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Christian History

History and Presence, Chapter 7: The Abundance of Evil

By March 7, 2017


Welcome to the eighth installment of our Tuesdays with Orsi series! We’re taking a look at the seventh chapter of Robert Orsi’s History and Presence, and as Hannah introduced last week, today’s discussion will be on the meaning of abundant evil. Previous installments can be found here: Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4Chapter 5, and Chapter 6.

Where chapter six took on the idea of heaven, this chapter deals more with hell. What happens, Orsi asks, when the abundant event believers encounter is an evil one? He uses the stories of men and women who were sexually abused as children to tease out the question of presence and abundance in light of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

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Tuesdays with Orsi! History and Presence: Introduction

By January 17, 2017


Come one, come all. Welcome to a new series that we’re hosting—Tuesdays with Orsi! The series will feature posts that highlight each chapter of Robert Orsi’s new and provocative History and Presence, and I have the honor of kicking it off.

history and presenceRobert Orsi is the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies and Professor of Religion at Northwestern University. He is a prominent scholar of American religion and one of the foremost theorists/methodological innovators of the field. His scholarship has provoked us here at JI to think about what a Robert Orsi might look like for Mormon Studies, how “abundant events” might be used for Mormonism, and a highlight of a chat with Richard Bushman about abundant events. It’s no surprise that his newest work prompts us, yet again, to engage, digest, and grapple with truly provocative narrative and theory. The implications of the book are monumental. But enough gilding the lily. Let’s get to the introduction.

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The Visitors: Jack Chick and the Intellectual History of Modern Anti-Mormonism

By October 25, 2016


0061_05In the summer of 2002, while knocking on doors in the sweltering August heat of suburban Phoenix, my missionary companion and I were handed a small booklet by a less-than-friendly individual. Entitled The Visitors, the short illustrated tract told the story of two Mormon missionaries who arrive to teach a woman considering converting to Mormonism. Arriving at Fran’ doorstep with the hope of committing her to baptism that evening, the Elders are greeted not only by their anxious investigator, but also her niece, Janice, also a missionary preparing to do humanitarian work as a nurse in Africa.

A few minutes into their lesson, the missionaries are confronted by Fran’s surprisingly knowledgeable niece about various points of Mormon doctrine, doctrine the missionaries had failed to previously reveal to Fran. Horrified to learn that the Mormons believe, among other things, that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers, that God is a man (and not a spirit) with multiple wives in his heavenly abode, and Joseph Smith was fluent in the occult culture of early 19th century America, Fran asks the missionaries to leave and not come back. But Janice not only saved her beloved aunt that evening. She also, as we discover in the strip’s final frames, sparked the seeds of doubt in one of the missionary’s own minds.

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Review: Philip Lockley, ed., Protestant Communalism in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1650-1850

By July 14, 2016


Protestant CommunalismPhilip Lockley, ed., Protestant Communalism in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1650-1850 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). 

A little more than five years ago, I posted some thoughts on Scott Rohrer’s chapter on Mormonism in his Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). I was particularly intrigued by his inclusion of Mormonism in a volume on Protestant migrations, and a lively conversation and debate over whether Mormonism is, was, or ever has been Protestant ensued in the comments.

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Article Review: Spencer McBride, “When Joseph Smith Met Martin Van Buren: Mormonism and the Politics of Religious Liberty in Nineteenth-Century America””

By June 3, 2016


Spencer W. McBride, “When Joseph Smith Met Martin Van Buren: Mormonism and the Politics of Religious Liberty in Nineteenth-Century America,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 85, no. 1 (March 2016): 150-158.

CH CoverAs much as we love the Journal of Mormon History, it’s always encouraging to see work on Mormonism appear in mainstream historical or religious studies journals. So it was a pleasant discovery to find Spencer McBride’s short article in a recent issue of Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture, a venerable academic journal that has been publishing on the history of Christianity since 1932. Church History is the organ of the American Society of Church History, a group that has recently fallen on hard times. Or, perhaps more accurately, it has run into a perplexing situation. Recent shifts in scholarship have taken the study of American religion away from the traditional themes of “church history,” with its focus on denominations, institutions, and traditional social dynamics. Christopher wrote a few years ago in response to Laurie Maffly-Kipp’s important presidential address to the ASCH, “The Burden of Church History,” which proposed some revitalizing steps to be taken. One of these was further engagement with Catholicism and Mormonism, a suggestion that mirrors other scholars’ encouragement to move from a study of “American Christianity” to one that acknowledges “American Christianities.” [1]

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From the Archives: A Jewish Perspective on Mormon Undergarments (and more), circa 1853

By May 19, 2016


Carvalho_autoportretIn September 1853, John C. Frémont embarked on his fifth and final overland expedition of the American West. Accompanying the noted explorer on his final journey was Solomon Nunes Carvalho, a South Carolina-born Sephardic Jew of Spanish and Portuguese descent. Carvalho was an accomplished painter and photographer, and in spite of having a wife and three children at home, eagerly “accepted [Frémont’s] invitation to accompany him as artist of an Exploring Expedition across the Rocky Mountains.”[1] 

Over the course of the next year, Solomon Nunes Carvalho traveled with the Frémont expedition “across the Great American Desert,” including an extended stay in Utah, where he spent three months recovering from sickness. Unfortunately, almost all of the sketches, paintings, and daguerrotypes from Carvalho’s journey (including several from his time among the Mormons) are no longer extant, evidently destroyed in a fire. But an account of his journey was published in 1856 as Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West, a volume that proved popular enough to go through several additional printings on both sides of the Atlantic.

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In Memoriam: Milton Backman, Jr., 1927-2016

By February 11, 2016


mou0046346-1_20160210I do not remember the first article I read authored by Milton Backman, Jr. It was almost certainly something he published in the Ensign during the 1970s or 1980s. As a 19-year-old missionary with a previously-untapped love for reading, learning, and history, those old Ensigns that occupied so much of the shelf space of ward libraries were treasure troves of information to me. Much to the annoyance of at least a few of my companions, I would eagerly request that we stay a bit longer at the church building after playing basketball on P-day so that I could flip through a dozen or so issues and photocopy each article dealing with church history, doctrine, or scripture. I don’t know if it was the first, but I do remember reading Backman’s 1989 essay, “Preparing the Way: The Rise of Religious Freedom in New England.” In addition to shattering some myths I had imbibed at some earlier point in my life (i.e. “Although many who sought religious liberty had immigrated to those colonies, the Pilgrims and Puritans did not, generally speaking, believe in extending religious freedom to others.”), Backman’s essay tied Mormonism into a larger narrative of American religious history in a way that I had not previously encountered. I was hooked.

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BYU and Martin Luther King, Jr.

By January 18, 2016


Last weekend, while visiting Atlanta for the annual meetings of the American Historical Association, fellow JIer Ben P and I visited the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historical Site. That we approached the historic Ebeneezer Baptist Church just a few minutes before 11 am on a Sunday morning I can attribute to nothing other than perfect synchronicity.[1] It was my first time visiting the site, and I was moved by what I witnessed. I was unable to attend sacrament meeting that day, but the pilgrimage to the King site was worship enough. I resolved to post something here at JI in commemoration of King, but could think of nothing that would do justice to either King or my visit last weekend.

So today, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to highlight two posts from the Juvenile Instructor’s early years. Both were penned by former JI blogger, Ardis Smith, whose excellent original research on student responses to the Civil Rights Movement at BYU in the 1950s and 1960s deserves a much wider audience.[2] As part of her research, Ardis surveyed student responses to the April 1968 murder of the famed civil rights leader who we remember and whose legacy we celebrate today, in the student newspaper, the Daily Universe. Ardis examined the DU‘s coverage in the immediate aftermath of the murder, and the DU‘s discussion on the one year anniversary of King’s death. Much of the response from students is what you might expect (subtly and not-so-subtly racist condemnations of King’s civil disobedience, his Marxist views, and his rumored ties to Communist leaders, justified with citations to LDS teachings and scriptures), but Ardis also discovered and recovered the voices of those students who dared to speak up in support of King and the movement he led.

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New Volume of Studies in the Bible and Antiquity

By December 11, 2014


StudiesCover_FINALLast week, Ben highlighted the latest issue of the Mormon Studies Review. This week the Maxwell Institute gave Mormon Studies geeks even more goodness with the release of the first issue of the newly-revamped Studies in the Bible and Antiquity. You can read Carl Griffin’s overview of the entire issue here, but I wanted to take the time to highlight two of the articles included in particular. While much of what Studies in the Bible and Antiquity falls outside of the more narrow interests of JI bloggers, this issue includes a roundtable review of the BYU New Testament Commentary (BYUNTC) that features two prominent historians of Mormonism: Philip Barlow, Leonard J. Arrington Professor of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, and Grant Underwood, Professor of History at Brigham Young University and coeditor of the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Barlow opens the roundtable with some reflections on the aims of the BYUNTC, highlighting five particular questions that the undertaking raised for him, as a believing Mormon and a scholar of Mormonism and the Bible:

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Mormon Studies in the Classroom: Mormon Women, Patriarchy and Equality

By May 8, 2014


As a professor of history at a predominantly Mormon university, lately I have been a magnet for students with questions about the changes for Mormon women, especially considering the recent public attention to the roles of women in our traditional religious culture.

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Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup

By November 24, 2013


Most of our team that contributes links for the weekly roundup have been preoccupied this week, so the MSWR is a bit light in terms of quantity (though certainly not quality) this week. Let’s jump right in:

James Goldberg has written/curated an informative, fascinating, and, quite frankly, beautiful account of a Latter-day Saint exodus in covered wagons that most Mormons probably know nothing about (I certainly didn’t before reading the post). Check out online exhibit, “The Armenian Exodus,” at history.lds.org, to read more about the early 20th century journey of Mormon migrants from Turkey to Syria. Once you’ve finished there, head on over to Keepapitchinin to read Ardis’s complementary post that adds a bit more detail to the online exhibit and links to previous posts on Armenian Latter-day Saints at Keepa. You’ll be glad you did.

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From the Archives: The Mormon Problem in the Mind of Freethinkers, circa 1886

By October 29, 2013


At the annual meeting of the Mormon History Association in June, historian Leigh Eric Schmidt delivered a fascinating Tanner Lecture on “Mormons, Freethinkers, and the Limits of Toleration” (a helpful summary of his remarks can be found here). Among other things, I was struck by Schmidt’s discussion of the occasional moments of  agreement between Mormons and Freethinkers in the late 19th century. It was, most often, their mutual distrust and dislike of mainline Christians that afforded them these brief instances of mutual respect and accord.

I recently browsed through several issues of The Truth Seeker, a prominent 19th century newspaper devoted to “freethought and reform,” in search of something entirely unrelated to Mormonism.[1] But as I did, I came across a couple of articles on Mormonism. In the May 15, 1886 edition of the paper, Samuel B. Putnam, the secretary of the American Secular Union, reported on his recent visit to Utah. Among other things, Putnam noted with pleasure that “there are many Liberals at Ogden,” including some former Mormons. “Mr. James B. Stoddard was born in Mormonism,” he reported. “He, however, has a keen and fearless mind, and has broken away from the trammels. He will do much for Freethought by his influence and ability.”

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Visionary/Prophetic Children: A Research Query

By October 16, 2013


As my contribution to this month’s theme of childhood, children, and youth, I want to throw around a couple of loosely-formed thoughts on how Mormonism fits into the history of childhood spirituality.

First, Mormons sometimes claim that the reason God appeared and spoke to the boy Joseph Smith that spring day in 1820 was specifically because JS was just a boy. As in the days of Samuel, God needed a pure vessel, one simultaneously untainted by worldly knowledge and skepticism and eager to learn and obey.

Of course, Joseph Smith isn’t the only boy/young man to experience a vision and receive a prophetic calling, and Mormons aren’t the only ones to connect the dots between the receipt of those visions and childhood innocence/willingness. American Christians have long used both the Old and New Testaments to bolster the claims of boy (and less commonly, girl) prophets and preachers. One researcher has found nearly 500 examples of child preachers from the 18th century until the present, and the phenomenon is particularly common in charismatic Christian churches, as the fascinating and somewhat tragic story of Marjoe Gortner illustrates. While historians have done a wonderful job of contextualizing Joseph Smith within the larger American prophetic tradition, they/we have mostly ignored where and how he fits into the history of childhood preachers/prophets. It seems like a potentially fruitful framework for understanding JS and his prophetic calling in new light.

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Abstractions, Shadows, and Images of Christ

By September 18, 2013


Laura Allred Hurtado contributes this next installment in the JI’s material culture month, on Mormon attempts to represent Jesus. Laura is the Global Acquisitions Curator for Art in the Church History Department. She has an MA in Art History and Visual Studies from the University of  Utah and a BA in Art History and Curatorial Studies at BYU. Laura has presented papers at scholarly conferences and curated exhibits at the Utah Museum of Fine Art, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, and various other venues.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.–2 Chronicles 7:14

 All representations of divinity fail. Fail in that they are made of terrestrial materials, seen through non-celestial eyes. 

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Guest Post: Justin Bray on Mormon Sacrament and Material Culture

By September 12, 2013


Justin Bray is an oral historian at the Church History Department in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is also an MA student at the University of Utah, where he studies American religious history. He has presented and published several papers on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper among the Latter-day Saints.

I’ve always found objects meaningful tools to reconstruct the past.

When my great-grandfather passed away many years ago, my dad inherited an old baseball bat—probably because my brothers and I couldn’t stop watching The Sandlot, and throughout our childhood we collected an unhealthy number of baseball cards. I really didn’t know anything about my great-grandfather (at the time), let alone that he was a baseball player. But the more attention I paid to the bat, the more the bat became a kind of lens into my great-grandfather’s world.

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Scholarly Inquiry: A Q&A with John Fea

By September 3, 2013


We’re thrilled to present the following Q&A with historian John Fea. Dr. Fea is Associate Professor of History and  Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. He is the author and editor of several books, including The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011), and Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), which he co-edited with Jay Green and Eric Miller. His latest book, Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Baker Academic, 2013) is scheduled to be released in two weeks. Dr. Fea is currently at work on two book projects—a religious history of the American Revolution and one on history and memory in the town of Greenwich, NJ. In addition to his scholarly output, John is a prodigious blogger, a tireless traveler and dynamic speaker (check out that list—chances are he’ll be in your general neck of the woods at some point), Bruce Springsteen devotee, avid sports fan, and 2010 inductee to the Montville High School (NJ) Hall of Fame. By nearly all accounts, he is also an incredibly nice guy.

Please join us in welcoming Dr. Fea!

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Guest Post: Bradley Kime on Mormonism in Thomas Albert Howard’s God and the Atlantic

By July 11, 2013


Today, we are pleased to announce a guest post on our July theme,  Mormons and Politics, from Bradley Kime. Here is a brief bio from Bradley: 

I just graduated from BYU with a BA in History. My Phi Kappa Phi paper, “American Unitarians and the George B. English Controversy” will be published in Religion in the Age of Enlightenment next summer, and my capstone paper, “Exhibiting Theology: James E. Talmage and Mormon Public Relations, 1915-1920,” is under review. I’ll be heading up to Utah State in a few weeks to work with Phil Barlow on an MA in History. 

I just finished reading Thomas Albert Howard’s God and the Atlantic: America, Europe, and the Religious Divide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). It’s a brilliant book that touches on JI’s themes for this month and last (politics and the many images of Mormonism). Howard wrote it in response to what many perceive to be the growing trans-Atlantic political implications of American religiosity vis-a-vis European secularity. Howard’s take is that a long-standing elite European discourse on American religion, which he traces through the nineteenth-century and into the twentieth, has “left a sizable mark on the formative presuppositions” behind current policy differences and European perceptions of America. (200) In other words, he argues that elite European critiques of American religion in the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries still impact trans-Atlantic political divisions in the twenty-first. And Mormonism seems to have been a particularly consistent target of those critiques. Along with some forays into the secularization and modernity debate, and the retrieval of two sympathetic commentators (Phillip Schaff and Jacques Maritain) from Tocqueville’s shadow, this is primarily a book about negative images of American religion as peddled by its cultured despisers across the pond.

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The Burden of Church History and its implications for Mormon History

By January 8, 2013


For those unable to attend this year’s annual American Historical Association held in New Orleans last week, Twitter is a godsend, and on Saturday night, the site was all abuzz as Laurie Maffly-Kipp, professor of Religious Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, delivered the presidential address at the annual meeting of the American Society of Church History.[1] Entitled “The Burden of Church History,” Maffly-Kipp’s address was a call to members of the ASCH to not abandon church history as the field of American religious history moves further away from institutional histories in pursuit of histories that analyze spirituality and deconstruct the meaning of religion.[2] I’ve yet to read the entire address, but Elesha Coffman has posted a helpful summary and insightful response at Religion in American History that I encourage all to read.

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Joan in Armor, Zone Leaders in Skirts, and Mormon Women in Pants

By December 14, 2012


“Mark what I say:  the woman who quarrels with her clothes, and puts on the dress of a man, is like the man who throws off his fur gown and dresses like John the Baptist: they are followed, as surely as the night follows the day, by bands of wild women and men who refuse to wear any clothes at all.”  — The Inquisitor, St. Joan (Penguin Books, 1982).  

George Bernard Shaw’s interpretation of the life of Joan of Arc reminds us of an element of Joan’s influence– her straining of a woman’s role by dressing like a man–  that caused such discomfort for her contemporaries and partly led to her excommunication and execution in 1431. The zealous reactions to Joan’s gendered nonconformity in the 1400s allow us to think about similar ways that modern faith communities are also stretched by challenges to their gender expectations.

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CFP: No Person Shall Bee Any Wise Molested: Religious Freedom, Cultural Conflict, and the Moral Role of the State

By November 4, 2012


A conference planned for October 3 – 6, 2013, in Newport and Providence, Rhode Island, organized by the Newport Historical Society, the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, Salve Regina University, the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, the John Carter Brown Library, and Brown University to mark the 350th anniversary of the 1663 Rhode Island Charter.

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