Articles by

matt b.

Book Review: We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics

By November 4, 2015

Neil J. Young. We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015.

This book might be described as an intellectual genealogy (in the Foucauldian sense) of the conservative religious coalition that has exerted so much gravitational pull in the last forty years of American history. Young argues, in a nutshell, that the electoral coalition often described as the Religious Right was no monolith: rather, it was the result of a thousand small give and takes among the three primary camps he explores: Roman Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and Mormons. Indeed, Young’s careful delineation of distinctions and disjunctures almost persuades me that there is no “Religious Right” at all, merely a series of shifting alliances pivoting, shifting, forming and reforming on issue after issue after issue.

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Scholarly Inquiry: Christine Talbot

By October 14, 2015

Christine Talbot is the author of A Foreign Kingdom: Mormons and Polygamy in American Political Culture, 1852-1890 (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013).  We are delighted that she agreed to an interview with the JI about this important new book.  Christine is Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Gender Studies Program at the University of Northern Colorado.

Yours is the latest entry in a number of books on polygamy in the Utah territory.  What makes yours distinct from, say, Sarah Barringer Gordon’s, or Kathryn Daynes’s?

I think my work builds on the previous work of Sarah Barringer Gordon, Kathryn Daynes, Terryl Givens, and others by bringing in a cultural perspective, especially in terms of anti-Mormon rhetoric. Cultural history led me to different conclusions about the nature of the Mormon question. A cultural history allows us to see what I think is one of the central roots of the Mormon question, issues of American national identity and citizenship. These issues were profoundly gendered in nineteenth century America; citizenship was built on the idea of a masculine public sphere where citizenship was enacted, juxtaposed to a feminine private sphere in the home where future citizens were trained. (However, married women’s property acts and the woman suffrage movement provided ample ammunition to contest the masculinity of citizenship). My book shows that the practice of polygamy upset the historical distinction between public and private in ways that many Americans found troubling precisely because it is a distinction that never held in the first place. Plural marriage denaturalized and deconstructed the distinction between public and private that upheld American ideals of citizenship. That, I think, is one of the things about plural marriage that so upset other Americans.

Having spent so much time with polygamy, what do you think are remaining areas that are worth exploring in relation to it?

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Twelve Thoughts on Raising the Dead

By September 28, 2015


1. Thomas Aquinas
“Those things are properly called miracles which are done by divine agency beyond the order commonly observed in nature.” Summa Contra Gentiles, III

2. Peter Cartwright
This was the most troublesome delusion of all; it made such an appeal to the ignorance superstition and credulity of the people, even saint as well as sinner . . . They would even set the very day that God was to burn the world like the self deceived modem Millerites. They would prophesy that if any one did oppose them God would send fire down from heaven and consume him like the blasphemous Shakers. They would proclaim that they could heal all manner of diseases and raise the dead just like the diabolical Mormons.
The Backwoods Preacher (London: Heylin, 1858), 22.

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JI Summer Book Club: Rough Stone Rolling, Part 6: Chapters 13-15

By June 15, 2015

This is the sixth installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering small chunks of the book in successive weeks through the summer, with new posts appearing Monday mornings. We invite anyone and everyone interested to read along and to use the comment sections on each post to share your own reflections and questions. There are discussion questions below.

• Part 1: Prologue, Chapters 1-2
• Part 2: Chapters 3-4
• Part 3: Chapters 5-6
• Part 4: Chapters 7-9
• Part 5: Chapters 10-12
• Next week (Part 7): Chapters 16-18

Chapter 13: Priesthood and Church Government
Chapter 14: Visitors
Chapter 15: Texts

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“Undone:” The Contours of a Folk Tale

By March 4, 2014

There’s a new Mormon urban legend making the rounds.

You may have heard it before – even from me.

The story goes like this: an infant has been brought to be blessed and given a name in a Mormon sacrament meeting, a public rite of passage initiating the newborn into the community of the congregation, and by extension, into the Church as a whole. The father for whatever reason is unavailable to perform the ceremony, so an elderly relative, generally a grandfather, steps in. The child is brought before the congregation, the old man lays his hands upon it, and promptly ordains the child to priestly office. The blessing ritual has been bungled.

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Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup (7 September 2013); Thunderstruck Edition

By September 8, 2013

The biggest Mormon studies news this week is either that: A) the American Bible Society still exists, and also that 47% of Americans, according to the still-existing American Bible Society, believe that the Book of Mormon and Bible “teach the same spiritual truths.”

Or, B) That TLC is going to grace us with another reality show about a polygamous family.

Shut down the presses, everybody.

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Correlation and the Home, circa 1968

By August 13, 2013

Fugal Priesthood Correlation

This is from John Fugal, A Review of Priesthood Correlation (Provo: BYU Press, 1968). There are any number of interesting points about correlation we can derive from this image, but most fundamental is this: though contemporary Mormons often speak of correlation as the formative era of the modern church, there is much that is foreign to present-day Mormons about material like this.

I want to make two related observations, though I’m sure there’s far more than that we can pick out.

1) Note the names of things. “Priesthood home teaching;” “Priesthood welfare;” “Priesthood missionary work.” Though correlation is often assumed to be somehow ‘secular’ – insofar as it is a form of bureaucratic reorganization and many Americans, steeped in Protestant notions of liberty, tend to find bureaucracy and the sacred a difficult reconciliation – there is intense linguistic effort here to interpret the institutional efforts of correlation as expressly religious. Indeed, according to its advocates and this chart, the purpose of correlation was to reinvigorate those aspects of church organization considered “sacred” – namely, the priesthood hierarchy. Notice how marginalized the auxiliaries are. Correlation was less, then, purely a secularizing force than a reorganization of ideas about the sacred and the secular in Mormon life, a narrowing and focusing of whence the sacred might come.

2) That process also may go a long way, I think, toward explaining the male paternalism of the correlated church. Another striking aspect of this image is its incorporation of the “home” into the structure of the church as another priesthood organization, like the Quorum of the Twelve or the ward. Centering correlation upon priesthood leadership necessarily exalts the status of men in the church, and the way this diagram reads the home is an excellent example.

Brigham Young and the Creation of Mormon Doctrine

By November 24, 2012

Another in the JI’s series of review essays on various aspects of John G. Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

One of the more common tropes in Mormon history is drawing the comparison between Joseph Smith the visionary dreamer and Brigham Young the hard-headed administrator. This is sometimes done with admiration or scholarly satisfaction – faithful Mormons might say that Brigham was precisely what the church needed when Joseph Smith’s assassination left the Mormons dazed and splintering, and sociologists of religion often describe the transition from Joseph Smith’s leadership to Brigham Young’s as a classic case of Weberian routinization of charisma. The dichotomy is also sometimes drawn with a sense of tragedy: many liberal-leaning Mormons imagine Joseph Smith’s Mormonism as a time of exciting intellectual freedom and theological experimentation, and see in Brigham Young the slow settling in of dull institutional authoritarianism and the end of Joseph’s enthusiastic humanism.

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Call For Papers: Mormon History Association 2013 Annual Meeting: “The Crowded Landscape of the Mormon West(s): Agency and Action from the Wasatch Front to the Pacific Rim”

By August 31, 2012

The Call for Papers is below. Please use this thread to, should you desire, make contacts, organize panels, and find other like-minded scholars planning on joining us in 2013

The 48th annual conference of the Mormon History Association will be held in Layton, Davis County, Utah, on June 6-9, 2013. Our theme emphasizes the particular history of Davis County and other early Wasatch Front Mormon settlements, but also invites broad investigation of what “Wests” of all types, times, and places have meant to various branches of the Restoration movement. Further, the idea of multiple Mormon frontiers challenges us to consider Mormonism’s encounters with other groups, cultures, and institutions.

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A New Messenger Has Arrived (with apologies to Tony Kushner)

By July 24, 2012

We’re happy to announce that we’ve added an enlightening new permablogger to our ranks.

Her bio:

Cristine Hutchison-Jones (call me Crissy!) received her BA in American Studies and Religion from Florida State University in 2001, and her PhD in Religious and Theological Studies from Boston University in 2011. She is a cultural and intellectual historian of religion in the United States with a focus on religious intolerance and representations of minorities. Her dissertation, “Reviling and Revering the Mormons: Defining American Values, 1890-2008,” explored images of the Mormons in American news, fiction and non-fiction writing, and television and film. She is the author of “Center and Periphery: Mormons and American Culture in Tony Kushner’s *Angels in America*.”

Welcome, Crissy!

Conference Announcement: Women and the LDS Church

By May 30, 2012

Women and the LDS Church: Historical
and Contemporary Perspectives Conference
August 24 – 25, 2012

Fort Douglas, Officer’s Club Theater
150 S. Fort Douglas Blvd
University of Utah

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Christopher Lasch and the Mormon declension narrative: thoughts on Eric Miller, Hope in a Scattering Time: a life of Christopher Lasch (Eerdmans, 2010)

By April 23, 2012

I discovered Christopher Lasch in the fall of my first year in a PhD program, when I picked up The World of Nations while standing at a booksale table in front of Georgetown’s library. When I saw a chapter on Mormonism in the table of contents I did a double-take; it seemed odd to me still when I ran into my people in foreign venues. Nonetheless, I took the thing home.

Here is what Christopher Lasch wrote about Mormonism, in what turned out to be a rather scathing review of Robert Flanders’s Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi and a Mormon-corporate-empire hack expose by Wallace Turner: “The Mormons are so clearly a pathological symptom that a historian could not address himself to the Mormons, it would seem, without asking himself what sort of society could have produced them.” (Quoted in Miller, 117-118)

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A Conference on How We Think About the Great Apostasy, Coming in March

By January 31, 2012

Please join us for a conference titled “Exploring Mormon Conceptions of Apostasy” to be held on March 1-2, 2012 at Brigham Young University.

The conference schedule is available at

The notion of an apostasy from the primitive gospel and the original church has been a key animating feature in Mormonism since its inception and in other “religions of the book.” Apostasy as a concept, however, has proven to be tremendously fluid, with individual, institutional, communal, and historical meanings and applications all proliferating in religious thought throughout the ages. Fifteen faithful Mormon scholars from many scholarly backgrounds and methodologies, will explore the concept of apostasy in various historical and religious contexts as we consider how to narrate apostasy in ways that remain historically authentic and cohere with Mormon theology. Proceedings will be published by Greg Kofford Press in the series Perspectives on Mormon Theology.

This conference is organized by Miranda Wilcox, assistant professor of English at Brigham Young University, with financial assistance from an Eliza R. Snow Faculty Grant.

Notes on the Pew Survey.

By January 12, 2012

Between October 25 and November 16 of last year, researchers for the Pew Forum interviewed 1,019 Americans who identified themselves as “Mormon.” That point is key.

There was surprise among the researchers and advisory board (including myself), and no doubt among the General Authorities when it turned out that 77% of Mormons in America attend church every week, because it is received common knowledge among most who care about such things that the actual rate of attendance (and tithepaying &etc) is nowhere near this high.

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Review: Charles R. Harrell, “This is my Doctrine”: the development of Mormon theology (Kofford, 2011)

By November 7, 2011

Before I dive into the substance of this review, it’s worth pointing out, I think, a few of the things which are going on beneath its surface. The first is me once again trying to work out the relationship between trained academic scholars and autodidact scholars, and to assess their ongoing discussion about the proper form and the structure of scholarship. This is a popular topic at the JI, which reflects more generally the state of Mormon studies. Many of the points I make below have to do with my judgment of the ways this book holds up as an academic work. A book of this scope and ambition would normally, in an academic setting be a synthesis, weaving together a vast array of work into a single whole by a scholar familiar with the field. But its author is neither a trained theologian nor a trained historian – and, of course, that wide array of secondary literature on the history of Mormon theology simply does not exist. This my mean that we should take its ambitions somewhat differently than we might otherwise. Furthermore – and second – while the work itself certainly has academic aspirations, it also reads in many places as prescriptive as well as descriptive – that is, this is a work of Mormon theology as much as it is a history of Mormon thought. Harrell thinks certain ways of believing are more useful than others, and he seeks to convince us of the fact. This is not bad; indeed, I think Mormonism needs more theology, not less, and I am delighted with Harrell’s contribution to that discussion. But again, it complicates how one might engage with the book as a work of scholarship: how should it be read? Those caveats noted, the review.

Additionally, this essay will appear in a slightly altered form in an upcoming issue of Dialogue. Subscribe!

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Patrick Mason answers your questions

By March 24, 2011

Thanks to Matt and everyone at JI for this opportunity.

For those of us who are interested in Mormon history, particularly in graduate school or the early years of our academic careers, the question of how to position oneself is always a vexed one. I was one who very consciously did NOT want to write a “Mormon dissertation.” That’s why I chose a comparative topic: violence against religious minority groups in the postbellum South. Mormons were one of these groups, but at the time of my dissertation proposal I thought they would represent only a minor aspect of the study. I was as surprised as anyone when they turned out to be the best part of the story, and got twice the coverage in the dissertation and eventually became the centerpiece of my book.

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Scholarly Inquiry: Patrick Mason

By March 11, 2011

Our next Scholarly Inquiry will be with Patrick Mason, who will in the fall assume the Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. We invite you to submit questions for Patrick – on his research, present and past, on his work at Notre Dame, and of course, on the Hunter Chair, below; answers will soon be forthcoming.

Patrick Mason is currently Research Associate Professor at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and Associate Director for Research of a multi-year research initiative called “Contending Modernities: Catholic, Muslim, Secular.” In the fall he will assume his new duties as Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University.

Patrick earned his BA in history at BYU and MA degrees in history and peace studies at Notre Dame, where he also earned his PhD in history, for which he wrote his dissertation, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Mob: Violence against Religious Outsiders in the U.S. South, 1865-1910.” From 2007-2009 he was Assistant Professor of History and Associate Director of the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University in Cairo.

His new book is The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South (Oxford University Press, 2011). He has also published articles on topics including the history of Utah state legislation against interracial marriage, anti-Jewish violence in the South, the role of religion in the African American protest tradition, the possibilities of Mormon peacebuilding, and most recently on theodemocracy in 19th-century Mormonism.

Reassessing: The Refiner’s Fire: the making of Mormon cosmology, 1644-1844

By February 25, 2011

It’s my opinion that the further we get from the publication of John Brooke’s The Refiner’s Fire, a wildly inventive examination of Mormon origins through the lens of various esoteric European -isms (including occultism, the quest for hidden and often mysterical knowledge;  hermeticism, a particular brand of the occult supposedly derived from ancient Egypt and for Brooke basically a restorationist concept that sought to regain Adam’s access to God, and the non -ism alchemy, or the transformation of the mundane into the exalted) the more interesting a book it seems. 

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How Thomas Aquinas’s Theory Of Scripture Explains Why Jimmer Fredette Is The Hinge On Which Modern Mormonism Pivots

By February 9, 2011

(Part whatever of my ongoing investigation into the cultural intersections of religion and basketball; part I, on the intertwining cultural meanings of Mormonism and the Utah Jazz, can be found here; part II, a review of the religious pilgrimage of Cleveland Cavaliers bit player Lance Allred, here; part III, on the Puritan antecedents of LeBron James nemesis Dan Gilbert, here.)

The author of Holy Scripture is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal.   That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it.    Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. For as the Apostle says (Hebrews 10:1) the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and Dionysius says [Coel. Hier. i] “the New Law itself is a figure of future glory.” Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do. Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense.

– Thomas Aquinas,Summa Theologica 1.1.10.

Like Walt Whitman, and Holy Scripture properly understood, Jimmer Fredette contains multitudes. 

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From the Archives: “Mormonism in New York and Utah.”

By January 26, 2011

From Evangelical Christendom 12 (1870), 27.

Evangelical Christendom, published out of London, was the official journal of the World Evangelical Alliance, organized in Britain in 1846 to coordinate and promote evangelical mission work around the globe.  (An American affiliate was organized in New York City in  1847.) The journal was annual, but also comprehensive; routinely hundreds of pages long, containing book reviews, conference reports, missionary dispatches from around the globe, and a section entitled “Foreign Intelligencer,” made up of dispatches from countries around the world on the state of evangelical religion.   “Mormonism in New York and Utah” is one of these.

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