By April 21, 2017
If you haven’t heard already, yesterday a host of 19 scholars submitted an Amici Curiae Brief (amici curiae=friends of the court, or impartial expert advisors) in response to President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13,780, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” Trump’s Executive Order received a cascade of pushback and resistance, mainly criticizing that the order seems to target Muslims (just search the executive order in google news for a host of coverage). The Amici Curiae Brief picks up on this vein and presents the Mormon past with federal immigration policy as an example of how targeting religious minorities through immigration legislation can go horribly wrong.
The Brief tells the history of early Mormon persecution, and late nineteenth-century legal battles over polygamy to show that the government treated Mormons as “outsiders, not full members of the political community.” The argument and section titles are enough to give a sense of the Brief in its entirety:
By April 14, 2017
The International Society of Landscape, Place and Material Culture (ISLPMC) will hold its 49th annual conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 18-21, 2017.
The 2017 Conference theme is “Mormons, Miners and the American West.” In 1847 the first groups of Mormon settlers led by Brigham Young entered the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. After displacing most indigenous residents of the valleys, the Mormons established the first of their many permanent settlements in the region based on the Plat for the City of Zion. They were seeking isolation following decades of persecution; however, much of the area they settled also contained some of the richest precious metals deposits in the West. Soon they were joined by others seeking, among other things, silver and gold, and introducing an array of cultural conflicts.
By April 6, 2017
Rachel Hunt Steenblik posed a question that intrigued me, so I decided to look a bit further at women’s conference participation to specifically those years when a new Relief Society Presidency was called.
I am again relying on the appendix from At the Pulpit here.
By April 3, 2017
In March of 2013, I began to create a history of women speaking in General Conference here, though that effort was only a start. Recently, At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women, edited by JI’s own Jenny Reeder with Kate Holbrook offers an almost exhaustive appendix—“Latter-day Saint Women Speakers in General Conference.” Charlotte Hansen Terry’s extensive labors produced the appendix. My colleague John Thomas offered one correction to that appendix which did not make the imprint (or the online version as of yet): In October 1902 Mrs. Lucy Smith spoke in the outdoor overflow meeting as recorded here.
By March 17, 2017
Eighteenth Annual UVU Mormon Studies Conference
Religious Cohesion in a New Era of Diversity
By March 13, 2017
Last year, Kris W. and I hosted a “Mormonism in Religious Studies” workshop at the University of Utah. We discussed religious disappointment, Mormonism and Spiritualism, failed healings, immigration, Mormon women and masonry, and other topics at length.
The workshop helped to create a sense of community among young scholars from a variety of places and disciplines while providing helpful feedback for developing projects. As a result, we have decided to host another workshop as a pre-conference workshop at the 2017 meetings of the Mormon History Association in St. Louis, MO. The workshop, “Surveying Trends in the Field: Mormon History and Mormon Studies in the Modern Academy,” will be held on Thursday, June 1 at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis from 9 AM-5 PM. There will be no cost for the workshop beyond punctual arrival and rigorous intellectual engagement.
By March 9, 2017
The Utah State Historical Society invites the public, scholars, students, policymakers, and organizations to submit proposals for papers, panels, or multimedia presentations on the theme Local Matters. This is both a call for papers and a call for the participation of community organizations such as museums, preservation groups, and historical societies. Sessions for the 65th annual Utah State History Conference will be held on October 11, 2017, at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center.
Local can be broadly conceived. We encourage submissions examining the many strands that create the fabric of communities—such as interpersonal networks, long-standing festivals, neighborhood structures, churches, schools, or the arts—or that focus more narrowly on a family or a home. And community may also be interpreted broadly as communities of faith, advocacy, hobbies, politics, and so forth. Submissions might also consider the historical roots of the recent vogue for things local: farm-to-table eating, urban redevelopment, public markets, or local music.
Separately, we welcome papers and panels that discuss the uses and historiography of local history and the application of sophisticated methodology to personal, family, and community history. How do communities go about compiling their histories? What role do organizations play in preserving local history? How does community history intersect with broader historical themes?
Submissions on other aspects of Utah history will also be considered. We welcome a range of formats, from the traditional panels and sessions to more innovative formats. We encourage full session or panel submissions, though we will make every effort to match single paper proposals with other panels and papers.
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 March 6, 2017
Sometimes I go fishing in the various digital collections, and once in a while something interesting comes up. I thought one such case was illustrative of several not-so-obvious techniques of research that it was worth posting.
By March 5, 2017
Please read this post from Mormon History Association Director Rob Racker. Be sure to register for the conference, book your hotel, and consider a donation to the student travel fund!
Panoramic image of St. Louis downtown with Gateway Arch at twilight.
Dear Members and Friends of Mormon History Association:
You are invited to preregister and attend the Mormon History Association’s 52nd Annual Conference in the historic St Charles area of St Louis MO. We hope that you will be able to attend what promises to be an exciting event.
A copy of the preliminary conference program can be viewed HERE .
The conference registration link is here: HERE or go to: http://www.cvent.com/d/zvqyg3
By February 28, 2017
Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the sixth chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. Previous instalments are the Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Chapter 5.
Heaven, like death, grounds us in the temporal world by enabling us to imagine a spiritual world. Imagining heaven enables “our short lives [to] acquire not only purpose but also grandeur and drama when they are set against the horizon of sacred history.” (204) Hope for heaven gives us moral purpose and embeds our everyday lives with meaning. Heaven is a reward for the righteous. Yet, despite the hope and virtue that heaven invokes in us, the idea of heaven has also been used to justify terrible things. Orsi’s chapter captures how heaven manifests itself in both our sacred cosmology and everyday activities. It represents our highest aspirations, our fundamental worldview, and also the most mundane parts of our existence. Orsi’s vignettes throughout the chapter reflect this: he tells stories end of life and childhood stories. He speaks about his respites from the playground bullies, interviews where men told him of their childhood understandings of heaven, and his parent’s relationship as his mother died of cancer.
The next chapter of the book is about evil, which is where he most fully discusses his fieldwork among people who have been abused by priests. Orsi draws out the ways that “predator priests” used sacred presence as an element of their sexual abuse. These horrible and shocking stories are easily framed within the chapter title “Events of Abundant Evil”. However, Orsi seems more reticent to talk directly of the “Happiness of Heaven” in chapter six. While the stories in the chapter on abundant evil reflect horror and trauma, the stories in the chapter on happiness and heaven reflect hope, disappointment, and ambivalence. “Heaven is the dullest and most obvious of religious imaginings,” he writes (204). This may be the most ambivalent statement I have ever heard about heaven, which may account for why the chapter is by far the shortest and most fragmented of the whole book.
Orsi draws upon a 1944 children’s catechism book that helps children memorize statement about heaven and help them make heaven applicable to their everyday lives. He summarizes, “In this way, heaven is brought close to everyday activities on earth and becomes less dull; or perhaps, brought close to everyday activities, heaven becomes duller.” (205) What does it mean to say that heaven is the dullest of religious imaginations? Consider chapter four’s discussion of printed presence, which is full of observations of the mundane ways that presence enters into believer’s lives through print. Clearly, Orsi does not think that the presence imbued in daily material culture or actions is uninteresting. Perhaps the happiness of heaven is not easily studied as a topic in and of itself; instead people’s hopes and fears about heaven continually emerge throughout all the chapters of the book.
Speaking of his late mother’s dying conversations with his father, Orsi goes beyond his initial definition of heaven: it is not (always) a sacred order, or a “banal” arbiter of moral authority. Instead, heaven is “the limit of knowing and an invitation to conversation, recognition, and accompaniment at the extremity of life.” (213) Presence is something that is not experienced in the abstract; people experience the presence of heaven through encounters with others. In other words, heaven can be understood as a justifying power for actions or aspiration for happiness, however Orsi finds these lenses of analysis banal and uninteresting. “The happiness of heaven” is unknowable and the only way we approach it is through meaningful relationships and dialogue.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Nominations for graduate student work awards (dissertation, thesis, and unpublished graduate paper) should be submitted to Brian Birch at email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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 email@example.com.
Thank you for helping the MHA celebrate outstanding work in the field of Mormon history!
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