By February 17, 2017
Imagine this setting: you are a Mormon attending a talk titled “Sacred Spaces, Holy Work: Perspectives on Mormon Temple Worship,” given at Harvard Divinity School by Juvenile Instructor’s own Tona Hangen, who is a professor of history and also a practicing Mormon. The talk is about temple worship, a topic on which Mormons famously do not love to offer details. The event is advertised both at Harvard and in my Sacrament program on Sunday. It is a public event and the room is full of people from diverse backgrounds. Scanning the room, I noticed people from the Divinity School who knew very little about Mormonism, Mormon professors and students from Harvard, three stake presidents (one whose wife brought treats), and people from my ward.
My point is not so much to belatedly highlight Tona’s awesome talk of a few months ago. Indeed, these situations happen all the time. Instead I want to bring attention to the complicated interplay of expectations of what one should say and how one’s audience expects you to say it. The experience of attending Tona’s talk, as well as subsequent experiences, has led me to think about the ways in which our audience (including believing Mormons and people with extensive or little knowledge of Mormonism) and our pedagogical spaces (such as classrooms, academic lectures, and sacrament talks) structure the ways in which we talk about our subject.
As an academically trained lifelong Mormon, I have learned several ways to engage with Mormonism. However, so far my experiences in discussing Mormonism have mostly been in homogenous groups and spaces. In Canada, where I grew up, there was little opportunity for mixed audiences because there were neither many Mormons nor people academically interested in Mormonism. Therefore, when I presented on Mormonism, I grew accustomed to being able to control who my audiences would be and how I would engage with them. Additionally, I could also manage how I presented my own subjectivity to the audience. Tona’s talk interested me because of the hybridity of the audience and subsequent messiness of expectations. Her audience understood Mormon temples in a variety of different ways: some non-Mormons had never heard of Mormon temples, others had participated in the sacred rituals in temples (and had different ideas of what should be secretive about those experiences), and the stake presidents in the room had the power to grant and bar access to temples.
So, as a speaker, writer, or teacher, how do you stay accountable to your hybrid audiences? How do you manage discourses of criticism and sympathy toward Mormonism? How do you frame your discussions in recognizable terms for mixed audiences? How do you manage different pedagogical spaces, such as BYU religion classes, in which learning expectations are both academic and devotional? How does your complicated relationship with the Mormon faith – whether you are a believing Mormon, Ex-Mormon, non-Mormon, or anything in between – enter into your academic discourse?
Please share your thoughts below in the comments.
By February 16, 2017
Today’s guest post comes from Keith Erekson. Keith is the Director of the Library division at the LDS Chruch History Library.
One of the most common tropes in Mormon literature asserts that Mormon practices are veiled in secrecy. In the realm of historical practice, the trope has been employed to describe the archival and historical collections of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, presently housed in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. What lies in the vaults at the Church History Library? What is restricted, and why? Is it possible to use restricted items in your research? What restrictions influence the intellectual property request process? Are restrictions ever lifted?
By February 14, 2017
Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the fourth 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, here and here.
The fourth chapter of History and Presence explores the relationship between print culture and practices of presence. Orsi maintains that Catholics in the United States, and elsewhere, use printed things in a distinctive manner. While they read, and looked at religious texts and images,
“devotional print was not simply a vehicle of ideas in this world, it was itself a medium of presence.”
This chapter opens with the story of a dying woman being fed a small piece of a holy card of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and contrasts Catholic and Protestant approaches to printed matter. Underscoring the idea that the Protestant/Catholic divide is not always absolute, Orsi demonstrates the centrality of the printed word to Protestant denominations, particularly through the medium of the scriptures and the sermon as well as their relationship to creeds and theology. By exploring print culture, Orsi states that the fundamental question of this chapter is “what we learn about modern practices and understandings of reading and writing in the world when we look at them from the perspective of what Catholics did with presence in print.” This includes an exploration of holy cards which were often transformed into relics. Orsi probes Catholic religious curriculum, illustrated Bible stories, coloring books, comic books, and popular magazines as sources of printed presence. He also discusses the role of the unprinted, but textual, presence involved in cursive handwriting as a devotional task.
By February 5, 2017
Since 1971, The Friend has been the LDS Church’s magazine for children. An article in the September 1974 issue of The Friend detailed that in addition to the Urim and Thummin “Joseph [Smith] also used an egg-shaped, brown rock for translating [the Book of Mormon] called a seer stone.” After combining and revamping church magazines in 1971, this was the first mention of a seer stone. Three years later, historian Richard Lloyd Anderson published an article on Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon that likewise included mention of Smith’s seer stone usage. This might surprise many Latter-day Saints today as Joseph Smith’s seer stone usage has not always played a role in the devotional narrative of Smith’s life and many might have believed the seer stone to be a part of antagonistic tall tales.
By February 1, 2017
Over the past week, scholars and news outlets have linked the Mormon past to the present Muslim-targeted immigration ban. They point to the 1879 Evarts Circular, in which Secretary of State William Evarts urged foreign governments to help restrict Mormon emigration from their countries. The above writers ask Mormons to remember their immigrant-persecuted-past and show compassion to those in the present.
These calls are noble. Yet, there is more to the Mormon-Muslim immigrant past than these articles articulate. The Evarts Circular was not the only federal action against Mormon immigration. Two legislative currents, federal legislative battles over the existence of polygamy in the 1880s and the federalization of immigration legislation, followed Evarts’ Circular. These forces coincided in the 1891 federal immigration law when legislators banned “polygamists” from crossing into America’s borders while increased funding established federal border regulation. At the same time, the 1891 law gave refugee status to immigrants fleeing from religious persecution. You’ll have to wait for a forthcoming post about the legal developments between the Evarts Circular and the 1891 law. You’ll also have to trust me when I say that the 1891 polygamy-immigration ban targeted Mormons (although this Los Angeles Times article might serve as some consolation in the meantime).
By January 31, 2017
Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the second chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. See the first installment here and the second installment here.
As Ryan wrote last week, Orsi’s writing in the past dozen or so years has focused on the need to write about “presence” and “abundant events” in scholarship on religion. Following up on his first chapter arguing for an academic way of studying the presence of “the gods” as they appear and operate in the lives of individuals and religious groups, Orsi’s second chapter argues that scholars should take “abundant events” much more seriously. In doing so, Orsi seeks to help scholars overcome the methodological issues inherent to studying religion. As JI emeritus and scholar Steve Taysom puts it, “how [can] scholars of religion account for experiences that are simultaneously irrational and real?”[i] Orsi contends that the abundance of events surrounding when the “transcendent breaks into time” means that scholars must account for the “presence” of supernatural occurrences and beings in the lives of those they study.
By January 29, 2017
Image courtesy of Ardis Parshall, keepapitchinin.org.
Some recommended reading from Juvenile Instructor bloggers and friends on the history of Mormonism and/as refugees:
By January 25, 2017
Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues this week…on Wednesday. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. See the first installment here.
As Jeff discussed in last week’s post, Robert Orsi’s ultimate purposes in History and Presence are grand; he aims to fundamentally challenge the norms of contemporary religious studies and, indirectly, aspects of modernity as a whole. Through prolonged historical processes, he argues, ontological assumptions of “absence” and not “presence,” have surreptitiously come to typify the way that modern scholars approach and analyze religion. Presuppositions of “absence”—above all the assumption that the divine and human do not enter into intimate and consequential relationships—has produced an impoverished view of religion in general, and especially of Catholicism. Such is the endpoint of this powerful, complicated, and often elegant book.
By January 24, 2017
A note from MHA Board Member and friend of Juvenile Instructor, J.B. Haws, regarding submissions for MHA Awards.
One final call for nominations for the 2016 Mormon History Association awards! The deadline is next week—February 1!
We welcome nominations for article awards and graduate student work awards from anyone—authors, advisers, readers, fans, colleagues, etc. Because some authors are reticent about putting forward their own pieces, we need your help to identify excellent scholarship.
Nominations for article awards should be submitted to Sheree Bench at email@example.com. Nominations for graduate student work awards (dissertation, thesis, and unpublished graduate paper) should be submitted to Brian Birch at firstname.lastname@example.org. Can we put out a special request to have those of you who work with graduate students to give extra attention to this? Please encourage your students and peers to submit their work—or feel free to send in their work for them!
Nominations for book awards should come directly from publishers. We ask publishers to submit 5 copies of nominated books. Publishers can contact our executive director, Rob Racker at email@example.com, to get current mailing information for our book award committee members (the book awards committee is chaired by Tona Hangen).
Feel free to direct general questions about awards to J.B. Haws at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for helping the MHA celebrate outstanding work in the field of Mormon history!
By January 11, 2017
This morning’s guest post comes from Richard Dilworth Rust, a missionary at the LDS Church History Library and who has worked on the George Q. Cannon project for the last several years.
On George Q. Cannon’s 190th birthday, January 11th, 2017, the Church Historian’s Press issued online George Q. Cannon’s journal for the period of 1876 to 1880.
The following are some of the events/topics that can be explored. Links to events are provided in the online list at the beginning of January each year.
By January 9, 2017
Last summer, Amanda organized a “back-to-school” series for students and professors preparing for fall semester. My post, which you can find here, spoke to my planning process and included a few tips on resources that graduate students can take advantage of. I thought that sharing a portion of my semester review process might be helpful to readers.
Well, if nothing else, I can say that I made it through. It turns out I was far too optimistic about what I could accomplish realistically. I took introductory courses on Latin America and “masculinities of men of color.” Despite how much I enjoyed each class, both kicked my rear end. I struggled to pick up an entire new section of historiography, both geographically and thematically. I didn’t think enough about how difficult it would be to learn so much new information in one semester. I wouldn’t recommend anyone else do it either, if they can help it, unless they have more time to devote to completing large outside reading lists. Despite these frustrations, I now have half of a dissertation chapter, half of the books for my Latin American history comprehensive exam, and the seedling of a publishable article on masculinity, gender, and civil rights. The coursework forced me to stretch in positive ways, but I’m looking forward to a semester with courses addressing themes with which I am already familiar.
By January 4, 2017
The Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah is proud to offer its annual fellowship in the name of Marlin K. Jensen. Our Marlin K. Jensen Scholar and Artist in Residence Program hosts prominent scholars with expertise in Mormon Studies or renowned artists who explore the relationship between faith and art in their work.
Marlin Keith Jensen was a general authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), serving as the official Church Historian and Recorder from 2005 to 2012. During his tenure, Jensen built bridges between the Mormon Church and the academy and worked to give the Church’s History Department international range, make its holdings more accessible to researchers, and publish primary materials. Jensen was made an emeritus general authority in 2012.
The fellowship is flexible in terms of time commitment and tasks. Applicants are asked to submit a clear plan for their time as fellow, up to a semester in length, which broadens our campus and community’s understanding of Mormonism, its people, and institutions. Academic as well as independent scholars are encouraged to apply.
By January 2, 2017
Mason, Patrick Q. and John G. Turner. Out of Obscurity: Mormonism since 1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Studies of nineteenth-century Mormonism have long dominated the Mormon History Association’s Best Book Awards. The move to study Mormonism in the context of religious studies has, in a similar manner, addressed the history of Mormonism from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at the expense of later events. Patrick Mason and John Turner have sought to expand academic conversations about Mormonism with their edited collection, Out of Obscurity: Mormonism since 1945, which examines the history of the LDS Church after World War II. As Mason writes in his introduction to the volume, his and Turner’s purpose in organizing the collection is to add to the “insightful but rare” studies of Mormonism in the postwar period by shining “a brighter light on Mormonism’s modern period” (4, 7). Another goal was to feature some of the “brightest emerging scholars” in the study of Mormonism, leavened by more seasoned scholars. Mason and Turner meet both their goals in splendid fashion. In this review, rather than address each chapter in depth, I’ll offer a thought or two on each chapter in Out of Obscurity’s four sections—internationalization, political culture, gender, and religious culture. While I recognize the clunkiness of this style of review, I hope that the short summaries will help readers find specific chapters they may want to read while engaging the entirety of the book.
By January 1, 2017
Happy New Year everyone!
Over my holiday I read On the Road With Joseph Smith: An Author’s Diary, which offers readers a keen insight into Richard Bushman’s post-publication thought as Mormon and scholarly audiences reviewed Rough Stone Rolling. Likely many readers of the book will enjoy Bushman’s reflections on his negotiation of the roles of scholar and believer. My favorite part, however, is the window that the book gives into the daily scholarly practices in which Bushman engages, including refining ideas and engaging in dialogue with the public about his book. Luckily for me, Bushman’s book is not the only place to receive such insights: the JI does a great job showing process, sharing resources, and exploring and refining ideas. Here are some of my favorite posts from 2016 that did just that:
By December 31, 2016
Across the world, the 2017 LDS Sunday School course of study is the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History. While church history has consistently been in the now regular four-year canonical rotation; the historical content beyond the manual has been minimal—basically limited to the 1838 canonized Joseph Smith—History and a glorified pamphlet—Our Heritage: A Brief History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1996) in the last decade. Regrettably, English speaking members who use a hard copy manual or download the pdf will continue to use the same manual. (So don’t.) However, those who use the online lessons from lds.org or from the Gospel Library app will have access to a much broader scope of historical sources.
The new manual introduction—“Helps for the Teacher”—quotes from and links to M. Russell Ballard’s seminal February 2016 talk to Church Education System personnel, “The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century.” He then urged instructors to study the “best books”—including “the best LDS scholarship available.” Ballard cited
By December 30, 2016
It’s the time for year-in-review articles and retrospectives, as we get ready to kick 2016 out the door. I’m not sure how to put my thoughts about this year into coherent words, so maybe I’d rather write about some other proxy year instead. Some months ago, I posted about the Church’s annual Church in Action films by profiling the 1973 version. I recently began teaching Institute in my stake and because of a boundary change I took over mid-semester in the Cornerstones class about Church history and the Restoration. Joey Stuart’s thought-provoking piece earlier this fall on Mormonism’s biggest “change year” challenged me to find a way to present some of the rapid transformations in Church demographics, policies and practices that have taken place in recent decades for the last class in the semester. I thought bringing in one of the Church in Action recaps might highlight both continuity and change in recent Mormonism. It definitely did; we had a lively discussion about the film and what had / hadn’t changed since then.
By December 22, 2016
So in sum, if Platonism shows up in Joseph Smith’s scriptures and revelations (some examples), there may have been biblical precedence for it.
Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
By December 21, 2016
We at Juvenile Instructor wish our readers a happy winter break and a happy New Year! If you’re in need of a few podcasts that touch on Mormonism during your holiday travels, here are two for your mind and ears.
By December 18, 2016
Nietzsche’s famously made this claim in the introduction to his Beyond Good and Evil, but Origen said something similar in his response to the Celsus. Among Celsus’s numerous critiques was that Christianity appealed to the lower classes and that its ethics were derivative of philosophy. Celsus quoted the passage from the Timaeus—“It is a hard matter to find out the Maker and Father of this universe; and after having found Him, it is impossible to make Him known to all”—before declaring, “You perceive, then, how divine men seek after the way of truth, and how well Plato knew that it was impossible for all men to walk in it” (Against Celsus 7.42).
By December 16, 2016
Plato’s concept of God seems to have been the central feature of his unwritten doctrine, based on Tubingen scholars arguing that it had to do with the One and Plato’s statement in the Timaeus, “Now to find the maker and father of the universe is hard enough, and even if I succeeded, to declare him to everyone is impossible” (28c). That you can only tell it to very few people lines up with what Plato said about his unwritten doctrine.
Plato seemed to have something monotheistic in opposition to the Greek pantheon since Socrates continually refers to “God” in a monotheistic way: one of the charges against Socrates was “not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in” new gods. (Apology 24-b-c).
With that in mind, here are a series of quotes that Andre Dacier thought were the most important for making the connection between Christianity and Platonism.