New Journal of Mormon History Issue, Featuring a Roundtable on John Brooke’s REFINER’S FIRE

By October 30, 2015

JMH CoverThe latest issue of Journal of Mormon History is hot off the press this week and is now available to download for those of you who are members of the Mormon History Association. (And if you’re not a member, you can fix that right now.) Below are the articles in the issue:

  • RoseAnn Benson, “Alexander Campbell: Another Restorationist”
  • Nancy S. Kader, “The Young Democrats and Hugh Nibley at BYU”
  • Gregory A. Prince, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Historical Context: How a Historical Narrative Became Theological”
  • Gary James Bergera, “Memory as Evidence: Dating Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages to Louisa Beaman, Zina Jacobs, and Presendia Buell”
  • Elise Boxer, “The Lamanites Shall Blossom as the Rose: The Indian Student Placement Program, Mormon Whiteness, and Indigenous Identity”

Also included in the issue is a roundtable I put together reassessing John Brooke’s Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (Cambridge UP), which was published just over two decades ago. The contributors and their titles are as follows:

  • Benjamin Park, “Camelot’s Crucible: The Historiographic Context for Refiner’s Fire
  • Susanna Morrill, “The Refiner’s Fire: Rites of Scholarly Passage”
  • Stephen J. Felming, Egil Asprem, and Ann Taves, “Refiner’s Fire and the Yates Thesis: Hermeticism, Esotericism, and the History of Christianity”
  • David F. Holland, “Narrative Arcs and Scholarly Nerve”
  • Neil Kamil, “The Refiner’s Fire’s Atlantic”
  • John Brooke, “The Refiner’s Fire: In Retrospect”

I’m happy to say that the roundtable turned out even better than I expected. Each contribution focuses on a different facet of the book and its reception: I give an overview of the Mormon and American history fields, Susanna Morrill overviews the context of religious studies, the UC-Santa Barbara team (Fleming, Asprem, and Taves) assess Brooke’s work in light of recent scholarship in hermeticism and neo-platonism, David Holland looks at themes of historical methodology, and Neil Kamil talks about the book’s importance to scholarship on the Atlantic world. Below is my brief introduction to the roundtable:

Few books have received such a dichotomous academic reception in American history, let alone Mormon history, as John Brooke’s Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994). The recipient of the Bancroft Prize, one of the premier awards for work in American history, as well as the Best Book Award from the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, it was skewered by Mormon academics and largely rejected by the Mormon historical field. Yet the book has remained monumental in American religious and intellectual history, is often the only book on Mormonism on most graduate history students’ comprehensive exams, and is likely one of the most-read book on Mormonism by American academics. In this roundtable, we reassess the book, its reception, and its lessons for the field today from a variety of perspectives and conclusions. Are there elements in the book that still remain overlooked? How have the fields of American religious history and Mormon studies changed in the last two decades? And what can we conclude about the interactions between these two fields?

These are our questions, and what follows are our tentative answers. John Brooke has been gracious enough to provide his own response to the papers, and his thoughts on the book after twenty years, at the end of the roundtable.

I hope the roundtable will lead to more discussion on our field and its historiographic underpinnings. Happy reading!

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Categories of Periodization: Origins Historiography Intellectual History Methodology, Academic Issues Reassessing the Classics


  1. Great stuff, Ben. Kudos to you and Brooke and everyone else involved.

    Comment by Christopher — October 30, 2015 @ 10:14 am

  2. Yes thanks for putting that together, Ben. Brooke looked like he really enjoyed it.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — October 30, 2015 @ 10:51 am


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