By January 25, 2013
As part of my dissertation on the ritualization of Mormon history, I have been researching the use of pioneer symbolism in both mainstream American and Mormon public memory. I’ve put together some basic thoughts on this subject for this post today, my third guest post here at Juvenile Instructor. You can find the others here and here.
The concept of public memory is central to what I want to talk about today. By this, I mean the ideas that a people may have about their history, ideas that help a society not only understand its past, but more importantly also its present and future. It reveals essential issues present in every society: issues of organization, of power structures, of the actual meaning of past and present as experienced by different societal groups. I’m operating on the premise that ultimately, how we think about the past is grounded in how we think about the present. Shaping public memory is a contested practice and involves a struggle for authority and domination between ideologies (Bodnar 13), often expressing itself as a conflict between ‘official cultures’ (civic and business leaders, for example) and ‘vernacular cultures’ (‘ordinary people’) .
By January 9, 2013
Not even a Catholic blessing could save Manti Te’o and the dying pop-culture Mormon moment he represents. (source: Wall Street Journal)
[cross-posted at Religion in American History]
On Monday afternoon, just hours before the Alabama Crimson Tide blew out the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the BCS National Championship football game, Peggy Fletcher Stack posted a short note at the Salt Lake Tribune‘s Following Faith blog on the Catholic pregame rituals of ND.
Specifically, Stack drew readers’ attention to the Mormon story embedded within a fuller exploration of that subject at the Wall Street Journal: Star linebacker, Heisman Trophy runner-up, and devout Mormon Manti Te’o joins his teammates in “attend[ing] a Catholic Mass, receiv[ing] ‘a priest-blessed medal devoted to a Catholic saint,’ and ‘kiss[ing] a shrine containing two slivers Notre Dame believes came from Jesus’ cross.'” He was even photographed receiving a blessing from Notre Dame president emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh (a blessing Te’o reportedly sought out). Football team chaplain Father Paul Doyle explained that Te’o has privately told him that “he feels supported here [at Notre Dame] in his Mormon religion.”
All of this immediately brought to mind some of my previous thoughts on Mormon supplemental worship, in which Latter-day Saints supplement their Mormon activity by attending other Christian church’s services (a habit that dates back to at least the late nineteenth century). While the example provided by Te’o is clearly part of that larger historical tradition, it also strikes me as unique for a couple of reasons:
By August 4, 2012
I stumbled on this little gem while looking for something else in the Internet Archive’s collection of Mormon publications  and was both charmed and intrigued by it. The pamphlet is a 16-page tract, titled “The Latter-day Saints’ Catechism: Or, Child’s Ladder,” by Elder David Moffat. Subtitle: “Being a Series of Questions Adapted for the Use of the Children of Latter-day Saints.”
By August 2, 2012
[This is the first guest post from Saskia Tielens.]
Last spring, I taught a course called The Book of Mormon and American Culture at the TU Dortmund University in Dortmund, Germany. It was an elective class and meant for undergraduate students.
The first thing my students asked me last spring was whether I was Mormon.
Actually, that’s not true. The first thing they asked me was something incomprehensible in German. Since I prefer my German the American way (slowly and loudly), I stared at them for a moment before letting them know that however much I appreciated being addressed as Frau Tielens (it has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?), Ms. Tielens would do for now.
By July 10, 2012
In keeping with a family tradition that we began last year in St. George, Utah, we turned MHA (the Mormon History Association annual meeting), which was held in Calgary this year, into an excuse for a very big (9,000+-mile) family road trip this year. In preparation for our border-crossing, I read a short story by author and English professor Thomas King titled “Borders” (if you haven’t read it, check it out). It is a story about a Blackfoot woman and her son (told from the perspective of the adolescent son) who get stranded at the U.S.-Canadian border–in Blackfoot Territory–when the mother insists that her nationality is Blackfoot and refuses to specify whether she is from the Canadian or American side: she is from the Blackfoot side. The two are on their way to Salt Lake City to visit the woman’s daughter who had previously moved there, convinced by a friend that it is the greatest place on earth, which the daughter reiterates in her postcards and travel brochures sent home (though, upon their arrival, she admits that she is thinking of returning home). Though never directly or explicitly so, the story is an excellent study in the complex mingling of Canadian-American-Blackfoot-Mormon identities that combine and comingle for several individuals in the area often referred to, among others things, as southern Alberta.
By August 16, 2011
Call for Papers
The History of Mormonism in Latin America and the U. S.-Mexico Borderlands
We are pleased to announce a call for papers for a conference on the history of Mormonism in Latin America and the U.S. Mexico Borderlands to be held in El Paso, Texas on July 28, 2012 in conjunction with a 100th Anniversary Commemoration of the “Exodus” of settlers from the Mormon Colonies in northern Mexico to the United States.
By May 31, 2011
Nate R. teaches American History to 8th graders and community college students in Colorado Springs. His MA Thesis on slavery in Utah won the MHA’s Best Thesis prize in 2008. His transcription of Joseph F. Smith’s Hawaiian diaries, titled “‘My Candid Opinion’: The Sandwich Islands Diaries of Joseph F. Smith,” is coming out in June.
In summer 2005 I was working as a researcher/writer for the Education in Zion Exhibit at BYU when the exhibit director, philosopher C. Terry Warner, called me into his office. He had been putting a lot of thought into it, he told me, and had decided to assign me to do the background research for one of the permanent Exhibit features: an overview of the life of Joseph F. Smith (EiZ is housed in the Joseph F. Smith Building).
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.
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.
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.
By January 10, 2011
I recently finished reading Protestant Empire, Carla Pestana’s rich survey of the role religion played in the establishment and development of the British Atlantic world in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
By January 4, 2011
[As a heads-up, this post does not attempt to make any claims or arguments. It’s just a few half-baked thoughts concerning early Mormon notions of the Kingdom of God and how it related to Americanism, specifically during the 1840s. I hope it generates some discussion–or, at least–encourages some thought on what I think may be an under-utilized approach to early Mormon history.]
It’s almost considered a common trope nowadays to describe Mormonism as “the quintessential American religion”–or something in those regards. Harold Bloom may be most famous for recently making such a claim, but the sentiment has been around a long time. An American-born prophet, an American-located Garden of Eden, a canonized revelation extolling the American Constitution, an American-centered headquarters–you get the idea. The question of how Mormons in the nineteenth century understood their relationship with the United States has received a lot of attention in recent decades, with good reason. It is a fascinating story of how Mormons both rejected America—by becoming fed up with persecution and mobocracy and moving West—while still holding the pure “ideal” of America and merely equating their contemporary nation as experiencing an apostasy akin to modern-day Christianity. Mormon scriptures both placed America the location at the center of future divine events while also prophesying the downfall of America the government as a necessary apocalyptic sign paving the way for the millennium. The paradoxical positioning of both rejecting and embracing the American image was at the center of the Mormon sense of self during the late-Nauvoo and early-Utah periods.
By January 16, 2009
Inspired by Edje, I dug this out of the archives. Originally posted in slightly different form here.
By 1910, 55 out of every 100 American Protestant missionaries – a group numbering in the tens of thousands whose reach extended from the cities of the United States to Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America – were women. Furthermore, the congregational associations who supported these missionaries were also dominated by women. Though it could be argued this merely reflects the historic gender gap within Christian congregations, such a boring sociological explanation was not how these missionaries explained themselves to themselves, or how their leaders lauded them.