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Cultural History

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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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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God’s Blessings and Labor Crises: On Ammon Bundy’s Theology

By November 30, 2018


Ammon Bundy, the erstwhile hero of the loosely organized anti-government militia movement in Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada who engaged in a 41-day standoff with federal authorities in 2016, made something of a splash on Tuesday when he weighed in on the latest reports of border officials tear gassing asylum seekers at the Mexico-U.S. border in a 17-minute long video streamed live on his facebook page.

To the surprise of many news reporters and his own supporters, Bundy defended the refugees, criticized the actions of the Trump administration, and dismissed popular conservative conspiracy theories regarding the immigrants as “a bunch of garbage”:

“[Trump] has basically called them all criminals and said they’re not coming in here. It seems that there’s been this group stereotype. But what about those who have come here for reasons of need? … What about the fathers,the mothers, the children, who have come here and are willing to go through the process to apply for asylum so they can come into this country and benefit from not having to be oppressed continually by criminals?”

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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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Summer Book Club: On Zion’s Mount, chapter 4

By July 19, 2018


This is the fourth 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). You can view previous installments herehere, here and here. Check back every Thursday for the week’s installment. Please follow the JI on your social media of choice.

We have in the previous few chapter reviews followed the major theme of the first section of Farmer’s book: the dominance of lakes in the minds, hearts, and stomachs of the early Mormon colonists in the eastern edge of the Great Basin. The lake was a source of fish and conflict, just as the Great Salt Lake was a center of both recreation and source of holiness, as its tributaries were used for baptism and bathing. But in the late nineteenth century, Farmer argues, the lakes of the Mormons’ valleys began to be culturally displaced by mountains.

Part of this displacement was drive by necessity: overfishing and irrigation and conflict and pollution sapped the value of the lakes. It was also abetted by culture; the fictive memory of a desert valley allowed the Saints to imagine themselves as fulfillers of Isaianic prophecy. But, for the purposes of chapter 4, the shift matters because it cleared the way for the rise of mountains in Mormon culture.

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The Eagle Scout in General Conference

By May 11, 2018


On Tuesday the Church Newsroom announced a “Plan for Worldwide Initiative for Children and Youth” that will change, among other things, Personal Progress and the Church’s relationship to Scouting. Yesterday I wrote about mentions of the Personal Progress program in General Conference. Today I look at mentions of the Eagle Scout award.

[Edit: Due to a very embarrassing error on my part, I only searched from 1940 to the present. There were two mentions of Eagle Scouts before 1950: In 1924 then-President Heber J Grant quoted approvingly a letter published in the Improvement Era that enthused at some length about Mormon scouting and included the line “There are more boys of advanced rank and a greater percentage of Eagle scouts than in any other section of America” (1924 April, p 155). In 1923 Apostle Richard R Lyman said, in a talk on training young people, “You cannot know what real scouting is until you have at least one Eagle Scout in your troop” (1923 April, p 157).]

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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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“A little bit of that in there, too”: Arcade Fire and Mormon Heaven

By April 27, 2018


This is the latest installment in a very sporadic series of posts on Mormonism and music. And by very sporadic, I mean the first such post in nearly seven years. Previous posts include “Of Mormon Fundamentalism and Outlaw Country Music” and “Conveying Joseph Smith: Brandon Flowers, Arthur Kane, and the Mormon Rock Star Image.”

_______________________

Win Butler. Screenshot from “Put Your Money on Me” music video.

Arcade Fire is a Canadian indie rock band. Their lead singer, Win Butler, and his younger brother and bandmate, William Butler, were raised by a Latter-day Saint mother in northern California and suburban Houston. Though neither is a practicing Mormon today, the Butlers have had mostly positive things to say about their LDS upbringing. Here’s Win in a 2010 interview:

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Book Review: The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (Oxford, 2018)

By March 19, 2018


As Joan Scott said, ?Those who would codify the meaning of words fight a losing battle, for words, like the ideas and things they are meant to signify, have a history.? [1] Jonathan Stapley?s important new book, Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology explores the history of priesthood, one of Mormonism?s most fractious and fertile ideas, a word that contains worlds of complex meaning and diversity of lived practice about sacred authority and divine power. His work does so primarily by cleaving elements of Mormon priesthood into two general categories, which have too often become conflated in contemporary Mormon discourse and history: cosmology and ecclesiology [2]. Both deserve closer examination if we are to understand just what makes this book so significant and refreshing.

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