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Application Deadline Extended for Wheatley Seminar

By March 14, 2015

Advanced undergraduate and graduate students are invited to apply to participate in a three week seminar from June 22-July 10 in Provo, Utah, surveying early Christian thought, Mormon theological foundations, contemporary social issues– and how we might find connections among all three. A rare opportunity to integrate the sometimes esoteric realms of Mormon theology with the practical, lived reality of our political engagement in the real world. Generous stipend for those selected.

Click here to download the attachments for more details and application instructions. The deadline has been extended from March 15 to March 22.



2015 Wheatley Seminar – Call for Applications

By January 16, 2015

Announcing the 2nd Annual Wheatley 2015:

The 2nd Annual Wheatley “Faith Seeking Understanding” summer seminar will run from June 22 through July 10, 2015.  It is being sponsored by the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University and is under the direction of Professor Terryl Givens, Wheatley Fellow and Professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond. From the announcement:

What are the general contours of Christianity’s efforts to find a marriage of belief and intellect? Does Mormonism face the same challenges as the broader Christian tradition? What are the contributions of Mormon theology to current debates in the political and cultural realms? How reasonable are LDS positions on the family, marriage, pro-life and end of life issues? Is the Mormon theological tradition an asset or a handicap in the public sphere? With what mix of revealed truth and rational discourse can Mormons best address these issues in public debate?

Students in the seminar will spend three weeks addressing these and related questions. Along the way they will survey illustrative moments in Christianity’s engagement with secularism, and examine pivotal Mormon theological understanding of such concepts as agency, the eternal soul, embodiment, and human potential and purpose. Invited guests from inside and outside the Mormon tradition will share experiences related to religiously informed participation in the public square. The purpose is to foster Latter-day Saints who are better equipped to participate effectively in society-wide conversations where LDS values are relevant and at stake. The seminar will culminate with student-authored position papers to be presented in a public symposium.

The Wheatley will provide $1500 stipend to seminar participants, along with a housing allowance. The seminar will meet on Brigham Young University campus for two hours a day, generally four days a week. Students will be expected to devote full time to the seminar during its three week duration. Applications are invited from upper level undergraduates or graduate students in all disciplines.


Additional details and an application form can be found by clicking the title above. The application deadline is March 15, 2015 and notifications will go out by March 31, 2015.

A Review of Sheri Dew’s “Women and the Priesthood”

By December 23, 2013

Sheri Dew’s recently released Women and the Priesthood: What One Mormon Woman Believes (Deseret 2013) comes on the heels of an eventful year for liberal Mormon women. The day(s) of Pants, the petitions for women to pray in conference, and the launching of Ordain Women’s official site, among other events, have provoked widespread discussion on the well-worn but still dimly understood topic of women and the priesthood.

Women and the Priesthood, despite the title, isn’t so much an attempt to answer questions about women’s lack of priesthood authority (ordination), the nature of the priesthood, or the relationship between gender and the priesthood, so much as it is an attempt to discuss women’s general status and participation in the Church. This is important to note, since readers approaching the book with the former questions in mind will most likely be disappointed. Dew dedicates only one chapter to the topic of women and the priesthood, packed between seven other “contextual” or “foundation-laying” chapters, which highlight ways women should understand their eternal role, identity, and relationship to God and the Church.

It is clear early on that Dew’s imagined audience is split between those who think women have no significance in the Church (i.e. uninformed outsiders or members who are missing the picture) and those wishing to defend women’s current position in LDS belief and practice. As a result of this polarization, a considerable population is excluded: active, faithful members who are uneasy with or puzzled about the relationships between women, gender, and the priesthood, as currently practiced or discussed by the Church.

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“I believe in women, especially thinking women.”

By March 15, 2013

– Emmeline B. Wells, Exponent,  Vol. 3 (Sept. 1874), No. 9


In his book Enlightenment Contested, Jonathan Israel argues that the first “revolutions”  were not, in fact, political rebellions; “revolution” referred to new epistemic frameworks caused by the likes of Galilean, Copernican, Newtonian, and Cartesian paradigm shifts. These new conceptual models laid the groundwork for later political reforms; in Condorcet’s concise maxim: “only philosophy can cause a true revolution.”  One of the reasons I have focused my research on 18th century European intersections of gender and religion is because of this very notion: that beliefs matter. And when people challenge or reinterpret the status quo, interesting things happen.

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2013 Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture with Terryl Givens

By January 12, 2013

I am feeling the stirrings of envy as I see advertisements for the annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture. Rules about repeating seminars prohibit me from jumping at the chance to immerse myself for six weeks in explorations of the theology and history of spiritual gifts, ordinances, and priesthood authority in LDS thought. That triad is impossibly juicy, and I’m anxious to see what presentations and papers emerge out of this year’s group.

Terryl Givens is conducting this summer’s session (June 3 – July 12, 2013), which continues the series started by Richard Bushman and hosted by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute over fifteen years ago. The first series of summer seminars on “Joseph Smith and His Times” ran from 1997 to 2002.  In 2003 Claudia Bushman conducted a seminar on “Mormon Women in the Twentieth Century.”  In recent years, Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens have expanded the Joseph Smith seminar series to broader topics, such as “Mormon Thought 1845-1890: Dealing with the Joseph Smith Legacy;” and “Mormon Thinkers 1890 to 1930,” and with the help of Matthew Grow, “Parley and Orson Pratt and 19th-century Mormon Thought.” The last two summers, Richard Bushman organized the seminar around the history and context of the golden plates, and this summer, Terryl Givens will be picking back up the history of Mormon thought with “Workings of the Spirit and Works of the Priesthood: Gifts and Ordinances in LDS Thought and Practice.”

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Mulling over Missions and Metrics

By October 11, 2012

With the buzz of the new missionary-age announcement still ringing throughout the blogs, I couldn’t help but muse over the different consequences and implications many are anticipating through this change.

I had a discussion with some friends today over the possibility of further changes we might see in the missionary program’s future.

Female AP’s? Not likely.  Equalizing two-year lengths for all? Perhaps.  Pantsuits? Why not.  De-quantification?

Hm…probably never.

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Rediscovering Wagonloads of Plates

By August 13, 2012

In 1843, a woman named Ann Essam willed the sum of her estate “for and towards the printing and publishing and propagation of the sacred writings of the late Joanna Southcott.”[1] The plebian Southcott claimed to receive revelations and prophecies from God, and heightened the intrigue when an inner voice told her to seal some of the writings until a time of great danger and global distress.[2]

Essam wasn’t the only one to donate funds to cryptic projects.

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[Belated] Father’s Day– “Just Where Does He Belong?”

By June 21, 2012

In [belated] honor of Father’s Day, I’m including a poem I came across from the 1921 Improvement Era:

All people render homage
To the mothers of the race.
Each child can feel a mother’s love,
For none can fill her place:
But what about true fatherhood,
So noble, kind, yet strong—
The father who each day toils on,
Just where does he belong?

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Revisiting the Impossible Question – Part II

By April 6, 2012

And…the objections :

Firstly, her claim that gender is nothing but a construct based on a discourse of power, and sex is but a mysterious part of our eternal identity, leaves nothing clearly meaningful in the concepts of maleness and femaleness. This approach seems to elide differences, as others from the Mexican nun Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, to Mary Wollstonecraft, have attempted to do. To me, it is clear that Mormon doctrine is fully committed to the concept of differentiation, and the idea that being male or female is an eternal part of our identity (or in other words, that sex and gender are inextricably linked, if not the same thing). Our doctrine of Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father, the temple narrative that is so grounded in the crowning union of male and female and the creation-wide participation in procreation and regeneration*, the creation narrative steeped in organizing matter and creating order by separation, differentiation, opposition, and the underlying narrative of the plan of salvation that begins and ends with a family of male and female parents—not to mention the explicit Proclamation on the Family—confirm this binary. But if, as Flake and others say, gender is constructed, and sexual differentiation is evolutionary, what is the binary on which creation, exaltation, and eternal marriage are constructed, and which persists through the eternities as an element in our identity? With such a paradigm, are we left with anything at all?

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Revisiting the Impossible Question- Part I

By April 6, 2012

Last post, I offered some musings about the supposedly “impossible question” I posed to Kathleen Flake at the Methodist-Mormon conference back in February, regarding the definition of femininity and masculinity. At the time, neither the question nor the answer seemed to satisfy either of us, so Dr. Flake kindly offered to follow up with me later to continue the conversation. It was a thought-provoking conversation, and after giving it more thought, I’ve come back to the drawing board with more questions and ideas.

By way of quick summary, I had asked Kathleen Flake to define masculinity and femininity in a way that

a) did not reduce them to mere sexual characteristics or biological difference (which, on its own, seems void of real significance, and furthermore, seems difficult to untangle from temporal causes like evolutionary strategies, which don’t seem to be necessary in a pre or post mortal existence)

b) did not reduce them to character attributes (which seem to boil down to characteristics that should ultimately be universally shunned [coarseness, aggression, emotional neediness, etc.], or universally cultivated [compassion, gentleness, creativity, reason])

c) explains the necessary synthesis of a male and female counterpart for the state of exaltation (as prescribed by doctrines regarding the necessity of temple marriage sealings as we now understand them: monogamous, male-female spousal units)

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Thoughts on Gender in Mormon Theology – stemming from Mormon and Protestant Encounters

By February 27, 2012

Rachael has a BA in history from Brigham Young University, is currently slaving away working in a law office in Washington DC, and is waiting to hear back about graduate schools this Fall. This post ushers in her guest-posting stint with JI.

“Gender is a modern invention,” Kathleen Flake declared yesterday at the Crossroads conference. Any logical discussion of the question of gender in Mormon theology was therefore declared “impossible.” At least that’s how I and dozens of others understood her response that wasn’t a response to my query on the subject.

Today at Stake Conference, Elder Scott spoke of the sanctity of womanhood, and the need for men to appreciate and affirm women who “magnify” the divine endowment of feminine traits they have been given.

Clearly, the theological place and meaning of gender is a massively tangled bramble bush of an issue, and this post is in no way meant to resolve the question I posed to Kathleen Flake yesterday as to what exactly constitutes “femininity” and “masculinity” in our eternal identity, and what implications these notions can have beyond the mortal realm and particularly in exaltation. This matter, of course, also has direct bearing on the controversy surrounding traditional and same-sex marriage, and I firmly believe that the Church needs a clear explanation of what gender is and why the particular synthesis of one man and one woman is the divinely ordained model, in order to offer more compelling defenses (theologically, at least) for traditional marriage. (I won’t countenance polygamy in this discussion as a potential arrangement in the afterlife. We can argue about that premise in another post).

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