Articles by

Jordan W.

Mormonism’s Possible Political Theologies: Reading the Constitution through a Lens of Continuing Revelation, Part II

By August 30, 2013

In a previous post, I briefly explored the thought of Transcendentalist and abolitionist Theodore Parker to outline the relationship between antebellum biblical and constitutional hermeneutics. His biblical criticism bolstered his belief in the progress of religion and in the presence of an innate religious sense, which allowed him to dismiss as antiquated scriptural passages supporting slavery.[1] He used a similar approach to reject proslavery constitutional clauses as outdated. In contrast to some abolitionists, however, Parker maintained that those texts contained permanent truths that could be separated from transient teachings. Others went further in depicting the Constitution as a moldable and amenable text, including the dissenters in Dred Scott (1857)—Benjamin R. Curtis and John McLean—who followed some of the framers in suggesting that the Constitution had been crafted with the expectation that it would adapt to new contingencies, including the spread of egalitarian sentiment.[2] The realization of historical change and, in turn, historical distance, allowed some antislavery proponents to accept the presence of proslavery passages in the Bible and the Constitution without discarding those documents altogether. Positing their inherent malleability fueled the expectation of formal amendments, in the case of the Constitution, but also demanded informal reinterpretation. And, at least in Parker’s case, these approaches to the Constitution and the Bible overlapped.

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Mormonism’s Possible Political Theologies: Reading the Constitution through a Lens of Continuing Revelation, Part I

By July 30, 2013

Though one can trace a correspondence between Mormon scriptural and legal hermeneutics back to Joseph Smith, that indirect correlation has evolved in relation to ecclesiastical schisms and shifts and broader social and political developments. Despite recent criticisms, the equation between Mormonism and constitutional conservatism that developed in the wake of the Cold War era and that found embodiment in the person of Ezra Taft Benson remains a truism for some Latter-day Saints, many of whom embrace a scriptural literalism. A number of Saints uphold the Constitution as “A Heavenly Banner,” to be placed alongside the LDS canon. Indeed, mistrust of executive, legislative, and judicial interpreters leads some to insist on originalist interpretations (which, of course, are still interpretations) of the Constitution, while evidencing an openness to non-originalist interpretations of scripture, or at least to the readings of their leaders, which might be understood as literal.[1] While one can formulate defensible arguments that scriptural literalism and conservative constitutionalism are fruits of Mormonism, I want to suggest that the seeds of quite different approaches to sacred scriptural and legal texts can be found in the rich soil of early Mormon thought.

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Book Review: Mason, Patrick Q. The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

By November 30, 2011

In The Mormon Menace, Patrick Mason adeptly traces the contours of anti-Mormonism in the late nineteenth-century South and explains how proselytizing, polygamy, and extra-legal violence shaped the South’s response to Mormonism. Mason attends to the ways in which southern honor, defined by a communal estimation of the individual and often deployed to protect or avenge the virtuous female, provided justification for illicit actions against Mormon missionaries. While granting that anti-Mormon violence paled in comparison to racial and political attacks against African Americans, Mason contends that “Mormonism was unique in the way it inspired southerners to set aside general norms of civility and religious tolerance” (13).

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Mormonism’s Varying Influences on Orson Pratt’s Thought

By June 9, 2009

Biographer Breck England argued that Orson Pratt’s interpretation of Joseph Smith’s revelations and teachings largely shaped Pratt’s thought.[1] In his introduction, England noted that Pratt “made a lifelong effort to construct a rational theology on the revelatory foundation laid by Joseph Smith.”[2]

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Pratt’s Doctrine of Equality Revisisted

By June 1, 2009

Yes, I’m “revisiting” the subject of a less than 24-hour-old post! In some ways I restate what Ben said, and the issues I deal with are discussed in both Ben’s post and the following comments, but I also ask some different, though similar, questions.

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Conference on Mormonism in the Public Mind, April 2-3, 2009, UVU Library

By March 29, 2009

Below is the program for what promises to be an exciting conference on public perceptions of Mormonism.

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Book Review: Liberty to the Downtrodden

By March 3, 2009

Grow, Matthew H. “Liberty to the Downtrodden”: Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Matt Grow’s impressive new biography, “Liberty to the Downtrodden”: Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer, captures the life of a little-known nineteenth-century reformer and, in the process, illuminates understudied and misunderstood aspects of nineteenth-century America.

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Uno Mas….MMM

By March 1, 2009

For those of you out there who just can’t get enough, and I know there are a lot of you…

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Conference on Mormon Thought and Engineering

By February 8, 2009

Although this is noted at, Dr. Bushman asked that I use the JI to advertise this interesting conference on Mormon thought and engineering to be held in March at Claremont Graduate University.  So, here’s the info…

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Franklin and Emerson’s use of Religious Rhetoric

By July 22, 2008

America has often been described as a Christian nation, and whatever currency the title holds presently, it was certainly applicable during the first century and a half of the nation’s life. This is not to say that it was not a Christian nation before 1776 or 1789, as it indeed was, nor does this imply that the Founding Fathers held orthodox Christian beliefs, as many of them did not, but it does suggest that the United States was born and nurtured in a thoroughly Christian religious environment.

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Joseph Smith Was Killed in 1846

By April 1, 2008

Joseph Smith was killed in 1846 by a mob in Alton, Illinois, near the Illinois-Missouri border.  Unless I am mistaken, the foregoing statement is quite obviously false on two accounts (1846; Alton).  Yet, I was quite surprised to find that the source of this mistake is a well-known historian of U.S. religious history.

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Constance Rourke and the Comic in Mormonism

By March 19, 2008

Graduate school provides rare opportunities to find obscure references to Mormonism in texts one would otherwise never think to look at.  These sources often provide interesting insights, usually alongside flawed analysis.  Constance Rourke’s American Humor: A Study of the National Character is one such source.

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Tocqueville and American Religious History

By March 12, 2008

The historian of American history loves to quote Tocqueville, and the historian of U.S. religious history is no different. Even historians of Mormonism find him helpful.[1] Yet what place does Tocqueville’s work have in helping us understand early nineteenth century American religion?

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Mormon Responses to Darwin, 1859-1933

By March 6, 2008

The First Presidency of the Latter-day Saint Church has never made a direct statement in response to Darwin, his book, or his theory of evolution. Yet, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the church did respond indirectly. Less formally, certain leaders openly attacked Darwin’s ideas, while other church officials and lay members disliked transmutation but contemplated other forms of evolution. Various personalities and their corresponding works exemplify these responses.

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“Infinite Regress” or “Monarchical Monotheism”

By February 27, 2008

In Brian Birch’s class—“Mormonism and Christian Theology”—at CGU we recently discussed the “King Follet Discourse” and the “Sermon in the Grove” and the ways Mormon scholars have interpreted records of these sermons over the years. A point of conversation relates to what Smith meant in stating that God “is a man like one of yourselves” who “dwelt on a Earth same as Js. himself did.”[1] In a related recorded statement, Smith is said to have explained that “Paul says there are gods many & Lords many—I want to set it in a plain simple manner—but to us there is but one God pertaining to us.”[2] Smith’s words generally have been interpreted in two ways.

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Is There A Place at the Academic Table for Mormon Studies?

By February 26, 2008

I will soundly argue that the answer to the question above is an unequivocal “No!” Just playing. The formation of Mormon Studies Chairs at Utah State University and Claremont Graduate School with similar programs in the works at other institutions of higher learning suggests an affirmative answer to this query. I think it is obvious that our intellectual predecessors have worked long and hard to make this possible, and consequently we should be grateful. The formation of chairs, along with other movements in the media and politics, mark a new era in the scholarly study of Mormonism, as universities “scramble” to create classes in Mormonism. Sunday night I attended a fireside in Pasadena where Drs. Richard and Claudia Bushman spoke of this exciting time. As Claudia was speaking she mentioned the idea that we had the opportunity to become intellectual pioneers. This struck me. To be honest, I felt rather overwhelmed thinking about the legacy that budding scholars of Mormonism have to live up to. Further, it seems that we must participate in forming the idea of what it means to study Mormonism at a graduate level. Consequently, I think the important question relates to what kind of place we will create for ourselves at the academic table.

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