Comparative Mormon Studies

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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Research Query: Mormon Bachelorhood

By November 28, 2012

From William and Mary graduate student and friend of JI Spencer Wells:

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Mormons as Part of the Pluralist Kaleidoscope

By October 12, 2012

So when I created my fall course on American religious pluralism I built it around five units. In this post I thought I’d share those, and invite conversation about where Mormonism shows up in my course or where it could be discussed in a similar course.

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Mormons and the Media: If a Carnivorous Crocodile and a Stripling Warrior Fought…

By August 29, 2012

Professor Jared Farmer and the State University of New York at Stonybrook very generously posted a free e-book last week—Mormons in the Media, 1832-2012. Though the title should be “Mormons in American Media,” the 342-page book and the hundreds of images therein need to be seen. They are beautiful and brilliant—some impressively horrific in their full technicolor glory. Farmer builds upon a foundation established by Gary Bunker and Davis Bitton in their 1983 The Mormon Graphic Image, 1833-1914: Cartoons, Caricatures, and Illustrations and is able to radically enlarge it. The expansive scope of these pages can easily induce a little head spinning—the very best kind.

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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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Malcolm X and Mormon Studies: A short review and some reflections on comparative religion

By April 17, 2012

I was pleased to learn this week that the late Manning Marable’s exhaustive biography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, was awarded this year’s Pulitzer Prize in History. Thoroughly and thoughtfully revisionist, Marable’s account of Malcolm X’s life challenges much of what is presented in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a now classic piece of 20th century American literature that has popularized a particular view of the Nation of Islam minister and his role in the Civil Rights, Black Muslim, and Pan-African movements. Deconstructing the Autobiography (which was published posthumously and, as Marable highlights, heavily edited by “co-author” Alex Haley), Marable then reconstructs the life of the man born Malcolm Little, utilizing a wealth of primary sources, including letters, diaries, interviews, and even FBI files. It is a fascinating biography and well worth the read for anyone interested in the life of this controversial figure.

It also provides a captivating account of the Nation of Islam’s rise in mid-20th century America. The NOI—a somewhat militant Black Nationalist sect that emerged in Great Depression-era Detroit and Chicago—was founded by the mysterious Wallace D. Fard but grew to national prominence under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad in the mid 20th century, when Malcolm Little converted and quickly rose to prominence as a talented preacher and recruiter. Later, Malcolm grew disillusioned with Muhammad’s leadership and left the NOI. His inability to leave it alone, though, ultimately led to his assassination in February 1965 at the hands of NOI henchmen.

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Reminder and Webcast Information: “At the Crossroads, Again: Mormon and Protestant Encounters in the Nineteenth and Twenty-First Centuries”

By February 23, 2012

As a reminder to those interested, this weekend (Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24-25) at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy is sponsoring what is being billed as a “groundbreaking event” intended to “facilitate a conversation of the ‘mind and heart’ that will set the standard for how members of religious communities can discuss differences in a way that does not compromise intellect or integrity, but is also sincere and empathetic.” Entitled “At the Crossroads, Again: Mormon and Methodist Protestant Encounters in the Nineteenth and Twenty-First Centuries,”* featured presenters include a number of well-known and recognized scholars of Mormon and Protestant history, theology, hymnody, politics, gender and sexuality, and social activism, including David Campbell, David McAllister-Wilson, Kristine Haglund, Eileen Guenther, Terryl Givens, Kathleen Flake, Elaine Heath, Robert Bennett, and Warner Woodworth, plus many more. A full schedule is available here and brief biographies of the several presenters here.

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Is Mormonism a “western” religion?

By January 30, 2012

Over at the Religion in the American West blog, Laurie Maffly-Kipp has offered her thoughts to the above question. The whole post is worth reading—and it’d be great to generate some discussion on the topic over there—but I wanted to highlight a couple of points I found especially important.

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Book Review: Mason, Patrick Q. The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

By November 30, 2011

In The Mormon Menace, Patrick Mason adeptly traces the contours of anti-Mormonism in the late nineteenth-century South and explains how proselytizing, polygamy, and extra-legal violence shaped the South’s response to Mormonism. Mason attends to the ways in which southern honor, defined by a communal estimation of the individual and often deployed to protect or avenge the virtuous female, provided justification for illicit actions against Mormon missionaries. While granting that anti-Mormon violence paled in comparison to racial and political attacks against African Americans, Mason contends that “Mormonism was unique in the way it inspired southerners to set aside general norms of civility and religious tolerance” (13).

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“the seemingly simple issue of heaven”: Jon Butler on Mormonism in American Grace

By September 22, 2011

Over at The Immanent Frame, the always insightful and provocative Jon Butler offers “a historian’s reaction to American Grace,” a sweeping treatment of  “how religion divides and unites us” in contemporary America that has rightly gained a fair amount of publicity and praise since its release last October. Butler’s thoughtful critique wonders whether authors Robert Putnam and David Campbell allow the “many and complex “beliefs'” they survey to “float too free from their historical moorings.”

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The Mormons and the Ghost Dance: A Literature Review

By August 5, 2011

On December 29, 1890, the U.S. Seventh Cavalry surrounded a group of ninety Minneconjou Lakota men just west of Wounded Knee Creek, South Dakota. The wives and children of the Lakota warriors were camped a few yards to the south of the council ground. The Cavalry was engaged in disarming the warriors, who military leaders believed were part of a wide-ranging indigenous conspiracy to push back white settlement. The Lakota men were known to be adherents of the Ghost Dance, a religious phenomenon that originated with the Paiute prophet Wovoka in Nevada and had spread from the Great Basin to the Plains in 1889-1890. During the disarming, a struggle ensued between the troopers and a young Lakota who thought he could hide his rifle under his blanket, and a shot fired into the air. Chaos—and death—followed, as the five hundred members of the Seventh Cavalry proceeded to slaughter not only the by-then largely disarmed men but also the women and children as they fled the scene. Although exact numbers are unknown, perhaps as many as three hundred Lakotas died. It was shown in the aftermath of Wounded Knee that the Ghost Dance was not a broad-based scheme to overthrow U.S. authority, and, more to the point, that most if not all of the Lakotas who lost their lives on December 29, 1890 had died innocently after surrendering without resistance.[1] Although Latter-day Saints had nothing to do with the massacre at Wounded Knee, since 1890 commentators have speculated that Mormons were somehow connected and even the primary movers behind the Ghost Dance movement.

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A New Framework for a New Generation of Mormon Studies: The Conclusion from my Bushman Tribute Conference Paper

By June 29, 2011

What follows is the conclusion from my paper “On Mormon Thought and its Context(s): Joseph Smith, Thomas Dick, and the Tricky Task of Determining Influence,” presented at the conference in honor of Richard Bushman a few weeks ago. The paper spends most of its time outlining how the question of Thomas Dick’s influence has been handled in Mormon historiography, the problems with past approaches, and then demonstrates a possibly more fruitful approach. (A very early version of the paper is found here.) Then, in this conclusion, I use the topic as an example of how new frameworks are needed, specifically when engaging the development of LDS thought, in the next stage of Mormon studies. This topic—and even much of my message—has been trumpeted of late (both by myself as well as others), including Richard Bushman’s own concluding remarks at the conference, but it is still an important enough message that it is worth repeating.

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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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Announcement: The New Claremont Journal of Mormon Studies=> Call For Papers

By January 28, 2011

David Golding is a PhD student in the History of Christianity at Claremont Graduate University and a co-editor (with Loyd Ericson) of the new Claremont Journal of Mormon Studies. He has been kind enough to share a little bit about this new publishing venture and a Call for Papers.

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Joseph Smith and Matthew Philip Gill: the dynamics of Mormon schism

By January 18, 2011

Jacob Baker and I discovered the Latter Day Church of Jesus Christ while Bushman summer fellows in 2007.    We spent a lot of time kicking back and forth analysis of this most interesting schism group, and organized an MHA panel around them in 2008.    And, today, the turgid pace of academic publishing has finally reached consummation, and the paper I wrote that summer has been published in the current issue of Nova Religio 14:3 (February 2011) 42-63.

The Latter Day Church is fascinating in part because of how skillfully Matthew Philip Gill engages in prophetic mimesis, replicating the experiences and language of Joseph Smith to create himself as Smith’s heir, calling to repentance the failed church of Salt Lake City and promising a re-invigorated version of Mormon spirituality – one which both invokes Joseph Smith’s charisma anew, but which also rewrites the sacred history of Mormonism in ways that follow the cultural accommodations the LDS church has made.   Gill’s movement is neither sectarian – which seeks to heighten tension with Western culture – nor a church movement – one which seeks to lessen that tension.  Rather, scholars like Armand Mauss and Thomas O’Dea have observed that the LDS Church itself seems to combine both of these impulses, oscillating back and forth along a spectrum of resistance, tension, and accommodation.  Just so, the Latter Day Church of Christ itself seeks to heighten both resistance and accommodation – rejecting, for instance, evidence that Joseph Smith ever practiced polygamy and embracing whole-heartedly the LDS church’s sentimental emphasis upon the family, but also heightening the sort of radical spiritual claims which have become routinized in American Mormonism.   Gill, after all, has had visionary experiences of all the figures Joseph Smith claimed to have encountered, adding a resurrected Joseph himself into the bargain.   As his father (and first counselor) asks derisively of the LDS Church, “We have again an era of prophets.  Proper prophets.  Not people who are just put into position and over time get to be a prophet . . . Where’s the revelation in that?”    And such is a new church born.

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Guest Post: Kim Östman on The Introduction of Mormonism to Finnish Society, 1840–1900

By January 18, 2011

Kim Ostman recently defended his dissertation in comparative religion  (available in full here), The Introduction of Mormonism to Finnish Society 1840-1900 at Åbo Akademi University and has been kind enough to share with us here the opening lecture from his thesis defense. Kim explains that “the public defence of a dissertation here in Finland consists of the opening lecture, the opponent’s (in this case Douglas Davies) brief general statement, a public ‘chat’/’roasting’ between the opponent and I for 1.5-2 hours, and the opponent’s final statement on the thesis and its defence.”

Kim has published a number of important pieces on Mormonism in Finland and is an excellent example of a European scholar carrying on fascinating research on Mormonism locally.  A big congratulations on a completed dissertation and a thanks for sharing a these thoughts here at the JI.

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JWHA 2011 Call For Papers

By January 14, 2011

2011 JWHA Annual Meeting Call for Papers

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Methodism, Mormonism, and the Atlantic World

By January 12, 2011

I recently opined on the benefits of situating the rise of Mormonism within the larger historical context of the (late) early modern Atlantic world. I would like now to briefly outline one example of what such an approach might look like. 

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Book Announcement: Stephen C. Taysom, Shakers, Mormons, and Religious Worlds: Conflicting Visions, Contested Boundaries

By October 22, 2010

Stephen C. Taysom. Shakers, Mormons, and Religious Worlds: Conflicting Visions, Contested Boundaries. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010. xvi + 263 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $34.95. Cloth.

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