Articles by

matt b.

Review: Bergera, ed., CONFESSIONS OF A MORMON HISTORIAN: THE DIARIES OF LEONARD J. ARRINGTON (Signature Books, 2018)

By May 21, 2018


Leonard Arrington loved people. “From as early as I can remember, I had a positive attitude toward people,” he wrote several years into his retirement. (3:645) Elsewhere he mused that had he not ended up a historian, “I would have been drawn into politics and would have done well, I think.” (3:133) Arrington was a handshaker and a backslapper, a gossip and a bearer of Christmas gifts. He was an extrovert, an inveterate socializer (out of the house four or five nights a week, some weeks, driven forward by a positive starvation for conversation that seems to have exhausted his wife Grace at times), and a manager loved by his subordinates for his care and supportiveness, if not his bureaucratic acumen.

Arrington’s delight in and longing for community was not simply a matter of temperament. It was a matter of theology. It was his Mormonism. That is not, of course, normally the theme his story is given. The diaries certainly document the better-known story; the fascinating account of Arrington’s service in what is variously called the Church Historian’s Office or Church History Division of the church’s Historical Department (a larger bureaucratic umbrella that also included the church’s archives and the department operating the church’s historic sites). Arrington’s appointment, initiated by First Presidency member N. Eldon Tanner with the support of church presidents Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B. Lee and Spencer W. Kimball, came with a new mandate. Arrington and his staff were to research and publish material on the history of the Latter-day Saints. As his ten years in the job went on, the jovial Arrington was baffled when he found his work increasingly criticized, his office monitored, his subordinates questioned and their publications scrutinized for reasons he could never quite understand.

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Ministering, Home Teaching, and Visiting Teaching

By April 6, 2018


?Home teaching has been described as the pivot around which all other church activities are to be correlated.?

  • Marion G. Romney, ?Church Correlation: Address to Seminary and Institute Faculty,? June 22, 1964. Church History Library and Archives.

For a hundred years, the practice of what was first called ?ward teaching? and later ?home teaching? saw two Mormon men visit families in their congregation, carrying to them a message from church leadership and reporting back on any needs they found. ?Visiting teaching,? for decades after the founding of the Relief Society in 1842, saw women of the Relief Society engage in a similar practice.

It is hard to underestimate the importance of home teaching to the initial vision of the framers of the Mormon correlation movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Exploring the reasons for its importance shed some light on the announcement at the church?s General Conference this past weekend that home and visiting teaching are to be replaced with ?ministering.?

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Series Preview: Introductions to Mormon Thought (University of Illinois Press)

By April 3, 2018


A few months ago I had lunch with Joseph Spencer, a professor of ancient scripture at BYU and author of a number of books on Mormon theology and scripture. Our conversation there led us to what has been formally announced: a new book series, titled Introductions to Mormon Thought, which the University of Illinois Press will be publishing in coming years. Below, a description that Joe and I have worked up.

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Review: Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People (University of North Carolina, 2017)

By November 27, 2017


On the surface, Max Perry Mueller?s book is, like several other recent works, a study of the shifting racialist ideas in nineteenth century Mormonism. Like those books, Mueller argues that early Mormonism is a particularly useful illustration of the fluidity of race, particularly in the early decades of the United States. When, as Mueller argues, white Americans began in the nineteenth century to understand ?race as (secular) biology,? (12) they began arguing that those characteristics they used to classify and label ?races? were organic, functions of one?s biological makeup, and though these characteristics extended from the merely physical (like skin color) to issues of intellect and temperament, most people determined them to be inborn and hence immutable.

 

The Mormons, Mueller argues, were different, in two ways.

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Scholarly Inquiry: A Conversation with Stephen C. Taysom, II

By September 19, 2017


Eighteen months ago, Taysom was deep into work on a biography of Joseph F. Smith, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1901 to 1918. We interviewed him then about the project. Taysom recently finished work on the manuscript, and we decided to follow up to see how the project evolved over that period and what Taysom’s reflections in retrospect are.

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JI Summer Book Club 2017, II: A House Full of Females, Chapter 1

By May 14, 2017


Though it’s not in this chapter, If I were to pull a sentence from Ulrich?s book that I feel summarizes her project, it?s this: ?Well before plural marriage became a recognized practice in the Church, these women had learned to value bonds of faith over biological or regional connections.? (xv)

When Phebe Carter Woodruff sent her husband Wilford off to serve a mission in the British Isles, she secured a small poem in his luggage. ?While onward he his footsteps bend / May he find Mothers, and kind friends,? the lines ran. (38)

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Tuesdays With Orsi: Epilogue

By March 14, 2017


Welcome to the last installment of our Tuesdays with Orsi series, in which we collectively read Robert Orsi’s HISTORY AND PRESENCE (Harvard, 2016)! This post examines the epilogue and offers thoughts on the book as a whole. Previous installments can be found here: Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4Chapter 5, Chapter 6, and chapter 7.

?It is a dreadful thing to be in relationship with the gods really present,? Orsi says at the beginning of this book. (5) Certainly, a reading of its seven chapters is enough to convince us of that. They show that the gods can be capricious and deceptive as often as they are redemptive and healing. His believers cling to bags of sacred soil, icons, and relics. They experience the presence of the divine in their lives. And yet Orsi is hardly telling Sunday school stories. The presence of the gods fails people, hurts them, and tears them up, emotionally and physically. And yet those people keep coming, pressing their foreheads against the tombs of the saints, because the gods save them, too.

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JI Heads Back to School 4

By August 23, 2016


History enrollments are on the decline nationwide. There are a number of possible explanations for this.  At my institution, the popular explanations number two, one a broader assumption that’s difficult to document and the other the result of internal campus politics.  The first is that the economic slump has made students increasingly hard-nosed and career-focused when they think about what they’re going to do with their education.  The second is that another department began a program that has sucked away a number of students who once majored in history with an eye toward law school.

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Two Thoughts on Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History (Utah, 2016)

By July 8, 2016


Gregory A. Prince, Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016), and
David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2005), with William Robert Wright.

 

Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History is perhaps most usefully read in tandem with Prince?s earlier book published with the University of Utah Press, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism (with William Robert Wright; 2005). The covers of the two books resemble each other; their size, in both height and width as well as thickness, are all designed to present them as visual twins. I think we might be able to read them as an intellectual pair as well.

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Scholarly Inquiry: A Conversation with Stephen C. Taysom

By May 25, 2016


Taysom is presently working on a biography of Joseph F. Smith, to be published with the University of Utah Press. He’s graciously agreed to an interview. 

 

Your previous book was a theoretical study of boundary maintenance among nineteenth century Mormons and Shakers. What led you to next write a biography of Joseph F. Smith?

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Recent Comments

matt b on Review: Bergera, ed., CONFESSIONS: “Thanks folks - and especially to Gary for chiming in! As to the Hunter caption, I agree that it's factually accurate; of course, though, the facts…”


LisaT on Review: Bergera, ed., CONFESSIONS: “Brilliant, as always. Thanks, Matt.”


Gary Bergera on Review: Bergera, ed., CONFESSIONS: “Thanks, Matt. While I may quibble over some minor details (for example, I believe the caption to Howard W. Hunter's photograph is, in fact, factually…”


LisaT on History of LDS Youth: “Great work! Hey, I'm doing a project where some of this might be helpful...”


Jason K. on Review: Bergera, ed., CONFESSIONS: “Thanks for this great review. Three cheers for Mormon liberal Protestants!”


Kevin Barney on Review: Bergera, ed., CONFESSIONS: “Thanks for this excellent review, Matt.”

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