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!]


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.


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 (, 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,

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

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

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.

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

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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Thomas W. Simpson Discusses His Book at the Tanner Humanities Center

By September 21, 2016

Tom Simpson visited BYU, the Tanner Humanities Center, and Sam Weller’s this week. Here are the storied tweets from his visit to the THC. Many thanks to Colleen McDannell and Bob Goldberg for making it possible!

Notes from the Council of Fifty Minutes Launch Event

By September 20, 2016

This week, the Joseph Smith Papers Project released The Council of Fifty Minutes. These long-awaited meeting minutes cover the period of March 1844-January 1846, the last three months of Joseph Smith’s life and the twenty months thereafter. Because many readers of this blog will not be familiar with the Council of Fifty, I’ve organized this post along the following lines:

What is the Council of Fifty?

Why are the minutes so highly anticipated?

What history is contained in the papers?

Q&A from the blogger event

News and resources from the blogger event

Where to sign up for the monthly newsletter from the Joseph Smith Papers Project

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Papers and Panels on Mormonism at the 2016 Communal Studies Association in Salt Lake City

By September 19, 2016

This year’s meetings of the Communal Studies Association will be held in Salt Lake City, UT from October 5-8, 2016. Several of the papers address Mormon topics (you can see the full program here). Hope to see many of you there!

Friday, October 5

OPENING PLENARY SESSION: “Apocalyptic Anticipations: Mormon Millenarianism in the Early Years,” Grant Underwood

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MHA Proposal Networking Thread

By September 12, 2016

October 1, 2016

That’s the deadline for proposals for next year’s Mormon History Association annual conference in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s three weeks away. It is, as they say, looming.

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New Article: Kathleen Flake, “Ordering Antinomy: An Analysis of Early Mormonism’s Priestly Offices, Councils, and Kinship.”

By September 1, 2016


It’s been a good year for top-notch journal articles on early Mormonism. Religion and American Culture added another one to the mix this past month: “Ordering Antinomy: An Analysis of Early Mormonism’s Priestly Offices, Councils, and KinshipReligion and American Culture 26 (Winter 2016): 139–183, by Kathleen Flake, Bushman Chair of Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia. Flake’s article approaches a pair of perennial questions. Was early Mormonism populist? And to the extent that it was, how did its prophetic center hold?

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Guest Post: A Plea to Identify People in an Old Photo

By August 30, 2016

[We are pleased to cross-publish this post from Bruce Crow, a friend of JI. While you are free to comment here, we suggestion most conversation to take place over at Bruce’s blog.]

A while back we did a post where we tried to match the names of missionaries on the back of a photo to the faces of the missionaries on the front. Well, today we are going to try that again. Only this time it will be a little harder. We can thank Quincy D. Newell, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Hamilton College for her interest in this photo.

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Q&A with Brian Birch: “The Intellectual Life of Mormonism”

By August 29, 2016

When we highlighted the creation of a new course at the University of Utah sponsored by the Tanner Humanities Center, we reached out to the course professor and Marlin K. Jensen Scholar and Artist in Residence of the Tanner Center, Brian Birch, with a few questions. He has generously responded to them below.

Course Poster

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JI Heads Back to School 4

By August 23, 2016

History enrollments are on the decline nationwide. There are a number of possible explanations for this.  At my institution, the popular explanations number two, one a broader assumption that’s difficult to document and the other the result of internal campus politics.  The first is that the economic slump has made students increasingly hard-nosed and career-focused when they think about what they’re going to do with their education.  The second is that another department began a program that has sucked away a number of students who once majored in history with an eye toward law school.

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JI Heads Back to School 3

By August 22, 2016

I am a compulsive planner. Therefore, most of the work that I do in getting ready for the semester is planning out which readings and assignments will take the most effort and concentration throughout the semester, the next term, and the following summer. I firmly believe that if you fail to plan you plan to fail. A good spring semester starts with planning. A good spring builds on a good fall. And a good summer builds on top of a great school year.

Planning Process

While reading this post, it’s also important to keep in mind that I am constantly thinking about how to be a good husband and father while doing everything I need to do with school and work. Every person needs to figure out his or her own work/family balance. However, for me, I know I will have primary care for my daughter on Mondays and part of Fridays and will be with my family for most Saturdays and Sundays. My wife works part time as a CPA (which means full-time during busy season). It takes a lot of planning and flexibility, but it’s worked well for my family situation (so far). However, it’s taken a lot of trial, error, and help from friends and family.

[I wrote this before Amanda’s intro to the series, and I wanted to add something: GET OUT AND FIND SOME MENTORS. You may be waiting for that perfect professor to come along that will take you under their wing. I’ve been lucky enough to have supportive and kind mentors at every level of my education, but I’ve benefited just as much, if not more, from “horizontal mentoring.” Ask questions to the people at your level, just ahead, or just below. Make academic friends on Facebook/Twitter/anywhere you go. You’ll learn and teach more effectively if you’re learning from and teaching those around you, too.]

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J Stuart on If Not 1890, What: “Hey Stapley, you should write a book on this!”

J. Stapley on If Not 1890, What: “The temple liturgy changes were based on Richards' recommendations. Grant put him in as SLC Temple Pres when Lund died. But the temple…”

Ben S on If Not 1890, What: “Were Grant's revisions based on George Richards' recommendations, or were these further changes?”

MH on The Visitors: Jack Chick: “My missionary apartment in northern Argentina had an assortment of these tracts, including "The Visitors." It's almost certainly some people's first encounter with Mormonism, and…”

J. Stapley on If Not 1890, What: “1921 is actually an excellent candidate for far more than the WoW. It was the year that Lund died in the First Presidency, and…”

Jack Lane on If Not 1890, What: “How about 1921 when the current cultural implementation of the word of wisdom became a requirement for temple worship following American Prohibition. In my mind…”