Welcome to the Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup! Let’s get down to business.
The ever-insightful Jana Reiss recently published an article with Publishers Weekly, where she attempts to quantify the extent of Mormon Studies publishing. In a teaser posted on her blog, she reports that, while many presses struggle just to break even on most academic books, Mormon tomes tend to outpace expectations. An average (non-Mormon) book has to sell more than 1,500 copies just to stay out of the red. John Turner’s award-winning biography of Brigham Young, put out by Harvard University Press, sold an eye-popping 10,000 copies during its first year in print. Oxford University Press told Jana that the Mormon Studies category in its catalog is easily in the top three in terms of sales, with Massacre at Mountain Meadows ranking in the press’s top ten best sellers in the overall Religion category over the last two decades. Jana doesn’t provide a number for copies sold, but knowledgeable observers associated with the JI suggest that it exceeds 65,000. Although Jana doesn’t address it in her blog post, the number of mid-tier presses trying to get into the Mormon Studies market is also increasing (I’ll defer to Ben, the JI’s resident Mormon Studies watcher, to provide a list in the comments section). This week’s announcement of Fairleigh Dickenson University’s new Mormon Studies series demonstrates this.
The Mormon-themed festivities in Springfield, Illinois, continued this week, building on the “Joseph Smith Captured!” programs from recent months. The Illinois State Board of Education, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and the Illinois Supreme Court Historic Preservation Commission sponsored workshops for Illinois teachers dealing with Joseph Smith, habeas corpus, individual liberties, and Guantanamo. JSPPer Jeff Walker, who has been actively involved in the previous reenactments of Joseph Smith’s habeas corpus hearings, again presented on these issues. There were also presentations by Mormon Studies luminary Spencer Fluhman on “Religion in America,” JIer Cristine Hutchison-Jones on the Book of Mormon musical, Community of Christ historian Lachlan Mackay on differences between Mormon communities, and LDS Church History Museum historian/curator Bryon Andreasen (formerly of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum) on resources for Mormon history.
Two upcoming academic conferences may be of interest to JI readers. Next month, the University at Albany, SUNY will host the Researching New York 2013 conference, with a plenary by religious studies rockstar Robert Orsi. JSPPers Gerrit Dirkmaat and Brent Rogers, along with their former compatriot (and current Church History & Doctrine prof) Mike Mackay will present papers on Mormonism in New York history. Friend of the JI Art Remilliard forwarded to us a call for papers for the Seventh Annual North American Undergraduate Conference in Religion and Philosophy. Art notes that in years past, conference organizers have been very impressed by BYU undergraduate participants, and they hope to have more this year. The theme is Revolution: Religious Transformations and Philosophies of Change, and abstracts are due by February 21, 2014.
We conclude with Mormonism in pop culture. The independent film The Saratov Approach, which recreates the 1998 kidnapping of two Mormon missionaries in Russia, grossed $500k in its two weeks on just twenty-three screens. The film is now expanding into Mormon-saturated markets in Arizona and Idaho. The film’s early success is raising hopes for potential cross-over appeal. The popular game show Jeopardy recently featured a “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” category, further illustrating the “mainstreaming” of Mormonism. The contestants burned through the category—answering questions about the Tabernacle, Joseph Smith, and even Marion Romney. And be sure to check out these hilarious titles for #MormonHalloweenMovies that exploded all over Twitter last week.