By May 11, 2015
This post kicks off the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering several small chunks of the book (typically 2-3 chapters) in successive weeks from now through the summer. New posts will appear on Monday mornings. We begin today with the Prologue, which sets the tone in several important respects for the rest of the book, and Chapters 1 (“The Joseph Smith Family: To 1816”) and 2 (“The First Visions: 1816-1827”). We invite anyone and everyone interested to join along. Please use the comment section on each post to post your own reflections and commentary on the chapters under consideration and ask questions.
I first read Rough Stone Rolling (RSR) when it was first released in 2005. I was an undergraduate history major at the time, a recently-returned Mormon missionary, and an avid if novice and somewhat naïve student of Mormon history. Bushman’s biography was not my introduction to the scholarly study of Joseph Smith or Mormon history, but it still threw me for something of a loop, challenging many of the assumptions of my faith-promoting worldview. Nevertheless, I pushed through and finished the book. I next read it three years later, in a reading seminar in BYU’s now-defunct MA program in history. My familiarity with both Mormon and American religious history more broadly was deeper by then, and reading the book alongside both an experienced historian and several budding young scholars made the book both more familiar and yet so foreign from my initial reading. That a book reads differently to the same individual at different stages in her life is a truism of nearly all books, but it is especially true in reading Rough Stone Rolling.
By May 10, 2015
A few Mormon studies-related links from around the internet over the last (couple) week(s):
Seth Perry authored a provocative review essay of Terryl Givens’s Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Reflecting on the book’s “emphatically male framing,” Perry examines it against the backdrop of contemporary Mormon debates over sex roles:
Wrestling the Angel is a comprehensive synthesis of Mormon theology. It’s not specifically about the theological particulars that undergird the Church’s increasingly unpopular sexual politics. Right now, however, those particulars are what people are interested in, and Givens’s struggle with them is emblematic of his Church’s current predicament. In a different era, a cogent, explicitely Christian synthesis of Mormon theology such as this one would have performed an apologetic purpose, giving Mormon thought the dignity it deserves. Nowadays, though, Mormon thought largely has that dignity. What readers both inside and outside the Church wonder about now is why it is so closely associated with an understanding of sex and gender that many find backward. The theological answers presented here are haunted by political questions.
A recent episode of Backstory with the American History Guys on “island hopping” included some discussion of James Strang and Beaver Island. Elsewhere on the radio, Doug Fabrizio discussed age and leadership in the LDS Church with scholars Richard Bushman and Greg Prince. Bushman, along with his wife and fellow scholar Claudia, were interviewed over at Past is Present, the official blog of the American Antiquarian Society, where the Bushmans have spent the year as Distinguished Scholars in Residence. Two excerpts of interest:
Past is Present: Richard, same question for you. How do you first become interested in a project? You have two strains in your work, one on American life and culture more generally and one on Joseph Smith and Mormonism.
RB: It’s that double life that lies behind this project. I’m basically an early American historian, but from time to time I’ve been asked to do something on Mormonism, so I got involved in writing about Joseph Smith. As I was looking for a new project on the early American history side, I thought I ought to do something that would interact with the work I was doing on Joseph Smith. His family were farmers, so I thought, “Well, I’ll see what I can find out about farmers.” And it worked out well. The two halves fed into each other. I use the Joseph Smith example, his family, in the farm work and the other way around.
Past is Present: I guess one more question. If there’s one book that you could write that you haven’t written yet, what would it be? One topic that you would love to cover.
CB: Well, I have two projects. One is [an oral history project on Mormon women]. The other one is my autobiography. I’m doing this for lots of reasons, but one is that women don’t write their autobiographies and they always apologize for doing it. They say, “I wouldn’t have done this, but my children, my neighbors asked me.” Because that’s the way we feel. Women shouldn’t, we’re just not important enough to write about ourselves. So I decided that that would be one of my final women’s studies projects, that I would tell my own story, and I’m about halfway done with it, I guess. I have plenty more to do. Seeing as I was not apologizing for it, I would give it an in-your-face title. So the title is, I, Claudia. So you take yourself seriously, but not too seriously. Will anybody ever publish it? I don’t know. My family can publish it. See, now I’m already apologizing! That’s bad. We just don’t want to apologize for ourselves, because it’s so important to have women’s autobiographies. Those that we have we value so much. I don’t dare think of another project until I get those done.
Meanwhile, over at the Salt Lake Tribune, Peggy Fletcher Stack reported on a youth Sunday School teacher in Hawaii who was released after using the church’s recently-published essay on race and the priesthood in one of his lessons.
A CNN profile of Mormonism in Cambodia provided a fascinating look at the religious politics of temple work for the dead in a predominantly Buddhist country.
In academic conference news, the Mormon Pacific Historical Society released the CFP for its fall conference, to be held on the campus of BYU-Hawaii October 23-24.
We’ll wrap things up with a couple of bloggernacle links: First, a post over at By Common Consent by Steve Evans reflecting on the present and future of Mormon Studies, which sparked a lively conversation in the comments section and a lengthier response from Ardis Parshall over at Keepapitchinin on “Academia vs. Scholarship” (that’s the second link). Be sure and read both.
By April 22, 2015
Matt Grow’s contribution to the Journal of Mormon History 50th anniversary issue takes as its subject the place of biography in Mormon Studies. As the author (or co-author) of two significant biographies in the field, Grow is well positioned to assess the state of Mormon biographical writing.
In short, Grow believes that “the genre of Mormon biography has answered many of [the] rallying cries” of the New Mormon History’s call for “engage[ment] with larger historical themes” and “greater attention to women, race, ordinary Saints, the twentieth century, and international Mormons” (185), pointing to the spate of biographies produced in the last three decades on Mormon leaders (of both the Latter-day Saint and Latter Day Saint variety), dissenters, women, and racial and ethnic minorities. “There is much to celebrate in in the outpouring of scholarly biographies in the past few decades,” he concludes (196). Nevertheless, work remains to be done, and that work mirrors the shortcomings of Mormon history more generally: “More biographies of women, twentieth century, and international Mormons are particularly needed to advance the field” (196).
By March 18, 2015
This post resurrects an older occasional series here at JI devoted to interesting finds in the archives (manuscript, digital, or otherwise).
I’ve recently been reading Philip Gura’s recently released biography of William Apess, an itinerant Methodist preacher and American Indian activist in the early 19th century. While I was hopeful that Gura would note Apess’s fascinating encounter with Mormon missionaries Samuel H. Smith and Orson Hyde in 1832 (he regrettably doesn’t), I nevertheless recommend the book to readers here. As Jared Hickman has noted in his article on “The Book of Mormon as Amerindian Apocalypse” (see our Q&A with Hickman on the article here), the Book of Mormon and Apess’s writings speak to one another in interesting ways, and Gura’s biography fleshes out the meanings of Apess’s corpus of biographical, polemical, and prophetic writings, and the life of the man behind them, like nobody has before.
By February 19, 2015
Mormons have a long history of supplementing their LDS worship with attendance at or participation in the services of other Christian denominations. In the 19th century, some Latter-day Saints in the American South would, in the sometimes lengthy periods between visits from traveling missionaries, attend Sunday services at the local Baptist or Methodist church. In the 21st century, Mormons are counted among mega-preacher Joel Osteen’s many listeners and viewers, tuning into his broadcasts on Sunday mornings while getting ready to attend their own meetings; others, acting as spiritual tourists, occasionally take in a Catholic or Anglican service while traveling.
Perhaps the most notable (and timely) example of Mormons supplementing their worship outside the confines of the Mormon chapel or temple, though, is the increasing number of Latter-day Saints who take part in some aspect of the traditional Christian liturgical calendar. Some attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve, others finding personal meaning and significance in Ash Wednesday. In perhaps the most striking example, a ward in Medford, Oregon collectively observed Palm Sunday last year, complete with palm fronds made by the primary children. Last year, I decided to observe the Lenten fast, giving up dessert/candy/sweets for the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I did so quietly, taking as my guide the excellent devotional readings by the good folks at By Common Consent as part of their ongoing Mormon Lectionary Project. It ended up being a wholly worthwhile experience, and this year I was eager to participate again. Yesterday at noon, I attended the Ash Wednesday service at the Williamsburg United Methodist Church, accompanied by another Mormon grad student.
By February 2, 2015
The schedule for the Fifth Biennial Faith & Knowledge Conference was posted this morning at faithandknowledge.org. The event will be held on Friday, February 27 and Saturday, February 28, 2015 at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia. Registration is now open, as well.
For the first time ever, Friday night’s opening panel will be open to the public, and if you’re in the general area, you won’t want to miss this. Noted LDS scholars Terryl Givens, Professor of Literature and Religion, and the James A. Bostwick Professor of English at University of Richmond, and J.B. Haws, Assistant Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University and author of The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (OUP, 2013), will offer their respective thoughts in response to the prompt, “What’s Changing in Mormonism?” They will be followed by a response from Jennifer L. Geddes, Research Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and Director of Publications at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture University of Virginia. Dr. Geddes is the author of several articles and essays, and the editor of two books: Evil after Postmodernism: Histories, Narratives, Ethics (Routledge, 2001); and, with John K. Roth and Julius Simon, The Double Binds of Ethics after the Holocaust (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).
Attendance at Saturday’s proceedings is limited to currently-enrolled LDS graduate students and early career scholars. It features presentations from some of the very best and brightest young Mormon scholars in panels ranging in subject from “LDS Experiences in and Approaches to the Academy” to “LDS Perspectives on Faith, Personality, and Work,” and from “Gender, Sexuality, and Race in Mormon History, Theology, and Experience” to new and innovative “Approaches to Mormon Scripture” to “Faith Crises and Faith Transitions.”
If you’re an LDS graduate student or early career scholar interested in the intersections between religious faith and scholarship, please consider attending.
By December 11, 2014
Last week, Ben highlighted the latest issue of the Mormon Studies Review. This week the Maxwell Institute gave Mormon Studies geeks even more goodness with the release of the first issue of the newly-revamped Studies in the Bible and Antiquity. You can read Carl Griffin’s overview of the entire issue here, but I wanted to take the time to highlight two of the articles included in particular. While much of what Studies in the Bible and Antiquity falls outside of the more narrow interests of JI bloggers, this issue includes a roundtable review of the BYU New Testament Commentary (BYUNTC) that features two prominent historians of Mormonism: Philip Barlow, Leonard J. Arrington Professor of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, and Grant Underwood, Professor of History at Brigham Young University and coeditor of the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
Barlow opens the roundtable with some reflections on the aims of the BYUNTC, highlighting five particular questions that the undertaking raised for him, as a believing Mormon and a scholar of Mormonism and the Bible:
By November 26, 2014
2015 SUMMER SEMINAR
“ORGANIZING THE KINGDOM:
PRIESTHOOD, CHURCH GOVERNMENT, AND THE FORMS OF LDS WORSHIP.”
Brigham Young University
June 14 – July 23, 2015
In the summer of 2015, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students, CES educators, and other qualified individuals, on “ORGANIZING THE KINGDOM: PRIESTHOOD, CHURCH GOVERNMENT, AND THE FORMS OF LDS WORSHIP.” The seminar will be held on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, from June 14 to July 23. Admitted participants will receive a stipend of $3000 with an accommodations 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 the internationals).
By November 2, 2014
Links to the latest Mormon Studies news from around the internet:
Mormons and Politics are in the news again. Only this time, in book form. David Campbell, John Green, and Quinn Monson’s new book from Cambridge University Press, Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics was reviewed in the Deseret News. Interested in more? Jana Riess posted a Q&A with Campbell and Monson over at Flunking Sainthood; Doug Fabrizio also hosted the co-authors on his Radio West program on Thursday.
You’ve likely heard that BYU Religious Education has revamped its curriculum, and the bloggernacle has weighed in from all angles. See here, here, here, here, and here for a sampling.
Also out of BYU, a couple of big announcements from the Maxwell Institute: The online edition of Royal Skousen’s Book of Mormon Critical Text Project has launched, and a new digital subscription option to all three journals published by the MI (Mormon Studies Review, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, and Studies in the Bible and Antiquity) is now being offered (for only $10!).
Several archives in Utah and Arizona have teamed up to create the Highway 89 Digital Collections Project, “an online aggregator and exhibition that brings together the stories of US 89, as it travels through the state of Utah.” Their aim “is to aggregate existing images, texts, and oral histories related to US 89 while simultaneously identifying and digitizing additional relevant collections.” Read more at Researching the Utah State Archives.
Finally, one final reminder that the submission deadline for the 2015 Faith & Knowledge Conference is approaching (THIS FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7!) Get your submissions in ASAP!
By October 21, 2014
I have a post up over at The Junto this morning reflecting on my audiobook listening habits. I note there, among other things, that “audiobooks … have become a means of helping me keep up with scholarship outside of early America (including periods and subjects I will likely need to teach at some future point), introducing myself to historical subjects in which I am peripherally interested (including the history of sport, the history of food), and of listening to popular and academic histories that fit under the broad umbrella of ‘early American history’ that I might not find time to read in the immediate future.” While writing that post, my thoughts turned to the relative dearth of quality audiobooks on subjects that fall under the large umbrella of Mormon Studies.
My reasons for wanting to listen to Mormon Studies audiobooks largely mirror the reasons cited in the first paragraph — it would be a convenient way to keep up with a field I remain committed to and interested in but one in which my current research does not fall. Given the general success of books in the subfield published by major university and trade presses over the last few years, I am a little surprised that more have not been recorded as audiobooks. Looking back through the library of audiobooks I’ve purchased, downloaded, and listened to over the last three or four years (a library of 50+ volumes), I realized that it included only one Mormon title — our very own Matt Bowman’s excellent survey of Mormon history. A quick search for “Mormon,” “LDS,” and “Latter-day Saints” in Audible.com’s library turns up an odd mix of ex-Mormon narratives, nineteenth-century faith promoting titles, a couple of volumes either for or against Mitt Romney, and only a small handful of Mormon Studies titles (including, most promisingly, Terryl Givens’s The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction and Spencer Fluhman’s A Peculiar People). The only biography of Joseph Smith available is Alex Beam’s American Crucifixion [edit: I somehow missed Robert Remini’s short and accessible biography of JS.]. The offerings at University Press Audiobooks are even slimmer.
By September 25, 2014
Several years ago–perhaps 2009 or 2010–I first heard about a paper slated to be published in a major literary journal that radically reinterpreted the Book of Mormon as an Amerindian apocalypse. Whispers of both its imminent publication and its brilliance continued, and at some point, I was forwarded a prepublication draft of the paper. This isn’t altogether unusual in Mormon Studies–unpublished papers and theses, typescripts of difficult-to-access manuscript sources, and PDFs of out-of-print books passed from person to person have a long, storied, and sometime litigious history in the often insular world of Mormon scholarship. But unlike other instances I’m aware of, the importance of this paper was not in its access to otherwise unavailable primary source material or its controversial content, but rather in its interpretive significance.
By September 14, 2014
And it shall come to pass, that instead of sweet smell there shall be [links]:
First up, a couple of items from a little beyond a week ago: The Salt Lake Tribune wrote about the latest exhibit at the Church History Library, a veritable treasure trove of rare documents and publications from the archives. Over at Religion in American History, Charlie McCary and Michael Graziano introduced readers to a course they’re team-teaching at Florida State this semester on Religion & Law in U.S. History. See Part I here and Part II here.
Last Saturday, Slate‘s “The Vault” featured a “day-by-day commemorative map of the Mormon journey West” from the late 19th century. According to Rebecca Onion, “The map’s commemorative publication in 1899 seems to show how quickly pilgrimage tourism, now common among Saints, had taken hold.” Speaking of the late 19th century, it was in 1893 that the LDS Church was denied a seat at the World’s Parliament of Religions held in conjunction with the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Next year, 122 years later, the Parliament will be held in the heart of Mormonism, Salt Lake City.
The Givenses remained in the news this week, with Terryl and Fiona each participating in a Reddit AMA on r/latterdaysaints. They also joined Doug Fabrizio on RadioWest for an interview about their latest book.
Over at A Motley Vision, Scott Hales lays out “a fifteen-week reading course in the Mormon novel.” Check it out here.
We’ll wrap things up this week with a handful of conference announcements: The Association for the Study of Religion, Economics, and Culture has posted a CFP for their annual conference, to be held next March in Boston. Proposals are due October 3 (for single papers) and October 17 (for complete sessions). Miles Mullin previews this year’s Conference on Faith and History annual conference at The Anxious Bench. Colleen McDannell is giving one of the four plenary addresses on the subject of “Heritage Religion and the Mormons.” And finally, in what looks to me like the conference of the years, Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History and the Danforth Center at WUSTL are co-sponsoring a conference on “Religion and Politics in 21st Century America” (in Dallas, TX on November 8). The roster of presenters is a veritable who’s who of the best and brightest young scholars of American religious history, including JI’s good friend Spencer Fluhman, who will present on “Never-Ending Mormon Moments.”
By July 24, 2014
Happy Pioneer Day, readers! Thank you for your patience with us lately — we know things have been slow around here (they tend to get that way during the summer), but we have some exciting things planned moving forward and hope you’ll keep checking in, reading, and commenting moving forward.
In recognition of Pioneer Day, I’ve culled from the Juvenile Instructor’s archives links to several previous posts treating Mormon Pioneers in one sense or another. In hopes that they’ll prove interesting to those who missed them the first time around (and to those, like me, interested in revisiting them), here we go:
By July 6, 2014
We’re back with another weekly roundup of links from the world of Mormon Studies. Let’s jump into it:
Alex Beam’s examination of Joseph Smith’s murder continues to garner attention. Check out the Salt Lake Tribune‘s coverage, including Peggy Fletcher Stack’s write up and Jennifer Napier-Pierce’s video interview with the author at Trib Talk.
In other news, the LDS Church History Library celebrated Canada Day by posting this fantastic souvenir card from the dedication of the Cardston Temple on their facebook page. Moving even further beyond U.S. borders, Al Jazeera America examined “The rise of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Caucasus.” It’s a fascinating read, and might provide some fodder for researchers interested in digging further.
By June 17, 2014
Earlier this year, I posted some thoughts on Latter-day Saints’ reaction to the announcement of the 1978 revelation on the race-based temple and priesthood ban. The post elicited a lot of excellent responses, including several from Latter-day Saints who shared their own memories and recollections of LDS responses in the wake of the revelation. Among the most intriguing comments, though, came from commenter Ben S., who offered an anecdote he once heard about “several hundred LDS [who] signed their names to a full-page ad in a local newspaper to the effect that they knew Kimball was a fallen prophet, this revelation wasn’t possible, on the basis of past statements, scriptural interpretation, etc.”
By May 25, 2014
We’re back with another installment of your weekly roundup of links to articles, blog posts, and other notices in the world of Mormon Studies.
The Boston Globe ran an article on Harvard’s participation in the online course (MOOC) craze. Of interest to JI readers is Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s participation. Dr. Ulrich’s class, “Tangible Things,” is a material history course that “will teach history through artifacts in Harvard’s museum collections to an expected 10,000 students.” Ulrich’s fellow Massachusetts Mormon Mitt Romney also made headlines recently when he weighed in on Wolfeboro, New Hampshire Police Commissioner Robert Copeland’s use of a racial slur to describe President Obama. Nothing particularly Mormon about Romney’s comments, but scholars of Mormon and race may want to take note.
Meanwhile, Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at CGU Patrick Mason was named a Fulbright Scholar. CGU’s website has all of the details about his upcoming “travel to the West University of Timisoara in Romania, where he will teach courses in American history, politics, and culture.” Congrats, Patrick!
Over at Rational Faiths, Laurel Sandberg-Armstrong summarizes the recent changes to Young Women lessons.
Those of you in Salt Lake will want to take note of Chad Orton’s June 12 lecture on George Q. Cannon’s mission to Hawaii at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. Orton helped edit GQC’s Hawaii mission journals (which are now complete and set to be published in early July!). Greg Kofford Books posted an interview with Joe Spencer, whose For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope, is imminently forthcoming as well.
The Center for Religion & American Culture at IUPUI is hosting a conference on The Bible in American Life. The entire program looks fantastic, and JI readers will be particularly interested in Amy Easton-Flake’s presentation on “Biblical Women in the Woman’s Exponent: The Bible in Nineteenth-Century Mormonism.” Over at the Religion in American History blog, Paul Putz posted Part II of his preview of forthcoming books in American Religious History this year, a list that includes Terryl Givens’s Wrestling the Angel and Thomas Carter’s “biography of the cultural landscape of western LDS settlements,” Building Zion.
Part I of Putz’s list, posted in January, included David Howlett’s long-anticipated Kirtland Temple: Biography of a Sacred Space. That volume is scheduled to be released on Friday this week (!!), so hurry up and order your copy now.
By February 25, 2014
LDS Meeting House, Kabankalan, Negros Occidental.
Just a quick note today to point readers to my post that went up yesterday at Peculiar People. It looks at the basketball-crazed nation of the Philippines and wonders about the place of basketball-crazed Mormons within that wider phenomenon. If you served a mission in the Philippines or are a basketball fan or otherwise want to weigh in, please do, either in the comments here or over there. Here’s a preview:
By February 16, 2014
Missed out on the latest news in the world of Mormon Studies? We’re here for you and back with another weekly roundup of relevant links. Let’s get to it:
Over at Rational Faiths, Connell O’Donovan writes about three newly discovered early black Mormon women. The discovery—incredibly important to recovering the African American presence in early Mormonism in all of its facets—is based on careful and surely time-consuming analysis of personal papers and printed sources.
By February 12, 2014
What follows is a sort of follow-up to Joey’s excellent post last week analyzing reactions to the 1978 revelation ending the race-based priesthood and temple ban. I am admittedly far outside of my own field here, and it is entirely possible I’m not aware of some study that has already been written and published. Please feel free to point out any such work in the comments, and to otherwise respond to the post.
In December 2007, perennial presidential candidate and prominent Mormon Mitt Romney was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about the 1978 revelation that signaled a shift in LDS church policy and lifted the ban that had previously denied people of African descent ordination to the priesthood and entrance into LDS temples. Romney’s response was a familiar one to most Mormons:
I can remember when I heard about the change being made. I was driving home from — I think it was law school, but I was driving home — going through the Fresh Pond rotary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I heard it on the radio and I pulled over and literally wept. Even to this day, it’s emotional.
By January 22, 2014
This is the second entry in the recently launched, occasional, not-at-all regular, sporadic JI series, Mormon Studies in Unexpected Places. The basic idea is fairly straightforward: to identify instances in which Mormon Studies authors and/or their books, articles, etc. make an unexpected appearance in popular culture, political discourse, etc. Read the first entry here.
I’m like Fawn Brodie?
A few weeks ago, my cousin excitedly asked me on facebook if I knew that a Beastie Boys song contained a lyric referencing Fawn Brodie. I wasn’t aware, but it seemed plausible enough — the band is known for their clever lyrics, the late Adam “MCA” Yauch was reportedly somewhat eclectic in his own approach to religion, and their 1994 hit single, “Root Down,” referenced the band’s preference for snowboarding the powder of Utah’s slopes. Still, I was surprised to learn of the Fawn Brodie lyric.
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