By December 14, 2018
Lincoln A. Mullen, The Chance of Salvation: A History of Conversion in America (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2017).
In The Chance of Salvation, Lincoln Mullen argues that nineteenth-century religious conversion fundamentally changed American religion. Conversion, Mullen argues, made religion a forced choice for Americans rather than ethnically inherited tradition. Mullen’s conversion history is a creative study that should change both American Religious History and provoke Mormon historians to further analyze early Mormon conversion. Moreover, Mullen peppers The Chance of Salvation with mini-biographies of converts and clear prose. The Chance of Salvation should stand as an important piece of scholarship, and a pleasure to read.
By August 9, 2018
Welcome to the sixth installment in the JI’s fourth annual summer book club. This year we are reading Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Harvard UP, 2008). Check back every Thursday (sorry for the tardiness on this one) for the week’s installment. Or, you can find them here, here, here, here, here, and here. Please follow the JI on your social media of choice.
As I write this post, I am sitting in the “office” (really a bedroom with books) of a house built in 1896, the year of Utah’s statehood. Out of the window, I can see the mountains on the Wasatch Front. In the middle of Fall or the middle of Spring, these mountains out of this window would be a welcome respite from deciphering the pencil-etched chicken-scratch that fills undergraduate blue book tests. But today, my nose is buried within different pages. Can you smell words? My nose is close enough. These pages in this chapter of this book remind me that, in seeing these mountains, my gaze is fixed away from things I do not see. It takes the subtle groan of an “old” house and the feel of artificial breeze to remind me that, actually, pioneers did not have central air, and that this house is newer than it claims to be. It takes words on a page to help me understand that mountains help hide the stories that might lurk in the walls of this office. These words comprise chapter 6 of our summer book club, in which Jared Farmer makes sense of Mount Timpanogos in two twentieth-century settings—Sundance and Utah County. Or, at least, that’s what my nose tells me.
By July 12, 2018
Today’s guest post comes from Jonathan England, PhD student in American History at Arizona State University. This is the third installment in the JI’s fourth annual summer book club. This year we are reading Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape (Harvard UP, 2008). You can view previous installments here, here, and here. Check back every Thursday for the week’s installment! Please follow the JI on Facebook and Twitter!
I first read On Zion’s Mount for a course on Mormon history. Years later, I was surprised to find it on the reading list for a seminar on the American West. I should not have been. The appeal of On Zion’s Mount is that it crosses so many genres including Western, religious, and environmental history. In chapter three, suitably titled “The Desertification of Zion,” Farmer recalls the rise and fall of northern Utah’s aquatic culture. This aquatic culture parallels the shift in historical narrative from an accurate depiction of the Wasatch Front as an oasis in the Great Basin to an arid wasteland.
By May 7, 2018
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments surrounding President Trump’s travel ban. The arguments centered around whether the president had authority to issue such a ban, whether the ban targeted Muslims, and how long the ban would last. Public responses have fallen largely into two camps: that the ban is a continuation of presidential campaign prejudice against Muslims, or that the ban protects national security based on confidential information.
A telling article in the Salt Lake Tribune last week gave some historical context for the Supreme Court situation. During World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized the removal of Japanese-Americans to internment camps because of a potential threat to national security. Fred Korematsu refused to be removed, was arrested, and argued that the order was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that the executive order was constitutional and that national security took precedence over protection against racial prejudice. This court case was not the only source of presidential authority over national security in relation to race and migration, but it was a symbolically important one.
“Forty years later,” Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Gehrke writes, “an attorney named Dale Minami persuaded a court to vacate the conviction [against Korematsu] based on new evidence that the government had lied about the ground for the interment order.” In 1983, Korematsu won an appeal against the original Supreme Court decision, and in 1988 the federal government issued $20,000 in reparations to each surviving interned Japanese-American.
So, what does this court case mean for today’s travel ban? And why are you reading it on a Mormon History blog?
By February 21, 2018
This is a reminder that Utah Valley University is hosting a conference that starts tomorrow on science and religion in Mormonism. It will be livestreamed on the conference website (where you can also find more information about the conference): https://www.uvu.edu/religiousstudies/heavenandearth/
Just a quick warning, the livestream won’t start until just before the first session. Here’s the short description of the conference, again:
The relationship between science and religion has been among the most fiercely debated issues since the Copernican revolution displaced traditional wisdom regarding the nature of the cosmos. Some have argued for a sharp division of labor while others have sought to harmonize spiritual and empirical truths. From its beginnings, Mormonism has wrestled with the implications of modern science and has produced a variety of theological responses. This conference will explore the landscape of Mormon thought as it relates to the relationships between science, theology, scriptural narratives, and LDS authoritative discourse. It will also examine abiding questions of faith, reason, and doubt and the reactions against the intellectualizing forces that bear on the truth claims of Mormonism.
Please attend/watch to show support for the conference!
By August 3, 2017
Shinji Takagi, The Trek East: Mormonism Meets Japan, 1901-1968 (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2016)
Most Mormon history books fill the gaps within an overarching narrative that has already been told. Under rare and exciting circumstances, a few books take the chance to establish a broad narrative that provides a framework for future studies to debate, confirm, and clarify. The latter, in my opinion, is the case with The Trek East, winner of the Mormon History Association’s “Best Book on International Mormon History” award. Shinji Takagi, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Osaka University, presents an ambitious work that focuses on a “macro” and “analytical” approach to Mormonism’s historical presence in Japan from 1901 to 1968.
By June 5, 2017
Occasionally it becomes prudent for scholars within a field to assess the state of that field and to define its pasts and futures. The Mormon History Association annual meeting provided such an opportunity for Mormon Studies. The panel, “Permanent Settlement or Pending Migration: Exploring the Frontier of Mormon Studies,” featured presentations from Gerrit van Dyk, Trevan C. Hatch, and J.B. Haws.
Each presentation assessed the field in a different way. Van Dyk and Hatch both conducted interviews with prominent professors and asked about definitions, methodology, publishing venues, and the nature and audience of scholarship. Both emphasized the issues of insularity, the roles of “academic”/apologetic/popular scholarship, and ties to institutions and journals of publication. One insight that van Dyk noted was that Mormon Studies has grown in graduate programs before undergraduate programs, in contrast to Catholic Studies and Jewish Studies programs. Hatch offered Jewish Studies as both an example and cautionary tale for Mormon Studies in its strict academic scholarship. Haws’ presentation highlighted the change in institutional attention and broader acceptance of Mormon Studies since the early 1990s. The panel, as a whole, was a pretty fair introduction to Mormon Studies as a field.
By May 12, 2017
The Immigration and Ethnic History Society has generously agreed to cross-post this content on their blog. The posts are slightly different, and I try to introduce Mormon readers here to scholarship in Immigration History, and IEHS readers there to scholarship in Mormon History. I’m hoping to facilitate conversation across audiences. Here’s the link:
In 1897, “Pres. G.Q. Cannon stated that the Presidents of Missions had been instructed not to encourage people to emigrate to Utah until they had become well grounded in the faith and not then until times in Utah became better, unless they have friends or means to provide a home on their arrival.” This discouragement became public the next year in 1898, when Mormon Apostle George Q. Cannon stated in the semiannual church-wide gathering, general conference, “There is one course that has been taken which I think will be attended with good efforts, that is, counselling the Saints in the various lands where they embrace the Gospel to remain quiet for a while; to not be anxious to break up their homes to gather to Zion.” This was the first of many announcements that called for the end of the gathering. Why did Cannon renege Mormonism’s long history with open immigration? How did the end of the gathering come about, and what did it mean for Mormonism?
By April 21, 2017
If you haven’t heard already, yesterday a host of 19 scholars submitted an Amici Curiae Brief (amici curiae=friends of the court, or impartial expert advisors) in response to President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13,780, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” Trump’s Executive Order received a cascade of pushback and resistance, mainly criticizing that the order seems to target Muslims (just search the executive order in google news for a host of coverage). The Amici Curiae Brief picks up on this vein and presents the Mormon past with federal immigration policy as an example of how targeting religious minorities through immigration legislation can go horribly wrong.
The Brief tells the history of early Mormon persecution, and late nineteenth-century legal battles over polygamy to show that the government treated Mormons as “outsiders, not full members of the political community.” The argument and section titles are enough to give a sense of the Brief in its entirety:
By February 1, 2017
Over the past week, scholars and news outlets have linked the Mormon past to the present Muslim-targeted immigration ban. They point to the 1879 Evarts Circular, in which Secretary of State William Evarts urged foreign governments to help restrict Mormon emigration from their countries. The above writers ask Mormons to remember their immigrant-persecuted-past and show compassion to those in the present.
These calls are noble. Yet, there is more to the Mormon-Muslim immigrant past than these articles articulate. The Evarts Circular was not the only federal action against Mormon immigration. Two legislative currents, federal legislative battles over the existence of polygamy in the 1880s and the federalization of immigration legislation, followed Evarts’ Circular. These forces coincided in the 1891 federal immigration law when legislators banned “polygamists” from crossing into America’s borders while increased funding established federal border regulation. At the same time, the 1891 law gave refugee status to immigrants fleeing from religious persecution. You’ll have to wait for a forthcoming post about the legal developments between the Evarts Circular and the 1891 law. You’ll also have to trust me when I say that the 1891 polygamy-immigration ban targeted Mormons (although this Los Angeles Times article might serve as some consolation in the meantime).