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Comparative Mormon Studies

Is Mormon History Global History? Mormonism in Jürgen Osterhammel’s The Transformation of the World

By February 17, 2016


k10179One of my very first posts at the Juvenile Instructor (nearly nine years ago!) asked whether Mormon History was American History, surveying the inclusion of Mormonism in two of the most significant treatments of Jacksonian America—Charles Sellers’s The Market Revolution and Sean Wilentz’s The Rise of American DemocracyA year later, I took a closer look at Daniel Walker Howe’s handling of Mormonism in his (then) recently-published What Hath God Wrought.

Shortly after that, in 2009 German historian Jürgen Osterhammel published Die Verwandlung der Welt. Eine Geschichte des 19. Jahrhunderts, which was subsequently translated into English and published by Princeton University Press in 2012 as The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century. To call Osterhammel’s book ambitious is an understatement — it numbers nearly 1200 pages (over 250 more than Howe’s hefty tome) and is truly global in scope. The author describes it in the book’s preface as “a rich and detailed but structured, nontrivial, and nonschematic account of a crucial period in the history of humanity” (xiii). While many Mormons might consider Joseph Smith’s visions, the publication of the Book of Mormon, and the establishment of the Church of [Jesus] Christ [of Latter-day Saints] in 1830 as among the most important events of that crucial period, I was curious what mention (if any) Mormonism would receive in the book.

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Digital Mormonists, Volume 1: American Panorama

By February 1, 2016


This is the first entry in yet another occasional, sure-to-be-irregular, but hopefully still important series here at the Juvenile Instructor. Since the blog’s inception in 2007, digital history projects have come a long way, and in the last couple of years, a number of really important digital databases, atlases, and other assorted projects have appeared. In “Digital Mormonists,” I plan to highlight those of potential interest and relevance to scholars of Mormonism and its history.

Screen Shot 2016-01-31 at 8.35.15 PMA month or so ago, someone I follow on twitter linked to a new digital history project called American Panorama: An Atlas of United States History. A product of the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond (whose other projects include the phenomenal Visualizing Emancipation and the very useful Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States), American Panorama presents a variety of interactive maps with historical data.

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The People Who Stir America: BackStory on Revivals and Prophets

By December 21, 2015


The December 11, 2015 episode of the impeccably crafted history podcast BackStory is worth a listen, on the topic of ?American Prophets.? In many ways, it?s a sequel to their ?Born Again? episode on the history of American religious revival back in April, continuing the story of charismatic leaders and religious movements forging transformation and innovation in an intense cultural pressure cooker. In ?American Prophets,? the hosts explore Neolin (Delaware / pan-Indian), William Seymour (Asuza Street, Pentecostalism), Brigham Young (Mormonism), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science), L. Ron Hubbard (Scientology) and Elijah Muhammed (Nation of Islam). When added to the earlier episode?s portrayal of the First and Second Great Awakenings, Handsome Lake, Sam Jones, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Billy Graham, we now have a nice two-hour audio documentary on diverse American new religious movements featuring a stellar cast of religious scholars. [1]

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September 11th and the Politics of Comparison

By September 21, 2015


51meOlDJ63L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Most of us (of a certain age) have a very specific memory of where we were that day in 2001. I was sitting on my couch watching the Today Show as the plane hit the second tower. I set down my laptop and didn?t pick it back up that day.

At the time, it didn?t occur to me at the time that this was not the first time something horrific happened on September 11th. My abandoned laptop held evidence of another harrowing day in September almost a century and a half earlier?I had been reading newspaper articles about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Only later would I learn that 11 September was also the date of the Chilean coup in which elected President Salvador Allende was ousted (with help from the US) that led to the 15-year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

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Mormonism and the Catholic Critique of Protestantism in America

By April 20, 2015


Today’s post comes from Bradley Kime, who will graduate this spring with a Masters in history rom Utah State University. Bradley has published in the Journal of Mormon History and is an editorial fellow at the Western Historical Quarterly.  He will begin his PhD program in religious studies at the University of Virginia this fall (WAHOOWA!).

For the last few years, Stephen Webb has generously praised LDS Christo-centrism. Back in 2012, before the publication of his Mormon Christianity[1], he offered the First Things crowd a positive take on Mormonism?s eternally embodied Savior titled ?Mormonism Obsessed with Christ.? When First Things recently posted the article on their Facebook feed, the 108 comments (and counting), almost entirely from creedal Christians across the Protestant-Catholic spectrum, were overwhelmingly negative. One comment summed up the general consensus: ?You know who else was obsessed with Christ? Arius.? In other words, earnestness doesn?t equal orthodoxy, and calling a spade a spade is important. Almost as a chorus, First Things readers reaffirmed that the Mormon Christ was a heresy, notwithstanding Webb?s misguided generosity.

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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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Thoughts on Indigenous Mormon Studies

By November 25, 2013


We are pleased to have this guest post by Professor Matthew Kester who is the author of Remembering Iosepa: History, Place, and Religion in the American West (Oxford University Press, 2013), the university archivist, and an assistant professor of history at Brigham Young University Hawaii.

My training as an historian of Oceania and the American West in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and my role as the custodian of archival collections on Mormonism in Oceania, led me to write on interactions between Mormons and Kanaka Maoli, the indigenous people of Hawai’i. Both Oceania and the American West are regions where indigenous people experienced massive, disruptive political, social, and economic change, and Mormon missionaries and settlers played an important role in that change. I want to use this opportunity to reflect on what I feel are some of the more important themes in the study of Mormonism and indigenous people, and suggest some ways that they might be responsibly put to use. Important, because exploring these themes will increase our understanding of these interactions and the communities they created. Responsible, because they do so in a way that represents indigenous people as full historical subjects, and as active historical agents who negotiated (and continue to negotiate) disruptive periods in their history on their own terms, at least within the confines of the larger power structures imposed by colonization, settlement, and in many cases, the erosion or loss of political sovereignty and self-determination.

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Responses: Paul Harvey and Edward Blum respond to Noel Carmack’s Review Essay in the Journal of Mormon History

By September 24, 2013


Almost exactly one year ago, the University of North Carolina Press published Edward Blum and Paul Harvey’s The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, a sweeping and provocative analysis of the ways in which Americans from various walks of life over the last four hundred (!) years have imagined Jesus. Among the many contributions the book makes, and of particular interest to JI readers, is the authors’ situating Mormons as important players in the larger story of race and religion they narrate so masterfully. In fact, one paragraph in particular has garnered more attention than nearly any other part of the book—a brief discussion in chapter 9 of the large, white marble Christus statue instantly recognizable to Mormons the world over. In the latest issue of the Journal of Mormon HistoryNoel Carmack authored a 21 page review of The Color of Christ, focusing on their treatment of Mormonism and paying particular attention to their discussion of the Christus. Professors Blum and Harvey generously accepted our invitation to respond here, as part of both our ongoing Responses series and as an appropriate contribution to our look at Mormon material culture this month. 

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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: Martyn Oliver, “Made in America”

By May 31, 2013


PLEASE NOTE: All issues with the images below are the result of Cristine’s lack of technical prowess.

I?m pleased once again to present a guest post from another colleague whose work explores images of minorities in American culture, Martyn Oliver. Martyn is a Professorial Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at American University. He holds a BA from the University of Puget Sound, and earned his PhD in Religious and Theological Studies from Boston University. Martyn?s work explores the construction of religious identity with particular emphasis on how Western literature depicts Islam and Muslims. 

I?m going to have to start with a confession: I don?t really know a whole lot about Mormons or the LDS Church. Aside from a few ex-Mormon friends and a very strange night in Paris? Charles de Gaulle airport, [1] my encounter with Mormonism both personally and professionally has been frighteningly thin.

So it?s been with great interest that I?ve followed The Juvenile Instructor during this month on Many Images of Mormonism. Crissy has this wonderful habit of inviting folk to do things they don?t know they can do and then convincing them they?re perfect for the task. Needless to say, I?ve been trying to figure out what her nefarious scheme is for me this time around.

To get right to it, she asked me to contribute something for y?all because I study Islam and the religious traditions of Central Asia, often in terms of how these traditions conform to or challenge our preconceptions about them, or in terms of how ?foreign? religions are depicted in the West (by which I don?t mean cowboys, I mean white folk?we should be honest about what the ?West? implies).

Anyhow, I?ve got this idea brewing: there?s an obvious tension within Mormonism, which you all have begun to spell out in fascinating detail, between the maintenance of?for lack of a better term?Mormon exceptionalism and Mormonism as authentically American. Without intending to gloss over the many subtleties of this situation, it seems that by and large there has been a push (as illustrated by Erin Anderson?s reprinting of Calvin Grondahl?s cartoon) for Mormons to be the ?most? American, and in the process not only contort themselves into rigid caricatures, but also implicitly illustrate the foibles of American self-perception. To put it another way, they try and out-WASP the WASP?s.

From my view, this is a mistake. If Mormonism really wanted to make common cause with a group of fellow Americans who are both religiously peculiar while still being deeply and inherently American, the obvious choice is clear. They should cozy up with what was once the Nation of Islam.

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