Roundtable: Johnson – Accessibility and Nuance in Stapley’s *The Power of Godliness*

By March 21, 2018

The particular danger of a roundtable in a digital format is in the overlapping repetition, forgive us for that. (Check out Tona and Joey‘s prior posts.) Though I had an opportunity a few weeks ago to respond to Jonathan Stapley’s The Power of Godliness in person, today I want to focus on the eminent accessibility of the nuanced liturgical history that Stapley crafted. Though I want the initial chapter on the cosmological priesthood to be more specific as he lays out the foundation of his argument, it is fulfilled over time in consecutive chapters. I appreciate that in each chapter Stapley outlines a dense history with complex transitions over time in a nuanced, compact, and entirely relatable manner. This would not be possible without the body of Stapley’s earlier work. (There will be rejoicing amongst my future students when they realize that there might be a more concise version of Stapley and Kris Wright’s spectacular but to them seemingly interminable 88-page JMH article on female ritual healing.) This accessibility matters both historically and devotionally.

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Sealings and Adoptions

By March 10, 2018

After talking to some folks about some material in my recent book, a friend suggested I write a short primer on nineteenth-century sealings based on my work.

First some nineteenth-century premises:

  • Heaven is comprised of people sealed together in various ways. People called this construction variations of “the priesthood.”
  • All sealings, regardless of type, are durable, and bestow a measure of “perseverance” (the unpardonable sin notwithstanding).
  • All of the various temple rituals can be performed outside of the temple except child-to-parent/adoption sealings.

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“Consider Three Things”: Writing a Prospectus and Forming a Committee

By March 9, 2018

This is the fifth in a series of posts on selecting a finishing exams and finding a doctoral dissertation topic. All of our five participants have participated in Mormon Studies in the past, but not all of them chose to pursue a Mormon Studies topic for their dissertation. If you’d like to contribute a post that addresses this topic in future, please send me an email at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] e dee ewe.

When writing your prospectus and choosing a topic, I would encourage you to consider three things:

  1. How do you want to be categorized in your field?
  2. What is the thread that ties your analysis together?
  3. Who are the people that you trust to help you do your best? And are those people invested in you and your wellbeing?

On the first point: I do not want to be pigeonholed as a religious historian. I am interested in much more than religion. My dissertation will be framed in terms of race and gender, though religion will form a major component of my analysis.

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“Be confident in your identity and your ability”: Finding a Topic You Love and Staying the Course

By March 8, 2018

This is the fourth in a series of posts on selecting a finishing exams and finding a doctoral dissertation topic. All of our five participants have participated in Mormon Studies in the past, but not all of them chose to pursue a Mormon Studies topic for their dissertation. If you’d like to contribute a post that addresses this topic in future, please send me an email at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] e dee ewe.

We are grateful for this post from Cassandra Clark, a Ph.D. Candidate in History at the University of Utah.

Let me start by saying, choosing a dissertation topic is not for the weak of heart.  On top of the pressure to come up with an original idea, there are always those people who complicate to the process by sharing clichés like, “Choose a topic that you love because you are going to get sick of it after studying it for a decade” or “you will hate your topic before the end.” There is even the one that goes something like, “be prepared to gain the dissertation fifteen.” Well, maybe that isn’t a cliché? Is it just me?

Those platitudes don’t apply to everyone.  I have worked on my topic for several years and have yet to grow weary of it.  While I am eager to complete my graduate degree, I am still enthusiastic about my topic, the time period, and the people I study.  I can’t necessarily say that I like all of the people–mainly because many of them were raving racists–but I can say that they are intriguing.


I decided on my dissertation topic during my first year as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah. One afternoon while digitizing sources at the Church History Library for the Utah American Digital Archive (UAIDA) I stumbled upon the transcript of an oral interview that referenced the DNA testing of Native Americans orchestrated by the LDS Church during the twentieth century. I have always loved to learn about medicine, genetics, and other science-history related subjects which is why this particular interview caught my eye.  I consulted with Matt Basso who suggested that I look into eugenics in Utah.  Mainly, I needed to establish a foundation before I dove into the DNA aspect of this particular issue. Little did I know that at the time several scholars were also interested in eugenics and Mormonism and I found myself struggling to stay ahead of the topic.  Frustrated, I decided to broaden my research scope to consider how people living in the intermountain west incorporated scientific race theories into their society and culture.

I rarely settle upon a topic before I do a preliminary scan of the available primary sources. Mainly, I want the sources to speak to me and provide me with direction. I consulted with archivists in Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado and to locate materials.  My efforts paid off as I discovered that many individuals living in the intermountain west were obsessed with heredity, nature and their relation to brain function. I questioned how perceptions of the natural world influenced their definition of the “normal” and “abnormal” brain and how these ideas influenced whiteness.

The answer to this question became my dissertation topic. Instead of being the central focus, Mormons are a part of a broader conversation about race science and its tie to the environment.  I find that including members of the LDS Church in a larger exchange of ideas is more rewarding and an essential component of the history of the LDS Church, the intermountain west, and the nation. I am looking forward to continuing my research on DNA testing and the LDS Church once my dissertation is complete.

My decision to expand my topic was not without stumbling blocks. I have two daughters who I provide for, and I want them to have the best opportunities possible while avoiding debt.  At any given time, I am working two to three-part time jobs that prevent me from scheduling extended archival visits. My research trips are typically limited to five-day stints two to three times a year where I sit scanning documents like a fiend while streaming The Office with the occasional chat with an archivist. Researching on a tight schedule has slowed my progress, but none-the-less, I am inching closer to the finish line!

My advice to the graduate student wrestling with a dissertation topic is to listen to the sources.  Write for yourself. Be confident in your identity and your ability. Do not compare yourself to others. Never listen to anyone who judges your talent or your journey. Trust your instinct.  And finally, discuss your research with anyone who will listen.  Some of the best ideas come from sharing your research with others.

“What works best for any given person will of course depend on several factors”: Finding What Works for You

By March 7, 2018

This is the third in a series of posts on selecting a finishing exams and finding a doctoral dissertation topic. All of our five participants have participated in Mormon Studies in the past, but not all of them chose to pursue a Mormon Studies topic for their dissertation. If you’d like to contribute a post that addresses this topic in future, please send me an email at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] e dee ewe.

We are grateful for this post from Katherine Kitterman, a Ph.D. Candidate in History at American University.

There’s already too much advice for grad students floating around the internet, so I’ve tried to pull a few things from my experience moving through a PhD that might be more generally helpful. The dissertation topic I eventually landed on isn’t the only question I could imagine myself working on for years, but it’s one I really enjoy thinking about, one my committee members are excited about, and one that raises and helps to answer some important questions. Most importantly, it’s a doable project for me.

Like most PhD students, I began my program assuming I was the only one in my cohort who hadn’t yet figured out exactly what I wanted to research. My path from coursework to candidacy was probably a little bit backward, but it was also much less time-consuming and stressful than I’d anticipated. It didn’t have to be a year of living like a hermit and typing past midnight. What works best for any given person will of course depend on several factors – what your relationship with your adviser is like, what’s interesting to the professors you may want on your committee, and of course, what else is going on in your life for the next few years.

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“I became more invested”: Religious Studies, Race, and Identity

By March 6, 2018

This is the second in a series of posts on selecting a finishing exams and finding a doctoral dissertation topic. All of our five participants have participated in Mormon Studies in the past, but not all of them chose to pursue a Mormon Studies topic for their dissertation. If you’d like to contribute a post that addresses this topic in future, please send me an email at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] e dee ewe.

We are grateful for this post from Alexandria Griffin, a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies at Arizona State University.

I did my undergrad at the University of Utah in Anthropology. I just kind of wound up there; I had originally started out in linguistics and become disinterested when I realized it didn’t just mean I could take as many language classes as I wanted. The Anthropology department would take most of my credit hours as “allied classes” so off I went, still taking as many language classes as I wanted. This included Arabic, which I ended up doing a study abroad for in the summer of 2010 in Alexandria, Egypt. While I was there I became very interested in the study of Islam and religion more broadly, and on my return took Islamic studies classes and began thinking about pursuing an MA in Islamic Studies.

Simultaneously, though, I began reengaging with my Mormon upbringing and checking out all of the university’s Mormon studies books and devouring them. I started wondering if there was a place I could get a degree studying Mormonism. I was surprised when I did some googling to see that there was a program that met that description in my mother’s hometown of Claremont, California.

I entered Claremont thinking I would study Mormon feminist theology, but gradually ended up weaving in my former interests in Islamic studies and writing a comparative study of women’s experiences of garments with anthropological literature on women’s experiences of hijab. I really enjoyed this project and am glad that I pursued it. However, as I looked at pursuing a PhD, I felt that staying in Mormon studies was no longer a good choice for me. As a woman married to another woman, many job avenues open to others in Mormon studies (like working for CES or at the Church History Library) are closed to me, and staying in Mormon studies seemed like making an already terrible job market worse for myself. Additionally, I felt that my attempts to discuss queer Mormon issues (in particular, looking at how organizations like Affirmation used history to bolster their arguments) were inevitably ignored in favor of analyzing my own identity as a lesbian somewhat-former-Mormon, which I found tiring.

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“We never complete a project alone”: Finishing Exams and Beginning a Dissertation

By March 5, 2018

This is the first in a series of posts on selecting a finishing exams and finding a doctoral dissertation topic. All of our five participants have participated in Mormon Studies in the past, but not all of them chose to pursue a Mormon Studies topic for their dissertation. If you’d like to contribute a post that addresses this topic in future, please send me an email at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] e dee ewe.

We are grateful for this post from Farina King, Assistant Professor of History at Northeastern State University.

Dissertation research often caters to, or is influenced by the graduate program that the student is pursuing. I have studied under two different graduate history programs, and both approached their dissertation requirements differently. Some graduate programs require that students submit a dissertation prospectus or proposal upon the completion of their comprehensive exams, whereas other programs allow students to prepare and submit their dissertation prospecti within a couple months to a year after they complete their comprehensive exams. As in any graduate program, dissertation research should begin with writing a strong prospectus.

In both graduate programs that I studied under, they both ensured that the selected dissertation committee reviewed and approved the prospectus once the comprehensive exams were accepted. Programs may uphold different requirements of the prospectus, but common components include: abstract, thesis, description, literature review, organization, schedule, contributions, and budget. Before and while I prepared my dissertation prospectus for Arizona State University, where I entered doctoral candidacy, I also sought doctoral research funding. Organizations and programs that offer grant, scholarship, and fellowship opportunities often base their applications on the prospectus format.


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By March 2, 2018



DATE: October 12–13, 2018

LOCATION: Utah State University


The Book of Mormon Studies Association is happy to announce a conference to be held October 12–13, 2018, at Utah State University. Sponsored by USU’s Department of Religious Studies and with thanks to Philip Barlow, the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon Studies, the conference aims to gather scholars invested in serious academic study of the Book of Mormon, providing them with a venue to present their work and receive feedback and criticism. As with last year’s inaugural conference at USU, this conference has no centralizing theme. Instead, we invite papers on any subject related to the Book of Mormon from any viable academic angle. Pursuant to decisions made at last year’s conference, there will an official event organizing the Book of Mormon Studies Association itself during the conference, along with elections of officers.

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A blessing, scripture, and an interview.

By February 28, 2018

In my current project, I am thinking about how a text becomes scripture—how people develop a relationship with a text. On this last day of Black History Month, I’m thinking about three items that reflect relationships to scripture that affect the life of Jane Manning James: a blessing, scripture, and an interview.

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Ten Questions with Matt Grow and Eric Smith

By February 27, 2018

Friend of the blog Kurt Manwaring has published an interview with the historians Matt Grow and Eric Smith about their work on the Council of Fifty minutes. The interview in its entirety can be found here; selected snippets are published below. Enjoy, then hop on over to read all ten questions!

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Billy Graham and Mitt Romney: The Importance of October 2012

By February 21, 2018

Billy Graham, the most important figure in twentieth-century American Christianity, died this morning at the age of 99. You’ll have the opportunity to read countless obituaries or columns on his life, evangelistic prowess, stances on race, sexuality, his conversations with Nixon about Jews, and his theatrical preaching in postwar America. I’m sure you’ll also read about his son, Franklin, and the roles that the Grahams have played in the election of Reagan and Trump. Historian Anthea Butler called Graham the closest thing to a Protestant Pope that America has ever had. I think she’s right. Graham’s meteoric rise in film and radio is the stuff of legend. He preached to more than a hundred million people in person and taught a particular way to be Christian and American.

The most important thing that Graham ever did for Mormonism was remove it from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s list of “cults.”[i] He did so after a meeting with Mitt Romney in October 2012, during the home stretch of the Republican presidential nominee’s campaign, in an attempt to increase the evangelical vote.

Mormonism no longer being named as a cult by the most prominent voice in American evangelicalism was a major coup for the LDS Church and its members. Although scholars no longer use the term cult, it has a powerful meaning in Christian communities (just ask Pastor Jeffress). Latter-day Saints, who have wanted to be a part of the White Protestant Establishment since the early twentieth century, had been excluded because of their views on the trinity, sexuality, and other non-creedal views. But, at least for the 2012 election, Graham gave Mormonism, and its most famous adherent, his blessing.

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REMINDER: Heaven & Earth: Mormonism and the Challenges of Science, Revelation and Faith (Conference at UVU February 22nd-23rd, 2018)

By February 21, 2018

Hey Folks,

This is a reminder that Utah Valley University is hosting a conference that starts tomorrow on science and religion in Mormonism. It will be livestreamed on the conference website (where you can also find more information about the conference):

Just a quick warning, the livestream won’t start until just before the first session. Here’s the short description of the conference, again:

The relationship between science and religion has been among the most fiercely debated issues since the Copernican revolution displaced traditional wisdom regarding the nature of the cosmos. Some have argued  for a sharp division of labor while others have sought to harmonize spiritual and empirical truths. From its beginnings, Mormonism has wrestled with the implications of modern science and has produced a variety of  theological responses. This conference will explore the landscape of Mormon thought as it relates to the relationships between science, theology, scriptural narratives, and LDS authoritative discourse. It will also examine abiding questions of faith, reason, and doubt and the reactions against the intellectualizing forces that bear on the truth claims of Mormonism.

Please attend/watch to show support for the conference!

Clipping Words and Pasting Narratives (or Tweeting the Nineteenth Century)

By February 2, 2018

True to form, the online discussion over differing journalistic approaches to the reporting of the death of President Thomas S. Monson, sixteenth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appears to have run its course. Mormons quickly took to Twitter to respond to one particular article perceived as far too negative. In turn, those believing the article portrayed an accurate depiction of the church and its leaders responded. Hundreds debated the nuance of words and those words’ implications for the nation’s view of the church and its leaders—all in 280 characters. In other words, it was a typical day on Twitter.

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Bryce Harper and Mormon Masculinities

By January 22, 2018

Bryce Harper was the first Mormon to be compared to Lebron James. He was also the first Mormon to have a temper tantrum full of particular 4-letter words go viral. Bryce Harper also posed for ESPN’s The Body issue without a stitch of clothing on him.[i] He was, by any definition of the term in regards to styling and dress, immodest. Mormonism’s modesty culture encourages young people not to “use a special occasion as an excuse to be immodest. When you dress immodestly, you send a message that is contrary to your identity as a son or daughter of God. You also send the message that you are using your body to get attention and approval.” Harper is tattooed, rocks a perfectly-coiffed modern hair-do, and his eyes sear into the viewer. His body may be objectified, but he is not a passive observer. Quite the contrary. His stance, eyes, and rippling pectorals denote physical and charismatic power. Most casual observers would not peg him for an active Latter-day Saint.

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“In My Father’s House Are Many Mansions”: Black Mormon Pioneer Experiences An Evening with Amy Tanner Thiriot

By January 17, 2018

From the LDS Church Museum’s website:

The first black members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were a vital part of the early history of the Church. They served missions and shared the gospel. As the Church moved west, they helped build Nauvoo and Winter Quarters and drove wagons across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. Once in the valley, they helped rescue the stranded Willie and Martin handcart companies, built roads and communities, and raised families in the Mormon settlements of the West.

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The New LDS First Presidency: Historical Notes and Contexts

By January 16, 2018

Thanks to Brother X for this post!

As expected, Russell M. Nelson was set apart as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His counselors are Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring were selected as First and Second Counselors, respectively.

I am a historian. I do not predict the future. Latter-day Saints view every calling as from the Mouth of God. I do not disparage that. As an active LDS I believe in that. I am merely pointing out lines of thought. So please no comments about this being political.

With that in mind, there are some interesting things to think about with this new First Presidency:

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LDS Church President Obits in the NYT (PDF to Full Articles at Bottom of Post)

By January 10, 2018

For no reason at all, here are the headlines, as they currently stand, for each LDS Church President who had an obituary published in the New York Times:

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REVIEW: The Field is White: Harvest in the Three Counties of England

By December 6, 2017

Carol Wilkinson and Cynthia Doxey Green, The Field is White: Harvest in Three Counties of England (Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2017).


As a child, we had a record that narrated the story of Wilford Woodruff as a missionary at Benbow farm. (Vinyl played on our old blue Fischer Price record player. I only remember Woodruff and the headless horseman though I’m sure there were more options). The dramatic narration detailed a miraculous mass conversion of a whole sect by LDS apostle Woodruff in 1840 England.  Though fascinating that any American child might know of a pond on an obscure farm in the middle of the English countryside, the fame of Benbow Farm is well known among many Mormons. lists scores of articles and talks focused on the same narrative. There Wilford Woodruff baptized a whole congregation of United Brethren—six hundred strong. The story has been retold and retold; Woodruff is legendary. As the story goes the United Brethren were just waiting for the Mormon missionaries to show up. John Benbow said they were “searching for light and truth, but had gone as far as they could, and were continually calling upon the Lord to open the way before them and send them light and knowledge that they might know the true way to be saved.” Woodruff brought them the “light and truth” for which they searched and they converted in droves in Benbow’s pond. 

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New(!) Mormon Studies Website at the University of Virginia

By December 1, 2017

This post comes from Meredith Nelson, the webmaster of the University of Virginia’s Mormon Studies website. We hope that you will find it useful!

Kathleen Flake and the Mormon Studies Program at the University of Virginia have recently launched a new website that highlights programming, events, faculty, courses in American religious history, Professor Flake’s research, and potential research topics.

In Doing Mormon Studies, we feature a large collection of video interviews conducted by Prof. Kathleen Flake with prominent scholars in 2016. James Faulconer, Terryl Givens, Matthew Grow, Kate Holbrook, Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Ann Taves, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and Grant Wacker comment on potential research topics waiting to be picked up, on their favorite personal discoveries, on Joseph Smith, on their own academic paths, and on what aspiring scholars should keep in mind.

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Review: Mueller, Race and the Making of the Mormon People (University of North Carolina, 2017)

By November 27, 2017

On the surface, Max Perry Mueller’s book is, like several other recent works, a study of the shifting racialist ideas in nineteenth century Mormonism. Like those books, Mueller argues that early Mormonism is a particularly useful illustration of the fluidity of race, particularly in the early decades of the United States. When, as Mueller argues, white Americans began in the nineteenth century to understand “race as (secular) biology,” (12) they began arguing that those characteristics they used to classify and label “races” were organic, functions of one’s biological makeup, and though these characteristics extended from the merely physical (like skin color) to issues of intellect and temperament, most people determined them to be inborn and hence immutable.


The Mormons, Mueller argues, were different, in two ways.

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JJohnson on Roundtable: Johnson - Accessibility: “The Other Clark--completely.”

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J Stuart on Roundtable: Johnson - Accessibility: “Excellent work, JJ. I keep thinking about how eminently teachable Stapley's book is. I'm considering adopting it for a course. Also, Saskia, I think about that…”

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Juvenile Instructor » Roundtable: Johnson – Accessibility and Nuance in Stapley’s *The Power of Godliness* on Roundtable: Stuart on *The: “[…] in a digital format is in the overlapping repetition, forgive us for that. (Check out Tona and Joey‘s prior posts.) Though I had an…”

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