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Scholarly Inquiry

The People Who Stir America: BackStory on Revivals and Prophets

By December 21, 2015


The December 11, 2015 episode of the impeccably crafted history podcast BackStory is worth a listen, on the topic of “American Prophets.” In many ways, it’s a sequel to their “Born Again” episode on the history of American religious revival back in April, continuing the story of charismatic leaders and religious movements forging transformation and innovation in an intense cultural pressure cooker. In “American Prophets,” the hosts explore Neolin (Delaware / pan-Indian), William Seymour (Asuza Street, Pentecostalism), Brigham Young (Mormonism), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology) and Elijah Muhammed (Nation of Islam). When added to the earlier episode’s portrayal of the First and Second Great Awakenings, Handsome Lake, Sam Jones, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Billy Graham, we now have a nice two-hour audio documentary on diverse American new religious movements featuring a stellar cast of religious scholars. [1]

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Scholarly Inquiry: Christine Talbot

By October 14, 2015


Christine Talbot is the author of A Foreign Kingdom: Mormons and Polygamy in American Political Culture, 1852-1890 (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2013).  We are delighted that she agreed to an interview with the JI about this important new book.  Christine is Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Gender Studies Program at the University of Northern Colorado.

Yours is the latest entry in a number of books on polygamy in the Utah territory.  What makes yours distinct from, say, Sarah Barringer Gordon’s, or Kathryn Daynes’s?

I think my work builds on the previous work of Sarah Barringer Gordon, Kathryn Daynes, Terryl Givens, and others by bringing in a cultural perspective, especially in terms of anti-Mormon rhetoric. Cultural history led me to different conclusions about the nature of the Mormon question. A cultural history allows us to see what I think is one of the central roots of the Mormon question, issues of American national identity and citizenship. These issues were profoundly gendered in nineteenth century America; citizenship was built on the idea of a masculine public sphere where citizenship was enacted, juxtaposed to a feminine private sphere in the home where future citizens were trained. (However, married women’s property acts and the woman suffrage movement provided ample ammunition to contest the masculinity of citizenship). My book shows that the practice of polygamy upset the historical distinction between public and private in ways that many Americans found troubling precisely because it is a distinction that never held in the first place. Plural marriage denaturalized and deconstructed the distinction between public and private that upheld American ideals of citizenship. That, I think, is one of the things about plural marriage that so upset other Americans.

Having spent so much time with polygamy, what do you think are remaining areas that are worth exploring in relation to it?

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Scholarly Inquiry: Samuel Brown, Part 1

By September 11, 2015


headshot-MikeStack-2014-09-24-art-background-croppedSamuel M. Brown is a medical researcher, ICU physician, historian of religion and culture, and friend to many at the Juvenile Instructor. Today he fields our questions on his recent foray from academic research into devotional writing for an LDS audience. In particular we asked him about the significance of history for that kind of enterprise. This is Part 1 of a 2-Part feature. [For Part 2, see here.]

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Scholarly Inquiry: Ignacio Garcia, Part 2

By July 9, 2015


garciaFor Part 1, see here.

5. How do you envision your memoir contributing to both Mormon studies and Chicano studies?

While all of us want a legacy most of us never do enough to make it beyond a footnote or a family member’s sacrament meeting talk.

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Scholarly Inquiry: Dan Belnap on Ritual, Pt. 2

By July 10, 2014


The stirring conclusion of our conversation with Dan Belnap on ritual in Mormon Studies. For those new to the conversation, refer to Part 1.

One of the challenges faced by theorists of practice and ritual is defining precisely what these categories are and what they encompass. Do you have any opinions on the scope of Mormon ritual studies or, for that matter, on the boundaries of Mormon liturgy?

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Scholarly Inquiry: Dan Belnap on Ritual, Pt. 1

By July 3, 2014


This post belongs to our occasional “Scholarly Inquiry” series which facilitates conversations with important scholars in Mormon history and studies. Today we reprise our focus on religious practice and ritual from a few months ago and hear from Dan Belnap, professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at BYU. Belnap, who has a particular interest in ritual in both ancient and contemporary contexts, is the editor of a book entitled By Our Rites of Worship: Latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in History, Scripture, and Practice, and published by the Religious Studies Center at BYU and Deseret Book last year. (And it features, one must add, a stellar chapter from our very own J. Stapley on the development of Mormon ritual!) We appreciate Professor Belnap’s responses and invite your thoughtful engagement. Also, stay tuned for Part 2.

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Scholarly Q&A on the Succession: Christine and Christopher Blythe

By September 9, 2013


(The following is a give-and-take with Christopher and Christine Blythe, graduate students in American religious history who specialize in the many divergent forms of Mormonism. Christopher attends Florida State University, where he is nearing completion of his PhD, and Christine recently started a master’s program at Memorial University of Newfoundland. A couple weeks ago, I highlighted two of their recent articles; today, they answer a few questions presented to them by the JI cabal. The Blythes have a documentary history of the succession period due to be published by Kofford Books next year.)

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Scholarly Inquiry: A Q&A with John Fea

By September 3, 2013


We’re thrilled to present the following Q&A with historian John Fea. Dr. Fea is Associate Professor of History and  Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. He is the author and editor of several books, including The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011), and Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), which he co-edited with Jay Green and Eric Miller. His latest book, Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Baker Academic, 2013) is scheduled to be released in two weeks. Dr. Fea is currently at work on two book projects—a religious history of the American Revolution and one on history and memory in the town of Greenwich, NJ. In addition to his scholarly output, John is a prodigious blogger, a tireless traveler and dynamic speaker (check out that list—chances are he’ll be in your general neck of the woods at some point), Bruce Springsteen devotee, avid sports fan, and 2010 inductee to the Montville High School (NJ) Hall of Fame. By nearly all accounts, he is also an incredibly nice guy.

Please join us in welcoming Dr. Fea!

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Troubling the AHA’s Embargo Waters

By July 26, 2013


There’s a naval and mercantile metaphor in there somewhere, even if my post title doesn’t quite capture it. This is a short post just to call attention to the squall on today’s horizon about open access, digital dissertation publishing, and the tough choices facing history grad students navigating the internet’s rough seas. A perfunctory glance at my Twitter feed this morning shows that although the AHA issued a policy statement way back on the 22nd against timely open access digital publication of dissertations, today was the day it surfaced big-time. Breached the waters, you might say. It’s perhaps a tempest in a disciplinary teapot, but still: young scholars, best to take note.

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Scholarly Inquiry: Spencer Fluhman answers your questions

By October 15, 2012


J. Spencer Fluhman is assistant professor of History at Brigham Young University. He graduated summa cum laude from BYU with a degree in Near Eastern Studies (1998) and attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he was awarded a MA (2000) and PhD (2006) in History. He is the author of the recently-released A Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (University of North Carolina Press, 2012), and the editor (with Andrew H. Hedges and Alonzo L. Gaskill) of  The Doctrine & Covenants: Revelations in Context (Religious Studies Center, BYU, and Deseret Book, 2008). He also guest edited (with Steven Harper and Jed Woodworth) the , “Mormonism in Cultural Context.” Dr. Fluhman is also a dynamic lecturer and popular teacher at BYU. He personally mentored several of the bloggers at Juvenile Instructor, and remains a close friend and trusted mentor to the current generation of Mormon graduate students. Below he answers your questions about his recent book, broader researcher, and Mormon history more generally.

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Scholarly Inquiry: Jared Farmer

By September 21, 2012


We recently invited Jared Farmer, associate professor of history at Stony Brook University and author of On Zion’s Mount, to answer some questions about his latest project, Mormons in the Media, 1830–2012.

What was the genesis of this (e-book) project? Did it start as a casual interest that only later became a serious project? Was it an outgrowth of teaching?

All of the above. The past couple of years I spent a lot of time creating a personal archive of historic images for use in my lecture courses. In the process I got quite good at finding images online—using familiar search engines (e.g., Google Images, Flickr), as well as some obscure sites, and many educational databases that are inaccessible to non-academics because of paywalls. This past spring, once Romney cinched the GOP nomination, I decided it would be worthwhile—and fun—to put my image-finding skills to public use. What began as a diversion from my book manuscript (Trees in Paradise: A California History, due out next year) became a minor obsession; what was supposed to be a little online illustrated essay on portrayals of Mormon facial hair became Mormons in the Media. I ended up spending far more time than I budgeted, and I used up my professorial tithing on eBay buying LDS ephemera.

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Scholarly Inquiry: Spencer Fluhman takes your questions

By September 3, 2012


Scholarly Inquiry is an ongoing series at the Juvenile Instructor. It aims to introduce recent scholarship in Mormon studies to a wider audience and to involve a larger community of scholars in attempts to situate the Mormon experience in wider contexts and new and innovative ways. Visiting scholars will include both Mormons and those from other faith traditions, as well as historians of Mormonism and those whose primary research interests focus on other subjects. Previous participants include Mark Ashhurst-McGee (here and here), Mark Staker (here and here), Stephen Taysom (here and here), Patrick Mason (here and here), and Paul Gutjahr (here and here). 

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Scholarly Inquiry: Paul Gutjahr Answers Your Questions

By May 25, 2012


Paul Gutjahr is professor of English at Indiana University. His book The Book of Mormon: A Biography was recently published by Princeton University Press. See an excerpt here, the table of contents and prologue here, and the first chapter here. In the hustle and bustle of the semester, I neglected getting your questions to Dr. Gutjahr until this week, but fortunately for us he provided these excellent responses quite promptly. We at the JI would like to thank Dr. Gutjahr for taking the time to participate in this series. Note: Grant Hardy provided these thoughts on the book and you can see Blair’s review here

Q. While your research interests seemingly lend themselves to this project particularly well, I’m interested in hearing more about the genesis of this book. What motivated you to write it? What, if anything, did you find especially interesting and/or surprising? What other potential research projects dealing with the Book of Mormon do you see as promising/important?

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Scholarly Inquiry: Soliciting Questions for Paul Gutjahr, Author of The Book of Mormon: A Biography

By March 5, 2012


Paul Gutjahr, professor of English at Indiana University, Bloomington has a new book forthcoming in about a month with Princeton University Press. The book is The Book of Mormon: A Biography. See an excerpt here, the table of contents and prologue here, and the first chapter here.

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Two Queries

By November 16, 2011


I’m surfacing from a very busy semester to ask two things:

–when did the term “FLDS” develop? I have my ideas and some initial research but if anyone has insight on that, I’d be grateful for input.

–who’s going to be at AAR/SBL in San Franciso this weekend and would there be interest in organizing an informal JI meetup?

This is my first time at AAR – I’m looking forward to it. I will be speaking in a panel sponsored by the History of Christianity Section on Monday morning on the state of the field of fundamentalism (Session A21-104), and among other things I’m musing about the emergence of the FLDS wing of Mormonism’s house–or at least the emergence of CALLING it that, and about what that might say about the changing meanings for the term “fundamentalism.” My fellow panelists are Matthew Sutton, David Harrington Watt, Randall Stephens, and Mary Beth Mathews.

FYI, the Mormon Studies Consultation panel will be on Saturday morning at 9, with Colleen McDannell at the helm, on “Mormon Women and Modernity” (Session A19-130). It sounds like it angles towards sociology rather than history, but should be interesting to attend. The contributors and papers:

Ann Duncan (Goucher College) “The Mommy Wars, Mormonism and the ‘Choices’ of American Motherhood”
Jennifer Meredith (U of U) “Western Pioneer Mythos in the Negotiation of Mormon Feminism and Faith”
Jill Peterfeso (U North Carolina) “Scripting, Performing, Testifying: Giving Faithful ‘Seximony’ Through the Mormon Vagina Monologues
Doe Daughtry (Arizona State) “‘Further Light and Knowledge’: Ways of Knowing in Mormonism and the New Spirituality”

Respondant is R. Marie Griffith from Harvard, and James M.McLachlan and Grant Underwood will be on hand for the business meeting.

Are other JI contributors, readers & fans going to be attending AAR? Maybe we could all have a breakfast or lunch together at some point over the weekend.


Developing Historical Methods

By September 6, 2011


This morning was the initial class in the historical methods course I teach, made up of undergraduate history majors/minors. It will be an interesting mix this term; some are double majors with education heading for public school classrooms, and I have a handful of students with plans to go to graduate school in history. A few are older than traditional college age. I can already sense that this will be a good group for discussions, that’s a good sign.

My Day One activity looks like this: divide the class into three groups (I have about 15 students in the class; if it were going to be bigger, I’d create more groups). One group has people who have brought laptops to class. I give each group a set of documents or artifacts and a series of questions to start them off, and then I stand back and observe for about half an hour. I’m looking to see how they approach an unfamiliar set of sources, and I’m trying to get to know them as learners. What kinds of questions do they ask? How do they begin to make sense of what’s in front of them? Who emerges as a natural leader? How well are they listening to each other’s ideas?

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Patrick Mason answers your questions

By March 24, 2011


Thanks to Matt and everyone at JI for this opportunity.

For those of us who are interested in Mormon history, particularly in graduate school or the early years of our academic careers, the question of how to position oneself is always a vexed one. I was one who very consciously did NOT want to write a “Mormon dissertation.” That’s why I chose a comparative topic: violence against religious minority groups in the postbellum South. Mormons were one of these groups, but at the time of my dissertation proposal I thought they would represent only a minor aspect of the study. I was as surprised as anyone when they turned out to be the best part of the story, and got twice the coverage in the dissertation and eventually became the centerpiece of my book.

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Scholarly Inquiry: Patrick Mason

By March 11, 2011


Our next Scholarly Inquiry will be with Patrick Mason, who will in the fall assume the Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. We invite you to submit questions for Patrick – on his research, present and past, on his work at Notre Dame, and of course, on the Hunter Chair, below; answers will soon be forthcoming.

Patrick Mason is currently Research Associate Professor at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and Associate Director for Research of a multi-year research initiative called “Contending Modernities: Catholic, Muslim, Secular.” In the fall he will assume his new duties as Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University.

Patrick earned his BA in history at BYU and MA degrees in history and peace studies at Notre Dame, where he also earned his PhD in history, for which he wrote his dissertation, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Mob: Violence against Religious Outsiders in the U.S. South, 1865-1910.” From 2007-2009 he was Assistant Professor of History and Associate Director of the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University in Cairo.

His new book is The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South (Oxford University Press, 2011). He has also published articles on topics including the history of Utah state legislation against interracial marriage, anti-Jewish violence in the South, the role of religion in the African American protest tradition, the possibilities of Mormon peacebuilding, and most recently on theodemocracy in 19th-century Mormonism.


Q&A with Stephen C. Taysom, author of Shakers, Mormons and Religious Worlds: conflicting visions, contested boundaries (part II)

By December 9, 2010


Below is part II of our q&a with Stephen C. Taysom.

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Q&A with Stephen C. Taysom, author of Shakers, Mormons and Religious Worlds: conflicting visions, contested boundaries (part I)

By December 7, 2010


Over the past two months, Matt Bowman and Steve Taysom have had an ongoing dialogue about Taysom’s new book, in part in response to your questions.  Part I is below; part II will come Thursday.

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