Attending MHA as an Avocational Historian

By May 25, 2018


A few days ago I posted on what it’s like to attend the Mormon History Association annual conference. Today I’m going to write about why I attend and what it has been like for me in my particular situation. We anticipate a few other posts like this from different perspectives.

There are multiple reasons why someone might attend MHA and I’ll describe a few below but I think the main reason boils down to this: MHA goers are interesting people who know cool stuff. You are an interesting person who knows cool stuff. If we all hang out and talk about the cool stuff we have a good time and learn more cool stuff. If we do this often enough eventually we’ll all be so cool and interesting and together that we’ll need to wear sunglasses.

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting to Attend MHA

By May 23, 2018


Last week commenter acw wrote: “As one who hasn’t ever attended but has considered it,, could you also post some kind of MHA for newbies guide? Like why and how to come/participate, etc.” Below I provide a general description of what to expect and how to attend. In a subsequent post I’ll talk about the whys and hows of my experience at MHA as an avocational historian. We’re hoping to get together a few other what-it’s-like posts from different perspectives.

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Review: Bergera, ed., CONFESSIONS OF A MORMON HISTORIAN: THE DIARIES OF LEONARD J. ARRINGTON (Signature Books, 2018)

By May 21, 2018


Leonard Arrington loved people. “From as early as I can remember, I had a positive attitude toward people,” he wrote several years into his retirement. (3:645) Elsewhere he mused that had he not ended up a historian, “I would have been drawn into politics and would have done well, I think.” (3:133) Arrington was a handshaker and a backslapper, a gossip and a bearer of Christmas gifts. He was an extrovert, an inveterate socializer (out of the house four or five nights a week, some weeks, driven forward by a positive starvation for conversation that seems to have exhausted his wife Grace at times), and a manager loved by his subordinates for his care and supportiveness, if not his bureaucratic acumen.

Arrington’s delight in and longing for community was not simply a matter of temperament. It was a matter of theology. It was his Mormonism. That is not, of course, normally the theme his story is given. The diaries certainly document the better-known story; the fascinating account of Arrington’s service in what is variously called the Church Historian’s Office or Church History Division of the church’s Historical Department (a larger bureaucratic umbrella that also included the church’s archives and the department operating the church’s historic sites). Arrington’s appointment, initiated by First Presidency member N. Eldon Tanner with the support of church presidents Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee and Spencer W. Kimball, came with a new mandate. Arrington and his staff were to research and publish material on the history of the Latter-day Saints. As his ten years in the job went on, the jovial Arrington was baffled when he found his work increasingly criticized, his office monitored, his subordinates questioned and their publications scrutinized for reasons he could never quite understand.

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History of LDS Youth Programs

By May 17, 2018


The LDS Church recently announced that it will be severing its ties with the Boy Scouts of America and is creating a new program for all the children and youth in the Church. With this announcement, there have been discussions (here and here) about what these changes could mean for the youth programs in the Church, particularly for young women. Knowing the history of the LDS youth programs for the past one hundred years can help put all of these recent announcements in perspective.

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Taves’s Revelatory Events, pt. 3: Theological Considerations

By May 16, 2018


Parts 1 and 2.

In Kevin Christensen’s review of Revelatory Events, he refers to a person who said on a board “that Revelatory Events gave her a way to explain away the claims of Joseph Smith and all other religious claims in purely secular terms and let her walk away from the community, assured she was leaving behind nothing valid or of value” (70-71). For a whole lot of LDS, accepting Taves’s conclusions would simply mean the church isn’t true.

Taves actually attempts to address this issue by the way she framed the book as a study of “paths.” Taves looks at Mormonism, AA, and A Course in Miracles to determine how experiences of the founders turned into spiritual paths, or the way of life that these groups encourage their adherents to follow. Taves suggests that having such paths is generally beneficial. Says Taves,

Although I think—and will argue—that the sense of a guiding presence emerges through a complex interaction between individuals with unusual mental abilities and an initial set of collaborators, an explanation of this sort says little about the content of what is revealed or the value of the spiritual path that emerges. If—as I believe—presences that articulate and guide a group toward collective goals can be understood as creative products of human social interactions rather than actual suprahuman agents, this does not undercut the human need to work out answers to the larger questions these paths seek to address. It just requires us to generate other methods for evaluating the value of the goals and the merits of the paths as means of obtaining them. (xii).

Though Taves doesn’t propose what those methods might be, she does conclude the book by declaring that while people will debate the merits of following Mormonism, AA, and A Course in Miracles, “the power of the paths to transform is—in my view—quite apparent” (295).

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Food Solves Everything (Or At Least Make MHA a Better Place)

By May 15, 2018


We at JI have been thinking about how MHA can be a more inclusive space for a long time. We’ve read a lot about different forms of mentorship (vertical vs. horizontal) and have reflected on our best conference experiences. We’ve thought a lot about the Mike Pence Rule (or the Spencer W. Kimball Rule). We’ve asked women about their experiences at MHA and how it can operate .

We’ve come to a few conclusions. It’s hard to go to a conference where you don’t know anyone. It’s hard to make friends if you don’t already have a few friends there. It’s hard to make a field more inclusive if social events aren’t more inclusive–you tend to think of the work of people you know when you’re citing and inviting other people to share their work. We don’t think that this is intentional, but that’s part of what privilege is: never having to think about what you haven’t experienced. If we want MHA to be a better place for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and others that haven’t traditionally felt welcome at MHA, we have to do something about it.

With that in mind, we at JI want to state that we are committed to making sure that no one eats alone unless they want to (no judging, we’ve all been there). We will put something up about where some folks are meeting before meals outside the conference center and will do our best to leave seats open at conference meals. We will post when and where we are meeting for meals on our Twitter account.

MHA has some major structural problems, like most academic organizations. JI doesn’t have the funds to help fix them. So we are doing what we can to make MHA a more diverse, enjoyable, and equitable place however we can.

 


Taves’s Revelatory Events, pt. 2: Translation

By May 14, 2018


See part one here. 

Again, Taves uses very little cognitive science until she turns to the question of the translation. To do so she compares the Book of Mormon translation to Helen Schucman’s writing of A Course in Miracles. Schucman’s case is particularly useful because in a private interview she described the process. Schucman said she, “didn’t hear anything,” the process was “strickly mental,” but still “it wasn’t my voice” (247). Schucman said the process wasn’t automatic writing and that she could “stop and start the flow at will” (247-50).

Taves then looks at research on “highly hypnotizable individuals” (HHs) for insight into how this process might have worked for Schucman and Smith. Such individuals can easily go in and out of such a state and may even learn to control the process. In such a state HHs can tell very vivid narratives as though they are experiencing a complete different place (254). Taves gives the example of a student of researcher Ernest Hilgard for how vivid these experiences can be. At a party, the student had been hypnotized, during which he described a setting in Victorian England so vividly that he believed he was recounting a past life. Despite this belief, the student went to Hilgard for analysis of the events to get a further perspective. Under hypnosis, Hilgard had the student enter other settings, including the Old West, where the student gave equally vivid descriptions and felt like he was there (250-51).  

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The Eagle Scout in General Conference

By May 11, 2018


On Tuesday the Church Newsroom announced a “Plan for Worldwide Initiative for Children and Youth” that will change, among other things, Personal Progress and the Church’s relationship to Scouting. Yesterday I wrote about mentions of the Personal Progress program in General Conference. Today I look at mentions of the Eagle Scout award.

[Edit: Due to a very embarrassing error on my part, I only searched from 1940 to the present. There were two mentions of Eagle Scouts before 1950: In 1924 then-President Heber J Grant quoted approvingly a letter published in the Improvement Era that enthused at some length about Mormon scouting and included the line “There are more boys of advanced rank and a greater percentage of Eagle scouts than in any other section of America” (1924 April, p 155). In 1923 Apostle Richard R Lyman said, in a talk on training young people, “You cannot know what real scouting is until you have at least one Eagle Scout in your troop” (1923 April, p 157).]

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The Personal Progress Program in General Conference

By May 10, 2018


 

On Tuesday the Church Newsroom announced a “Plan for Worldwide Initiative for Children and Youth”. On the associated FAQ page it says that, among others, the “Personal Progress” program “may be affected by this change” beginning in 2020. In a preliminary effort to better understand the context for these potential changes, I looked at what has been said about Personal Progress in General Conference (or, at least, has been published in the Conference Report editions of the Ensign).

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Scholarly Inquiry: Q & A with Seth Perry

By May 9, 2018


We are pleased to present a Scholarly Inquiry Q&A with Seth Perry, Assistant Professor of Religion in the Americas at Princeton University and a past guest contributor to the JI. Professor Perry earned his PhD from the University of Chicago (whoop whoop!) in 2013, and he maintains an active research interest in Mormonism, which he discusses both below and in his article “An Outsider Looks In at Mormonism,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education 52, iss. 22 (3 February 2006) [subscription required for full access]. He is also the author of “The Many Bibles of Joseph Smith: Textual, Prophetic, and Scholarly Authority in Early-National Bible Culture,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 84, no. 3 (September 2016): 750-75. See my overview of that article here. Perry’s first book, imminently forthcoming from Princeton University Press, is Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States

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Recent Comments

Ben S on Attending MHA as an: “This, exactly, is why I enjoy conferences :) Nice post. "MHA goers are interesting people who know cool stuff. You are an interesting person who…”


Kevin Barney on What to Expect When: “I'll be there. I first started subscribing to the Journal circa 1995, because I was teaching a stake church history class and thought I ought to…”


Edje Jeter on What to Expect When: “Great comments, y'all.”


Jeff T on What to Expect When: “Thanks, Edje! In case anyone else is as unorganized as me: the conference hotel doesn't have any more rooms at the MHA rate ($122 per night),…”


Ardis on What to Expect When: “I see the First Timers’ Breakfast is on the schedule this year, which is another place to break the ice, have questions answered, and recognize…”


Curtis C on What to Expect When: “Thanks for the great writeup! I've always wanted to attend MHA, but never seemed to have the time to do it. Now that it's in…”

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