JIers at #MHA2016

By May 5, 2016

As early-bird registration for #MHA2016 wraps up this Saturday, May 7, I thought it would be useful to highlight what our authors will speak about at this year’s conference.

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In alphabetical order:

  • Stephen Fleming: I will argue that Joseph Smith knew many aspects of his Nauvoo theology (eternal marriage, deification, pre-existence) as early or even before the Book of Mormon translation based on the fact that the Book of Mormon makes allusions to these ideas that can be found in sources likely available to Smith.  As a revelation told Oliver Cowdery that he need to “study it out in [his] mind” in order to translate, I ague that Smith seems to have explored some writings in his search for truth.  I will focus particularly on three such works: Charles Buck’s Theological Dictionary, John Allen’s Modern Judaism, and Andrew Michael Ramsay’s The Travels of Cyrus (and maybe mention Jane Lead).
  • David Grua: This paper analyzes the 1838 conflict between the Latter-day Saints and other Missourians from the perspective of collective memory, using Joseph Smith’s 1838-1839 Missouri jail letters as a case study of written responses to religious trauma and violence. Following the state militia’s November 1838 occupation of Mormon settlements in Caldwell and Daviess counties, the arrest and incarceration of church leaders, and the expulsion of the Saints from the state, Smith and other Latter-day Saints turned to letter-writing to make sense of the catastrophe, both for themselves and friends and relatives who lived elsewhere. Smith’s letters to individual Mormons and the church at large drew upon martyrological frameworks in the Bible and the influential Foxe’s Book of Martyrs to interpret the conflict within the long history of God’s persecuted people. As historian Konstantin Dierks has argued, Americans historically have relied on letters not only to “articulate ideas,” but also “to create new affinities, coalitions, and mobilizations.” Letters have been “instruments of political action,” making history and creating “a new future.” As Smith’s Missouri jail letters were read, discussed, circulated, copied, and published in the aftermath of the 1838 conflict, Latter-day Saints rebuilt their religious identities in the wake of a crisis that threatened the vitality of Mormonism. Additionally, Smith’s letters encouraged the democratization of Mormon persecution writing, as evidenced by the subsequent production of hundreds of affidavits, several full-length pamphlets and memorials, and other writings that would form the textual foundation for Latter-day Saint collective memories as a persecuted people.
  • Tona Hangen: Trek is a unique, recent, and remarkably uncorrelated form of Mormon public history, and its popularity/ubiquity raises fascinating questions. Treks valorize small fragments of the Mormon migration story, replaying them in perpetual syndication as acts of remembrance, commemoration, “simming,” and sacred theater. My presentation will showcase trek cultural productions and explore how trek employs history and historical memory. I argue that trek is a potent example of lived religion and embodied ritual, very much a creation of the present cultural moment, a dialogue between the present and the past.
  • Andrea Radke-Moss’s paper will expand on previous research on the history of sexual violence in the Mormon-Missouri War of 1838.  She will explore how the memory of rape in Missouri has been constructed by different individuals and groups for varying purposes, from Mormon male leadership, to women as the silent victims of the Missouri experiences, and finally, how non-Mormon historians and critics have used rape in their attempts to construct a useful Mormon past.  In all these varying constructions, women’s voices are still often silenced or manipulated, used to fit larger political and religious purposes.
  • Jonathan Stapley: My paper looks at the rise of the modern ordination ritual as an inflection point between priesthood cosmologies rooted in ecclesiology and temple liturgy.
  • Saskia Tielens: Romance novels have long been ignored by the serious reading public and dismissed for their hokey plots, impossibly handsome heroes, and escapist, sentimental nature. Written by women, for women, romance novels are also sites of negotiation, where women take center stage and are able to negotiate ideas of power, desire, and gender. Examining Regency romances by two popular Mormon authors, this paper then will take on popular fiction, exploring how romance novels produce and circulate cultural meanings in the name of good, clean fun.
  • Ryan Tobler: Why were early Latter-day Saints so concerned about recording their ordinances? What significance were these records and the practice of recording understood to hold? This presentation analyzes the revelation-letters written by Joseph Smith to the church concerning the logistics and theology of recording in relation to baptism for the dead.  It also traces connections with Joseph Smith’s own recording practices and larger cultural patterns of ecclesiastical record-keeping and family memorialization.
  • Kris Wright: Over the past decade, the posting of videos of young Mormons opening their mission calls has exploded on social media such as YouTube and Facebook.  This emerging rite is shaped by private and improvised religious practice allowing believers to organize their worlds into coherent domains of experience.  Digital recordings of such events mediate and re-mediate lived practice, allowing Mormon missionaries, their families and friends to “do” religion together.   It also demonstrates how grassroots ritualizing is disseminated and adapted around the globe via the internet. Foregrounding this paper in the history and materiality of mission calls, I intend to explore how videos of mission call rituals are a form of performance that generates feelings of social cohesion, creates a sense of personal religious authority and facilitates gendered material practices.



Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Very interesting abstracts. Best of luck to all.

    Comment by Gary Bergera — May 5, 2016 @ 8:10 am

  2. Here’s hoping the schedule allows me to see all of these! Great stuff.

    Comment by WVS — May 5, 2016 @ 10:34 am

  3. I will be there, but please don’t feel bad if I miss your session. Picking among the concurrent sessions is going to be especially brutal this year.

    Comment by Kevin Barney — May 5, 2016 @ 7:30 pm

  4. It’s always brutal, Kevin. Lots of tough choices again this year!

    Comment by J Stuart — May 5, 2016 @ 9:29 pm

  5. Really looking forward to these all.

    Comment by Christopher — May 6, 2016 @ 2:25 pm


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