Juvenile Instructor Heads to Calgary: MHA 2012 Paper Abstracts

By June 25, 2012

As the Mormon History Association’s annual conference is next week (info here), and since a number of JI contributors are presenting, we thought it time to continue our tradition of providing paper abstracts. Below you will find the names, paper titles, and summaries of all JIers participating next week. (A full program is found here.) And make sure to tweet/follow the proceedings at #mha2012.

Matthew Bowman, “The Book of Mormon, Angels in America, and Mormonism in the Age of Romney” (Session #1A, Friday 9:30-11:00am)

Mormonism is prominently featured in two of the most acclaimed theatrical productions of the past twenty years: the two 1993 plays which make up Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and the much more recent musical The Book of Mormon. This paper considers the use that each of these productions puts Mormonism to, examining their place in the broader history of Mormonism in American literature, in the politics of being Mormon in contemporary America, and the place of religion in American life more generally.

Robin Scott Jensen, “Contextualizing the Revelations: An Analysis of Early Latter-day Saints? View on Revelations” (Session #1D, Friday 9:30-11:00am)

The revelations dictated by Joseph Smith have accrued generations of tradition providing historical and theological context to the actual revelation texts. This contextualizing of the revelations has been necessary largely due to the state of the original texts: the earliest revelation manuscripts bear no explanatory information surrounding the creation or interpretation of those texts. As the process of recording revelations improved and as more and more copies of the revelations were made, additional context was added to the revelation texts by the early saints.

This liminal approach to the revelations? non-revelatory context provides an important window into the early Mormons? view of the revelation texts, and the place of those texts in their religious cosmology. This paper will draw upon the earliest manuscript sources available, in addition to the larger field of textual studies, book history, and new bibliography to reveal how the early Mormons? contextualizing of the revelations reveals aspects of Mormonism such as sacred time and place, refined record-keeping patterns, and the nature of the nascent Mormon community.

Benjamin Park, “The Theology of a Career Convert: Edward W. Tullidge’s Evolving Identities” (Session 2E, Friday 1:30-300pm)

One of the few consistencies of nineteenth-century Mormonism was change, whether theological, geographical, or ideological. Change also enveloped the lives of individual members, as converts were introduced to radically new beliefs and drastically new landscapes. Evolution from one idea to another, or migration from one locality to the next, forced individuals to make sense of their dynamic lives and beliefs and to find stability in an overtly tumultuous environment. Indeed, finding meaning amongst evolution and change was at the heart of the nineteenth-century Mormon experience.

Edward W. Tullidge embodied this vibrant marketplace to an extreme rarely matched in American religious history. Born in 1829 in England, Tullidge was raised Methodist before converting to Mormonism, backsliding to atheism, recommitting to Mormonism and migrating to Utah, helping form the Godbeite religion in opposition to Brigham Young, returning to Mormonism, and briefly affiliating with the RLDS faith before finally rejoining the LDS Church once again, this time until his death. Further, Tullidge left a corpus of writing that is both incisive and plentiful, documenting and explaining every point of his tumultuous career, whether as a theologian, historian, poet, critic, playwright, or editor.

This paper aims to take advantage of these writings to examine how Tullidge attempted to formulate coherent identities at each turn of his ideological voyage. Most especially, it seeks to use Tullidge as a case study to examine how converts situated their own self-identification during a period of tumult and innovation.

Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, “To Forsake Thy Father and Mother: The Familial Politics of Conversion in the Fielding Family” (Session 2E, Friday 1:30-3:00pm)

This paper focuses on how a single family ? the Fieldings ? negotiated the tensions that converting to Mormonism could create. Originally from Britain, the Fielding sisters and their brother Joseph had hoped that the opening of the British Mission would lead to the conversion of their family there. Instead, Joseph was cast out and his faith derided. In a society where the family was the center of religious worship and belonging, such a rejection could be catastrophic. In this paper, I focus on how one member of the Fielding family, Mary, and her descendants negotiated these tensions, at once trying to maintain ties with their relatives in Britain while establish a new family and identity grounded in Mormonism. Mary?s efforts were at once made easier by her marriage to Hiram Smith and complicated by it. Although her marriage gave her status, she found that her place as a mother assailed by the lips of her own husband. His frequent absences also made it difficult for her to enact the Victorian ideal of the nuclear family. In this paper, I explore how she and her sister Mercy established an alternative vision of the family focused on relationships between women and the ways in which her son Joseph F. later sought to re-establish her as an examplar of faith and proper motherhood. Exploring the ways in which Mary Fielding Smith and her family sought to negotiate the politics of conversion reminds us that family was both a source of consolation and a problem for early Mormons.

Christopher Jones, ?Tying Methodism to Mormonism: A Comparative Analysis of Three Early Mormon Converts? (Session 2E, Friday 1:30-3:00pm)

As part of an effort to better understand the appeal of Mormonism and its place in antebellum America?s religious marketplace?a marketplace dominated by Methodists?this paper examines the experiences of three specific individuals: Phinehas Young, James Covel, and Ezra Booth. Each came from a Methodist background (and in fact, each was a Methodist preacher) before investigating Mormonism, but each represented divergent points along the wide spectrum of Methodist religiosity in early America. Booth was an Episcopal Methodist, Young a Reformed Methodist, and Covel a Methodist Protestant. The specifics of their religious affiliation and identity directly affected the way each understood Mormonism and the ways in which each responded to it.

Situating the personal narratives left behind by each individual within the complicated religious context of the early American Republic, this paper attempts to move beyond broad generalizations about Mormonism?s appeal and understand the specific ways it spoke to individuals.

Stephen Fleming, ?To Organize a Nucleus of Heaven?: Reconsidering Joseph Smith?s Marital Practices” (Session #4B, Saturday 8:00-9:30am)

From October 1841 to summer 1842 Joseph married 10 women, 8 of whom were already married (the other 2 were widowed).[1] I argue that Joseph originally practiced a kind of composite marriage, one in which both men and women could be married to multiple spouses. It was not until the scandals of John C. Bennett and the falling out of Orson Pratt in the summer of 1842 that Smith stopped marrying married women and shifted to marrying only single women.

None of the married women that Smith married left their original husbands during Smith?s lifetime and Smith had the consent of a number of the original husbands. Marinda Hyde was even sealed to both Joseph and Orson Hyde.[2] ?The Prophet taught us that Dominion & powr in the great future,? said Benjamin Johnson, ?would be Comensurate with the no [number] of ?Wives Childin & Friends? that we inheret here and that our great mission to earth was to Organize a Neculi [nucleus] of Heaven to take with us.?[3] I argue that this ?nucleus of heaven? was the goal of Smith?s original marital practices, to bind wives and friends together for the next life.

Doctrine and Covenants 132 laid out the new marital plan (polygyny) but still had echoes of the original plan. The revelation states, ?And as ye have asked concerning adultery, verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man receiveth a wife in the new and everlasting covenant, and if she be with another man, and I have not appointed unto her by the holy anointing, she hath committed adultery and shall be destroyed.?[4] The wording suggests that if the wife was appointed to another man ?by the holy anointing? then the second marriage was not deemed adultery in the original system.[5]

After the disasters in the summer of 1842, Joseph?s marriages slowed from summer 1842 to spring 1843. Joseph began marrying in earnest after the spring of 1843 but now the pattern changed. Now Joseph married almost exclusively single women, many of whom were young.[6]


[1] Todd Compton, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1997), 4-7.

[2] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 4-5, 14; Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, 439.

[3] Quoted in Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 10.

[4] Doctrine and Covenants, 132:41.

[5] The revelation also states, ?Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her; for I did it, saith the Lord, to prove you all, as I did Abraham, and that I might require an offering at your hand, by covenant and sacrifice.? Doctrine and Covenants 132:51.

[6] Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 6.

Andrea Radke-Moss, ?’It?s Birthday Time for You . . . And You . . . and You’: Commemorating History and Reinforcing Communal Identity in 19th-Century Mormon” (Session #4F, Saturday 8:00-9:30am)

On December 2, 1900, Armeda Snow Young, daughter of President Lorenzo Snow, attended her 44th birthday. Typical of many birthday celebrations in 19th-century Utah, the party was well-attended by some of the highest male and female leadership of the Church, including the entire general Relief Society presidency. The decorations and food were elaborate, as expected, but most remarkable were the outward religious expressions of prayers, hymns, and singing in tongues as part of the festivities.[1] Seemingly insignificant as isolated diversions, birthday celebrations among 19th-century Mormons would surprise modern observers for their sheer numbers and frequency, and by their elite guest lists.[2] Papers like the Woman?s Exponent heralded these birthdays as part of community social chatter, but also with the seriousness of solemn religious and historical events.

Mormon birthday celebrations became significant as public spaces wherein the first generation of Church members and their children came together to commemorate the Mormon past. A close examination of birthday announcements in publications like the Woman?s Exponent, Deseret News, and Young Woman?s Journal, as well as card invitations and birthday programs, reveal much about the importance of Mormon celebrations. By telling first-hand stories of Joseph Smith and other events of the Restoration, especially of the Nauvoo period, the celebrant became a tangible connection to the important early days of the Church. Church members even held posthumous birthday events for the Prophet Joseph and Eliza R. Snow, and absentee birthdays for famous national leaders like Susan B. Anthony.[3] These celebrations morphed into solemn religious and historical occasions, including expressions of theology, mythology, history, activism, spiritual renewal, testimony, hymnology and poetry; some were even held in temples. Furthermore, as mixed-gender events, they brought together men and women in shared socializing that allowed a certain equality of public communication and representation. Most importantly, birthday celebrations became venues through which memories of persecution and triumph could be passed on, cementing a cross-generational link that reinforced important LDS mythologies and group identity.


[1] ?Birthday Anniversary,? Woman?s Exponent, Dec. 15, 1900, p. 61.

[2]Elmina S. Taylor Collection, MS 13493; Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. A quick perusal of Taylor?s scrapbook reveals many invitations to birthday celebrations, often with professional printing, on card stock, and the announcement of locations that ranged from private homes to the Assembly Hall and Relief Society Halls.

[3] Woman?s Exponent, March 1, 1892, p. 125.

Stanley Thayne, “Wandering Significance: The Figure of Hagoth and the Many Migrations of Latter-day Lamanite/Nephite Identity” (Session #6F, Saturday 4:00-5:30)

Mormon missionaries have been very good at finding the descendents of Book of Mormon peoples-Lamanites and Nephites-wherever they have been sent in the western hemisphere: throughout the Americas and the Pacific Islands, even as far as Taiwan and Japan. Hagoth has typically been the figure linking these latter-day Lamanites in far-flung areas with their mainland kin. After mysteriously departing from the narrative near the end of the book of Alma, never to be heard of again-or so the writer thought-Hagoth has covered a lot of mileage since then, linking up a considerable amount of geography as a figure of remarkable, if wandering, significance.

Using the figure of Hagoth as a narrative motif, this paper will explore how Mormons have constructed racialized readings of various indigenous peoples in the Americas and the Pacific Islands based on their reading of Mormon sacred scripture, and, conversely, how they have read their missionary successes back onto the ?text,? greatly expanding the Mormon conception of to whom (and to how many) the signifier ?Lamanite? applies. Further, the LDS church has not been able to contain the wanderings of this signifier. Members of a recent religious group-who profess no connection to Mormonism-have published a nine-volume text that purports to be a record of Hagoth?s (or Hagohtl?s) departure from the Land Southward and his migration up the Colorado River to form a heretofore unknown indigenous group known as the Nemenhah. As a narrative figure, Hagoth has been complicit in multiple revisions of the histories (and sometimes the identities) of indigenous peoples throughout the western hemisphere-and his migrations show no sign of flagging. In fact, one ?North America Only? group of Book of Mormon geography theorizers have suggested that, since the Land Northward was western New York, Hagoth ?likely migrated to?[you guessed it:] Canada!? (emphasis added).

Article filed under Conference/Presentation Reports


  1. Would love to be there this year, but I am not. I had to choose between this or a 40th anniversary trip with my wife. Not really a fair contest.

    Comment by kevinf — June 25, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

  2. Looks like a great showing for the JI. Good luck to all.

    Comment by Jared T — June 25, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

  3. I’ll be there, and hope to see y’all!

    Comment by Kevin Barney — June 25, 2012 @ 3:48 pm

  4. Yes, looks like a great line-up. Good luck to all.

    Comment by David G. — June 25, 2012 @ 4:01 pm

  5. Looks fun. Do us proud.

    Comment by Ryan T. — June 26, 2012 @ 12:24 pm

  6. Have fun guys! So jealous of everyone there and thanks for all the awesome posts on LDS church history!

    Comment by Jasonb — June 26, 2012 @ 1:45 pm

  7. Just updated to add Stan’s abstract, which doesn’t disappoint.

    Comment by Ben P — June 27, 2012 @ 10:30 am

  8. Very nice, Stan.

    Comment by Jared T — June 27, 2012 @ 11:56 am

  9. Looks great! Originally, I was in a concurrent session when Matt Bowman was doing his paper, but my session got changed to Saturday at 2:00. My first reaction (honestly) was, “Yay! I can hear Matt!”

    Comment by Margaret Blair Young — June 27, 2012 @ 9:52 pm

  10. Looks good all around. I’m excited to finally get to Calgary tomorrow.

    Comment by Edje Jeter — June 27, 2012 @ 10:19 pm


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