By February 14, 2017
Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the fourth chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. Previous installments are found here, here, here and here.
The fourth chapter of History and Presence explores the relationship between print culture and practices of presence. Orsi maintains that Catholics in the United States, and elsewhere, use printed things in a distinctive manner. While they read, and looked at religious texts and images,
“devotional print was not simply a vehicle of ideas in this world, it was itself a medium of presence.”
This chapter opens with the story of a dying woman being fed a small piece of a holy card of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and contrasts Catholic and Protestant approaches to printed matter. Underscoring the idea that the Protestant/Catholic divide is not always absolute, Orsi demonstrates the centrality of the printed word to Protestant denominations, particularly through the medium of the scriptures and the sermon as well as their relationship to creeds and theology. By exploring print culture, Orsi states that the fundamental question of this chapter is “what we learn about modern practices and understandings of reading and writing in the world when we look at them from the perspective of what Catholics did with presence in print.” This includes an exploration of holy cards which were often transformed into relics. Orsi probes Catholic religious curriculum, illustrated Bible stories, coloring books, comic books, and popular magazines as sources of printed presence. He also discusses the role of the unprinted, but textual, presence involved in cursive handwriting as a devotional task.
By April 28, 2016
I attend a LDS Homemaking Meeting and bring a book that I am reading with me. It is an older volume on the teachings of Joseph Smith. I share a quote that has left me perplexed:
Respecting the female laying on hands, he further remark’d, there could be no devil in it if God gave his sanction by healing— that there could be no more sin in any female laying hands on the sick than in wetting the face with water— that it is no sin for anybody to do it that has faith, or if the sick has faith to be heal’d by the administration
Nobody has ever heard of this before. None of us know how to make sense of it. I leave unsatisfied, with more questions than answers.
By August 5, 2015
The release of the photos of Joseph Smith’s seer stone as well as the pouch made by Emma Smith that protected it, illustrates the sheer viscerality of material religion. It demonstrates the power that objects can have in the lives of religious believers and is a great example of how religion is not just something that is believed or felt abstractly or read through a text. Objects and bodies mediate religious experience.
By October 14, 2014
Earlier this year, Tona wrote an excellent post about the fragility of digital archives following up on Max Mueller’s AHA paper that explored both the possibilities and pitfalls of the “I’m A Mormon” campaign as a primary source. Tona noted that, “What is available to historians relies largely upon on goodwill, technology upgrades, and the market.”
Within this context, it is fascinating to observe, in real-time, the debate over whether or not the General Women’s Meeting is a session of General Conference. This controversy includes the editing of a video of a conference session as well as conflicting (and possibly changing) interpretations about the status of the Women’s Meeting from LDS Public Affairs, the Deseret News website as well as lds.org. While the debate about the status of the Women’s Meeting has been largely framed as a feminist issue, it also raises questions for researchers in tracing changes to historical documents and other sources as well as how ideas get lodged in the imaginations of religious believers. As Tona states,
Things come, go, vanish, launch, in a constant state of (often unannounced) change that nonetheless presents itself as final, unchanging and authoritative… it is a historian’s worst nightmare. If you cannot see the “manuscript edits” so to speak, how do you know what changed, when, how and why? And if the old just vanishes from the online environment without a trace, what happens to the possibilities for historical research? Most of what we are all busily creating in this decade has simply been written in the equivalent of vanishing ink.
By May 30, 2014
The final program for the annual conference of the Mormon History Association has been posted. It looks like there are going to be many great discussions about Mormon Women’s history in San Antonio.
By April 20, 2014
This week’s Mormon Studies Round-Up:
By March 25, 2014
Last year I drove from Salt Lake City to Logan for the first time. One of the things that I found most captivating along the route was the barns. They were so different from the ones where I live. I found both the basic structure and the pitch of the roof to be intriguing, and wondered what it was about the environment and culture that made them so different from the barns I was familiar with. I would imagine that to anybody who lives locally or drives that route often, the barns are unremarkable. This is the challenge of vernacular architecture – the ordinariness of a building almost renders it invisible. However ordinary buildings and landscapes are revealing indicators of culture and identity and in some cases religious practice.
By March 5, 2014
Cooking… situates us in the world in a very special place, facing the natural world on one side and the social world on the other…The cook stands squarely between nature and culture, conducting a process of translation and negotiation.
Bread is the only food that I have ever prepared that was alive when I placed it in the oven. Unlike other edibles that we cook, bread contains the breath of life. It takes in air, it changes form and it grows and shrinks. Food writers and historians assert that “entire civilizations are implied in a loaf of bread” – humans, plants, micro-organisms, agriculture, technologies, social structures and economies are all kneaded together. Bread-making is a process of transformation which is perhaps why it has been so tied to religious practice. In 19th century Utah, its role as a staple meant that its preparation was an important part of daily life. It was also an essential part of Mormon ritual that was invested with significance as a symbol of death, resurrection, priesthood and covenants.
By February 26, 2014
Ironically, on Monday I concurred with Amanda that too much work is focused on the history of polygamy and today I am posting about polygamy. Oh well…
In 1910, Hannah Adeline Hatch Savage recorded the details of the death of her father Lorenzo Hill Hatch in her journal:
My dear father departed this life April 20 1910 at Logan, Utah, had he lived four more day there would have been two months difference between my dear parents death….He is father of twenty four children, twelve sons and twelve daughters, one son having preseded(sic) him to the other side. He is the husband of four wives who all departed this life before he did. He is buried in the Logan Cemetary(sic) by the side of his second and third wives. His first wife died and was buried on the road between Nauvoo and Salt Lake City 
(Headstones for Lorenzo Hill Hatch and wives Sylvia Savonia Eastman Hatch and Catherine Karren Hatch – Logan City Cemetery)
When I read this passage, I was immediately reminded of an article written by her lyrical great-nephew, Levi Peterson who described her isolated burial place. He wrote,”Hannah Adeline Hatch lies in the red, wind-stirred soil of the Woodruff cemetery…The wilderness was not a fit habitation for Hannah Adeline Hatch. I am desolated by her lonely, barren grave in the Woodruff cemetery.” 
By January 29, 2014
Recently, while listening to a podcast of the CBC’s Spark, a radio program that explores the intersection of technology and popular culture I was introduced to the work of Jeremy Stolow. Stolow is a media historian in the Communication Studies Department at Concordia University. His principal interest is in religion and media and his research investigates the “sometimes counter-intuitive and often paradoxical ways (ancient, modern, and contemporary) religions relate to processes, practices and technologies of mediated communication.”
By January 5, 2014
Here is the first Mormon Studies Roundup of the year — a summary of news, research and announcements.
By May 10, 2011
On December 11, 1917, William Smart recorded in his diary, “Wife and I are fasting today. I bathed and thoroughly then anointed myself from head to foot with consecrated oil after praying to the Father and presenting this for purpose of further cleansing and as a token to present myself clean before him.” The many entries in Smart’s diary as well as those of hundreds of others Latter-day Saints illustrate how ritual objects can be a primary form of evidence for understanding religion as lived experience and sheds light on what believers do with material things.