By March 12, 2018
With Feeding the Flock: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Church and Praxis, published with Oxford last year, Terryl Givens has brought us the second installment in his magisterial and systematic treatment of Mormon theology. It follows on the heels of Wrestling the Angel, issued from the same press in 2014. That book explored what Givens designated as the global themes of Mormon thought—history, theology, and “restoration”—as well as core elements of its Christian theology—its cosmology, its theology proper (that is, its conceptions of the divine), and its theological anthropology. This second volume (which, like the previous one, weighs in at over four hundred pages) has a different and narrower scope: it is devoted almost entirely, as Givens acknowledges, to ecclesiology—to Mormon teachings about the church, its activities, and the theological structures which undergird them. Suffice it to say, as an opening, that Feeding the Flock offers the ambitious, expansive, visionary style that we’ve come to expect from Givens. It is a well-wrought, elegantly gathered work. As he did in Wrestling the Angel, Givens once again sets an entirely new standard for the study of Mormonism’s theological foundations. And he sets the bar high.
By May 29, 2017
Seth Perry, “The Many Bibles of Joseph Smith: Textual, Prophetic, and Scholarly Authority in Early-National Bible Culture,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 84, no. 3 (September 2016): 750–75.
One of the things I appreciate about our Article Review series, episodic as it may be, is that it enables bite-size engagement with some of the most important new scholarship as it comes into being. So much work is produced these days that we may not pay enough attention toward the notable arguments that do appear and a deserve a critical appraisal. And while books may be the gold standard, the genre of the article allows for us to engage at a more granular level, giving us a chance to sample and respond to important monographs in the making. My case in point here is Seth Perry’s JAAR article from September of last year: “The Many Bibles of Joseph Smith: Textual, Prophetic, and Scholarly Authority in Early-National Bible Culture.” This important article gives us a bite of Perry’s forthcoming book on the dynamics of early-national Bible culture. We also get a taste of how his arguments bear on the history of Mormonism and Mormon scripture.
By January 25, 2017
Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues this week…on Wednesday. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. See the first installment here.
As Jeff discussed in last week’s post, Robert Orsi’s ultimate purposes in History and Presence are grand; he aims to fundamentally challenge the norms of contemporary religious studies and, indirectly, aspects of modernity as a whole. Through prolonged historical processes, he argues, ontological assumptions of “absence” and not “presence,” have surreptitiously come to typify the way that modern scholars approach and analyze religion. Presuppositions of “absence”—above all the assumption that the divine and human do not enter into intimate and consequential relationships—has produced an impoverished view of religion in general, and especially of Catholicism. Such is the endpoint of this powerful, complicated, and often elegant book.
By June 8, 2016
On the cusp of the annual Mormon History Association conference, which is centered on the theme of “practice” this year and begins later this week at Snowbird, UT, it seems like a good time to highlight some of the resources and the work done here at the JI on the theme of “practice” during March 2014. During that month (which hardly seems like two plus years ago), we carried the theme of practice through a series of posts from guests and regular contributors. See, for instance, guest Megan Sanborn Jones’s analysis of Mormon pageants and religious performance, J. Stapley’s discussion of his favorite books on liturgy/ritual, or Kris Wright’s thoughts on “Vernacular Architecture and Religious Practice.” We also had a (somewhat delayed) multiple part “Scholarly Inquiry” interview with Dan Belnap on his edited volume By Our Rites of Worship: Latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in History, Scripture, and Practice. And we put some effort toward assembling a (theoretically) comprehensive bibliography dealing with matters of practice in Mormon history. If you’re looking to grease the skids for a memorable and productive conference this weekend, you could do worse than to start here!
By June 3, 2016
Spencer W. McBride, “When Joseph Smith Met Martin Van Buren: Mormonism and the Politics of Religious Liberty in Nineteenth-Century America,” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 85, no. 1 (March 2016): 150-158.
As much as we love the Journal of Mormon History, it’s always encouraging to see work on Mormonism appear in mainstream historical or religious studies journals. So it was a pleasant discovery to find Spencer McBride’s short article in a recent issue of Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture, a venerable academic journal that has been publishing on the history of Christianity since 1932. Church History is the organ of the American Society of Church History, a group that has recently fallen on hard times. Or, perhaps more accurately, it has run into a perplexing situation. Recent shifts in scholarship have taken the study of American religion away from the traditional themes of “church history,” with its focus on denominations, institutions, and traditional social dynamics. Christopher wrote a few years ago in response to Laurie Maffly-Kipp’s important presidential address to the ASCH, “The Burden of Church History,” which proposed some revitalizing steps to be taken. One of these was further engagement with Catholicism and Mormonism, a suggestion that mirrors other scholars’ encouragement to move from a study of “American Christianity” to one that acknowledges “American Christianities.” 
By September 14, 2015
This is Part 2 of our two-part Scholarly Inquiry with Samuel Brown. For Part 1, see here.
4. You address some of this in First Principles, but who is the intended audience of for your devotional work, and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
That’s the hard question. I mostly wanted my non-academic friends to have an accessible summary of my sense of how the Gospel might work. I felt sorry for the good people who felt stymied by the academic tone of In Heaven. I also felt like I was being a tiny bit cowardly by not taking a personal stand (academic writing, which I love, is always a little cowardly in my view, so easy to hide so much in the conventions of disciplined scholarship). My secret agenda (there is always a secret agenda in writing; you don’t have to admire Leo Strauss to acknowledge that) in First Principles was to begin to advocate for a relational theology of Mormonism, one that was true to Mormonism’s roots and promise, thereby gently de-Protestantizing the theologies available to contemporary Mormons.
By September 11, 2015
Samuel M. Brown is a medical researcher, ICU physician, historian of religion and culture, and friend to many at the Juvenile Instructor. Today he fields our questions on his recent foray from academic research into devotional writing for an LDS audience. In particular we asked him about the significance of history for that kind of enterprise. This is Part 1 of a 2-Part feature. [For Part 2, see here.]
By July 20, 2015
This is the tenth installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering small chunks of the book in successive weeks through the summer, with new posts appearing Monday mornings. We invite anyone and everyone interested to read along and to use the comment sections on each post to share your own reflections and questions. There are discussion questions below.
- Part 1: Prologue, Chapters 1-2
- Part 2: Chapters 3-4
- Part 3: Chapters 5-6
- Part 4: Chapters 7-9
- Part 5: Chapters 10-12
- Part 6: Chapters 13-15
- Part 7: Chapters 16-18
- Part 8: Chapters 19-21
- Part 9: Chapters 22-24
- Next Week: Chapters 27-28
Of all the chapters of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Chapter 25 is perhaps where Richard Bushman delivers most fully on his introductory promise to take seriously Joseph Smith’s religious ideas (xxi). Scholars writing previously about Smith had been more intrigued by his psychology than his theology, and had left the elaborate cosmological world that he created largely unexplored. Bushman, by contrast, is here determined to map out and to appraise some of the major themes that characterized Smith’s expansive teachings; the result is a rich and perceptive picture of how Joseph Smith came to tell what Bushman calls “Stories of Eternity,” narratives that defined the Mormon cosmos. When it was published ten years ago, Bushman’s account was one of the first legitimate attempts to explore and to appreciate the theological depth and “boundless” scope of Smith’s religious enterprise.
By March 26, 2015
In 1991, the iconoclastic historian Jon Butler brought forth one of the greatest of his many “historiographical heresies.” Well known for being an ardent revisionist, Butler had called the previous year in his important book Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (1990) for narratives that paid more attention to the enduring and even escalating power of religious institutions in nineteenth-century America. Institutional power, he suggested, had been unduly marginalized in the pursuit of other interests. In 1991, however, Butler took this logic all the way and proposed an entirely new model for American religious history, one that was sure to astound many of his colleagues. In the heyday of the new scholarship on American evangelicalism and during the very apotheosis of Nathan Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity, Butler insisted that—of all groups—Roman Catholics could serve as a productive baseline for American religious history. Catholicism in America, he argued, more than the hurly burly of American evangelicalism, could help historians account for hidden aspects of the religious past. 
By January 10, 2015
Keep an eye out, now! A small handful of roundup links on matters of interest from the past few weeks…
TLC’s My Husband’s Not Gay
Just when you’d thought we’d exhausted all the angles for a Mormon-related reality series, we now have My Husband’s Not Gay, from TLC (of Sister Wives and My Five Wives fame). Shot in Salt Lake City, My Husband’s Not Gay premieres tonight at 10 ET, and reportedly it revolves around the lives of four LDS men who, despite feeling attraction to men, do not identify as homosexuals. Indeed, three have chosen (presumably on the basis of their religious convictions) to marry women, and the show will trace the conflicts between sexual desire, human identity, and religious conviction.
In anticipation of the premiere, the show has generated a fair bit of controversy. Gay advocates have turned up the heat on TLC, denouncing the show as “downright irresponsible”; “dangerous for LGBT people”; and “damaging for Mormons, especially gay Mormon youth.” A sizable campaign has also been petitioning for the show’s cancellation. TLC, for its part, shrugged off the criticism earlier this week, and the LDS Newsroom struck a moderating tone. On the basis of his critic’s sneak preview, NYT TV critic Neil Genzlinger characterizes the show as classic incendiary reality tv, although he does note “a few interesting and genuine-sounding moments in which the couples or their friends explore the collision of faith and feelings.” Those kinds of enlightening moments, however, he expects to be inevitably “drowned out.”
Other multifarious tidbits:
Peggy Fletcher Stack reports on Ordain Women‘s new photo illustration series envisioning female officiation in priesthood ordinances.
Regional media continue to track the unfurling of the Book of Mormon musical across the country in smaller markets, the responses of Latter-day Saints and the Church’s proselytizing response.
A new (and largely nonplussed) review of Avi Steinberg’s recent “bibliomemoir” The Lost Book of Mormon: A Journey Through the Mythic Lands of Nephi, Zarahemla, and Kansas City, Missouri.
P.S. To all last-minute applicants for the Maxwell Institute’s Mormon Theology Seminar, 2015, a reminder that Jan. 15 is your day of reckoning.
By October 5, 2014
Hi all, here’s the best of the Mormon week that was. No General Conference commentary or historical perspective until next week!
FamilySearch has teamed up with GenealogyBank.org for a huge–seriously, huge–digitization project that was announced recently. When it’s completed, a billion records from 100 million US newpaper obituaries, from 1730 onward will be digitized and searchable online. They’re looking for tens of thousands of volunteers to help–could be you!
By August 11, 2014
Just a quick note to turn your attention to two fine documentary articles published in the latest issue of BYU Studies Quarterly:
By July 10, 2014
The stirring conclusion of our conversation with Dan Belnap on ritual in Mormon Studies. For those new to the conversation, refer to Part 1.
One of the challenges faced by theorists of practice and ritual is defining precisely what these categories are and what they encompass. Do you have any opinions on the scope of Mormon ritual studies or, for that matter, on the boundaries of Mormon liturgy?
By July 3, 2014
This post belongs to our occasional “Scholarly Inquiry” series which facilitates conversations with important scholars in Mormon history and studies. Today we reprise our focus on religious practice and ritual from a few months ago and hear from Dan Belnap, professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at BYU. Belnap, who has a particular interest in ritual in both ancient and contemporary contexts, is the editor of a book entitled By Our Rites of Worship: Latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in History, Scripture, and Practice, and published by the Religious Studies Center at BYU and Deseret Book last year. (And it features, one must add, a stellar chapter from our very own J. Stapley on the development of Mormon ritual!) We appreciate Professor Belnap’s responses and invite your thoughtful engagement. Also, stay tuned for Part 2.
By June 29, 2014
Just a few links for your Sunday evening/Monday morning perusal, most carrying over from last week’s discussions of church discipline:
National media have reported extensively on the excommunication of Kate Kelly; see articles at CNN, the Washington Post, USA Today and interviews with Kelly at NPR and CNN. Consideration of church discipline in the case of Mormon Stories founder John Dehlin has also attracted widespread media interest. See pieces, for instance, at NBC and the Washington Post.
The LDS Church offered a related statement from the offices of the Twelve and First Presidency.
David Holland, meanwhile, offers some insights to Harvard Divinity School on Latter-day Saints, gender, and church discipline. Holland joined the Harvard faculty last year in 2013.
Jabari Parker, a Latter-day Saint from Chicago, was taken as the #2 lottery pick in this week’s NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, and the NYT revisits the perennial question of Mormon athletes and missionary service. Parker has also drawn attention as the “first black Mormon” in the NBA. (Although that may be news to Brandon Davies.)
By March 21, 2014
This quick-and-dirty (and embarrassingly long) post traces some of the history of Christian liturgy to consider a different way to think about Mormon ritual. It’s very much exploratory; I welcome your insights and critiques.
Many of the most rancorous debates of the Reformation Era—and there were lots of them—revolved around liturgy and the practice of Christian rituals. Not only did Protestants clash with the Roman Church as they attacked and rejected the conventional set of seven sacraments, but before long, the new Protestant schools of thought were in conflict with each other as well. More than anything else, in fact, it was the debate over the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, that shattered the prospects of a united Protestant Christendom.
By March 7, 2014
Today’s the day here at JI when, in keeping with our theme this month, we compile a listing of scholarship on the history of Mormon practice. This is intended to be a collaboration, so we hope you’ll jump in and contribute. The list below ought to get us going, but many studies have surely been overlooked, and the categories are arbitrary, so additions and reconfigurations are more than welcome. What works and categories are we missing? What glaring lacunae do you see in the field? What piques your interest? What trends can you identify? How much praise can we heap upon the superstars here? Share your thoughts and insights as we build a comprehensive bibliography.
By March 3, 2014
The study of American religion ain’t what it used to be. Not so many decades ago, most scholars had a rather, shall we say, circumscribed view of what it meant to do religious history. Most were preoccupied with the development of religious institutions (in other words, white Protestant churches), with the elite leaders who led those institutions, and sometimes with the formal theological agendas that those leaders articulated. All of those conventions, however, have been overturned more or less recently, and scholarship today is much more inclusive, more democratic, and more attuned to dimensions of the human experience. Much of the old model, as we now can clearly see, rested on Protestant notions about the nature of what constituted “religion” to begin with, and so the process of revision has entailed coming to grips with these subtending assumptions.
By February 6, 2014
Blaine M. Yorgason, Richard A. Schmutz, and Douglas D. Alder, All That Was Promised: The St. George Temple and the Unfolding of the Restoration (SLC: Deseret Book, 2013). 348 pp.
Those who have been to St. George, Utah, know that the LDS temple there is something of a spectacle. Blindingly white against the red-rock bluffs that surround it, the contrast is startling enough that it seems to demand some kind of compelling explanation. St. George is now flourishing as Utah’s warm-weather mecca, but for generations it was a quiet and dusty desert outpost like many others throughout the state. Then, the incongruity must have been even more glaring. Why build a temple of worship at such an early date and in such remote place? To what purpose? And, retrospectively, to what effect?
By February 2, 2014
A diverse and plentiful array of material in this edition of Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup. Take a look at the following morsels: