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Christian History

BYU and Martin Luther King, Jr.

By January 18, 2016


Last weekend, while visiting Atlanta for the annual meetings of the American Historical Association, fellow JIer Ben P and I visited the Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historical Site. That we approached the historic Ebeneezer Baptist Church just a few minutes before 11 am on a Sunday morning I can attribute to nothing other than perfect synchronicity.[1] It was my first time visiting the site, and I was moved by what I witnessed. I was unable to attend sacrament meeting that day, but the pilgrimage to the King site was worship enough. I resolved to post something here at JI in commemoration of King, but could think of nothing that would do justice to either King or my visit last weekend.

So today, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to highlight two posts from the Juvenile Instructor’s early years. Both were penned by former JI blogger, Ardis Smith, whose excellent original research on student responses to the Civil Rights Movement at BYU in the 1950s and 1960s deserves a much wider audience.[2] As part of her research, Ardis surveyed student responses to the April 1968 murder of the famed civil rights leader who we remember and whose legacy we celebrate today, in the student newspaper, the Daily Universe. Ardis examined the DU‘s coverage in the immediate aftermath of the murder, and the DU‘s discussion on the one year anniversary of King’s death. Much of the response from students is what you might expect (subtly and not-so-subtly racist condemnations of King’s civil disobedience, his Marxist views, and his rumored ties to Communist leaders, justified with citations to LDS teachings and scriptures), but Ardis also discovered and recovered the voices of those students who dared to speak up in support of King and the movement he led.

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New Volume of Studies in the Bible and Antiquity

By December 11, 2014


StudiesCover_FINALLast week, Ben highlighted the latest issue of the Mormon Studies Review. This week the Maxwell Institute gave Mormon Studies geeks even more goodness with the release of the first issue of the newly-revamped Studies in the Bible and Antiquity. You can read Carl Griffin’s overview of the entire issue here, but I wanted to take the time to highlight two of the articles included in particular. While much of what Studies in the Bible and Antiquity falls outside of the more narrow interests of JI bloggers, this issue includes a roundtable review of the BYU New Testament Commentary (BYUNTC) that features two prominent historians of Mormonism: Philip Barlow, Leonard J. Arrington Professor of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, and Grant Underwood, Professor of History at Brigham Young University and coeditor of the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Barlow opens the roundtable with some reflections on the aims of the BYUNTC, highlighting five particular questions that the undertaking raised for him, as a believing Mormon and a scholar of Mormonism and the Bible:

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Mormon Studies in the Classroom: Mormon Women, Patriarchy and Equality

By May 8, 2014


As a professor of history at a predominantly Mormon university, lately I have been a magnet for students with questions about the changes for Mormon women, especially considering the recent public attention to the roles of women in our traditional religious culture.

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Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup

By November 24, 2013


Most of our team that contributes links for the weekly roundup have been preoccupied this week, so the MSWR is a bit light in terms of quantity (though certainly not quality) this week. Let’s jump right in:

James Goldberg has written/curated an informative, fascinating, and, quite frankly, beautiful account of a Latter-day Saint exodus in covered wagons that most Mormons probably know nothing about (I certainly didn’t before reading the post). Check out online exhibit, “The Armenian Exodus,” at history.lds.org, to read more about the early 20th century journey of Mormon migrants from Turkey to Syria. Once you’ve finished there, head on over to Keepapitchinin to read Ardis’s complementary post that adds a bit more detail to the online exhibit and links to previous posts on Armenian Latter-day Saints at Keepa. You’ll be glad you did.

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From the Archives: The Mormon Problem in the Mind of Freethinkers, circa 1886

By October 29, 2013


At the annual meeting of the Mormon History Association in June, historian Leigh Eric Schmidt delivered a fascinating Tanner Lecture on “Mormons, Freethinkers, and the Limits of Toleration” (a helpful summary of his remarks can be found here). Among other things, I was struck by Schmidt’s discussion of the occasional moments of  agreement between Mormons and Freethinkers in the late 19th century. It was, most often, their mutual distrust and dislike of mainline Christians that afforded them these brief instances of mutual respect and accord.

I recently browsed through several issues of The Truth Seeker, a prominent 19th century newspaper devoted to “freethought and reform,” in search of something entirely unrelated to Mormonism.[1] But as I did, I came across a couple of articles on Mormonism. In the May 15, 1886 edition of the paper, Samuel B. Putnam, the secretary of the American Secular Union, reported on his recent visit to Utah. Among other things, Putnam noted with pleasure that “there are many Liberals at Ogden,” including some former Mormons. “Mr. James B. Stoddard was born in Mormonism,” he reported. “He, however, has a keen and fearless mind, and has broken away from the trammels. He will do much for Freethought by his influence and ability.”

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Visionary/Prophetic Children: A Research Query

By October 16, 2013


As my contribution to this month’s theme of childhood, children, and youth, I want to throw around a couple of loosely-formed thoughts on how Mormonism fits into the history of childhood spirituality.

First, Mormons sometimes claim that the reason God appeared and spoke to the boy Joseph Smith that spring day in 1820 was specifically because JS was just a boy. As in the days of Samuel, God needed a pure vessel, one simultaneously untainted by worldly knowledge and skepticism and eager to learn and obey.

Of course, Joseph Smith isn’t the only boy/young man to experience a vision and receive a prophetic calling, and Mormons aren’t the only ones to connect the dots between the receipt of those visions and childhood innocence/willingness. American Christians have long used both the Old and New Testaments to bolster the claims of boy (and less commonly, girl) prophets and preachers. One researcher has found nearly 500 examples of child preachers from the 18th century until the present, and the phenomenon is particularly common in charismatic Christian churches, as the fascinating and somewhat tragic story of Marjoe Gortner illustrates. While historians have done a wonderful job of contextualizing Joseph Smith within the larger American prophetic tradition, they/we have mostly ignored where and how he fits into the history of childhood preachers/prophets. It seems like a potentially fruitful framework for understanding JS and his prophetic calling in new light.

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Abstractions, Shadows, and Images of Christ

By September 18, 2013


Laura Allred Hurtado contributes this next installment in the JI’s material culture month, on Mormon attempts to represent Jesus. Laura is the Global Acquisitions Curator for Art in the Church History Department. She has an MA in Art History and Visual Studies from the University of  Utah and a BA in Art History and Curatorial Studies at BYU. Laura has presented papers at scholarly conferences and curated exhibits at the Utah Museum of Fine Art, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, and various other venues.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.–2 Chronicles 7:14

 All representations of divinity fail. Fail in that they are made of terrestrial materials, seen through non-celestial eyes. 

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Guest Post: Justin Bray on Mormon Sacrament and Material Culture

By September 12, 2013


Justin Bray is an oral historian at the Church History Department in Salt Lake City, Utah. He is also an MA student at the University of Utah, where he studies American religious history. He has presented and published several papers on the sacrament of the Lord?s Supper among the Latter-day Saints.

I?ve always found objects meaningful tools to reconstruct the past.

When my great-grandfather passed away many years ago, my dad inherited an old baseball bat?probably because my brothers and I couldn?t stop watching The Sandlot, and throughout our childhood we collected an unhealthy number of baseball cards. I really didn?t know anything about my great-grandfather (at the time), let alone that he was a baseball player. But the more attention I paid to the bat, the more the bat became a kind of lens into my great-grandfather?s world.

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Scholarly Inquiry: A Q&A with John Fea

By September 3, 2013


We’re thrilled to present the following Q&A with historian John Fea. Dr. Fea is Associate Professor of History and  Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. He is the author and editor of several books, including The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011), and Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation (University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), which he co-edited with Jay Green and Eric Miller. His latest book, Why Study History? Reflecting on the Importance of the Past (Baker Academic, 2013) is scheduled to be released in two weeks. Dr. Fea is currently at work on two book projects—a religious history of the American Revolution and one on history and memory in the town of Greenwich, NJ. In addition to his scholarly output, John is a prodigious blogger, a tireless traveler and dynamic speaker (check out that list—chances are he’ll be in your general neck of the woods at some point), Bruce Springsteen devotee, avid sports fan, and 2010 inductee to the Montville High School (NJ) Hall of Fame. By nearly all accounts, he is also an incredibly nice guy.

Please join us in welcoming Dr. Fea!

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Guest Post: Bradley Kime on Mormonism in Thomas Albert Howard?s God and the Atlantic

By July 11, 2013


Today, we are pleased to announce a guest post on our July theme,  Mormons and Politics, from Bradley Kime. Here is a brief bio from Bradley: 

I just graduated from BYU with a BA in History. My Phi Kappa Phi paper, “American Unitarians and the George B. English Controversy” will be published in Religion in the Age of Enlightenment next summer, and my capstone paper, “Exhibiting Theology: James E. Talmage and Mormon Public Relations, 1915-1920,” is under review. I’ll be heading up to Utah State in a few weeks to work with Phil Barlow on an MA in History. 

I just finished reading Thomas Albert Howard?s God and the Atlantic: America, Europe, and the Religious Divide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). It?s a brilliant book that touches on JI?s themes for this month and last (politics and the many images of Mormonism). Howard wrote it in response to what many perceive to be the growing trans-Atlantic political implications of American religiosity vis-a-vis European secularity. Howard?s take is that a long-standing elite European discourse on American religion, which he traces through the nineteenth-century and into the twentieth, has ?left a sizable mark on the formative presuppositions? behind current policy differences and European perceptions of America. (200) In other words, he argues that elite European critiques of American religion in the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries still impact trans-Atlantic political divisions in the twenty-first. And Mormonism seems to have been a particularly consistent target of those critiques. Along with some forays into the secularization and modernity debate, and the retrieval of two sympathetic commentators (Phillip Schaff and Jacques Maritain) from Tocqueville?s shadow, this is primarily a book about negative images of American religion as peddled by its cultured despisers across the pond.

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