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Book and Journal Reviews

Is Mormon History Global History? Mormonism in Jürgen Osterhammel’s The Transformation of the World

By February 17, 2016


k10179One of my very first posts at the Juvenile Instructor (nearly nine years ago!) asked whether Mormon History was American History, surveying the inclusion of Mormonism in two of the most significant treatments of Jacksonian America—Charles Sellers’s The Market Revolution and Sean Wilentz’s The Rise of American DemocracyA year later, I took a closer look at Daniel Walker Howe’s handling of Mormonism in his (then) recently-published What Hath God Wrought.

Shortly after that, in 2009 German historian Jürgen Osterhammel published Die Verwandlung der Welt. Eine Geschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, which was subsequently translated into English and published by Princeton University Press in 2012 as The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century. To call Osterhammel’s book ambitious is an understatement — it numbers nearly 1200 pages (over 250 more than Howe’s hefty tome) and is truly global in scope. The author describes it in the book’s preface as “a rich and detailed but structured, nontrivial, and nonschematic account of a crucial period in the history of humanity” (xiii). While many Mormons might consider Joseph Smith’s visions, the publication of the Book of Mormon, and the establishment of the Church of [Jesus] Christ [of Latter-day Saints] in 1830 as among the most important events of that crucial period, I was curious what mention (if any) Mormonism would receive in the book.

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Previewing 2016: Looking Ahead to Forthcoming Books in Mormon History

By January 6, 2016


A few weeks ago I highlighted the year of 2015 in Mormon historiography. But I’m not here to talk about the past. In this post, I highlight a number of books I’m especially excited to see published in 2016. This list is not comprehensive—it’s nigh impossible to keep track of everything in the Mormon publishing world—but I hope it captures a taste of what we have in store over the next twelve months.

Even beyond this next year, there is still a lot more to be excited about. Kathleen Flake’s book on gender, power, and Mormon polygamy and Laurel Ulrich’s book on polygamous women’s diaries are certainly going to shake the field, but they are not quite ready for release. (Word is Ulrich’s book is in the pipeline for a year from now, though, and should arrive by AHA 2017). And we all know the works-in-progress by stars like Spencer Fluhman, Quincy Newell, Steve Taysom, and others that we eagerly anticipate. But I think we have enough here to satiate our appetite.

Without further ado…

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Compatability, Conflict, and Community – Review of Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings

By December 9, 2015


pants quilt

Nikki Hunter’s beautiful “Sunday Morning” quilt (“The Pants Quilt”) adorns the cover of the new Oxford Press Publication Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright. The quilt is accompanied by this note: “On December 16, 2012, Mormon feminists around the world took action to raise the visibility of feminist issues by wearing pants to local LDS Church Services….Although not officially prohibited, pants-wearing by women at Sunday services jarred with deeply held gendered dress customs in many Mormon communities around the globe.” (xi) Women who participated sent their trousers to Hunter, who created a material sign of their community. The front cover encourages us to begin to think about Mormon feminism in terms of female identity, activism, and the place of community on a global scale.

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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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New Journal of Mormon History Issue, Featuring a Roundtable on John Brooke’s REFINER’S FIRE

By October 30, 2015


JMH CoverThe latest issue of Journal of Mormon History is hot off the press this week and is now available to download for those of you who are members of the Mormon History Association. (And if you’re not a member, you can fix that right now.) Below are the articles in the issue:

  • RoseAnn Benson, “Alexander Campbell: Another Restorationist”
  • Nancy S. Kader, “The Young Democrats and Hugh Nibley at BYU”
  • Gregory A. Prince, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Historical Context: How a Historical Narrative Became Theological”
  • Gary James Bergera, “Memory as Evidence: Dating Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages to Louisa Beaman, Zina Jacobs, and Presendia Buell”
  • Elise Boxer, “The Lamanites Shall Blossom as the Rose: The Indian Student Placement Program, Mormon Whiteness, and Indigenous Identity”

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JI Summer Book Club: Rough Stone Rolling, Part 8: Chapters 19-21

By July 6, 2015


This is the eighth 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.

Installments:

  • 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
  • Part 6: Chapters 13-15
  • Part 7: Chapters 16-18
  • Next week (Part 9): Chapters 22-24

 

32493_000_01_Title.qxdIn the previous installment of the summer book club, Tona brought us through early January 1838, when, acting on a revelation, Joseph Smith (JS) fled Kirtland, Ohio, and reestablished the church’s headquarters in Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri. As chapter 19 begins, Bushman lays out JS’s vision of the burgeoning Mormon settlement in northwestern Missouri and the palpable optimism that the Saints felt regarding Far West’s prospects. However, as 1838 progressed, that optimism would fade in the face of internal dissension and external opposition, ultimately resulting in the violent deaths of perhaps forty church members, the government-sanctioned expulsion of the Latter-day Saints from the state, and JS himself incarcerated on charges of treason and other crimes. Sifting through an uneven historical record, Bushman seeks to evaluate JS’s role and responsibility in these difficulties.

The internal dissent that had plagued JS and the church in Kirtland in 1837 followed him to Missouri. In February 1838, church members voted to remove David Whitmer, W. W. Phelps, and John Whitmer as the presidency of the Missouri church, based on charges of mishandling church funds and properties. In March and April, church courts excommunicated the Whitmers, Phelps, and Oliver Cowdery, another church leader. These men had been among JS’s earliest and staunchest supporters, but by 1838 they had become estranged from the prophet. Cowdery had objected to what he saw as un-republican ecclesiastical interference in personal affairs. Bushman uses Cowdery’s trial as “a reminder of the complex ideological environment of Mormons in the 1830s. Most of the time they spoke Kingdom of God language, using words like ‘faith,’ ‘righteousness,’ ‘Zion,[’] ‘gathering,’ ‘priesthood,’ and ‘temple.’ At the same time, as American citizens, they knew the political language of rights and freedom” (348). Although JS himself used republican language when declaring that the Mormons would not submit to mob violence, he was less enthusiastic when his followers used it to undermine Latter-day Saint beliefs in consecration and unity.

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JMH Special Issue on Race: A Brief Introduction

By July 2, 2015


When I composed the introduction to the special edition of the Journal of Mormon History (July 2015), I described the study of race and Mormonism as a “nice subject, historically obscure even within the Mormon studies world.” But boy have I been proven wrong, or at least behind the times!

Anyone attending last month’s Mormon History Association annual meeting in Provo, where many of the panels dealt with race (broadly conceived) and the restored church—not to mention the powerful Smith-Pettit plenary by Margaret Jacobs on the adoption of Native American Children by Mormon families as well as the Best Book Award going to Russell Stevenson’s documentary history on people of African descent and Mormonism—would recognize that race has become a major preoccupation for the corner of Mormon studies that MHA represents.

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JI Summer Book Club: Rough Stone Rolling, Part 7: Chapters 16-18

By June 22, 2015


This is the seventh 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.

Installments:
• 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
• Part 6: Chapters 13-15
• Next week (Part 8): Chapters 19-21

Sparse comments last week suggest some understandable mid-book fatigue (it IS hefty, after all, and it IS the busy part of the summer for most of us), but never fear – just jump right back in. Chapters 16-18 form, in many ways, the emotional heart of Bushman’s biography and a microcosm of the thorny problems inherent in writing a finely textured history of a figure as iconic and enigmatic as Joseph Smith. They are Rough Stone Rolling itself, writ small.

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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.

Installments:
• 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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Roundtable on Paul Reeve, RELIGION OF A DIFFERENT COLOR: Black, White, and Mormon, pt. 2

By May 19, 2015


Miscegenation and “One Drop”

The sixth and seventh chapters of Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color focus on the six decades after plural marriage became public in 1852. In these chapters, Reeve examines the intertwining of polygamy and blackness after the 1856 presidential election, and how Mormonism’s racial restriction on priesthood/tem

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JI Summer Book Club: Rough Stone Rolling, Part 2: Chapters Three and Four

By May 18, 2015


RSR Image

This is the second installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering several small chunks of the book (typically 2-3 chapters) in successive weeks through the summer. New posts will appear on Monday mornings.We invite anyone and everyone interested to join along. Please use the comment section on each post to post your own reflections and commentary on the chapters under consideration and ask questions. This week Steve Fleming takes a closer look at Chapters 3 (“Translation: 1827-30”) and 4 (“A New Bible: 1830”).

Previous installments in the series:

•Part I: Prologue, Chapters 1-2

__________________________

3 Translation, 4 A New Bible (See part 1 here).

Bushman ends Chapter Two and begins Chapter Three by discussing how to make sense of the possible connections between the Smiths’ “magical” treasure-digging activities and Mormonism’s foundational events: receiving and translating the golden plates. Such similarities include seer stones, special treasure in the ground, and treasure guardians.

Bushman concedes that “Magic and religion melded in Smith family culture,” (51) but he argues that by 1827, the year he married Emma and received the plates, “magic had served its purpose in his life. In a sense, it was a preparatory gospel. Treasure-seeking lore may have made it easier for his father to believe his son’s fabulous story about an angel and gold plates” (54). Thus treasure digging played a “preparatory” role in the beginnings of Mormons, argues Bushman, and the treasure-digging elements in the events related to the golden plates played the purposed of Smith gaining his treasure-digging father’s support.

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Roundtable on Paul Reeve, RELIGION OF A DIFFERENT COLOR: Black, White, and Mormon, pt. 1

By May 15, 2015


BY I'm A Mormon Meme

Meme satirizing the “I’m A Mormon” campaign in the wake of the LDS Church’s 2013 essay on Race and the Priesthood. In context here.

Whence the priesthood ban?

It’s a question that has been wrestled often over the last several decades.  Beginning with Lester Bush’s seminal Dialogue article in 1973, historians, sociologists, and theologians have scrutinized the decisions made between Mormonism’s founding in 1830 and the solidification of the priesthood denial to Saints of African origin in the 1850s.  JI permabloggers and friends have made our own humble contributions to the debates, as well, which continue in the wake of the LDS Church’s essay published 18 months ago on the historical priesthood ban.

Building on decades of scholarship, in chapters 4 and 5 of Religion of a Different Color Paul Reeve shows that Mormonism’s banning of blacks from holding the priesthood was less a black vs. white issue in Mormonism than it was a black vs. white issue in America that Mormonism’s universalist claims were forced to confront, and to which they ultimately gave way, in attempt to preserve Mormon aspirations for whiteness.

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JI Summer Book Club: Richard Lyman Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (Prologue + Chapters 1-2)

By May 11, 2015


This post kicks off the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering several small chunks of the book (typically 2-3 chapters) in successive weeks from now through the summer. New posts will appear on Monday mornings. We begin today with the Prologue, which sets the tone in several important respects for the rest of the book, and Chapters 1 (“The Joseph Smith Family: To 1816”) and 2 (“The First Visions: 1816-1827”). We invite anyone and everyone interested to join along. Please use the comment section on each post to post your own reflections and commentary on the chapters under consideration and ask questions.  

__________________________

RSR ImageI first read Rough Stone Rolling (RSR) when it was first released in 2005. I was an undergraduate history major at the time, a recently-returned Mormon missionary, and an avid if novice and somewhat naïve student of Mormon history. Bushman’s biography was not my introduction to the scholarly study of Joseph Smith or Mormon history, but it still threw me for something of a loop, challenging many of the assumptions of my faith-promoting worldview. Nevertheless, I pushed through and finished the book. I next read it three years later, in a reading seminar in BYU’s now-defunct MA program in history. My familiarity with both Mormon and American religious history more broadly was deeper by then, and reading the book alongside both an experienced historian and several budding young scholars made the book both more familiar and yet so foreign from my initial reading. That a book reads differently to the same individual at different stages in her life is a truism of nearly all books, but it is especially true in reading Rough Stone Rolling.

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Book Review: For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism

By April 28, 2015


A few weeks ago, I toured Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello with my parents. On the tour, the pleasant guide informed our group that Thomas Jefferson most likely fathered several children with his slave, Sally Hemmings. The tour guide than asked the group rhetorically, “How could the author of the Declaration of Independence also own slaves, much less father children that became his human property?” I admired her response to her own question, “There is no reconciling. He was wrong. We cannot excuse his behavior.”

The tour came in the midst of my reading of Russell W. Stevenson’s For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism. Like the tour guide, Stevenson offers valuable information in the midst of a larger narrative, the history of “blacks” in Mormonism.[i] His narrative offers readers a straightforward account of the priesthood and temple restriction for those of African descent in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He does so with a wealth of documents, including many that I had never before seen. Like the tour guide at Monticello, he does not attempt to excuse those that upheld the ban through action or apathy. Stevenson should be commended writing the best resource for Latter-day Saints to learn more about the experience of Mormon blacks in settings both American and international. Stevenson also does an admirable job demonstrating that lay Latter-day Saints largely upheld the priesthood and temple restriction—it was not merely the decree of church leaders.

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#JMH50 Roundtable: Matthew Grow, “Biography in Mormon Studies”  

By April 22, 2015


JMH50Matt Grow’s contribution to the Journal of Mormon History 50th anniversary issue takes as its subject the place of biography in Mormon Studies. As the author (or co-author) of two significant biographies in the field, Grow is well positioned to assess the state of Mormon biographical writing.

In short, Grow believes that “the genre of Mormon biography has answered many of [the] rallying cries” of the New Mormon History’s call for “engage[ment] with larger historical themes” and “greater attention to women, race, ordinary Saints, the twentieth century, and international Mormons” (185), pointing to the spate of biographies produced in the last three decades on Mormon leaders (of both the Latter-day Saint and Latter Day Saint variety), dissenters, women, and racial and ethnic minorities. “There is much to celebrate in in the outpouring of scholarly biographies in the past few decades,” he concludes (196). Nevertheless, work remains to be done, and that work mirrors the shortcomings of Mormon history more generally: “More biographies of women, twentieth century, and international Mormons are particularly needed to advance the field” (196).

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Review: David Conley Nelson’s Moroni and the Swastika

By April 16, 2015


MoroniDavid Conley Nelson, Moroni and the Swastika: Mormons in Nazi Germany. University of Oklahoma Press, 2015.

David Conley Nelson’s book centers on a bold premise: that Mormonism in Germany did not only survive WWII relatively unscathed, but actually benefited from it. Nelson, who has a PhD in history from Texas A&M University, asserts that the church, helped by faithful historians, is invested in promoting a picture of German Mormons as suffering for the sake of the gospel. However, a more accurate picture would be that “German Mormons and their prewar American missionaries avoided persecution by skillfully collaborating to a degree that ensured their survival but did not subject them to postwar retribution” (xvi). Throughout the book, Nelson uses the rhetorical devices of ‘memory beacons’ and ‘dimmer switches’ to illustrate the construction of memory sites, and the ways in which realities of collaboration, then, were transformed into memories of appeasement and survival.

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Max Perry Mueller’s “History Lessons: Race and the LDS Church,” JMH 50th Roundtable

By April 10, 2015


Max Perry Mueller uses a clever title, “History Lessons,” in his essay on “Race and the LDS Church” in the fiftieth anniversary edition of the Journal of Mormon History. “History Lessons” implicate some form of historical appropriations. Institutions use history to formulate lessons, which support certain values and ways of knowing. Mueller traces how the LDS Church alters historical narratives of a “black Mormon past” through three main time periods to argue “the LDS Church has worked to tell a story of historical continuity in its relationship with people of African descent” (143).

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Into (and From) All the World: A New Paradigm for Global LDS History, JMH50th Roundtable

By April 6, 2015


Previous #JMH50 posts:

Liz M. on Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Personal Essay
David Howlett on his own article on jobs and publishing in Mormon Studies
J. Stuart on William Russell’s “Shared RLDS/LDS Journey”
Brett D. on Jared Farmer’s “Crossroads of the West”
Ryan T. on Matthew Bowman’s “Toward a Catholic History of Mormonism”

This post continues our series on the Mormon History Association’s 50th anniversary issue of the Journal of Mormon History, considering the important insider account provided by LDS Church assistant Church historian and recorder, Richard E. Turley, Jr., titled “Collecting, Preserving, and Sharing the Global History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Turley, who is a prolific author and co-author, notably of the Church History Library-sponsored Women of Faith in the Latter Days series and the award-winning OUP book on the Mountain Meadows massacre, has directed the LDS Church’s Historical Department beginning in 1986. He oversaw the Church History department’s consolidation with the Family History department between 2000-2008 and most recently the Church History Department’s transition into its elegant and archivally sound new building in 2009.

In this essay, Turley takes readers behind the scenes at the Historian’s Office to describe its ongoing cultural and paradigm shift decentralizing church historical collection throughout the world. Though he attributes little of this great shift to his own values, decisions or leadership, it is apparent that his personal involvement was critical to this transition and his firsthand perspective is a valuable primary source in itself.

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Reflections on William Russell’s “RLDS/LDS: Friends on a Shared Journey”

By March 25, 2015


JMH50See the first two articles in JI’s Roundable on #JMH50:

William Russell’s reflections on his experiences with the Mormon History Association (MHA) reveal the ecumenical gains achieved by Restorationist historians over the past fifty years. In his article, Russell recounts delivering his first paper at MHA, board meeting politics, and presidential addresses that ruffled feathers. Above all, he affectionately maps out how RLDS, LDS, and non-Mormon scholars forged friendships and established the academic foundations of the Mormon History Association.

His experiences will be familiar to all those that have participated in the Mormon History Association in any capacity. Indeed, the reason I loved the essay so much is that it felt like someone was recounting a family reunion. He recalls car rides to MHA, memorable papers, and interactions with historians of Mormonism in the homes of friends, archivists, and conference meetings. Anyone who has known or worked with Lavina Fielding Anderson will appreciate Russell’s story of her love and outreach (does anyone else love receiving e-mails from Lavina with “affectionately” as the farewell?). Russell’s memories of interactions with Davis Bitton and Leonard Arrington evoke similar warmth. The MHA’s bringing together of members from all branches of Joseph Smith’s religious tree and other religious traditions is rightly celebrated.

Two aspects of Russell’s essay are worth expounding upon individually.

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“Ripe Fields, Plentiful Laborers, Few Jobs”: David Howlett in JMH50

By March 23, 2015


JMH50

Today’s contribution to JI’s Roundtable on the Journal of Mormon History’s 50th anniversary issue comes from longtime friend of (and occasional guest contributor to) JI, David Howlett. David is currently visiting assistant professor at Skidmore College and author of The Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space (University of Illinois Press, 2014). Here he previews his own article published in JMH50, entitled “Ripe Fields, Plentiful Laborers, Few Jobs: The Prospects and Challenges for Early-Career Mormon Studies Scholars.” 

_________________________

Early career scholars (new PhDs and graduate students) across the country are studying Mormonism in greater numbers than ever before. At venerable institutions like the University of Virginia and Claremont Graduate University, MA and PhD students may even study with experts whose job descriptions include the field of Mormon studies. However, these same early career scholars and their post-PhD comrades face a strange paradox: never before have there been so many opportunities to do original research on Mormonism for so many people who compete for so few paying jobs.

My article in the most recent Journal of Mormon History focused on three “fields” in which an early-career Mormon studies scholar finds herself positioned: the field of publishing, the field of employment, and the new fields of study in Mormon history itself. For this brief abstraction of my relatively short article, I will only address two of these social fields: publishing and employment.

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