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Christian History

Found in the Archives: James Covel in Canada, circa 1818?

By October 22, 2012


In March of this year, the newly rebranded BYU Studies Quarterly published an article I wrote entitled “Mormonism in the Methodist Marketplace: James Covel and the Historical Background of Doctrine and Covenants 39–40.” The article, which began as a short and poorly-written blog post here at JI a few years earlier, represented the culmination of a year in the archives pouring through manuscript sources and rolls and rolls of microfilmed newspapers and church records from three different Methodist churches (assisted by the indefatigable staff at the United Methodist Archives and History Center in Madison, New Jersey), piecing together the life and preaching career of a man I initially knew next to nothing about. It also represented the culmination—or so I thought at the time—of my research on connections between Methodism and early Mormonism. I’d moved on to what I imagined at the time as an entirely unrelated project: my dissertation, which examines the growth and development of Methodism in North America and the Caribbean from 1760 to 1815.

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Scholarly Inquiry: Spencer Fluhman answers your questions

By October 15, 2012


J. Spencer Fluhman is assistant professor of History at Brigham Young University. He graduated summa cum laude from BYU with a degree in Near Eastern Studies (1998) and attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was awarded a MA (2000) and PhD (2006) in History. He is the author of the recently-released A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (University of North Carolina Press, 2012), and the editor (with Andrew H. Hedges and Alonzo L. Gaskill) of  The Doctrine & Covenants: Revelations in Context (Religious Studies Center, BYU, and Deseret Book, 2008). He also guest edited (with Steven Harper and Jed Woodworth) the , “Mormonism in Cultural Context.” Dr. Fluhman is also a dynamic lecturer and popular teacher at BYU. He personally mentored several of the bloggers at Juvenile Instructor, and remains a close friend and trusted mentor to the current generation of Mormon graduate students. Below he answers your questions about his recent book, broader researcher, and Mormon history more generally.

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Guest post: Edward Blum, “On Mormon Racism: A Response to John Turner”

By August 22, 2012


Edward Blum is associate professor of history at San Diego State University. He is the author of Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865-1898 (2005), W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet (2007), and most recently, co-author (with Paul Harvey) of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (2012), which will be available next month. He is the co-editor (with Paul Harvey) of The Columbia Guide to Religion in American History (2012), (with Jason R. Young) The Souls of W. E. B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections (2009), and (with W. Scott Poole) Vale of Tears: New Essays on Religion and Reconstruction (2005). Ed also blogs at Religion in American History and Teaching United States History.

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Mormonism and Suffering

By August 17, 2012


By Pete Wosnik

Last fall I took a class from Dr. Philip Barlow at USU called Religion, Evil, and Human Suffering. This was really big class, not in terms of the amount of students who took it, but rather in its subject matter as well as its breadth. Mormonism was only allotted a few precious class hours, but the class gave me an added appreciation for Mormon theological contributions to the larger world. Something I quickly learned in the course was that all religious traditions have grappled with the problems of pain, suffering, and evil; indeed, most religions are born in such conditions.

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Mormonism and “Historical/Traditional” Christianity

By January 20, 2012


My dissertation committee felt I sort of gave them a bait and switch at my prospectus defense.  I had spent three years telling them I wanted to compare Mormonism to medieval Christianity (which I’m still doing) but for my prospectus I was now talking about Mormonism and Neoplatonism.  They found this all rather confusing and wanted brainstorm other angles I could take.  In the midst of all this, my medieval advisor exclaimed, “I know what your thesis should be.  It should be how Christian Mormonism is.  This is all thoroughly Christian, it’s just not Protestant.”

What is Christian depends on one’s point of view.  Medieval Christianity was very different from Protestantism.  As I’ve noted around here a few times, Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 presents a very different picture of traditional Christianity than do Protestants.

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Book Review: Allison P. Coudert, Religion, Magic, and Science in Early Modern Europe and America

By January 17, 2012


Coudert, Allison P.  Religion, Magic , and Science in Early Modern Europe and America.  Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2011.

This book made my head spin.  Coudert sets about attacking cherished ontologies and historiographical dogmas in ways I’m overwhelmingly in agreement with, but the book still left me dizzy.  Coudert comes out swinging and doesn’t let up.   Most brilliant is the way Coudert blends these categories with each other and the social history of the periods she covers.

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Prospectus 3.2: Reevaluating Frances Yates

By October 21, 2011


Here I summarize a group of books that reevaluate the work of Frances Yates. It was Yates’ work on Renaissance Hermeticism that was the foundation for Brooke’s Refiner’s Fire. Thus the reevaluations of Yates, I argue, help us to better situate Mormonism in the history of Christianity. I had considered writing individual reviews but since they interweave it worked to analyze them together. I may do individual reviews of some of these works later.

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Dissertation Prospectus 3.1

By October 17, 2011


So I’m still writing prospectuses (or is it prospecti?) My committee technically passed off my first prospectus in December but did so with reservations. I’ve been working on placating those ever since. Also, the way my adviser Ann Taves likes to do it is to write an original prospectus, then do all the research, and then write another one at that point. I certainly haven’t completed my research but I’m getting there. My point is though I’m still working at this but I don’t feel like I’m spinning my wheels.

Anyway, the latest draft weighed in at 55 pages and 230 footnotes. I’m thinking of doing three posts of some of the introductory material. Here’s number one: [note: a fair amount of this is Ann’s wording]

“The Presence of God: Early Mormonism and Neoplatonism”

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Plato on Deification and Eternal Marriage

By August 21, 2011


Clement of Alexandria asserted that Plato was an important precursor to the coming of Christ. [1] The quotes I post from Plato here suggest that Mormons could sympathize with Clement’s point of view. The first is Plato’s statement on deification from the Theaetetus.

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Early Mormon Writings on Christian History/Apostasy: A Query

By August 2, 2011


Steve Fleming and I are currently working on a paper examining early Latter-day Saint understandings of what Mormons today refer to as “the Great Apostasy.” Among other things, we are looking at sustained treatments of the subject authored by early Mormons (defined for our purposes here as works written and/or published between 1830 and 1850). While Steve and I feel like we have a pretty good grasp of the most obvious sources, we want to make sure we have all of our bases covered, and that’s where we need your help. What essays, books, pamphlets, etc. attempted to examine the history of the Christian church and/or the apostasy of the early Christian church? Here are a few we’ve already identified:

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Mormonism and Agency: A Historical Query

By May 16, 2011


Behold here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man: Because, that which was from the beginning is plainly manifest unto them, and they receive not the light.

-Revelation to Joseph Smith, May 6, 1833 (Doctrine & Covenants 93:31)

“Agency” is a buzzword prominent in both of the worlds that I, and other Mormon historians, inhabit on a day-to-day basis. Within the world of Mormonism, the word signifies a central tenet of Latter-day Saint theology, one that receives regular and sustained attention from church leaders and in Sunday School curriculum. In the historical profession, meanwhile, “agency” has been labeled “the master trope of the New Social History”—signifying the collective efforts of social historians to rescue from the dustbins of history the lives and stories of marginalized figures, including especially African American and Indian slaves, women from all walks of life, and others who left behind few written records and lived otherwise unremarkable lives.[1]

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Book Review: David Holland, Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America

By May 4, 2011


David F. Holland. Sacred Borders: Continuing Revelation and Canonical Restraint in Early America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 275pp. + index.

We spend a lot of time at this blog considering how Mormonism fits within larger frameworks in American religious history and what it uniquely reveals about the shape and contours of that past. Among the most obvious answers to the latter consideration is Mormonism’s prophetic tradition, with its adherence to a belief in continuing revelation and an expanded (and expanding) canon of scripture. In trying to tackle the complicated question of whether Mormonism can be accurately described as “Protestant” in any meaningful sense on a recent post, among the most significant reasons for those who answered “no” was Mormonism’s claims to revelation and scripture beyond the bounds of the Old and New Testaments.

But just how unique is Mormonism in this regard? What precedents are there in the American past for such beliefs and how do Mormon prophets and scriptures fit within the larger history of the

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Is Mormonism Protestant?: Some Reflections on Rohrer’s Wandering Souls

By April 27, 2011


I recently finished reading S. Scott Rohrer’s Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865, a useful and readable overview of several different religious communities whose migrations to and within colonial British North America and the United States shaped American history in ways often ignored by historians of immigration.

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Creation ex Nihilo, Proclus, and the Apostasy

By April 11, 2011


Adolf von Harnock asserted the famous paradigm that early Christianity was corrupted by Greek philosophy. He pointed to the Gnostics as the extreme form of that corruption but asserted that Christianity as a whole was tainted. The way he described the effects of Plato on Christianity would have been (and indeed was) appealing to Mormons.

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Women’s History Month at JI: Women and Revelation in Christian History

By March 31, 2011


This wraps up our un-official series for Women’s History Month here at JI. Thanks to all the contributors and readers for their comments! –David G.

Throughout the history of Christianity, prophets and revelators have overwhelmingly been women. Though few such figures are found in the scriptures, David Potter argues that the very act of canonization is a routinization of charisma and a suppression of female prophecy. “In the primary canon,” argues Potter “accepted prophets had to look like the authority figures of the church: they had to be men; they also had to be dead so that they could not confuse the situation by offering their own views on what it was that they were saying. In this, the early church was blessed by its Jewish heritage, from which it inherited the idea of sacred canon, male prophecy, and prophetic interpretation through the exegesis of texts.” [1]

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Joseph Smith and the Persistence of Late Neoplatonism; Or, a Possible Source for “Telestial”

By December 26, 2010


As I mentioned in the prospectus I posted, I see both striking resemblances between Mormonism and late Neoplatonism and important influences of late Neoplatonism on the history of Christianity that need to be explored. My committee balked at linking Mormonism to late Neoplatonism and wanted further proof. So I’ve been doing some research.

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Nebuchadnezzar and The Mormon Social Imaginary

By December 21, 2010


My presentation at the last MHA conference revolved around some ideas I’d been working with related to Mormon collective identity. A while ago I became fascinated with the way that Charles Taylor has been using the concept of “social imaginaries” in his work in social philosophy. To him, a “social imaginary” is basically the perceived social world of an individual, and Taylor’s work shows how these perceptions are critical for understanding how societies function. [1] This is an idea similar to the basic premise that Benedict Anderson introduced in Imagined Communities. Anderson focused on the phenomenon of the nation, and he described how the shared perceptions of citizens of were truly the element that made a nation possible. [2] In my view, both of these ideas – “social imaginaries” and “imagined communities” have an important connection to the question of group or collective identity.

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Prospectus Part 2

By November 28, 2010


Here’s some more of my prospectus that deals with the issues of pre-Reformation survivals. Some of this I’ve posted around here already but I contextualize it here a little differently.

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My Prospectus

By November 25, 2010


Ann Taves, my adviser, signed off on me sending this out to my committee a few days ago. The whole things is over 30 pages so I just include the first part here.

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“The Mystery of Iniquity”: John Wesley’s View of the Apostasy

By October 4, 2010


Continuing on this theme, I wanted to give a little summary of John Wesley’s view of the apostasy. Wesley, whose Methodist movement was highly influential on Mormonism, was very interested in “the mystery of iniquity” or how Christianity had become corrupted. His speech by that name covers his views on the issue (Wesley’s Works vol. 3, Sermon 61) and offers additional, useful ways to look at the apostasy.

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Recent Comments

J Stuart on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Thanks, Cassie, WVS, and Professor Mauss!”


Armand Mauss on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Don't forget to check out the influence also of the LDS Genealogical Society, especially the work of its executive secretary James H. Anderson during the…”


wvs on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Interesting stuff, J. All kinds of fun links to the Taylor-Galbraith efficiency movement and quack psyche.”


Cassie on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “The topic of Mormon elite interest in Eugenics is fascinating and requires additional unpacking to fully understand the reverberations of the pseudoscience on the church…”


Amanda on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “I mean...who controls which spirits go to which families? It's like we forgot everything that's been revealed about foreordination...that, just as there will be…”


RL on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Great points Amanda. We often think Mormonism is unique in having to grapple with race or gender and belief, but we a Christian faith…”

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