2016 in Retrospect: An Overview of Noteworthy Books and Articles in Mormon History

By December 6, 2016


Just some of the significant volumes from 2016. Also, my awesome bookends inherited from my grandparents.

Just some of the significant volumes from 2016. Also, my awesome bookends inherited from my grandparents.

Once again, this is my attempt to recap the historiography of Mormonism from the past twelve months. This is the eighth such post, and previous installments are found hereherehere, here, here, here, and here. I do not list every single book and article from 2016, but I do highlight those I found most interesting and relevent. Therefore, a strong bias is obviously involved, so I hope you’ll add more in the comments.

I think it’s safe to say it was another solid year for the field.

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Prehistoric Mammals in the Manti Temple

By December 5, 2016


Three years ago I wrote about prehistoric reptiles in a mural in the Manti Temple: “Things I Did Not Know: Dinosaurs in the Manti Temple”. This past summer I went back and, this time, noticed some prehistoric mammals.

I was not able to find images of the particular murals [1], so… with the usual caveats about memory and eye-witnesses of a mural I saw in from across the room in July while doing something else, the animals I saw were:

  • Deinotherium (looks like an elephant with downward curving tusks),
  • Megacerops (looks like a rhinoceros with forked horn),
  • Xiphodon (looks like a camel)

There was also a goat in the same panel, but I didn’t notice anything to distinguish it from a present-day male Alpine ibex (Capra ibex).

The murals in question were painted by Carl Christian Anton Christensen (1831-1912; usually CCA Christensen) in 1886-1887 and depict facets of creation up to, but not including, humans. Below I have included images from  Louis Figuier’s La Terre avant le déluge (1863, French; 1872, English), which seems, upon casual inspection, to be a candidate for one of Christensen’s sources. [2]. (Hat-tip again to Mina for pointing out Figuier when I posted about Mesozoic Reptiles.)

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Plato’s Unwritten Doctrine and Christianity, pt. 3: The Secret Tradition

By December 4, 2016


Since I’m going to be referencing the Christian secret tradition a lot in these posts, I wanted to list out the post I did on this topic a couple of summer’s ago.  I’d wanted to put these together anyway.

Clement of Alexandria declared, “The Lord after his resurrection imparted knowledge to James the Just and to John and Peter, and they imparted it to the rest of the apostles, and the rest of the apostles to the seventy, of whom Barnabas was one.”

Introduction

Clement’s letter to Theodore

The debate of the the letter to Theodore

Evidence of a ritual

Judeo-Christian Apocalypses

The Greek Mysteries

Plato

The Disciplina Arcani

Theurgy

Joseph Smith

 

 

 

 

 


Plato’s Unwritten Doctrine and Christianity, pt. 2: Debates

By December 4, 2016


Friedrich Schleiermacher, who played a major role in the modern study of Plato, rejected the notion of a Platonic oral tradition, arguing that Plato’s central purposes were expressed in his dialogues. Though Friedrich Nietzsche was heavily critical of Schleiermacher’s interpretation, Schleiermacher’s became the dominant view especially in the Anglo-American academy.[1]  American Harold Cherniss went so far as to say that Aristotle was simply mistaken when he referenced Plato’s “so-called unwritten doctrine.”[2]

The Tübingen school, or a group of scholars at Tübingen University who study the issue, pushed back against Schleiermacher, by not only pointing out Plato’s over references in the Phaedrus and in letter 7 but also noting the numerous times that Socrates refers to things he cannot talk about throughout Plato’s dialogues.[3] As Dmitri Nikulin puts it, “The Tübingen interpretation to a large extent suspends the fundamental principle of modern hermeneutical interpretation: the sola scriptura. This hermeneutical principle stresses the importance of going back to the ‘original’ text as the only source of dependable interpretation, and hence implies the rejection of any oral tradition of transmission that is construed as only secondary and therefore untrustworthy.”[4]

The Tübingen scholars have set about trying to recover what the unwritten doctrine might have been by looking at clues in Plato’s dialogues and statements by his pupils, to argue that the unwritten doctrines seem to relate to mathematical relations of ultimate reality, and dualism and monism.[5]  Many argue that the Neoplatonist’s “One” may have been what Plato had in mind, and that Plotinus had it right.

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Reminder: DEADLINE TOMORROW: CFP – 2017 Faith & Knowledge Conference

By December 1, 2016


We’re pleased to post the following Call for Papers from the Faith and Knowledge Conference, which will meet February 24-25, 2017 in Cambridge, MA. If you are a Mormon graduate student or early career scholar in religious studies or a related discipline, I can’t urge you strongly enough to propose a paper and attend the conference. The three F&K Conferences I’ve attended were among the highlights of my graduate student career, and I don’t know a comparable venue that succeeds in accomplishing what F&K sets out to do. -Christopher

SIXTH BIENNIAL FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE CONFERENCE
HARVARD DIVINITY SCHOOL
CAMBRIDGE, MA
FEBRUARY 24-25, 2017

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Plato’s Unwritten Doctrines and Christianity, Part 1: Introduction

By November 29, 2016


Early modern Christian Platonists argued that Plato essentially was a precursor to Christianity and such individuals pointed to a few particular passages to make their case.  Many of these passages relate to what is call “Plato’s unwritten doctrines” or ideas that Plato did not write down but only taught orally.

Plato’s pupil, Aristotle, refers to Plato’s “so called unwritten doctrines” in his Physics. In Plato’s seventh letter, Plato says, “There is a true doctrine that confutes anyone who presumes to write anything whatever on such subjects” and that “anyone who is seriously studying high matters will be the last to write about them. Whenever we see a book … we can be sure that if the author is really serious, this book does not contain his best thoughts; they are stored away with his fairest possessions.  And if he has committed these serious thoughts to writing, it is because men, not the gods, ‘have taken his wits away’” (Letter 7, 342a, 344c-d, quotes from the 1997 Hackett edition).

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Envisioning a Robert Orsi for Mormon Studies

By November 28, 2016


madonnaThis past semester I taught both an undergraduate course and a graduate seminar in American Religious History. These types of courses are great for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that they give you an excuse to read books you’ve indefensibly managed to avoid up to this point. This was especially the case for me, given my ignorance of twentieth century history. Most prominently, I’ve been, for a long time, embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read Robert Orsi‘s books. It was far past time to rectify that problem, so I assigned his Madonna of 115th Street for my undergrad class and Thank You, Saint Jude for my grad seminar. Both were phenomenal: not only did they spark discussion with my students, but I was amazed at the new methodological possibilities presented in his work. They lived up to their reputation. I may not be a scholar of lived religion, but I can certainly see its merits. 

But reading and discussing the books raised a question in my mind: could there be a Robert Orsi for Mormon studies? Or, put another way, could there be a history of Mormonism written in the style of Orsi’s books on Catholicism? There are a few reasons why I hope for the possibility.

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Tweets on “Race and Gender in Mormonism”

By November 18, 2016


Howdy,

Last night the University of Utah’s Tanner Humanities Center hosted a panel discussion on race and gender in Mormonism. The panel featured talks from Margaret Toscano and Paul Reeve, and was part of Marlin K. Jensen Scholar in Residence Brian Birch’s class, “The Intellectual Life of Mormonism: Reason, Faith, & Science Among the Latter-day Saints.” We tweeted about it here!

Enjoy


The JST at the JSP

By November 2, 2016


We are pleased to have a guest post from Nathan Waite, who is the manager of the Joseph Smith Papers web team

Note: You may be thinking this is nothing more than a shameless promotional post for the Joseph Smith Papers. And you’re partially right. It is unquestionably a plug to visit josephsmithpapers.org, but it’s also a brief look at the history and historiography of the Joseph Smith Translation. And if you make it to the end, I’ve got a question (an actual I-don’t-know-the-answer-and-really-want-to-know question, not a rhetorical one) about the shifting landscape of digital research.

On Monday, the Joseph Smith Papers Project published all the original texts of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.[1] The LDS Church has never published the JST before this—and the JSP is not the same thing as the LDS Church, but we’re part of the Church History Department, which makes this feel like a significant milestone, a first for the church.

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Plato’s Good and the Olive Leaf Revelation

By October 25, 2016


Scholars have noted the Neoplatonic nature of some of Joseph Smith’s revelations.  The beginning of D&C 88 (The Olive Leaf) sounds particularly so.  In fact, it has numerous striking similarities to Plato’s description of the Good from his allegory of the cave.  The following is Thomas Taylor’s 1804 translation of the Republic 571b-c.[1] Like DC 88:6-13, it mentions ascent and says that the Good (like Christ) is the source of light, the light of the sun, and of human understanding.

If you compare this region … to the soul’s ascent into the intelligible place; you will apprehend my meaning…. In the intelligible place, the idea of the good is the last object of vision, and is scarcely to be seen; but if it be seen, we must collect by reasoning that it is the cause to all of everything right and beautiful, generating in the visible place, light, and its lord the sun; and in the intelligible place, it is itself the lord, producing truth and intellect.

In my dissertation, I argue that Smith seemed aware of Plato and may have used his Timaeus.[2] The above quote suggests Smith may have been aware of Plato even earlier.[3]

______________

[1] The Works of Plato, viz. His Fifty –Five Dialogues, trans. Thomas Taylor, 5 vols (1804, reprint; AMS, 1979), 1:360-61.

[2] Stephen J. Fleming, “The Fulness of the Gospel: Christian Platonism and the Origins of Mormonism,” chapter 6. See here and the comments.

[3] Since I see Plato as rather Mormon, I quite like the idea. “Study it out” (DC 9:8) suggests such a process.


The Visitors: Jack Chick and the Intellectual History of Modern Anti-Mormonism

By October 25, 2016


0061_05In the summer of 2002, while knocking on doors in the sweltering August heat of suburban Phoenix, my missionary companion and I were handed a small booklet by a less-than-friendly individual. Entitled The Visitors, the short illustrated tract told the story of two Mormon missionaries who arrive to teach a woman considering converting to Mormonism. Arriving at Fran’ doorstep with the hope of committing her to baptism that evening, the Elders are greeted not only by their anxious investigator, but also her niece, Janice, also a missionary preparing to do humanitarian work as a nurse in Africa.

A few minutes into their lesson, the missionaries are confronted by Fran’s surprisingly knowledgeable niece about various points of Mormon doctrine, doctrine the missionaries had failed to previously reveal to Fran. Horrified to learn that the Mormons believe, among other things, that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers, that God is a man (and not a spirit) with multiple wives in his heavenly abode, and Joseph Smith was fluent in the occult culture of early 19th century America, Fran asks the missionaries to leave and not come back. But Janice not only saved her beloved aunt that evening. She also, as we discover in the strip’s final frames, sparked the seeds of doubt in one of the missionary’s own minds.

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If Not 1890, What Year Did Mormonism Change the Most?

By October 24, 2016


I’ve been thinking recently about Grant Underwood’s article in Pacific Historical Review, “Re-visioning Mormon History.” In short, Underwood contends that 1890 is not such a watershed year for Mormon history as historians have led us to believe. Underwood argues, at most times convincingly, that Mormons had not Americanized nor become much less peculiar since the year of the Woodruff Manifesto.

I don’t want to rehash his entire argument and evidence here (those who are interested in a deeper dive should consult Christopher’s excellent rumination on the article here and David’s follow up questions on the article here). However, I find that I generally agree with Jan Shipps on the importance of 1890. She wrote, “Whatever else it did, the Manifesto announced that the old order would have to pass away.”[1] Despite my belief that 1890 is a very important year for Mormons and historians of Mormonism, I think reducing the large-scale changes in Mormonism to 1890 alone is unproductive. If historians are seeking a sort of “trigger year” where Mormonism struck out on a new course, what date would be more appropriate than 1890? Here are a few options:

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UVU Conference on Peacebuilding: Perspectives In and Around Mormonism

By October 20, 2016


[We are pleased to promote this forthcoming conference, which includes a number of JI’s good friends. Looks like fun!]

Description

As the academic study of Mormonism continues to develop, scholars, students and practitioners of this tradition are increasingly interested in how Mormonism speaks to broader theological and philosophical questions. At this unique conference, scholars will present research on ethical dimensions of war, peacebuilding, and the application of violence.  Presenters will engage these topics from a variety of angles that consider LDS scripture, theology, philosophy, and the historical development of the Christian tradition.

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Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer in Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia

By October 18, 2016


Posting Number: 0619686
Location: Charlottesville
Department: Department of Religious Studies

Minimum Education
No Response

Minimum Experience
No Response

The University of Virginia’s Religious Studies Department invites applications for one full-time postdoctoral fellow and lecturer for the 2017-2018 academic year. We are seeking a historian of American religious history, but applicants in any discipline or field related to the study of religion are welcome. Preference will be given to those applicants with interest in marginal or newer religious movements, especially Mormonism. Expertise in Mormonism is not required. Rather, the Fellowship is designed to provide training for persons who wish to add such expertise to an existing disciplinary specialty. The position has an anticipated start date of July 25, 2017.

Duties include, but are not limited to, teaching two courses per semester. Applicants should evidence experience in and commitment to undergraduate and graduate teaching in a liberal arts framework, and be prepared to participate in both a large team-taught introductory-level class and smaller upper-level courses. Specifically, the Fellow will teach three seminars in his or her discipline and on topics of his or her choice. In addition, the Fellow will team-teach, with the Richard Lyman Bushman Professor of Mormon Studies, an introductory survey on Mormonism in relation to American culture.

uva

Compensation will be in the form of salary, benefits, and a research fund.

Applicants for the fellowship must have attained the PhD prior to July 25, 2017.

To apply, please search on search on Posting Number 0619686 at Jobs@UVA (https://jobs.virginia.edu), complete a Candidate Profile online, and electronically attach the following: a cover letter, a current CV including the names and contact information for two references, and a statement describing, in no more than 300 words, your qualifications for and philosophy of teaching with attention to your disciplinary approach (attach statement to Other1).

For full consideration apply by February 15, 2017; however, the position will remain open until filled.

Questions regarding the position should be directed to: Kathleen Flake, Richard Lyman Bushman Professor of Mormon Studies,kathleen.flake@virginia.edu.

Questions regarding the application process or Jobs@UVA should be directed to: Julie Garmel, Administrator, Department of Religious Studies: jg4e@virginia.edu.

The University will perform background checks on all new faculty hires prior to making a final offer of employment.

The University of Virginia is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. Women, minorities, veterans and persons with disabilities are encouraged to apply.

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New Book Series: Religion in the American West

By October 17, 2016


We’ll eventually get back to posting original content on this blog at some point in the future; in the meantime, we’re happy to continue serving as a clearinghouse for exciting developments in the field. Just last week, Stanford University Press gave final approval for a new and exciting book series: Religion in the American West. The two editors are Laurie Maffly-Kipp and Quincy Newell, both friends of the blog and stalwarts within the Mormon History Association. They are keen to receive manuscript submissions from those who seek to place Mormonism within its western context. Below is their official information:

stanfordReligion in the American West features creative and innovative scholarship at the crossroads of Western history and North American religion. Beginning with the observation that patterns of religiosity in the West differ in fundamental ways from those in the eastern United States, this series offers a space to analyze and theorize the religious history of the West in a focused, sustained manner. Bringing together history, religion, and region in critical ways, books in the Religion in the American West series illuminate crucial themes such as transnational movement, race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality and religion, religion and the environment, and the construction of the category of religion itself. By attending to religion in the trans-Mississippi West from the pre-contact era to the present, this series will enrich our understanding not simply of isolated western locales, but of the development of the United States and its relationship to the rest of the world.

Let’s flood them with submissions!


MHA 2017 Call for Papers Deadline Extended

By October 10, 2016


Dear members and friends of the Mormon History Association:

Due to recent requests, we have extended the deadline for proposals for the 2017 MHA conference to be held in the St. Louis, Missouri metro area, to 1 November 2016. Please see the Call for Papers HERE for additional information. We will still send notification of acceptance or rejection by 15 December 2016.

Kind Regards,

David W. Grua
Janiece Johnson
MHA 2017 Program Co-Chairs
mhaconference2017@gmail.com

Mormon History Association
175 South 1850 East
Heber City, UT 84032


Call for Papers: Sixth Biennial Faith & Knowledge Conference (Cambridge, MA; Feb. 24-25, 2017)

By October 3, 2016



We’re pleased to post the following Call for Papers from the Faith and Knowledge Conference, which will meet February 24-25, 2017 in Cambridge, MA. If you are a Mormon graduate student or early career scholar in religious studies or a related discipline, I can’t urge you strongly enough to propose a paper and attend the conference. The three F&K Conferences I’ve attended were among the highlights of my graduate student career, and I don’t know a comparable venue that succeeds in accomplishing what F&K sets out to do.
-Christopher

SIXTH BIENNIAL FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE CONFERENCE
HARVARD DIVINITY SCHOOL
CAMBRIDGE, MA
FEBRUARY 24-25, 2017

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Call for Applicants: Neal A. Maxwell Institute Summer Seminar

By September 28, 2016


“Mormonism Confronts the World”
How the LDS Church Has Responded to Developments in Science, Culture, and Religion

Brigham Young University
June 26–August 3, 2017

In the summer of 2017, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students on the topic, “MORMONISM CONFRONTS THE WORLD: How the LDS Church Has Responded to Developments in Science, Culture, and Religion.” The seminar will be held on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, from June 26 to August 3, 2017. Admitted participants will receive a stipend of $3,000 in addition to a housing accommodation subsidy if needed. International participants will also receive some transportation assistance, the amount to be determined by availability of funding. (We are hoping to cover most airfares for international participants.)

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Book Review: Thomas W. Simpson, American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867–1940 (UNC, 2016).

By September 27, 2016


simpson
This is a fantastic, convincing book. It was a real pleasure to read. I think it has a few problems but I want to start with Simpson’s cogent thesis and compelling story.

Simpson’s thesis, stated baldly, is that “modern Mormonism was born in the American university” (1–2). By American university he means the archipelago of research and graduate education institutions that emerged mainly between the upper Midwest and the Northeast after the Civil War. By modern Mormonism, he means a Mormonism with “a genuine, passionate sense of belonging in America” (2). In some important senses, Mormons moved from outsider to insider status between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and Simpson sees the American university as the most important facilitator of that transition. Between 1867 and 1940, university settings were uniquely irenic spaces where Mormons could “rehearse for American citizenship” and imagine themselves as both American and Mormon (2). So Simpson joins the significant historiographical minority—from Thomas O’Dea to Grant Underwood, Kathleen Flake, Steven Taysom, and recent graduates like Christopher Blythe—who have placed the makings of modern Mormonism long before and long after the 1890s. 

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Scholarly Inquiry: Nicholas Frederick

By September 21, 2016


Nicholas J. Frederick is an assistant professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University. He holds a Ph.D in the History of Christianity with an emphasis in Mormon Studies from Claremont Graduate University. Nick is the author of The Bible, Mormon Scripture, and the Rhetoric of Allusivity (FDU Press, 2016). He has agreed to participate in the JI’s semi-regular series, Scholarly Inquiry, by answering questions about his book.

What led you to write The Bible, Mormon Scripture, and the Rhetoric of Allusivity?

While working on my Ph.D at Claremont Graduate University, I started getting into Intertextuality, in particular the intertextuality between the New Testament and Mormon Scripture. I was fascinated by the questions that were raised when the Book of Mormon or the D&C would quote or allude to the writings of John or Paul or Matthew. 

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