Seth Perry authored a provocative review essay of Terryl Givens’s Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmos, God, Humanity in the Los Angeles Review of Books. Reflecting on the book’s “emphatically male framing,” Perry examines it against the backdrop of contemporary Mormon debates over sex roles:
Wrestling the Angel is a comprehensive synthesis of Mormon theology. It’s not specifically about the theological particulars that undergird the Church’s increasingly unpopular sexual politics. Right now, however, those particulars are what people are interested in, and Givens’s struggle with them is emblematic of his Church’s current predicament. In a different era, a cogent, explicitely Christian synthesis of Mormon theology such as this one would have performed an apologetic purpose, giving Mormon thought the dignity it deserves. Nowadays, though, Mormon thought largely has that dignity. What readers both inside and outside the Church wonder about now is why it is so closely associated with an understanding of sex and gender that many find backward. The theological answers presented here are haunted by political questions.
A recent episode of Backstory with the American History Guys on “island hopping” included some discussion of James Strang and Beaver Island. Elsewhere on the radio, Doug Fabrizio discussed age and leadership in the LDS Church with scholars Richard Bushman and Greg Prince. Bushman, along with his wife and fellow scholar Claudia, were interviewed over at Past is Present, the official blog of the American Antiquarian Society, where the Bushmans have spent the year as Distinguished Scholars in Residence. Two excerpts of interest:
Past is Present: Richard, same question for you. How do you first become interested in a project? You have two strains in your work, one on American life and culture more generally and one on Joseph Smith and Mormonism.
RB: It’s that double life that lies behind this project. I’m basically an early American historian, but from time to time I’ve been asked to do something on Mormonism, so I got involved in writing about Joseph Smith. As I was looking for a new project on the early American history side, I thought I ought to do something that would interact with the work I was doing on Joseph Smith. His family were farmers, so I thought, “Well, I’ll see what I can find out about farmers.” And it worked out well. The two halves fed into each other. I use the Joseph Smith example, his family, in the farm work and the other way around.
Past is Present: I guess one more question. If there’s one book that you could write that you haven’t written yet, what would it be? One topic that you would love to cover.
CB: Well, I have two projects. One is [an oral history project on Mormon women]. The other one is my autobiography. I’m doing this for lots of reasons, but one is that women don’t write their autobiographies and they always apologize for doing it. They say, “I wouldn’t have done this, but my children, my neighbors asked me.” Because that’s the way we feel. Women shouldn’t, we’re just not important enough to write about ourselves. So I decided that that would be one of my final women’s studies projects, that I would tell my own story, and I’m about halfway done with it, I guess. I have plenty more to do. Seeing as I was not apologizing for it, I would give it an in-your-face title. So the title is, I, Claudia. So you take yourself seriously, but not too seriously. Will anybody ever publish it? I don’t know. My family can publish it. See, now I’m already apologizing! That’s bad. We just don’t want to apologize for ourselves, because it’s so important to have women’s autobiographies. Those that we have we value so much. I don’t dare think of another project until I get those done.
Meanwhile, over at the Salt Lake Tribune, Peggy Fletcher Stack reported on a youth Sunday School teacher in Hawaii who was released after using the church’s recently-published essay on race and the priesthood in one of his lessons.
A CNN profile of Mormonism in Cambodia provided a fascinating look at the religious politics of temple work for the dead in a predominantly Buddhist country.
In academic conference news, the Mormon Pacific Historical Society released the CFP for its fall conference, to be held on the campus of BYU-Hawaii October 23-24.
We’ll wrap things up with a couple of bloggernacle links: First, a post over at By Common Consent by Steve Evans reflecting on the present and future of Mormon Studies, which sparked a lively conversation in the comments section and a lengthier response from Ardis Parshall over at Keepapitchinin on “Academia vs. Scholarship” (that’s the second link). Be sure and read both.