Conversations about the religious and spiritual life on the other side of fundamentalism
055-059: Terryl Givens

055-059: Terryl Givens

givenspTerryl Givens did graduate work at Cornell University in Intellectual History and UNC Chapel Hill where he received his PhD in Comparative Literature. He holds the James A. Bostwick chair of English, and is Professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond, where he teaches courses in 19th century studies, and the Bible’s influence on western literature. As a commentator on Mormon religion and culture, he has appeared on PBS, NPR, and CNN. Author of ten books, his writing has been praised by the New York Times as “provocative reading,” and includes, most recently, When Souls had Wings, a history of the idea of premortal life in western thought, and a two volume history of Mormon theology underway for Oxford University Press.


  1. Listening to all five segments of this podcast, (whew) I found this very interesting. In the first or second segment when Terryl gave us a glimpse of his beliefs about polygamy, I thought John better jump on that, as polygamy is such a large part of Mormonism, both in practice and doctrine. I am glad John did so in the 4th or 5th segment.

    I’ve never had concerns with the problems of God allowing suffering, catastrophes, and gross sin on earth, as it appeared that John has. However, I couldn’t really verbalize it. For the first time, though,I found myself understanding my beliefs intellectually from Terryl’s explanation of why God allows them. Terryl, you presented it in such a way to make perfect sense intellectually to me. Thanks. but then I was surprised to hear that both of you think that some of the actions of God in the Old Testament, like the flood, were inconceivable to both of your concepts of God.

    I was hoping that John would have asked Terryl about God’s commandment to Joseph Smith’s in the Book of Commandments to pretend no other gift than to translate the Book of Mormon. Could it be possible that that was his only charge, and not necessarily to create a Church? That would answer a lot of these questions much easier! 😉

    Let’s face it, Terryl, your explanation of polygamy as not necessarily a commandment from God, but Joseph’s own making but God allowed it, makes you sound like an apologist extraordinaire. 😉 Either it was a commandment from God or it was adultery, and I don’t see how it could be anything else. Section 132 says it is not only a commandment, but one to be practiced if one wants to attain the highest kingdom. If you could explain that in another way without too many angels dancing on the head of a pin, I would appreciate it.

    Terryl, your explanation about statements that Brigham Young made and the actions he took seemed like more apologetics. Although it seemed less so than some other Sunstone papers. 😉

    Terryl, your take on the different versions of the First Vision was interesting. I had a conversation with Terri on Facebook ( recently about the different versions and she compared it to child birth. She said that she might describe the birth of her son differently depending on who was asking her, and what she remembered. This sounded like your explanation, but then I asked her, if she was not expecting twins, and twins were born, wouldn’t she include that in every conversation about the event. Her explanation was about as unsatisfying as yours. 😉

    If I was John, I would have asked Terryl, when talking about the Book of Abraham, specifically about the facsimiles and the differences between Egypt scholars and the explanation of them in Joseph’s “translation”. Also the Kinderhook translation, and the Masonic signs, tokens connection, explanations were less than satisfying as well, from an intellectual standpoint.

    However, I enjoyed the presentation and am more convinced than ever that the Mormon Church, much of its doctrine and its practice are not for me. Although I believe in the Book of Mormon as God’s word and don’t need another podcast to see its beauty. Thanks again.

  2. Kris Keeney

    Terryl: you are the man, brother. Great to hear your voice and bathe in your gift of incisive thinking, clear oration, and resiliently bright optimism. The Keeneys miss the Givens, and I hope to run into you sometime. Best to Fiona. Kris Keeney, Short Pump VA

  3. Jen

    I found this interview very helpful and intelligent. However, I found it interesting that none of the questions were about the position of women in the church- esp. given the recent activity on the subject. I admit it was kind of discouraging. It makes me wonder if this is a topic that only comes up when people are reminded that there are deep concerns about how the church feels about women. When asking Dr. Givens about “historical treachery”, I wonder that treachery towards women was not asked about- yes, it is true and unfortunate that we don’t get the straight story about Joseph Smith, etc., but why don’t we get the straight story about women’s history in the church? Why don’t most women in the church know things like how in the past women were allowed to lay hands on people’s heads and give healing blessings? I found this to be quite faith shaking as a woman to find this out later and then ask “why wasn’t I told this before? Why has this been kept a secret?”. I wish you could have spoken to Dr. Givens about his feeling on this issue, but perhaps this was something he did not want to discuss (which would be sort of a statement in and of itself). I hope that in further discussions with prominent intellectual active members of the church (both men and women) that women’s issues will be more of a discussion point. I would have really liked to hear what he would have had to say on the matter.

  4. Loved this interview and good to see it is being emphasized again. I wrote a whole sacrament talk based on how he defines “True and Living”. Terryl Givens is the perfect exemplar of how to be a faith LDS in the midst of the difficult issues. hour 3-5 are worth listening to over and over again.

  5. Taylor

    A very satisfying set of interviews. If we keep our covenants, we do well. Our Heavenly Father does not seem to desire to be doctrinaire and wants us to “work out our salvation”. Learning to tolerate the intolerant amongst us and allowing them the same latitude we desire in our spiritual search needs to be the key.

  6. Pingback: An evening with Fiona and Terryl Givens | faith again

  7. The gospel is tedious. What an intriguing thought. It’s so true: daily prayers, weekly church, monthly home teaching, all of it. And now I’m sitting here contemplating the implications of it. Thank you for that insight, Terryl.

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