By May 9, 2018
We are pleased to present a Scholarly Inquiry Q&A with Seth Perry, Assistant Professor of Religion in the Americas at Princeton University and a past guest contributor to the JI. Professor Perry earned his PhD from the University of Chicago (whoop whoop!) in 2013, and he maintains an active research interest in Mormonism, which he discusses both below and in his article “An Outsider Looks In at Mormonism,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education 52, iss. 22 (3 February 2006) [subscription required for full access]. He is also the author of “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. See my overview of that article here. Perry’s first book, imminently forthcoming from Princeton University Press, is Bible Culture and Authority in the Early United States.
By March 27, 2018
I?m happy to confirm reports that readers of Max Mueller?s recent book, Race and the Making of the Mormon People, which we are discussing this week, will find a rich, multilayered, and searching account of theologies and important narratives of race in early Mormonism. This is a serious book, and a critical contribution to a growing body of scholarship on the functions of race in the Mormon tradition. As Mueller claims, it is one of the first to consider questions of race and Mormonism from the inside out. This means that it nicely complements recent scholarship like that of Paul Reeve and others, which has generally taken the opposite tack. Perhaps the most innovative element of the book, in my view, is how it brings consideration of both ?red? (Native American) and ?black? (African-American) constructions of race together. In some ways, the early Mormon logic of race in relation to these two groups seems incongruous, but Mueller works hard to show there are important aspects of continuity, as well. He has categorically synthesized early Mormon conceptions of race as well as anyone might expect to do.
By March 23, 2018
In reflections earlier in the week, J Johnson and J Stuart offered thoughts on how Jonathan Stapley?s excellent new book, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology, models the kind of attentiveness to ?lived theology? that some scholars have called for, and which has been characterized as part of the analytical school of ?lived religion.? This is not the theology of the elites, but rather, as Robert Orsi put it, the ?theology of the streets?: vernacular meaning-making and ?cultural bricolage? performed by ordinary people . It is colored by the vicissitudes of ordinary life and, while informed by the pronouncements of religious authority figures, it is not bounded by them. This is experiential theology, and it matches with the premium valued place by the ?lived religion? approach upon experience. Johnson and Stuart are quite right; Stapley has, in his deployment of ?cosmology,? certainly succeeded in his aspiration to ?[open] new possibilities for understanding the lived experiences of women and men in the Mormon past and Mormon present? (pg. 2). In this reflection, however, I offer a few thoughts not (or at least not directly) on ?cosmology? or theology, but on the other major category of Stapley?s book, ?liturgy,? and on how The Power of Godliness relates to the study of religious practice in Mormon history and in American religious history more generally.
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.]