Articles by

matt b.

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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Joseph Smith and Matthew Philip Gill: the dynamics of Mormon schism

By January 18, 2011

Jacob Baker and I discovered the Latter Day Church of Jesus Christ while Bushman summer fellows in 2007.    We spent a lot of time kicking back and forth analysis of this most interesting schism group, and organized an MHA panel around them in 2008.    And, today, the turgid pace of academic publishing has finally reached consummation, and the paper I wrote that summer has been published in the current issue of Nova Religio 14:3 (February 2011) 42-63.

The Latter Day Church is fascinating in part because of how skillfully Matthew Philip Gill engages in prophetic mimesis, replicating the experiences and language of Joseph Smith to create himself as Smith’s heir, calling to repentance the failed church of Salt Lake City and promising a re-invigorated version of Mormon spirituality – one which both invokes Joseph Smith’s charisma anew, but which also rewrites the sacred history of Mormonism in ways that follow the cultural accommodations the LDS church has made.   Gill’s movement is neither sectarian – which seeks to heighten tension with Western culture – nor a church movement – one which seeks to lessen that tension.  Rather, scholars like Armand Mauss and Thomas O’Dea have observed that the LDS Church itself seems to combine both of these impulses, oscillating back and forth along a spectrum of resistance, tension, and accommodation.  Just so, the Latter Day Church of Christ itself seeks to heighten both resistance and accommodation – rejecting, for instance, evidence that Joseph Smith ever practiced polygamy and embracing whole-heartedly the LDS church’s sentimental emphasis upon the family, but also heightening the sort of radical spiritual claims which have become routinized in American Mormonism.   Gill, after all, has had visionary experiences of all the figures Joseph Smith claimed to have encountered, adding a resurrected Joseph himself into the bargain.   As his father (and first counselor) asks derisively of the LDS Church, “We have again an era of prophets.  Proper prophets.  Not people who are just put into position and over time get to be a prophet . . . Where’s the revelation in that?”    And such is a new church born.

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Q&A with Stephen C. Taysom, author of Shakers, Mormons and Religious Worlds: conflicting visions, contested boundaries (part II)

By December 9, 2010

Below is part II of our q&a with Stephen C. Taysom.

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Updated Call for Papers: 3rd Biennial Faith and Knowledge Conference (Update, December 8: Registration Open)

By December 8, 2010

The Intellectual Prospects for Mormonism”: The Third Biennial Faith and Knowledge Conference for LDS Graduate Students in Religion
Duke University
February 11-12, 2011

The Faith and Knowledge conference series was established in 2006 to bring together LDS graduate students and young faculty in religious studies and related disciplines in order to explore the intellectual interactions between religious faith and scholarship.  In past conferences, graduate students have been invited to reflect upon aspects of their own   intellectual reconciliations—or their failures to do so—between church and academy, and to offer fruitful solutions to fellow students undergoing similar intellectual journeys.

In keeping with these past objectives, we invite graduate students in religious studies and related disciplines working on issues related to religion (including philosophy, anthropology, sociology, ethics, history, and others) to consider Mormonism’s prospects. What intellectual and ethical issues do Mormons now face in the academy and in the intellectual world generally?  What are Mormonism’s prospects for development, reconciliation, or heightened conflict?

The conference will feature a keynote address by Grant Hardy, author of Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide.

Papers should be brief, pointed comments of ten to fifteen minutes reflecting the author’s experience and designed to serve as starting points for discussion.

Travel and accommodations subsidies will be available for those who contribute papers.

The deadline for paper proposals has been extended to October 15, 2010. Short proposals (no more than 250 words) should be sent to Ariel Bybee Laughton ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).  Presenters will be notified by December 1, 2010.

Richard Bushman
Jason Combs
Ariel Bybee Laughton
Seth Payne
Taylor Petrey


The upcoming Faith and Knowledge conference for graduate students in Religious Studies is now accepting participant registration for those not giving papers.  The 2011 conference schedule should soon be finalized and made available to those who register.  In the past, qualified registrants have been eligible for a free hotel room for the duration of the conference in order to make it easier for graduate students to attend.  The $25 registration fee helps pay for the conference expenses.  Register here.

Q&A with Stephen C. Taysom, author of Shakers, Mormons and Religious Worlds: conflicting visions, contested boundaries (part I)

By December 7, 2010

Over the past two months, Matt Bowman and Steve Taysom have had an ongoing dialogue about Taysom’s new book, in part in response to your questions.  Part I is below; part II will come Thursday.

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Welcome, Max

By September 14, 2010

We’re pleased to announce that Max Mueller has agreed to join the permanent cast of the Juvenile Instructor. His name shall soon materialize on the sidebar. Again, with new and improved plaudits and laud, his bio:

Max Perry Mueller is a PhD candidate in American religious history at Harvard University, focusing on nineteenth century Mormonism and African American religious history. He is also a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School (M.T.S.) and Carleton College. His current research project involves early black Mormon pioneers to Salt Lake. He is excited to find interlocutors on all things Mormon, especially issues of race in the Restored Church (to which, quoting Booker T. Washington following his own 1913 visit to Utah, he has “not yet converted”).

Set Aside Whether Or Not Mormon Fundamentalists Are Mormon. The Better Question Is, Are They Fundamentalist?

By July 13, 2010

A lot of people would say no,

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“Some things that are true are not very useful:” a vindication.

By April 1, 2010

Part II in the JI’s ongoing series on secularism and religious education.

I am recently, and demonstrably, interested in the ways in which Mormons think about what history is, and how it is manufactured, and why, exactly, we care so much about it. As you are probably aware, Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles recently delivered at Harvard Law School an address titled “The Fundamental Premises of our Faith.” Generally speaking, he delivered, offering a reasonable primer of the basics of contemporary LDS doctrine and church life: from an embodied God and eternal progression to wards and to nobody’s surprise, marriage. But more than merely outlining the Gospel Principles manual, throughout the entire talk – oftentimes glancingly, but occasionally explicitly – Oaks enunciated a particular way of thinking about information, and from whence it is derived, and how it is organized into knowledge, and about how all these things relate to God that, I think, we can use to understand more deeply the position of those ranks of General Authorities of the church who have spoken most notoriously on the writing of church history in the past thirty years or so, on how the writing of Mormon history should be understood.

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Glenn Beck, Jim Wallis, Sally Quinn’s On Faith and social justice: a collective failure of imagination

By March 12, 2010

Look, in lots of ways, Glenn Beck is a loon. A loon poorly informed by history, at that. But plowing through the veritable scads of secondary material on my dissertation topic (Protestant fundamentalism) has driven one particular truth pretty well home to me: there’s nothing so destructive to a piece of academic writing as a slightly concealed sneer on an author’s face. Concluding that any particular individual or group is so hopelessly drenched in wingnuttery or disappointing political positions or slavish and bewildering adherence to the blindingly goofy that they are no longer worthy of intelligent analysis is to abdicate the responsibility to understand ourselves that the humanities as a discipline lays upon us. Heck, even for activists (as opposed to scholars), to malign and snarl and taunt the representatives of a cause one finds objectionable is to make the classic mistake of treating the symptom as the disease. Which is why I was not terribly impressed with Jim Wallis’s response to Glenn Beck’s by now blaringly well covered advice to Christians: that they should investigate their faith for the dread and dire words “social justice,” (aka, “Progressivism” (Beck’s definition); aka collectiivsm; aka fascism; aka hurting puppies) and if that mark of the beast should be located, flee for the hills.

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Book review: Mitch Horowitz. Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation. New York: Bantam Books, 2009.

By March 2, 2010

This review, in a slightly different format, will appear in an upcoming issue of The Journal of Mormon History. Grateful acknowledgment to Boyd Petersen, that publication’s book review editor, for permission to publish here is hereby pronounced.

Mitch Horowitz has written an often gleefully fascinating book.

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Guest Blogger: Max Mueller

By February 28, 2010

We’re pleased to welcome a distinguished and honorable new guest blogger to the fold. Put your hands together for Max.

Max Perry Mueller is a PhD candidate in American religious history at Harvard University, focusing on nineteenth century Mormonism and African American religious history. He is also a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School (M.T.S.) and Carleton College. His current research project involves early black Mormon pioneers to Salt Lake. He is excited to find interlocutors on all things Mormon, especially issues of race in the Restored Church (to which, quoting Booker T. Washington following his own 1913 visit to Utah, he has “not yet converted”).

History “thrown into divinity” – some thoughts on faith, the past, and the historical profession

By December 11, 2009


One of Max Weber’s more evocative phrases is the “disenchantment of the world.” I like it because it does not refer only to the numbing birth of bloodless bureaucracy, to humans in increasingly rationalized aggregate, but also to us as individuals of mind and creativity. The lucid organization of the world as a place human comprehension might master changed our vision, our psyche, and our imagination. The Enlightenment was thus a revolution of the aesthetic and the numinous as much as of knowledge and epistemology.

I want to talk a little bit about how this applies to history, by which I mean not only the sort of narratives and analyses of the past that humans accept as authoritative, but the extent to which we ascribe existential meaning and use to them. We today expect history to be constructed according to a certain set of principles, ways of running the wiring and cranking the engine that we learned from the Enlightenment. But here, I want to float the notion that history may not be a car in the first place.

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Call for advice: JI as Listserv

By October 27, 2009

The following emerges from the office of one of our readers, who currently teaches American history at a university in a state that rhymes with ‘Nassachusetts.’

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