Anniversary conferences are a wonderful time to have retrospective panels that aim to chart the field’s development and future. Therefore, for MHA’s 50th anniversary, I thought it would be worthwhile to put together a panel that looks back on Mormon history’s most successful (in terms of academic awards) and most divisive (in terms of praise/rejection) book in the last few decades: John Brooke’s The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (Cambridge UP, 1994). A recipient of both Columbia University’s Bancroft Prize and the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic’s Best Book Prize, most Mormon historians denounced the book as methodologically flawed and, in some corners, as anti-Mormon. This led to a bifurcated legacy: on the one hand, most religious historians’ only exposure to Mormonism is through the book, given its wide academic popularity, while most Mormon historians have tended to dismiss it and pretend it never happened.
Two decades later, it is time for a fresh look of both the book and its reception. What does Refiner’s Fire tell us about Mormonism’s place in the academy in the 1990s? What does its reception tell us about New Mormon History’s relationship to the broader historical community? How have the two fields developed in the past twenty years?
This panel originated as a roundable for the Journal of Mormon History, and all the papers will appear in the Fall 2015 issue. But we thought it was a perfect fit for #MHA50 as well, and thus we are grateful to be one of the 50th Anniversary Sessions that will be recorded. Below are the participants and their papers. We hope a lot of you will show up—I promise it will be worth the trip!
- Benjamin Park, University of Missouri, chair*
- Stephen Fleming, Orem, UT, “Refiner’s Fire and the Yates Thesis: Hermeticism, Esotericism, and the History of Christianity”**
- Susanna Morrill, Lewis and Clark College, “The Refiner’s Fire: Rites of Scholarly Passage”
- David Holland, Harvard Divinity School, “Narrative Arcs and Scholarly Nerve: A Reflection on John Brooke’s Accomplishment”
- Neil Kamil, University of Texas-Austin, “The Refiner’s Fire‘s Atlantic”
- John Brooke, Ohio State University, “The Refiner’s Fire: In Retrospect”
*Note: we had to cut my paper for time restrictions. The print version of this roundtable, however, will include my paper, titled, “Camelot?s Crucible: The Historiographic Context for Refiner?s Fire.”
**Second Note: the print version of Stephen Fleming’s paper was co-authored with Anne Taves and Egil Asprem.