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:
“WE LATTER-DAY SAINTS ARE METHODISTS”: THE INFLUENCE
OF METHODISM ON EARLY MORMON RELIGIOSITY
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.