Previewing 2016: Looking Ahead to Forthcoming Books in Mormon History

By January 6, 2016

A few weeks ago I highlighted the year of 2015 in Mormon historiography. But I’m not here to talk about the past. In this post, I highlight a number of books I’m especially excited to see published in 2016. This list is not comprehensive—it’s nigh impossible to keep track of everything in the Mormon publishing world—but I hope it captures a taste of what we have in store over the next twelve months.

Even beyond this next year, there is still a lot more to be excited about. Kathleen Flake’s book on gender, power, and Mormon polygamy and Laurel Ulrich’s book on polygamous women’s diaries are certainly going to shake the field, but they are not quite ready for release. (Word is Ulrich’s book is in the pipeline for a year from now, though, and should arrive by AHA 2017). And we all know the works-in-progress by stars like Spencer Fluhman, Quincy Newell, Steve Taysom, and others that we eagerly anticipate. But I think we have enough here to satiate our appetite.

Without further ado…


We all know Turner from his excellent biography of Brigham Young, but now he’s offering a different type of biography: a cultural history of Mormonism through the lens of their portrayals of Jesus. From the press: “Over the past two hundred years, Jesus has connected the Latter-day Saints to broader currents of Christianity, even while particular Mormon beliefs and practices have been points of differentiation and conflict. The Latter-day Saints came to understand Jesus Christ as the literal son of his father, the exalted brother of God?s other spirit children, who should aspire to become like him. They gave new meaning to many titles for Jesus Christ: Father, Son of God, Lord, Savior, Firstborn, Elder Brother, Bridegroom, and Jehovah. While some early beliefs became canonized and others were discarded, Jesus Christ remains central to Latter-day Saint scripture, doctrine, and religious experience. Contemporary Mormon leaders miss no opportunity to proclaim their church?s devotion to the Christian savior, in part because evangelical Protestants denounce Mormonism as a non-Christian cult. This tension between Mormonism?s distinctive claims and the church?s desire to be accepted as Christian, John G. Turner argues, continues to shape Mormon identity and attract new members to the church.”

It would be difficult to overstate the significance of this volume. Many are already heralding it the most important documentary history in Mormon studies—not just Mormon women’s history. The blurbs from Laurel Ulrich and Marie Griffiths hint to the significance of the volume for scholars of American religious history, but the fact that it is published by the LDS Historian’s Press might make it a significant cultural moment as well. The press’s blurb: “This collection of original documents explores the fascinating and largely unknown history of the Relief Society in the nineteenth century. The story begins with the founding of the Nauvoo Female Relief Society, and the complete and unabridged minutes of that organization are reproduced in this book for the first time in print. The large majority of the volume covers the lesser-known period after the Relief Society was reestablished in territorial Utah and began to spread to areas as remote as Hawaii and England. Not only did Relief Society women care for their families and the poor, they manufactured and sold goods, went to medical school, gave healing blessings and set apart Relief Society officers, stored grain, built assembly halls, fought for women’s suffrage, founded a hospital, defended the practice of plural marriage, and started the Primary and Young Women organizations. Prominent in the documents are the towering figures of Mormon women’s history from this period, including Emma Smith, Eliza R. Snow, Emmeline B. Wells, Zina D. H. Young, and many others.”

April is going to be a fun month. I am really, really excited for both of these. Any scholar of Mormon historiography, and any Mormon interested in scholarly history, feel the weight of Arrington’s legacy and must come to grips with Arrington’s story. Given access to all the Arrington family papers, Gregory Prince was tasked to write a biography that matches the one he wrote of David O McKay. And Bergera was given similar access to publish a three-volume critical edition of his diaries. Here’s the blurb of the diaries, to give you a taste: “Leonard Arrington (1917?99) was born an Idaho chicken rancher whose early interests seemed not to extend much beyond the American west. Throughout his life, he tended to project a folksy persona, although nothing was farther from the truth. He was, in fact, an intellectually oriented, academically driven young man, determined to explore the historical, economic, cultural, and religious issues of his time. After distinguishing himself at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and serving in the army during World War II in North Africa and Italy, Arrington accepted a professorship at Utah State University. In 1972 he was called as the LDS Church Historian?an office he held for ten years until, following a stormy tenure full of controversy over whether the ?New Mormon History? he championed was appropriate for the church, he was quietly released and transferred, along with the entire Church History Division, to Brigham Young University. It was hoped that this would remove the impression in people?s minds that his writings were church-approved. His personal diaries reveal a man who was firmly committed to his church, as well as to rigorous historical scholarship. His eye for detail made him an important observer of ‘church headquarters culture.’?

  • Matthew Harris, Ezra Taft Benson and Anticommunism: A Documentary History (University of Utah Press).

Matthew Harris is a respected scholar in early American religious history, but has recently turned his attention to 20th century Mormon history—much to our benefit. With Newell Bringhurst, last year he published a documentary history of Mormonism and blacks, which is a phenomenal resource on the topic. This particular volume contains, according to Matt, the “Benson-Robert Welch Correspondence (Birch Soc. founder), Benson-IKE letters, Benson oral history, First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Minutes (discussing Benson’s politics), and much, much more.” (It also includes an 80-page interpretive essay.) I spoke to him about this book at JWHA this last year, and I was giddy when he told me about all the fascinating material he found. You’re going to want to purchase this book.

And because Harris apparently doesn’t sleep, he has three volumes coming out in 2017 that you should keep your eye on. The first, Ezra Taft Benson: Mormon Apostle-President, Outspoken Conservative, and Crusading Cold Warrior (University of Illinois Press), is an edited volume of essays by leading scholars apprising Benson’s career in politics, government, and religion. The second, another collection of essays co-edited with Newell Bringhurst, is The Mormon Church and Its Gospel Topics Essays: The Scholarly Community Responds (University of Utah Press), which includes essays from a mix of LDS and non-LDS scholars evaluating the “Gospel Topics Essays” on The third, and perhaps most exciting volume, is “The Long Awaited Day”: The LDS Church, African Americans, and the Lifting of the Priesthood Ban, 1945-2015, a monograph exploring “the internal and external forces pressuring church leaders to lift the ban and Pres. Kimball’s (remarkable) leadership overturning Mormonism’s racial doctrine. Based on never-before-seen general authority diaries and letters, FP Minutes, Q12 Minutes, etc.” Be excited.

  • Patrick Mason, ed., Directions for Mormon Studies in the Twenty-First Century (University of Utah Press).

From Patrick: “This collection, which originated in a 2013 conference at Claremont in honor of the career of Armand Mauss, includes essays by top-flight scholars including Richard Bushman, Jan Shipps, Matthew Bowman, Paul Reeve, Quincy Newell, Jana Riess, and more. Its sections deal with (re)assessing 20th-c. Mormonism; internationalization; race; theory and method in Mormon Studies; and Mormon memoir and autobiography. The goal of the volume is less to survey the state of the field then to offer possibilities for new trajectories in the coming generation of scholarship.”

  • Patrick Mason and John Turner, ed., Out of Obscurity: Mormonism since 1945 (Oxford University Press, summer).

Again, from Patrick: “This collection seeks to advance our understanding of modern Mormonism, and includes all-original essays by mostly young and mid-career scholars including John and me, Nathan Oman, J.B. Haws, Max Mueller, Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, Neil J. Young, Kate Holbrook, Kristine Haglund, and Sara Patterson.  It is organized into sections featuring internationalization; political culture; gender; and religious culture.”

  • Patrick Mason, What is Mormonism? (Routledge, late-summer).

This is a brief textbook designed for the classroom. Since mormonism has become a staple in religious studies departments, including a growing number of courses, this is a much-needed contribution, and Patrick Mason, the chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, is the perfect contributor.

  • Matthew Bowman and Kate Holbrook, Women and the LDS Church in Historical and Contemporary Perspective (University of Utah Press, Springish).

This is the edited collection of papers delivered at a provocative conference a few years ago, as well as a few other additions. This has been in the works for a while and will be worth the wait.

  • RasmussenMatthew Lyman Rasmussen, Mormonism and the Making of a British Zion (University of Utah Press, May).

The press’s blurb: “Mormonism in Britain began in the late 1830s with the arrival of American missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not long afterward, thousands of British converts emigrated to Utah and became a kind of lifeblood for the early Mormon Church. England’s North West, where Mormonism had its strongest presence, has become a place of profound significance to the church, yet its early importance to Mormonism has never been fully explored. Matthew Rasmussen’s detailed account examines how Mormonism has changed and endured in Britain. After many British believers left for America, church membership in England fell so sharply that the movement in Britain seemed to be on the brink of collapse. Yet British Mormonism gradually rebuilt and continues today. How did this religious minority flourish when so many nineteenth-century revivalist movements did not? Rasmussen explains Mormonism?s inception, perpetuation, and maturation in Britain in a compelling case study of a ?new religious movement? with staying power.”

  • Janiece Johnson, ed., Mountain Meadows Legal Papers, executive editor Richard Turley and shorthand edited by Lajean Carruth (University of Oklahoma Press).

Yay for another JI author! Janiece has been working on this project for a long time, and we are all going to benefit from that service.

  • Matthew C. Godfrey, Brenden W. Rensink, Alex D. Smith, Max H. Parkin, and Alexander L. Baugh, eds., The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 4: April 1834-September 1835 (Church Historian’s Press, May).
  • The Joseph Smith Papers, Administration, Volume 1: The Council of Fifty in Nauvoo, 1844-1846 (Church Historian’s Press, Fall).

These volumes will, um, be quite interesting.

  • Michael A. Goodman and Mauro Properzi, The Worldwide Church: Mormonism as a Global Religion (BYU RSC Center, February).
  • Michael Hubbard MacKay, Sacred Space: Exploring the Birthplace of Mormonism (BYU RSC Center, May).
  • James A. Toronto, Eric R. Dursteler, Michael D. Homer, Mormons in the Piazza: History of the Latter-day Saints in Italy (BYU RSC Center, Fall).

These are among BYU’s Religious Studies Center’s offerings in coming months. The Worldwide Church is the proceedings from the BYU Church History Conference in 2014. MacKay’s volume is an in-depth study of the debate concerning the location (Manchester vs. Fayette) of the Church’s organization. And the Italy book, according to RSC’s editor Thom Wayment, “offers a comprehensive history of the LDS Church in Italy, up to and including the announcement of the Rome temple. It is an excellent book, incredibly well researched, and full of personal accounts, journal histories, previously untold stories, and careful historical analysis.”

Few figures are more fascinating to me than Amasa Lyman. We already have a great biography of the man, but now we will be gifted his personal writings. While many of Signature’s documentary histories are excellent—and there are a few other good ones this year not included in this list—I am particularly enthused about this one. The blurb: “Originally from New Hampshire, Amasa Mason Lyman converted to Mormonism over the objection of his family at age nineteen. Compelled to leave home with a total of eleven dollars in his pocket, he ventured some 700 miles east to Ohio, where Joseph Smith told him to return east and serve a mission despite his unfamiliarity with the church?s doctrines and procedures. Ten years later Lyman temporarily replaced Orson Pratt in the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. This made him a kind of fifth wheel (thirteenth apostle) when Pratt was reinstated. Lyman would nevertheless regain his position in the quorum two years later and serve faithfully until his expulsion in 1867 for denying the divinity of Jesus. He then gravitated toward the anti-Brighamite spiritualist movement in Utah. Tracing the arc of this transformation from firm believer to prominent heretic, Lyman?s diaries are a window into the thinking of pioneer Mormons and the idealogical issues that sometimes divided them. This is the first in an anticipated multi-volume collection of historic diaries that will comprise the Signature Legacy Series.”

So, um, have you guys every heard of this author? This is a long-anticipated sequel to Quinn’s two Mormon Hierarchy volumes. While much of the Mormon history field has changed since Quinn’s prolific period, I think it’s safe to say he is one of the most crucial historians of Mormonism, whose work we all build upon. I imagine this book will continue that legacy. The blurb: “Early in the twentieth century, it was possible for Latter-day Saints to have lifelong associations with businesses managed by their leaders or owned and controlled by the church itself. For example, one could purchase engagement rings from Daynes Jewelry, honeymoon at the Hotel Utah, and venture off on the Union Pacific Railroad, all partially owned and run by church apostles. Families could buy clothes at Knight Woolen Mills. The husband might work at Big Indian Copper or Bullion-Beck, Gold Chain, or Iron King mining companies. The wife could shop at Utah Cereal Food and buy sugar supplied by Amalgamated or U and I Sugar, beef from Nevada Land and Livestock, and vegetables from the Growers Market. They might take their groceries home in parcels from Utah Bag Co. They probably read the Deseret News at home under a lamp plugged into a Utah Power and Light circuit. They could take out a loan from Zion?s Co-operative and insurance from Utah Home and Fire. The apostles had a long history of community involvement in financial enterprises to the benefit of the general membership and their own economic advantage. This volume is the result of the author?s years of research into LDS financial dominance from 1830 to 2010.”

  • Richard S. Van Wagoner, Natural Born Seer: Joseph Smith, American Prophet, 1805-1830 (Signature Books, April).
  • Martha Bradley-Evans, Glorious in Persecution: Joseph Smith, American Prophet, 1839-1844 (Signature Books, April).

These two books were originally part of a long-in-the-works trilogy on Joseph Smith, but will apparently now be published separately. Van Wagoner is a veteran in the Mormon history scene, and his biography of Sidney Rigdon was quite good. And I’ve often said Martha Bradley-Evans is the most underrated historian of Mormonism–her work is always careful, thoughtful, and contextualized. I’m really excited for her take on Joseph Smith’s Nauvoo years.

This is the first in an exciting series published by Kofford and edited by Austin and Parshall: The Mormon Image in Literature. According to the press, this series “reprints important literary works by and about Mormons?from the sensational anti-polygamy books and dime novels of the Civil War era to the first attempts of Mormon writers to craft a regional literature in their Great Basin kingdom. Each volume contains a critical introduction, helpful annotations, and multiple appendices that enlighten and enliven the text. These volumes have been designed for both Mormon and non-Mormon readers who want to understand the cultural importance of Mormonism during the first Latter-day Saint century.” This should be a phenomenal series, as we all know the excellent work of Austin and Parshall.

  • Holly Welker, Baring Witness: 36 Women Talk Candidly about Love, Sex, and Marriage (University of Illinois Press, Fall).

While technically not a “history” book, this should be an important contributions to current discussions regarding religion, gender, sex, family, and modernity. And while not germane to Mormon history, the University of Illinois Press is also publishing Kymberly N. Pinder’s Painting the Gospel: Black Public Art and Religion in Chicago, which Dawn Durante (the editor who is in charge of Mormon studies as well) promises we will want to check out.

These other four books are scheduled to appear from Kofford in 2016, so keep your eyes peeled for them as well. Make sure to check out their pages at Kofford’s website to get more information.

And though not particularly scholarly, there are a handful of exciting books written for Mormons by Mormon scholars. Patrick Mason’s exquisite Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (Maxwell Institute/Deseret Book) was released just this week. Matthew McBride’s Revelations in Context: Historical Insights into the Doctrine and Covenants, due out in late 2016 by Church Historian’s Press, is the published version of the online essays. And Laura Hales is editing a collection of essays on difficult issues titled A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine and Church History (BYU’s RSC, May); according to Wayment: “This is an anthology of essays by leading LDS scholars who tackle many of the toughest issues associated with LDS faith, doctrine, and history. I believe it contains the best study on same-gender attraction within LDS thought (Ty Mansfield) and the historical connections between Mormons and Masons (Steven Harper). The essays are honest, hard hitting, and careful, and I believe it will be a must-read for those who want an honest appraisal of the issues.”

What a bountiful banquet of beautiful books! Start saving your money now.

Article filed under Announcements and Events Book and Journal Reviews Historiography JIers in Print


  1. Thanks, Ben. 2016 is going to be a great year in terms of MoHistory books.

    Comment by David G. — January 6, 2016 @ 6:44 am

  2. Bravo, Ben. What a great way to start off the year!

    Comment by Jeff T — January 6, 2016 @ 8:12 am

  3. A lot of great books scheduled! I am excited to see The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents finally coming out. My very first task as an intern in the CHL was on this volume. Also, I am currently working on the Lot Smith manuscript and I think it will be a solid contribution to the Mormon Battalion, the Utah War period, and Arizona colonization. The biography was written by descendants who have over fifty years of collected material.

    Comment by Brian Whitney — January 6, 2016 @ 8:16 am

  4. Thanks Ben. This is fantastic.

    Comment by WVS — January 6, 2016 @ 10:21 am

  5. Just a minor correction: Matt McBride is the one editing the Revelations in Context book, not me (although I would be happy to take credit).

    Comment by Matt Godfrey — January 6, 2016 @ 11:06 am

  6. Sincere apologies to the other Matt–it’s now fixed.

    There are too many Matts at the CHL.

    Comment by Ben P — January 6, 2016 @ 11:08 am

  7. A lot to look forward to. Thanks for the rundown, Ben.

    Comment by Christopher — January 6, 2016 @ 11:22 am

  8. Phenomenal. Thanks, Ben!

    Comment by J Stuart — January 6, 2016 @ 1:54 pm

  9. Thanks, all.

    Also, please note that I have added an exciting title on Mormonism and the Making of a British Zion, to be published by UofU Press.

    Comment by Ben P — January 6, 2016 @ 2:47 pm

  10. Well, there goes my book budget for the year…

    Comment by Saskia — January 6, 2016 @ 9:24 pm

  11. My take-away:

    Ben P: “I’m not here to talk about the past”

    Comment by Alex S — January 7, 2016 @ 3:06 pm


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