On October 4-6, Gordon College will play host to the 28th biennial meeting for the Conference on Faith and History. Keynote speakers include David Hempton (recently appointed as Dean of Harvard Divinity School) and Mark Noll, and there are loads of fascinating paper topics that will be addressed. Most relevant to this crowd, there are two Mormon-themed sessions with familiar faces. Bellow you’ll find the panels, papers, and names.
Session Title: “The Government of God and the Politics of Man: Mormonism and Democratic Culture”
Steven C. Harper, “Mormonism and the Politics of Revelation”
Benjamin E. Park, “From Theocracy to Social Reform: Edward Tullidge and Mormonism’s Political Theologies”
J.B. Haws, “When It Was ‘Do or Die for the ERA’: Mormon Power in Politics, Mormon Power in Public Perception”
Tona Hangen, Chair and Comment
Religious pluralism and democratic culture have proven to be a potent blend in American history as movements have been forced to progress, adapt, and reform in response to their surrounding environment. While all religious traditions have experienced these tensions and their associated growing pains, Mormonism has produced an especially dynamic history of contestation and assimilation with America’s political climate, and thus serves as an acute example of broader issues.
The first paper will provide the foundation for the session by contextualizing current concerns about Mormonism in American politics by locating their historical origin in the distinctly Mormon revelations Joseph Smith announced in Jacksonian America. The second paper will move to the postbellum period and look at the writings of Edward Tullidge, an English convert who migrated to Utah in the 1860s and soon became a national voice for the Mormon church. Though Tullidge maintained a turbulent and evolving relationship with the LDS faith, his shift from seeing Mormonism as a temporal theocracy in embryo to a quasi-secular structure with neutered public theological claims but latent potential for social change was a predecessor to Mormonism’s political body in the following century.
The third paper shifts attention to the twentieth century. By the 1970s, Mormons had solidified a reputation for all-American, Osmond-esque wholesomeness and family values. But the call from Mormon leaders, in the middle of that decade, to actively oppose the Equal Rights Amendment reignited long-dormant fears about the LDS Church’s theocratic ambitions, and thus essentially initiated a new (or renewed) trend of depicting the church as too powerful, too rich, and too well-organized to be trusted, or ignored.
Together, these papers will look at various points of interaction between Mormonism and American culture as a way to engage the inherent tensions within religion and democracy, and offer a glimpse into the slow and unsteady trajectory that has led to the debates surrounding Mitt Romney’s presidential bid.
Session Title: “Mormonism and Authority in Utah after Statehood”
Max Perry Mueller, “Joseph F. Smith’s Republican Vision: Centralized Government, Centralized Church”
Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, “Homespun Politics: Mormon Feminism in the Early Twentieth Century”
Matthew Bowman, “The Theology and Politics of Latter-day Libertarianism”
Stephen C Taysom, chair and comment
Questions of authority have always been vexed within Mormonism. In the nineteenth century, Joseph Smith’s visions created a capacious understanding of the universe in which individual people, not just the prophet, could receive revelation. Eventually, however, the need to correlate doctrine conflicted with Smith’s original vision. Although historians have examined tensions surrounding authority in the nineteenth century, the question has been relatively unexplored for later time periods. This panel attempts to fill that gap, asking how individual Mormons dealt with questions of authority and religious faith after Utah became a state.
The first paper investigates the logic of “institutional authority” Joseph F. Smith used to convince his fellow Mormons to become Republicans. Smith argued that because the Republicans valued centralized authority, over the states’ rights principles of the Democrats, the post-polygamy Saints would be more at home with the Republicans (the LDS Church officially ended “plural marriage” in 1890). In the early 20th century, the emergence of the federal government—and the U.S. Constitution in particular—as the supreme authority in America coincided with the Mormons’ own transition away from (polygamous) patriarchal centered authority to one centered on the institutional church.
The second paper examines the effects that this shift in logic had for Mormon women, examining turn-of-century arguments for a scientific understanding of domesticity that recognized women’s work as labor and argued for its communal distribution. It situates their radical politics both in the contemporary woman’s movement and in the history of Mormon understandings of the family. Even as Mormonism as a whole shifted towards an understanding of authority rooted in the federal government, Mormon women positioned themselves as the descendants of those women who had defended polygamy and in so doing, created a feminist politics firmly within the Mormon mainstream. The final paper shifts its focus forward in time to examine the rise of a passionate, moralistic brand of Mormon libertarianism based less in political theory than in a theological understanding of human nature and salvation. After exploring the origins of Mormon libertarianism in the Cold War confrontation with communism, the paper analyzes its flowering in the late twentieth century, emphasizing its constitutional nationalism, association of the tenets of libertarianism with soteriology, and uneasy alliance with party politics. Together, these papers explore the way that Mormon politics and understandings of authority changed as the church became integrated into national systems of governance.