An Insider’s View of Early Mormonism. . .and Methodism

By July 23, 2009

After months of anticipation, the JI’s Christopher has successfully completed his MA thesis at BYU. The thesis examines the influence of Methodism on early Mormon history, and will doubtless be a valuable contribution. It is available on-line here and I’ve reproduced the abstract after the jump:

Christopher C. Jones
Department of History
Master of Arts

Historians have long noted Joseph Smith’s early interest in Methodism. Demographic studies of early Mormon converts have demonstrated further that many of those attracted to the Mormon message on both sides of the Atlantic came from Methodist backgrounds. These two points, and the many similarities between Methodist and Mormon beliefs and practices, have led many scholars to suggest that Smith’s church was influenced by the Methodists who joined the movement. This thesis explores the Methodist backgrounds of those Methodists who converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1830, when Joseph Smith formally organized his church (originally called the Church of Christ), to 1838, when the Latter-day Saints moved to Nauvoo, Illinois, and the church experienced a transformation in its theology, worship practices, and organizational structure. I argue that Methodism fundamentally shaped the ways that early Mormonism developed in its first eight years. This was a result of both Methodism’s rapid growth and expansive influence in antebellum America and the many early Mormon converts who had previously affiliated with Methodism.

This thesis contains four chapters. Chapter 1 examines the historiography on the subject, summarizing the demographic studies previously conducted and the conclusions drawn by other historians. It also provides the theoretical framework that shaped the thesis. Chapter 2 analyzes the conversion narratives of the early converts to Mormonism who came from Methodist backgrounds. I show that these converts generally maintained a positive view of Methodism even after their conversion to Mormonism, and viewed their belief in dreams and visions and the acceptance of charismatic religious experience they were taught while Methodists as instrumental in their eventual acceptance of the Mormon message. Chapter 3 explores an extended analysis of Joseph Smith’s various recollections of his “first vision” within the context of Methodist conversion narratives of the era. By analyzing the first vision within the Methodist context, I seek to harmonize key discrepancies in Smith’s early and later narratives while still allowing each version to speak for itself. Chapter 4 surveys early Mormon church organization and worship and compares it to that of early American Methodism in an effort to better contextualize early Mormonism within the culture from which it arose and developed. This chapter concludes with a brief summary of the lasting influence of Methodism on Mormon religiosity.

Some of Chris’ research has appeared previously on the blog and it’s good to see his work in final form.

Article filed under Announcements and Events Categories of Periodization: Origins Comparative Mormon Studies


  1. Congratulations are certainly in order. Excellent work, Chris.

    Comment by Ryan T — July 23, 2009 @ 7:26 pm

  2. Congrats Chris! Great work, and here’s to a bright future in the academy!

    Comment by Jared T — July 23, 2009 @ 7:57 pm

  3. well done

    Comment by smb — July 23, 2009 @ 8:01 pm

  4. Very nice! And congratulations!

    I’ve always just assumed a connection between Mormonism and Methodism, given Joseph’s early leanings and the emphasis on free will, but now I’m looking forward to looking at this in depth. Very nice!

    (On a side note, I’m curious how long it took to complete this impressive piece of work, including research and actual writing.)

    Comment by Clean Cut — July 23, 2009 @ 8:15 pm

  5. Envious (of quality and completion) congratulations!

    Comment by Edje Jeter — July 23, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

  6. Solid work, Christopher. I’m really enjoying it so far.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 23, 2009 @ 9:28 pm

  7. I think this is a really interesting subject and a great idea for a thesis. Congratulations on its completion, Chris!

    Comment by Kevin Barney — July 23, 2009 @ 9:56 pm

  8. Thanks David for the plug and everyone else for the kind words and congratulations.

    I initially envisioned something much larger that what the finished product reflects, but time and length constraints limited what I was able to accomplish. There is still much to be explored, and I’d like to someday return to the subject and flesh out some of the ideas.

    Clean Cut, I started research my first semester in the MA program (Fall 2007), which primarily consisted of reading a lot of secondary literature on anything and everything I could that related to my topic in some way. Winter semester 2008 I began to really get into the primary sources on the Mormon side, and summer 2008 was spent in Methodist sources (including a delightful week at the UMC archives in Madison, NJ). By the end of Fall semester 2008, I’d finished a solid draft of one of the chapters, and had outlines of two others. I wasted more time than I should have during Winter semester 2009, and by April, realized I still had 2 chapters to flesh out and write and about a month to write them. I accomplished that goal and finished a draft of all chapters by early May. The rest of May was spent revising the chapters based on my committee’s feedback, formatting the whole thing, etc. I defended the thesis in early June, passed, and then put the finishing touches on and was completely finished by the first week of July.

    Comment by Christopher — July 23, 2009 @ 9:56 pm

  9. Congratulations, Christopher! That is quite an impressive abstract, and I’m confident the paper is equally so.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — July 23, 2009 @ 11:39 pm

  10. Congratualtions on your completion. I am happy to share some further notes on the resemblance of Britsh Mormons and Methodists, particulalry the Prims. My thesis on aspects of British Mormons(finally in the last 12 months)raises a number of points that for some early British Mormon congregations were Methodist, albeit in name.
    I live 2 miles from Mow Cop, the birth place of Primitive Methodism and they have some fine, or not so fine, things to say about those who joined the church in the 1840’s in their archive here!
    Once again congratulations.

    Comment by David M. Morris — July 24, 2009 @ 8:34 am

  11. Congratulations Chris, well done. I plan on using this immediately. And we all look forward to your research, David M.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 24, 2009 @ 12:30 pm

  12. Thanks Ben, David, and Steve.

    David, though I don’t plan to return to the subject anytime soon, I’d very much appreciate your notes on British Mormons and Methodists. Pass anything along that you’d like to share to chris DOT jones13 AT hotmail DOT com.

    Comment by Christopher — July 27, 2009 @ 10:36 am

  13. […] like now to briefly outline one example of what such an approach might look like. When I wrote my MA thesis on the subject of Methodist influence on early Mormonism, I was mostly interested in exploring the specific ways Methodist converts to Mormonism left their […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Methodism, Mormonism, and the Atlantic World — January 12, 2011 @ 5:39 pm


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