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Theology

Roundtable: Liturgy and Practice in Stapley’s *Power of Godliness*

By March 23, 2018


In reflections earlier in the week, J Johnson and J Stuart offered thoughts on how Jonathan Stapley?s excellent new book, The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology, models the kind of attentiveness to ?lived theology? that some scholars have called for, and which has been characterized as part of the analytical school of ?lived religion.? This is not the theology of the elites, but rather, as Robert Orsi put it, the ?theology of the streets?: vernacular meaning-making and ?cultural bricolage? performed by ordinary people [1]. It is colored by the vicissitudes of ordinary life and, while informed by the pronouncements of religious authority figures, it is not bounded by them. This is experiential theology, and it matches with the premium valued place by the ?lived religion? approach upon experience. Johnson and Stuart are quite right; Stapley has, in his deployment of ?cosmology,? certainly succeeded in his aspiration to ?[open] new possibilities for understanding the lived experiences of women and men in the Mormon past and Mormon present? (pg. 2).  In this reflection, however, I offer a few thoughts not (or at least not directly) on ?cosmology? or theology, but on the other major category of Stapley?s book, ?liturgy,? and on how The Power of Godliness relates to the study of religious practice in Mormon history and in American religious history more generally.

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Book Review: The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (Oxford, 2018)

By March 19, 2018


As Joan Scott said, ?Those who would codify the meaning of words fight a losing battle, for words, like the ideas and things they are meant to signify, have a history.? [1] Jonathan Stapley?s important new book, Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology explores the history of priesthood, one of Mormonism?s most fractious and fertile ideas, a word that contains worlds of complex meaning and diversity of lived practice about sacred authority and divine power. His work does so primarily by cleaving elements of Mormon priesthood into two general categories, which have too often become conflated in contemporary Mormon discourse and history: cosmology and ecclesiology [2]. Both deserve closer examination if we are to understand just what makes this book so significant and refreshing.

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Book Review: Terryl Givens, Feeding the Flock: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Church and Praxis (Oxford, 2017)

By March 12, 2018


With Feeding the Flock: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Church and Praxis, published with Oxford last year, Terryl Givens has brought us the second installment in his magisterial and systematic treatment of Mormon theology. It follows on the heels of Wrestling the Angel, issued from the same press in 2014. That book explored what Givens designated as the global themes of Mormon thought?history, theology, and “restoration”?as well as core elements of its Christian theology?its cosmology, its theology proper (that is, its conceptions of the divine), and its theological anthropology. This second volume (which, like the previous one, weighs in at over four hundred pages) has a different and narrower scope: it is devoted almost entirely, as Givens acknowledges, to ecclesiology?to Mormon teachings about the church, its activities, and the theological structures which undergird them. Suffice it to say, as an opening, that Feeding the Flock offers the ambitious, expansive, visionary style that we?ve come to expect from Givens. It is a well-wrought, elegantly gathered work. As he did in Wrestling the Angel, Givens once again sets an entirely new standard for the study of Mormonism?s theological foundations. And he sets the bar high.

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Call for Applications ? 2018 Mormon Theology Seminar

By October 12, 2017


The Fifth Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology
?Are We Not All Beggars? Reading Mosiah 4?
Cittadella Ospitalità, Assisi, Italy
June 17?June 30, 2018

Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar
in partnership with
The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies,
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship,
and the Wheatley Institution

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A Brief History of Mormon Prayers at the Republican National Convention

By July 26, 2016


Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 12.20.41 PMLast week, Nathan Johnson, an African-American convert to Mormonism who currently serves as second counselor in the Kirtland Ohio Stake Presidency, offered the invocation on the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Johnson’s prayer attracted a fair amount of attention, both because of Mormons’ widespread distaste for Donald Trump and his campaign and because of the prayer’s content. But Johnson was not the first Latter-day Saint to pray at the Republican National Convention. In fact, four out of the last five have featured invocations by Mormons: Steve Young (2000), Sheri Dew (2004), Ken Hutchins (2012), and Nathan Johnson (2016). Only the 2008 convention lacked a Latter-day Saint prayer.[1] 

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to compare their respective prayers, to note any commonalities between them (beyond use of thee, thou, and thine), and to consider the contexts in which they were given. What follows below is a transcription of each invocation, followed by my preliminary attempt to briefly historicize each.

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Black Mormons and Friends in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina, Part III

By February 25, 2016


This is the third and final post in a series chronicling the experiences of the The Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent support group in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina. Part one and part two can be read here and here.

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Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, August 2011.

Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, August 2011.

Another purpose of the Friends meetings is to provide instruction. Most black members in the Durham Stake tend to be converts to the Church, many of them having converted fairly recently. Every month a theme is chosen and one person appointed to direct the conversation or to provide a lesson. Themes include ?outreach,? ?fellowship,? ?true v. false doctrine,? or ?being a black Mormon today.?[1] In September 2011 Brother Isaiah Cummings taught a lesson titled ?Blacks in the Bible.? Brother Cummings has apparently written a book on this subject but has been unable to find a publisher. I was not present at this meeting but Christina shared with me a copy of his lesson outline and it is also posted at the group?s Facebook page. In that lesson he taught that ?When you begin to look at ?Biblical History,? it is important to realize that the world had two (2) beginnings? The World ?before? the Flood and the World ?after? the Flood. Hence, the Black Race had two sets of Parents: 1) Cain and his wife and 2) Ham and his wife Egyptus.? The lineage Brother Cummings constructs to illustrate the history of Blacks in the Bible is supported by scriptural references to the Bible and the Book of Abraham in the Mormon book of scripture, the Pearl of Great Price.

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Black Mormons and Friends in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina: A History of the African American Night of Celebration and the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent Support Group, Part I

By February 23, 2016


We’re pleased to present the following series of posts from Stan Thayne, PhD candidate in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and founding editor of the Juvenile Instructor. The posts, which trace the little-known history and significance of the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent support group in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina, is longer than our usual offerings, but is well worth the time. It will be published serially over the next three days. –admin

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Meeting of the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, June 2011.

Meeting of the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, June 2011.

When Christina Stitt moved into the Chapel Hill 1st Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2005, she and her grand-daughter Dushana doubled the number of African Americans in the congregation. There were only two other black members at the time, as Christina remembers it: Brother and Sister John and Mary Moore. They didn?t get to know each other right off, Christina and the Moores. Perhaps both overly conscious of the blackness that should supposedly connect them in this sea of whiteness, they were both a little stand-offish toward each other at first, as Stitt recalls. But after Christina sang a gospel piece during sacrament services, Sister Mary Moore approached her and expressed her desire for a program in the church celebrating African American culture. ?She planted a seed in me,? Christina told me during one of my interviews with her. ?But me, when you say something that really hits my heart, I try to get it done. And that?s what I did. I went to the bishop and I asked him, and he thought it was a good idea too. So that?s where it started.? In February 2006 the Durham Stake hosted the first African American Night of Celebration at the LDS stake center on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in Chapel Hill. It has since become an annual event held every February during black history month.

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Understanding “Interest” in Joseph Smith’s Original Tithing Revelation

By February 2, 2016


We’re pleased to present this guest post from Sam Brunson, Associate Professor of Law at Loyola University Chicago, regular blogger at By Common Consent, and tax and business law geek extraordinaire. 

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 11.31.42 PMBoth in and out of the church, people are fascinated by tithing. On the one hand, according to Pres. Kimball, ?it?s not difficult to be perfect in tithe paying, for if one pays one-tenth of his income annually, he is perfect in that respect.? On the other hand, while one-tenth is precise and easy to calculate, the church never defines what ?income? means, leading to internal debates over, among other things whether we should pay on our gross or net income and whether we tithe on barter or gifts we receive.

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Mormon Studies in Unexpected Places: Volume III ? The Refiner?s Fire Edition

By January 20, 2016


Bone HunterThis is the third installment in an ongoing but terribly irregular series dedicated to the appearance of Mormon Studies in popular media, including musical lyrics, popular television shows, movies, and so forth. Previous installments can be read here and here.

A friend recently tipped me off to a series of books by Sarah Andrews, in which Wyoming-born geologist Emily ?Em? Hansen uses her geological skills to help solve murders in various locales throughout the western United States.[1] The third installment in the series, Bone Hunter, takes place in Salt Lake City and Snowbird, Utah, where the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology is being held.[2] Here?s Publisher?s Weekly?s summary of the plot:

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Compatability, Conflict, and Community – Review of Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings

By December 9, 2015


pants quilt

Nikki Hunter?s beautiful ?Sunday Morning? quilt (“The Pants Quilt”) adorns the cover of the new Oxford Press Publication Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright. The quilt is accompanied by this note: ?On December 16, 2012, Mormon feminists around the world took action to raise the visibility of feminist issues by wearing pants to local LDS Church Services?.Although not officially prohibited, pants-wearing by women at Sunday services jarred with deeply held gendered dress customs in many Mormon communities around the globe.? (xi) Women who participated sent their trousers to Hunter, who created a material sign of their community. The front cover encourages us to begin to think about Mormon feminism in terms of female identity, activism, and the place of community on a global scale.

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