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Book and Journal Reviews

Book Review: Terryl Givens, Feeding the Flock: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Church and Praxis (Oxford, 2017)

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.

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Book Review: When Religion, Race, and Sport Collide (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016)

By March 4, 2018


We are pleased to post this review from Craig Yugawa, a medical student at Washington University in St. Louis. You can follow Craig on Twitter

Darron T. Smith?s When Race, Religion and Sport Collide: Black Athletes at BYU and Beyond is a skillful recounting of the tenuous status black college athletes face in the larger American context, especially those at ?Predominantly White Institutions? (PWIs). While covering athletics in America more broadly, Smith uses BYU?s unique institutional and racial history as a lens to focus on the societal and cultural barriers commonly faced by black athletes who repeatedly face ?objectification of their bodies, [while at the same time] leav[ing] the ivy tower battered, bruised, and empty-handed? (148). This timely work is a compelling narrative which weaves together easily understood personal anecdotes; high level social science, medical, and humanities research; and theological summary to flesh out the complicated relationship between the LDS church and the athletes of color at its flagship university.

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2017 in Retrospect: An Overview of Recent Books and Articles in Mormon History

By December 4, 2017


Once again, this is my attempt to recap the historiography of Mormonism from the past twelve months. This is the eighth such post, and previous installments are found hereherehereherehereherehere, and here. I do not list every single book and article from 2016, but I do highlight those I found most interesting and relevant. Therefore, a strong bias is obviously involved, so I hope you?ll add more in the comments.

The Instant Classic

Readers of this blog should already be familiar with Ulrich’s new book. (And hopefully everyone has already read our summer book club devoted to the masterpiece.) If you’re interested in my take, my review is found in Dialogue. In short: it’s perhaps the most significant book in Mormon studies since Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling, and perhaps surpasses even that. Make sure to read the roundtable devoted to Ulrich in the most recent issue of Mormon Studies Review; and while you’re there, make sure to subscribe to the field’s best review journal.

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Review: Östman on Allen, Danish, But Not Lutheran

By November 30, 2017


We are pleased to post this book review by friend of the JI Kim Östman, who has researched and written extensively on Mormonism in the northern-European country of Finland. He holds a Ph.D. in comparative religion from Åbo Akademi University (2011) and a D.Sc. in microelectronics from Helsinki University of Technology (2014), and works as a Senior R&D Engineer with Nordic Semiconductor.

Dr. Östman?s research on nineteenth-century Mormonism in Finland was published as a doctoral dissertation by Åbo Akademi University Press. It discusses how Mormonism was viewed in Finnish print media, by local civil and ecclesiastical authorities, and what kind of results the LDS church’s Swedish-led missionary efforts in perilous legal conditions led to. A co-founder of the European Mormon Studies Association (EMSA), he is continuing his Mormon history research into early twentieth-century Finland and Sweden on his free time, as a post-doctoral scholar affiliated with Åbo Akademi University.

Julie K. Allen: Danish but Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity, 1850?1920. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2017, 288pp.

Scandinavians are overwhelmingly Lutheran to this day, although religiosity has tended to give way to “believing in belonging” during the past centuries. Their national churches are still seen as custodians of culturally significant rites of passage, bringing people together at life?s critical junctures. As Prof. Julie Allen explains in her study of Mormonism?s impact on Danish culture and identity, Denmark was the first Nordic nation to officially decouple citizenship from Lutheranism. Being a Dane had meant being Lutheran, but the new 1849 constitution separated the two identities by legalizing the activity of new religious movements while retaining the privileged position of the state church. This leap in religious freedom was preceded by for example Baptist activity in the kingdom.

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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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Review: The Thirteenth Apostle: The Diaries of Amasa M. Lyman, 1832-1877

By October 11, 2017


Scott H. Partridge, ed., The Thirteenth Apostle: The Diaries of Amasa M. Lyman, 1832-1877 (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2016).

Thirteenth Apostle is the first of Signature Books? Legacy Series, which replaces their award-winning and incredibly valuable Significant Mormon Diaries Series.[i] They chose an excellent set of diaries to begin the Legacy Series. Not only was Lyman an apostle, his sons and grandsons became apostles, and more recently, his great-great grandson James E. Faust served in the LDS First Presidency. The Lyman family have shaped, and continue to shape, the religious and intellectual life of Latter-day Saints.

I first became acquainted with Amasa Lyman while reading Ron Walker?s Wayward Saints: The Social and Religious Protests of the Godbeites against Brigham Young. Lyman is a major character in Walker?s work, an apostle, apostate, and seemingly, a man that never quite fit in either religious or philosophical circles. Lyman?s association with the Godbeites led to his excommunication from the LDS Church in 1870.[ii] Still, most readers will come to the diaries looking for information on the paths that led to his excommunication and later affiliation with the Godbeites and Spiritualists. On the first two accounts, readers will be disappointed. Regrettably, the diaries from Lyman?s time with the Godbeites are not available or do not exist.

Lyman?s life is much more interesting even than his affiliation with the Godbeites. He served multiple missions, joined the first group of Latter-day Saints that received the sealing ritual, was sealed to one of Joseph Smith?s plural wives, helped to settle San Bernardino, and labored as an apostle. His rich life is only hinted at in the diaries themselves; however, historians are sure to be able to use Lyman?s diaries to illuminate the broader world of nineteenth-century Mormonism.

Readers are able to see the ways that Lyman was comparable to other Latter-day Saint men at the time?he served missions, he spent a lot of his time in travel, and pontificated on theology (including a controversial sermon that denied the necessity of Christ?s atonement). He participated in the Spiritualist Movement, and claimed to have spoken to his daughter about ?the cancer with which he [was] afflicted? among other topics.[iii] I found Lyman a fascinating figure and immediately wished that Lyman had been able to Tweet during his lifetime. Heck, I would have even settle for following him on Facebook.

Lyman?s life, as much as any other apostle, reveals the ways that Mormonism participated in both the American culture and operated on its religious fringes. Lyman spent time on the frontier, moved west, served his community, and tried to serve his religious and secular communities. He participated in popular religious movements like spiritualism and worked on his writing and grammar. However, he was also an apostle in a religious group that wasn?t recognized as authentically religious as much as organized hearsay in the nineteenth century. He had eight wives and fathered dozens of children. I would love to see Lyman incorporated into studies that use those at the edges of Mormonism (intellectually, theologically, racially, sexually, etc.) to reveal more about the average experience of nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints.[iv]

Interestingly, and frustratingly, Lyman?s diaries do not reveal the inner workings of his mind to the degree that the journals of leaders like Wilford Woodruff, Heber J. Grant, or Ernest Wilkinson do. Partridge?s footnotes and introduction will be valuable for readers, although there are a few things that caused me some frustration. First, I would have liked to have seen events in the diaries in conversation with works in the history of the American West and American religious history. I believe Mormon history is best when it can speak to broader topics?pointing readers to works outside of Mormon history would be immensely helpful for non-experts. Second, I would have liked to have seen more works of Mormon history referenced in the text (especially newer works).

These issues aside, Partridge and the Signature Team have much to be proud of. I wholeheartedly recommend Thirteenth Apostle to all those that work in nineteenth-century Mormonism, spiritualism, and the history of the American West.

 

 

[i] Many of these volumes, along with other books and primary sources, are available at Signature Books? Internet Archive site.
[ii] The excommunication was overturned (his baptismal and priesthood blessings were restored) in 1909.
[iii] A study could be done on what he reports seeing and hearing during séances. Emily Suzanne Clark?s recent book ?Luminous Brotherhood? makes great use of spiritualist records left behind by black Catholic men in nineteenth-century New Orleans.
[iv] For a rationale behind such projects, see Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, ?The Clock and the Compass: Mormon Culture in Motion,? Journal of Mormon History 32, no. 2 (April 2017): 1-19.


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: A House Full of Females Chapter 15

By September 17, 2017


This is the fifteenth entry in the Third Annual Summer Book Club at Juvenile Instructor. This year we are reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?s A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women?s Rights in Early Mormonism (Knopf, 2017). Check back every Sunday for the week?s installment! Please follow the book club and JI on Facebook!

What did it mean for Mormon women to work ?behind the throne? (372) but not as ?pawns of the patriarchy?? (385) What did it mean for Mormon women to ?speak for themselves,? (387) but in defense of polygamy? In what sense, in other words, were Mormon women free? Were they free?

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JI Summer Book Club: A House Full of Females Chapter 14

By September 4, 2017


This is the fourteenth entry in the Third Annual Summer Book Club at Juvenile Instructor. This year we are reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?s A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women?s Rights in Early Mormonism (Knopf, 2017). Check back every Sunday for the week?s installment! Please follow the book club and JI on Facebook

Salt Lake City Fourteenth Ward album quilt. Image taken from https://www.churchhistorianspress.org/the-first-fifty-years-of-relief-society/part-2/2-3

 

Ulrich frames chapter fourteen through her close analysis of a quilt made by different women from the Fourteenth Ward?s Relief society in Salt Lake City. Quilts such as this were commonly made in the mid nineteenth century. Nevertheless, Ulrich shows that the quilt?s intricately sewed flowers and aphorisms become significant when understood in light of the contemporary writings of the women who made it and the tumultuous social backdrop of 1857 when it was produced. Life on the frontier was arduous and uncertain for these women; two immigrant pioneer companies barely survived their passage to Utah and the settlers already there struggled with implementing plural marriage and surviving near famine. Additionally, outside pressures continued to bear down on the saints: Mormon leader Parley P. Pratt died after being shot by a former husband of one of his plural wives, and now a threatening federal army was heading to Utah. Part of what makes the quilt striking is the gentility it projects despite the challenges that faced the women that made it.

The visual language of the quilt becomes increasingly interesting as Ulrich explores the process and context through which it was made. Ulrich examines several of the individually crafted squares and draws out interesting themes such as the women?s commitment to flowers despite the fact that they worked against drought conditions to cultivate their crops. She also focuses on the women?s assertion of defiant patriotism ? displayed in Aura Annette Cumming?s folk adaption of the Great Seal of the United States and the eagle in English-born Keziah Pratt?s square ? despite the looming conflict with the federal army. In sum, Ulrich highlights the importance of performing respectability for the Fourteenth Ward Relief Society despite the widely held American judgment that these women?s religious and marital practices were considered anything but respectable.

In this chapter Ulrich shows off a skill she uses throughout the book and more generally in her work as a scholar; she takes texts, often ones that have been overlooked by others, and shows us the complex world of women behind the names on a page or signatures on a quilt. In the previous chapter, Ulrich used Caroline Crosby?s diary to reveal a remarkably intimate view of the domestic life of San Bernardino. The steady flow of names in Crosby?s diary, as Andrea R-M discussed in her post yesterday, shows us how San Bernardino became a key part of the migratory route for Mormons and non-Mormons alike. It is this same analytical skill that has earned Ulrich acclaim with A Midwives Tale when she used the diary of Martha Ballard to discuss the economy of women?s labor in medicine and textiles in colonial New England. In the case of Chapter 14, one of the things we see is that despite the diverse backgrounds of its makers, the unified textile emphasizes their new collective identity as refined women of Zion. Ulrich takes women?s names, mentioned in a diary or on the margin of a quilt, and uses them to illustrate women?s social landscapes.

The title of Chapter 14, ?The house was full of females? reflects the title of the book itself. The phrase comes from Wilford?s diary where he was describing his attendance of the Fourteenth Ward Relief Society. Ulrich argues Wilford?s interesting phrasing had less to do with the number of women at the meeting. Instead, ?This was apparently the first time he had participated in a meeting where women not only filled the benches but presided.? (336) This observation helps give the reader insight not only to the origin of the title but also to what she means by her subtitle ?Women?s Rights in Early Mormonism.? Women?s religious authority in the early history of the Latter-day Saints led to their ability to quickly mobilize and establish themselves politically. One early reviewer has negatively reviewed Ulrich?s book based on the assumption that a book that advertises itself as being about women?s rights should feature less ?well-behaved? women. Instead, he wished that Ulrich would become a ?badly behaved historian calling out fraudulent iniquities faced by female Saints.? Yet Alex Beam?s critique completely ignores the complex ways in which Ulrich shows Mormon women empowering themselves both through negotiating the every day life of the frontier and of their religion. Ulrich?s book shows readers a pre-history of women?s rights that paralleled the traditional narrative of women?s rights in the northeastern United States in the development of women?s charitable organizations and even the bloomer costume. But in other ways, Mormon women gained their empowerment through developing systems of women?s social and religious organizations unique to Mormonism. Ulrich shows how Mormon women developed their own unique brand of women?s rights through their varied experiences of plural marriage, ecstatic religion, and building Zion in their everyday lives.


JI Summer Book Club: A House Full of Females Chapter 13

By September 3, 2017


This is the thirteenthentry in the Third Annual Summer Book Club at Juvenile Instructor. This year we are reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?s A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women?s Rights in Early Mormonism (Knopf, 2017). Check back every Sunday for the week?s installment! Please follow the book club and JI on Facebook.

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