Mormon Studies in the Classroom: Christopher Blythe, “Mormonisms”

By April 22, 2014

As the first installment of our new series, this post is from JI’s good friend Christopher Blythe. Chris is a graduate of Utah State University, and is now a PhD candidate in religious studies at Florida State University. He has published broadly on the divergent Mormon traditions, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the John Whitmer Historical Association.

Bringhurst and Hamer's Scattering of the Saints was a watershed moment for the study of divergent Mormonisms.

Bringhurst and Hamer’s Scattering of the Saints was a watershed moment for the study of divergent Mormonisms.

In 2008, while a Master?s student at Utah State University, Philip Barlow invited me to be his assistant for a course entitled, ?Mormonisms.? This was Barlow?s first time teaching the course and his third Mormon Studies course at USU. He had some general ideas of what he wanted accomplish in the course, but I was fortunate to be able to help flesh out the curriculum, assignments, and schedule for the course. This was my first teaching experience in which I lectured roughly every fourth class period. I think it?s a fun exercise to imagine teaching the course once again. Six years later, how would I reimagine this class?

Course objective

The objective of this course was and would continue to be to problematize the standard telling of Mormon history and Mormon thought. Rather than examining Mormonism through the teachings and history of one Church, we would see that Mormon thought was always diverse and in contest. This is crucial for understanding the development of Mormonism (i.e. the current face of any one institution of Mormonism is not inevitable but based on historical events and personalities), but also to emphasize the point (first made by Jan Shipps) that Mormonism is not one new religious movement, but an entirely new religious tradition with its own branches and schools of thought.

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New Series: Mormon Studies in the Classroom

By April 21, 2014

The flowing of Mormon studies in the print world has been well-documented. Presses are rushing for more titles on LDS topics, partly because they sell consistently well. While the quantity has sometimes overshadowed the quality of this movement, I think it is safe to say the field is much stronger as a result.

lecture-hallBut publications are only one part of the integration of Mormon studies into the academic world. Another important element is the inclusion of Mormonism in academic classrooms. This is done through several ways. The first is through better integration of Mormonism into broader courses (including classes on American Religous History, New Religious Movements, the American West, or even the classic American history survey). This is mostly accomplished as scholarly work on Mormonism becomes better known, and thus professors are more aware and likely to include it in their lectures, readings, or comprehensive exams. (I was interested to find out that here at Cambridge, the only question on religion in an undergraduate American history exam from a couple years ago was on the Mormon trek west.) Joseph Smith is always a popular topic for undergraduate students, and the Book of Mormon often serves as a surprisingly rewarding text for students to engage. Many have said that Sally Gordon’s The Mormon Question is the go-to text for teaching the intersection of religion and law in the nineteenth century. I imagine this will, and should, continue, as Mormon history becomes more intimately intertwined with the academic study of religious history.

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Mormon Navajo Youth at the Intermountain Indian Boarding School

By October 11, 2013

John C. Begay recalled the day when his branch president, Don C. Hunsaker, pulled him out of his class at the Intermountain Indian Boarding School to invite him to attend the Latter-day Saint Indian Seminary program. His mother had enrolled him in seminary, but Begay followed his peers to the Catholic and Nazarene activities until Hunsaker found him. He then started to attend the seminary class of a respected LDS leader and local of Brigham City, Elder Boyd K. Packer. Begay claims, ??That?s where I was converted to the LDS Church. My mother had secretly signed me up for Seminary which became my favorite class?.?? [1].

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Thinking Historically… and Why it Matters

By March 20, 2013

I spend a lot of my work-life time pondering what it actually means to think historically, and how to get undergraduates to do it. I have been much influenced by the work of Sam Wineburg, who has studied this quite a lot, and I find it interesting that there are multiple models or frameworks for what “historical thinking” means and why it’s important. Let’s look at a few of these lists, and think about how the concepts might apply to increasing the level of historical thinking literacy among “non-professionals” outside of history classrooms.

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On Ending a Course

By December 20, 2012

I?ve just finished teaching my fall course on American religious pluralism—in fact, I was supposed to post about this yesterday but I?m still grading their final exams and submitting grades. It?s that time of year to think about what worked and what didn?t, and how I might do things differently next time.

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My Fall American Religion Course

By October 6, 2012

I’m finally surfacing from the hectic start of semester and wanted to write a couple of posts about the history course I’m teaching in American religious pluralism this fall at Worcester State. It’s an upper-level history elective called “Religions in America,” and in previous versions I’ve taught it mainly as an introduction to American religious diversity… sort of a “religious literacy” exercise in which students depart the course knowing a little something about many things rather than having deep knowledge of a few things. This term, however, I’ve focused the course more narrowly on the history of the idea (and imperfect implementation over time) of American religious pluralism.

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A Weekend Poll

By March 9, 2012

I’ll be teaching a seminar this fall on American religious pluralism and I need to submit my book adoptions soon. What’s hip, new and suitable for upper-level undergrads? Or, alternatively, what are the go-to classics? It will be a general course, not specifically on Mormonism, but I know this crowd would have good ideas, so I’m just throwing it open for suggestions.

Just to reminisce… when I took my undergrad American religion course from Steve Marini at Wellesley College (using the cross-registration bus provided by MIT), we used Stephen Allstrom’s Religious History. Good times.

Suggest away.

Oz Behind the Curtain, Part 4: The Syllabus

By February 5, 2012

Here’s the premise of this post: a syllabus should be more than a boring, text-laden legal contract. If you let it, it can also be 1) a thing of beauty, and 2) a tool to think with about your teaching and your students’ learning.

At this point I hope you can see why this post comes late in my series about course and syllabus design (you can read part 1, part 2 and part 3 plus a part 3a if you care about the nitty-gritty of governance and assessment). Actually putting the stuff into a document necessitates having stuff to put, and all the course planning should happen long before you decide what font to use and what color paper to print it on.

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Religious History Classes Come With Instructions

By January 16, 2012

This is Part 3 in my series on course & syllabus design (“Oz Behind the Curtain”); here are Part 1 and Part 2. I’ve also posted a Part 3a on governance and alignment, but since it’s kind of technical it’s only on my blog; see here if you want to get into those nitty-gritty details.

All my syllabi have some generalized instructions. I include some boilerplate stuff on every syllabus: use of phone and laptops in class, something about attendance and participation to the effect that just showing up is necessary but not sufficient, something about disability accommodations, and so on.

But for a course that studies religion, somehow, I feel there needs to be something more along the lines of ground rules.

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Oz Behind the Curtain, Part 2

By January 11, 2012

This is Part 2 in a series on course & syllabus design; Part 1 is here.

I last taught “Religions in America” in the fall of 2009 as a special topics course in history, which meant I didn’t have to jump through any approval hoops. Since that time, I’ve put the course through our university and General Education governance so it could be listed with a course number in the regular catalog. Now that I’m planning to teach it again in 2012-2013, it’s time to revisit the course from the inside out and update its learning outcomes and course expectations (and give it a revamped web presence). All of this can be done without altering its catalog description or governance approvals–which is an important point if you are inheriting an existing course and are looking to redesign it or reinvent its pedagogy.

My 2009 syllabus enumerated course objectives (old-style, professor-centered).

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