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Reassessing the Classics

Reassessing the Classics: Armand Mauss’s THE ANGEL AND THE BEEHIVE (part 1 of 3)

By October 15, 2019


For the next several days, the Juvenile Instructor will examine the work of the sociologist Armand Mauss, a pioneering figure in Mormon studies, under the banner of our occasional series “Reassessing the Classics.” For the next three days, several scholars will examine Mauss’s landmark 1994 book THE ANGEL AND THE BEEHIVE: THE MORMON STRUGGLE WITH ASSIMILATION (University of Illinois Press). First: Gary and Gordon Shepherd, sociologists in their own right and the authors of a number of well-regarded works in Mormon studies, including A KINGDOM TRANSFORMED: EARLY MORMONISM AND THE MODERN LDS CHURCH (2nd edition, University of Utah Press, 2015).

            Armand Mauss’s The Angel and The Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation was published in 1994 by the University of Illinois Press.  Angel and the Beehive quickly became a landmark work in Mormon studies that continues to be referenced by scholars of contemporary Mormonism to this day.  This was Armand’s first, full-fledged book—one that had been simmering on the backburner of his mind for 25 years.  In it, Armand applied the sociological notion of assimilation and the economics notion of retrenchment to show how the late 20th Century LDS Church was attempting to apply the brakes to liberalizing compromises in belief and practice that had been made in the early and middle decades of the 20th Century. 

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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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New Journal of Mormon History Issue, Featuring a Roundtable on John Brooke’s REFINER’S FIRE

By October 30, 2015


JMH CoverThe latest issue of Journal of Mormon History is hot off the press this week and is now available to download for those of you who are members of the Mormon History Association. (And if you’re not a member, you can fix that right now.) Below are the articles in the issue:

  • RoseAnn Benson, “Alexander Campbell: Another Restorationist”
  • Nancy S. Kader, “The Young Democrats and Hugh Nibley at BYU”
  • Gregory A. Prince, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision in Historical Context: How a Historical Narrative Became Theological”
  • Gary James Bergera, “Memory as Evidence: Dating Joseph Smith’s Plural Marriages to Louisa Beaman, Zina Jacobs, and Presendia Buell”
  • Elise Boxer, “The Lamanites Shall Blossom as the Rose: The Indian Student Placement Program, Mormon Whiteness, and Indigenous Identity”

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75th Anniversary Review of Joseph Fielding Smith’s “Life of Joseph F. Smith”

By January 31, 2013


The Life of Joseph F. Smith Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith.  Salt Lake City:  The Deseret News Press, 1938.  490 pp.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of a classic of Mormon biography, Joseph Fielding Smith?s Life of Joseph F. Smith.  It is a book that is many things:  part genealogy, part hagiography, part scrapbook, part apologia, part castigation of anti-Mormon sentiment of any shade, and part history of Mormonism?s transformation into a 20th century organization.  Its 490 pages are replete with personal stories, the kind winnowed from a lifetime of observing a loved one and careful interviewing of those who knew JFS intimately.  Conversely,

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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.


Reassessing: D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View

By May 14, 2011


D. Michael Quinn, Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, Revised and Enlarged Edition. Salt Lake City: Signature, 1998.

In reassessing Quinn’s classic study, I’ll simply say that Stephen Ricks’s and Daniel Peterson’s review of the first edition still applies to the second. The book “reflects deep erudition” and “offers considerable evidence indicating that Joseph Smith, members of his family, and some of his early associates were involved in the use of seer stones, divining rods, amulets, and parchments, as well as in the search for buried treasure.” In other words, Quinn effectively argues his chief assertions.

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Reassessing: The Refiner?s Fire: the making of Mormon cosmology, 1644-1844

By February 25, 2011


It’s my opinion that the further we get from the publication of John Brooke’s The Refiner’s Fire, a wildly inventive examination of Mormon origins through the lens of various esoteric European -isms (including occultism, the quest for hidden and often mysterical knowledge;  hermeticism, a particular brand of the occult supposedly derived from ancient Egypt and for Brooke basically a restorationist concept that sought to regain Adam’s access to God, and the non -ism alchemy, or the transformation of the mundane into the exalted) the more interesting a book it seems. 

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Revisiting: “Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview”

By January 25, 2010


With Stephen J. Fleming

Normally articles take a back seat to monographs in terms of impact, but Lester E. Bush’s 1973 Dialogue article ?Mormonisms’ Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview? stands as a master work of scholarship that not only revolutionized how historians, sociologists, and other academics view the church’s history of race relations, but was also a significant factor leading to OD 2.

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Revisiting: Mormonism in Transition: a history of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930

By June 18, 2009


This post inaugurates a new series at the Juvenile Instructor, featuring brief conversations reassessing the significance of major works of Mormon history.

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