The Church History Department is looking to hire a new Director of Publications, with responsibilities including overseeing the department’s several print and digital publications. You can find the ad at https://careers.lds.org/search/Public/Search.aspx by searching for job #228043. The posting will be open for two weeks.
This is the fourth installment in an ongoing but terribly irregular series dedicated to the appearance of Mormon Studies in popular media, including musical lyrics, popular television shows, movies, and so forth. Previous installments can be read here,here, and here.
Okay, the appearance of Mormon Studies isn’t entirely unexpected in a novel written by a Latter-day Saint author who graduated from BYU and whose books deal with explicitly Mormon themes and revolve around LDS characters. Indeed, it was the mention of “an excommunicated Mormon historian in Salt Lake City” among the characters featured in the description of Tim Wirkus’s 2018 novel, The Infinite Future, that sparked my interest enough to read a book about the search for the obscure Brazilian author of a mysterious science fiction book (that may or may not possess mystical powers).
Consultation on Latter-day Saint Women in Comparative Perspective 2019–2021
This three-year consultation will bring together a cohort of approximately twelve scholars with interests in gaining an in-depth understanding of the history and contemporary status of Latter-day Saint women in comparative perspective. Participants will gain and share critical tools for research, share drafts of work, and propose further avenues for future analysis.
Since the time I began working on my current book project on early Book of Mormon reception history, there have been individuals who have called what I am doing women’s history. I am certainly not offended by someone saying I do women’s history, I am not opposed to women’s history. I think women’s history does significant and important compensatory work to fill a historical chasm empty for too long. My Master’s thesis was clearly women’s history, I have done consistent work in that field, as well as the discipline directly informing other work that I do.
However, I’m always interested in the formal and informal categories that we construct to order the historical field and I’m wondering what makes something women’s history? As editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Joseph Spencer, introduced my recent article here for the Maxwell Institute, he complimented my work (thanks) and summarized the article: “how early converts—and especially women—approached the text of the Book of Mormon.” I suspect Joe wanted to highlight one of the things present in my article that is often absent in Mormon History, women. However, the “especially women” gave me pause. That pause has only expanded as I have heard others describe my current work as women’s history.
A reminder that nominations for this year’s Mormon History Association’s annual awards are due on Feb. 1, 2019. MHA accepts submissions for any high-quality work published in 2018. There are awards for books, articles, and graduate student work. See details for the submissions process and categories on the Mormon History Association website. Details for submission can be found at the website linked here.
On January 18, Matt B. posted a review of Harvard Heath’s book Confidence Amid Change: The Presidential Diaries of David O. McKay, 1951-1970. Kurt Manwaring has published an interview with Heath over on his site, From the Desk. An excerpt is posted below; click over to From the Desk to read the rest!
What is the most breathtaking manuscript you have personally handled at the Harold B. Lee Library at BYU?
There have been literally hundreds. If I had to select just one collection, it would probably be manuscripts from the Whitney collection containing some of the original revelations of Joseph Smith.
What is the backstory for how “Confidence Amid Change” came to be and what has been the availability history of the diaries?
The McKay diaries have a long history with me. They were, among many collections, restricted for research at the Church Archives in the early 1970s. We had sought through channels to receive access as part of the BYU centennial project research but were denied. Through some serendipitous circumstances, conditions changed and access was approved. During this period, the “Age of Camelot” was dawning and the assumption was that others would see them during this new era. I went through the diaries quickly looking for BYU related material, assuming I would come back at a later date and give them closer scrutiny. That day never came as the “Ice Age” set in at the Church Archives thereafter.
My interest in them never waned but prospects looked hopeless until a set of fortuitous circumstances occurred with Greg Prince’s administrative history of President David O. McKay. He had been given access to a copy of the diaries by the nephew of Clare Middlemiss, the late Wm. Robert Wright. They combined to publish David O. McKay and The Rise of Modern Mormonism. I was allowed to use them for my project and later, working with Greg Thompson of the University of Utah Special Collections, persuaded the Wrights to donate the diaries and other papers to the University of Utah to augment their current McKay holdings. They are currently available for research there.
Statement of Purpose: This Unit will examine the range of topics, disciplines, and methodologies that can be brought into dialogue with Mormonism as studied in an academic environment. It is interested in exploring strategies for teaching about Mormonism, both as the main focus of a class or as a unit within a survey course. It seeks to identify the best resources available for teaching and understanding the tradition and provide encouragement for scholars to fill gaps in what is currently available. The Unit encourages significant comparative studies and interdisciplinary cross-fertilization and hopes to explore intersections between Mormonism and ethics, theology, philosophy, ecclesiology, missiology, spirituality, arts and literature, sociology, scripture, and liberation studies.
The Mormon Studies Unit seeks proposals for full sessions or individual papers that consider any aspect of Mormon experience using the methods of critical theory, philosophy, theology, history, sociology, or psychology. This includes the use of Mormonism as a case study for informing larger questions in any of these disciplines and, thus, only indirectly related to the Mormon experience.
At the beginning of chapter 9 of her book Sister Saints, Colleen McDannell incorporates a particular quote by Aileen H. Clyde. Clyde was a counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency when the Proclamation on the Family was released. As McDannell explains, the Proclamation was presented as a fait accompli to Clyde, her fellow counselor Chieko Okazaki, and President Elaine L. Jack. Their input was not sought, despite the gendered subject matter and the arguably important role Mormon women play in shaping Mormon families. In a 2011 interview, Clyde characterized women’s domains within the church as a “playpen,” saying, “[male leaders] don’t care what we do over here in our playpen as long as we stay in our playpen and are good to each other” (qtd. in McDannell 154).
This was a telling quote, and an unusually candid one, that highlighted the infantilization of women in the LDS Church. Much has written about power structures in the LDS Church, men’s and women’s spheres, the hierarchy inherent in a male priesthood, and the like. McDannell adds to this academic discourse with an in-depth discussion of the Proclamation on the Family. As McDannell writes, the Proclamation on the Family has an almost canonical status in LDS culture. It reflects and drives Mormon discourse about gender and sexuality and helps define what a divinely ordained family looks like. It can be found framed in so many Mormon homes and its ubiquity is a material marker of Mormonism as real as garments or visible adherence to the Word of Wisdom.
A strength of this chapter is the care McDannell takes to flesh out the role that a binary, dualistic, and essentalist idea of gender plays in Mormonism. She contrasts that with the ideas found in conservative and fundamentalist Protestantism, pointing out that Latter-day Saint ideas about gender largely align with those found in the ideology of complementarianism in conservative Christianity. However, where complementarians speak of ‘headship,’ of a fundamental and God-given “asymmetry in power relationships in the home” in which wives submit to their husbands, Latter-day Saints consider Mormon men and women to be ‘equal partners’ at home (160). McDannell is right to point out this difference, as it has real effects, both on a theological level and a practical level. Latter-day Saint gender relations, then, are their own thing and can’t be mapped neatly onto those of other groups.
McDannell organizes her discussion of the Proclamation around the idea of a “theology of silence.” That is, the Proclamation displays “ambiguity, restraint, and brevity” (155) and “speaks louder in what it does not say than what it does” (165, italics original). The Proclamation doesn’t contain anti-gay rhetoric, rather, it celebrates the heterosexual family. More than that, McDannell argues that the silence extends to the gendering of men and women themselves: “[h]ow a father presides and a mother nurtures is not laid out” (165). This is particularly noteworthy given the “elaborate, and typically conservative, reflections of prominent church leaders” such as Boyd K. Packer and others who reach back to an imagined and nostalgic American past.
There is a lot going on in this chapter that deserves further thought, but today I want to briefly touch on this idea of a theology of silence, of the institutional forgetting of the rhetoric that came before. McDannell is right that this leaves room for (heterosexual) families to define for themselves what it means to nurture or to provide, for example. This also explains how the Proclamation can resonate with all kinds of (again, heterosexual) families and be found proudly displayed in the homes of stay at home moms as well as career-driven women. However, I would argue that while absent in the Proclamation, these messages and the larger discourse surrounding gender roles in the church is present in so many other avenues that members know how to read it into the text—particularly in the American church and even more so in the ‘Book of Mormon belt.’ Ultimately, the messages do not have to be spoken in this specific text for them to be heard. That the Proclamation speaks of ‘equal partners,’ yet fathers are to ‘preside,’ is telling language which speaks volumes here, and I would have liked to see that dissonant note teased out a little more.
The Proclamation on the Family allows for diversity to exist: as McDannell writes, “It did not encourage […] multiplicity, but it did recognize—via its theology of silence—the complexity of Mormon lives” (170). I would argue that it’s significant that this is not affirmation, but tolerance. The theology of silence in the Proclamation allows diversity in families to exist in that space (or perhaps, better said, does not deny or condemn the existence of diversity), but I would again argue that this same silence is drowned out by official discourse. Towards the end of the chapter, McDannell writes that the Proclamation paved the way for other institutional efforts to celebrate diversity, like the Meet the Mormons movie or the larger I’m a Mormon ad campaign. This is a very apt characterization, as the careful watcher of the 2014 movie will see diversity in skin color, nationality, and circumstances, yes, but also notice that this is a diversity very narrowly defined and very carefully curated. In that sense, I am interested in seeing what happens when a younger generation—increasingly comfortable with and affirming of LGBTQ people, for example—comes of age. Will the Proclamation continue to resonate so powerfully with members—will a theology of silence be enough?
From our friends at the Book of Mormon Studies Association Conference:
The Third Annual Meeting of The Book of Mormon Studies Association October 11-12, 2019 Utah State University
The Book of Mormon Studies Association (BoMSA) is pleased to announce its third annual meeting, to be held October 11–12, 2019, at Utah State University. The event is sponsored by USU’s Department of Religious Studies and with thanks to both Philip Barlow and Patrick Mason, successive occupiers of the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture.
This annual event gathers a variety of scholars invested in serious academic study of the Book of Mormon. It has no particular theme but instead invites papers on any subject related to the Book of Mormon from any viable academic angle. This year’s two keynote speakers will be Paul Gutjahr (Indiana University) and Amy Easton-Flake (Brigham Young University). We will also hold a special book interview session with Community of Christ scholar Dale E. Luffman.
JJohnson on Mormon Studies in Unexpected: “Fascinating, Christopher.
Surely the Eliza bio and fireside is fictionalizing Newell and Avery's experience with Mormon Enigma. Right?”
Ben S on For Your Consideration: A: “Right on. It speaks to old traditions that equal inclusion strikes people as novel or unbalanced.”
JJohnson on For Your Consideration: A: “"WE REALLY OUGHT TO CLASSIFY THE OLD HISTORY, THE TYPE THAT OVERLOOKS/EXCLUDES WOMEN, AS "MEN'S HISTORY," LEAVING THE TITLE "HISTORY" FOR THE INCLUSIVE KIND."