By April 21, 2016
This last year, as part of my position as a fellow with the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy here at the University of Missouri, I ran a seminar aimed for members of the Columbia, MO, community on Mormonism’s relationship with American politics. We just held our final meeting last week, and the entire seminar was an absolute blast. (But I may be biased.) I thought others might be interested to see what we read and discussed, and this post might serve as a resource for other scholars and onlookers.
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 March 6, 2015
This post is a continuation of last year’s “Mormon Studies in the Classroom” series. See the author’s previous post here, on Mormon Studies in the 7th Grade Utah Studies Classroom.
At the end of the 2013-2014 school year, my principal approached me about teaching an elective class related to any of my interests as an educator. I drafted and submitted a proposal for a class titled “History Detectives” (no relation to the PBS show), only to find that few students signed up for it. To make a short story long, I ended up teaching Creative Writing instead (despite the glaring lack of classes on my college transcript that contain either “Creative” or “Writing” in their titles). I had a good time with Creative Writing, though, and geared up to teach it a second time. (If you’ve never heard of lipograms, you should check them out! Pretty fun stuff.)
As the second semester of the 2014-2015 school year began, my principal asked if I could resurrect the History Detectives class and take on some of the middle school students that had nowhere else to go for an elective, either because they hadn’t paid their class fees, were behavior problems for other teachers, or simply needed an elective. I quickly scrapped the Creative Writing syllabus I had planned, and resurrected my plans for History Detectives. Here is the course description:
By May 16, 2014
My contribution fits under the Mormonism in the Classroom and Women’s History Month at JI.
During the spring semester, I took a course entitled “American Religious Innovation.” The course examined Mormonism, the Nation of Islam, and Scientology. Each unit covered the history of each religious movement and focused on different aspects of the religion’s beliefs, which encouraged discussion and comparison. The readings for Mormonism addressed American religious culture in the early 19th century, the Book of Mormon, polygamy, Mormon Christianity, the Mormon community, and modern Mormonism.
At the end of the class’s section on Mormonism, a group of “real live Mormons” were invited to answer the class’s questions.[i] The panel was comprised of a PhD student in History, a worker at UVA’s hospital, a local bishop and his wife, and a set of Mormon elders (one from Southern Utah and one from Taiwan). As might be expected, there were many questions about the role of women in Mormonism and Mormon history.[ii] I’ve included the answers given (if any were addressed on the panel) in italics.[iii]
By May 8, 2014
As a professor of history at a predominantly Mormon university, lately I have been a magnet for students with questions about the changes for Mormon women, especially considering the recent public attention to the roles of women in our traditional religious culture.
By May 2, 2014
Today’s contribution to our “Mormon Studies in the Classroom” series comes from Grant Hardy. Perhaps the foremost scholar on the content of the Book of Mormon, Grant is well known in Mormon studies circles with his Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide and The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition. He is a professor of history and religious studies at UNC-Ashville.
I’ve taught this course a couple of times. It was designed as a freshmen orientation class, which at UNC-Asheville means that it should be of general interest, it can’t count toward a major, and it has to incorporate a number of components on study skills, advising, time management, campus resources, etc. But it is supposed to focus on an academic topic that can engage both the professor and the students. In this case, the topic is a comparative study of world scripture, with readings primarily taken from the opening chapters of sacred texts. (The title “Beginning of Wisdom” is a nod toward Leon Kass’s marvelous book on Genesis.)
By May 1, 2014
Though the Romney Moment is over, the intersections between Mormonism and American politics remains a potent topic for research and discussion. In this theoretical course, which I have yet to have the opportunity to teach, I would aim to capitalize on this interest and introduce important themes from American history.
The goal of this course is to explore key tensions in America’s dynamic history of Church and State, with Mormonism serving as a case study. We will cover the entire historical sweep of the Mormon moment, from Joseph Smith to Mitt Romney. Throughout, Mormons and Mormonism will not be presented as aberrations to the American tradition, but as embodiments of its key features. Though there has been a temptation in the past to characterize the LDS faith as an external dissent from or challenge to the American mainstream, students will learn that the issues highlighted through the Mormon Church’s confrontation with the United States’s political establishment and democratic ideals are part and parcel of American history in general. Attention will be given to political ideals found within scriptural texts (like the critique of capitalism found within the Doctrine and Covenants), the ideas of specific individuals’ political thought (like that of Joseph Smith), particular moments of conflict (like the Utah war), unique theological strains (like the nebulous idea of theodemocracy), heightened moments of debate (like Reed Smoot’s hearings), foundational periods of transition (like Mormonism’s loud response to the Cold War), and the continued tensions of exclusion/inclusion (like during Mitt Romney’s presidential runs). Students will be expected to not only demonstrate a nuanced understanding of Mormonism’s relationship to American politics, but also the larger tensions of American culture’s perpetual dance between Church and State.
By April 28, 2014
As my contribution to the Juvenile Instructor’s series on Mormon Studies in the Classroom, I thought I’d discuss the place of Mormonism in the Utah Studies course, which is a required class for all 7th graders in the state’s public schools. The structure, sources, and activities for such a class are necessarily tailored to a younger audience than those of the other courses that will make up this series, but I think it’s important to consider how less-seasoned—and more often than not, less-willing—students interact with Mormon studies.
I’m only in my second year teaching the Utah Studies Course, but have been given a lot of latitude by my school (which is a charter school that employs the Core Knowledge Sequence for its main curriculum). So I’ve put a lot of thought into what I’d like my course to look like, where I think Mormonism should fit, and what I want my adolescent audience to take away from the course.
The Utah Core Curriculum introduction to the Utah Studies Course says this:
By April 25, 2014
Another contributor in our Mormon Studies in the Classroom series, Patrick Mason is the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University.
“Approaches to Mormonism” is designed as a historiographical introduction to Mormonism and the field of Mormon studies (with a strong Mormon history component). This is a graduate seminar for MA and PhD students that I have taught twice at Claremont Graduate University. When I last taught it in Fall 2013 the seminar had about a dozen students, with a mix of LDS and non-LDS backgrounds.
Here is how I describe the course in the syllabus: “This course will introduce students to representative approaches used by scholars in the academic (non-polemical, non-apologetic) study of Mormonism. . . . Students will read exemplary works representing various disciplinary and methodological approaches to the study of Mormonism, and in the process will be encouraged to consider ways that Mormon studies has been shaped by, and can potentially shape, other established academic fields and disciplines. This course asks questions such as whether there exists a Mormon studies canon, where the gaps and blind spots are in the extant literature, and what the future of Mormon studies might hold—not to mention whether we can speak intelligibly about something called ‘Mormon studies.’”
By April 22, 2014
As the first installment of our new series, this post is from JI’s good friend Christopher Blythe. Chris is a graduate of Utah State University, and is now a PhD candidate in religious studies at Florida State University. He has published broadly on the divergent Mormon traditions, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the John Whitmer Historical Association.
Bringhurst and Hamer’s Scattering of the Saints was a watershed moment for the study of divergent Mormonisms.
In 2008, while a Master’s student at Utah State University, Philip Barlow invited me to be his assistant for a course entitled, “Mormonisms.” This was Barlow’s first time teaching the course and his third Mormon Studies course at USU. He had some general ideas of what he wanted accomplish in the course, but I was fortunate to be able to help flesh out the curriculum, assignments, and schedule for the course. This was my first teaching experience in which I lectured roughly every fourth class period. I think it’s a fun exercise to imagine teaching the course once again. Six years later, how would I reimagine this class?
The objective of this course was and would continue to be to problematize the standard telling of Mormon history and Mormon thought. Rather than examining Mormonism through the teachings and history of one Church, we would see that Mormon thought was always diverse and in contest. This is crucial for understanding the development of Mormonism (i.e. the current face of any one institution of Mormonism is not inevitable but based on historical events and personalities), but also to emphasize the point (first made by Jan Shipps) that Mormonism is not one new religious movement, but an entirely new religious tradition with its own branches and schools of thought.
By April 21, 2014
The flowing of Mormon studies in the print world has been well-documented. Presses are rushing for more titles on LDS topics, partly because they sell consistently well. While the quantity has sometimes overshadowed the quality of this movement, I think it is safe to say the field is much stronger as a result.
But publications are only one part of the integration of Mormon studies into the academic world. Another important element is the inclusion of Mormonism in academic classrooms. This is done through several ways. The first is through better integration of Mormonism into broader courses (including classes on American Religous History, New Religious Movements, the American West, or even the classic American history survey). This is mostly accomplished as scholarly work on Mormonism becomes better known, and thus professors are more aware and likely to include it in their lectures, readings, or comprehensive exams. (I was interested to find out that here at Cambridge, the only question on religion in an undergraduate American history exam from a couple years ago was on the Mormon trek west.) Joseph Smith is always a popular topic for undergraduate students, and the Book of Mormon often serves as a surprisingly rewarding text for students to engage. Many have said that Sally Gordon’s The Mormon Question is the go-to text for teaching the intersection of religion and law in the nineteenth century. I imagine this will, and should, continue, as Mormon history becomes more intimately intertwined with the academic study of religious history.