that BYU is too liberal.”

Thomas:  I did not use those words. Those are your words. [Rick chuckles] But I do think there’s an opening to engagement at BYU that, I think is actually more difficult for people like Matt Harris and Newell Bringhurst than it is for Brenden Rensink and Jane Hafen. It’s puzzling and interesting why, and I’m not sure I know all the answers. They need to speak for themselves on these issues.

Is BYU becoming too academically liberal?  Check out our conversation….

Dr Murphy told BYU “No” about writing an essay on DNA & Book of Mormon before he said “Yes” to Matt Harris & Newell Bringhurst.

Don’t miss our previous conversations with Dr. Murphy!

469: Untold Story of Indian Slavery in America

468: Religious Fights over DNA

467: Native American DNA Scholarship


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