The Dance of Discourse

By February 17, 2017


 

Imagine this setting: you are a Mormon attending a talk titled “Sacred Spaces, Holy Work: Perspectives on Mormon Temple Worship,” given at Harvard Divinity School by Juvenile Instructor’s own Tona Hangen, who is a professor of history and also a practicing Mormon. The talk is about temple worship, a topic on which Mormons famously do not love to offer details. The event is advertised both at Harvard and in my Sacrament program on Sunday. It is a public event and the room is full of people from diverse backgrounds. Scanning the room, I noticed people from the Divinity School who knew very little about Mormonism, Mormon professors and students from Harvard, three stake presidents (one whose wife brought treats), and people from my ward.

My point is not so much to belatedly highlight Tona’s awesome talk of a few months ago. Indeed, these situations happen all the time. Instead I want to bring attention to the complicated interplay of expectations of what one should say and how one’s audience expects you to say it. The experience of attending Tona’s talk, as well as subsequent experiences, has led me to think about the ways in which our audience (including believing Mormons and people with extensive or little knowledge of Mormonism) and our pedagogical spaces (such as classrooms, academic lectures, and sacrament talks) structure the ways in which we talk about our subject.

As an academically trained lifelong Mormon, I have learned several ways to engage with Mormonism. However, so far my experiences in discussing Mormonism have mostly been in homogenous groups and spaces. In Canada, where I grew up, there was little opportunity for mixed audiences because there were neither many Mormons nor people academically interested in Mormonism. Therefore, when I presented on Mormonism, I grew accustomed to being able to control who my audiences would be and how I would engage with them. Additionally, I could also manage how I presented my own subjectivity to the audience. Tona’s talk interested me because of the hybridity of the audience and subsequent messiness of expectations. Her audience understood Mormon temples in a variety of different ways: some non-Mormons had never heard of Mormon temples, others had participated in the sacred rituals in temples (and had different ideas of what should be secretive about those experiences), and the stake presidents in the room had the power to grant and bar access to temples.

So, as a speaker, writer, or teacher, how do you stay accountable to your hybrid audiences? How do you manage discourses of criticism and sympathy toward Mormonism? How do you frame your discussions in recognizable terms for mixed audiences? How do you manage different pedagogical spaces, such as BYU religion classes, in which learning expectations are both academic and devotional? How does your complicated relationship with the Mormon faith – whether you are a believing Mormon, Ex-Mormon, non-Mormon, or anything in between – enter into your academic discourse?

Please share your thoughts below in the comments.


Restriction-ism Unveiled!

By February 16, 2017


Today’s guest post comes from Keith Erekson. Keith is the Director of the Library division at the LDS Chruch History Library.

One of the most common tropes in Mormon literature asserts that Mormon practices are veiled in secrecy. In the realm of historical practice, the trope has been employed to describe the archival and historical collections of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, presently housed in the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. What lies in the vaults at the Church History Library? What is restricted, and why? Is it possible to use restricted items in your research? What restrictions influence the intellectual property request process? Are restrictions ever lifted?

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History and Presence, Chapter Four: Printed Presence

By February 14, 2017


Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the fourth chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. Previous installments are found herehere, here and here.

The fourth chapter of History and Presence explores the relationship between print culture and practices of presence.  Orsi maintains that Catholics in the United States, and elsewhere, use printed things in a distinctive manner.  While they read, and looked at religious texts and images,
“devotional print was not simply a vehicle of ideas in this world, it was itself a medium of presence.”

This chapter opens with the story of a dying woman being fed a small piece of a holy card of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and contrasts Catholic and Protestant approaches to printed matter.  Underscoring the idea that the Protestant/Catholic divide is not always absolute, Orsi demonstrates the centrality of the printed word to Protestant denominations, particularly through the medium of the scriptures and the sermon as well as their relationship to creeds and theology.  By exploring print culture, Orsi states that the fundamental question of this chapter is “what we learn about modern practices and understandings of reading and writing in the world when we look at them from the perspective of what Catholics did with presence in print.”  This includes an exploration of holy cards which were often transformed into relics.  Orsi probes Catholic religious curriculum, illustrated Bible stories, coloring books, comic books, and popular magazines as sources of printed presence.  He also discusses the role of the unprinted, but textual, presence involved in cursive handwriting as a devotional task.

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REMINDER: 2017 Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture

By February 13, 2017


DEADLINE: 15 February 2017 (two days away!)

“Mormonism Confronts the World”
How the LDS Church Has Responded to Developments in Science, Culture, and Religion

Brigham Young University
June 26–August 3, 2017

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History and Presence, Chapter 3: Holy Intimacies

By February 7, 2017


Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the third chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. Previous installments are found herehere, and here.

OrsiThe third chapter of Robert Orsi’s provocative and sophisticated book leaves behind the broad and sweeping trajectories of earlier chapters in order to focus on the mundane experiences of everyday life. Personal relics, individual relationship, holy encounters—this is where humans experience the gods. This is, of course, lived religion, a genre that Orsi has championed. But in this form it is focused on the personalized contexts in which “abundant events” are experienced. The chapter interweaves three different narratives–Chicago housewives in 1940s war-torn America who worried about their families overseas, a young Arizona girl who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her step-father slightly later, and a social sciences grad student in the 1990s staring down her own leukemia–while meditating on the nature of gods’ presence in everyday life. Each of these three stories feature women facing insurmountable evil, yet finding refuge in a spiritual event, even if that moment of religious deliverance didn’t feature a headline-grabbing episode.

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Fake News, Leaked Documents, and the Book of Mormon: Part I (1829)

By February 6, 2017


Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 8.15.27 PMFake news has been in the — well — news. Over the course of the runup to the 2016 presidential election, everything from conspiracy theories to wholly fabricated stories about the two major parties’ candidates spread like wildfire, dominating the stories liked and shared on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. And it hasn’t let up since Donald Trump was elected, with his administration labeling mainstream news outlets like CNN and the New York Times “fake news,” all while Trump and his spokespeople routinely lie, contradict themselves, and fabricate wholesale massacres to advance their agenda. 

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The Friend and a Seer Stone

By February 5, 2017


Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 1.40.17 AMSince 1971, The Friend has been the LDS Church’s magazine for children. An article in the September 1974 issue of The Friend detailed that in addition to the Urim and Thummin “Joseph [Smith] also used an egg-shaped, brown rock for translating [the Book of Mormon] called a seer stone.”[1] After combining and revamping church magazines in 1971, this was the first mention of a seer stone. Three years later, historian Richard Lloyd Anderson published an article on Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon that likewise included mention of Smith’s seer stone usage.[2] This might surprise many Latter-day Saints today as Joseph Smith’s seer stone usage has not always played a role in the devotional narrative of Smith’s life and many might have believed the seer stone to be a part of antagonistic tall tales.

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Mormon and Muslim Immigration-A Shared History

By February 1, 2017


Over the past week, scholars and news outlets have linked the Mormon past to the present Muslim-targeted immigration ban. They point to the 1879 Evarts Circular, in which Secretary of State William Evarts urged foreign governments to help restrict Mormon emigration from their countries. The above writers ask Mormons to remember their immigrant-persecuted-past and show compassion to those in the present.LA times

These calls are noble. Yet, there is more to the Mormon-Muslim immigrant past than these articles articulate. The Evarts Circular was not the only federal action against Mormon immigration. Two legislative currents, federal legislative battles over the existence of polygamy in the 1880s and the federalization of immigration legislation, followed Evarts’ Circular. These forces coincided in the 1891 federal immigration law when legislators banned “polygamists” from crossing into America’s borders while increased funding established federal border regulation. At the same time, the 1891 law gave refugee status to immigrants fleeing from religious persecution. You’ll have to wait for a forthcoming post about the legal developments between the Evarts Circular and the 1891 law. You’ll also have to trust me when I say that the 1891 polygamy-immigration ban targeted Mormons (although this Los Angeles Times article might serve as some consolation in the meantime).[1]

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History and Presence, Chapter 2: “Abundant History”

By January 31, 2017


Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the second chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. See the first installment here and the second installment here.

 

OrsiAs Ryan wrote last week, Orsi’s writing in the past dozen or so years has focused on the need to write about “presence” and “abundant events” in scholarship on religion. Following up on his first chapter arguing for an academic way of studying the presence of “the gods” as they appear and operate in the lives of individuals and religious groups, Orsi’s second chapter argues that scholars should take “abundant events” much more seriously. In doing so, Orsi seeks to help scholars overcome the methodological issues inherent to studying religion. As JI emeritus and scholar Steve Taysom puts it, “how [can] scholars of religion account for experiences that are simultaneously irrational and real?”[i] Orsi contends that the abundance of events surrounding when the “transcendent breaks into time” means that scholars must account for the “presence” of supernatural occurrences and beings in the lives of those they study.

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Co-Sponsored Panels Between MHA and AHA

By January 31, 2017


We are thrilled to share this announcement from Quincy Newell, a friend of JI and member of the Board of the Mormon History Association

MHA Logo

Dear Members of the MHA:

Our organization is affiliated with the American Historical Association (AHA) and, as such, has the opportunity to co-sponsor sessions at the AHA’s annual meeting.   The next AHA annual meeting will take place January 4-7, 2018, in Washington, D.C.  More information is here.  Proposals for this meeting are due on February 15. If you are submitting a proposal to the AHA and would like the MHA to co-sponsor the session, please e-mail the following materials to Quincy D. Newell (qnewell@hamilton.edu) no later than February 8:

1. Session title
2. Participants’ names and institutional affliiations (if any)
3. Session abstract
4. Presentation abstracts.

For workshop, practicum, and experimental session proposals, please contact Quincy to determine the most appropriate materials to submit for MHA consideration.

Please note that co-sponsorship by the MHA in no way guarantees acceptance by the AHA program committee.  Nevertheless, we hope that you will seize this opportunity to represent our organization to our colleagues at the AHA!

Quincy D. Newell
Associate Professor of Religious Studies
Hamilton College


Signs of the Times

By January 30, 2017


I had a different post planned for this week, but I’ll save it for a time that feels less urgent.

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 8.31.46 AM

I’m going to speak candidly and personally, as a historian, a unionized public-sector educator, a woman, a Mormon, a white Eastern liberal elite, and a born-American citizen. (Just so you know where my intersectionalities lie). It’s abundantly clear that the election results and Trump’s inauguration have abruptly ushered us all into a new political and cultural landscape.

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Mormons and Refugees: A Reading List from the Juvenile Instructor and Friends

By January 29, 2017


lds armenian refugees 1921_zpsdtce7hd8

Image courtesy of Ardis Parshall, keepapitchinin.org.

Some recommended reading from Juvenile Instructor bloggers and friends on the history of Mormonism and/as refugees:


History and Presence, Ch. 1: “The Obsolescence of the Gods”

By January 25, 2017


Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues this week…on Wednesday. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. See the first installment here.

As Jeff discussed in last week’s post, Robert Orsi’s ultimate purposes in History and Presence are grand; he aims to fundamentally challenge the norms of contemporary religious studies and, indirectly, aspects of modernity as a whole. Through prolonged historical processes, he argues, ontological assumptions of “absence” and not “presence,” have surreptitiously come to typify the way that modern scholars approach and analyze religion. Presuppositions of “absence”—above all the assumption that the divine and human do not enter into intimate and consequential relationships—has produced an impoverished view of religion in general, and especially of Catholicism. Such is the endpoint of this powerful, complicated, and often elegant book.

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Call for MHA Awards–Deadline February 1

By January 24, 2017


A note from MHA Board Member and friend of Juvenile Instructor, J.B. Haws, regarding submissions for MHA Awards.

One final call for nominations for the 2016 Mormon History Association awards! The deadline is next week—February 1!

We welcome nominations for article awards and graduate student work awards from anyone—authors, advisers, readers, fans, colleagues, etc. Because some authors are reticent about putting forward their own pieces, we need your help to identify excellent scholarship.

Nominations for article awards should be submitted to Sheree Bench at shereebench@msn.com. Nominations for graduate student work awards (dissertation, thesis, and unpublished graduate paper) should be submitted to Brian Birch at brian.birch@uvu.edu. Can we put out a special request to have those of you who work with graduate students to give extra attention to this? Please encourage your students and peers to submit their work—or feel free to send in their work for them!

Nominations for book awards should come directly from publishers. We ask publishers to submit 5 copies of nominated books. Publishers can contact our executive director, Rob Racker at mha.robracker@gmail.com, to get current mailing information for our book award committee members (the book awards committee is chaired by Tona Hangen).

Feel free to direct general questions about awards to J.B. Haws at jbhaws@byu.edu.

Thank you for helping the MHA celebrate outstanding work in the field of Mormon history!


Tuesdays with Orsi! History and Presence: Introduction

By January 17, 2017


Come one, come all. Welcome to a new series that we’re hosting—Tuesdays with Orsi! The series will feature posts that highlight each chapter of Robert Orsi’s new and provocative History and Presence, and I have the honor of kicking it off.

history and presenceRobert Orsi is the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies and Professor of Religion at Northwestern University. He is a prominent scholar of American religion and one of the foremost theorists/methodological innovators of the field. His scholarship has provoked us here at JI to think about what a Robert Orsi might look like for Mormon Studies, how “abundant events” might be used for Mormonism, and a highlight of a chat with Richard Bushman about abundant events. It’s no surprise that his newest work prompts us, yet again, to engage, digest, and grapple with truly provocative narrative and theory. The implications of the book are monumental. But enough gilding the lily. Let’s get to the introduction.

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What is “Early” Mormon History?

By January 13, 2017


9780307594907On Wednesday evening, I attended a public lecture by noted historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, in which she talked about her recently-released book, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870. We have a review of the book forthcoming here at JI (spoiler alert: it’s good and you all should read it), as well as a Q&A with Dr. Ulrich, but for now I wanted to reflect on the final four words of the book’s title: “Early Mormonism, 1835-1870.”

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A Gem from the Local Archive: A Beginner’s Boston

By January 12, 2017


When you live in a place over twenty years, and you come to know people who’ve lived there even longer than you, now and then you stumble over something in what we might call the local archives. Much of both the material and intellectual culture of Mormonism – indeed, of any group through which a thread of commonality can be drawn – never makes it into a formal archival collection. This is true even for old things, which have had more time to make their way out of private trunks, attics, and boxes into museums and historical societies and libraries. Just this week I saw someone on Twitter threatening to make a list of things offered for sale on eBay that, by rights, should belong in a public records office. But I daresay it’s even more true for things from recent history. For starters, no one fully knows which items of the endless detritus of the 20th century deserves preserving, and for seconds, a lot of it is still counted among living people’s prized possessions.

2-img_2528 One of those possessions was recently lent to me by a friend. The provenance of this object is probably convoluted, but suffice it to say, it’s from the local archives, and there’s more where this came from. It’s uncatalogued. But it’s a gem, nonetheless.

The object in question is a revised 1973 edition of a book that was first published in 1966. Its author, whose name no doubt is familiar to all our readers, has just released a new book, which arrived crisp and thick in my mailbox this very week. But this is her very first book.

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George Q. Cannon Journals

By January 11, 2017


This morning’s guest post comes from Richard Dilworth Rust, a missionary at the LDS Church History Library and who has worked on the George Q. Cannon project for the last several years.

On George Q. Cannon’s 190th birthday, January 11th, 2017, the Church Historian’s Press issued online George Q. Cannon’s journal for the period of 1876 to 1880.

The following are some of the events/topics that can be explored. Links to events are provided in the online list at the beginning of January each year.

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JI Goes back to School: A Follow-Up

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.

LAST SEMESTER

planWell, 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.

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Previewing 2017: Looking Ahead to Forthcoming Books in Mormon History

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.

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ulrichFew 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.”

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Recent Comments

David G. on JI Summer Book Club: “Thanks, Steve. This is a useful critique of LTU's use of sources in the chapter.”


J Stuart on JI Summer Book Club: “Thanks, Steve! Very helpful and articulate.”


Hannah Jung on Book Review: Living the: “Thanks! Saskia yes that is interesting idea. Reading this book made me more curious about the genre of family history writing and the ways that…”


Saskia on Book Review: Living the: “This is really interesting, Hannah. Thank you. I'm assuming that men write polygamous histories very differently, and it would be an interesting project to untangle…”


J Stuart on Book Review: Living the: “Thanks for the review, Hannah! I always love authors that are willing to patiently lay out their methodology.”


David G. on JI Summer Book Club: “Thanks, JJ.”

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