Articles by

J. Stapley

A note on the history of back-to-school blessings

By August 20, 2019


I am a practicing Latter-day Saint. I grew up practicing. One of the things that I remember from my childhood in the 1980s is when my father layed his hands on the heads of my siblings and I and blessed us at the beginning of the school year. I recently blessed my oldest child before he left for the first year of college and will bless his younger siblings in a couple of weeks. Today a friend asked me when this practice started.

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GQC Journal: Sealings and Adoptions

By July 9, 2018


In 1894 Wilford Woodruff stood in general conference and announced a revelation that had a larger influence on Mormon cosmology than the Manifesto. Even though most Mormons today are unaware of it, this revelation was the bedrock of twentieth century sealing and genealogical practice. I’ve written about these developments in an article on adoptive sealing rituals and in my recent volume on Mormon liturgy.

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JI Summer Book Club: On Zion’s Mount, Ch. 1

By June 28, 2018


The trick of successful religious and cultural movements is situating ephemeral presence and evolving relation in timelessness. This is equally true for Mormon and Native American identity. The trick for scholars of religious and cultural movements is to simultaneously respect that timelessness and complicate it. Farmer is a successful scholar, and in Chapter 1 of On Zion’s Mount frames both Mormons and Native Americans in the Great Basin by their physical place in the world—literally the space on this planet.

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Contextualizing quorum changes

By April 1, 2018


Quorum. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

First, let’s take a step back, but not all the way back. Mostly because this isn’t a book. Let’s go to 1964. At this time, each stake and mission generally included a High Priests quorum, at least one Elders quorum and at least one Seventies quorum. In the years leading up to this time, church policy was that if there were not at least 49 elders (a majority of the scriptural 96–D&C 107:89) then a “unit” en lieu of a quorum was to be organized. But why would that matter? I imagine that the majority of Elders quorums in the church today don’t have 49 members. The answer goes back to the definition of what a quorum is, namely, “the number (such as a majority) of officers or members of a body that when duly assembled is legally competent to transact business” (to quote Miriam-Webster).

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Sealings and Adoptions

By March 10, 2018


After talking to some folks about some material in my recent book, a friend suggested I write a short primer on nineteenth-century sealings based on my work.

First some nineteenth-century premises:

  • Heaven is comprised of people sealed together in various ways. People called this construction variations of “the priesthood.”
  • All sealings, regardless of type, are durable, and bestow a measure of “perseverance” (the unpardonable sin notwithstanding).
  • All of the various temple rituals can be performed outside of the temple except child-to-parent/adoption sealings.

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Publishing a book: Finding artwork and permission to publish

By August 7, 2017


I’m working my way through the production process for my first book, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology, and I thought it would be helpful to review some of the practical aspects of getting the book together. In this post, I address selecting artwork and acquiring permission to publish from the various repositories.

First is the issue of copyright

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JI Summer Book Club 2017: A House Full of Females, Chapter 5

By July 2, 2017


The Nauvoo Temple Liturgy, the killings of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the “succession crisis,” and the Nauvoo Temple. There are justifiably entire books and dissertations on each of these. And despite coming in at 26 lean pages, Ulrich still manages to surprise.

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Finding a story, or how to

By March 6, 2017


Sometimes I go fishing in the various digital collections, and once in a while something interesting comes up. I thought one such case was illustrative of several not-so-obvious techniques of research that it was worth posting.

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Working with the LDS Church History Library

By August 8, 2016


This summer I’ve been rewriting my manuscript on Mormon liturgy and cosmology, and I have thought many times how much more difficult it would have been without the extraordinary increase in documents accessibility over the last decade. I live a thousand miles away from Salt Lake City, research mostly in the evening, and only am on-site at the various archives for short moments. I know there were some heady times in the LDS Church archives decades ago (without which we could not do what we do now, even), but I think it is currently the best time to be researching Mormon history. Camelot Shmamelot.

In this post I thought I would share some pointers as a guide for those interested in similar work. This post is focusing on the LDS Church History Library (CHL), and includes some recent correspondence I have had with Keith Erekson, director of the CHL. Also, please note that the CHL will be closed to the public for renovations from October 10, 2016 to February 21, 2017.

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Methodist Context to the Word of Wisdom

By May 20, 2016


Paul Peterson’s thesis was for a long time the go-to resource for the cultural context of the Joseph Smith (JS) revelation known as the Word of Wisdom (WoW). He focuses mostly on booze, the temperance movement, and health reformers (e.g., Sylvester Graham of cracker fame). The more scholarly of the commentaries typically used by Mormons have generally stuck with that [n1].

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