By August 30, 2013
In a previous post, I briefly explored the thought of Transcendentalist and abolitionist Theodore Parker to outline the relationship between antebellum biblical and constitutional hermeneutics. His biblical criticism bolstered his belief in the progress of religion and in the presence of an innate religious sense, which allowed him to dismiss as antiquated scriptural passages supporting slavery. He used a similar approach to reject proslavery constitutional clauses as outdated. In contrast to some abolitionists, however, Parker maintained that those texts contained permanent truths that could be separated from transient teachings. Others went further in depicting the Constitution as a moldable and amenable text, including the dissenters in Dred Scott (1857)?Benjamin R. Curtis and John McLean?who followed some of the framers in suggesting that the Constitution had been crafted with the expectation that it would adapt to new contingencies, including the spread of egalitarian sentiment. The realization of historical change and, in turn, historical distance, allowed some antislavery proponents to accept the presence of proslavery passages in the Bible and the Constitution without discarding those documents altogether. Positing their inherent malleability fueled the expectation of formal amendments, in the case of the Constitution, but also demanded informal reinterpretation. And, at least in Parker?s case, these approaches to the Constitution and the Bible overlapped.
By July 30, 2013
Though one can trace a correspondence between Mormon scriptural and legal hermeneutics back to Joseph Smith, that indirect correlation has evolved in relation to ecclesiastical schisms and shifts and broader social and political developments. Despite recent criticisms, the equation between Mormonism and constitutional conservatism that developed in the wake of the Cold War era and that found embodiment in the person of Ezra Taft Benson remains a truism for some Latter-day Saints, many of whom embrace a scriptural literalism. A number of Saints uphold the Constitution as ?A Heavenly Banner,? to be placed alongside the LDS canon. Indeed, mistrust of executive, legislative, and judicial interpreters leads some to insist on originalist interpretations (which, of course, are still interpretations) of the Constitution, while evidencing an openness to non-originalist interpretations of scripture, or at least to the readings of their leaders, which might be understood as literal. While one can formulate defensible arguments that scriptural literalism and conservative constitutionalism are fruits of Mormonism, I want to suggest that the seeds of quite different approaches to sacred scriptural and legal texts can be found in the rich soil of early Mormon thought.
By November 30, 2011
In The Mormon Menace, Patrick Mason adeptly traces the contours of anti-Mormonism in the late nineteenth-century South and explains how proselytizing, polygamy, and extra-legal violence shaped the South?s response to Mormonism. Mason attends to the ways in which southern honor, defined by a communal estimation of the individual and often deployed to protect or avenge the virtuous female, provided justification for illicit actions against Mormon missionaries. While granting that anti-Mormon violence paled in comparison to racial and political attacks against African Americans, Mason contends that ?Mormonism was unique in the way it inspired southerners to set aside general norms of civility and religious tolerance? (13).
By June 9, 2009
Biographer Breck England argued that Orson Pratt?s interpretation of Joseph Smith?s revelations and teachings largely shaped Pratt?s thought. In his introduction, England noted that Pratt ?made a lifelong effort to construct a rational theology on the revelatory foundation laid by Joseph Smith.?
By June 1, 2009
Yes, I’m “revisiting” the subject of a less than 24-hour-old post! In some ways I restate what Ben said, and the issues I deal with are discussed in both Ben’s post and the following comments, but I also ask some different, though similar, questions.
By March 29, 2009
Below is the program for what promises to be an exciting conference on public perceptions of Mormonism.
By March 3, 2009
Grow, Matthew H. ?Liberty to the Downtrodden?: Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.
Matt Grow?s impressive new biography, ?Liberty to the Downtrodden?: Thomas L. Kane, Romantic Reformer, captures the life of a little-known nineteenth-century reformer and, in the process, illuminates understudied and misunderstood aspects of nineteenth-century America.
By March 1, 2009
For those of you out there who just can’t get enough, and I know there are a lot of you…
By February 8, 2009
Although this is noted at MormonConferences.org, Dr. Bushman asked that I use the JI to advertise this interesting conference on Mormon thought and engineering to be held in March at Claremont Graduate University. So, here’s the info…
By July 22, 2008
America has often been described as a Christian nation, and whatever currency the title holds presently, it was certainly applicable during the first century and a half of the nation?s life. This is not to say that it was not a Christian nation before 1776 or 1789, as it indeed was, nor does this imply that the Founding Fathers held orthodox Christian beliefs, as many of them did not, but it does suggest that the United States was born and nurtured in a thoroughly Christian religious environment.