MHA Conference Preview: Paper Abstracts for Juvenile Instructor Presenters

By May 25, 2010

You’ve probably noticed a dearth of posts recently. I can only offer this as an excuse: end-of-semester busyness, recovering from the semester, vacationing, and….gearing up for MHA this weekend.

What follows are one-to-two paragraph abstracts of the MHA papers being presented by Juvenile Instructor contributors; as you’ll notice, for some reason they bunched all but one of us at the Friday 2pm slot (granted, three of us are on the same panel). It should also be noted that Chris Jones is responding to the session that Matt B. is a part of. There are numerous other bloggernacle celebrities taking part in the conference, enough so that it would make a list quite long.

Another post will soon be up identifying other panels of particular interest, as well as general observations, gossip, and perhaps award speculation.


Benjamin E. Park, “Celestial Family Organization: The Developing Nature of Mormon Conceptions of Heaven, circa 1840s.” Friday, 2pm, Session 2A

This paper seeks to accomplish two things. First, it traces Mormon belief in the afterlife from the final years of Joseph Smith through early settlement in Utah, paying specific attention to its relationship to belief in the family. Second, it offers a microcosmic view of the attempt to systematize Mormon beliefs after Joseph Smith?s death. The Mormon prophet, though persistent in presenting a new theology that collapsed the traditional heavenly ontology, was never systematic in his teachings and, as a result, left many ideas inchoate and many implications unspecified; whether a result in an overall eclectic mindset or the fact that he was lynched before explicating his full theological vision, specific details of the Mormon dogma were left for other writers to define. This is especially the case with Mormon conceptions of heaven and the heaven family, as those who followed Joseph Smith struggled to catechize these essential beliefs.

Jordan T. Watkins, “‘Virtue Fled into the Wilderness’: Parley P. Pratt’s Mormon Vision of the American Frontier.” Friday, 2pm, Session 2A

Parley P. Pratt?s Angel of the Prairies, written during the winter of 1843-44, demonstrates the influence of contemporary non-Mormon ideas on early Latter-day Saint thought and provides insight into Nauvoo-period views of the American West. Pratt?s politically charged text contributes to popular conceptions of the West and appropriates concepts that John L. O?Sullivan encapsulated in the phrase ?manifest destiny.? Many nineteenth-century Americans viewed the West as the garden of the world, an ideal place for eastern farmers to make a new start in an Edenic site. The garden of the world view, depicted alongside portrayals of an adventurous Wild West, dominated nineteenth-century representations of western regions. Americans conceived of the West as a place of unbounded potential for settlement, prosperity, and the expansion of democratic ideals. In his unpublished piece, Pratt inverts the standard narrative of American democracy?s providential expansion and describes the decline and destruction of the United States and the subsequent rise and rule of a Mormon theocracy. Pratt?s narrative incorporates widely held views, but this inclusion results in a distinct and, in significant ways, opposing vision. This paper explores Pratt?s text as both symptomatic of and distinct from contemporary views about the United States? future in relation to the West. Pratt?s narrative evidences outsider groups? proclivity to incorporate and adapt myths, beliefs, and stories of a dominant culture for their specific and often radically different purposes. Pratt?s vision also demonstrates the dialectical development of religious thought, which, in this case, can be best understood in the contexts of America?s westward expansion and Joseph Smith?s late theocratic conceptions.

Ryan G. Tobler, “?Lived Religion? and the Mormon Social Imaginary, 1830-1846.” Friday, 2pm, Session 2A.

Methodology in American social and cultural history continues to evolve, and the last thirty or forty years of scholarly activity has introduced a wide array of new conceptions of how such histories ought to be created. One notable paradigm among these has grown essentially from the work of the social anthropologist Clifford Geertz and his theory that humans are suspended in webs of meaning and significance. Some of this impulse has been imported into a school of what has been called ?ethnographic? history; in the field of religious history, this has become closely associated with the approach called ?lived religion.? This analytical approach rests upon a new set of emphases that privilege the personal over the institutional, the popular over the elite, and which carefully attend to the practical, the experiential, and the mental.

This paper outlines the rudiments of ?lived religion? as a way of seeing history in general and Mormon history in particular, since this approach has had only scattered use among Mormon historians. Having briefly sketched out this program, the paper then applies the paradigm of ?lived religion? to one facet of Mormon experience, Mormon collective identity. Within this realm, it focuses on one component and one period of that category by exploring the major strands of Mormon social imagination and its development from around 1830 to 1846. Using theoretical tools from sociology and social psychology related to social imagination, the paper attempts to recover what it meant to Mormons to be Mormons. What stories did Mormons tell themselves about themselves in order to be themselves? How did being American relate to being Mormon for Latter-day Saints of the period? What did it mean to belong to the Kingdom of God? The paper takes seriously the idea that identity is created through processes of perception and imagination, that these constitute experience, and that experience constitutes a very ?real? and important part of historical analysis.

Brett D. Dowdle, “LDS Church Educational Efforts and the Development of the Family Home Evening Program, 1890-1929.” Friday, 2pm, Session 2D

In 1909, the Granite Stake established the Church?s first systematic family home evening program as part of an effort to reinforce the importance of parental teaching in the Church?s educational efforts. By this period, the Church had developed a vast array of educational and auxiliary programs in an effort to ensure the inculcation of Mormonism into the lives of LDS youth. Unintentionally, however, these programs took Mormon youth away from their families and strained the abilities of LDS parents to adequately teach their children in the home. Additionally, these auxiliary programs often found themselves embroiled in conflict and competition for the patronage of Mormon youth. In a period in which everything seemed to be changing for Mormons in particular, and Americans in general, the Granite Stake?s family home evening program represented an effort to resolve Mormonism?s organizational conflicts and to restore a sense of normalcy to Mormonism through a refocused effort upon the family.

Jared T.amez, “‘They are so Well Contented Now, and I Hope they will Continue So’: Colonizing Mexican Mormons, 1875-1910.” Friday, 2pm, Session 2F

The establishment of the Mormon Colonies in Mexico in 1885 precipitously placed a sizeable and cohesive population of white Americans just south of the US-Mexican border. Largely Anglo and American at their inception, the Colonies also became the home of a number of indigenous Mexicans. Next to nothing has been published about these Mexicans and their place in the Mormon Colonies. This paper will first examine the history of Mormon attempts to ?gather? Mexican converts and make a ?homeland? for them within a Mormon culture region (as Utah became for Northern European converts). Some of these were Mormon converts from the Valley of Mexico near Mexico City who Mormon missionaries baptized and encouraged to migrate and ?gather? with the Saints in the Colonies. This paper will discuss how Mormon views of Mexicans influenced their efforts to colonize Mexican Saints Most significantly, an 1887 journey took several families and relocated them in the Colonies. Many of these Mexican colonists ultimately returned home, dissatisfied and disaffected. This disaffection proved so acute that it served as one of the contributing factors to the closing of the mission just two years later.

Matthew B. Bowman, “Practice as History: What Worship Remembers.” Saturday, 4pm, Session 6F

The absence of high church worship does not mean that Mormons don?t know what they are doing in the pews on Sunday. Rather, it means that Mormon liturgy may be a field even more fruitful for the historian than the theologian. The paucity of liturgical theory or theology in Mormon history means that it is field in which, to borrow from Mark Leone, every Mormon is her own theologian. The reality of worship far outweighs its theory in the Mormon experience; however, this does not mean that there is no theory. Rather it means that theory is multiplied once and twice and many times over. It means that each Mormon has a chance to interpret, in the light of their own lives and experience as well as that of the theology that they are given.

Liturgy provides another route into the old goal of the New Mormon History ? the social history of Mormonism. It allows us to directly investigate what religion meant and means to the average Mormon, both by weighing the direct sources of interpretation and by watching, through the evidence, them in practice. What do they do when they seek to commune with God? How do they organize their services; what is highlighted, what is deemphasized? And what does this tell us about what they believe ? about God, about themselves, about the world?


If this isn’t enough to get you excited for the conference, I don’t know what will!

Article filed under Announcements and Events


  1. These all look great, and I’m sorry I won’t be able to attend each session. I’m especially excited to see more work treating lived religion (well done, Ryan and Matt).

    Comment by Christopher — May 25, 2010 @ 5:56 pm

  2. Indeed some awesome stuff. I’m mostly annoyed about the conflict between the myriad sessions that I want to see as well as with the overlap in presentations I am in or responding to. It bites.

    Comment by J. Stapley — May 25, 2010 @ 6:11 pm

  3. So you just leave us hanging, Ben? You aren’t going to tell us what JS thought?

    Comment by Steve Fleming — May 25, 2010 @ 6:25 pm

  4. That’s impressive that so many of you are presenting. I look forward to seeing y’all there!

    Comment by Kevin Barney — May 25, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

  5. Steve: gotta leave the people wanting more.

    Comment by Ben — May 26, 2010 @ 12:02 am

  6. If you all permit me to self-promote (or more aptly, elbow myself into this), I’m giving a talk (my first at MHA!) on the historiography of Emma Hale Smith in LDS, RLDS and non-Mormon scholarship. It’s the 5B panel (2-3:30) on Saturday.

    I ran into the soon to be (as in three hours) Dr Taylor Petrey and he sends all the MHA people his best.

    Comment by Max — May 27, 2010 @ 7:59 am

  7. Promote away, Max. We’re looking forward to meeting you in person this weekend, and hope this will be the first of many MHAs in which you attend and speak.

    Comment by Christopher — May 27, 2010 @ 10:47 am


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