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.
By September 2, 2015
[We are thrilled to have yet another guest post from Jeff Turner, a PhD student at the University of Utah. See his previous offerings here, here, and here.]
“I actually learned something about Mormonism,” said my seat-neighbor at the Book of Mormon musical this past spring. Terrified, curious, and excited, I found myself wondering what he could have learned from the musical that he hadn’t known beforehand. So I asked. Surprisingly, his new piece of information had to do with the relationship between Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, namely that they knew each other in person, which made Young’s succession as the next church president more approachable to my seatmate (even though the succession was oversimplified in the musical). Well that’s not so bad, I thought, and I can see how he picked that up from the musical. We had a short chat about it afterward, and that was the end of it.
By August 5, 2015
The release of the photos of Joseph Smith’s seer stone as well as the pouch made by Emma Smith that protected it, illustrates the sheer viscerality of material religion. It demonstrates the power that objects can have in the lives of religious believers and is a great example of how religion is not just something that is believed or felt abstractly or read through a text. Objects and bodies mediate religious experience.
By May 10, 2015
A few Mormon studies-related links from around the internet over the last (couple) week(s):
Seth Perry authored a provocative review essay of Terryl Givens’s Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Reflecting on the book’s “emphatically male framing,” Perry examines it against the backdrop of contemporary Mormon debates over sex roles:
Wrestling the Angel is a comprehensive synthesis of Mormon theology. It’s not specifically about the theological particulars that undergird the Church’s increasingly unpopular sexual politics. Right now, however, those particulars are what people are interested in, and Givens’s struggle with them is emblematic of his Church’s current predicament. In a different era, a cogent, explicitely Christian synthesis of Mormon theology such as this one would have performed an apologetic purpose, giving Mormon thought the dignity it deserves. Nowadays, though, Mormon thought largely has that dignity. What readers both inside and outside the Church wonder about now is why it is so closely associated with an understanding of sex and gender that many find backward. The theological answers presented here are haunted by political questions.
A recent episode of Backstory with the American History Guys on “island hopping” included some discussion of James Strang and Beaver Island. Elsewhere on the radio, Doug Fabrizio discussed age and leadership in the LDS Church with scholars Richard Bushman and Greg Prince. Bushman, along with his wife and fellow scholar Claudia, were interviewed over at Past is Present, the official blog of the American Antiquarian Society, where the Bushmans have spent the year as Distinguished Scholars in Residence. Two excerpts of interest:
Past is Present: Richard, same question for you. How do you first become interested in a project? You have two strains in your work, one on American life and culture more generally and one on Joseph Smith and Mormonism.
RB: It’s that double life that lies behind this project. I’m basically an early American historian, but from time to time I’ve been asked to do something on Mormonism, so I got involved in writing about Joseph Smith. As I was looking for a new project on the early American history side, I thought I ought to do something that would interact with the work I was doing on Joseph Smith. His family were farmers, so I thought, “Well, I’ll see what I can find out about farmers.” And it worked out well. The two halves fed into each other. I use the Joseph Smith example, his family, in the farm work and the other way around.
Past is Present: I guess one more question. If there’s one book that you could write that you haven’t written yet, what would it be? One topic that you would love to cover.
CB: Well, I have two projects. One is [an oral history project on Mormon women]. The other one is my autobiography. I’m doing this for lots of reasons, but one is that women don’t write their autobiographies and they always apologize for doing it. They say, “I wouldn’t have done this, but my children, my neighbors asked me.” Because that’s the way we feel. Women shouldn’t, we’re just not important enough to write about ourselves. So I decided that that would be one of my final women’s studies projects, that I would tell my own story, and I’m about halfway done with it, I guess. I have plenty more to do. Seeing as I was not apologizing for it, I would give it an in-your-face title. So the title is, I, Claudia. So you take yourself seriously, but not too seriously. Will anybody ever publish it? I don’t know. My family can publish it. See, now I’m already apologizing! That’s bad. We just don’t want to apologize for ourselves, because it’s so important to have women’s autobiographies. Those that we have we value so much. I don’t dare think of another project until I get those done.
Meanwhile, over at the Salt Lake Tribune, Peggy Fletcher Stack reported on a youth Sunday School teacher in Hawaii who was released after using the church’s recently-published essay on race and the priesthood in one of his lessons.
A CNN profile of Mormonism in Cambodia provided a fascinating look at the religious politics of temple work for the dead in a predominantly Buddhist country.
In academic conference news, the Mormon Pacific Historical Society released the CFP for its fall conference, to be held on the campus of BYU-Hawaii October 23-24.
We’ll wrap things up with a couple of bloggernacle links: First, a post over at By Common Consent by Steve Evans reflecting on the present and future of Mormon Studies, which sparked a lively conversation in the comments section and a lengthier response from Ardis Parshall over at Keepapitchinin on “Academia vs. Scholarship” (that’s the second link). Be sure and read both.
By March 23, 2015
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.
By February 19, 2015
Mormons have a long history of supplementing their LDS worship with attendance at or participation in the services of other Christian denominations. In the 19th century, some Latter-day Saints in the American South would, in the sometimes lengthy periods between visits from traveling missionaries, attend Sunday services at the local Baptist or Methodist church. In the 21st century, Mormons are counted among mega-preacher Joel Osteen’s many listeners and viewers, tuning into his broadcasts on Sunday mornings while getting ready to attend their own meetings; others, acting as spiritual tourists, occasionally take in a Catholic or Anglican service while traveling.
Perhaps the most notable (and timely) example of Mormons supplementing their worship outside the confines of the Mormon chapel or temple, though, is the increasing number of Latter-day Saints who take part in some aspect of the traditional Christian liturgical calendar. Some attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve, others finding personal meaning and significance in Ash Wednesday. In perhaps the most striking example, a ward in Medford, Oregon collectively observed Palm Sunday last year, complete with palm fronds made by the primary children. Last year, I decided to observe the Lenten fast, giving up dessert/candy/sweets for the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I did so quietly, taking as my guide the excellent devotional readings by the good folks at By Common Consent as part of their ongoing Mormon Lectionary Project. It ended up being a wholly worthwhile experience, and this year I was eager to participate again. Yesterday at noon, I attended the Ash Wednesday service at the Williamsburg United Methodist Church, accompanied by another Mormon grad student.
By November 2, 2014
Links to the latest Mormon Studies news from around the internet:
Mormons and Politics are in the news again. Only this time, in book form. David Campbell, John Green, and Quinn Monson’s new book from Cambridge University Press, Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics was reviewed in the Deseret News. Interested in more? Jana Riess posted a Q&A with Campbell and Monson over at Flunking Sainthood; Doug Fabrizio also hosted the co-authors on his Radio West program on Thursday.
You’ve likely heard that BYU Religious Education has revamped its curriculum, and the bloggernacle has weighed in from all angles. See here, here, here, here, and here for a sampling.
Also out of BYU, a couple of big announcements from the Maxwell Institute: The online edition of Royal Skousen’s Book of Mormon Critical Text Project has launched, and a new digital subscription option to all three journals published by the MI (Mormon Studies Review, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, and Studies in the Bible and Antiquity) is now being offered (for only $10!).
Several archives in Utah and Arizona have teamed up to create the Highway 89 Digital Collections Project, “an online aggregator and exhibition that brings together the stories of US 89, as it travels through the state of Utah.” Their aim “is to aggregate existing images, texts, and oral histories related to US 89 while simultaneously identifying and digitizing additional relevant collections.” Read more at Researching the Utah State Archives.
Finally, one final reminder that the submission deadline for the 2015 Faith & Knowledge Conference is approaching (THIS FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7!) Get your submissions in ASAP!
By October 14, 2014
Earlier this year, Tona wrote an excellent post about the fragility of digital archives following up on Max Mueller’s AHA paper that explored both the possibilities and pitfalls of the “I’m A Mormon” campaign as a primary source. Tona noted that, “What is available to historians relies largely upon on goodwill, technology upgrades, and the market.”
Within this context, it is fascinating to observe, in real-time, the debate over whether or not the General Women’s Meeting is a session of General Conference. This controversy includes the editing of a video of a conference session as well as conflicting (and possibly changing) interpretations about the status of the Women’s Meeting from LDS Public Affairs, the Deseret News website as well as lds.org. While the debate about the status of the Women’s Meeting has been largely framed as a feminist issue, it also raises questions for researchers in tracing changes to historical documents and other sources as well as how ideas get lodged in the imaginations of religious believers. As Tona states,
Things come, go, vanish, launch, in a constant state of (often unannounced) change that nonetheless presents itself as final, unchanging and authoritative… it is a historian’s worst nightmare. If you cannot see the “manuscript edits” so to speak, how do you know what changed, when, how and why? And if the old just vanishes from the online environment without a trace, what happens to the possibilities for historical research? Most of what we are all busily creating in this decade has simply been written in the equivalent of vanishing ink.
By October 13, 2014
I did not start to question Columbus Day until my first history course at Brigham Young University in 2008, when an instructor discussed with the class the controversies concerning Columbus and the Quincentennial in 1992. We read The Four Voyages: Being His Own Log-Book, Letters, and Dispatches with Connecting Narratives published by Penguin Classics in 1992. The class showed me how to search primary sources and understand the current debates about the legacy of Christopher Columbus. As a Latter-day Saint Native American, my complicated opinion of Columbus began to gel. I learned of his human weaknesses and impacts (both direct and non-direct) on indigenous peoples. As a historian, I came to recognize a historical figure’s context and the “pastness of history.” I became increasingly uncomfortable with the appropriations of Columbus’s image, especially in the contests over Columbus Day and Indigenous Day.
By October 9, 2014
The University of Utah’s Tanner Humanities Center is proud to present the Fall 2014 McMurrin Lecture on Religion and Culture with David Campbell, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and co-author of the recent book Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics. Campbell’s lecture, titled “Whither the Promised Land? Mormons’ Place in a Changing Religious Landscape,” will be held on Thursday, October 30 at 7:00 PM in the Salt Lake City Main Library auditorium, 210 E 400 S. This event is free and open to the public. More information at www.thc.utah.edu.
In his lecture, Campbell will explore how Mormons fit into a society where once-sharp religious distinctions have blurred and secularism is on the rise. With their high levels of religious devotion and solidarity, Mormons in America are increasingly “peculiar.” Does their peculiarity come at a price? Does that price include a “stained glass ceiling” in presidential politics? In other words, did Mormonism cost Mitt Romney the White House? And, how has Mitt Romney’s campaign affected popular perceptions of Mormonism?
By September 29, 2014
We’re pleased to present today’s guest post from Barbara Jones Brown. Barbara was the content editor of Massacre at Mountain Meadows (OUP, 2008) and is now at work on the book’s sequel. She holds a master’s degree in American history from the University of Utah and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Brigham Young University. She serves on the board of directors for the Mormon History Association and on the Mormon Women’s History Initiative Team.
On September 11, 2014, dozens of people from throughout the United States gathered at the lower monument of southern Utah’s Mountain Meadows. We were there to remember the victims of the atrocity that took place in that valley exactly 157 years before, when Mormon militiamen led a massacre of some 120 California-bound emigrants. Most of the victims were from Arkansas. Only seventeen children aged six and under survived. The monument, dedicated September 11, 1999, marks the spot where the emigrants took cover behind their wagons during the five-day siege and where U.S. troops laid many of their bones to rest in 1859.
By September 9, 2014
Please note the approaching deadline (October 1, 2014). This conference promises to be MHA’s best yet.
Call for Papers
2015 Provo, Utah
50th Anniversary Conference
“Mormon Cultures, Cultural Mormons”
2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Mormon History Association, whose annual conference will beheld in Provo, Utah, on June 4–7, 2015, at the Utah Valley Convention Center. We invite papers and presentations that consider Mormon history in its broadest possible sense, as well as those which reflect retrospectively on the history of the MHA itself at its first half-century mark.
By July 24, 2014
Happy Pioneer Day, readers! Thank you for your patience with us lately — we know things have been slow around here (they tend to get that way during the summer), but we have some exciting things planned moving forward and hope you’ll keep checking in, reading, and commenting moving forward.
In recognition of Pioneer Day, I’ve culled from the Juvenile Instructor’s archives links to several previous posts treating Mormon Pioneers in one sense or another. In hopes that they’ll prove interesting to those who missed them the first time around (and to those, like me, interested in revisiting them), here we go:
By June 16, 2014
At the Mormon History Association’s meetings two weeks ago (was it only two weeks ago?!), I attended several excellent sessions and roundtables. Each of the sessions I attended was worth the price of the conference registration—it was my favorite MHA I’ve attended so far. As usual, meals, hall conversations, and the student reception provided an excellent arena for sharing ideas about the research being presented, but also about the new developments in Mormon history and American religious history.
By February 16, 2014
Missed out on the latest news in the world of Mormon Studies? We’re here for you and back with another weekly roundup of relevant links. Let’s get to it:
Over at Rational Faiths, Connell O’Donovan writes about three newly discovered early black Mormon women. The discovery—incredibly important to recovering the African American presence in early Mormonism in all of its facets—is based on careful and surely time-consuming analysis of personal papers and printed sources.
By December 11, 2013
Last week, the Joseph Smith Papers Project released their newest volume: Documents Volume 2 (July 1831-January 1833). (You can find a report from the launch party for the first Documents volume here.) There are more than 40(!) copies of revelations included in the new volume, as well as several letters between Joseph and Emma Hale Smith, meeting minutes and licenses for church leaders (more on that later). The documents in this collection offer special insight to the developing administration of the Church, as well as Joseph Smith coming into his own as a Church administrator. Researchers will find the first written copies of the preface to the Book of Commandments (Doctrine and Covenants 1), the revelation now canonized as (Doctrine and Covenants 76), and the revelations that became the basis for the delineation of the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods (Doctrine and Covenants 84).
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.
By November 4, 2013
We’re pleased today to welcome back J.B. Haws for Part II of our Q & A on his recent article in the JMH and his forthcoming book, The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (Oxford, December 2013), both exploring the changing image of Mormons in American media from George Romney’s presidential run in the 1960s to his son Mitt Romney’s campaigns in the early 21st century. Last time, we focused mainly on Haws’ methods and sources. Today, we’re exploring specific aspects of his analysis and a few of his conclusions.
By October 21, 2013
In August, I reviewed J.B. Haws’ recent article “When Mormonism Mattered Less in Presidential Politics: George Romney’s 1968 Window of Possibilities”, published in the summer issue of the Journal of Mormon History. Haws, an Assistant Professor of Church History at BYU, graciously agreed to participate in a Q & A to answer some of my lingering questions and those submitted by members of the JI community. In the course of our conversation, we also discussed how the research he presented in his article is extended in his forthcoming (and highly-anticipated!) book, The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (Oxford, December 2013), which promises to be an important and much-needed addition to our understanding of Mormonism in the contemporary period, as well as of public representations (and misrepresentations) of Mormonism across the last half of the 20th century.
JBH: I should say, by way of preface, that as I read through your questions, my reaction after every one was to think, “Wow—great question.” But I’m going to resist typing that every time (but just know I’m still thinking that!). Thanks for these thoughtful and thought-provoking questions.
CHJ: Thank you, J. B.! We’re excited that you were willing to offer us some answers. So—let’s get to it!
By October 13, 2013
Another week, another list of links from the world of Mormon Studies. Let’s get started:
Those of you who enjoyed last month’s series of posts on material culture will want to read Rachel McBride Lindsey’s post at Religion in American History on a recently-rediscovered quilt auctioned off at her grandmother’s childhood church (Tabernacle Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri). Lindsey concludes:
My grandmother was a small child in 1938 and her memories of the quilt are probably more collective than personal. The quilt is not a proxy of material culture—that capacious category assigned to the stuff we designate as somehow meriting sustained inquiry—and neither is it a proxy of the tiny hands that have grown soft and arthritic, or the many other hands that stitched hundreds of names and sewed its patches into a single tapestry. It is not an unmediated connection to the past, but it is a connection whose twines are composed of threads and stories. Itself a patchwork, it asks us to piece together not only the history of the church and the ownership of the quilt, but also the many other histories of which it is a part.
Another non-Mormon post of potential interest to JI readers is Ken Owen’s thoughts on historical heroes over at The Junto. His concluding thoughts are certainly relevant to readers of Mormon history: “I’ll keep my heroes, for without them, I’d begin to wonder why history mattered at all. But I’ll remember that heroism is also a mug’s game, and I’ll do my best to keep my eyes open to the broader questions—good and bad—raised by the lives of those I admire.”
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