News from the Mormon History Association

By September 17, 2019

Here are a few highlights from the Mormon History Association’s newsletter, which you you should receive with your MHA membership.

NEW JMH EDITORS: Christopher James Blythe and Jessie L. Embry have been appointed as co-editors of the Journal of Mormon History. From the newsletter, ” As co-editors, Jessie and Chris are committed to improving the scholarly profile of the JMH. While the journal will continue to be comprised of traditional historical articles, they will expand the journal’s vision to include articles on the Mormon past from a wider range of methodologies and perspectives. They look forward to special issues devoted to a particular theme and genre, as well as new sections of the journal devoted to the analysis of historical documents, visual and material culture, and field notes. They invite and seek contributions from both seasoned and emerging scholars, including those of underrepresented groups. Do not be surprised if you hear from them in the coming months! The next four years promise great things for the JMH.”

NEW BOARD MEMBERS: “During the business luncheon, MHA members elected five new board members, including Jenny Lund as President-Elect, Sara Patterson as Liaison Chair, David Simmons as Financial Chair, and Charlotte Hansen Terry as Student Representative. One of the most exciting changes announced was the addition of a Global Outreach Chair to the MHA board. Vinna Chintaram was elected to fill this important new role. We look forward to exciting things to come from this new position.” 

FUNDRAISING FOR A JAN SHIPPS AWARD: MHA is thrilled to announce that we are raising funds to endow an article award in honor of Jan Shipps. A decades-long member of MHA and the first woman to serve as MHA President, Shipps is known to many in the organization as a friend and mentor. A pioneer of academic Mormon history, over many years her articles pushed the field in new and important directions. We feel it worthwhile to prominently feature her name when recognizing our best scholarship. An endowed award in her name will assure that MHA continues to promote and highlight the finest academic work on a yearly basis. We are pleased to report that $2,600 was raised when we announced the award at the 2019 MHA conference, and thank those who so generously donated. Please help us reach the endowment goal of $10,000. Donations may be made through MHA’s website or by mailing a check to MHA, P.O. Box 980398, Park City, Utah 84098 (write “Jan Shipps Article Award” on the memo line). For more information, or to assist in fundraising efforts for the endowment, please contact MHA Executive Director Barbara Jones Brown at

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Book Review: Colvin and Brooks, Decolonizing Mormonism: Approaching a Postcolonial Zion

By September 9, 2019

Gina Colvin and Joanna Brooks provide an important intervention into the field of Mormon studies with their edited volume of essays by thirteen scholars. The authors in Decolonizing Mormonism show the power dynamics that become visible by looking at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through a global lens. By viewing Mormonism from the margins, these scholars argue, it is possible to see the colonial history and structures within the LDS tradition. Colvin and Brooks are not just interested in producing scholarship to observe these dynamics. They also call for change, saying that the metropole needs to listen to these voices forgotten both by the institutional church and by Mormon studies scholars. These authors argue that the margins provide the answers to decolonize both the church and scholarship and bring Zion into existence. This is not just an historical text. The intent of this book is to challenge the stories often reflected in Mormon history, arguing that scholars can no longer be complacent in the continued narratives of colonization.

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2020 Church History Symposium CFP: Visions and Visionaries: Joseph Smith in Comparative Contexts

By September 4, 2019

Church History Symposium, 2020

Visions and Visionaries: Joseph Smith in Comparative Contexts

The Department of Church History and Doctrine at BYU and the Church History Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announce the Church History Symposium, March 12–13, 2020. The symposium will convene at Brigham Young University (March 12) and at the Conference Center Theater in Salt Lake City (March 13). Keynote speakers include Sheri Dew and Richard Lyman Bushman (March 12), and President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (March 13).

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MHA 2020 Networking Materials

By September 1, 2019

MHA submissions are due on November 1, 2019! If you’re looking for co-panelists, feel free to use this Google doc, where you can list what you’re interested in, how many panelists you need, and any other information you’d like to include. We hope that this will be used in conjunction with Women in Mormon Studies and Global Mormon Studies. If you have other organizations whose membership might be helpful for forming panels, comment on this post and I’ll add it!

Anne Berryhill and I are also happy to put folks in touch with one another and to speak about proposed panels. Our emails are available in the CFP.

2019 Book of Mormon Studies Conference Schedule

By August 27, 2019

We are pleased to share details from the Third Annual Book of Mormon Studies Conference. If you’re in or near Utah State University you should consider going!

Friday, October 11

Plenary Session: Book Reviews
9:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.

Details forthcoming

Concurrent Sessions
10:15 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.

Room 1

Elizabeth Fenton (University of Vermont), “Readymade Books and the Preservation of the Sacred in the Book of Mormon and the Early Church”

Joseph M. Spencer (Brigham Young University), “‘Virgins, Harlots, Brides, and Queens: Women in the Prophetic Texts of First Nephi”

Kimberly M. Berkey (Loyola University), “‘Here Is My Daughter a Maiden’: Daughters in Judges and the Book of Mormon”

Room 2

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A note on the history of back-to-school blessings

By August 20, 2019

I am a practicing Latter-day Saint. I grew up practicing. One of the things that I remember from my childhood in the 1980s is when my father layed his hands on the heads of my siblings and I and blessed us at the beginning of the school year. I recently blessed my oldest child before he left for the first year of college and will bless his younger siblings in a couple of weeks. Today a friend asked me when this practice started.

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Book Review: Jake Johnson, MORMONS, MUSICAL THEATER, AND BELONGING IN AMERICA (Illinois, 2019)

By August 15, 2019

Once I wrote this sentence: “The musical Saturday’s Warrior might well be the most influential theological text within the church since Bruce R. McConkie’s strikingly assertive 1958 Mormon Doctrine.” At the time I stared at the line on my computer and then deleted them. It felt like the claim needed more unpacking that I was in a position to do at the moment. Thankfully, Jake Johnson has stepped forward to do that work. Here is a creative and often insightful reading of Mormon popular culture, a topic that certainly deserves this sort of attention.

Johnson’s argument is that musical theater has been particularly influential within the LDS church for two reasons.

First, Mormons embrace what Johnson calls a “theology of voice.” The spoken word is particularly influential among church members, he claims, because of the church’s emphasis upon prophecy. “Mormonism’s loquacious God,” says Johnson, delegates the power of his voice. (14) This phenomenon, which Mormon theologians have called “divine investiture,” dates back as far as Joseph Smith’s First Vision, in which God appointed Jesus to speak for him, and Jesus in turn made Joseph Smith a prophet. Smith then delegated that power to other authoritative figures. Though Johnson does not unpack this unfolding of prophecy as thoroughly as he might, this ecclesiology of delegation and appointment is for him preeminently an act of speech. Authority is expressed through echoing the language and even verbal style (that is, the voice) of those in authority, as David Knowlton has observed of the vocal patterns of the LDS testimony meeting.

This is, I think, a smart argument, and in an odd way I think it reveals the faith’s rootedness in American Protestantism, whose reliance on Scripture is always in an uneasy embrace with the verbal word of the preacher. Protestants produced innumerable manuals of preaching produced in nineteenth century America, and the ways in which they sought to reconcile the authority of the written word with the mass appeal of the verbal word are strikingly similar to the tensions of authority Johnson sees within Joseph Smith’s nascent movement. For instance, Johnson cites the famous minister Henry Ward Beecher, who dismissed the theater as “garish” and “buffoonery.” (58) But of course, Beecher was famous precisely for his skill in preaching, his theatrical, imposing presence behind the pulpit, and he had many ideas about the relationship between scripture, verbalization, and truth (most tending toward the liberal).

Johnson traces this impulse toward speech and investiture through Mormon history, spending much of his time with the famous “transfiguration” of Brigham Young in August 1844, at which Young, speaking to the gathered and confused faithful in the wake of the assassination of Joseph Smith, was said to have taken on the image and voice of Smith. For Johnson, this was an act of mimicry. Young was, as Johnson notes, known for love of acting and the theater, and Johnson believes he consciously took on Smith’s voice and affect in an attempt to demonstrate his loyalty and take on the mantle of the fallen prophet.

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30-50 feral hogs or unruly swine?

By August 12, 2019

Twitter was created for certain things, and one of those things occured last week. If you missed the twitter fracas centered on 30-50 feral hogs last week, catch up. It was good.

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Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought announces a new editor

By August 8, 2019

The Dialogue Foundation’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Taylor Petrey, Associate Professor of Religion at Kalamazoo College, has been appointed the next editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

Petrey holds a BA in philosophy and religion from Pace University, and both an MTS  and a Th.D. degree from Harvard Divinity School in New Testament and Early Christianity. He joined the faculty of Kalamazoo College in 2010 and served as the Director of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality program from 2012 through 2016. He is currently chair of the Religion Department.

Petrey is the author or editor of numerous books and articles on Mormonism, gender, sexuality, and early Christian thought. His essay “Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology” received Dialogues “Best Article” award in 2011 and has become one of the most downloaded and cited articles in the journal’s history.

“We are very excited that Taylor has agreed to become our next editor, said Dialogue Board chair Michael Austin. “He brings a profound understanding of some of the most crucial issues in Mormon Studies today–issues surrounding gender and sexuality, international Mormonism, interfaith connections, and inclusive theology. And he also understands what it takes to do academic publishing in the information age.”

Under Petrey’s leadership, Dialogue will enter its 54th year of publishing articles, personal essays, fiction, poetry, and sermons relating to the Mormon experience. Dialogue began publication in 1966 with Eugene England as its founding editor. Since that time, the journal has published four issues a year. 

In 2018, Dialogue moved the electronic version of its journal from a subscription-supported to a donor-supported publication model. All of its content is now free on the Internet from the moment of its publication. In 2020, Dialogue will begin partnering with the University of Illinois Press to produce the print edition of the journal and will make all of its past issues available through JSTOR and other electronic databases. 

“This is an exciting time for academic journals generally,” said BYU History Professor Rebecca de Schweinitz, a Dialogue Board member who co-chaired the search committee that recommended Petrey for the editorship. “And it is an especially exciting time for Mormon Studies. We need somebody at the helm who understands both the new audiences that have emerged and the new technologies needed to reach them. Taylor is an exemplary scholar with a deep understanding of the modern publishing world.” 

“I am thrilled to join Dialogue and to be a part of the legacy of this great journal,” says Petrey. “This journal reflects and shapes the best of Latter-day Saint thought, culture, and scholarship and I can’t wait to embark on the next phase of the LDS tradition’s premier intellectual and literary venue.” 

Petrey will replace Boyd Petersen, who has been Dialogue’s editor since 2016. Please join us in welcoming him to the team.  We appreciate your continued support of the journal.

2019 JSP Conference: Program and Registration

By August 6, 2019

On Friday, October 11, 2019, the Joseph Smith Papers Project will host the third annual Joseph Smith Papers conference. Due to the overwhelming public interest in past conferences, this year’s event will take place at the Conference Center Theater in order to accommodate all who wish to attend. The theater is located on the west side of the Conference Center (60 West North Temple St., Salt Lake City, Utah 84150).  

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