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Methodology, Academic Issues

History and Presence, Chapter 2: “Abundant History”

By January 31, 2017


Our Tuesdays with Orsi series continues today with a look at the second chapter. The series is a systematic engagement with Robert Orsi’s important and recently published book, History and Presence. See the first installment here and the second installment here.

 

OrsiAs Ryan wrote last week, Orsi’s writing in the past dozen or so years has focused on the need to write about “presence” and “abundant events” in scholarship on religion. Following up on his first chapter arguing for an academic way of studying the presence of “the gods” as they appear and operate in the lives of individuals and religious groups, Orsi’s second chapter argues that scholars should take “abundant events” much more seriously. In doing so, Orsi seeks to help scholars overcome the methodological issues inherent to studying religion. As JI emeritus and scholar Steve Taysom puts it, “how [can] scholars of religion account for experiences that are simultaneously irrational and real?”[i] Orsi contends that the abundance of events surrounding when the “transcendent breaks into time” means that scholars must account for the “presence” of supernatural occurrences and beings in the lives of those they study. This necessarily draws upon anthropological and historical methodologies.

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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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What is “Early” Mormon History?

By January 13, 2017


9780307594907On Wednesday evening, I attended a public lecture by noted historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, in which she talked about her recently-released book, A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870. We have a review of the book forthcoming here at JI (spoiler alert: it’s good and you all should read it), as well as a Q&A with Dr. Ulrich, but for now I wanted to reflect on the final four words of the book’s title: “Early Mormonism, 1835-1870.”

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Envisioning a Robert Orsi for Mormon Studies

By November 28, 2016


madonnaThis past semester I taught both an undergraduate course and a graduate seminar in American Religious History. These types of courses are great for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that they give you an excuse to read books you’ve indefensibly managed to avoid up to this point. This was especially the case for me, given my ignorance of twentieth century history. Most prominently, I’ve been, for a long time, embarrassed to admit that I haven’t read Robert Orsi‘s books. It was far past time to rectify that problem, so I assigned his Madonna of 115th Street for my undergrad class and Thank You, Saint Jude for my grad seminar. Both were phenomenal: not only did they spark discussion with my students, but I was amazed at the new methodological possibilities presented in his work. They lived up to their reputation. I may not be a scholar of lived religion, but I can certainly see its merits. 

But reading and discussing the books raised a question in my mind: could there be a Robert Orsi for Mormon studies? Or, put another way, could there be a history of Mormonism written in the style of Orsi’s books on Catholicism? There are a few reasons why I hope for the possibility.

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Call for Papers: Sixth Biennial Faith & Knowledge Conference (Cambridge, MA; Feb. 24-25, 2017)

By October 3, 2016



We’re pleased to post the following Call for Papers from the Faith and Knowledge Conference, which will meet February 24-25, 2017 in Cambridge, MA. If you are a Mormon graduate student or early career scholar in religious studies or a related discipline, I can’t urge you strongly enough to propose a paper and attend the conference. The three F&K Conferences I’ve attended were among the highlights of my graduate student career, and I don’t know a comparable venue that succeeds in accomplishing what F&K sets out to do.
-Christopher

SIXTH BIENNIAL FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE CONFERENCE
HARVARD DIVINITY SCHOOL
CAMBRIDGE, MA
FEBRUARY 24-25, 2017

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Reassassing Robert Flanders’s NAUVOO: KINGDOM ON THE MISSISSIPPI, Fifty Years Later

By June 14, 2016


This post resurrects an old and unfortunately infrequent JI series, “Reassessing the Classics,” where we look at important books from days of Mormon history past. And the post’s title is partly a lie–it’s actually been 51 years since the book’s publication, but 50 is a much nicer number.

FlandersI recently commenced a book project on Nauvoo that has provided the opportunity to return to one of our field’s earliest and most important works, Robert Bruce Flanders’s Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965).[1] One of the first books on Mormon history to be published by a university press–it was preceded by, among others, Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom–it was a very early academic treatment that inaugurated the New Mormon History movement. It also still reads remarkably well. But of course it wears the marks of its age. In this post I want to highlight not only the strengths and weaknesses of this work deservedly called a “classic,” but also highlight some historiographic developments in the past half-century.

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An MHA 2016 Primer; or, Reprising Practice Month at the JI

By June 8, 2016


On the cusp of the annual Mormon History Association conference, which is centered on the theme of “practice” this year and begins later this week at Snowbird, UT, it seems like a good time to highlight some of the resources and the work done here at the JI on the theme of “practice” during March 2014. During that month (which hardly seems like two plus years ago), we carried the theme of practice through a series of posts from guests and regular contributors. See, for instance, guest Megan Sanborn Jones’s analysis of Mormon pageants and religious performance, J. Stapley’s discussion of his favorite books on liturgy/ritual, or Kris Wright’s thoughts on “Vernacular Architecture and Religious Practice.” We also had a (somewhat delayed) multiple part “Scholarly Inquiry” interview with Dan Belnap on his edited volume By Our Rites of Worship: Latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in History, Scripture, and Practice. And we put some effort toward assembling a (theoretically) comprehensive bibliography dealing with matters of practice in Mormon history. If you’re looking to grease the skids for a memorable and productive conference this weekend, you could do worse than to start here!


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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Using Google’s Ngram Viewer for Historical Textual Analysis

By May 17, 2016


You may have heard about Google Books Ngram Viewer or perhaps even dabbled with it at some point in the recent past, but I will dive a bit deeper into using the tool for the purpose of historical textual analysis.

An Overview of Ngrams

In the field of computational linguistics, an n-gram is an adjoining chain of n items in a sequence of speech or text. N-grams are extracted from a corpus of speech or text and are ordered as sets. An n-gram of size 1 is a unigram (“binders”), size 2 is a bigram (“many binders”), size 3 is a trigram (“binders of women”), and greater sizes are referred to as four-grams (“binders full of women”), five-grams (“many binders full of women”), and so on.

The corpora accessible via the Google’s Ngram Viewer includes American English, British English, Chinese, French, Hebrew, Spanish, Russian, and Italian processed between 2009-2012. The text within this corpora is derived from Google’s massive Google Books digitization endeavor, which is still ongoing. They note on their website that they have only included those books with sufficiently high optical character recognition (OCR) percentages and serials were also excluded from this corpora.1 If you are at all curious, you can download the dataset here.

The Google Books Ngram Viewer is optimized for quick inquiries into the usage of small sets of phrases (or n-grams as described above). The following embedded queries are to help us get more familiar with what is possible using this tool.

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Research Query: Mormonism in Palestine and Israel: Globalization, Peoplehood, and Zion

By April 13, 2016


We’re pleased to host this research query from Amber Taylor, a PhD student at Brandeis University. Please feel free to suggest readings in the comments below. Amber can also be reached at ambercecile3 AT gmail DOT com.

__________________

I am working on the history of the LDS Church in Palestine and Israel. One of the larger historical arcs that I am working with is the Church and globalization – how that has affected the Church’s position regarding the people and politics of Israel-Palestine. As of yet, I have found very little material on the Church and globalization itself – I recognize that this is a rather recent topic, and Mormon studies as such is a rather emerging field. I have read various articles by Arnold Green that address various aspects of Mormon views on Jews/Judaism and Muslims/Islam. I am also familiar with works by Steven Epperson and Grant Underwood on similar topics. Likewise, I have the book Out of Obscurity: The LDS Church in the Twentieth Century from the Sperry Symposium, and have been perusing Reid Neilson’s work, as well as Marie Cornwall’s and Tim Heaton’s Contemporary Mormonism. I am wondering if anyone can point me to other scholars – including articles and books – that have looked at the way that the 20th century globalization of the Church has affected the way that leaders have talked of peoplehood and chosenness, and other such good things related to that.

Also, I have been considering the notion of “Zion” as a major aspect of my research. I am attempting to set my dissertation in a comparative framework, looking at the Church in its American setting, and examining the ways that American views of the Holy Land, Jews, and Muslims related to the Mormon views – and how both the broader American cultural setting and Mormon particularity affected one another. Specific to the concept of Zion, American culture (especially Protestant culture) has, from its very origins, been prone to talk of America and American Christianity in terms of “Zion,” or had themes of Zion weaved throughout it in myriad ways. Likewise, the concept of American exceptionalism is, of course, bound up with this. But the Mormons went a step further – they established an actual Zion, a physical space with teleological meaning. Their peoplehood as Israelites, and their actual American Zion, makes the question of the Mormon presence in Jerusalem and Palestine-Israel rather intriguing. America has always had a fascination with the Holy Land and its import in latter-day fulfillment of prophecy, yet the Mormon ethos is unique. What were/are the Mormons actually doing in the Old Zion, if they had their Zion, the New Jerusalem, on the American continent? What purpose does the BYU Jerusalem Center actually serve in all of this? Can anyone recommend any literature on this, specifically relating to the two Zions and what LDS leaders have said about them, what they mean in terms of physicality, sacred territory, and gathering?

Thank you for your help.

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