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 January 30, 2018
This post comes from Cristina Rosetti, a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies at the University of California, Riverside and is a Mormon Studies Fellow at the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah. Her dissertation examines spiritualism and fundamentalist Mormonism.
As new charges and depositions against Warren Jeffs surface, the FLDS is once again in the journalistic spotlight. This even includes a Buzzfeed article by Anne Helen Petersen who captured the way former members of the FLDS are returning to Short Creek (referred to as the “Crick” by residents and frequent visitors alike), to rebuild a community that was left in ruin following the capture of Jeffs. [i] By any measure, they are succeeding. These are stories matter because they are often missing from work on Mormon fundamentalism. But, there are still other narratives and methods of story-telling that remain absent.
Most people, Mormon or otherwise, who read popular writings on fundamentalism are not aware of how we got here. To be fair, capturing the complex history of fundamentalism requires more space than many journalists are afforded (try writing the entirety of LDS history in one essay, even long-form). Writing on Mormonism is so centrally focused on an unbroken Priesthood lineage that began with Joseph Smith and ends with the current President of the LDS Church that other histories are left behind. The powerful testimonies from members of the Council of Friends, the compelling writings of Joseph Musser, and the lives of current fundamentalist leaders and Prophets are absent. These absences create a void in Mormon history that leave room for spectacle and causes outsiders to wonder how people like Warren Jeffs happened. It also leaves people assuming that all fundamentalists adhere to the same beliefs and practices.
By April 4, 2017
At a recent gathering in Cambridge, MA, Richard Bushman introduced Laurel Thatcher Ulrich to her hometown crowd as Mormonism’s most “distinguished and decorated scholar.” Her Pulitzer Prize, Bancroft Prize, and many other awards speak to her mastery of the historian’s craft in the broader academy. She is not only Mormonism’s most distinguished and decorated scholars, she is one of the most distinguished and decorated scholars alive today. Ulrich’s research and writing abilities made A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 a natural choice for JI’s Third Annual Summer Book Club. Hundreds of readers have followed along with our book club in the past few years—we hope to read with even more of you this summer!
By March 7, 2016
Perhaps you have heard or read that I gave a talk called “Beyond Petticoats and Poultices: Finding a Women’s History of the Mormon-Missouri War of 1838” at the Beyond Biography: Sources in Context for Mormon Women’s History conference at Brigham Young University. My paper sought to address the history of how women experienced the violence in Missouri, particularly as victims of sexual violence. As part of that research, I examined the case study of Eliza R. Snow as a possible victim of a gang rape that might have left her unable to have children. I looked at a few of the rapes and attempted rapes in Missouri, recalled by various witnesses, legal testimonials, and personal accounts, with a discussion of why women are not specifically named in most sources. The scarcity and limitation of sources has presented historians with the difficulty of uncovering a history of sexual violence in Missouri, and of identifying actual victims. So I concluded with an examination of a primary source that amazingly came to me only three weeks prior to the conference, via a colleague who received it from a member of the family where the source is held. That source gives a description of Eliza’s rape, and its larger meaning in Snow’s life and possible motivations for her polygamous marriage to Joseph Smith.
By March 26, 2015
In 1991, the iconoclastic historian Jon Butler brought forth one of the greatest of his many “historiographical heresies.” Well known for being an ardent revisionist, Butler had called the previous year in his important book Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (1990) for narratives that paid more attention to the enduring and even escalating power of religious institutions in nineteenth-century America. Institutional power, he suggested, had been unduly marginalized in the pursuit of other interests. In 1991, however, Butler took this logic all the way and proposed an entirely new model for American religious history, one that was sure to astound many of his colleagues. In the heyday of the new scholarship on American evangelicalism and during the very apotheosis of Nathan Hatch’s Democratization of American Christianity, Butler insisted that—of all groups—Roman Catholics could serve as a productive baseline for American religious history. Catholicism in America, he argued, more than the hurly burly of American evangelicalism, could help historians account for hidden aspects of the religious past. 
By March 25, 2015
See the first two articles in JI’s Roundable on #JMH50:
William Russell’s reflections on his experiences with the Mormon History Association (MHA) reveal the ecumenical gains achieved by Restorationist historians over the past fifty years. In his article, Russell recounts delivering his first paper at MHA, board meeting politics, and presidential addresses that ruffled feathers. Above all, he affectionately maps out how RLDS, LDS, and non-Mormon scholars forged friendships and established the academic foundations of the Mormon History Association.
His experiences will be familiar to all those that have participated in the Mormon History Association in any capacity. Indeed, the reason I loved the essay so much is that it felt like someone was recounting a family reunion. He recalls car rides to MHA, memorable papers, and interactions with historians of Mormonism in the homes of friends, archivists, and conference meetings. Anyone who has known or worked with Lavina Fielding Anderson will appreciate Russell’s story of her love and outreach (does anyone else love receiving e-mails from Lavina with “affectionately” as the farewell?). Russell’s memories of interactions with Davis Bitton and Leonard Arrington evoke similar warmth. The MHA’s bringing together of members from all branches of Joseph Smith’s religious tree and other religious traditions is rightly celebrated.
Two aspects of Russell’s essay are worth expounding upon individually.
By January 27, 2014
Susanna Morrill is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of White Roses on the Floor of Heaven: Nature and Flower Imagery in Latter-day Saints Women’s Literature, 1880-1920 and several excellent articles. She has previously guest blogged for JI here and here.
In the latest issue of the Journal of Mormon History, Boyd J. Petersen effectively and succinctly describes Mormon women’s dialogic literary conversations about Eve in the Woman’s Exponent: “The speaking of many voices created a carnivalesque atmosphere where language was at once serious and subversive.”  This is a really great description of what was going on in Emmeline B. Wells’ Exponent. This periodical gave Mormon women a distinct, authoritative bandwidth within the community to express their views, views that as Petersen notes sometimes “subvert[ed] and sometimes co-opt[ed] the patriarchal gaze that watched over the publication.”  Petersen adds much to our understanding of how the present-day understanding of Eve developed as he meticulously chronicles the diversity of interpretations of Eve that appeared on the pages of the Exponent: she was alternately a hero, a goddess, “the hapless and unintentional instigator of the Fall.” 
By November 4, 2013
We’re pleased today to welcome back J.B. Haws for Part II of our Q & A on his recent article in the JMH and his forthcoming book, The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (Oxford, December 2013), both exploring the changing image of Mormons in American media from George Romney’s presidential run in the 1960s to his son Mitt Romney’s campaigns in the early 21st century. Last time, we focused mainly on Haws’ methods and sources. Today, we’re exploring specific aspects of his analysis and a few of his conclusions.
By October 21, 2013
In August, I reviewed J.B. Haws’ recent article “When Mormonism Mattered Less in Presidential Politics: George Romney’s 1968 Window of Possibilities”, published in the summer issue of the Journal of Mormon History. Haws, an Assistant Professor of Church History at BYU, graciously agreed to participate in a Q & A to answer some of my lingering questions and those submitted by members of the JI community. In the course of our conversation, we also discussed how the research he presented in his article is extended in his forthcoming (and highly-anticipated!) book, The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (Oxford, December 2013), which promises to be an important and much-needed addition to our understanding of Mormonism in the contemporary period, as well as of public representations (and misrepresentations) of Mormonism across the last half of the 20th century.
JBH: I should say, by way of preface, that as I read through your questions, my reaction after every one was to think, “Wow—great question.” But I’m going to resist typing that every time (but just know I’m still thinking that!). Thanks for these thoughtful and thought-provoking questions.
CHJ: Thank you, J. B.! We’re excited that you were willing to offer us some answers. So—let’s get to it!
By September 24, 2013
Almost exactly one year ago, the University of North Carolina Press published Edward Blum and Paul Harvey’s The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, a sweeping and provocative analysis of the ways in which Americans from various walks of life over the last four hundred (!) years have imagined Jesus. Among the many contributions the book makes, and of particular interest to JI readers, is the authors’ situating Mormons as important players in the larger story of race and religion they narrate so masterfully. In fact, one paragraph in particular has garnered more attention than nearly any other part of the book—a brief discussion in chapter 9 of the large, white marble Christus statue instantly recognizable to Mormons the world over. In the latest issue of the Journal of Mormon History, Noel Carmack authored a 21 page review of The Color of Christ, focusing on their treatment of Mormonism and paying particular attention to their discussion of the Christus. Professors Blum and Harvey generously accepted our invitation to respond here, as part of both our ongoing Responses series and as an appropriate contribution to our look at Mormon material culture this month.
By August 22, 2013
First of all, we hope you enjoy JI’s new look. And yes, we are aware that the “music notes” can easily catch your attention.
If the recent resurgence in Mormon schism studies did nothing more than give room for John Hamer’s phenomenal images, then it has served a noble purpose indeed.
But the blog is not the only thing that was in need of a facelift recently–so was the historiography surrounding the “succession crisis.” One of the popular topics that was repeatedly researched during the rise of New Mormon History, the story of how Mormonism became/remains so prone to schism has received a lot of attention. Historians like Michael Quinn, Andrew Ehat, Ron Esplin, and many others laid the archival groundwork for much of the narrative—and that’s just for the period immediately following Joseph Smith’s death. The John Whitmer Historical Association, which sponsors an annual conference as well as a biannual journal dedicated to the various traditions that race their roots back to Joseph Smith, continues to pump out fascinating scholarship year after year. And most of the major works in Mormon history now realize they must address these schism issues—think of the recent biographies of Parley Pratt and Brigham Young—it has begun to infiltrate the mainstream of Mormon studies.
But just like any topic within the wild and still inchoate (sub)field of Mormon history, its approaches have continued to evolve. In the beginning, very few works, besides that of Danny Jorgensen, invoked a theoretical methodology in tracking what Jorgensen called “Mormon Fissiparousness.” Rather, most narratives, while grounded in ground-breaking archival research, relied on basic teleological trajectories and focussed on seemingly objective tools like facts, dates, names, and words.
By August 14, 2013
This post continues the JI’s occasional “Responses” series and contributes to the August theme of 20th Century Mormonism. Semi-regular guest and friend of the JI Patrick Mason, Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont, contributes this installment.
Review of David Pulsipher, “‘Prepared to Abide the Penalty’: Latter-day Saints and Civil Disobedience,” JMH 39:3 (Summer 2013): 131-162.
Pop quiz: Which group maintained the longest civil disobedience movement in American history, and the first such movement not to descend into violence? Since you’re reading a Mormon history blog, the question is a bit like asking who’s buried in Grant’s tomb. Yet even with the prodigious output of scholars working on Mormon related topics in recent years, there are relatively few offerings that not only give us new details but also really help us see Mormonism through a new perspective. David Pulsipher’s recent JMH article is one of those.
By June 1, 2012
Christopher Rich’s response to Nate Ricks’ review of “The True Policy for Utah: Servitude; Slavery; and ‘An Act in Relation to Service,'” Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 80, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 54-74.
I was very happy to learn of this forum for discussing LDS History, and jumped at Nate’s invitation to have lunch and discuss the history of servitude in Utah. I found his master’s thesis to be invaluable when I first began to research this area, and thoroughly enjoyed speaking with him about this nuanced and highly interesting topic.
By May 31, 2012
Nate Ricks’ response to Christopher Rich Jr.’s article “The True Policy for Utah: Servitude; Slavery; and ‘An Act in Relation to Service,'” Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 80, no. 1 (Winter 2012): 54-74.
When JI introduced the “Responses” series a few weeks ago, Amy T. suggested that someone review Chris’s fascinating article. David G. invited me to give it a go, since I examined the same topic in my master’s thesis in 2007. When I looked up Chris’s contact info, I was delighted to find that we currently live in the same city. We arranged a lunch date and had a great time discussing slavery in Utah while devouring Mexican food.
By May 7, 2012
[The most recent installment of our “Responses” series, in which someone responds to a recent article of interest in Mormon studies.]
As someone interested in the historical development of LDS thought, especially during the first few decades, I was excited to see Lynne Hilton Wilson’s fascinating “A New Pneumatology: Comparing Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of the Spirit with His Contemporaries and the Bible” (BYU Studies Quarterly 51, no. 1 : 119-152). Historical theology and intellectual history can be a tricky field, particularly when contextualizing someone’s ideas with the surrounding culture, though it can be highly rewarding when done right. However, while there was much to enjoy in the article, there were some aspects that made me pause. Besides disagreements with how Wilson presents Joseph Smith’s Protestant culture in general, often in attempt to make Mormon ideas more distinct from antebellum America, as well as disagreements with how she interprets Smith’s theology in particular, often in attempt to make his 1830 beliefs more consistant with those in 1844, there were a few methodological points that I think deserve examination.
By April 24, 2012
[The following is Jonathan Stapley’s response to Christopher Smith’s post.]
First, I want to thank Christopher Smith for his critical reading of both my ritual adoption article and my article on last rites. His call for increased clarity and finer argumentation in my work is welcome and surely needed. As an example, the bulk of Smith’s comments relate to what I observed to be a declension in Brigham Young’s rhetoric surrounding adoption ritual performance in Utah, and the possible relationship between this declension and the transformative vision of Joseph Smith that Brigham Young received relating to adoption early in 1847. I’m grateful to respond to these comments as well as some particular questions which Smith raised.
By April 24, 2012
[This continues our new series “Responses,” which offers a venue to respond to and discuss recent Mormon scholarship, especially journal articles. We are pleased to have Christopher Smith here respond to two articles authored by Jonathan Stapley last year (found here and here), along with Stapley’s own response (posted tomorrow). Christopher Smith is a PhD candidate in Religions in North America at Claremont Graduate University. He is currently living in Provo while he works on his dissertation on Mormon and American Indian relations during the life of Joseph Smith. At least, that’s what he’s supposed to be working on…]
By April 17, 2012
In today’s age, when the internet fosters a close-knit community with immediate access to news and information, reactions to new scholarship come at a blistering speed. Most academic journals are now available in digital form, scholarly organizations maintain frequently updated websites, and the blogging world makes it possible to discuss new ideas and research within minutes after they appear. In past decades, if one were to read an article in, say, Journal of Mormon History and wanted to write a response or rebuttal, the only option would be to write and mail a letter-to-the-editor and, if it’s accepted, wait several months before it appears. While these letters will still play an important role for many journals, their snail-like pace can often be too slow for today’s twitterworld.