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Christian History

Mormonism in the Travel Ban Supreme Court Case

By May 7, 2018


Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments surrounding President Trump’s travel ban. The arguments centered around whether the president had authority to issue such a ban, whether the ban targeted Muslims, and how long the ban would last. Public responses have fallen largely into two camps: that the ban is a continuation of presidential campaign prejudice against Muslims, or that the ban protects national security based on confidential information.

A telling article in the Salt Lake Tribune last week gave some historical context for the Supreme Court situation. During World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized the removal of Japanese-Americans to internment camps because of a potential threat to national security. Fred Korematsu refused to be removed, was arrested, and argued that the order was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that the executive order was constitutional and that national security took precedence over protection against racial prejudice. This court case was not the only source of presidential authority over national security in relation to race and migration, but it was a symbolically important one.

“Forty years later,” Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Gehrke writes, “an attorney named Dale Minami persuaded a court to vacate the conviction [against Korematsu] based on new evidence that the government had lied about the ground for the interment order.” In 1983, Korematsu won an appeal against the original Supreme Court decision, and in 1988 the federal government issued $20,000 in reparations to each surviving interned Japanese-American.

So, what does this court case mean for today’s travel ban? And why are you reading it on a Mormon History blog?

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From the Archives: Mormonism in Barbados (Almost), 1853

By March 13, 2018


(detail from John Arrowsmith, Map of the Windward Islands, 1844. Click on image for original)

Last month, Elder Dale Renlund visited the West Indian island of Barbados, which he dedicated for the preaching of the gospel. The timing of his doing so carries with it some special significance. As Elder Renlund noted in his remarks, the West Indies Mission was first dedicated thirty years ago, in 1988. And it was, of course, forty years ago this summer that the temple and priesthood ban denying black women and men certain blessings and opportunities in the church was lifted, which opened up Barbados and the other predominantly black Caribbean islands for full-fledged missionary work. 

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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 executed 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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History and Presence, Chapter 7: The Abundance of Evil

By March 7, 2017


Welcome to the eighth installment of our Tuesdays with Orsi series! We’re taking a look at the seventh chapter of Robert Orsi’s History and Presence, and as Hannah introduced last week, today’s discussion will be on the meaning of abundant evil. Previous installments can be found here: Intro, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4Chapter 5, and Chapter 6.

Where chapter six took on the idea of heaven, this chapter deals more with hell. What happens, Orsi asks, when the abundant event believers encounter is an evil one? He uses the stories of men and women who were sexually abused as children to tease out the question of presence and abundance in light of clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

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Tuesdays with Orsi! History and Presence: Introduction

By January 17, 2017


Come one, come all. Welcome to a new series that we?re hosting?Tuesdays with Orsi! The series will feature posts that highlight each chapter of Robert Orsi?s new and provocative History and Presence, and I have the honor of kicking it off.

history and presenceRobert Orsi is the Grace Craddock Nagle Chair in Catholic Studies and Professor of Religion at Northwestern University. He is a prominent scholar of American religion and one of the foremost theorists/methodological innovators of the field. His scholarship has provoked us here at JI to think about what a Robert Orsi might look like for Mormon Studies, how ?abundant events? might be used for Mormonism, and a highlight of a chat with Richard Bushman about abundant events. It?s no surprise that his newest work prompts us, yet again, to engage, digest, and grapple with truly provocative narrative and theory. The implications of the book are monumental. But enough gilding the lily. Let?s get to the introduction.

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The Visitors: Jack Chick and the Intellectual History of Modern Anti-Mormonism

By October 25, 2016


0061_05In the summer of 2002, while knocking on doors in the sweltering August heat of suburban Phoenix, my missionary companion and I were handed a small booklet by a less-than-friendly individual. Entitled The Visitors, the short illustrated tract told the story of two Mormon missionaries who arrive to teach a woman considering converting to Mormonism. Arriving at Fran’ doorstep with the hope of committing her to baptism that evening, the Elders are greeted not only by their anxious investigator, but also her niece, Janice, also a missionary preparing to do humanitarian work as a nurse in Africa.

A few minutes into their lesson, the missionaries are confronted by Fran’s surprisingly knowledgeable niece about various points of Mormon doctrine, doctrine the missionaries had failed to previously reveal to Fran. Horrified to learn that the Mormons believe, among other things, that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers, that God is a man (and not a spirit) with multiple wives in his heavenly abode, and Joseph Smith was fluent in the occult culture of early 19th century America, Fran asks the missionaries to leave and not come back. But Janice not only saved her beloved aunt that evening. She also, as we discover in the strip’s final frames, sparked the seeds of doubt in one of the missionary’s own minds.

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Review: Philip Lockley, ed., Protestant Communalism in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1650-1850

By July 14, 2016


Protestant CommunalismPhilip Lockley, ed., Protestant Communalism in the Trans-Atlantic World, 1650-1850 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). 

A little more than five years ago, I posted some thoughts on Scott Rohrer’s chapter on Mormonism in his Wandering Souls: Protestant Migrations in America, 1630-1865 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). I was particularly intrigued by his inclusion of Mormonism in a volume on Protestant migrations, and a lively conversation and debate over whether Mormonism is, was, or ever has been Protestant ensued in the comments.

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Article Review: Spencer McBride, “When Joseph Smith Met Martin Van Buren: Mormonism and the Politics of Religious Liberty in Nineteenth-Century America””

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.

CH CoverAs 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.” [1]

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From the Archives: A Jewish Perspective on Mormon Undergarments (and more), circa 1853

By May 19, 2016


Carvalho_autoportretIn September 1853, John C. Frémont embarked on his fifth and final overland expedition of the American West. Accompanying the noted explorer on his final journey was Solomon Nunes Carvalho, a South Carolina-born Sephardic Jew of Spanish and Portuguese descent. Carvalho was an accomplished painter and photographer, and in spite of having a wife and three children at home, eagerly “accepted [Frémont’s] invitation to accompany him as artist of an Exploring Expedition across the Rocky Mountains.”[1] 

Over the course of the next year, Solomon Nunes Carvalho traveled with the Frémont expedition “across the Great American Desert,” including an extended stay in Utah, where he spent three months recovering from sickness. Unfortunately, almost all of the sketches, paintings, and daguerrotypes from Carvalho’s journey (including several from his time among the Mormons) are no longer extant, evidently destroyed in a fire. But an account of his journey was published in 1856 as Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West, a volume that proved popular enough to go through several additional printings on both sides of the Atlantic.

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In Memoriam: Milton Backman, Jr., 1927-2016

By February 11, 2016


mou0046346-1_20160210I do not remember the first article I read authored by Milton Backman, Jr. It was almost certainly something he published in the Ensign during the 1970s or 1980s. As a 19-year-old missionary with a previously-untapped love for reading, learning, and history, those old Ensigns that occupied so much of the shelf space of ward libraries were treasure troves of information to me. Much to the annoyance of at least a few of my companions, I would eagerly request that we stay a bit longer at the church building after playing basketball on P-day so that I could flip through a dozen or so issues and photocopy each article dealing with church history, doctrine, or scripture. I don’t know if it was the first, but I do remember reading Backman’s 1989 essay, “Preparing the Way: The Rise of Religious Freedom in New England.” In addition to shattering some myths I had imbibed at some earlier point in my life (i.e. “Although many who sought religious liberty had immigrated to those colonies, the Pilgrims and Puritans did not, generally speaking, believe in extending religious freedom to others.”), Backman’s essay tied Mormonism into a larger narrative of American religious history in a way that I had not previously encountered. I was hooked.

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