Before the blog could be created, we needed a name. So we organized our noble and great contributors into a Google Group and held council to consider various plans of designation. The winner, as by now you may have guessed, was Worlds Without End: A Mormon Studies Roundtable. And the bloggers saw that they were obeyed, and that their plan was good.
The phrase “worlds without end” in the Doctrine and Covenants means simply “forever,” but LDS tradition uses it to express the idea that deified believers will spend eternity creating, populating, and governing new worlds. As one of the more unique, interesting, and appealing Mormon concepts—particularly in light of current cosmological theory on exoplanets, parallel worlds, and baby universes—the phrase makes a nice emblem for our Mormon theme.
Even more apt for our project are the anthropological valences of the name. The term “worlds” is used in anthropology to mean thought-worlds: people’s ways of perceiving reality. The distinguishing feature of religious worlds, according to Robert Orsi, is the perception that supernatural forces and entities are “present” in ordinary events. These presences, regardless of whether they exist in an ontological sense, are functionally real parts of the believer’s world. The believer experiences them, responds to them, forms relationships with them, negotiates with them. The anthropologist, says Orsi, does not seek to explain such presences away, but rather “stands alongside” believers and “joins them in the work of thinking through the meanings of their world.” Mind you: we can’t all be anthropologists all of the time. But thinking in terms of Mormon “worlds” offers a potentially rich and inoffensive way forward for work on Mormons across several disciplines.
We’re also, by coyly dimming the “L” in the masthead to turn “Worlds” into “Words,” making a playful, self-deprecating pun. As the “Teacher” of Ecclesiastes complained, “Of making many books there is no end.” The same might be said of blogs. Yet the Judeo-Christian tradition also insightfully portrays words as a creative force, bringing order to chaos. Words are tools that help us organize concepts and convey information to facilitate the manipulation of the physical world. Words also have an almost mystical power to create communities, binding us together with invisible lines of emotional and relational force. By speaking—or blogging—words without end, we embody the LDS ideal of continual creation and organization.
The subtitle, A Mormon Studies Roundtable, has important and meaningful connotations of its own.
Situating ourselves in Mormon Studies, first of all, says something not only about us, but also about the field. Our contributors bring an astounding array of qualifications, perspectives, and approaches, and in this we mirror the diversity of the discipline. One of the benefits of a relatively young field staffed almost entirely by non-specialists is its inevitable interdisciplinarity. Consider the interests and expertise of our contributors. We have people who do economics, sociology, gender studies, folklore studies, ancient studies. We have religious historians, political historians, ancient historians, Masonic historians. We’re trained in literature, linguistics, art, philosophy, theology. We do documentary editing, computer databases, rhetorical criticism. The potential for innovation and combination in such a group is nearly limitless. And the same is true for Mormon Studies as a whole.
The term “Roundtable,” finally, signifies our intended tone. A “Roundtable” connotes an equality of voices, a celebration of difference, and a conversational tenor. With contributors from across the spectrum of belief, we’ll be striking a delicate balance. We don’t want our contributors to feel they have to “bracket” their personalities here, since their personal beliefs, experiences, and voices are part of what make them interesting and give significance to the things they write. The personal touch, however, makes us vulnerable as well as interesting; it’s a risk as well as a point of style. So here’s where we need help from you, dear readers. Please feel free to engage and disagree with our contributors in the comments, but please do so kindly and be respectful of others. You, too, are invited to the Roundtable, but the condition of participation is that you help us create the constructive kind of community we want this blog to be.
That said, we welcome you and look forward to reading your comments!