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State of the Discipline

Mormon Studies Publication Workshop at the John C. Danforth Center for Religion and Politics (Deadline March 27)

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.

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An MHA 2016 Primer; or, Reprising Practice Month at the JI

By June 8, 2016


On the cusp of the annual Mormon History Association conference, which is centered on the theme of “practice” this year and begins later this week at Snowbird, UT, it seems like a good time to highlight some of the resources and the work done here at the JI on the theme of “practice” during March 2014. During that month (which hardly seems like two plus years ago), we carried the theme of practice through a series of posts from guests and regular contributors. See, for instance, guest Megan Sanborn Jones’s analysis of Mormon pageants and religious performance, J. Stapley’s discussion of his favorite books on liturgy/ritual, or Kris Wright’s thoughts on “Vernacular Architecture and Religious Practice.” We also had a (somewhat delayed) multiple part “Scholarly Inquiry” interview with Dan Belnap on his edited volume By Our Rites of Worship: Latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in History, Scripture, and Practice. And we put some effort toward assembling a (theoretically) comprehensive bibliography dealing with matters of practice in Mormon history. If you’re looking to grease the skids for a memorable and productive conference this weekend, you could do worse than to start here!


Article Review: Spencer McBride, “When Joseph Smith Met Martin Van Buren: Mormonism and the Politics of Religious Liberty in Nineteenth-Century America””

By June 3, 2016


Spencer W. McBride, “When Joseph Smith Met Martin Van Buren: Mormonism and the Politics of Religious Liberty in Nineteenth-Century America,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 85, no. 1 (March 2016): 150-158.

CH CoverAs much as we love the Journal of Mormon History, it’s always encouraging to see work on Mormonism appear in mainstream historical or religious studies journals. So it was a pleasant discovery to find Spencer McBride’s short article in a recent issue of Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture, a venerable academic journal that has been publishing on the history of Christianity since 1932. Church History is the organ of the American Society of Church History, a group that has recently fallen on hard times. Or, perhaps more accurately, it has run into a perplexing situation. Recent shifts in scholarship have taken the study of American religion away from the traditional themes of “church history,” with its focus on denominations, institutions, and traditional social dynamics. Christopher wrote a few years ago in response to Laurie Maffly-Kipp’s important presidential address to the ASCH, “The Burden of Church History,” which proposed some revitalizing steps to be taken. One of these was further engagement with Catholicism and Mormonism, a suggestion that mirrors other scholars’ encouragement to move from a study of “American Christianity” to one that acknowledges “American Christianities.” [1]

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Ronald W. Walker: Historian, Mentor, and Friend

By May 11, 2016


Ronald W. Walker left an indelible impression on many Juvenile Instructor bloggers (and friends of the JI). For some, it was primarily through reading his work or hearing his conference presentations. Others of us got to know him on a more personal level, and we have contributed brief tributes below, reflecting on Ron as a historian, mentor, and friend.

Brett D. DowdleJoseph Smith Papers

I was saddened to learn of Ron’s death.  The first time I read one of Ron’s articles was in 2006, when I read “Crisis in Zion: Heber J. Grant and the Panic of 1893.” I was instantly captivated.  Ron had a way with words and a command of research that few historians ever approach.  In June 2008, I was privileged to meet him for the first time, beginning a long friendship as he kindly took me on as a research assistant for his biography of Brigham Young.  At the time he hired me, I was an inexperienced graduate student and historian, but he kindly worked with me to teach me how to become a proficient researcher.  While working with Ron, my understanding of and appreciation for the early Utah period grew exponentially as we discussed the topic in his office.  Up to the very end, Ron was dedicated to research and writing, and was pushing forward with his work on Brigham Young.

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Research Query: Mormonism in Palestine and Israel: Globalization, Peoplehood, and Zion

By April 13, 2016


We’re pleased to host this research query from Amber Taylor, a PhD student at Brandeis University. Please feel free to suggest readings in the comments below. Amber can also be reached at ambercecile3 AT gmail DOT com.

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I am working on the history of the LDS Church in Palestine and Israel. One of the larger historical arcs that I am working with is the Church and globalization – how that has affected the Church’s position regarding the people and politics of Israel-Palestine. As of yet, I have found very little material on the Church and globalization itself – I recognize that this is a rather recent topic, and Mormon studies as such is a rather emerging field. I have read various articles by Arnold Green that address various aspects of Mormon views on Jews/Judaism and Muslims/Islam. I am also familiar with works by Steven Epperson and Grant Underwood on similar topics. Likewise, I have the book Out of Obscurity: The LDS Church in the Twentieth Century from the Sperry Symposium, and have been perusing Reid Neilson’s work, as well as Marie Cornwall’s and Tim Heaton’s Contemporary Mormonism. I am wondering if anyone can point me to other scholars – including articles and books – that have looked at the way that the 20th century globalization of the Church has affected the way that leaders have talked of peoplehood and chosenness, and other such good things related to that.

Also, I have been considering the notion of “Zion” as a major aspect of my research. I am attempting to set my dissertation in a comparative framework, looking at the Church in its American setting, and examining the ways that American views of the Holy Land, Jews, and Muslims related to the Mormon views – and how both the broader American cultural setting and Mormon particularity affected one another. Specific to the concept of Zion, American culture (especially Protestant culture) has, from its very origins, been prone to talk of America and American Christianity in terms of “Zion,” or had themes of Zion weaved throughout it in myriad ways. Likewise, the concept of American exceptionalism is, of course, bound up with this. But the Mormons went a step further – they established an actual Zion, a physical space with teleological meaning. Their peoplehood as Israelites, and their actual American Zion, makes the question of the Mormon presence in Jerusalem and Palestine-Israel rather intriguing. America has always had a fascination with the Holy Land and its import in latter-day fulfillment of prophecy, yet the Mormon ethos is unique. What were/are the Mormons actually doing in the Old Zion, if they had their Zion, the New Jerusalem, on the American continent? What purpose does the BYU Jerusalem Center actually serve in all of this? Can anyone recommend any literature on this, specifically relating to the two Zions and what LDS leaders have said about them, what they mean in terms of physicality, sacred territory, and gathering?

Thank you for your help.


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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#JMH50 Roundtable: Matthew Grow, “Biography in Mormon Studies”  

By April 22, 2015


JMH50Matt Grow’s contribution to the Journal of Mormon History 50th anniversary issue takes as its subject the place of biography in Mormon Studies. As the author (or co-author) of two significant biographies in the field, Grow is well positioned to assess the state of Mormon biographical writing.

In short, Grow believes that “the genre of Mormon biography has answered many of [the] rallying cries” of the New Mormon History’s call for “engage[ment] with larger historical themes” and “greater attention to women, race, ordinary Saints, the twentieth century, and international Mormons” (185), pointing to the spate of biographies produced in the last three decades on Mormon leaders (of both the Latter-day Saint and Latter Day Saint variety), dissenters, women, and racial and ethnic minorities. “There is much to celebrate in in the outpouring of scholarly biographies in the past few decades,” he concludes (196). Nevertheless, work remains to be done, and that work mirrors the shortcomings of Mormon history more generally: “More biographies of women, twentieth century, and international Mormons are particularly needed to advance the field” (196).

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“Ripe Fields, Plentiful Laborers, Few Jobs”: David Howlett in JMH50

By March 23, 2015


JMH50

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.” 

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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.

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Thoughts on MHA: Mormon History, Succeeding Generations of Scholars, and the Need to Move Forward Together

By June 16, 2014


At the Mormon History Association’s meetings two weeks ago (was it only two weeks ago?!), I attended several excellent sessions and roundtables. Each of the sessions I attended was worth the price of the conference registration—it was my favorite MHA I’ve attended so far. As usual, meals, hall conversations, and the student reception provided an excellent arena for sharing ideas about the research being presented, but also about the new developments in Mormon history and American religious history.

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Mormon Studies in the Classroom: Patrick Mason, “Approaches to Mormonism”

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.

mason“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.’”

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Building a Bibliography: The History of Mormon Practice

By March 7, 2014


Today’s the day here at JI when, in keeping with our theme this month, we compile a listing of scholarship on the history of Mormon practice. This is intended to be a collaboration, so we hope you’ll jump in and contribute. The list below ought to get us going, but many studies have surely been overlooked, and the categories are arbitrary, so additions and reconfigurations are more than welcome. What works and categories are we missing? What glaring lacunae do you see in the field? What piques your interest? What trends can you identify? How much praise can we heap upon the superstars here? Share your thoughts and insights as we build a comprehensive bibliography.

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The Mormon Experience in Perspective: A New Series from the U of U Press

By December 16, 2013


From the University of Utah Press:

University of Utah Press would like to announce a new series:

 The Mormon Experience in Perspective

The University of Utah Press is pleased to announce a new series in Mormon studies edited by Robert A. Goldberg and W. Paul Reeve. This series situates Mormonism—its culture, institutions, and people—in a broad perspective that reflects the views of religious studies, history, literature, theology, politics, and other disciplines. Titles published in this series will facilitate and enhance the scholarly exploration of the Mormon experience in ways that enrich our understanding of the role religion plays in shaping the human condition.

Robert A. Goldberg, as the director of the Tanner Humanities Center, organized and led the Mormon Studies initiative at the University of Utah, where he is also a professor of history. He is the author of Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America; Back to the Soil: The Jewish Farmers of Clarion, Utah, and Their World (University of Utah Press, 2011); Barry Goldwater; and other books. His courses at the University of Utah include one in American Social Movements.

W. Paul Reeve’s current book project, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness, is under contract at Oxford University Press. He is the author of Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes and coeditor of Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia. He teaches courses on Utah history, Mormon history, and the history of the U.S. West at University of Utah.

The University of Utah has been a center for scholarship in Mormon culture, religion, and history since its founding as the University of Deseret in 1850. The University of Utah Press has been contributing to this work by disseminating relevant scholarship for more than sixty years. Manuscript monographs in The Mormon Experience in Perspective series are eligible for competition inthe Press’s Juanita Brooks

Prize in Mormon Studies, a $10,000 biennial book publication prize.


Previewing 2014: Looking Ahead to Forthcoming Books in Mormon History

By December 10, 2013


Last week I highlighted noteworthy books and articles in Mormon history from 2013. But today, I’m not here to talk about the past. Continuing a tradition from last year, this post highlights forthcoming scholarship slated to appear in 2014.

This is not a comprehensive overview; for that, we can only hope that Jared T. continues his prestigious and exhaustive series at his blog. (I will include a link to his post if/when it shows up.) These are merely those works that I’m personally excited for, which obviously reflects my own interests. I encourage you to share your own additions in the comments below. And just like any year, some of these volumes may slip out of 2014 and appear the following year; but at least they are nearing arrival.

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The Re-Convergence of Mormon and Indian History

By November 7, 2013


This installment of the JI’s Mormons and Natives month comes from Matthew Garrett, associate professor of history at Bakersfield College in California. He received his Ph.D. in American History from Arizona State University in 2010. He is currently revising for publication his dissertation, “Mormons, Indians, and Lamanites: The Indian Student Placement Program, 1947-2000,”  which should prove to be the definitive history of the ISPP.

When David G. approached me to contribute to this month’s theme, I initially thought the notion of a “Mormons and Natives” field of study seemed a bit odd. I never viewed the two fields with much connectivity, other than a few mid-century works about Jacob Hamblin or Chief Wakara. As I sat down to draft out the separate evolutions of the two fields, the task proved far more complicated than expected, and the only way I could think to articulate it was to take the reader on a semi-biographical journey that follows my own intellectual awakening. I trust that the Juvenile Instructor’s readers will tolerate a little self-indulgence as I relate the divergence and re-convergence of Mormon and Indian history.

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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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Gaining Credibility Within Mormon Studies

By December 6, 2012


This past weekend I read through Armand Mauss’s recent (and excellent) memoir, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journals of a Mormon Academic (SLC: UofU Press, 2012). There is lots to digest in it, and it should inspire several posts/discussions, but one thing stood out to me in the chapter that gave an overview of his career. I had no idea Mauss had such a circuitous route in academia before landing at Washington State University for three decades: he began as a high school teacher, moved on to a community college, and eventally landed university positions, first at Utah State University (where he somehow negotiated an Associate Professor position before finishing his dissertation!) and then at WSU in 1969, all the while working many odd jobs to support his family of eight children and finishing his schooling at night. Once at WSU, his career blossomed with many publications and increased respect.

It wasn’t until the 1980s, though, that he decided to turn his attention to Mormon studies. His dissertation dealt with Mormonism and race, though he had put that topic aside during his first decade plus as a faculty member. It wasn’t until he had “earned his dues” (his words) as a scholar and member of the sociology department, singling out his ability to bring in state and federal money for his academic projects, that he could do work on Mormonism full-time (26). Only then could he take the skills and talent he gained in other fields and use them to analyze his own faith tradition.

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Previewing 2013: A Look Forward to Exciting Books in Mormon History

By December 4, 2012


Yesterday I highlighted books and articles from the last year. But 2012 is nearly history now, so let’s look forward to the next year. What you’ll find below are the books I am most excited to appear in 2013 (or very early in 2014).

This list in no way attempts to be comprehensive. (For that, let’s all hope Jared T continues his legacy of fantastic and exhaustive “Recently Released and Forthcoming Books in Mormon History” at his new site.) Rather, this post just captures a number of titles I am really excited about–make sure to add to the list in the comments. And as is unfortunately common in the publishing world, there is a chance some of these titles may slip into the next calendar year, but at least we know they are not too far off.

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2012 in Retrospect: An Overview of Noteworthy Articles and Books in Mormon History

By December 3, 2012


Continuing a tradition from the past three years, here is my overview of what I found to be the most noteworthy books and articles from the last twelve months. I like this format because it not only allows discussion of different media of publication, but it also encourages us to contemplate broader themes that are currently “hot” in Mormon historiography. (Also make sure to check out Stapley’s always-helpful Christmas book list.)

As with previous years, I am posting this in early December and will thus miss those books published later this month. Further, the selection process was purely subjective and represent my own interests; please add your own suggestions in the comments.

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An open letter to political theorists who presume to lecture historians on how to be historians

By July 20, 2012


To whom it may concern:

I’m thrilled that you’ve taken an interest in Mormon studies. I think that there is much interdisciplinary work to be done in this emerging (sub)field and welcome the perspectives you bring from your own discipline. There seems to be some confusion on your end, though, about what historians do. Let me try and assuage your concerns by assuring you of two things:

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Recent Comments

Cassie on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “The topic of Mormon elite interest in Eugenics is fascinating and requires additional unpacking to fully understand the reverberations of the pseudoscience on the church…”


Amanda on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “I mean...who controls which spirits go to which families? It's like we forgot everything that's been revealed about foreordination...that, just as there will be…”


RL on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Great points Amanda. We often think Mormonism is unique in having to grapple with race or gender and belief, but we a Christian faith…”


Jeff G on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Jeff T, When it comes to eugenics within the US, you might be right. I simply do not know much about its migration here from…”


The Other Clark on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “One still-tangled doctrine that needs to be sorted out from this mess is the longstanding admonition to have large families. While current LDS policy…”


J Stuart on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Looks like it was taken down this morning. I'll update the post. Thanks, Samuel!”

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