Since the time I began working on my current book project on early Book of Mormon reception history, there have been individuals who have called what I am doing women’s history. I am certainly not offended by someone saying I do women’s history, I am not opposed to women’s history. I think women’s history does significant and important compensatory work to fill a historical chasm empty for too long. My Master’s thesis was clearly women’s history, I have done consistent work in that field, as well as the discipline directly informing other work that I do.
However, I’m always interested in the formal and informal categories that we construct to order the historical field and I’m wondering what makes something women’s history? As editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Joseph Spencer, introduced my recent article here for the Maxwell Institute, he complimented my work (thanks) and summarized the article: “how early converts—and especially women—approached the text of the Book of Mormon.” I suspect Joe wanted to highlight one of the things present in my article that is often absent in Mormon History, women. However, the “especially women” gave me pause. That pause has only expanded as I have heard others describe my current work as women’s history.
Mark Ashurst-McGee, Robin Scott Jensen, and Sharalyn D. Howcroft, eds. Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Examining Major Early Sources (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).
Most historiographical essays on recent shifts in Mormon Studies point to new subjects of study or new theoretical frameworks that build on, depart from, and challenge earlier generations of scholarship. In Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Examining Major Early Sources, editors Mark Ashurst-McGee, Robin Scott Jensen, and Sharalyn D. Howcroft have compiled a set of original essays that encourage scholars to return to the archival and documentary roots of the earlier historiography. But instead of simply mining those records for content, the editors invite students and scholars of Mormonism to “interrogat[e] documents as products of history rather than just as sources of historical information.” Historians, they insist, should take a nod from “archivists, descriptive bibliographers, and documentary editors” and ask “routine methodological questions of textual interpretation, production, transmission, and reception” (2). Their call here builds on both their own training and the Joseph Smith Papers Project that employs each. The goal of the volume isn’t simply to tell historians what to do, but rather to demonstrate what more sustained attention to the production, transmission, reception, and custodianship of the documentary record can illuminate about early Mormonism.
UC Press is making its articles free for April 2018. Included in its journals is Religion and American Culture. Here is a list of articles in R&AC on Mormonism. Follow the links to download them through the end of the month.
In reflections earlier in the week, J Johnson and J Stuart offered thoughts on how Jonathan Stapley’s excellent new book, ThePower of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology, models the kind of attentiveness to “lived theology” that some scholars have called for, and which has been characterized as part of the analytical school of “lived religion.” This is not the theology of the elites, but rather, as Robert Orsi put it, the “theology of the streets”: vernacular meaning-making and “cultural bricolage” performed by ordinary people . It is colored by the vicissitudes of ordinary life and, while informed by the pronouncements of religious authority figures, it is not bounded by them. This is experiential theology, and it matches with the premium valued place by the “lived religion” approach upon experience. Johnson and Stuart are quite right; Stapley has, in his deployment of “cosmology,” certainly succeeded in his aspiration to “[open] new possibilities for understanding the lived experiences of women and men in the Mormon past and Mormon present” (pg. 2).In this reflection, however, I offer a few thoughts not (or at least not directly) on “cosmology” or theology, but on the other major category of Stapley?s book, “liturgy,” and on how The Power of Godliness relates to the study of religious practice in Mormon history and in American religious history more generally.
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.?  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 . Both deserve closer examination if we are to understand just what makes this book so significant and refreshing.
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 here, here, here, here, here, here, here, 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.
Ann M. Little, W. Paul Reeve, and Sarah Carter, review panel on Laurel Ulrich, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870, in Mormon Studies Review 5, 1-16.
A few weeks ago I highlighted the year of 2015 in Mormon historiography. But I’m not here to talk about the past. In this post, I highlight a number of books I’m especially excited to see published in 2016. This list is not comprehensive—it’s nigh impossible to keep track of everything in the Mormon publishing world—but I hope it captures a taste of what we have in store over the next twelve months.
Even beyond this next year, there is still a lot more to be excited about. Kathleen Flake’s book on gender, power, and Mormon polygamy and Laurel Ulrich’s book on polygamous women’s diaries are certainly going to shake the field, but they are not quite ready for release. (Word is Ulrich’s book is in the pipeline for a year from now, though, and should arrive by AHA 2017). And we all know the works-in-progress by stars like Spencer Fluhman, Quincy Newell, Steve Taysom, and others that we eagerly anticipate. But I think we have enough here to satiate our appetite.
In 1991, the iconoclastic historian Jon Butler brought forth one of the greatest of his many “historiographical heresies.” Well known for being an ardent revisionist, Butler had called the previous year in his important book Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (1990) for narratives that paid more attention to the enduring and even escalating power of religious institutions in nineteenth-century America. Institutional power, he suggested, had been unduly marginalized in the pursuit of other interests. In 1991, however, Butler took this logic all the way and proposed an entirely new model for American religious history, one that was sure to astound many of his colleagues. In the heyday of the new scholarship on American evangelicalism and during the very apotheosis of Nathan Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity, Butler insisted that–of all groups–Roman Catholics could serve as a productive baseline for American religious history. Catholicism in America, he argued, more than the hurly-burly of American evangelicalism, could help historians account for hidden aspects of the religious past. 
Kenneth L. Alford, ed. Civil War Saints. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center (BYU), 2012. xxxiii + 569 pp. Hardcover $31.99. ISBN 978-0-8425-2816-0.
I have contributed here a thorough and lengthy discussion of this book; if you would like just the highlights, please read my first and last paragraphs below. –NRR
As America continues its commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it is fitting that at least one new book should come out examining the connections between Latter-day Saints and the war. Kenneth Alford aims in this edited volume to update and add to the small body of literature surrounding Mormons, the Utah Territory, and the Civil War. While he falls short of creating a one-volume comprehensive treatment of the subject, he and his co-contributors have explored important, previously-uncharted territory that make this book an important addition to any Mormon or Civil War History enthusiast?s library.