Reassessing the Classics: Armand Mauss’s THE ANGEL AND THE BEEHIVE (part 2 of 3)

By October 16, 2019

For the next several days, the Juvenile Instructor will examine the work of the sociologist Armand Mauss, a pioneering figure in Mormon studies, under the banner of our occasional series “Reassessing the Classics.” For the next three days, several scholars will examine Mauss’s landmark 1994 book THE ANGEL AND THE BEEHIVE: THE MORMON STRUGGLE WITH ASSIMILATION (University of Illinois Press). The first of these went up Monday, October 14. Today, Jana Riess, author of many well-regarded books on Mormonism, including the important THE NEXT MORMONS: HOW MILLENNIALS ARE CHANGING THE LDS CHURCH (Oxford, 2019).

Recently, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unveiled the first peek at its new global youth program, which will provide activities and instruction for Saints from ages 8 to 18. As I have been reading about the new initiative, one thought kept going through my mind: Is this a sign of retrenchment or assimilation?*

The fact that this was my recurring question shows how deeply Armand Mauss’s thesis from The Angel and the Beehive has informed my understanding of Mormonism as a vibrant religion with a particular genius for reinvention. And I’m not the only one. The Angel and the Beehive has for the last quarter century been the single most defining and influential work on the social scientific study of Mormonism, its thesis nimble enough to accommodate—nay, to expect—theological and social change when such change has consigned other theories to the dustbin.

Mauss’s contributions to the field don’t end with his own published work, but include his handiwork in creating avenues for scholars to explore Mormonism as a fruitful topic for social scientific study. He was one of the founding members of the Mormon Social Science Association, and served as its first vice-president in the late 1970s. For the first 40 years of the MSSA’s existence, Armand has been actively involved in presenting new research and helping to mentor young scholars.

I’ve been lucky enough to be one of those scholars. Since I was trained as a historian and not a social scientist, it was with some trepidation that I told Armand years ago that I was thinking about diving into a large-scale research project about contemporary young Mormons. What became The Next Mormons was possible in no small part because of Armand’s willing assistance with many aspects of the project, as he offered feedback on early drafts of survey questions, donated to the Kickstarter campaign that funded the national survey, and read and commented on two chapters in progress.

That same generosity of spirit was also apparent when we served together on the Dialogue board. Armand was by that time in his late seventies and early eighties. Plenty of other people look at retirement as a time to enjoy a long-earned respite from work, and a chance to indulge personal interests. (Believe me, I’m not judging.) This was not Armand’s approach. He devoted himself to the journal and the people associated with it. I count myself as tremendously lucky that our years on the board overlapped.

I’m greatly saddened to hear that Armand is facing the end of his life. I will miss his keen intellect, vibrant sense of humor, and equally vibrant Hawaiian shirts. God be with him till we meet again.

* The answer, I think, is that it is both. On the one hand, the youth program is a turn toward insularity, as the Saints eschew non-church programs like Scouting in favor of growing their own. On the other hand, its hands-off approach, greater commitment to gender equality, and emphasis on local flexibility are clear signs of assimilation, as the Church adapts itself to meet the needs of a changing world that is no longer impressed by standardization and uniformity.

Reassessing the Classics: Armand Mauss’s THE ANGEL AND THE BEEHIVE (part 1 of 3)

By October 15, 2019

For the next several days, the Juvenile Instructor will examine the work of the sociologist Armand Mauss, a pioneering figure in Mormon studies, under the banner of our occasional series “Reassessing the Classics.” For the next three days, several scholars will examine Mauss’s landmark 1994 book THE ANGEL AND THE BEEHIVE: THE MORMON STRUGGLE WITH ASSIMILATION (University of Illinois Press). First: Gary and Gordon Shepherd, sociologists in their own right and the authors of a number of well-regarded works in Mormon studies, including A KINGDOM TRANSFORMED: EARLY MORMONISM AND THE MODERN LDS CHURCH (2nd edition, University of Utah Press, 2015).

            Armand Mauss’s The Angel and The Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation was published in 1994 by the University of Illinois Press.  Angel and the Beehive quickly became a landmark work in Mormon studies that continues to be referenced by scholars of contemporary Mormonism to this day.  This was Armand’s first, full-fledged book—one that had been simmering on the backburner of his mind for 25 years.  In it, Armand applied the sociological notion of assimilation and the economics notion of retrenchment to show how the late 20th Century LDS Church was attempting to apply the brakes to liberalizing compromises in belief and practice that had been made in the early and middle decades of the 20th Century. 

            Society at large exerts pressures on perceived deviant groups (emerging from within or entering from outside a host society) to conform to prevailing norms and values, compelling them towards  assimilation into established society.  But if such groups become totally assimilated, they of course lose their distinctive identity and original purpose for being. One strategy to deal with these losses is to attempt “retrenchment”: a cut-back on compromises and perhaps even a return to original principles.  Angel and the Beehive examined this retrenchment strategy as a response of LDS officials during the 1950s through the 1980s to perceived liberalizing tendencies in society that seemed to threaten basic LDS tenets if allowed to be adopted by church members.  Armand proposed that church leaders were in effect saying:  “Assimilation has gone far enough. Let’s start remembering the things that have made us a peculiar people.”

            Particular areas Armand identified as indicators of retrenchment efforts included: (1) increased emphasis on continuous revelation through modern prophets; (2) renewed emphasis on temples, temple work, and genealogical research; (3) expansion and standardization of missionary work; (4) renewed emphasis on family values; and (5) expansion of formal religious education and indoctrination.  A large portion of his book marshalled supportive evidence for retrenchment emphasis in these areas, some of the evidence being social science research data drawn from a variety of sources (including my brother Gordon’s and my content analysis of General Conference addresses over a 150-year period, 1830-1979), while other evidence was garnered from standard historical sources and Armand’s own extensive involvement with and knowledge of relevant events. Armand’s presentation and analysis of evidence was persuasive and impactful on the ways that scholars viewed the dynamics of changing LDS policies. 

            Following publication of Angel and the Beehive, Armand continued to think about the assimilation and retrenchment issue for the LDS Church over succeeding years.  Generally speaking, in the case of new or radical religious organizations, complete resistance or uncompromising retreat from changes demanded by the outside world can result in destruction of the group by the larger society, extreme isolation, failure to attract or even maintain members, or internal schism and division, as some group members break away to retain their purity while others continue along the path of compromise and ultimate assimilation.  

            Another possibility, however, is to find an acceptable middle ground in which a certain amount of tension between group and society continues; the group wants to maintain certain distinctions, but not so much that the group is in danger of being suppressed into extinction or so little that the group simply morphs into a bland version of already existing groups in the larger world.  Since change in modern societies is axiomatic, this middle ground path must continually be monitored and adjusted to maintain an “optimum” balance of tension between social compromise and group distinctiveness.  In a 2011 Dialogue article, Armand reconsidered his retrenchment thesis in this light and concluded that for the previous two decades “LDS general authorities [had] gradually introduced a series of changes in church policy that have had the cumulative effect of pulling the pendulum of ecclesiastical culture back somewhat from the retrenchment mode and toward assimilation.” 

            In this analysis, Armand identified the partial reversal of retrenchment (swinging of the pendulum back to more assimilating compromise) as occurring primarily in the areas of (1) LDS scriptural and doctrinal understandings, (2) gender and family policies, (3) issues of homosexuality, and (4) rapprochement with independent scholarship in Mormon studies.  Armand was careful to qualify his observations by saying “I haven’t yet gathered the kind of systematic data needed for reliable conclusions.  Nor am I claiming there has been a wholesale rollback of retrenchment policies, but only some relatively modest ‘course corrections.’”

            As it happened, Gordon and I were in a position to generate empirical results that could test Armand’s new “course correction” hypothesis as a corollary to his earlier assimilation and retrenchment thesis.  We did this by carrying out a 30-year update (1980-2009) of our original content analysis of General Conference addresses. In so doing, we formulated specific empirical tests of LDS leader’s changing emphasis on themes that represented most of the areas Armand had predicted would swing away from retrenchment concerns back towards greater accommodation and reduction of social tension. Our results were consistent with Armand’s expectations and thus lend some empirical support, previously lacking, for his “course correction” hypothesis.  (See the 2nd edition of our retitled A Kingdom Transformed: Early Mormonism and the Modern LDS Church.  2016, University of Utah Press, pp.202-04; 2011-28.)

            Our own unsystematic observations of more recent changes in LDS Church policies—during the later stage of President Monson’s presidency and the new and current presidency of President Nelson—indicate to us an ongoing set of pendulum swings between retrenchment and societal accommodation, perhaps seemingly a bit more in the direction of accommodation.  This especially seems true in such arenas as women’s’ status, rapprochement with professional scholarship, and doctrinal/historical exposition.  But policies continue to be much less accommodating on LGBT issues and decidedly less so on insistence of unquestioning compliance with directives claimed to be the product of current prophetic revelation.  Meanwhile, Armand, we can be sure, continues to surveil these organizational dynamics at play within the conceptual framework he has done so much to clarify for us. 

Q&A with Taylor Petrey, editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought

By October 14, 2019

Dr. Taylor Petrey was recently named editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. We are grateful he took time to answer our questions!

Taylor Petrey is Associate Professor and Religion and Chair of the Religion Department at Kalamazoo College. Dr. Petrey received his ThD and MTS from Harvard Divinity School in New Testament and Early Christianity and BA from Pace University in Philosophy and Religious Studies. He teaches courses in ancient Christianity and ancient Judaism, including the sacred texts that comprise the Bible for both traditions.  His teaching and research explore the use and meaning of the Bible, early Christian thought, and the history of gender, sexuality, and kinship in Christianity.

Dialogue is a hub for Mormon Studies scholarship, events, and news. For over 50 years, Dialogue has been the premiere journal in Mormon Studies. It has published some of the most important articles, personal essays, poetry, fiction, and art. Dialogue has also evolved in recent years to offer new products. We have an excellent newsletter, podcast, and social media feeds on Facebook and Twitter. These forms of engagement give our audience more ways to access great commentary on the past, present, and future of the LDS tradition.

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The Mechanics of Applying to MHA: The CFP, Writing Abstracts, and Forming Panels

By October 13, 2019

It’s hard to believe that we are only a few weeks away from the Mormon History Association conference deadline! Anne Berryhill, our committee, and I are anxiously awaiting when we get to look at proposals and fully plan out the 2020 conference. I suspect that I’m preaching to the choir when I tell blog readers that MHA is one of the best conferences out there. It’s well-attended, features fantastic scholarship, and I always walk away feeling academically rejuvenated. As Ben once wrote, one of the best things about MHA is that people show up to panels. Many conferences have low session turnout, but that’s an exception rather than the rule at MHA. I remember the first time I presented at a national conference of another organization and feeling disappointed that only a dozen people attended my paper. Accordingly, the Q&A portions are also rich and engaging (although, like all conferences, there can be some wacky questions!).

So how do you get to the point where you’re presenting at MHA? How do you submit a paper proposal? And, ideally, how do you submit a panel proposal? Like many things in academia, folks are often told to do something but specific processes are not fully explained. In this post, I hope to make the process less opaque. I will explain why you should submit to the MHA Annual Conference, how to “read” a Call for Papers, how to write a good abstract, how to write a paper proposal, and how to write a panel proposal. The process isn’t complicated, but I remember well not feeling confident about sending in a proposal.

Important Consideration

This is important to put at the beginning of the post: not everyone is accepted to every conference to which they apply. I remember receiving a rejection letter from MHA and wondering if that was the end of my academic career. Thankfully, wise mentors like Ken Alford and Spencer Fluhman told me that receiving a rejection is a part of the process. Sometimes a proposal doesn’t “fit” with the program. “Fit” is a nebulous term, but it’s a complicated process to balance a conference lineup with a variety of topics, themes, formats, and so on. A rejection says nothing about your intellectual capabilities or your place in the field of Mormon history. Everyone from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich to the least-experienced undergraduate will face rejection in their scholarly career.

Why Should I Submit to the Mormon History Association Conference?

Conference participation is the lowest bar-to-entry into the scholarly world (Ardis Parshall has written about MHA being “academic vs. scholarly” here). There is room for dozens of speakers at MHA’s annual conference, for instance, versus roughly 20 articles published per year in the Journal of Mormon History. Conferences give you a chance to show off your research, meet with others who are interested in Mormon history, and make connections with others.

MHA is the friendliest conference I’ve ever attended. It’s a collegial environment with smart people who know the field. You couldn’t ask for a better place to receive feedback on your work and sharpen your future research and writing questions.

How Do I “Read” the Call for Papers?

First, take a look at the Call for Papers or CFP. You can pull out important information from a relatively short document (most important details in bold).

  • “The 55th Annual Conference of the Mormon History Association will be held June 4-7, 2020, in Rochester/Palmyra, New York.”
    • Make sure you can attend the conference!
  • “The 2020 conference theme, “Visions, Restoration, and Movements” commemorates the 200th anniversary of Mormonism’s birth in upstate New York. Joseph Smith’s religious movement has grown from a fledgling frontier faith to a diverse set of religious and cultural traditions functioning across the globe.
    • Having a paper that addresses the theme in some way, and/or that addresses the 200th anniversary will fit in with the conference committee’s vision for the program.
  • The Rochester/Palmyra conference will be an opportunity to walk where Joseph Smith, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and other such luminaries walked, a place to be reminded of the visions, visionaries, and movements that came out of western New York in the 19th century.
    • Papers that address secondary themes like suffrage and abolition are likely to score well when the program committee reads your abstract.
  • Though the program committee will consider individual papers, it will give preference to proposals for complete sessions, whose participants reflect MHA’s ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion.
    • It’s easier to be accepted as a panel than as individual papers. Having women, people of color, and folks from disparate institutions reflects well on your panel for several reasons. First, it shows that you worked to find a panel that fits well together. Second, the panel will address different topics or themes according to different researcher’s questions.
  • Please send 1) a 300-word abstract for each paper or presentation and 2) a one-page CV for each presenter, including email contact information. Full session proposals should include the session title and a 150-word abstract outlining the session’s theme, along with a confirmed chair and/or commentator, if applicable. Previously published papers are not eligible for presentation at MHA.  Limited financial assistance for travel and lodging at the conference is available to volunteers, and to some student and international presenters. Those who wish to apply for this funding may do so upon acceptance of their proposed presentation.
  • The deadline for proposals is November 1, 2019. Send proposals to program co-chairs Joseph Stuart and Anne Berryhill at Acknowledgment of receipt will be sent immediately. Notification of acceptance/rejection will be made by January 15, 2020.
    • Make sure you follow directions! Write your abstract(s), include a CV, and list chairs and commentators.
    • If applicable, be sure to apply for travel funding if your paper/panel is accepted (the program committee and MHA’s executive director won’t know how funding will work until after the committee is set).
    • Hit your deadlines!
    • Don’t expect to hear back from MHA until January 15, 2020. If you haven’t heard by January 16, 2020, THEN send a note to the panel co-chairs’ email.

How Do I Write a Quality Abstract?

Using the information above, you can now craft your abstract, meaning your proposal with tentative ideas about your findings. You don’t have to have your paper complete before submitting; you’ll have time to write it afterward. Still, you should have a solid hypothesis for what you expect to find in your archival research and perusal of the secondary literature.

Remember that you only have 20 minutes to present. Focus in one a single idea that you hope to develop and explain to your audience. Here’s one way to go about it (and here’s an example of mine from a previous MHA conference):

  • Set the scene (who, what, when, where, why)
  • Briefly explain what others have said about your topic (if they have said anything)
  • “Based on [primary sources, data, etc.]” or “through an analysis of [events, persons, ideas]” I will show [argument].
  • Ask a friend, mentor, or colleague to take a look at your proposal to make sure that it’s clear and concise.

How Do I Submit a Paper Proposal?

Write your abstract and send to by 11:59 PM on November 1, 2019. You’ll receive confirmation that the committee received it—if you haven’t received one send a follow up!

How Do I Form a Panel?

This can be especially daunting for new scholars or those who haven’t previously attended MHA. You can find those who have published in your area of interest at using a search term like “Japan” or “Book of Mormon” or “Civil War.” You can also consult or to find others to team up with. Finally, this Google Doc lists the names of those looking for panelists with their topics and how many panelists they need and has their best mode of contact included.

Most people are flattered to be asked to join a panel. If they are rude then you didn’t want to present with them, anyway.

How Do I Submit a Panel Proposal?

Compile abstracts, cvs, and other relevant information and send to by 11:59 PM on November 1, 2019. You’ll receive confirmation that the committee received it—if you haven’t received one send a follow up. Also, be sure to actually contact your chair or commentator and confirm they can take on the role. Don’t put people forward for work they haven’t agreed to do!

Other Resources to Consult:

North Carolina State’s “Tips for Writing Conference Proposals

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

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Mormon Pacific Historical Society Conferences

By October 11, 2019

The 2019 conference of the Mormon Pacific Historical Society will focus on the history of the building of temples in the Pacific by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, starting with the Laie Hawaii Temple in 1919–100 years ago.  Approximately 30 presentations–5 choices per hour to choose from!  Registration begins at 8 A.M. on November 16, 2019, in the Heber J. Grant Building.

CALL FOR APPLICANTS—2020 Latter-day Saint Theology Seminar

By October 9, 2019

The 7th Annual Summer Seminar on Latter-day Saint Theology
“A Wrestle Before God: Reading Enos 1”
Université Bordeaux Montaigne, Bordeaux, France
June 22–July 4, 2020

Sponsored by the Latter-day Saint Theology Seminar in partnership with The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, and the Wheatley Institution

In the summer of 2020, the Latter-day Saint Theology Seminar will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and faculty devoted to reading Enos 1. The seminar will be hosted by the Université Bordeaux Montaigne in Bordeaux, France, from June 22 through July 4, 2020. Travel arrangements, housing, and a $1250 stipend will be provided for admitted participants. The seminar will be led by Adam Miller and Joseph Spencer, directors of the Latter-day Saint Theology Seminar.

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Upcoming Events and Lectures Oct 10-18, 2019

By October 8, 2019

Here are details on a few events over the next couple weeks in Provo and Salt Lake City.

“Saints, and Other Western Wonders”

Date: Thursday, Oct 10, 2019

Time: 11 am

Location: Karl G. Maeser Building Auditorium, Brigham Young University

Dr. David Walker will draw from his new book, Railroad Religion: Mormons, Tourists, and the Corporate Spirit of the West and discuss how the transcontinental railroad era mainlined the church. You can find more details here.

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Church History Library Digital Asset Processing Internship

By October 8, 2019


Posting Dates: 10/07/2019 – 10/21/2019

Job Family: Human Resources

Department: Church History Department


The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church History Library has established a process to digitize, describe, and provide online access to as many of its holdings as possible. Using metadata from paper and electronic indices, spreadsheets, and other files, we are attempting to identify people, places and events in the over twelve million pages of digitized published materials and archival collections. The Library is seeking a part-time (28 hrs/wk) intern to help transform and create this metadata, and to train volunteers involved in the digital asset identification process. We invite students or recent (within last 12 months) college graduates with career goals in the field of metadata and/or digital asset management to apply for this 1-year, paid internship.


  • Learn how to use the Church History Library’s metadata enrichment tools.
  • Train volunteers how to use the Library’s metadata enrichment tools.
  • Assign and review volunteer metadata enrichment work.
  • Reconcile and resolve problems or exceptions encountered in this process.
  • Create and enhance training documentation for metadata projects.
  • Consult on improving metadata enrichment tools and processes.
  • Normalize and transform existing metadata in spreadsheets and other electronic documents.
  • Participate with other library, archival, and product management professionals in improving library services.
  • Improve professional skills relating to library, archives, and digital asset management.
  • Improve personal knowledge of Church history.

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A Quick Note: Historicizing the Role of Bishoprics

By October 7, 2019

The history of Bishops and their responsibilities throughout the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has yet to be written. Historicizing the shifts in responsibility at the October 2019 General Conference of the church can consequently be challenging. I’d like to focus here on one key facet of the new ecclesiology: the role of Bishoprics with young men of the church.

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Q&A with Christopher Blythe

By October 2, 2019

An excerpt from an interview with Christopher Blythe, a Research Associate at BYU’s Maxwell Institute working on a book about the cultural history of Book of Mormon geography. Blythe received his PhD in American Religious History in 2015 and has worked on the Joseph Smith Papers. He is also the associate editor for the Journal of Mormon History. For the full interview, head over to Kurt Manwaring’s site, From the Desk.

How did your understanding of Joseph Smith change during your time as a documentary editor for the Joseph Smith Papers?

My thoughts on Joseph Smith as a prophet and visionary are much the same as they have been from when I first read Joseph Fielding Smith’s Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon Cook’s Words of Joseph Smith as a teenager. I’m enthralled and moved by Joseph’s vision for mankind and his theology of the divine.

As a documentary editor for the Joseph Smith Papers, I became acquainted with Joseph not only as a prophetic figure but as a political leader and businessman as well.

I was surprised to learn just how involved he was in real estate, local politics, and business. This can be disorienting for someone who is only aware of Joseph Smith’s prophetic ministry, but, for Joseph, this was all wrapped up in his vision of building the Kingdom of God on earth.

What are a few of the most pressing issues in American Religious History today?

I think matters of race have moved to the center of conversations on religious studies in the United States.  There is also extensive work being done on the role of scripture in American churches, what is termed “scripturalization” – how texts or ideas become sacralized within a community. Since the 1990s, and at the center of my own research, is an ongoing effort to bring out the lived experience of ordinary believers. Religious intolerance remains a crucial discussion in American religious history as well. Increasingly we have Latter-day Saint scholars and Latter-day Saint subjects integrated into these wider studies, whether it be race, scripture, or religious prejudice.

What are two or three breathtaking documents you have personally handled in the Church History Library archives?

As a historian on the Joseph Smith Papers, we would check typescripts against the original manuscript, so I have had the opportunity to work with many documents that were handled by Joseph Smith and other early church leaders.  I have a special place in my heart for a little booklet from 1840 that Wilford Woodruff used to record Joseph Smith’s teachings. He included revelations that weren’t yet canonized in the Doctrine and Covenants and in a few instances, notes about more private interactions with the prophet. The document was re-discovered in the past several years in the Church’s holdings and was made available digitally about two years ago. It includes esoteric beliefs—speculative ideas—that Joseph would never discuss publicly, but which he felt comfortable discussing with his closest friends. 

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