Benjamin Franklin’s “First Principles”: More Inclusive Monotheism

By September 22, 2015


Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky, c 1816, Benjamin West

Newton’s views likely influenced a remarkable statement from young Benjamin Franklin. Franklin had met with John Conduitt, the man who said that Newton had said that God had appointed “superior beings” over heavenly bodies.[1] Not long after, Franklin wrote the following which he entitled “First Principles.” Here I simply quote the whole thing and will offer further thoughts in a later post.


I BELIEVE there is one supreme, most perfect Being, author and father of the gods themselves.

For I believe that man is not the most perfect being but one, but rather as there are many degrees of beings superior to him.

Also when I stretch my imagination through and beyond our system of planets, beyond the visible fixed stars themselves, into that space that is every way infinite, and conceive it filled with suns like ours, each with a chorus of worlds for ever moving round him; this little ball on which we move, seems, even in my narrow imagination, to be almost nothing, and myself less than nothing, and of no sort of consequence.

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September 11th and the Politics of Comparison

By September 21, 2015

51meOlDJ63L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Most of us (of a certain age) have a very specific memory of where we were that day in 2001. I was sitting on my couch watching the Today Show as the plane hit the second tower. I set down my laptop and didn’t pick it back up that day.

At the time, it didn’t occur to me at the time that this was not the first time something horrific happened on September 11th. My abandoned laptop held evidence of another harrowing day in September almost a century and a half earlier—I had been reading newspaper articles about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Only later would I learn that 11 September was also the date of the Chilean coup in which elected President Salvador Allende was ousted (with help from the US) that led to the 15-year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

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Inaugural Joseph Smith Lecture at the University of Virginia, Senator Harry Reid

By September 18, 2015

Senator Harry Reid

Senator Harry Reid

The  inaugural Joseph Smith Lecture featuring a conversation with Senator Harry Reid, Senate Democratic Leader, will be held on Saturday September 26 at 2:00 p.m. in the University of Virginia’s Newcomb Hall Theater. The conversation will be comprised largely of questions from the audience.

Parking is available in the Bookstore garage immediately behind Newcomb Hall.

Tickets are available for free from University’s box office at and may be picked up in the Theater’s lobby beginning at 12:24. Seating is open and tickets not picked up by 1:45 will be released to the public.

Isaac Newton’s Inclusive Monotheism

By September 16, 2015



Newton and Joseph Smith had a lot of similar ideas about God

In my previous post, I mentioned Barbara Newman’s discussion of “inclusive monotheism” where intermediaries and other divine beings all work in harmony under a supreme being, as opposed to the radical monotheism of the Reformation which sought to get rid of such beings. Wouter Hanegraaff argues that when Max Weber referred to “disenchantment,” “he was describing the attempt by new scientists and Enlightenment philosophers to finish the job of Protestant anti-pagan polemicists, and get rid of cosmotheism once and for all.”[1]

Yet a major figure in the Enlightenment speculated about intermediary beings as well. Isaac Newton’s editor, John Conduitt, reported that Newton wondered toward the end of his life “whether there were not intelligent beings superior to us who superintended these revolutions of heavenly bodies by the direction of the Superior Being.”[2]  

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Scholarly Inquiry: Samuel Brown, Part 2

By September 14, 2015

This is Part 2 of our two-part Scholarly Inquiry with Samuel Brown. For Part 1, see here.


4. You address some of this in First Principles, but who is the intended audience of for your devotional work, and what do you hope to accomplish with it?

That’s the hard question. I mostly wanted my non-academic friends to have an accessible summary of my sense of how the Gospel might work. I felt sorry for the good people who felt stymied by the academic tone of In Heaven. I also felt like I was being a tiny bit cowardly by not taking a personal stand (academic writing, which I love, is always a little cowardly in my view, so easy to hide so much in the conventions of disciplined scholarship). My secret agenda (there is always a secret agenda in writing; you don’t have to admire Leo Strauss to acknowledge that) in First Principles was to begin to advocate for a relational theology of Mormonism, one that was true to Mormonism’s roots and promise, thereby gently de-Protestantizing the theologies available to contemporary Mormons.

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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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What’s the Opposite of Strict Monotheism? A Question of Terminology

By September 8, 2015

Hanegraaff concludes Esotericism and the Academy by arguing that the two principal points that Enlightenment scholars of philosophy labeled as pagan heresy—the rejection of creation ex nihilo and the belief in the uncreated, divine part of the soul (or nous)—are in fact the chief traits of what we might term Western esotericism.

Hanegraaff calls the rejection of creation ex nihilo, cosmotheism, which he sees as a counterpart of strict monotheism. Quoting the Egyptologist Jan Assman, cosmotheism is one where “a divine world does not stand in opposition to the world of cosmos, man, and society; rather, it is a principle that permeates it and gives it structure, order and meaning … The divine cannot be excluded from the world.” Such, Hanegraaff argues, is “the logical alternative to classic monotheism, where the invisible and eternal Creator is strictly separate from this visible and temporal creation.”  Hanegraaff sees “a deep structural conflict between the dynamics of these two mutually exclusive systems and all that they imply” (371).

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Guest Post: Jeff Turner, “Spring Musicals: Weirdness, Accuracy, and Introductions”

By September 2, 2015

[We are thrilled to have yet another guest post from Jeff Turner, a PhD student at the University of Utah. See his previous offerings here, here, and here.]

Musical“I actually learned something about Mormonism,” said my seat-neighbor at the Book of Mormon musical this past spring. Terrified, curious, and excited, I found myself wondering what he could have learned from the musical that he hadn’t known beforehand. So I asked. Surprisingly, his new piece of information had to do with the relationship between Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, namely that they knew each other in person, which made Young’s succession as the next church president more approachable to my seatmate (even though the succession was oversimplified in the musical). Well that’s not so bad, I thought, and I can see how he picked that up from the musical. We had a short chat about it afterward, and that was the end of it.

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Proposing Panels for MHA’s Annual Conference: A Few Thoughts

By September 1, 2015

MHAWe are one month away from the deadline for MHA’s call for papers, so I thought this was as good a time as any to talk about the conference in general and conference papers in particular. I hope every reader of JI has had the privilege to attend MHA’s annual conference. It truly is a phenomenal time, with a mixture of solid papers and warm comraderie. It is quite unlike most historical conferences I attend where few people actually attend sessions and most people remain in the halls, at restaurants, and doing anything but hearing papers. There is certainly plenty of socializing and networking at MHA, but the thing that sets it apart is people actually care about the sessions, papers, and presenters. It’s refreshing, honestly. There are at times poorly-attended sessions, but more often than not the rooms are mostly filled, and not too infrequently they are overflowing with more anxious attendees than there are chairs. This is one of the conference’s great strengths.

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Fresh Update

By September 1, 2015

You may have noticed the Internet has changed under your nose. Web standards have matured enough that designers have more flexibility in typeface choices, layouts, and interactive elements. The prime medium for delivering web content has pivoted from the static and simple browser window to the mobile app. To take advantage of these developments, we’re launching a new design. Readers, rejoice—the day of an on-the-go, crisply formatted, mobile-friendly Juvenile Instructor has arrived.

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Guest Post: 1923 Photographs of the Book of Mormon Printer’s Manuscript

By August 28, 2015

Robin Scott Jensen is the mastermind behind the Joseph Smith Papers’ Revelations and Translations Series, which just released its third volume reproducing the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Jeffrey G. Cannon is the JSP’s photo archivist and as such is the point man for the numerous textual and contextual illustrations that appear in JSP volumes. When R3 was released, photographs of Joseph Smith’s seer stone dominated attention here on the blog. This guest post sheds light on the history of the printer’s manuscript by focusing on the 1923 effort to photograph the entire manuscript for conservation purposes and the recent addition of the complete set of 1923 photos to the JSP website.

With all the excitement about seer stones in the weeks since the latest volume of The Joseph Smith Papers was released, it is easy to overlook the fact that the volume also contains hundreds of high-quality, full-color photographs of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon. Another set of important images was also recently posted exclusively to the Joseph Smith Papers Project website.

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Book Review: Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy

By August 27, 2015

Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012).

I’m planning on doing a series of posts on “cosmotheism,” or at least the way the Wouter Hanegraaff describes the concept in his book Esotericism and the Academy. But before I do so, I thought it best to review Hanegraaff’s book, which I had been meaning to do for a while now.

For anyone who attended MHA session on the reassessment of John Brooke’s Refiner’s Fire, both Brooke and I mentioned this book a number of times, and I would simply state here that there isn’t a book that I would recommend more highly for anyone interested in situating Mormonism both historically and intellectually within Christian history.

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Job Post: Research Intern, Women’s History, LDS Church History Department

By August 19, 2015

The Church History Department announces an opening for a research internship with the Women’s History Team. This will be a part-time, temporary position beginning in September 2015.


•    Bachelor’s degree in history, religious studies, or related discipline, with preference given to those with master’s degrees and/or in doctoral programs.
•    Possess excellent research and writing skills.
•    Ability to work in a scholarly and professional environment.
•    Requires both personal initiative and collaborative competence.
Please attach a vita to your application, and email a writing sample to:


Duties will include research related to contextual annotation of documents (identifications and explanations, genealogical inquiries, and biographical information), as well as detailed source checking. Research will involve work in primary and secondary sources for nineteenth- and twentieth-century America and Mormonism. Work will include general assistance to authors.

Worthiness Qualification

Must be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and currently temple worthy.


Women’s History

Elizabeth Ann Whitney, Emmeline B. Wells, and Eliza R. Snow

Guest Post: A Survey on the Trek Experience

By August 17, 2015



Sara M. Patterson (Hanover College) is conducting research on people’s trek experiences for a larger project on historical memory along the Mormon Trail. She invites people who have participated in trekking to fill out this short survey about their experiences:

If you have any questions, you can contact her at:

Call for Papers: Mormons, Race, and Gender in the Borderlands

By August 12, 2015


Race, Gender, and Power in the Mormon Borderlands

Mormon history lies at the borders between subaltern and dominant cultures. On the one hand, due to their unusual family structure and theocratic government, Mormons were a persecuted minority for the better part of the nineteenth century.  On the other, Mormons played a significant role as colonizers of the North American West, extending their reach to the borderlands of Mexico, Canada, and the Pacific Islands. There Mormon colonists intermarried with Native Americans, Mexicans, Hawaiians and Samoans, even as they placed exclusions on interracial sexual relations and marriage. During the nineteenth century, Mormons also discouraged Native peoples’ polygamous practices while encouraging plural marriage for white women. And Mormon religious doctrine subordinated persons of color within church hierarchy well into the twentieth century. African-American men, for example, could not hold the priesthood until 1978. Historically, then, Mormons have navigated multiple borders– between colonizer and colonized, between white and Other, and between minority and imperial identities. This limnal position calls for further investigation. We propose an anthology of essays on race, gender, and power in the Mormon borderlands.

Over the past thirty years, historians of Mormon women have expanded our understanding of gender and power in Mormon society. However, most of these studies focus on white Mormon women, while Mormon women of color have remained largely invisible. This volume seeks not simply to make visible the lived experiences of Mormon women of color, but more importantly, to explore gender and  race in the Mormon borderlands. Taken together, these essays will address how Mormon women and men navigated the complications of minority and colonizer status, interracial marriage and doctrinal race hierarchies, patriarchy and female agency, violence and religious responsibility, and plural identities. These metaphoric borders were brought into play on the geographic and cultural borders of the United States. Specifically, this volume will encompass the continental U.S. West, the borderlands of Canada and Mexico, and Pacific Rim islands such as Samoa and Hawaii, exploring the intersectionality of race and gender in Mormon cultures on the borders from the nineteenth through twenty-first centuries. This focus will open new directions in Mormon history in concert with recent trends in western history. The anthology will have full scholarly apparatus and we welcome both historical research and interdisciplinary work.

Please submit article proposals/manuscript drafts by Sept.15, 2015, to Dee Garceau at <>  (901-484-1837)

Co-Editors:  Dee Garceau, Rhodes College ; Sujey Vega, Arizona State University,; Andrea Radke-Moss, BYU-Idaho

Co-Editors’ Faculty Profiles:

Dee Garceau

Sujey Vega

Andrea Radke-Moss

Please feel free to contact us with any questions you might have.

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Conference Announcement: Black, White, and Mormon

By August 11, 2015

Black, White, and Mormon: A Conference on the Evolving Status of Black Saints within the Mormon Fold

October 8–9, 2015

In December 2013, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a new essay on Race and the Priesthood on its Gospel Topics page at  The statement was the strongest to date in distancing the LDS Church from its prior teachings on the status of black people within Mormon theology.  This conference seeks to offer a multi-disciplinary assessment of that status across time and space.  It seeks to explore the historical evolution of race based priesthood and temple bans, the historical roots of segregation in America and how it impacts Mormonism, the expansion of Mormonism into inner-city locations in the United States as well as the impact of race on Mormonism’s international reach. It will also consider the intersections between race and Mormon women, notions of social justice within Mormonism, the implications of race upon educational opportunities at LDS universities, and a discussion of how race plays out at the ward level. In short, this conference will talk about race and Mormonism as it seeks greater understanding and higher purpose.

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Richard Bushman’s Reflection on RSR

By August 10, 2015

We concluded the inaugural JI Summer Book Club last week. The author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Richard Lyman Bushman, kindly agreed to reflect on the writing of RSR, its reception, and what he would change if he were to write the book again. His response is below.

I am pleased to know your group is working away at RSR.  I am sure you will find many questions worth exploring.  In my opinion you are preparing for the future.  Sometime down the line another biography will be written, and your inquiries are finding the spaces where there is more to say and another perspective to be presented.

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“If Any of You Lack Wisdom”: Seer Stones and John Dee’s and Joseph Smith’s Religious Quests

By August 9, 2015

A number of scholars have argued for a connection between Joseph Smith’s First Vision and the commencement of his treasure-digging activities, a trend nicely summarized by Mark Ashurst-McGee in his seminal work on Joseph Smith’s seer stones:

When Joseph went to the grove he was not just wavering between Presbyterianism and Methodism, but between organized religion and folk magic. Should he join one particular denomination or were they all wrong together? Should he convert to Evangelicalism or obtain his seer stone? “Go thy way,” the Lord told him, and rejected the churches of the day in part because, as he told Joseph, they taught “the commandments of men, having a form of Godliness but they deny the power thereof.” As historian Marvin Hill notes, the power and gifts of God were not denied by the treasure seers and diggers and other practitioners of folk magic. Richard Bushman explains that the First Vision would have driven Joseph away from the organized churches in his mother’s social orbit toward the treasuring-seeking culture of his father.

Ashusrt-McGee goes so far as to ask, “Did Jesus instruct Joseph to obtain a stone?”[1]

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Crowdsourcing: Woman’s Exponent Author List

By August 7, 2015

Join the project!

Join the project!

I wanted to make a quick public notice of a new project at the Juvenile Instructor. We have begun the process of mapping every initialism/pseudonym in the issues of the Woman’s Exponent to their respective authors. This process is time intensive and will require a lot of work, but we figure opening the resource (a Google Doc at this point) to the public and our readership will encourage collaboration. Ultimately, this list will prove useful to many scholars as they study the lives of the women who crafted this publication and the world they shaped.


Join the project


20 Questions to Ask a Seer Stone and its Pouch

By August 5, 2015

The release of the photos of Joseph Smith’s seer stone as well as the pouch made by Emma Smith that protected it, illustrates the sheer viscerality of material religion. It demonstrates the power that objects can have in the lives of religious believers and is a great example of how religion is not just something that is believed or felt abstractly or read through a text. Objects and bodies mediate religious experience.

seer stones

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