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Mormon Studies in the Classroom: On Being Sensitive

By May 5, 2014

When Ben announced his intention for a new series about teaching Mormonism, it dovetailed nicely with something I’ve been thinking about. Back in 2012, I taught a class on Mormonism at my university in Germany. This past semester, I attended one at the University of Utah. Besides the obvious difference of being a student vs being a teacher, something else came up time and time again: how although the locations couldn’t be more different, both courses exhibited a certain kind of sensitivity that was oddly similar.

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By May 4, 2014

This week, I have a series of eclectic links for you:

–The LDS Church donated $1.5 million to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. The museum is set to open in 2016 and sounds well worth a visit!

–Remember when the American Bible Society did a survey on American Bible reading habits? Mormons came off less-than-favorably, despite their long-held devotion to the KJV. Stacie Duce of the Deseret News addresses that issue here. (The original report can be downloaded as a pdf here.)

–NPR did an interview with Neon Trees, “the Mormon band who made it big,” on Provo, honesty, being LDS, and the occasional song lyric.

–The Salt Lake Tribune talks about why the increase in missionaries since the age change has not led to an increase in baptisms per se.

–For Utah history buffs, check out the KUED documentary “Courthouse” about Utah law and the Mormon-non-Mormon legal relationship. The Salt Lake Tribune heralds it as engaging and lively, so there you go.

–LDS and Seven Day Adventist leaders met to discuss social media, religious freedom, and the importance of keeping young people in the church.

Anything we missed? Add your links in the comments!

Gardening at Temple Square

By March 18, 2014

In his introductory post to Religious “Practice” month here at JI, Ryan touched on the many ways ritual and practice informs Mormon lives, from the formal ordinances to the less formal expressions of lived religion, like hair wreaths or sacrament bread. Today’s post is about one of those informal practices, namely gardening, and more specifically, gardening at Temple Square.

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Truth, fiction, or both?

By February 27, 2014

The other day I was reading two articles published in BYU Studies for the Mormonism class I’m taking here at the U, both by Chad M. Orton. The one deals with Francis Webster, a member of the Martin handcart company, the other with the Sweetwater River rescue.[1] As I read them, I was constantly struck how they were almost devotional in nature, something that didn’t make sense to me as a scholar until I took a step back.

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Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup

By February 23, 2014

For your enjoyment, this week’s edition of the MSWR.

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Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup

By January 26, 2014

For this week’s edition of the MSWR, I have all kinds of lovely links for your perusal.

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on chewing gum and conversion stories

By January 17, 2014

In reading a collection of German Mormon WWII stories  for a project,[1] I came across a story told by the Uchtdorfs. Both Dieter and Harriet Uchtdorf were not members by birth; rather, their families converted after the war. President Uchtdorf’s grandmother was actually the one to encounter Mormonism first, when she met “a wonderful white-haired lady with a kind expression on her face” while standing in line one day (queuing up for supplies, any supplies, was part of post-war life for many Europeans, Germans included). 

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Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup

By November 10, 2013

We have a lot of links to share this week, so I’m going to dive right in.

For those of you curious about other faiths and in need of more direct contact with believers than the Internet can give you, there’s now “speed faithing.” (Yes, that is a reference to speed dating.) KSL reports this is happening at college campuses around the country: participants have ten minutes to talk about their faith to interested listeners. Coming soon to a campus near you, perhaps.

On a political front, two links talking about the Mormon contribution to the gay rights bill passed on Monday: one from the Post, one from the NY Times.

The 2013-2014 list of Nibley Fellows includes two of our own: Joey Stuart and Jordan Watkins. Congratulations to all.

Buzzfeed weighs in on the “post-Mormon moment” moment: “Although Mormonism isn’t in the spotlight like it was a year ago, it’s more a part of the national conversation than it was before Romney’s candidacy, and how the faith is perceived, both inside and outside the church, has changed.”

The Orlando Sentinel announced that the LDS Church will soon own 2% of Florida with its recent purchase of over 300,000 acres. It is hailed as a “transaction between two of Florida’s largest and most committed land stewards [and] a meaningful reminder of the economic and ecological value of agriculture in our state.” The land will continue to be used for agricultural and timber purposes.

The Salt Lake Tribune featured a short piece on food storage, for those of you interested in the practice or perhaps needing a reminder to work on your own: “After two wars, numerous natural disasters and an economic downturn, Americans suddenly have a voracious appetite for survival skills. They’re researching underground bunkers, buying freeze-dried food and watching television reality shows like “Doomsday Preppers.” But long before “prepping” became popular, faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had mastered the art of food storage and emergency preparedness.”

Mother of six Michelle Mumford is the new dean of admissions at BYU law school. Vivia Chen interviews Mumford at about motherhood, the law, and BYU. Mumford acknowledges the pressures facing Utah working women from inside the Mormon community, but also says, “I think I have a story that will help attract women. I can show women what the possibilities are: If you want to work, you can. . . . [But] it will be a while before it’s the norm.” (The law school is currently 39% female.)

If you’ve been reading the blog, you’re aware that November is National Native American Heritage Month. The National Archives has a page of resources for those wanting to learn more, both in and out the classroom. Worth your while.

Lastly, the Church announced that the general Relief Society and Young Women meetings currently held on the Saturday before General Conference will now be replaced by a semi-annual general women’s meeting, including Primary girls age 8 and up. Deseret News writes about the change here. Interestingly enough, this is a return to the past: the separate meetings were started in 1993.

Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup (MSWR)

By October 6, 2013

For your reading pleasure during this General Conference weekend.

What better place to begin than Elder Christofferson’s September 24th devotional address at BYU I, titled “The Prophet Joseph Smith” (transcript here). Christofferson spoke about the work done on the Joseph Smith Papers Projects, as well as advocating for a more complete (but always Spirit-led) understanding of Joseph Smith himself. For a summary of the talk, see the Maxwell Institute’s blog (the post is aptly titled, ” A little learning is a dangerous thing,” … so get a lot of it instead”).

At an October 2 talk at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, Mitt Romney spoke critically of the government shutdown, but also made it very clear that he would not run for president a third time. As reported by Deseret News:

“I’ve had two bites at the apple. Three strikes and you’re out,” he said. … “Running for president and losing still was one of the greatest experiences of my life,” he said. “Winning or losing is not how you define success. It is what you give your life to.”

Speaking of the University of Utah, this semester, students have the opportunity to take a special kind of Book of Mormon class. The class, which deals with the Book of Mormon as a literary product, is taught by David Bokovoy, an associate instructor with a PhD in Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East from Brandeis University.  According to the Salt Lake Tribune, “The course, sponsored by the donation-funded Tanner Humanities Center and taught by David Bokovoy, examines how the book mimics the Bible in language and tone, and how the story fits as a piece of 19th-century American literature.”

For anyone looking to learn more about the Ordain Women movement, Dialogue Magazine is offering a  virtual round table, featuring Emily W. Jensen, Chelsea Shields Strayer, Lisa Butterworth, Neylan McBaine, and Saren Eyre Loosli. Check it out here.

The Atlantic takes on mythologies surrounding the female reproduction system, including an LDS instructional manual titled, Living, Loving, and Marrying in their analysis. The manual referred to menstruation as “the weeping of a disappointed womb”–medically inaccurate, perhaps, but fully reflective of its time.

Lastly, the Bunyion offers readers a solution to the government shutdown: let the LDS Church run the country. No word on Obama’s response, as yet.

On Pop Culture Plates

By September 14, 2013

Last year, for the annual summer seminar on Mormon culture, I wrote a paper on the gold plates in the popular imagination. It was one of the most fun papers I’ve ever had cause to write (and I’m in cultural studies, so I get to write about a lot of fun stuff). For today’s quick Saturday post, I wanted to share with you some of the images I found.[1]

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Series Introduction: Material Culture

By September 2, 2013

Though there’s a tendency in many religious circles to think of materialism, of owning objects, as something less-than-good, an attachment to the world perhaps, or a clear failure to follow Jesus’ directives in Luke 18:22,[1] objects aid religiosity in singularly effective ways. Being religious encompasses much more than scripture mastery, Sunday school lessons learned and internalized, the ability to recite a certain creed or, in a Mormon context, to be able to affirm the Articles of Faith or pass a temple recommend interview. And while material culture has a societal function in general,[2] material culture that expresses religion has its own special signifiers. Material culture of all kinds helps people learn the specific discourse and narratives of their religious communities, as new generations relearn symbolic systems through seeing, touching, and doing. If we look at specific Christian images, we see how they can help shape religion: a Catholic might hang a crucifix, while a Protestant sets more stock in a lavish family Bible, and a Mormon has the “Proclamation on the Family” displayed. Whatever the object, it is used to construct and reinforce meaning. The process of constructing meaning is a ecumenical one and crosses faith lines quite easily, yet the meaning encoded into the object is highly specific. This explains why a Catholic First Communion at seven years old is at the same time similar to a Mormon baptism at age eight (the white clothes, the age at which the ritual happens, the solemnity and preparation) and yet so very different for the participants themselves.

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BYU and the 1984 National Championship

By August 8, 2013

As part of this month’s series on 20th century Mormonism, I’d like to take a brief glance at BYU and the 1984 National Championship. For those unfamiliar with 1980s sports history, BYU won the national championship for the very first time in 1984. As a 2009 article puts it, “I can’t think of a more unlikely national champion … an unranked (preseason) team from a non-power conference.” I refer you to the article for an analysis of games played; today, I’m going to give you a few media perspectives on the win.

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New Guidelines for Missionaries

By July 19, 2013

In March, I wrote about the disrepancy in the guidelines for male and female missionaries. In light of the new guidelines, recently released, I’d like to revisit that post. In a nutshell, I argued that the disrepancy in guidelines demonstrated a difference in thinking about male and female missionaries.

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Baptizing the royal family

By June 29, 2013

This post is part of International Mormonism month.

A little over a year ago, newspaper headlines in the Netherlands read:

Screen shot 2013-06-29 at 11.35.39 AM

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Pinning the Mormon Image: on Mormon (non)distinctiveness

By May 23, 2013

Last September, I wrote about the Mormon “hey girl” meme as a signifier of Mormon culture. I’d like to continue in that vein today when talking about Mormon pins on Pinterest.

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Mormonism and McDonald’s

By May 6, 2013

While doing some background research on global Mormonism, I came across two Dialogue articles: Michael J. Cleverely’s “Mormonism on the Big Mac Standard” by and James B. Allen’s “On Becoming a Universal Church: Some Historical Perspectives.”[1] Discussing “America’s role as a catalyst in the spread of Mormonism” (Allen 19) can be tricky, but whatever conclusion you reach on that regard, it is not hard to see American terms in the transmission of the gospel. Allen describes one cultural misunderstanding,

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Of Mormons and Baseball

By April 16, 2013

I make it out to the US most summers, but when I don’t, there is one thing I miss more than absolutely anything: a baseball game. I have many fond memories of exciting baseball games in the heat of summer, cheering on my beloved Oakland A’s or San Francisco Giants (we’re equal opportunity Bay Area supporters at my house). And since April is the month of Opening Day, I thought I’d round up something about Mormons and baseball.

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Guidelines for (sister) missionaries

By March 28, 2013

As a non-Mormon studying Mormons, I’ve been visited by my fair share of sister missionaries. I enjoy their visits and love hearing about their experiences, even if I have remained firmly unconvertable up till now. For that reason, when the new age restrictions for missionaries were announced last General Conference, and I read about the dress and grooming standards for missionaries, I was curious, and spent an hour or so browsing the site. For my contribution to Women’s History Month, I’d like to tie together some of my thoughts on that front.

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Food and Faith

By February 25, 2013

I spend a lot of my time thinking about food. My kitchen reflects my dual citizenship: I enjoy both Kraft macaroni and cheese and a good Dutch “mashpot“,1 and now that I live in Germany, I eat the occasional bratwurst. I know firsthand how picking and choosing your ingredients in the grocery store can both reflect and shape your identity. (Not to mention the ribbing you receive for bringing PB&J sandwiches to school here–that combination grosses Dutch kids out and will get you exiled from the lunch table fast.)

I’m teaching a course on food and faith in American culture next semester, and preparing for that got me thinking about (American) Mormon food culture. And when one thinks about Mormonism and food, one thinks about Jell-O. I’ve had so many Mormons tell me they don’t like Jell-O, or that it didn’t really feature in their lives growing up, or that they don’t consider it particularly Mormon. On the other hand, when I first arrived in Provo last summer, my roommates were doing Jell-O shots at a house party (obviously the non-alcoholic kind). And at the dinner that kicked off the summer seminar, Jell-O salad was served. So what’s a non-Mormon like me to think on that score?

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Come, Come, Ye Saints: the International Version

By January 25, 2013

As part of my dissertation on the ritualization of Mormon history, I have been researching the use of pioneer symbolism in both mainstream American and Mormon public memory. I’ve put together some basic thoughts on this subject for this post today, my third guest post here at Juvenile Instructor. You can find the others here and here.

The concept of public memory is central to what I want to talk about today. By this, I mean the ideas that a people may have about their history, ideas that help a society not only understand its past, but more importantly also its present and future. It reveals essential issues present in every society: issues of organization, of power structures, of the actual meaning of past and present as experienced by different societal groups. I’m operating on the premise that ultimately, how we think about the past is grounded in how we think about the present. Shaping public memory is a contested practice and involves a struggle for authority and domination between ideologies (Bodnar 13), often expressing itself as a conflict between ‘official cultures’ (civic and business leaders, for example) and ‘vernacular cultures’ (‘ordinary people’) [2].

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