JMH Special Issue on Race: A Brief Introduction

By July 2, 2015

When I composed the introduction to the special edition of the Journal of Mormon History (July 2015), I described the study of race and Mormonism as a ?nice subject, historically obscure even within the Mormon studies world.? But boy have I been proven wrong, or at least behind the times!

Anyone attending last month?s Mormon History Association annual meeting in Provo, where many of the panels dealt with race (broadly conceived) and the restored church?not to mention the powerful Smith-Pettit plenary by Margaret Jacobs on the adoption of Native American Children by Mormon families as well as the Best Book Award going to Russell Stevenson?s documentary history on people of African descent and Mormonism?would recognize that race has become a major preoccupation for the corner of Mormon studies that MHA represents.

I believe that this change has a lot to do with the Church?s own efforts to confront its complicated history head on and on its own terms. As I mention in the introduction to the special issue, this change also has to do with the fact that some of the best minds in the field (including dear friend of JI, Paul Reeve, and JI?s own Amanda H-K) are focusing their efforts on exploring this history from multiple vantage points and multiple positionalities. Scholars of Mormonism and members of the church are growing increasingly comfortable talking openly about race as a present concern, and not something relegated to the past. As in the days of Jane Manning James and Elijah Abel and Sally Kanosh (and the thousands of non-white Mormon voices lost to history), the most potent voices here come from the membership (as the Sistas in Zion would put, ?Hallelujah Holla Back!?)

This special issue was an attempt to contribute to this new vitality (see the Table of Contents below). It was also intended to disrupt some of the (religious, racial, and national) triumphalism built into the cultural fabric of a missionizing people, which is certainly not unique to the Latter-day Saints.[1] On this point, I?ll leave the last words to my co-editor, Gina Colvin who explained in the special issue?s roundtable discussion:

I think that one of the most pressing issues in Mormon studies is not only that it is American-centric but that the field has resisted the pressing need to critique the white, middle-class, English-speaking patriarchy, and my assumption is that this is because Mormon studies is, in general, undertheorized.

It?s likely that, for the time being, the locus of Mormon scholarship will be the United States. As a result, theoretical frameworks need to be worked out that both encourage and facilitate more North American Mormon studies scholarship that centers on American Polynesian, Native American, black, Latino, and Asian Mormons, and more importantly critiques whiteness as a powerful racial construct within Mormonism.?

[1] I use triumphalism cautiously here. I follow Terryl Given?s 2011 statements made during his interview on Mormon Stories. ?I think that we as a Church are guilty of an institutional sin in the way that we have trumpeted Mormon triumphalism at the expense of the virtue of other religious traditions and individuals.? I think the triumphalism of ?whiteness? as a signifying racial category also fits here.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Beyond ?Race and the Priesthood??Toward a New History of Race and Mormonism

Max Perry Mueller                                                                           

Introduction: Theorizing Mormon Race Scholarship

Gina Colvin                                                                                                                                                                       

Curses and Marks: Racial Dispensations and Dispensations of Race in Joseph Smith?s Bible Revision and the Book of Abraham

Ryan Stuart Bingham             

?Playing the Whore:? The Domestic and Sexual Politics of Mormon Missionary Work on Tahiti Nui and in the Tuamotus

Amanda Hendrix-Komoto                                                                   

William McCary, Lucy Stanton, and the Performance of Race at Winter Quarters and Beyond

Angela Pulley Hudson                                                                   

Playing Lamanite: Ecstatic Performance of American Indian Roles in Early Mormon Ohio

Christopher C. Smith

Matakite, Mormon Conversions, and Maori-Israelite Identity Work in Colonial New Zealand

Ian G. Barber

?We Have Prophetesses?: Mormonism in Ghana, 1964-79

Russell W Stevenson

Roundtable Discussion: Challenging Mormon Race Scholarship

Gina Colvin, Elise Boxer                                                                    

Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Melissa Inouye

And Janan Graham-Russell


Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Miscellaneous


  1. This looks great, thanks Max.

    Comment by Jeff T — July 2, 2015 @ 11:11 am

  2. This looks fantastic, Max. Kudos to you and Gina, as well as all the authors.

    Comment by Ben P — July 2, 2015 @ 12:07 pm

  3. Nice intro, Max. This will be a stimulating issue.

    Comment by Ryan T. — July 2, 2015 @ 7:41 pm

  4. Very much looking forward to receiving the issue! Just waiting for it to come online.

    Comment by J Stuart — July 2, 2015 @ 8:25 pm

  5. Thanks, Max.

    Comment by Ryan B — July 3, 2015 @ 2:08 am

  6. Thanks, Max.

    Comment by Saskia — July 3, 2015 @ 3:49 am

  7. Max, thanks for the heads up on the coming special issue of the MHA, and I am looking forward in reading it. I looked at the “Table of Content,” and it to be of interests indeed. Again, thanks for your introductory comments. Chester

    Comment by Chester Lee Hawkins — July 25, 2015 @ 8:59 pm


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