You do a lot of couch surfing as a broke college student. As I was traveling to conferences and archives I relied on the generosity of friends as well as friends-of-friends. I also tried to tap into the vast Mormon network. All to save a buck. I met a lot of great people this way, but it’s always an anxiety-ridden process because you know you are relying on the good will of strangers. There can always be moments of awkwardness.
But I remember once arriving at someone’s house, being welcomed into their living room, seeing an entire run of Dialogue issues displayed prominently on their shelves, and immediately feeling at home. The very presence of those print copies assured me that they were extended family. Even if they hadn’t read all of the articles between each of the covers, mere possession implied an allegiance to a particular sub-culture within the Mormon faith.
Being a Mormon of a certain stripe can be a lonely affair. Especially if you live away from the Mormon belt—where even if there’s a dogmatic and orthodox culture, there’s still a presence of like-minded members—you might be separated from other people anxious to discuss the complexities of being Mormon and modern. This problem has been partly alleviated through the bloggernacle and social media, but before those digital networks Dialogue was the primary mode of progressive Mormon belonging. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the journal in the Mormon tradition’s transformation over the past half-century. That alone justifies its celebration.
But I also believe Dialogue can be even more important in the digital age, for at least two reasons. First, while information and camaraderie are only a few clicks away, discussions on social media are often fleeting, both in quality and permanence. The very nature of the platform cultivates tempest rhetoric, superficial depth, and limited impact. The reasoned, substantial, and measured approach encapsulated in many of Dialogue‘s finest scholarship is what our community needs. And second, even as Mormon studies flourishes as an academic discipline located primarily outside of Mormon venues, the necessity of directing scholarly rigor toward an eager LDS audience is still prominent. Dialogue provides an arena for that type of work unmatched, for one reason or another, in any other venue.
At the end of this month we, as a Mormon community, are celebrating fifty years of this immensely important vehicle of Mormon thought and the community it has cultivated. I will be participating in the “Spirit of Dialogue” conference taking place during the day of September 30 at UVU, where a lot of other, more talented, voices will also be speaking. That night there will be a formal gala where we will be honoring some of the most important figures in the Mormon faith. It should be a day never to be forgotten.
But just as important as celebrating the last fifty years, we should look forward to the next fifty. Mormons committed to the quest to understand the joys and struggles of modern Mormon should not only subscribe but donate to the cause.
I’m proud to be a Dialogue Mormon.