New Articles on Mormon History and Mormon Studies

By March 12, 2019

Several articles on Mormon history or Mormon Studies have been published in non-Mormon specific venues in the past few months. While the Journal of Mormon History, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Sunstone, and BYU Studies continue to be sources of groundbreaking and award-winning scholarship, they are not the only journals interested in the academic study of Mormonism.

I’ve included the abstract and link to each article. Let me know if I missed any from the past few months in the comments!

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Vega, Sujey. “Intersectional hermanas: LDS Latinas Navigate Faith, Leadership, and Sisterhood.” Latino Studies (not yet assigned to volume): 1-21. LINK.

Abstract: Latinas in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) engage their faith and lived realities through a complicated intersection of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, immigration status, aging, and class. Utilizing oral history, ethnographic interviews, and participant observation, the following analysis explores how LDS Latinas reflected on their experiences in faith, gained leadership skills, and benefited from a gendered ethno-religious social network. These narratives explore secular skills and emotional bonds (hermandad) through an intersectional framework. Additionally, this piece brings attention to the aging process for LDS Latinas and how female church-based networks improved their quality of life. This piece speaks to the resiliency of LDS Latinas, marginalized by multiple intersections of power within their church and society, as they seek solace, deep friendship, and strength, and gain tremendous skills in their network of hermandad (sisterhood).

Park, Benjamin E. “Joseph Smith’s Kingdom of God: The Council of Fifty and the Mormon Challenge to American Politics.” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 87, no. 4 (December 2018): 1029-1055. LINK.

Abstract: This article contextualizes the origins and development of Joseph Smith’s secretive Council of Fifty, a clandestine assembly whose minutes were sequestered from public access since their creation in 1844 and were only made available in September 2016. Organized by Smith, the founding prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, only months before his death at the hands of a mob in June 1844, the council was destined to introduce a new form of world governance. Colloquially named the “Council of Fifty,” it blended democratic principles with theocratic rule. More than a significant moment in the development of America’s largest home-grown religion, however, Joseph Smith’s controversial organization and the ideals it represented hint at broader anxieties over the nation’s cultural disunity and democratic excesses in the wake of disestablishment. While many embraced the democratization of religious authority, the Mormons and some of their contemporaries countered that it only introduced cultural and political chaos. Examining how groups such as the Mormons grappled with these implications—through orchestrated electoral participation, appeals to higher laws, and revisions to democratized authoritative structures—sheds light on this dynamic challenge of political self-rule during America’s antebellum period.

Stuart, Joseph R. “A More Powerful Effect upon the Body’: Early Mormonism’s Theory of Racial Redemption and American Religious Theories of Race.” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 87, no. 3 (September 2018): 768-796. LINK.

Abstract: This paper examines Joseph Smith’s construction of a racialized theology, which drew upon conceptions of Abrahamic lineage and the possibility of “racial redemption” for peoples of African descent through conversion to Mormonism. This ran against the grain of his Protestant and Catholic contemporaries’ religious understandings of race. He expanded upon earlier iterations of his ideas with the introduction of new rituals and liturgy related to LDS temples. Smith’s wife may have invited a person of African descent to participate in this new liturgy before his murder in June 1844. The views he expressed about peoples of African descent before his death are inchoate, although high-ranking Mormons related to Smith seemed to have agreed with the possibility of racial redemption. After Smith’s death, Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders framed the LDS temple and priesthood restriction in terms of Smith’s liturgy rather than any of Smith’s varied teachings on race. This paper also argues that Mormonism’s racial restriction arose from its roots in the sealing ritual rather than ecclesiological power structures. Mormonism’s racial doctrine has often been described as a “priesthood ban,” referring to ecclesiastical authority. However, this discounts the religious contexts in which it arose and excludes the experiences of women and children, who were not allowed to participate in the endowment or sealing ordinances. This paper places Mormonism’s temple liturgy at the front and center of the LDS Church’s priesthood and temple restriction.

Oman, Nathan B. “Civil Disobedience in Latter-day Saint Thought.”
Published February 5, 2019. William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-388, 2019. Available at SSRN:

Abstract: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the largest of the religious traditions born in the United States. What is the role of civil disobedience in Latter-day Saint thought? Some passages in the scriptures of the church suggests an almost unlimited obligation to comply with secular law. In other places, the Latter-day Saint canon suggests a more limited duty of obedience, one that is broadly speaking contingent on the legal system being what might be called “a nearly just regime.” In practice, when pushed by a hostile state, the Saints have been willing to declare if “the laws of my country should come in contact with the laws of God …I shall invariably choose the latter.” However, history also reveals that the calculus for Latter-day Saints has never been this simple. Church leaders have generally counseled obedience to unjust laws coupled with engagement to improve them. More tellingly, in the face of at times suspicious and vicious governments, Latter-day Saints have been counseled to obey the law as a way of protecting themselves and their community from predatory state actors. In short, their religion does not provide the Latter-day Saints with any neat or clear answer to the perennial question of where to draw the line between the claims of God and the claims of Caesar. Rather, it gives them a native tradition within which to consider such questions.

Esplin, Scott C. “Latter-day Saint and Catholic Interactions in the Restoration of Historic Nauvoo.” American Catholic Studies 129, no. 4 (Winter 2018): 23-44. LINK.

Abstract: The rural Midwestern town of Nauvoo, Illinois, was once the center of an American religious narrative. As the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as Latter-day Saint or Mormon) in the mid-nineteenth century, the community suffered religious tension that culminated in the murder of the faith’s founder, Joseph Smith, and the expulsion of most of the group’s adherents. In this wake, a wave of largely Catholic immigrants arrived to occupy the vacant homes and create their own story, one of prosperous farms and vineyards and a stately private religious boarding school. In the twentieth century, however, religious tensions reemerged when the Latter-day Saints returned from the West, seeking to restore Nauvoo as a religious heritage site for their past. Through competition, and eventually collaboration, Catholic and Latter-day Saint interests merged to preserve a story of American religious life. In doing so, they modelled how diverse faith traditions can cooperate to craft a common future.

Mueller, Michelle. “Escaping the Perils of Sensationalist Television Reduction: A&E Networks’ Escaping Polygamy as a Reality TV Atrocity Tale.” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Vol. 22 No. 3 (February 2019): 60-83. LINK

Abstract: Mormon polygamy has become a popular subject for contemporary reality television shows. TLC’s polygamy reality shows center around Mormon polygamist families from the families’ points of view. In contrast from these, Lifetime/A&E Networks’ Escaping Polygamy (2014–) centers around three twenty-something ex-members of a Mormon fundamentalist sect known as the Kingston group. The show depicts the ex-members as heroines who rescue other young adults as they are leaving Mormon polygamist sects. In this article, Escaping Polygamy is interpreted as an “atrocity tale” that relies on a history of moral panic around Mormon polygamy and perpetuates reductive stereotypes about Mormon fundamentalist groups. After an evaluation depending on content analysis of the series and informal interviews with key individuals represented on the series, this article explores the possible damage Escaping Polygamy causes for Mormon polygamist sects and even the young adults shown leaving the groups.

Weagel, Elisabeth (2018) “Representations of Nineteenth-Century Mormonism in A Mormon Maid: A Cinematic Analysis,” Journal of Religion & Film: 22, no.3 , Article 4. LINK.

Abstract: During the first quarter of the 20th century there was a trend in Hollywood to make films about Mormons. Practices such as polygamy created just the kind of sensationalism that attracted filmmakers (even Thomas Edison contributed with his 1902 film A Trip to Salt Lake)Many of these were B-pictures, but the 1917 film A Mormon Maid stands out because it was produced by a major production company (Paramount) and was backed by top director Cecil B. DeMille. It is often given passing reference, but very little genuine scholarship has been done on the film. A hundred years after its release, A Mormon Maid is remembered in name only. This paper is an in-depth analysis of the text as a reflection of and influence on the way the Mormon faith was perceived in the early twentieth century.

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