By January 9, 2017
Last summer, Amanda organized a “back-to-school” series for students and professors preparing for fall semester. My post, which you can find here, spoke to my planning process and included a few tips on resources that graduate students can take advantage of. I thought that sharing a portion of my semester review process might be helpful to readers.
Well, if nothing else, I can say that I made it through. It turns out I was far too optimistic about what I could accomplish realistically. I took introductory courses on Latin America and “masculinities of men of color.” Despite how much I enjoyed each class, both kicked my rear end. I struggled to pick up an entire new section of historiography, both geographically and thematically. I didn’t think enough about how difficult it would be to learn so much new information in one semester. I wouldn’t recommend anyone else do it either, if they can help it, unless they have more time to devote to completing large outside reading lists. Despite these frustrations, I now have half of a dissertation chapter, half of the books for my Latin American history comprehensive exam, and the seedling of a publishable article on masculinity, gender, and civil rights. The coursework forced me to stretch in positive ways, but I’m looking forward to a semester with courses addressing themes with which I am already familiar.
By January 5, 2017
Continuing JI’s annual tradition, this book highlights some of the forthcoming books in the next calendar year. (If you missed my recap of 2016, you can read it here.) This list is not comprehensive—it’s nigh impossible to keep track of everything in the Mormon publishing world—but I hope it captures a taste of what we have in store over the next twelve months.
Please share in the comments those book I have failed to mention. Quotations come from the book’s promotional pages.
Few books have earned as much anticipation as Ulrich’s. Ulrich is one of the leading historians of early America, and is particularly known for her examination of gender, material culture, and microbiography. I previewed the book over at my personal blog, and my longer review is forthcoming in Dialogue. (You should also look forward to a roundtable review on the book in this year’s Mormon Studies Review volume.) Here is the publisher’s overview: “A stunning and sure-to-be controversial book that pieces together, through more than two dozen nineteenth-century diaries, letters, albums, minute-books, and quilts left by first-generation Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, the never-before-told story of the earliest days of the women of Mormon “plural marriage,” whose right to vote in the state of Utah was given to them by a Mormon-dominated legislature as an outgrowth of polygamy in 1870, fifty years ahead of the vote nationally ratified by Congress, and who became political actors in spite of, or because of, their marital arrangements. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, writing of this small group of Mormon women who’ve previously been seen as mere names and dates, has brilliantly reconstructed these textured, complex lives to give us a fulsome portrait of who these women were and of their “sex radicalism”–the idea that a woman should choose when and with whom to bear children.”
By January 4, 2017
The Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah is proud to offer its annual fellowship in the name of Marlin K. Jensen. Our Marlin K. Jensen Scholar and Artist in Residence Program hosts prominent scholars with expertise in Mormon Studies or renowned artists who explore the relationship between faith and art in their work.
Marlin Keith Jensen was a general authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), serving as the official Church Historian and Recorder from 2005 to 2012. During his tenure, Jensen built bridges between the Mormon Church and the academy and worked to give the Church’s History Department international range, make its holdings more accessible to researchers, and publish primary materials. Jensen was made an emeritus general authority in 2012.
The fellowship is flexible in terms of time commitment and tasks. Applicants are asked to submit a clear plan for their time as fellow, up to a semester in length, which broadens our campus and community’s understanding of Mormonism, its people, and institutions. Academic as well as independent scholars are encouraged to apply.
By January 3, 2017
From the Program Committee:
2018 Church History Symposium
Business, Wealth, Enterprise, and Debt: The Economic Side of Mormon History, 1830-1930
March 1-2, 2018
In 1958, Leonard J. Arrington published Great Basin Kingdom, a seminal study in Mormon economic history. Arrington followed this work with several other studies pertaining to the economic history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of the state of Utah. Other scholars have examined in detail financial operations of the church in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, including explorations of the law of consecration (first revealed to Joseph Smith in 1831) and its implementation, enterprises such as the United Firm and the Kirtland Safety Society, and the economic impact of creating new communities throughout the Great Basin. Picking up where Arrington and others left off, there are new and exciting developments in the study of gender, society, race, and the environment that can enlighten the financial aspects of Mormon history.
By January 2, 2017
Mason, Patrick Q. and John G. Turner. Out of Obscurity: Mormonism since 1945. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.
Studies of nineteenth-century Mormonism have long dominated the Mormon History Association’s Best Book Awards. The move to study Mormonism in the context of religious studies has, in a similar manner, addressed the history of Mormonism from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries at the expense of later events. Patrick Mason and John Turner have sought to expand academic conversations about Mormonism with their edited collection, Out of Obscurity: Mormonism since 1945, which examines the history of the LDS Church after World War II. As Mason writes in his introduction to the volume, his and Turner’s purpose in organizing the collection is to add to the “insightful but rare” studies of Mormonism in the postwar period by shining “a brighter light on Mormonism’s modern period” (4, 7). Another goal was to feature some of the “brightest emerging scholars” in the study of Mormonism, leavened by more seasoned scholars. Mason and Turner meet both their goals in splendid fashion. In this review, rather than address each chapter in depth, I’ll offer a thought or two on each chapter in Out of Obscurity’s four sections—internationalization, political culture, gender, and religious culture. While I recognize the clunkiness of this style of review, I hope that the short summaries will help readers find specific chapters they may want to read while engaging the entirety of the book.
By January 1, 2017
Happy New Year everyone!
Over my holiday I read On the Road With Joseph Smith: An Author’s Diary, which offers readers a keen insight into Richard Bushman’s post-publication thought as Mormon and scholarly audiences reviewed Rough Stone Rolling. Likely many readers of the book will enjoy Bushman’s reflections on his negotiation of the roles of scholar and believer. My favorite part, however, is the window that the book gives into the daily scholarly practices in which Bushman engages, including refining ideas and engaging in dialogue with the public about his book. Luckily for me, Bushman’s book is not the only place to receive such insights: the JI does a great job showing process, sharing resources, and exploring and refining ideas. Here are some of my favorite posts from 2016 that did just that:
By December 31, 2016
Across the world, the 2017 LDS Sunday School course of study is the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History. While church history has consistently been in the now regular four-year canonical rotation; the historical content beyond the manual has been minimal—basically limited to the 1838 canonized Joseph Smith—History and a glorified pamphlet—Our Heritage: A Brief History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1996) in the last decade. Regrettably, English speaking members who use a hard copy manual or download the pdf will continue to use the same manual. (So don’t.) However, those who use the online lessons from lds.org or from the Gospel Library app will have access to a much broader scope of historical sources.
The new manual introduction—“Helps for the Teacher”—quotes from and links to M. Russell Ballard’s seminal February 2016 talk to Church Education System personnel, “The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century.” He then urged instructors to study the “best books”—including “the best LDS scholarship available.” Ballard cited
By December 30, 2016
It’s the time for year-in-review articles and retrospectives, as we get ready to kick 2016 out the door. I’m not sure how to put my thoughts about this year into coherent words, so maybe I’d rather write about some other proxy year instead. Some months ago, I posted about the Church’s annual Church in Action films by profiling the 1973 version. I recently began teaching Institute in my stake and because of a boundary change I took over mid-semester in the Cornerstones class about Church history and the Restoration. Joey Stuart’s thought-provoking piece earlier this fall on Mormonism’s biggest “change year” challenged me to find a way to present some of the rapid transformations in Church demographics, policies and practices that have taken place in recent decades for the last class in the semester. I thought bringing in one of the Church in Action recaps might highlight both continuity and change in recent Mormonism. It definitely did; we had a lively discussion about the film and what had / hadn’t changed since then.
By December 28, 2016
Word is spreading that B. Carmon Hardy, one of the stalwarts of the Mormon History Association, passed away on December 21st. (Details are still forthcoming; I will provide a link to an obituary when one becomes available.) This caps off a rough year for the world of Mormon history, as we’ve already lost Ronald Walker, Milton Backman, William (Bert) Wilson, Marvin Hill, Melissa Proctor, and Edward Kimball. Professor Hardy received his PhD in history from Wayne State University in Detroit and, after a brief stint at Brigham Young University, spent a productive career at California State University, Fullerton. Like most Mormon historians of his generation, Hardy built his reputation on non-Mormon topics—including co-authoring a well-received textbook on world history—before turning his attention to Mormonism later in his career. While his earliest work was on Mormon colonies in Mexico (see this overlooked Pacific History Review article on the topic), he made his biggest mark on the history of Mormon polygamy.
By December 22, 2016
So in sum, if Platonism shows up in Joseph Smith’s scriptures and revelations (some examples), there may have been biblical precedence for it.
Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
By December 21, 2016
We at Juvenile Instructor wish our readers a happy winter break and a happy New Year! If you’re in need of a few podcasts that touch on Mormonism during your holiday travels, here are two for your mind and ears.
By December 18, 2016
Nietzsche’s famously made this claim in the introduction to his Beyond Good and Evil, but Origen said something similar in his response to the Celsus. Among Celsus’s numerous critiques was that Christianity appealed to the lower classes and that its ethics were derivative of philosophy. Celsus quoted the passage from the Timaeus—“It is a hard matter to find out the Maker and Father of this universe; and after having found Him, it is impossible to make Him known to all”—before declaring, “You perceive, then, how divine men seek after the way of truth, and how well Plato knew that it was impossible for all men to walk in it” (Against Celsus 7.42).
By December 16, 2016
Plato’s concept of God seems to have been the central feature of his unwritten doctrine, based on Tubingen scholars arguing that it had to do with the One and Plato’s statement in the Timaeus, “Now to find the maker and father of the universe is hard enough, and even if I succeeded, to declare him to everyone is impossible” (28c). That you can only tell it to very few people lines up with what Plato said about his unwritten doctrine.
Plato seemed to have something monotheistic in opposition to the Greek pantheon since Socrates continually refers to “God” in a monotheistic way: one of the charges against Socrates was “not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in” new gods. (Apology 24-b-c).
With that in mind, here are a series of quotes that Andre Dacier thought were the most important for making the connection between Christianity and Platonism.
By December 14, 2016
This was the same daughter who said she was ready to leave the church over the Old Testament when she was 8. Not surprisingly, she wasn’t too crazy about the text when she studied it in seminary last year. She felt like she got a lot of lessons on God handing out punishment for what looked like violation of totally arbitrary rules.
I’d been thinking about the topic too in light of a statement in Plato’s Timaeus: “Now to find the maker and father of the universe is hard enough, and even if I succeeded, to declare him to everyone is impossible” (28c). It’s hard to know God, and if you come to that knowledge it’s even harder to explain it. As Paul said, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor 13:12).
So I told my daughter this: “This is what I think. Knowing God is difficult for humans. We do our best and make our hypotheses, but our point of view and understanding is limited. So our understanding of God has changed over time, and has gotten better in many ways. In the Old Testament, we’re seeing that process: the long process of the human understanding of God improving.” She seemed to like that idea.
Trying to gain this knowledge of God seemed to have been a major part of Plato’s unwritten doctrine. More on that in my next post.
By December 12, 2016
You can’t read a text by either an early Christian or early modern Platonist without being hit by a barrage of claims that Plato got most of his ideas from reading the Hebrew scriptures. Says Margaret Barker, “The similarity between much of Plato and the Hebrew tradition is too great for coincidence.” Barker attempts to prove that Plato’s ideas did come from the Jews, but does so with little evidence.
In his new book, Plato and the Creation of the Hebrew Bible, Russell Gmirkin considers “the possibility that both the Pentateuch and the Hebrew Bible as a whole drew on the writings of Plato found at the Great Library at Alexandria.” Gmirkin bases this argument on the assertion that “the Pentateuch’s law collections despite containing a few laws of Ancient New Eastern origin, are in large part based on Athenian law and on Plato’s Laws, and that the Hebrew Bible as a literary collection was based on instructions found in Plato’s Laws for creating a national literature.” Such an argument builds on Gmirkin’s previous work that argued that similarities to other texts suggested that the Pentateuch was written at the time the of the reported translation of the Septuagint (c. 270 BC.)
By December 10, 2016
To me, the strongest connection between Jesus’s secret teaching and Plato’s is the parable of the sower. Those who argued for Jesus having a secret teaching saw his parables as proof: said Origen, “Jesus explained all things to His own disciples privately; and for this reason the writers of the Gospels have concealed the clear exposition of the parables, because the things signified by them were beyond the power of the nature of words to express.” The parable of the sower is the clearest evidence that Jesus had different teachings for the masses and for his closest followers: exoteric (inside the walls) v. esoteric (outside the walls).
The parable of the sower has very striking similarities to passages from Plato’s Phaedrus and Theages. In the Phaedrus, in the same passages that Socrates says that writing is problematic and higher truths need to be taught orally, he compares teaching to a farmer planting seeds: “Now what about the man who knows what is just, noble, and good? Shall we say that he is less sensible with his seeds than the farmer is with his?… The dialectician chooses a proper soul and plants and sows within it discourse accompanied by knowledge…. Such discourse makes the seed forever immortal and renders the man who has it as happy as any human can be” (276b-277a).
By December 8, 2016
As an addendum to my secret tradition posts, I recently came across something interesting related to Plato and the Greek mysteries. In my post on Plato, I noted the Anne Mary Farrell’s dissertation arguing that Plato often made allusion to the Eleusinian mysteries and that the that Diotima’s ladder of love in Plato’s Symposium may have been related to ritual stair case in the Eleusinian telestron (or the temple where they performed the rite). The Symposium also contained Aristophanes’ myth of spilt male and female pairs that can be “welded” back together so that they’ll be “one and not two in Hades” (ie the afterlife). So I wondered if since Diotima referred to a ritual, Aristophanes might have as well.
Joseph Campbell’s description of the Orphic Sacramental Bowl suggests that Aristophanes was referring to a rite. Unearthed in 1837, the object was later melted down by the Russians during World War I, but not before casts were made in England in 1867.
To explain why I found this Campbell’s description of the bowl significant, I first need to describe what Plato says about souls falling from and returning to the Gods in his Phaedrus. At 246 d, Socrates launches into his description of the chorus of the Gods by declaring, “Let us turn to what causes the shedding of wings, what makes them fall away from the soul,” based on his belief that we had preexisted with the Gods and our wings had allowed us to be up in the heavens with them. Socrates then describes the chorus of the Gods, how the Gods travel around the cosmos to behold “the place beyond heaven” or true reality, a process that Farrell says had the most over references to the Eleusinian mysteries. Premortal humans follow the Gods to behold this reality, but if “by some accident [the premortal soul] takes on a burden of forgetfulness and wrong doing, then it is weighed down, sheds it wings and falls to the earth,” ie becomes a mortal (246d-248d).
By December 6, 2016
Just some of the significant volumes from 2016. Also, my awesome bookends inherited from my grandparents.
Once again, this is my attempt to recap the historiography of Mormonism from the past twelve months. This is the eighth such post, and previous installments are found here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I do not list every single book and article from 2016, but I do highlight those I found most interesting and relevent. Therefore, a strong bias is obviously involved, so I hope you’ll add more in the comments.
I think it’s safe to say it was another solid year for the field.
By December 5, 2016
Three years ago I wrote about prehistoric reptiles in a mural in the Manti Temple: “Things I Did Not Know: Dinosaurs in the Manti Temple”. This past summer I went back and, this time, noticed some prehistoric mammals.
I was not able to find images of the particular murals , so… with the usual caveats about memory and eye-witnesses of a mural I saw in from across the room in July while doing something else, the animals I saw were:
- Deinotherium (looks like an elephant with downward curving tusks),
- Megacerops (looks like a rhinoceros with forked horn),
- Xiphodon (looks like a camel)
There was also a goat in the same panel, but I didn’t notice anything to distinguish it from a present-day male Alpine ibex (Capra ibex).
The murals in question were painted by Carl Christian Anton Christensen (1831-1912; usually CCA Christensen) in 1886-1887 and depict facets of creation up to, but not including, humans. Below I have included images from Louis Figuier’s La Terre avant le déluge (1863, French; 1872, English), which seems, upon casual inspection, to be a candidate for one of Christensen’s sources. . (Hat-tip again to Mina for pointing out Figuier when I posted about Mesozoic Reptiles.)
By December 4, 2016
Since I’m going to be referencing the Christian secret tradition a lot in these posts, I wanted to list out the post I did on this topic a couple of summer’s ago. I’d wanted to put these together anyway.
Clement of Alexandria declared, “The Lord after his resurrection imparted knowledge to James the Just and to John and Peter, and they imparted it to the rest of the apostles, and the rest of the apostles to the seventy, of whom Barnabas was one.”
Clement’s letter to Theodore
The debate of the the letter to Theodore
Evidence of a ritual
The Greek Mysteries
The Disciplina Arcani
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