Sorry this post isn’t very Mormon-y, but it’s part of my occasional postings that try to make academia’s processes more transparent, especially to benefit prospective & junior faculty. So this public service announcement brought to you by the merrie month of May, hopefully it’s timely advice to someone out there. (more…)
A year and a half ago, Brittany Chapman and I discussed the need for a space where young female scholars of Mormonism could gain the academic skills necessary to engage in discussion about Mormon women’s history. Although we both felt comfortable with our ability to conduct research in primary sources, write interesting narratives about those who had lived in the past, and to connect our histories to larger historiographies, we felt woefully unprepared to engage with feminist and gender theory. The Mormon Women’s History Tea and Discussion Group was born out of a desire to create a space where young female scholars could gain the tools necessary to participate in academic discourse. As a result, we initially planned to pair an academic article on some issue of feminist theory or women’s history with a piece written on Mormonism and have a discussion about the intersections between the two. (more…)
Please note: This post has been corrected. In earlier versions, the second and third paragraph were inadvertently transposed.
As we continue this month to consider images of Mormonism in popular culture, the Juvenile Instructor is pleased to host guest blogger Megan Goodwin. Megan is currently completing her PhD at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. Her research interests include American religions, gender and sexuality, religious language and literature, religious alterity, and contemporary critical thought. Her dissertation, entitled “Good Fences: American Sexual Exceptionalism and Marginal Religions,” examines three captivity narratives – Betty Mahmoody’s Not Without My Daughter (1987), Michelle Smith’s Michelle Remembers (1989), and Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven (2003) – as articulations of American Protestant anxieties about the challenges marginal religions pose to normative masculinity. Please join us in welcoming Megan to the Juvenile Instructor.
Elizabeth Smart made headlines this month when she advocated for human trafficking survivors at a conference hosted by Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Smart this year – I made her kidnapping (or rather Jon Krakauer’s treatment of Smart’s captivity in his inexorable Under the Banner of Heaven) the focal point of a national conference paper and a key element of my dissertation chapter on anti-Mormon religious intolerance. But I missed that she’d spoken at this conference until the blogosphere erupted over her alleged condemnation of abstinence-based sex education.
During her 13 minute presentation, Smart recounted the details of her captivity and emphasized the need to teach children that they have intrinsic worth, regardless of how others might abuse or exploit them. She further noted that “one of the questions that is most commonly asked [of her] is ‘well, why didn’t you run away? Why didn’t you yell? Why didn’t you scream?’”
This question immediately raised the hackles of my inner humorless feminist, who was already riled after a year of teaching Women’s and Gender Studies 101. This question, as Smart notes, is common – an almost knee-jerk refrain when people feel survivors didn’t resist their own exploitation and abuses enough. (The metrics of “enough” are usually a bit murky.) This question, as I explained to my students this year, perpetuates rape culture: the popular and often unquestioned conviction that men are naturally sexually aggressive and dominant, while women are the natural targets of that sexual aggression and must resist unwanted overtures. Or to put in simpler terms: women should try to avoid being raped, because, you know, rape happens. (more…)
One of the things that still disappoints every time that I look for scholarship on Mormon women or attend the Mormon History Association is how little work has been done on women’s issues beyond Nauvoo-era polygamy and how few women actively work and publish in Mormon History. Although Mormon Enigma was published 30 years ago, it remains the best work on Mormon women’s history. Its standing power is at once a testament to its power as a book and to the fact that little work has been done about women’s lives within the Mormon Church since the 1980s.
In recent years, a few organizations have been founded to help address that lack. (more…)
In a mere 23 days, the Mormon History Association’s meetings will convene in Layton, Utah. As you might imagine, we at JI are very excited to hear from the best and brightest in Mormon History. There are a few events/items worth mentioning: (more…)
Where Do I Come From? What Am I? Where Am I Going?: Exploring Representations of Mormonism to Understand American Religious History
In my years in Boston, I have been a frequent visitor at the city’s wonderful Museum of Fine Arts. While I couldn’t name a single favorite object, one piece that I return to again and again is Paul Gauguin’s epic masterpiece, “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?” While there is much to be said about the painting, I’m most concerned in this post with its title. Students and scholars tend to be a self-critical bunch, and I think most of us regularly ask these questions of ourselves and try to have ready answers for our colleagues. But when you’re a non-Mormon in the world of Mormon Studies, I’ve found that those questions take on a special shape and urgency. Who am I? What’s my real interest in Mormonism? What exactly am I going to do with my scholarly explorations of Mormonism in American culture? What’s a non-Mormon doing studying the Latter-day Saints? Am I anti-? Is it a fetish? Am I on the road to conversion? All of these questions are regularly leveled at me by Mormons and non-Mormons alike, and regularly with a degree of suspicion bordering on accusation.
So, where do I come from? I was raised in rural America, in a family that I only realized as I got older was noteworthy for our relative religious diversity – and our general acceptance of it. We counted members of a variety of Christian denominations in the extended clan, including a number of very heterodox members of different denominations (a Methodist grandmother who argued with people in church that the Trinity wasn’t biblical, anyone?), as well as nonbelievers of several different stripes. There was disagreement, but in general we accepted that we were all doing our best and, really, none of us could be sure we had the corner on the meaning of life. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I realized that many of the people around me – most of whom were generally decent people – were not as comfortable with religious difference as much of my family seemed to be. (As I got older, I also began to see that my family members were much more tolerant of Christian diversity than they were of non-Christian religions.) Unfortunately, I witnessed some respected adults in my life making very ugly comments – which they often used their professed Christianity to justify – about other people and their religions. In my teenaged brain, this gave rise to two questions: Isn’t Christianity supposed to be about loving your neighbor? Isn’t the United States supposed to be about separation of church and state and thus acceptance of religious diversity?
In the past few months I’ve posted on the hymnbook, Mormon hymnody, and the general role of singing in the Southwestern States Mission. Today I will look at when in the week and when in the year traveling missionaries sang.  (more…)
The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity at the Dictionary of Mormon Biography (see this post for context). Since hatching the idea, I’ve gone from building a prototype site to rolling out a full Mediawiki instance to mormonbiography.org. A few things in review:
- I secured the mormonbiography.org domain! This will help drive traffic to the site and build a research community for the project.
- In April, I had a database meltdown and lost most of what was added to the previous site <sadface/>, but the new site is running smoothly.
- The site currently has over 60 articles and now has a small group of registered researchers contributing to the project! A tip of the hat to Ardis Parshall, Kent Larsen, Bruce Crow, and David Morris for joining the ranks.
- I am trying to ensure that the content is not a “sausage fest” by culling records from various resources, especially since the LDS Biographical Encyclopedia (the original biographical source for the project) has little female representation within its pages. I am very much open to suggestions for resources to draw upon. See our current list of source projects here.
[Part of the Many Images of Mormonism series.]
It has become a common refrain to refer to Mormonism as the “American religion.” Leo Tolstoy supposedly said it, Harold Bloom definitely said it, and religious historians often repeat it. It is meant to invoke the fact that Mormonism was born and raised on American soil, embodied many of the cultural elements found in its surrounding culture, and remains a focal point of America’s religious history. (For the most recent look at this idea you can look, ahem, here.) While this is all well and good, a new theme has also cropped up in recent historiography: the importance of anti-Mormonism in American religion.
While there were earlier precedents, it could be argued that Terryl Givens’s Viper on the Hearth (1997, but recently re-issued) started the systematic study of American (negative) perceptions of Mormonism; indeed, it was the first to invoke a sophisticated analysis in using anti-Mormonism as a case-study in the construction of heresy. A decade later, Givens was followed by three books that built on his work and appeared in quick succession: Megan Sanborn Jones’s Performing American Identity in Anti-Mormon Melodrama (2009), Patrick Mason’s The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South (2011), and Spencer Fluhman’s Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (2012). Each of these books looked at perceivable the same topic through different prisms—theater, southern violence, and the nebulous concept of “religion”—but each shared a common assumption: that how Americans treated and understood Mormons reveals a significant lesson about the development of America’s religious history. (more…)
In my early years of graduate school, I became interested in a project that compared mainstream American attitudes toward Mormons and Jews during the Progressive Era. One night while looking around on the internet, I came across the name Simon Bamberger, the first Jewish, democratic, and non-Mormon governor of Utah. He served as governor between January 1917 and January 1921. Born in Germany in 1846, he left for New York City as a teenager and eventually migrated to Utah in 1872. Throughout his years in Utah before he ran for governor, Bamberger ran two hotels and built a railway between Ogden and Salt Lake City. As the story goes, Bamberger’s supporters urged him to campaign in a community of Norwegian Mormon converts where Bamberger was greeted by a Norwegian man who stated:
“If you tink ve let any damn Yentile speak in our meeting house, yure mistaken.” Bamberger replied: “As a Jew, I have been called many a bad name, but this is first time in my life I have been called a damned Gentile!” The Norwegian man changed his demeanor when he learned Bamberger was a Jew and enthusiastically proclaimed: “Hear him men, he’s not a Yentile, he’s a Yew, an Israelite. Velcome my friend; velcome, our next governor.” (more…)
Last week Nathaniel Givens at T&S reminded us of how many Mormons produce speculative fiction (lots and lots) and some possible reasons why. For the past year or so I have semi-systematically read a hundred or so prominent SpecFic works  and have been surprised, not by the fantastical coming from Mormon pens and keyboards, but by the Mormons coming from mainstream desks.  Of the novels I read, I noticed six with unambiguous references to Mormons: Stranger in a Strange Land, Hyperion, Contact, Lucifer’s Hammer, The Stand, and Snow Crash. As part of our “Mormonism’s Many Images” series, I will briefly discuss how these novels utilize Mormonism.
*** Spoiler Alert: Plot points appear below. *** (more…)
While doing some background research on global Mormonism, I came across two Dialogue articles: Michael J. Cleverely’s “Mormonism on the Big Mac Standard” by and James B. Allen’s “On Becoming a Universal Church: Some Historical Perspectives.” Discussing “America’s role as a catalyst in the spread of Mormonism” (Allen 19) can be tricky, but whatever conclusion you reach on that regard, it is not hard to see American terms in the transmission of the gospel. Allen describes one cultural misunderstanding, (more…)
Music played a significant role in missionary efforts in the Southwestern States Mission. In this post I briefly list some of the ways missionaries used music.
[Also: I have divided the footnotes: letters indicate comment or explanation, numbers have only examples.] (more…)
[Based on the success of previous themed months (February as Black History Month, and March as Women's History Month), as well as the month-long series of posts on John Turner's Brigham Young biography last October and November, we at the JI have decided to run a thematic series of posts every month. There will, of course, always be posts not related to that month's theme, but this approach allows a more efficient stream of content and excuse to invite more guest posts. Future months include themes like "International Mormonism," "Mormonism and Politics," "Mormonism Post-WWII," and even "Mormonism and Childhood." Each month is directed by two JIers and includes most other permabloggers as well as a slew of guests. This month's theme, led by Cristine Hutchison-Jones and yours truly, focuses on images of Mormonism both at home and abroad.]
Did someone say something about a “Mormon Moment”? (more…)
Two weeks ago I posted an excerpt from GQ Cannon’s announcement of the decision to formally call female missionaries. Today I look at the response in The Young Woman’s Journal (YWJ).  The first official, female, Mormon missionary, Harriet Nye, was set apart on 1898 March 27; Inez Knight and Jennie Brimhall followed on April 1 and Cannon’s speech was on April 6. I looked for references to the call of the first sister missionaries in Volume 9 of the YWJ, which ran January to December 1898 and was edited by Susa Young Gates.  (more…)
I first encountered Twilight when my then fourteen-year-old sister became obsessed with it. Every Facebook status she posted was about the new film that was coming out or how excited she was to read the next book series. One of my friends, who has a PhD in Women’s Studies and History and will beginning her first tenure track job in the fall, told me that she personally enjoyed the books but warned me that they had some troubling gender politics. As people have pointed out in review after review of Twilight, Bella is a weak character whose identity is bound up entirely in her relationship with Edward. She is constantly bleeding, twisted from accidents that prove that she isn’t able to take care of herself and would simply die if Edward didn’t protect her. I tried to read the books but couldn’t get past Book Two where Bella dismisses a boy who loves her and would have provided her with stability and continues to pine after Edward. Book Four is even worse: When Bella and Edward consummate their marriage, Edward is unable to contain his strength and leaves Bella covered in bruises. My sister’s response: He shouldn’t have felt bad because it wasn’t his fault.
About a week ago, I decided to look for books written by Mormon Polynesian authors. (more…)
A couple months ago, BYU and the LDS Church History Department put on a fascinating conference titled, “Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith’s Study of the Ancient World.” Thanks to the wonders of technology, most of the presentations are now available as youtube videos, which you will find below.
While there are many papers that I strongly recommend, those given by Bushman, MacKay, Heal, Wright, Holland, Bowman, and Grey were some of the highlights for me.
(Note: in the first four sessions, the last paper of each session is combined with the panel’s responder.) (more…)
Southwestern States missionaries carried hymn books and sang often  but distinguished Mormon and non-Mormon songs: “After supper we talked, and sang them some of our songs. They in turn sang some of theirs.”  Missionaries also referred to “the songs of Zion.”  Despite the distinction, missionaries sold hymn books—even to those unlikely to convert—and copied hymns for appreciative listeners.  (more…)
I recently returned from my vacation to Tahiti. While I was there, I discovered a set of playing cards where each of the cards was a different person from Tahitian history from the reign of Queen Pomare. Iotete, a Tahitian chief who signed a document requesting that the French annex the islands, appears on a blue card wearing a feathered headdress and a red European-style coat. The card also shows him as being heavily tattooed and wearing a grim expression. Another card depicts Constance Gordon-Cumming, a Scottish travel writer who traveled to Tahiti in the 1870s and wrote extensively about her travels. She appears as a young woman, dressed in a stylish red hat and yellow ribbons. Although the Mormon missionaries Addison Pratt, Benjamin F. Grouard, and James Brown had their own corner (complete with facsimiles of their journals) in the Musee de Tahiti, they didn’t make the cut for the playing cards. (more…)
Though the weather refuses to acknowledge it, at least here in New England, spring has arrived. Among other things, this typically means new issues from academic journals. And since we are your trusted friends and colleagues here at the JI, and we hate to see you get bogged down and fall behind the ever-proceeding deluge of Mormon historical scholarship, we have a roundup of recent articles that deserve your attention. (more…)