By March 23, 2018
In reflections earlier in the week, J Johnson and J Stuart offered thoughts on how Jonathan Stapley’s excellent new book, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology, models the kind of attentiveness to “lived theology” that some scholars have called for, and which has been characterized as part of the analytical school of “lived religion.” This is not the theology of the elites, but rather, as Robert Orsi put it, the “theology of the streets”: vernacular meaning-making and ”cultural bricolage” performed by ordinary people . It is colored by the vicissitudes of ordinary life and, while informed by the pronouncements of religious authority figures, it is not bounded by them. This is experiential theology, and it matches with the premium valued place by the “lived religion” approach upon experience. Johnson and Stuart are quite right; Stapley has, in his deployment of “cosmology,” certainly succeeded in his aspiration to ”[open] new possibilities for understanding the lived experiences of women and men in the Mormon past and Mormon present” (pg. 2). In this reflection, however, I offer a few thoughts not (or at least not directly) on “cosmology” or theology, but on the other major category of Stapley’s book, “liturgy,” and on how The Power of Godliness relates to the study of religious practice in Mormon history and in American religious history more generally.
By March 22, 2018
[This is the fourth in our week-long roundtable on Jonathan Stapley’s The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (Oxford University Press). You should make sure to read Tona’s post here, Joey’s post here and Janiece’s here. Building on their excellent reviews, I’d like to focus my remarks on a couple questions Stapley’s book raised.]
Modern Mormon discourse often revolves around the priesthood. Does the LDS Church’s conception of the priesthood lead to too much of a hierarchical organization? Does it inevitably result in abuses of power? Does it make gender equality impossible?
Jonathan Stapley’s new book does not seek to answer these questions. He makes it clear in the introduction that he wishes to steer clear of the political implications of Mormonism’s priesthood tradition. But what he does is destabilize the very conception of the “priesthood” itself. For the church’s first century, early Mormons believed in what Stapley calls a “cosmological priesthood,” a heavenly network that bound individuals together in order to form a communal salvific unit. Mormons were, quite explicitly, creating the celestial kingdom, and the priesthood served as ligaments holding everything together. But starting during the progressive era, members of the faith shifted toward an ecclesiastical framework for understanding the priesthood, a paradigm that focused entirely on ecclesiastical offices held by men. That shift eventually led to the Mormonism of today.
By December 4, 2017
Once again, this is my attempt to recap the historiography of Mormonism from the past twelve months. This is the eighth such post, and previous installments are found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I do not list every single book and article from 2016, but I do highlight those I found most interesting and relevant. Therefore, a strong bias is obviously involved, so I hope you’ll add more in the comments.
The Instant Classic
Readers of this blog should already be familiar with Ulrich’s new book. (And hopefully everyone has already read our summer book club devoted to the masterpiece.) If you’re interested in my take, my review is found in Dialogue. In short: it’s perhaps the most significant book in Mormon studies since Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling, and perhaps surpasses even that. Make sure to read the roundtable devoted to Ulrich in the most recent issue of Mormon Studies Review; and while you’re there, make sure to subscribe to the field’s best review journal.
By May 12, 2017
The Immigration and Ethnic History Society has generously agreed to cross-post this content on their blog. The posts are slightly different, and I try to introduce Mormon readers here to scholarship in Immigration History, and IEHS readers there to scholarship in Mormon History. I’m hoping to facilitate conversation across audiences. Here’s the link:
In 1897, “Pres. G.Q. Cannon stated that the Presidents of Missions had been instructed not to encourage people to emigrate to Utah until they had become well grounded in the faith and not then until times in Utah became better, unless they have friends or means to provide a home on their arrival.” This discouragement became public the next year in 1898, when Mormon Apostle George Q. Cannon stated in the semiannual church-wide gathering, general conference, “There is one course that has been taken which I think will be attended with good efforts, that is, counselling the Saints in the various lands where they embrace the Gospel to remain quiet for a while; to not be anxious to break up their homes to gather to Zion.” This was the first of many announcements that called for the end of the gathering. Why did Cannon renege Mormonism’s long history with open immigration? How did the end of the gathering come about, and what did it mean for Mormonism?
By March 14, 2017
Welcome to the last installment of our Tuesdays with Orsi series, in which we collectively read Robert Orsi’s HISTORY AND PRESENCE (Harvard, 2016)! This post examines the epilogue and offers thoughts on the book as a whole. Previous installments can be found here: Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, and chapter 7.
“It is a dreadful thing to be in relationship with the gods really present,” Orsi says at the beginning of this book. (5) Certainly, a reading of its seven chapters is enough to convince us of that. They show that the gods can be capricious and deceptive as often as they are redemptive and healing. His believers cling to bags of sacred soil, icons, and relics. They experience the presence of the divine in their lives. And yet Orsi is hardly telling Sunday school stories. The presence of the gods fails people, hurts them, and tears them up, emotionally and physically. And yet those people keep coming, pressing their foreheads against the tombs of the saints, because the gods save them, too.
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 4, Chapter 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.
By February 7, 2017
Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the third chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. Previous installments are found here, here, and here.
The third chapter of Robert Orsi’s provocative and sophisticated book leaves behind the broad and sweeping trajectories of earlier chapters in order to focus on the mundane experiences of everyday life. Personal relics, individual relationship, holy encounters—this is where humans experience the gods. This is, of course, lived religion, a genre that Orsi has championed. But in this form it is focused on the personalized contexts in which “abundant events” are experienced. The chapter interweaves three different narratives–Chicago housewives in 1940s war-torn America who worried about their families overseas, a young Arizona girl who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her step-father slightly later, and a social sciences grad student in the 1990s staring down her own leukemia–while meditating on the nature of gods’ presence in everyday life. Each of these three stories feature women facing insurmountable evil, yet finding refuge in a spiritual event, even if that moment of religious deliverance didn’t feature a headline-grabbing episode.
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.
Robert 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.
By January 13, 2017
On Wednesday evening, I attended a public lecture by noted historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, in which she talked about her recently-released book, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870. We have a review of the book forthcoming here at JI (spoiler alert: it’s good and you all should read it), as well as a Q&A with Dr. Ulrich, but for now I wanted to reflect on the final four words of the book’s title: “Early Mormonism, 1835-1870.”
By January 5, 2017
Continuing JI’s annual tradition, this book highlights some of the forthcoming books in the next calendar year. (If you missed my recap of 2016, you can read it here.) 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.
Please share in the comments those book I have failed to mention. Quotations come from the book’s promotional pages.
Few books have earned as much anticipation as Ulrich’s. Ulrich is one of the leading historians of early America, and is particularly known for her examination of gender, material culture, and microbiography. I previewed the book over at my personal blog, and my longer review is forthcoming in Dialogue. (You should also look forward to a roundtable review on the book in this year’s Mormon Studies Review volume.) Here is the publisher’s overview: “A stunning and sure-to-be controversial book that pieces together, through more than two dozen nineteenth-century diaries, letters, albums, minute-books, and quilts left by first-generation Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, the never-before-told story of the earliest days of the women of Mormon “plural marriage,” whose right to vote in the state of Utah was given to them by a Mormon-dominated legislature as an outgrowth of polygamy in 1870, fifty years ahead of the vote nationally ratified by Congress, and who became political actors in spite of, or because of, their marital arrangements. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, writing of this small group of Mormon women who’ve previously been seen as mere names and dates, has brilliantly reconstructed these textured, complex lives to give us a fulsome portrait of who these women were and of their “sex radicalism”–the idea that a woman should choose when and with whom to bear children.”
By December 28, 2016
Word is spreading that B. Carmon Hardy, one of the stalwarts of the Mormon History Association, passed away on December 21st. (Details are still forthcoming; I will provide a link to an obituary when one becomes available.) This caps off a rough year for the world of Mormon history, as we’ve already lost Ronald Walker, Milton Backman, William (Bert) Wilson, Marvin Hill, Melissa Proctor, and Edward Kimball. Professor Hardy received his PhD in history from Wayne State University in Detroit and, after a brief stint at Brigham Young University, spent a productive career at California State University, Fullerton. Like most Mormon historians of his generation, Hardy built his reputation on non-Mormon topics—including co-authoring a well-received textbook on world history—before turning his attention to Mormonism later in his career. While his earliest work was on Mormon colonies in Mexico (see this overlooked Pacific History Review article on the topic), he made his biggest mark on the history of Mormon polygamy.
By December 6, 2016
Just some of the significant volumes from 2016. Also, my awesome bookends inherited from my grandparents.
Once again, this is my attempt to recap the historiography of Mormonism from the past twelve months. This is the eighth such post, and previous installments are found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I do not list every single book and article from 2016, but I do highlight those I found most interesting and relevent. Therefore, a strong bias is obviously involved, so I hope you’ll add more in the comments.
I think it’s safe to say it was another solid year for the field.
By November 28, 2016
This past semester I taught both an undergraduate course and a graduate seminar in American Religious History. These types of courses are great for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that they give you an excuse to read books you’ve indefensibly managed to avoid up to this point. This was especially the case for me, given my ignorance of twentieth century history. Most prominently, I’ve been, for a long time, embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read Robert Orsi‘s books. It was far past time to rectify that problem, so I assigned his Madonna of 115th Street for my undergrad class and Thank You, Saint Jude for my grad seminar. Both were phenomenal: not only did they spark discussion with my students, but I was amazed at the new methodological possibilities presented in his work. They lived up to their reputation. I may not be a scholar of lived religion, but I can certainly see its merits.
But reading and discussing the books raised a question in my mind: could there be a Robert Orsi for Mormon studies? Or, put another way, could there be a history of Mormonism written in the style of Orsi’s books on Catholicism? There are a few reasons why I hope for the possibility.
By June 27, 2016
J. Stapley brings us the next installment of the Summer Book Club. Click here for part one, two, and three.
Ben mentioned last week that Mormon Enigma was one of the best treatments of Nauvoo polygamy available. The topic is a morass, and to be honest I have started more than one book on the topic, only to set it down never to pick it back up after a chapter or two. I’ve read a lot of the primary documents, and some of the prominent secondary literature. And it is true, that the chapters in Mormon Enigma are some of the most readable and insightful, even while laboring under the constraints of time.
By June 20, 2016
[This is the third installment of the Summer Book Club, this year focusing on Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery’s Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith. You can read the first two installments here and here. This part focuses on chapters 7-9, which cover the introduction of polygamy, formation of the Relief Society, and Emma’s quest to help her husband during extradition attempts. Buckle up.]
A few years ago I attended a sunstone conference where Linda King Newell, co-author of the book under discussion, spoke on her experience writing, publishing, and defending Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith. She gave lots of good details, and reinforced how tense the whole ordeal was: the fight to get access to archival sources, the attempted censorship on the part of the Church, and the many people who helped them along the way. But the anecdote that stood out to me the most concerned the writing process—and the process of writing about polygamy, to be exact. (Following words are paraphrased from memory.) “I remember Val [Avery] calling me one day,” Newell explained, “and she said she was working on the polygamy chapter and had to lie down.” Valeen paused for a bit, then added, “one of the wives was fourteen. Fourteen. I have a daughter that age.”
By June 14, 2016
This post resurrects an old and unfortunately infrequent JI series, “Reassessing the Classics,” where we look at important books from days of Mormon history past. And the post’s title is partly a lie–it’s actually been 51 years since the book’s publication, but 50 is a much nicer number.
I recently commenced a book project on Nauvoo that has provided the opportunity to return to one of our field’s earliest and most important works, Robert Bruce Flanders’s Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965). One of the first books on Mormon history to be published by a university press–it was preceded by, among others, Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom–it was a very early academic treatment that inaugurated the New Mormon History movement. It also still reads remarkably well. But of course it wears the marks of its age. In this post I want to highlight not only the strengths and weaknesses of this work deservedly called a “classic,” but also highlight some historiographic developments in the past half-century.
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.
As 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.” 
By May 25, 2016
Taysom is presently working on a biography of Joseph F. Smith, to be published with the University of Utah Press. He’s graciously agreed to an interview.
Your previous book was a theoretical study of boundary maintenance among nineteenth century Mormons and Shakers. What led you to next write a biography of Joseph F. Smith?
By May 11, 2016
Ronald W. Walker left an indelible impression on many Juvenile Instructor bloggers (and friends of the JI). For some, it was primarily through reading his work or hearing his conference presentations. Others of us got to know him on a more personal level, and we have contributed brief tributes below, reflecting on Ron as a historian, mentor, and friend.
Brett D. Dowdle, Joseph Smith Papers
I was saddened to learn of Ron’s death. The first time I read one of Ron’s articles was in 2006, when I read “Crisis in Zion: Heber J. Grant and the Panic of 1893.” I was instantly captivated. Ron had a way with words and a command of research that few historians ever approach. In June 2008, I was privileged to meet him for the first time, beginning a long friendship as he kindly took me on as a research assistant for his biography of Brigham Young. At the time he hired me, I was an inexperienced graduate student and historian, but he kindly worked with me to teach me how to become a proficient researcher. While working with Ron, my understanding of and appreciation for the early Utah period grew exponentially as we discussed the topic in his office. Up to the very end, Ron was dedicated to research and writing, and was pushing forward with his work on Brigham Young.
By May 9, 2016
Word is beginning to spread that Ronald Walker, long time practitioner of Mormon history, passed away early this morning after a long struggle with cancer. Walker was immensely influential not only within the historical community, but also with many of us here at Juvenile Instructor on a personal level. We will have a post with individual tributes soon, where it will be clear that his personal relationships far outweighed even his academic work, but right now I want to give a brief overview of his scholarly accomplishments.
Originally from Montana and California, Walker received degrees from BYU, Stanford, and the University of Utah. At first part of the CES as an institute teacher and curriculum writer, Walker joined Leonard Arrington’s “camelot” in 1976. (Walker later helped fashion Arrington’s legacy through projects like co-editing his reflections.) When the history division was dissolved and moved to BYU in 1980, he became a professor of history and part of the newly-founded Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History, and later became involved with the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies as well. He was exceptionally prolific during this period with articles, edited collections, and frequent involvement with BYU Studies. Walker retired from BYU in 2006 to be a full-time independent historian with a laundry list of projects to complete.