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Posted 16 Apr 2001   For week ended April 13, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 13Apr01

By Mark Wright

Jan Shipps and the Study of Mormonism

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA -- Jan Shipps is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but she probably knows more about the Church than many members of the Church. A member of the United Methodist church, Shipps is generally regarded as the leading non-member authority on the Church of Jesus Christ.

Shipps was first introduced to the Church and its members in 1960 when her husband Tony accepted a position working at the Utah State University library. While she knew little about the Church at first, the members she met piqued her curiosity and she began to research their lifestyle and denomination. As the years went by, her interest in the Church and its culture continued to grow. Many references to the Church and its history found their way into Shipps' graduate work on American history.

After her stint in Utah, Shipps moved to Bloomington, Indiana in 1967 with her husband when he accepted a position as a librarian at Indiana University. Although she left the state of Utah, she never lost her fascination with the Church and its people. Generally recognized as the leading non-LDS expert on the history and doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ, Shipps is respected by scholars both within and without the Church. Her fair handed and unbiased writings on the Church reflect a careful balance between admiration for the Church and scholarly commentary on the historical perspectives of years gone by. The opinion of Bruce Olsen, managing director for LDS public affairs at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, is representative of the high opinion most members of the Church have for Shipps. "Jan Shipps is an excellent scholar and has treated the church honorably and fairly for many years," he said.

A more tangible expression of appreciation for Shipps' work was evidenced by a standing ovation given to Shipps by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during a recent visit to Temple Square for a Choir rehearsal. Shipps and a close friend were enjoying the rehearsal when the Choir director suddenly stopped rehearsal and read a short tribute to Shipps. It was then that the members of the Choir joined in a standing ovation for the 71-year old Shipps.

Given her long exposure to the Church and its doctrine, many people wonder why Shipps is not a member. Simply put, Shipps is very happy in her own faith, and after 40 years studying the Church and its history, she respects the Church but remains a staunch Methodist. The other thing that sets Shipps apart from many others who have studied and commented on the Church is that Shipps refuses to exclude Mormonism from the community of Christian faith. In her opinion, "There's no supreme court on Earth that says this is Christian and that is not," she explained. "I say Mormonism is a legitimate way to be Christian. It's just not my way."

Shipps' first book to focus solely on the Church was entitled "Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition," and was published in 1985. Many colleges still use Shipps'. book as a textbook for various religious studies courses. Her most recent work, "Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons," continues to blend her previous research with her ongoing encounter with the Latter-Day Saints. As a faithful observer for many years, Shipps has carefully presented an unbiased view of the Church that offers a unique perspective that would be absent otherwise. Hopefully, Shipps' respectful attitude and well-researched understanding of the Church can be successfully transferred to others.


Researching religion
Bloomington IN Herald-Times 8Apr01 N6
By David Horn: Hoosier Times
Local Methodist woman is well-regarded among Mormons


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Sojourner in the Promised Land
More about Jan Shipps' "Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons" at

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