Widespread respect is usually hard won in the realm of religion.  In the Greco-Roman world, the religion that was most esteemed was the religion of the ancient city-state, or polis. As a member of a polis community, one participated in the worship of polis gods. Although there was no such thing as heresy, one could offend the community’s sense of the sacredness of its cults, rites, and the prestige of its gods such that one could land in court or on the wrong end of a magisterial decree. Even without a system of orthodoxy, religion was deeply implicated in community identity. Participation was an expression of one’s loyalty and belonging. Profaning acts and fringe cults were viewed as undermining the state by compromising its good relationship with the gods. Since Greco-Roman polytheism was, in a sense, practical, focused as it was on seeking out whichever tools for dealing with the gods that could bring the greatest advantage, Greeks and Romans were open to the deities of other communities. They translated them, however, into their own cultural lingo as they welcomed them in. The Romans had a ritual (evocatio) to invite the gods of enemy cities to Rome. They then worshiped these gods in Roman-style cult.
The Successors of Alexander the Great tolerated and adapted local cults in their kingdoms in order to gain whatever divine or PR advantage they could. These deities, such as the Greco-Egyptian Sarapis, were constructed in order to agree with Hellenic standards for divine identity. Originally the divinized Apis bull, or “Osiris-Apis,” the Hellenistic Sarapis was given an anthropomorphic image in the style of a seated Zeus and Greek cult constructed in part by Timotheus, an authority on the Eleusinian Mysteries. 
The translation of this Egyptian bull-god into an anthropomorphic Hellenic deity was vital to its acceptance and proliferation throughout the Mediterranean. Romans in particular were prejudiced against the theriomorphic gods of ancient Egypt. It was distasteful to a Roman, who held himself as superior to beasts like the jackal and the crocodile, to worship such creatures as gods. After the Roman emperor Augustus took Egypt from the Ptolemaic queen Cleopatra, he refused to worship the Apis bull, but commended the worship of Sarapis.  This is a testimony to the power of cultural translation in religion for fostering respect, but it was a translation that changed the original to the point that native worshipers of Osiris-Apis had little affinity for the translated version. Although quite popular as a god of the Greco-Roman oecumene, Sarapis was a flop among native Egyptians.
However, unlike Sarapic cult, Judaism and Christianity represent feats of religio-cultural translation that were successful among the native populations whence they sprang. In spite of clear examples of anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews in the empire, Judaism attracted a fair amount of Gentile interest. Judaism also enjoyed special privileges within the empire thanks in no small part to the respect that Romans traditionally accorded to ethnic and civic cults of great antiquity. This may have provided greater social space for the emergence of a growing number of non-Jewish “God-fearers” (theosebes) who, although declining full conversion with its requirement of painful and dangerous adult circumcision, nevertheless attended synagogue and provided local Jewish communities vital support. 
Another important factor was the effort of Jews to explain themselves to others in terms of the predominating Hellenic philosophical and philological learned culture. This perhaps began with the translation of important Jewish texts into Greek to accommodate Greek-speaking Jews in the Diaspora, but also resulted in a mixing of Hellenic and Jewish civilization that engendered greater Gentile respect for Judaism. Writers like Philo and Josephus generously imbibed and exploited Hellenic thought and literary forms, a fact that is increasingly apparent to scholars of both Hellenistic Judaism and the Classics.  By the late first century AD, there may have even been God-fearers in Rome’s imperial court. 
Christianity, though, lacked the apparent antiquity and strong ethnic association that provided a limited shield to Judaism. It was initially viewed with hostility. Nevertheless, it won over literate converts in its early decades; the apostle Paul is a prime example. Paul was clearly conversant in Greco-Roman ethical philosophy, Hellenistic civic ceremonies, and other aspects of the surrounding Greco-Roman milieu.  Evidence of his use of such knowledge to appeal to Greek and Roman listeners and readers is to be found throughout his corpus.
By the second century CE, educated Christian writers engaged in apologetics sought not only to defend the faith, but also to explain it to those who were either unfamiliar with or hostile to it. Part of the exercise of apologetics was an act of cultural translation. By describing Christian beliefs and practices in terms that were intelligible and attractive to educated non-Christians, apologists sought to achieve tolerance for Christianity and perhaps even win some converts. Over time, Christianity was expressed in terms that were sufficiently attractive to the empire’s educated elites to win an increasing number of prestigious converts. In fact, in his Confessions, St. Augustine claims that he was converted to Christianity through Plato. 
In antiquity, those cultures that interfaced well with the predominant Greco-Roman intellectual culture had more impact, because communicating across cultural boundaries in Greek and Latin provided greater exposure and thus eventually generated greater respect and acceptance. The results speak for themselves. Christianity became a titan among world religions; acceptance by imperial elites was not a negligible factor in its success. Judaism survived in vitality, whereas many of its competitors died out centuries ago; and Islam was born and spread thanks in no small part to the reach of both of the former faiths.
The Academy of today, like its ancient forebears of Greco-Roman philosophy and philology, has its own intellectual language. Modern academic discourse seeks to understand, explore, and interrogate global cultural phenomena. Respectful scholarly attention also constitutes a process of translation that renders religions intelligible to outsiders on the global stage. Even more than other, older faiths, Mormonism has much to gain from exposure to scholarly interest and investigation. Hostility to such interest may conversely lead to further misunderstanding and alienation. So too may rigidity. That is why a demand to address outsiders and believers in exactly the same way may result in lost opportunities, insularity, and, at worst, demographic death (in the long term).
The recent upsurge in interest in Mormon Studies has met with some unease within the LDS community, even among certain of its scholars, concerning the value of an exploration of Mormonism in secular terms to outsiders and Mormons alike. Naturally, there are risks in reaching beyond the comfortable boundaries of devotional expression in order to raise awareness among outsiders. Ideally, secular religious studies exist independent of such devotional discourse and are not designed either to forward the agenda of a particular sect or to undermine it.
This is not to say that critical study of religious texts and revisionist histories do not challenge believers’ assumptions; the risks are there and not to be denied. The tools of modern scholarship, however, are not the enemy. By failing to meet the challenges presented by such scholarship on its own terms, and instead choosing insularity, the faithful will consign themselves to intellectual irrelevancy, when they might have risen to the occasion, pioneering new paths into the Academy, and thus a greater global profile. Not only does such an act of translation hold the promise of breeding a positive familiarity and an increasing measure of respect among non-believers, but it will also provide tools to believers for grappling with the challenges secularism presents to faith.
A lingering sense of Mormon insularity, whether well deserved or unfair, has fed political opposition against the presidential nominee of one of America’s two major parties. To this LDS observer, the sustained and unquestioned level of insult and prejudice expressed against Mitt Romney’s faith is disturbing. I am too young to remember religious opposition to the candidacy of John F. Kennedy, but Kennedy was able to overcome religious prejudice in order to become the country’s first Catholic president.
Romney’s case, though, is not exactly the same as Kennedy’s. The possibility of rapprochement between Protestants and Catholics in America’s pluralistic environment was facilitated by a shared theological tradition and the nation’s growing sense of strength and independence from Europe. Mormonism’s history is much different. Fleeing conflict within the US, the Mormon People and its political power first found room to grow outside the nation of its birth; and thus it did, but with a real sense of separateness, tension, and even conflict with that nation. The effects of that separation linger in the psyche of both Mormon and non-Mormon Americans. Only when Mormonism is sufficiently intelligible and familiar to non-Mormon Americans to find a comfortable place in their psyche will it no longer be so widely acceptable to denigrate the LDS faith in the public forum.
Mormon Studies has an important role to play in making that happen. You might think of the scholar of Mormon Studies as a kind of museum docent. There is a place for the missionary, and a place for the docent. By providing thoughtful discourse on Mormonism, scholars of Mormon Studies can serve as cultural docents, who will raise awareness concerning the Mormon People in terms of its history, culture, and religion, thus removing some of the air of mystery that keeps Mormonism at a psychological and cultural distance from other Americans. The potential of Mormon Studies to promote an understanding of what has been a misunderstood, if not missing part of American history will have benefits not only for the scholarly study of religion, but also for Mormonism itself. Orson F. Whitney once predicted that Mormonism would have its own Miltons and Shakespeares;  at this time, we might hope for our own Augustine, but he may only come if the right intellectual discourse exists to attract his attention.
 On Philo and Hellenism, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philo#Influence_of_Hellenism; on Josephus and Greek historiography, see Gottfried Mader, Josephus and the Politics of Historiography: Apologetic and Impression Management in the Bellum Judaicum (Brill, 2000).
 8.2; see also James J. O’Donnell, “Augustine the African,” at http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/twayne/aug1.html.