If you can believe it, we are only a few days away from #MHA50! Several JI permabloggers are presenting at the conference and more of us will be attending. A smattering of abstracts from several of our authors can be found below.
Here’s the format: Name: Paper Title (top) Session Title (Bottom). Let me know if this is confusing.
Refiner’s Fire and the Yates Thesis: Hermeticism, Esotericism, and the History of Christianity
A Retrospective on John Brooke, The Refiner’s Fire[i]
Part of a roundtable of John Brooke’s The Refiner’s Fire, my co-authors and I look at Refiner’s Fire from the perspective of the last 20 years of scholarship on Western Esotericism. We argue that while Refiner’s Fire pointed in useful directions, scholars now have better terms and sources for how to describe these directions.
The “Cosmological Priesthood”: Polygamy, Adoption, and the Priesthood Restriction
Theology and Cosmology of Mormon Conceptions of Race[ii]
The cosmology materialized through the Nauvoo Temple liturgy was the basis for some of Mormonism’s most distinctive practices. Long misunderstood or forgotten, it is only by incorporating this cosmology into one’s analyses that early polygamy, adoption and perhaps most surprisingly, the prohibition barring men and women with black-African ancestry from participating in the temple liturgy and priesthood ordination in the Church, become comprehensible. This paper elucidates this cosmology and material basis for early Mormon dealings (and in important cases, the lack thereof).
The Politics of Mormon Conversion in the Pacific
Theology and Cosmology of Mormon Conceptions of Race
This paper uses the conversion of Tearo, Benjamin F. Grouard’s wife, to ask how Pacific Islanders understood their conversion to Mormonism in the nineteenth century. It argues that historians can only understand the popularity of Mormonism in the Pacific by understanding the region’s politics. In the Tuamotus, for example, the incorporation of the archipelago into a Tahitian empire shaped the practice of Christianity in the region and how individuals understood their relationship to the state. Converts to Mormonism may have seen themselves as positioning themselves against the Tahitian state, which had a close relationship with the Protestant Church. it also argues that Mormonism must be understood in relationship to other nineteenth-century indigenous religious movements, such as Mamaia.
Holy Race: Abrahamic Lineage, Nauvoo Theology, and the Redemption of Race in Early Mormonism
Theology and Cosmology of Mormon Conceptions of Race
The origins of the LDS Church’s ban on African ordination to priesthood offices or participation in temple ordinances have been thoroughly chronicled in Mormon history from the Mormon History Association’s birth in 1965. However, little has been written in regards to the fluidity of race in Mormonism’s early years. During this time, Africans could be ordained to Mormon’s sacerdotal hierarchy under the direction of Joseph Smith. Mormonism’s founder believed in a liberal doctrine of “grafting,” wherein Africans, believed to be born outside the House of Israel, could become heirs to Abrahamic through conversion to Mormonism.
Following Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, Mormons slowly halted Smith’s liberal grafting of individuals into the House of Israel. In particular, Africans could no longer hold priesthood office or participate in temple ordinances. Through discarding Smith’s doctrine, race became a permanent, rigid quality that could not be altered by conversion to Mormonism. As a result, Latter-day Saints cut Africans off from priesthood offices and ordinances offered to the House of Israel by these changes. This paper argues the fluidity of race and Israelite lineage undergirded the theological justification for the ban of peoples of African descent from LDS priesthood offices and temple ordinances. Through this examination of the fluidity of race and priesthood, this paper offers an under-examined doctrinal change that provided the theological foundation for the African priesthood and temple ban.
A Mormon “New Woman” for the Twentieth Century:
The Young, the Ambitious, and the Feminist
In 1922, a reader who identified herself as a “Troubled Brunette,” wrote into the Salt Lake City Advice Column “Just Between You and Me.” The “Troubled Brunette,” wrote that she was 16 years old and particularly “troubled” because a young man she has “been going with” has been spending time with other girls. “Troubled Brunette,” asked “How can a girl be popular without being a flapper?” The advice columnist Helen Brooks responded: “The flapper is a passing fancy and he popularity is fleeting. Do not, I entreat, imagine you have to become or even imitate a flapper to be popular. Better to be in a class by yourself.” Brooks’ advice to the”Troubled Brunette” underscored the tricky and confusing situation that young Mormon women, and the whole church, found itself in: attempting to preserve difference”being…n a class all by itself?”but still fitting in to the larger social scheme of the United States. As Mormonism transitioned from being viewed primarily as an outsider church with bizarre marital practices to a more accepted religion that practiced monogamy, the church leadership and elite membership exercised concerns about maintaining an authentic religion through reifying stringent gender roles and expectations. Scholars have comprehensively documented, analyzed, and written about how Mormon women’s roles changed throughout this transition, from representing a unique version of feminism to embracing a version of what historian Barbara Welter calls the “Cult of True Womanhood.” Of course, this transition for the church and its women was not an immediate shift nor can Mormon women’s historical roles be simply categorized into these two extremes. A closer examination of literature produced by the church, its leaders and members, and other Utahan periodicals during this liminal period from the late 1890s to the 1920s elucidates how the church approached and/or conflicted with modern representations of womanhood that dominated mainstream popular culture, the press, arts, and day-to-day life. The image of the flapper and the troubled Brunette are some of these many images.
Of Medical Degrees, Concert Stages, and Olympic Medals: Mormon Women and Feminine Ambition
The Young, the Ambitious, and the Feminist
In 2011, President Julie B. Beck gave a fireside at BYU-Idaho in which she told the story of Ruth Funk, former YW General President who, in the 1930s, had given up an opportunity to study with a well-renowned musician in order to stay in Utah, get married, and have children. Using Funk’s story, Beck encouraged her audience of mostly young women: “All the talents and abilities that have been poured into the sisters of the Church up to this time are going to be required to help build the kingdom, not to go pursue personal goals for ourselves.”[iii] By highlighting the sublimation of Funk’s professional goals to her domestic choices, Beck held up Sister Funk as a model of acceptable standard for young Mormon women’s lives today. For emphasis, Beck also referenced Minerva Teichert, famous Mormon artist who gave up her career to get married and raise her family on a Wyoming ranch, only pursuing her painting at night.
Indeed, at face value, the individual life stories of both Ruth Funk and Minerva Teichert are easily parlayed into a larger, one-size-fits-all Mormon narrative for young women. However, both Funk’s and Teichert’s deeper histories expose important complexities that leave us with a more nuanced understanding of how Mormon women navigated the tensions between ambition and self-denial. In some ways, these realities work against, or complicate how these women’s lives have been used to mark group expectations about women’s roles. This paper seeks to examine these tensions between female ambition and self-sacrifice, by probing the lives of three artistically outstanding and prominent Mormon women, Ruth Funk, Minerva Teichert, and Lucy Gates Bowen, and how all three made choices that redirected-or at least complicated-their energies toward home, family, and church, and away from world fame and personal and economic success. In the end, all three women ended up subverting their ambition to varying degrees, but none of them completely, and thus their life choices invite exploration about how public rhetoric regarding gender roles played out in the lives of individual Mormon women.
Tensions between feminine ambition and self-sacrifice have been a defining narrative in the top-down prescriptions directed toward Mormon women throughout their history. From the cautious celebrations of female ambition by early Mormon journalists and suffragists to the mid-twentieth century directives for women to sublimate their ambition for family and child-rearing, this paper will trace a historical, rhetorical, and cultural thread about Mormon women and feminine ambition. Especially in reaction to perceived 2nd-Wave feminist attacks on nuclear families and traditional gender roles, General Authority and Women’s Auxiliary leaders have watered down and even discouraged notions of feminine ambition. This has led to a persistent tension still present in current Mormonism, in which the Mormon social media and public relations statements at once celebrate female ambition, while simultaneously reminding Mormon women of the potential risks of leaving home and family for personal self-fulfillment.
See Jane Blog: Performing Femininity in a Mormon Context
Beyond the Binary
As in many conservative Christian faiths, gender roles for Mormons are strictly defined. LDS theology is gendered in nature, as exemplified by the Family Proclamation (1995), which states that “[g]ender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” That same statement allows for “fathers…to preside over their families in love and righteousness; while “[m]others are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children.” Both roles are “sacred.” This split between the feminine and the masculine is further elucidated in many General Conference talks and Ensign articles, as well as codified horizontally from Saint to Saint in sacrament meeting, Relief Society, Sunday School, casual anecdotes and stories, etc. My interest in these gender roles lies not so much on the prescriptive plane, but rather how gender is expressed and lived out in daily life. In this paper, I will be focusing on gendered ideals for women, specifically mothers. How are Mormon ideals of motherhood performed every day? To shed light on this question, I propose to look at online articulations of gender, as exemplified by two Mormon “mommy blogs.” The paper will deal with two popular blogs written by faithful LDS women. Although C. Jane Kendrick and Stephanie Nielson are sisters and both live in the Provo area with their families, their blogs (respectively titled “C. Jane Kendrick” and “NieNie Dialogues”) express two significantly different visions of what it means to be an LDS woman, and specifically a mother. Through an examination of these blogs and the discourse of femininity and motherhood contained therein, the paper will ask questions about the construction and performance of gender and parenthood in an LDS context, but also touch on strategies of empowerment and negotiation as expressed in Nielson’s and Kendrick’s’ online writings, strategies uniquely expressed and made accessible through the public-private nature of blogging and the Internet. Through a detailed look at these digital narratives, I hope to further illuminate the intricate interplay between religion, gender, and identity in a Mormon context.
The Origin and Persistence of Mormon Horns
Defining and Contesting Mormon Bodies
Rhetoric connecting Mormons and cephalic horns appeared in the 1830s and has persisted, more or less continuously, to the present. A variety of sources, letters, diaries, speech transcripts, newspaper and magazine articles, memoirs, films, etc., record the trope. A variety of prominent and non-prominent individuals have used or recorded encountering the idea, from Joseph Smith Jr, to Heber J Grant to Boyd K. Packer; from Richard F Burton and Thomas Nast to Wallace Stegner, John Ford, John D Fitzgerald, and Maurine Whipple. Multiple cartoon images in the latter nineteenth century show Mormons with horns, though such images constitute a small fraction of the whole corpus of images depicting Mormons; some cartoons about Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign also included head appendages. Horns have been and remain a persistent component of discourse about Mormonism, almost through the entirety of Mormonism’s existence.
Despite the prominence of Mormon horns, however, there is, as of yet, no in-depth scholarly treatment of the phenomenon. The proposed presentation will begin to address the current deficiency by briefly surveying the types and frequency of horned-Mormon imagery, analyzing potential sources of such ideas, and evaluating the mechanisms by which they have been brought to the present. It will build on and respond to Paul Reeve’s discussion of horns and racialization in his Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (Oxford, 2015). In so doing, the presentation will help elucidate one aspect of how Mormon cultures have been defined, reinforced, and challenged.
I know that I look forward to meeting several readers in “real life.” Please be sure to say hello in the hallways or in panel sessions.
See you in Provo!
[ii] This session is all JI all the time: Stapley, Stuart, and Hendrix-Komoto.
[iii] Julie B. Beck, “Develop Your Talents For the Lord,” https://www.lds.org/church/news/develop-your-talents-for-the-lord?lang=eng