By June 15, 2012
Our final unit was the one in which we actually read a book by a non-Latter-day Saint. I felt it would be important to have at least one book by a non-member, and for this unit I choose Douglas Davies’ The Mormon Culture of Salvation. I appreciate his perspective as an outsider. He talks about things that end up being rituals of a sort, but that I, as an acclimated insider, hadn’t considered rituals, like the sustaining of church callings. (I mean, I guess it’s obvious that it’s a ritual, but I’m so inured to it, and the fact that it’s so short a span of time to perform, that I just didn’t think of it in that way until I read his book. It’s almost embarrassing to admit that, but there you have it. Outside perspectives are important, is the moral here.)
By May 4, 2012
I know that too often church history after Joseph Smith gets shortchanged. I think there are a few reasons for this. Mostly, it’s just that Joseph is such a powerful figure it’s hard to look at anything else. Another reason, at least in the church, is that we focus on church history through and by the D&C, and the D&C gets really sparse after Joseph’s death. But I found myself falling into the same trap as I organized my class. Unit 1 was about Smith, and then we did an entire unit on “everything else.” My reasons for doing so are basically academic-and are based on Max Weber’s idea of institutionalizing charisma. Even the devout Latter-day Saint must admit that, compared with Joseph Smith, his successors to the prophetic office were not as dynamic as he.
By April 11, 2012
For this section of the class we mostly focused on the Book of Mormon. We did spend one day going through the D&C, but in retrospect I think that was a bit of a mistake. I think it would have been better to do the D&C concurrently with Joseph Smith, at least partially, instead of treating it as its own topic. Part of that is because we did that with the next portion of the class, but now I’m getting ahead of myself.
Our guide to the text of the Book of Mormon itself was . . . the Book of Mormon itself. I had dithered about whether or not to use Grant Hardy’s amazing Understanding the Book of Mormon, but in the end decided to let the book of scripture speak for itself. Instead, we used Teryl Givens’ By the Hand of Mormon as our more academic book. It was nice to just delve into the text itself and use Givens as kind of a meta-discussion about what the book itself means, and how it’s been used.
By March 7, 2012
The first day of class we spent talking about perceptions of Mormonism using Pew Forum surveys (among others) as well as clips from a variety of TV shows like South Park and The Colbert Report. We spent the next two days of the class reading Richard Bushman’s A Very Short Introduction to Mormonism. Basically, I wanted to give the students a good overview and especially a vocabulary list. I think it was a very good idea, and it certainly helped the students get a good first look at many of the issues we will be dealing with.
For the first unit of the class we read large portions of Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling. Bushman’s biography is a good one for several reasons, but mostly because I think it’s a biography that takes the historical data at face value, yet doesn’t try to make metaphysical claims that go above and beyond the historical data.
By February 6, 2012
This post is basically an overview of the course itself. In general, there will be four units, each corresponding to a particular textbook that we will read.
But before we get into the units themselves, I will have my students read Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction, by Richard Bushman. Oxford puts out these “very short introductions” on a variety of topics, and I thought having my students read this one would be a good way to start and get a general overall feel for Mormon history and theology before we really start to dig in.
The first major unit will cover the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith. You really cannot do Mormonism without focusing on him a lot. In many ways, that would be like attempting a class on Islam without talking about the Prophet Muhammed. It’s just a bad idea. We will be reading selections from Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Bushman’s marvelous biography of the prophet. Bushman is able to thread the needle between faith and scholarship, coming to no hard conclusions about the faith-content of Joseph’s experiences (even though Bushman himself is a believer) but doing a fabulous job of presenting Joseph the historical figure.
By January 25, 2012
Greetings, Juvenile Instructor readers! Matt B (one of your permabloggers) asked if I would be willing to do a bit of a guest stint as a blogger. I’m currently in a PhD program in systematic theology at the Catholic University of America, and teach as an instructor at Georgetown. Because I’m LDS, I’ve been asked to teach a class this semester on Mormonism, which I’ve titled “Mormonism: A New World Religion.” This series of posts will be about my experience teaching the course. The title is supposed to have a bit of a double meaning. First, it’s a religion from the New World, one of the few (discounting the bewildering variety of Christianities) that originated in the New World. Second, sociologist of religion Rodney Stark has predicted that Mormonism will be the next world religion to emerge since Islam.