Jan Shipps, the “insider-outsider,” the emeritus professor of history and religious studies at Indiana University, has been spending the past few weeks in Salt Lake City, sponsored by her Mellon Foundation fellowship, working on her book about developments in Mormonism since the end of World War II. She’s been a lot of fun to listen to when she needs a break from poring over the records, when she starts telling stories from her nearly 50-year career as a Methodist studying Mormonism. The following is repeated here with her permission.

Today she came in a little late, having spent 40 minutes on a telephone call from a man in Chicago who had tracked her down after reading an Associated Press article telling about Jan’s work. The caller wanted to ask a reliable non-Mormon about some matters discussed on a “60 Minutes” episode he had seen. They talked about Proposition 8, and whether or not the Mormons were going to “invade” Massachusetts to make them change their laws, and whether Jan thought there would be a backlash against Mormonism over Proposition 8. He asked about the temple, and what Mormons did in the temple, and whether Jan had been permitted to go to the temple.

He asked about baptism for the dead. Specifically, “What do they do with the coffins while they’re baptizing the dead?”

Jan swears that’s what he asked. Honest.

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