In 1969 Leonard Arrington asked 50 prominent Mormons to identify the “five most eminent intellectuals in Mormon history.” The list was published in Dialogue. Twenty-four years later, Dialogue decided to run the survey again. It was re-published a few month ago in the Deseret News, and it has been a favorite bloggernacle topic for the past few months. BH Roberts was #1 in both surveys. In the 1969 survey, Joseph Smith was #3, but fell to #5 in 1993.
Concerning these surveys, Yale University Professor Harold Bloom said,
I can understand the two surveys you cite only if the Mormon Ph.D.’s employed an absurdly narrow definition of an “intellectual.” Joseph Smith, even to a Jewish non-Mormon like myself, is the only American creative enough to be called a prophet, seer, and revelator, that is, a religious genius. There was Emerson, of course, but ultimately his was more a literary mind than a religious one. I greatly admire McMurrin, and Roberts also, but if “intellectual” means what it should mean, then Smith clearly is the most eminent intellectual in Mormon history. He was an authentic visionary, and totally original in mind and spirit—really a kind of mortal god. I cannot understand why he is not honored by more Americans.
The above letter was written in response to a query by Henry Miles. Miles developed a correspondence with Bloom over the past 2 decades, and published the series of letters in Dialogue. Bloom is one of the most high-profile non-Mormons that has extensively studied Smith, and has written or spoken about Smith on many occasions. What do you think of Bloom’s characterization of Smith? Do you think Smith was undervalued in the 2 surveys?