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Book and Journal Reviews

Mormon Studies in Unexpected Places, Volume IV: The Infinite Future

By February 13, 2019


This is the fourth installment in an ongoing but terribly irregular series dedicated to the appearance of Mormon Studies in popular media, including musical lyrics, popular television shows, movies, and so forth. Previous installments can be read here, here, and here.

Okay, the appearance of Mormon Studies isn’t entirely unexpected in a novel written by a Latter-day Saint author who graduated from BYU and whose books deal with explicitly Mormon themes and revolve around LDS characters. Indeed, it was the mention of “an excommunicated Mormon historian in Salt Lake City” among the characters featured in the description of Tim Wirkus’s 2018 novel, The Infinite Future, that sparked my interest enough to read a book about the search for the obscure Brazilian author of a mysterious science fiction book (that may or may not possess mystical powers).

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Sister Saints: Pain, Feminism, and Anti-Feminism

By January 16, 2019


Anne Braude once wrote, “American women’s history is American religious history.” The quote, to me, it meant that historians must listen to women, tell their stories, and understand the gendered contexts in which they lived. Women’s history is more than recovering voices. It is telling a more complete history.

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Sister Saints: Sources and Women’s Voices

By January 15, 2019


The Juvenile Instructor is conducting a roundtable this month on Colleen McDannell’s Sister Saints: Mormon Women Since the End of Polygamy, recently published by Oxford University Press. Follow along here at the blog as contributors explore different themes within McDannell’s book.

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Book Review: Lincoln Mullen–The Chance of Salvation

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.

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Review: Stone, William Bickerton: Forgotten Latter Day Prophet (Signature 2018)

By October 15, 2018


Christopher James Blythe is a Research Associate in Book of Mormon Studies at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. He is a documentary editor/historian for Joseph Smith Papers: Documents, Vols. 7, 9, and 12. Blythe is also the Associate Editor of the Journal of Mormon History.

Daniel Stone’s William Bickerton: Forgotten Latter Day Prophet is a biography of a significant nineteenth century Latter Day Saint “prophet, seer, and revelator.” It is largely a religious story, as much about the founding of a church, the Church of Jesus Christ, as it is the life of a man. One of Signature Books’ most significant contributions to the field of Mormon Studies has been its publication of scholarship on non-LDS Restoration traditions. Previous examples have included Vickie Cleverley Speek’s “God Has Made Us a Kingdom”: James Strang and the Midwest Mormons (2006), Will Shepard and H. Michael Marquardt’s Lost Apostles: Forgotten Members of Mormonism’s Original Quorum of the Twelve (2014), Richard S. Van Wagoner’s Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess (1994), and Victoria D. Burgess’s The Midwife: A Biography of Laurine Ekstrom Kingston (2012). These well-researched studies have added to our knowledge of fascinating but (unfortunately) obscure communities and individuals. Stone’s volume rightfully belongs on this list and admirably fills out some of the gaps in our collective knowledge. This volume is particularly significant as the first full-length academic study written by a Bickertonite scholar with interested outsiders in mind. It is exciting to see the contingent of Mormon Studies scholars whose numbers largely consist of LDS and Community of Christ scholars (with the occasional Strangite and Fundamentalist) add another unique voice to the conversation.

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Highlights from the Journal of Mormon History 44, no. 4

By September 27, 2018


The latest issue of the Journal of Mormon History arrived in my mailbox this week and, I am pleased to say, is a very strong issue. Below is a brief summary of the articles and a list of book reviews. You can submit your article manuscript to the Journal of Mormon History HERE.

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Review: Credulity: The Cultural History of US Mesmerism

By September 11, 2018


We are pleased to publish this review by Cristina Rosetti, a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside. You can follow her on Twitter HERE.

Believe in Belief: A Review of Emily Ogden’s Credulity: The Cultural History of US Mesmerism

In the last year, the field of religious studies underwent a renewed interest in “presence,” largely due to Robert Orsi’s History and Presence. In this groundbreaking and theoretically significant work, he writes, “The study of religion is or ought to be the study of what human beings do to, for, and against the gods really present—using ‘gods’ as a synecdoche for all the special suprahuman beings with whom humans have been in relationship in different times and places—and what the gods really present do with, to, for, and against humans.” [i] Orsi’s work challenged scholars to take the religious claims of adherents seriously. Much like studies on secularism raise questions about the subject as much as the object of study, Orsi challenged the “modern” scholar to “believe in belief.” [ii] But, what about fraud? What do scholars do with falsity that, nevertheless, exerts a powerful force over people? What happens to these questions within a world that succeeded in the project of disenchantment? Enter, Emily Ogden.

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JI Summer Book Club: On Zion’s Mount, Ch. 7

By August 16, 2018


I think about place names a lot.  I grew up in Illinois and Iowa, with a fascinating contrast between simply-named rivers like the Rock and Plum, versus those with rolling, multi-syllabic Algonquian names like Wapsipinicon, Nishnabotna, Pecatonica, and Kishwaukee.  In “Renaming the Land,” Chapter 7 in On Zion’s Mount, Jared Farmer invites us to consider the origins of Indian naming practices, not by Indians themselves, but by white Americans trying to appropriate those names for their own purposes.  Specifically, Farmer is examining the authentic and invented origins of the name “Timpanogos,” as a physical and symbolic presence of the Utah Valley mountain, rooted in both Ute etymology and Mormon folklore.  Farmer suggests that “The ‘Indianness’ of Mount Timpanogos begins with its name.”  Place-names, or toponyms, come in different categories, like descriptive names of what people see, associative names related to a specific site, incident names referencing historical events, transfer names that move one place name to a new location, possessive names that indicate ownership of a landscape feature, and finally, for Indian place-naming, the  inspirational, the invented, the commemorative, and the assimilated name, which might involve taking Indian names from one language and translating them or spelling them phonetically, for example.

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Summer Book Club: On Zion’s Mount, Ch. 6

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.

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Review: Hudson, Real Native Genius

By July 30, 2018


Reproduced below are excerpts from my review of Angela Pulley Hudson’s Real Native Genius: How An Ex-Slave and a White Mormon Became Famous Indians. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015, which appeared in the most recent issue of Mormon Historical Studies. MHS kindly granted me permission to post these excerpts. 

Angela Pulley Hudson’s Real Native Genius: How an Ex-Slave and a White Mormon Became Famous Indians, winner of the Evans Biography Award, is an engrossing dual biography of former-slave Warner McCary and his white wife, Lucy Stanton. Before this book, Mormon historians had known the McCarys primarily for their schismatic religious group in Winter Quarters and for their contribution to the development of the race-based priesthood and temple ban. Hudson, an associate professor of history at Texas A&M University, demonstrates in Real Native Genius that the McCarys’ Winter Quarters imbroglio was just one chapter in the lives of the couple, who subsequently reinvented themselves as “professional Indians”—Choctaw chief Okah Tubbee and Mohawk princess Laah Ceil Manatoi Tubbee—first as famous traveling performers and then as “Indian” medical practitioners. Hudson uses the couple’s gaudy lives as a window into the concept of “Indianness,” which she defines as “a wide-ranging set of ideas about how American Indians looked, talked, lived, and loved” (5). Real Native Genius is therefore one of a growing number of works that explore ways that Mormon history can illuminate broader themes in American history and culture.

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