Eugenics and the Intellectual Underpinnings of Mormons in the Alt-Right

By March 27, 2017


Over the past few weeks, a white woman that goes by the name “A Purposeful Wife” (Ayla) has garnered a lot of attention on Twitter and was featured in an article on Buzzfeed for dual loyalties to Mormonism and the Alt-Right Movement (a  political movement whose explicit purpose is to create a white, Christian nation). She spends her days spewing Alt-Right messages to her 20,000 followers and thousands more that respond to her. Her alt-right beliefs inform her “white nationalism.” Although she rejects the label of “Nazi,” she subscribes to Nazi race theory. She has issued a “white baby challenge,” encouraging people now considered to be white to bear more children than people of color in order to maintain white supremacy. This cannot be called anything other than a call to eugenics–commonplace rhetoric in the Alt-Right.  Ayla has a Mormon.org profile, seemingly written before her adoption of Alt-Right politics [it has been taken down as of 11:40 AM MST, but you can see the profile courtesy of the Wayback Machine].

Despite the unsavory, dangerous, and abhorrent rhetoric, it’s important to know Mormonism’s long history of supporting eugenics—even when they were not considered white or Christian. As Ardis at Keepapitchinin has rightly written, this flies in the face of current Mormon teachings. I applaud the LDS Church’s statement condemning all forms of racism past and present, and join in that call. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the LDS Church condemns its past subscription to eugenics, not only the priesthood and temple restriction or other better-known racist or racial beliefs and practices.

While this post is a very short introduction, I will provide a brief overview of the Mormon embrace of eugenics, explicitly, and implicitly, in terms of race and gender. Mormon eugenics and political history will come in a second installment.[i]

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Fake News, Leaked Documents, and the Book of Mormon: Part II (1829-1830)

By March 22, 2017


Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 6.39.27 PMIn Part I, I introduced the relevance of “fake news” to the beginnings of Mormonism by looking at the “Golden Bible Chronicles,” a serially published satire of the Book of Mormon published in Paul Pry’s Weekly Bulletin in the summer of 1829 – several months before the Book of Mormon itself was published. Noting that the “Chronicles” fit within a much broader culture of scriptural parodies in early America, but that it differed in one important respect: Unlike Benjamin Franklin’s biblical parodies of the eighteenth century, Paul Pry’s work satirized an unpublished book. It did so, I surmised, as part of an effort to emphasize (and mock) the absurdity of a boy from Palmyra translating ancient records.[1]

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The Mormon Image in Literature Series: Some Scattered Thoughts

By March 21, 2017


Greg Kofford Books has been publishing a series on the Mormon image in nineteenth and early twentieth century dime novels for a few years now. The series, edited by Ardis Parshall and Michael Austin, provides a smart, scholarly framework in addition to reprinting books that are disappearing every year. WVS has provided an excellent overview of Kofford’s publicity event at By Common Consent, and because we attended the same event and took roughly the same notes, I thought that I would offer some initial thoughts about Greg Kofford Books, Parshall and Austin’s work, and some possible uses for the series in academic work.

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Mormon Studies Conference at UVU: March 29-31, 2017

By March 17, 2017


Eighteenth Annual UVU Mormon Studies Conference

Multicultural Mormonism

Religious Cohesion in a New Era of Diversity

 

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Tuesdays With Orsi: Epilogue

By March 14, 2017


Welcome to the last installment of our Tuesdays with Orsi series, in which we collectively read Robert Orsi’s HISTORY AND PRESENCE (Harvard, 2016)! This post examines the epilogue and offers thoughts on the book as a whole. Previous installments can be found here: Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, and chapter 7.

“It is a dreadful thing to be in relationship with the gods really present,” Orsi says at the beginning of this book. (5) Certainly, a reading of its seven chapters is enough to convince us of that. They show that the gods can be capricious and deceptive as often as they are redemptive and healing. His believers cling to bags of sacred soil, icons, and relics. They experience the presence of the divine in their lives. And yet Orsi is hardly telling Sunday school stories. The presence of the gods fails people, hurts them, and tears them up, emotionally and physically. And yet those people keep coming, pressing their foreheads against the tombs of the saints, because the gods save them, too.

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Mormon Studies Publication Workshop at the John C. Danforth Center for Religion and Politics (Deadline March 27)

By March 13, 2017


Last year, Kris W. and I hosted a “Mormonism in Religious Studies” workshop at the University of Utah. We discussed religious disappointment, Mormonism and Spiritualism, failed healings, immigration, Mormon women and masonry, and other topics at length.

The workshop helped to create a sense of community among young scholars from a variety of places and disciplines while providing helpful feedback for developing projects.  As a result, we have decided to host another workshop as a pre-conference workshop at the 2017 meetings of the Mormon History Association in St. Louis, MO. The workshop, “Surveying Trends in the Field: Mormon History and Mormon Studies in the Modern Academy,” will be held on Thursday, June 1 at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis from 9 AM-5 PM. There will be no cost for the workshop beyond punctual arrival and rigorous intellectual engagement.

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2017 Utah State Historical Society Conference (Applications Due April 15)

By March 9, 2017


Local Matters

The Utah State Historical Society invites the public, scholars, students, policymakers, and organizations to submit proposals for papers, panels, or multimedia presentations on the theme Local Matters. This is both a call for papers and a call for the participation of community organizations such as museums, preservation groups, and historical societies. Sessions for the 65th annual Utah State History Conference will be held on October 11, 2017, at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center.

Local can be broadly conceived. We encourage submissions examining the many strands that create the fabric of communities—such as interpersonal networks, long-standing festivals, neighborhood structures, churches, schools, or the arts—or that focus more narrowly on a family or a home. And community may also be interpreted broadly as communities of faith, advocacy, hobbies, politics, and so forth. Submissions might also consider the historical roots of the recent vogue for things local: farm-to-table eating, urban redevelopment, public markets, or local music.

Separately, we welcome papers and panels that discuss the uses and historiography of local history and the application of sophisticated methodology to personal, family, and community history. How do communities go about compiling their histories? What role do organizations play in preserving local history? How does community history intersect with broader historical themes?

Submissions on other aspects of Utah history will also be considered. We welcome a range of formats, from the traditional panels and sessions to more innovative formats. We encourage full session or panel submissions, though we will make every effort to match single paper proposals with other panels and papers.

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History and Presence, Chapter 7: The Abundance of Evil

By March 7, 2017


Welcome to the eighth installment of our Tuesdays with Orsi series! We’re taking a look at the seventh chapter of Robert Orsi’s History and Presence, and as Hannah introduced last week, today’s discussion will be on the meaning of abundant evil. Previous installments can be found here: Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4Chapter 5, and Chapter 6.

Where chapter six took on the idea of heaven, this chapter deals more with hell. What happens, Orsi asks, when the abundant event believers encounter is an evil one? He uses the stories of men and women who were sexually abused as children to tease out the question of presence and abundance in light of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

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Finding a story, or how to

By March 6, 2017


Sometimes I go fishing in the various digital collections, and once in a while something interesting comes up. I thought one such case was illustrative of several not-so-obvious techniques of research that it was worth posting.

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#MHA2017: Conference Program and Registration Available

By March 5, 2017


Please read this post from Mormon History Association Director Rob Racker. Be sure to register for the conference, book your hotel, and consider a donation to the student travel fund!

Panoramic image of St. Louis downtown with Gateway Arch at twilight.

Panoramic image of St. Louis downtown with Gateway Arch at twilight.

Dear Members and Friends of Mormon History Association:

You are invited to preregister and attend the Mormon History Association’s 52nd Annual Conference in the historic St Charles area of St Louis MO. We hope that you will be able to attend what promises to be an exciting event.

A copy of the preliminary conference program can be viewed HERE .

The conference registration link is here:  HERE or go to: http://www.cvent.com/d/zvqyg3

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History and Presence, Ch 6: The Happiness of Heaven

By February 28, 2017


Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the sixth chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. Previous instalments are the Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5.

Heaven, like death, grounds us in the temporal world by enabling us to imagine a spiritual world. Imagining heaven enables “our short lives [to] acquire not only purpose but also grandeur and drama when they are set against the horizon of sacred history.” (204) Hope for heaven gives us moral purpose and embeds our everyday lives with meaning. Heaven is a reward for the righteous. Yet, despite the hope and virtue that heaven invokes in us, the idea of heaven has also been used to justify terrible things. Orsi’s chapter captures how heaven manifests itself in both our sacred cosmology and everyday activities. It represents our highest aspirations, our fundamental worldview, and also the most mundane parts of our existence. Orsi’s vignettes throughout the chapter reflect this: he tells stories end of life and childhood stories. He speaks about his respites from the playground bullies, interviews where men told him of their childhood understandings of heaven, and his parent’s relationship as his mother died of cancer.

The next chapter of the book is about evil, which is where he most fully discusses his fieldwork among people who have been abused by priests. Orsi draws out the ways that “predator priests” used sacred presence as an element of their sexual abuse. These horrible and shocking stories are easily framed within the chapter title “Events of Abundant Evil”. However, Orsi seems more reticent to talk directly of the “Happiness of Heaven” in chapter six. While the stories in the chapter on abundant evil reflect horror and trauma, the stories in the chapter on happiness and heaven reflect hope, disappointment, and ambivalence. “Heaven is the dullest and most obvious of religious imaginings,” he writes (204). This may be the most ambivalent statement I have ever heard about heaven, which may account for why the chapter is by far the shortest and most fragmented of the whole book.

Orsi draws upon a 1944 children’s catechism book that helps children memorize statement about heaven and help them make heaven applicable to their everyday lives. He summarizes, “In this way, heaven is brought close to everyday activities on earth and becomes less dull; or perhaps, brought close to everyday activities, heaven becomes duller.” (205) What does it mean to say that heaven is the dullest of religious imaginations? Consider chapter four’s discussion of printed presence, which is full of observations of the mundane ways that presence enters into believer’s lives through print. Clearly, Orsi does not think that the presence imbued in daily material culture or actions is uninteresting. Perhaps the happiness of heaven is not easily studied as a topic in and of itself; instead people’s hopes and fears about heaven continually emerge throughout all the chapters of the book.

Speaking of his late mother’s dying conversations with his father, Orsi goes beyond his initial definition of heaven: it is not (always) a sacred order, or a “banal” arbiter of moral authority. Instead, heaven is “the limit of knowing and an invitation to conversation, recognition, and accompaniment at the extremity of life.” (213) Presence is something that is not experienced in the abstract; people experience the presence of heaven through encounters with others. In other words, heaven can be understood as a justifying power for actions or aspiration for happiness, however Orsi finds these lenses of analysis banal and uninteresting. “The happiness of heaven” is unknowable and the only way we approach it is through meaningful relationships and dialogue.


History and Presence, Chapter 5: The Dead in the Company of the Living

By February 21, 2017


Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the fifth chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. Previous installments are the IntroChapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3, and Chapter 4.

Chapter 5 begins with a ghost story, or more properly, a story that probes the inextricable relationship–ongoing and mutually conscious–between living people and dead people in 20th century Catholicism. At the center of such relationships is the presence of a bloodied, tortured Christ, and all around the edges of this relationship are rituals of grieving, remembering, reconstituting, and “waking” the dead. Orsi’s haunting chapter narrative builds towards his own encounter with one family on the fringes of the “Catholic supernatural underground,” whose bedroom shrine for their deceased young child had become a portal to the world beyond for those who see(k) and served as a lay counseling center for people in search of connection with loved ones both living and dead.

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CfP: 2017 Joseph Smith Papers Conference

By February 17, 2017


From our friends at the Joseph Smith Papers Project:

Call for Papers

Joseph Smith Papers Conference

October 20, 2017

In 2017, the Joseph Smith Papers Project will release volumes five and six of the Documents Series, covering major events from the life of Joseph Smith during the years 1835-1839. To celebrate the publication of these volumes, the project invites paper proposals for a conference to be held on October 20, 2017 at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. While paper proposals need not specifically be about Joseph Smith, they should draw from the corpus of his surviving documents from 1835-1839. We encourage proposals that explore the broad themes covered in these volumes, including missionaries; the role of women and gender in religious communities; religious gathering; communitarian land purchasing strategies and urban planning; frontier violence; religion and the law; and religious dissent.

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The Dance of Discourse

By February 17, 2017


 

Imagine this setting: you are a Mormon attending a talk titled “Sacred Spaces, Holy Work: Perspectives on Mormon Temple Worship,” given at Harvard Divinity School by Juvenile Instructor’s own Tona Hangen, who is a professor of history and also a practicing Mormon. The talk is about temple worship, a topic on which Mormons famously do not love to offer details. The event is advertised both at Harvard and in my Sacrament program on Sunday. It is a public event and the room is full of people from diverse backgrounds. Scanning the room, I noticed people from the Divinity School who knew very little about Mormonism, Mormon professors and students from Harvard, three stake presidents (one whose wife brought treats), and people from my ward.

My point is not so much to belatedly highlight Tona’s awesome talk of a few months ago. Indeed, these situations happen all the time. Instead I want to bring attention to the complicated interplay of expectations of what one should say and how one’s audience expects you to say it. The experience of attending Tona’s talk, as well as subsequent experiences, has led me to think about the ways in which our audience (including believing Mormons and people with extensive or little knowledge of Mormonism) and our pedagogical spaces (such as classrooms, academic lectures, and sacrament talks) structure the ways in which we talk about our subject.

As an academically trained lifelong Mormon, I have learned several ways to engage with Mormonism. However, so far my experiences in discussing Mormonism have mostly been in homogenous groups and spaces. In Canada, where I grew up, there was little opportunity for mixed audiences because there were neither many Mormons nor people academically interested in Mormonism. Therefore, when I presented on Mormonism, I grew accustomed to being able to control who my audiences would be and how I would engage with them. Additionally, I could also manage how I presented my own subjectivity to the audience. Tona’s talk interested me because of the hybridity of the audience and subsequent messiness of expectations. Her audience understood Mormon temples in a variety of different ways: some non-Mormons had never heard of Mormon temples, others had participated in the sacred rituals in temples (and had different ideas of what should be secretive about those experiences), and the stake presidents in the room had the power to grant and bar access to temples.

So, as a speaker, writer, or teacher, how do you stay accountable to your hybrid audiences? How do you manage discourses of criticism and sympathy toward Mormonism? How do you frame your discussions in recognizable terms for mixed audiences? How do you manage different pedagogical spaces, such as BYU religion classes, in which learning expectations are both academic and devotional? How does your complicated relationship with the Mormon faith – whether you are a believing Mormon, Ex-Mormon, non-Mormon, or anything in between – enter into your academic discourse?

Please share your thoughts below in the comments.


Restriction-ism Unveiled!

By February 16, 2017


Today’s guest post comes from Keith Erekson. Keith is the Director of the Library division at the LDS Chruch History Library.

One of the most common tropes in Mormon literature asserts that Mormon practices are veiled in secrecy. In the realm of historical practice, the trope has been employed to describe the archival and historical collections of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, presently housed in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. What lies in the vaults at the Church History Library? What is restricted, and why? Is it possible to use restricted items in your research? What restrictions influence the intellectual property request process? Are restrictions ever lifted?

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History and Presence, Chapter Four: Printed Presence

By February 14, 2017


Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the fourth chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. Previous installments are found herehere, here and here.

The fourth chapter of History and Presence explores the relationship between print culture and practices of presence.  Orsi maintains that Catholics in the United States, and elsewhere, use printed things in a distinctive manner.  While they read, and looked at religious texts and images,
“devotional print was not simply a vehicle of ideas in this world, it was itself a medium of presence.”

This chapter opens with the story of a dying woman being fed a small piece of a holy card of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and contrasts Catholic and Protestant approaches to printed matter.  Underscoring the idea that the Protestant/Catholic divide is not always absolute, Orsi demonstrates the centrality of the printed word to Protestant denominations, particularly through the medium of the scriptures and the sermon as well as their relationship to creeds and theology.  By exploring print culture, Orsi states that the fundamental question of this chapter is “what we learn about modern practices and understandings of reading and writing in the world when we look at them from the perspective of what Catholics did with presence in print.”  This includes an exploration of holy cards which were often transformed into relics.  Orsi probes Catholic religious curriculum, illustrated Bible stories, coloring books, comic books, and popular magazines as sources of printed presence.  He also discusses the role of the unprinted, but textual, presence involved in cursive handwriting as a devotional task.

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REMINDER: 2017 Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture

By February 13, 2017


DEADLINE: 15 February 2017 (two days away!)

“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

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History and Presence, Chapter 3: Holy Intimacies

By February 7, 2017


Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the third chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. Previous installments are found herehere, and here.

OrsiThe third chapter of Robert Orsi’s provocative and sophisticated book leaves behind the broad and sweeping trajectories of earlier chapters in order to focus on the mundane experiences of everyday life. Personal relics, individual relationship, holy encounters—this is where humans experience the gods. This is, of course, lived religion, a genre that Orsi has championed. But in this form it is focused on the personalized contexts in which “abundant events” are experienced. The chapter interweaves three different narratives–Chicago housewives in 1940s war-torn America who worried about their families overseas, a young Arizona girl who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her step-father slightly later, and a social sciences grad student in the 1990s staring down her own leukemia–while meditating on the nature of gods’ presence in everyday life. Each of these three stories feature women facing insurmountable evil, yet finding refuge in a spiritual event, even if that moment of religious deliverance didn’t feature a headline-grabbing episode.

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Fake News, Leaked Documents, and the Book of Mormon: Part I (1829)

By February 6, 2017


Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 8.15.27 PMFake news has been in the — well — news. Over the course of the runup to the 2016 presidential election, everything from conspiracy theories to wholly fabricated stories about the two major parties’ candidates spread like wildfire, dominating the stories liked and shared on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. And it hasn’t let up since Donald Trump was elected, with his administration labeling mainstream news outlets like CNN and the New York Times “fake news,” all while Trump and his spokespeople routinely lie, contradict themselves, and fabricate wholesale massacres to advance their agenda. 

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The Friend and a Seer Stone

By February 5, 2017


Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 1.40.17 AMSince 1971, The Friend has been the LDS Church’s magazine for children. An article in the September 1974 issue of The Friend detailed that in addition to the Urim and Thummin “Joseph [Smith] also used an egg-shaped, brown rock for translating [the Book of Mormon] called a seer stone.”[1] After combining and revamping church magazines in 1971, this was the first mention of a seer stone. Three years later, historian Richard Lloyd Anderson published an article on Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon that likewise included mention of Smith’s seer stone usage.[2] This might surprise many Latter-day Saints today as Joseph Smith’s seer stone usage has not always played a role in the devotional narrative of Smith’s life and many might have believed the seer stone to be a part of antagonistic tall tales.

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Recent Comments

J Stuart on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Thanks, Cassie, WVS, and Professor Mauss!”


Armand Mauss on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Don't forget to check out the influence also of the LDS Genealogical Society, especially the work of its executive secretary James H. Anderson during the…”


wvs on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Interesting stuff, J. All kinds of fun links to the Taylor-Galbraith efficiency movement and quack psyche.”


Cassie on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “The topic of Mormon elite interest in Eugenics is fascinating and requires additional unpacking to fully understand the reverberations of the pseudoscience on the church…”


Amanda on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “I mean...who controls which spirits go to which families? It's like we forgot everything that's been revealed about foreordination...that, just as there will be…”


RL on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Great points Amanda. We often think Mormonism is unique in having to grapple with race or gender and belief, but we a Christian faith…”

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