By March 20, 2018
Jonathan Stapley’s The Power of Godliness is a landmark for Mormon Studies. There are precious few academic, peer-reviewed publications that succinctly and accessibly explain the development of Mormonism’s definitions of priesthood and liturgical practices. While there are certain rough edges that could be smoothed out, it’s altogether remarkable that Stapley produced this book. It’s even more astounding that he wrote the book while working in the private sector, without summers for research or other designated “work” times that many academic need to produce scholarship.
I’d like to focus on two aspects of Stapley’s work that I think are worth emulating in future work in Mormon Studies. First, I consider how Stapley’s work does theology in an academically viable way. Second, I reflect on Stapley’s use of religious studies methodologies throughout his manuscript.
By March 13, 2018
(detail from John Arrowsmith, Map of the Windward Islands, 1844. Click on image for original)
Last month, Elder Dale Renlund visited the West Indian island of Barbados, which he dedicated for the preaching of the gospel. The timing of his doing so carries with it some special significance. As Elder Renlund noted in his remarks, the West Indies Mission was first dedicated thirty years ago, in 1988. And it was, of course, forty years ago this summer that the temple and priesthood ban denying black women and men certain blessings and opportunities in the church was lifted, which opened up Barbados and the other predominantly black Caribbean islands for full-fledged missionary work.
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.
By December 7, 2017
The July 19, 1856 issue of the Provincial Freeman and Weekly Advertiser, an abolitionist newspaper published in Chatham, Canada West (modern-day Ontario) carried the following notice from Albany, New York:
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.
By September 3, 2017
This is the thirteenthentry in the Third Annual Summer Book Club at Juvenile Instructor. This year we are reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?s A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women?s Rights in Early Mormonism (Knopf, 2017). Check back every Sunday for the week?s installment! Please follow the book club and JI on Facebook.
By August 20, 2017
This is the twelfth entry in the Third Annual Summer Book Club at Juvenile Instructor. This year we are reading Laurel Thatcher Ulrich?s A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women?s Rights in Early Mormonism (Knopf, 2017). Check back every Sunday for the week?s installment! Please follow the book club and JI on Facebook.
Chapter 12, ?we now must look after the poor,? examines the intersectionality of the reemergence of the Relief Society in the 1850s. The chapter raises intriguing questions regarding gender, class, race, and settler colonialism in the Great Basin. How did gendered assumptions regarding medicine and health care shape female organization in the early 1850s? How did gendered assumptions shape how Latter-day Saints provided for the poor? How did female initiative interplay with male priesthood authority? How did racial and gendered views of Native peoples shape the formation of at first independent, and then church-sponsored, relief societies? What role did (white) women play in the development of Mormon settler colonialism, and how did clothing function as a marker between ?civilization? and ?savagery?? Ulrich answers all of these questions with her trademark engaging prose, rooting what other scholars might have treated in highly theoretical and abstract terms in the highly personal experiences and writings of Patty Sessions, Amanda Barnes Smith, Eliza R. Snow, as well as missionaries such as Thomas Brown.
Ulrich begins with the Council of Health, a mixed-gender organization of doctors and midwives that began meeting in 1849. Concerned that the presence of male doctors was discouraging many women from attending the meetings, women such as Phoebe Angel and Patty Sessions created the Female Council, which as the name implies was for women only. Using Sessions?s diary, Ulrich explores the ?system of cooperative care? that focused ?on female responsibility for women?s and children?s bodies. Recognizing that poverty or lack of help in the home sometimes made recovery from illness impossible, the Female Council began to act more and more in the spirit of the Nauvoo Relief Society, collecting funds for the poor, and carrying medicines and food to those they knew were in need? (295). Meetings of the Female Council also served as sites for female spiritual expression, with healing blessings and glossolalia. Ulrich profitably combines sympathetic sources with the more critical account by non-Mormon Elizabeth Ferris, a source highlighted by the JI?s J. Stapley a few years ago.
By May 12, 2017
The Immigration and Ethnic History Society has generously agreed to cross-post this content on their blog. The posts are slightly different, and I try to introduce Mormon readers here to scholarship in Immigration History, and IEHS readers there to scholarship in Mormon History. I’m hoping to facilitate conversation across audiences. Here’s the link:
In 1897, “Pres. G.Q. Cannon stated that the Presidents of Missions had been instructed not to encourage people to emigrate to Utah until they had become well grounded in the faith and not then until times in Utah became better, unless they have friends or means to provide a home on their arrival.” This discouragement became public the next year in 1898, when Mormon Apostle George Q. Cannon stated in the semiannual church-wide gathering, general conference, “There is one course that has been taken which I think will be attended with good efforts, that is, counselling the Saints in the various lands where they embrace the Gospel to remain quiet for a while; to not be anxious to break up their homes to gather to Zion.” This was the first of many announcements that called for the end of the gathering. Why did Cannon renege Mormonism’s long history with open immigration? How did the end of the gathering come about, and what did it mean for Mormonism?
By April 21, 2017
If you haven’t heard already, yesterday a host of 19 scholars submitted an Amici Curiae Brief (amici curiae=friends of the court, or impartial expert advisors) in response to President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13,780, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” Trump’s Executive Order received a cascade of pushback and resistance, mainly criticizing that the order seems to target Muslims (just search the executive order in google news for a host of coverage). The Amici Curiae Brief picks up on this vein and presents the Mormon past with federal immigration policy as an example of how targeting religious minorities through immigration legislation can go horribly wrong.
The Brief tells the history of early Mormon persecution, and late nineteenth-century legal battles over polygamy to show that the government treated Mormons as “outsiders, not full members of the political community.” The argument and section titles are enough to give a sense of the Brief in its entirety:
By March 27, 2017
Over the past few weeks, a white woman that goes by the name “A Purposeful Wife” (Ayla) has garnered a lot of attention on Twitter and was featured in an article on Buzzfeed for dual loyalties to Mormonism and the Alt-Right Movement (a political movement whose explicit purpose is to create a white, Christian nation). She spends her days spewing Alt-Right messages to her 20,000 followers and thousands more that respond to her. Her alt-right beliefs inform her “white nationalism.” Although she rejects the label of “Nazi,” she subscribes to Nazi race theory. She has issued a “white baby challenge,” encouraging people now considered to be white to bear more children than people of color in order to maintain white supremacy. This cannot be called anything other than a call to eugenics–commonplace rhetoric in the Alt-Right. Ayla has a Mormon.org profile, seemingly written before her adoption of Alt-Right politics [it has been taken down as of 11:40 AM MST, but you can see the profile courtesy of the Wayback Machine].
Despite the unsavory, dangerous, and abhorrent rhetoric, it’s important to know Mormonism’s long history of supporting eugenics–even when they were not considered white or Christian. As Ardis at Keepapitchinin has rightly written, this flies in the face of current Mormon teachings. I applaud the LDS Church’s statement condemning all forms of racism past and present, and join in that call. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the LDS Church condemns its past subscription to eugenics, not only the priesthood and temple restriction or other better-known racist or racial beliefs and practices.
While this post is a very short introduction, I will provide a brief overview of the Mormon embrace of eugenics, explicitly, and implicitly, in terms of race and gender. Mormon eugenics and political history will come in a second installment.[i]
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