According to Peggy Fletcher Stack writing on the SLTrib blog “Following Faith” on 22 Jul 2011:
. . . most historians routinely begin with skepticism about truth claims of historical actors and writers, says Stuart Parker, a postdoctoral fellow with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. “And the study of religious history, like most academic work taking place today seems to fall clearly into the suspicious camp.”
But (Mormon historian Richard) Bushman–as a leading academic authority on Colonial America and Early Republic as well as writing the premier biography of Mormon founder Joseph Smith (Rough Stone Rolling)–seems to have found a “(different) way,” Parker says.
Whether writing about Mormon or American history, Bushman begins with a kind of generousity, in which he presumes that people do tell the truth about their experience, unless evidence proves them wrong.
“He holds historical actors to the same citical standards,” Parker says, “but he confers on their self-explanation and self-description a kind of right of first refusal.”
In other words, innocent until proven guilty.
Such an approach “allows us to discover and to know things that we would not otherwise know,” Parker says. “And it does so not by blunting our critical or analytical instincts but by directing them more precisely when it comes to where to look first and what to test first.”