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Reassessing the Classics

75th Anniversary Review of Joseph Fielding Smith’s “Life of Joseph F. Smith”

By January 31, 2013


The Life of Joseph F. Smith Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith.  Salt Lake City:  The Deseret News Press, 1938.  490 pp.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of a classic of Mormon biography, Joseph Fielding Smith’s Life of Joseph F. Smith.  It is a book that is many things:  part genealogy, part hagiography, part scrapbook, part apologia, part castigation of anti-Mormon sentiment of any shade, and part history of Mormonism’s transformation into a 20th century organization.  Its 490 pages are replete with personal stories, the kind winnowed from a lifetime of observing a loved one and careful interviewing of those who knew JFS intimately.  Conversely,

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A Weekend Poll

By March 9, 2012


I’ll be teaching a seminar this fall on American religious pluralism and I need to submit my book adoptions soon. What’s hip, new and suitable for upper-level undergrads? Or, alternatively, what are the go-to classics? It will be a general course, not specifically on Mormonism, but I know this crowd would have good ideas, so I’m just throwing it open for suggestions.

Just to reminisce… when I took my undergrad American religion course from Steve Marini at Wellesley College (using the cross-registration bus provided by MIT), we used Stephen Allstrom’s Religious History. Good times.

Suggest away.


Reassessing: D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View

By May 14, 2011


D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, Revised and Enlarged Edition. Salt Lake City: Signature, 1998.

In reassessing Quinn’s classic study, I’ll simply say that Stephen Ricks’s and Daniel Peterson’s review of the first edition still applies to the second. The book “reflects deep erudition” and “offers considerable evidence indicating that Joseph Smith, members of his family, and some of his early associates were involved in the use of seer stones, divining rods, amulets, and parchments, as well as in the search for buried treasure.” In other words, Quinn effectively argues his chief assertions.

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Reassessing: The Refiner’s Fire: the making of Mormon cosmology, 1644-1844

By February 25, 2011


It’s my opinion that the further we get from the publication of John Brooke’s The Refiner’s Fire, a wildly inventive examination of Mormon origins through the lens of various esoteric European -isms (including occultism, the quest for hidden and often mysterical knowledge;  hermeticism, a particular brand of the occult supposedly derived from ancient Egypt and for Brooke basically a restorationist concept that sought to regain Adam’s access to God, and the non -ism alchemy, or the transformation of the mundane into the exalted) the more interesting a book it seems. 

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Revisiting: “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview”

By January 25, 2010


With Stephen J. Fleming

Normally articles take a back seat to monographs in terms of impact, but Lester E. Bush’s 1973 Dialogue article “Mormonisms’ Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview” stands as a master work of scholarship that not only revolutionized how historians, sociologists, and other academics view the church’s history of race relations, but was also a significant factor leading to OD 2.

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Revisiting: Mormonism in Transition: a history of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930

By June 18, 2009


This post inaugurates a new series at the Juvenile Instructor, featuring brief conversations reassessing the significance of major works of Mormon history.

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Series

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