FARMS supports and sponsors what it considers to be "faithful scholarship", which includes academic study and research in support of Christianity and Mormonism, and in particular, where possible, the official position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This research primarily concerns the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, the Old Testament, the New Testament, early Christian history, ancient temples, and other related subjects. While the organization allows some degree of academic freedom within these topics, FARMS is committed to the conclusion that Latter-day Saint scriptures are authentic, historical texts written by prophets of God. FARMS has garnered criticism from other scholars and critics who consider it as an apologetic organization that operates under the auspices of the LDS church, which fully funds and operates its parent organization, BYU.
FARMS was organized in 1979 as a private not-for-profit organization. In 1997, FARMS became part of Brigham Young University after an invitation by Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and chairman of the BYU Board of Trustees. In extending the invitation, Hinckley noted: "FARMS represents the efforts of sincere and dedicated scholars. It has grown to provide strong support and defense of the Church on a professional basis. I wish to express my strong congratulations and appreciation for those who started this effort and who have shepherded it to this point."
In 2001, Brigham Young University consolidated FARMS with the Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts and the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative to form the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts, now known as the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. However, FARMS still exists as a sub-unit of the Maxwell Institute with its own distinctive cluster of BYU faculty and staff.
Though some of FARMS's work has been praised by Mormon and non-Mormon scholars, FARMS has also been a focus of some controversy from both within and outside the Mormon community.
Critic Matthew Paulson claims that the research activities of the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) are not subjected to peer review, that FARMS limits peer review only to members of the LDS church, and that FARMS's primary goal is to defend the LDS faith rather than promote truthful scholarship. Molecular biologist Simon Southerton, a former LDS bishop and author of Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church said, "I was amazed at the lengths that FARMS went to in order to prop up faith in the Book of Mormon. I felt that the only way I could be satisfied with FARMS explanations was to stop thinking.... The explanations of the FARMS researchers stretched the bounds of credibility to breaking point on almost every critical issue".
FARMS supports and sponsors what it considers to be 'faithful scholarship', which includes academic study and research in support of Christianity and Mormonism, and in particular, where possible, the official position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
After corresponding directly with Neal A. Maxwell, Steve Benson (grandson of Ezra Taft Benson), related that Maxwell stated, "one of the purposes of F.A.R.M.S. was to prevent the General Authorities from being outflanked by the Church's critics."
FARMS states that the work it supports "conforms to established canons of scholarship, is peer reviewed, and reflects solely the views of individual authors and editors. John A. Tvedtnes of FARMS claims that, "the academic credentials of people who publish with FARMS are questioned only by the critics, never by bona fide scholars," noting that, "[t]he list of articles and books published in non-LDS scholarly presses by FARMS authors is impressive indeed. If the critics do not accept FARMS authors as scholars, those authors are at least so acknowledged by the world's scholarly community.
Some authors associated with FARMS have been accused of making ad hominem attacks: attacking someone personally, rather than analyzing the merits of their ideas. FARMS has also been accused of labeling someone an "anti-Mormon", and then discounting their works as biased, based largely on this pronouncement. In a speech offered before the Sunstone Symposium (titled "Why I No Longer Trust the FARMS Review of Books"), John Hatch said, "After reading the (FARMS) reviews myself, it appears to me, and is my opinion, that FARMS is interested in making Mormonism's past appear as normal as possible to readers by attacking history books that discuss complex or difficult aspects of the church's past. As one who hopes to some day contribute to the body of the New Mormon History, I am deeply troubled by what I see as continued efforts to attack honest scholarly work.
Scholars associated with FARMS have been the subject of ad hominem attacks as well. In the film The Bible vs. The Book of Mormon, Dr. Thomas W. Murphy, responding to comments made by Dr. Daniel C. Peterson in a FARMS video entitled Evidences of the Book of Mormon, stated that "Dan Peterson is lying." Murphy was responding to Peterson's statement that the Book of Mormon "makes sense" and "seems right" and contains nothing, apart from its religious claims, that a secular historian would find troublesome. In addition to his accusation that Peterson was a liar, Murphy states that "the problem, first and foremost, with the Book of Mormon is its secular history--it gets the history wrong." The film also asserts, via comments from Murphy and others, that FARMS focuses on helping Latter-day Saints keep the faith rather than scholarship. In response FARMS has published rebuttals to the film.
"The salvos contained in the 566-page 'Review of Books on the Book of Mormon' come as no surprise, given the longstanding animus between scholars associated with FARMS, many of them professors at church-owned Brigham Young University, and those published by the independent Signature Books.... Recently a review by BYU history professor William Hamblin containing an encrypted message 'Metcalfe is butthead' — was hastily edited out after the 'Review' had gone to press.
Upon learning of the attack, Metcalf responded, stating:
"When I heard rumors that William J. Hamblin, FARMS board member and BYU historian, had a caustic encryption in his review... I summarily dismissed them. Surely no legitimate scholar would stoop to such an inane level. However, it seems that I underestimated Hamblin's 'scholarly' prowess.
"Do Hamblin and Peterson's methods typify the brand of 'scholarship' FARMS, BYU Department of History, and BYU Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages cultivates and endorses? Evidently some have shifted from apologist to misologist.
Critic Steve Benson (grandson of Ezra Taft Benson) quoted church apostle Neal A. Maxwell as telling him that "one of the purposes of F.A.R.M.S. was to prevent the General Authorities from being outflanked by the Church's critics."
FARMS has been cited as representative of a new trend within Mormonism: the emergence of progressive forms of Mormon orthodoxy. This trend is committed to the literal reality of Mormon faith claims, but is simultaneously willing to rethink traditional understandings of those claims. A prominent example of this trend is the work FARMS has produced supporting a limited geography model for the Book of Mormon: suggesting that the events chronicled in the Book of Mormon occurred in a much smaller region than the traditional understanding, which argues the same events occurred across the entire Western hemisphere. Supporters of this limited geography idea--including some high-ranking church leaders--see this model as consistent with anthropological, archaeological and genetic findings about ancient American peoples, as well as with the Book of Mormon text.
FARMS has also republished many of the writings of LDS scholar Hugh Nibley in the 15-volume Collected Works of Hugh Nibley.