Our third participant in this series, Jennifer Lane, is associate professor of Religious Education at BYU–Hawaii, where she has taught since 2002. She recently presented a paper titled “Subjection, Mastery, and Discipleship” at the seventh annual meeting of the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology. Jennifer’s interview reflects an academic path that has had some unexpected turns. However, along the way she has been supported by remarkable scholars, both male and female. She looks forward to responding to your questions and comments.
Education: BA (History, minor in Philosophy, BYU); MA (Ancient Near Eastern Studies, BYU); PhD (Religion, with an emphasis in History of Christianity, Claremont Graduate University)
How did you become interested in your area (s) of expertise/specialization?
As a high school student I was convinced that I didn’t like history because I wasn’t good at memorizing dates. As an undergraduate I was delighted to find that the study of history allowed me to address fundamental questions that I had always asked about the world—How did things get to be this way? Why are we the way we are? My initial excitement about the capacity to explain the world increasingly shifted to exploring questions of meaning and understanding. With time I realized that the questions I was investigating and the papers I was writing were almost entirely about religious history. After serving a mission I was particularly interested in biblical history and began to prepare for graduate work in Ancient Near Eastern Studies. I feel fortunate for the support of Stephen Ricks, an associate dean of Honors at the time. I walked into his office wanting to explore the idea of redemption in the Old Testament without any previous study in his area of specialty. He both guided my studies and supported my efforts to write my Honors thesis about adoptive covenant and redemption in the Hebrew Bible and Book of Mormon.
The opportunity to be a part of the one-year master’s program in Ancient Near Eastern Studies under the auspices of BYU’s Kennedy Center’s International and Area Studies program was pivotal in my education. (Sadly this program is no longer extant; it was a helpful experience for a number of students who are now religion professors as a bridge to doctoral work.)
First, I realized that I didn’t love Hebrew and the ancient Near East enough to continue on with that emphasis for a PhD. I also discovered that I was able explore similar issues in the world of the New Testament, bringing me to my next stage of my educational journey. The opportunity to work at a graduate level with faithful Latter-day Saints was an important foundation for all my later work. Here I was able to think through and discuss important methodological and exegetical issues in a perspective of faith. Being able to study methodology of the social sciences with Valerie Hudson, the then-director of the master’s program at the Kennedy Center, has continued to inform the broad scope of my interests.
When I began my doctoral work in History of Christianity, I believed this would be the next stage to build upon my master’s thesis on adoptive redemption in the writings of Paul and look at these issues in the world of early Christianity. Interestingly, again it was realizing what I didn’t love that moved me in a direction to find a truer fit for my interests. Starting to work through Hellenistic Greek texts and basic Coptic translation that first year made me rethink my focus on early Christianity. I’ll never forget the experience of dread in the bookstore picking up a recommended Greek grammar book contrasted with the feeling of joy a few minutes later, having wandered down the aisle, and seeing a full set of shelves filled with of books on medieval history. I’ve never learned what class those books were for, but that experience changed my academic career. I will always be grateful for the personal and academic support and flexibility of the faculty at Claremont to allow me to finish my program focusing on medieval Christianity and their support with my dissertation on the role of Franciscans in reshaping late-medieval pilgrimage to Jerusalem into an experience of compassio, participation in the suffering of Christ.
What are you currently studying, or what are some of your current projects (papers, books, dissertations, etc.)?
At this point in my career, my work continues to stem from the different areas that made up my academic training. I do work in theology, usually setting LDS thought in dialogue with the broader Christian tradition. My participation in the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology has been invaluable in providing a space to explore these issues. My colleagues there are from a broader pool, and I am grateful to engage with those with philosophical training and different perspectives. Much of what I write comes as part of this dialogue. For example, my article, “Embodied Knowledge of God,” (Element: A Journal of Mormon Philosophy and Theology [March 2007]: 61–71) grew out of thinking through a claim of one participant that the flow of revelation seems to have shrunk since the early days of the Restoration. I take on that claim by using contemporary ritual theory to make us reconsider how we learn of God and reconsider the role of the temple in particular as part of preparing for the day that “they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them” (Jeremiah 31:34).
The international student body of BYU–Hawaii and university encouragement to connect our research to our target area of Asia and the Pacific opened up a space to explore the Franciscans’ journeys even further than the Holy Land. The first three years that Keith and I were here at BYU–Hawaii I was teaching part-time for both History and Religion and during that time I was able to write several papers on aspects of the inter-religious encounters of Friar William of Rubruck during his travels in the Mongol Empire. Topics such as his shock at the Nestorian cross without the body of Christ and the debated issues of ritual purity between the Orthodox and the Nestorians over drinking qumis, the fermented mare’s milk of the Mongols, made for fascinating exploration as a Latter-day Saint scholar presenting at the Medieval Academy of America, the International Medieval Congress at Kalamazoo, and the History of Christianity section of the American Academy of Religion. I am grateful to have been able to highlight and explain concerns that had not been previously been explored. The world of Franciscan piety and the contemporary ramification of their inter-religious interactions continue to intrigue me, but since becoming a full-time member of the department of Religious Education I have chosen not to continue to expand this work as much as I might otherwise have enjoyed. Sometimes we can only do so much.
I continue to work with New Testament issues, both textual analysis and historical setting, with an LDS audience in mind. I am particularly grateful for the chance to participate in the volumes edited by Thomas Wayment, a friend from CGU, and Richard Holzapfel reconsidering the life of Christ and early Christianity as well as regularly participating in the annual Sperry Symposium at BYU. Since I primarily teach New Testament classes, in addition to Honors Book of Mormon, these invitations to participate and calls for papers keep me exploring the text and scholarship on the New Testament in fresh ways. I find it interesting how organic the process of inquiry and exploration feels for me. A current example is in the work that I have recently done connecting to social justice. It began with a call for papers for the Latter-day Saints and Bible section of the Society of Biblical Literature last year in New Orleans focusing on social justice. At first I thought, “I haven’t worked in this and don’t have anything to say.” But with more thought and study, I examined how Christians and Latter-day Saints may talk past each other using different terminology—social justice and Zion—when much more is shared than they realize. Thinking along these lines changed my focus so that when the call for papers came for the 2010 Sperry Symposium about the Sermon on the Mount, I chose to write on the kingdom of God in the Sermon on the Mount and how it can be understood both in terms of personal salvation as well as the call for social justice and a more equitable world.
What has your experience been like as a woman in the academy?
From my early years at BYU, I have been very fortunate to have both male and female professors encourage me to go on to graduate school. As an undergraduate I was particularly fortunate to never have felt slighted as a woman, even when working with faculty that are entirely male, such as those with training in Ancient Near Eastern Studies. My experience working with them was uniformly positive. I also look back to the experience that I had in my Junior Tutorial with Mary Stovall Richards. She, as others had, took the time to take me aside and encourage me to go on to graduate studies. But she was the one to put in a good word for me with Stephen Robinson, then chair of Ancient Scripture, that allowed me a chance to teach a Book of Mormon class during my master’s program. Working with professional, challenging, and supportive women like her, Valerie Hudson, and Cathy Thomas, while at BYU gave me an initial vision that continuing on and working as a professor would be viable and enjoyable.
When Keith and I moved to Southern California after I finished my master’s degree, he began his PhD work in Philosophy of Religion and Theology at CGU. I was undecided as to how quickly to move forward with additional studies. We were hoping to have a family, and I thought that perhaps going part-time would be a way to find a balance. The choice to start the History of Christianity program as a full-time student rather than part-time, as I had initially thought, came in part because time was moving along, and we hadn’t been able to have children and because I just couldn’t bear being a legal secretary any longer. Closing that door opened up a very good new path for me. I had turned down the offer to join the Ancient History program at UCLA for a variety of reasons, but in retrospect the opportunity to study at Claremont with so many engaging, successful, and supportive women scholars was probably the very best reason to go there.
Since joining the faculty at BYU–Hawaii, I’ve been grateful to be a part of a faculty with a number of women professors and academic couples like Keith and myself. The scale of the university is such that there are no more than 150 or so full-time professors and so one has the chance to get to know people across all the disciplines. While I am the only full-time woman professor in our department, the percentage isn’t too bad since there are only four full-time, tenure-track positions. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be at a smaller institution where I can get to know students out of class—visiting around campus, in their wards when I served with my husband during his time as a student-ward bishop, in their culture clubs and performances, and just running into them at the grocery store. I’ve come to see them as human beings and not just people who may or may not be studying as hard as they should. So, part of what I’ve realized is that, for me, being part of the academy is being a part of people’s lives and hoping to be a positive influence in their growth.
In your field who are some women you admire? Why?
Last semester a student was doing a presentation on early Christian asceticism in a GE class I teach called World of the New Testament and her handout listed her sources: Karen Torjesen, Teresa Shaw, and Peter Brown. I had to smile when I told her that I had studied with the first two and read many of the works of Peter Brown with them. I likewise feel grateful to have studied briefly with Ann Taves and Helena Wall and to have had Lori Ann Ferrell agree to work with me as my dissertation advisor. I didn’t choose CGU specifically because of the high concentration of female faculty but every time I hear people tell horror stories about their graduate work or dissertation experience I can only feel grateful for the personal and intellectual support that I felt all the way through my experience. Having worked with them gives me a vision of the personal dimension I hope to bring to my teaching, being rigorous and demanding, but never taking one’s self too seriously. I feel I’ve learned how to care for and mentor individuals in a way that I might never have learned from male professors.
For someone who is interested in studying what you do, what are some books you would recommend on the subject?
This is from the cultural history part of my studies, with an emphasis on the Middle Ages. I’m including a few surveys, some theory, and lots of monographs that I have found engaging and helpful.
Bell, Catherine. Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Bourdieu, Pierre. The Logic of Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990.
Brown, Peter. The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.
________. The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1981.
Bynum, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
Darnton, Robert. The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History. New York: Vintage, 1985.
Duffy, Eamon. The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400–1580. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.
Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books, 1973.
Geary, Patrick. Furta Sacra: Thefts of Relics in the Central Middle Ages. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Hunt, Lynne, ed. The New Cultural History. Studies on the History of Society and Culture. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.
Kolbaba, Tia M. The Byzantine Lists: Errors of the Latins. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000.
Lawrence, C. H. Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. 3rd ed. London: Longman, 2000.
Markus, R. A. The End of Ancient Christianity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Morgan, David. Visual Piety: A History and Theory of Popular Religious Images. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.
Os, Henk van. The Art of Devotion in the Later Middle Ages in Europe, 1300–1500. Translated by Michael Hoyle. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.
Ross, Ellen M. The Grief of God: Images of the Suffering Jesus in Late Medieval England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Rubin, Miri. Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Smith, Jonathan Z. To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual. Chicago Studies in the History of Judaism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Vallée, Gérard. The Shaping of Christianity: The History and Literature of Its Formative Centuries [100–800]. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1999.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Culture and Value. Edited by G. H. von Wright. Translated by Peter Winch. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.
________. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by G. E. M. Anscombe. 3rd ed. New York: Macmillian, 1958.