David Pulsipher is a historian and guest professor at BYU-Hawaii for the Winter Semester teaching courses “The History of Non-Violence” and “Latter Day Saint Theology and Non-Violence” in the Intercultural Peacebuilding Program.These are totally new subjects! We decided that we would sit down with him and get to know him a bit better as we welcome him into the Center. Read on to learn about his background, how he got interested in the intersections of Latter Day Saint Theology and Peace, and what the difference between Peace and Non-violence is.
David grew up in Salt Lake area, specifically Cottonwood Heights. He served his mission in Pennsylvania, in the areas of the Priesthood restoration site and Gettysburg. He went on to fulfill his undergraduate studies in American studies, largely because it let him study many different disciplines such as history, literature, film, architecture, and folklore. He then pursued graduate studies at University of Minnesota Twin Cities, while his now wife was serving her mission in Atlanta, Georgia. He fell in love with her the day before she left on her mission but didn’t realize it because he claims he “was slow,” haha. He wrote her for her entire mission and when she returned home she joined him in Minnesota where they were engaged, married, and had their first daughter. They then moved to Utah where he was fulfilling his thesn, where shortly after they were hired at, what was then, Rick’s college, to teach while he completed his dissertation for his PhD. They had four more children, the three youngest are joining them here in Hawai’i, the youngest enjoying math and reading on the beach and the oldest of the three enrolled in one course for the semester; IPB 121.
“American Studies” was something we had never heard of so we tapped into what his studies actually entailed. When asked about what “American Studies” referred to, David explained that it was a sort of interdisciplinary study, an umbrella program, where he was particularly interested in Native American culture and history. He ended up fulfilling a dissertation on Native Americans and Mormons, and how the Federal Government tried to transform the family structure on Native American reservations. In the program, they studied widely about power structures, power dynamics and in particular how majority groups impose and normalize certain power relations. He noticed that the study of power and hegemony was thick, but what about the theories and perspectives of altruism and selflessness? He had asked a professor who thought it was a really good question, but did not have any insight for him and did not know where to turn him for help… so he continued to write about power in his dissertation, abandoning his search for theory of altruism. Upon completing his defense, his advisors asked him what he found in his search for altruism, and he had to admit that he had found nothing.
While he was teaching at Rick’s College he was teaching the American Civil Rights where he was struck with what the leaders of the activism were doing; going out selflessly, putting themselves on the line, “absorbing the violence” as opposed to inflicting it. He realized this is what he had been looking for the entire time in his inquiry and quest of altruism as opposed to power and hegemony, it had been “under [his] nose the entire time.” People were doing this all over the south, they were confronting their enemies with weapons of love and with genuine concern and prayer. “I found it fascinating.”
When asked about where his interest in Non-violence and Mormon theology arose, it seemed to be a natural progression. “I have never been able to separate my intellectual life from my spiritual life so there was always interconnectedness that resonated with my own sense of the scriptures and theology.” In the last 12-15 years he has been publishing articles which started off as a tough endeavor. Many journals and publishers did not want to pick up his articles that were dedicated to LDS approaches to Non-violence.
He published an article about the Civil Disobedience that occurred by members of the church to continue practicing Polygamy when it was illegalized by the American Government. It took effort to find a journal that would publish it for him, expecting to “ruffle some feathers” as the idea of Civil Disobedience held a negative connotation for the Latter-Day Saints who were commanded to always be law-abiding citizens. Later, on the official LDS.org, a section on the history of polygamy popped up where his article was linked in the content.
He explained the difference of Non-violence and Peace to us. Non-violence is addressing the actual meeting of violence, “how do you engage the violence, how do you beat the aggression, how do you meet the invasion and meet all of these things in ways to transform them,” where as Peace in more of a state. If Non Violence is done well it will lead to a state of peace.
David explained that he’s been wanting to come out to Hawai’i to learn from our program for quite some time now, but that it has only recently fallen completely into place. He absolutely loves what the David O. McKay Center and the Intercultural Peacebuilding Students and Professors are doing. Some of his ultimate goals are to finish his book that he as been writing with Patrick Mason for the last 8 years, potentially bring back some of the things the Center is doing at BYU-Hawaii to BYU-Idaho, and help to spread Peacebuilding throughout many avenues in the Church. He wants shift the narrative of violence being the default and to show that there is a power and a force of love in the universe. In closing he says “I’ll be heading home with lots of proposals.”
We are happy to have David with us! He is welcoming to any students who would still like to join his class, or sit in.
Mahalo for reading!