Every year I look forward to seeing which books will be published (you can read my recap of the best books and articles of 2019 HERE). The list isn’t comprehensive—many books don’t have listings on press websites quite yet. Nevertheless, I hope that I’ve highlighted many of the books Mormon historians are anxiously waiting to have their hands on in the next twelve months (and that you’ll send me information on books I’ve missed!). All quotations are from the Press’s website (when available) and all links are to the publisher’s website (where available).
Joseph Smith Papers Project
Elizabeth A. Kuehn, Jordan T. Watkins, Matthew C. Godfrey, and Mason K. Allred, eds. Documents, Volume 10: May 1842August 1842. Vol. 10 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Matthew C. Godfrey, R. Eric Smith, Matthew J. Grow, and Ronald K. Esplin. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2020.
Spencer W. McBride, Jeffrey D. Mahas, Brett D. Dowdle, and Tyson Reeder, eds. Documents, Volume 11: September 1842-February 1843. Vol. 11 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Matthew C. Godfrey, R. Eric Smith, Matthew J. Grow, and Ronald K. Esplin. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2020.
Oxford University Press
Christopher James Blythe, Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).
The relationship between early Mormons and the United States was marked by anxiety and hostility, heightened over the course of the nineteenth century by the assassination of Mormon leaders, the Saints’ exile from Missouri and Illinois, the military occupation of the Utah territory, and the national crusade against those who practiced plural marriage. Nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints looked forward to apocalyptic events that would unseat corrupt governments across the globe, particularly the tyrannical government of the United States. The infamous ” Mormons envisioned divine deliverance by way of plagues, natural disasters, foreign invasions, American Indian raids, slave uprisings, or civil war unleashed on American cities and American people. For the Saints, these violent images promised a national rebirth that would vouchsafe the protections of the United States Constitution and end their oppression. In Terrible Revolution, Christopher James Blythe examines apocalypticism across the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, particularly as it took shape in the writings and visions of the laity. The responses of the church hierarchy to apocalyptic lay prophecies promoted their own form of separatist nationalism during the nineteenth century. Yet, after Utah obtained statehood, as the church sought to assimilate to national religious norms, these same leaders sought to lessen the tensions between themselves and American political and cultural powers. As a result, visions of a violent end to the nation became a liability to disavow and regulate. Ultimately, Blythe argues that the visionary world of early Mormonism, with its apocalyptic emphases, continued in the church’s mainstream culture in modified forms but continued to maintain separatist radical forms at the level of folk-belief.
Elisa Eastwood Pulido, The Spiritual Evolution of Margarito Bautista: Mexican Mormon Evangelizer, Polygamist Dissident, and Utopian Founder, 1878-1961 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2020).
This book is the first full-length biography of Margarito Bautista (1878-1961), a celebrated Latino Mormon leader in the U.S. and Mexico in the early twentieth century who was a Mexican cultural nationalist, visionary, founder of a utopian commune, and Mormon dissident. Surprisingly little is known about Bautista’s remarkable life, the scope of his work, or the development of his vision. Elisa Eastwood Pulido draws on his letters, books, pamphlets, and unpublished diaries to provide a lens through which to view the convergence of Mormon evangelization, Mexican nationalism, and religious improvisation in the U.S. Mexico borderlands.
A successful proselytizer of Mexicans for years, from 1922 onward Bautista came to view the paternalism of the Euro-American leadership of the Church as a barrier to ecclesiastical self-governance by indigenous Latter-day Saints . In 1924, he began his journey away from mainstream Mormonism. By 1946, he had established a completely Mexican-led polygamist utopia in Mexico on the slopes of the volcano Popocateptl, twenty-two kilometers southeast of Mexico City. Here, he preached an alternative Mormonism rooted in Mesoamerican history and culture. Based on his indigenous hermeneutic of Mormon scripture, Bautista proclaimed that the indigenous peoples of the Americas were a chosen race, destined to wrest both political and spiritual authority from the descendants of Euro-American colonists. This book provides an in-depth look at a man still regarded with cultural pride by those Mexican and Mexican American Mormons who remember him as an iconic and revolutionary figure.
University of North Carolina Press
Taylor G. Petrey, Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020).
Taylor G. Petrey’s trenchant history takes a landmark step forward in documenting and theorizing about Latter-day Saints (LDS) teachings on gender, sexual difference, and marriage. Drawing on deep archival research, Petrey situates LDS doctrines in gender theory and American religious history since World War II. His challenging conclusion is that Mormonism is conflicted between ontologies of gender essentialism and gender fluidity, illustrating a broader tension in the history of sexuality in modernity itself.
As Petrey details, LDS leaders have embraced the idea of fixed identities representing a natural and divine order, but their teachings also acknowledge that sexual difference is persistently contingent and unstable. While queer theorists have built an ethics and politics based on celebrating such sexual fluidity, LDS leaders view it as a source of anxiety and a tool for the shaping of a heterosexual social order. Through public preaching and teaching, the deployment of psychological approaches to “cure” homosexuality, and political activism against equal rights for women and same-sex marriage, Mormon leaders hoped to manage sexuality and faith for those who have strayed from heteronormativity.
William L. Davis, Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020).
In this interdisciplinary work, William L. Davis examines Joseph Smith’s 1829 creation of the Book of Mormon, the foundational text of the Latter Day Saint movement. Positioning the text in the history of early American oratorical techniques, sermon culture, educational practices, and the passion for self-improvement, Davis elucidates both the fascinating cultural context for the creation of the Book of Mormon and the central role of oral culture in early nineteenth-century America.
Drawing on performance studies, religious studies, literary culture, and the history of early American education, Davis analyzes Smith’s process of oral composition. How did he produce a history spanning a period of 1,000 years, filled with hundreds of distinct characters and episodes, all cohesively tied together in an overarching narrative? Eyewitnesses claimed that Smith never looked at notes, manuscripts, or books—he simply spoke the words of this American religious epic into existence. Judging the truth of this process is not Davis’s interest. Rather, he reveals a kaleidoscope of practices and styles that converged around Smith’s creation, with an emphasis on the evangelical preaching styles popularized by the renowned George Whitefield and John Wesley.
Lavina Fielding Anderson, Mercy without End: Toward a More Inclusive Church (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2020).
These eighteen essays span more than thirty years of Lavina Fielding Anderson’s concerns about and reflections on issues of inclusiveness in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including her own excommunication for “apostasy” in 1993, followed by twenty-five years of continued attendance at weekly LDS ward meetings. Written with a taste for irony and an eye for documentation, the essays are timeless snapshots of sometimes controversial issues, beginning with official resistance to professionally researched Mormon history in the 1980s. They underscore unanswered questions about gender equality and repeatedly call attention to areas in which the church does not live up to its better self. Compassionately and responsibly, it calls Anderson’s beloved religion back to its holiest nature.
Benjamin E. Park, Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier (New York: Liveright, 2020).
Compared to the Puritans, Mormons have rarely gotten their due, often treated as fringe cultists or marginalized polygamists unworthy of serious examination. In Kingdom of Nauvoo, Benjamin E. Park excavates the brief, tragic life of a lost Mormon city, demonstrating that the Mormons are essential to understanding American history writ large. Using newly accessible sources, Park recreates the Mormons’ 1839 flight from Missouri to Illinois. There, under the charismatic leadership of Joseph Smith, they founded Nauvoo, which shimmered briefly—but Smith’s challenge to democratic traditions, as well as his new doctrine of polygamy, would bring about its fall. His wife Emma, rarely written about, opposed him, but the greater threat came from without: in 1844, a mob murdered Joseph, precipitating the Mormon trek to Utah. Throughout his absorbing chronicle, Park shows that far from being outsiders, the Mormons were representative of their era in their distrust of democracy and their attempt to forge a sovereign society of their own.
BYU Religious Studies Center
Riley M. Moffat, Fred E. Woods, Brent R. Anderson, Saints of Tonga: A Century of Island Faith (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2020).
Tonga has by far the highest percentage of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of any country in the world. How did this come to be? At first, missionary work in Tonga appeared to be a failure. Then, after closing the mission for a decade, the Church returned and began harvesting the fruits from the seeds that had been planted earlier amid tremendous opposition. The truths of the gospel resonated with the Tongan people, who exhibited incredible faith and sacrifice. The Church grew to be a strong influence in the Kingdom of Tonga and with the people of the country.
Kenneth L. Alford, Saints at War: The Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq
(Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2020).
This volume is a compilation of inspirational stories share by Latter-day Saints who served on the front lines in our most recent military conflicts. These stories detail their trials, challenges, setbacks, faith, courage, and numerous victories overcoming extraordinary circumstances. Saints at War is filled with remarkable first-person accounts from Latter-day Saints who served in the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War. Their amazing stories chronicle the sacrifice, dedication, and humor of day-to-day life in modern combat zones. This book also shares the story of how fully functioning districts of the Church were organized and operated in the war torn countries of Afghanistan and Iraq to meet the spiritual needs of the Church members there. Richly illustrated with photographs from the participants, this book will introduce you to a new generation of Latter-day Saint heroes.
Jennifer C. Lane, Finding Christ in the Covenant Path: Ancient Insights for Modern Life (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2020).
This volume offers a fresh but faithful focus on the journey of covenants and discipleship through the double lens of ancient words and medieval images. The first part of the book helps us see Christ’s identity as our kinsman-redeemer by exploring the ancient words that connect covenants, redemption, worship, the presence of the Lord, and sitting down enthroned in God’s presence as his children and heirs. The second part of the book reveals Christ as our ransom by exploring medieval images, particularly the image of Christ. With personal anecdotes, historical background, and scriptural analysis, this section uses devotional images and late medieval practices of contemplation as a strategy to come unto Christ. By using medieval images as a counterpoint to Restoration practices and ordinances, we can more fully appreciate the gift of God’s Son and see it with fresh eyes.
Derek R. Sainsbury, Storming the Nation: The Unknown Contributions of Joseph Smith’s Political Missionaries (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2020). This volume uncovers the significant but previously unknown contributions of the electioneers who advocated for Joseph Smith’s 1844 presidential campaign. The focus is the cadre of more than six hundred political missionaries—who they were before the campaign, their activities and experiences as electioneers, and who they became following the campaign’s untimely collapse. This book recounts their important and even crucial contributions they made in the succession crisis, the exodus from the United States, and the building of Zion in the Great Basin.
Richard E. Bennett,1820: Dawning of the Restoration (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2020).
Far more than a mere chronicling of important events of the year 1820, Richard E. Bennett’s encyclopedic world history is a study of the spirit of the age through the lives of those who made it so. Each one of its thirteen carefully crafted chapters presents a fascinating biography of a most prominent figure from various walks of life. These include Napoléon Bonaparte, who was undoubtedly the towering image of the time, Ludwig van Beethoven from the field of music, William Wilberforce, who almost singlehandedly abolished slavery throughout the British Empire, and Henry Clay, who epitomized the spirit of compromise in American politics in the early nineteenth century. Each figure’s life is presented in such a way as to capture the main currents of thought and development in their own sphere of influence. Woven together, this fascinating study interconnects the interests of politics, war, economics, the arts, and the sciences in a seamless, satisfying manner.
John Gee, Saving Faith: How Families Protect, Sustain, and Encourage Faith (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2020).
What actually works to help the youth and young adults of the Church obtain and retain faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ? This book draws on studies of the religious lives of youth and young adults nationwide. It surveys the variety of problems and attitudes faced by the youth of the Church and the likely consequences for their lives. It also provides gospel responses to some of those problems. It covers how many are we losing, where are they going, what is actually taking them out, what works, and what parents should be aware of.
Donald W. Parry,Preserved in Translation: Hebrew and Other Ancient Literary Forms in the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2020).
Readers might notice Hebraisms and Hebrew-like forms and poetry in the Book of Mormon, such as chiasms, Hebrew words with double meaning, and nouns followed by descriptive phrases (rod of iron, mist of darkness). Using his decades of research in Hebrew scholarship, Dr. Parry clears up questions regarding the unique and unusual constructions in the Book of Mormon.
Daniel L. Belnap, ed., Jaredites (Book of Mormon Academy) (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2020).
This volume explores the relationship between the Nephites and the Jaredite record culturally, politically, literarily, and theologically. In keeping with the first volume, the studies are grouped by methodological approaches. The first approach is a cultural-historical lens, in which elements of Jaredite culture are discussed, including the impact of a Jaredite subculture on Nephite politics during the reign of the judges, and a Mesopotamia perspective as seership and divination, and the brother of Jared’s experience as a liminal one. The second grouping looks at the book of Ether through a narratological lens, all three papers exploring different aspects of Moroni’s construction of the book of Ether. The third grouping explores the reception of the book of Ether’s depiction of women, as it contains one of the most descriptive, yet ambivalent female figures in the Book of Mormon, both historically and in our contemporary era. Finally, the book of Ether is reviewed via a pedagogical lens. In Alma 37, Alma the Younger explained the pedagogical value of the Jaredite record, these last two studies examine ways in which the book of Ether in particular can be taught to a modern audience.
Andrew C. Reed and Mark Diamond, eds., Covenants and Communities: Themes in Jewish and Latter-day Saint Relations (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2020). [co-published with the Central Conference of American Rabbis]
This book is a collection of essays pairing Jewish and Latter-day Saint scholars on themes such as the Sabbath, the Apostle Paul, women, and comparative religious experience. This book lays out a framework on how to do dialogue well.
Rachel Cope, Carter Charles, and Jordan T. Watkins, eds., How and What You Worship (49th Annual Brigham Young University Sidney B. Sperry Symposium) (Provo, UT: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2020).
Christology has to do with the study of the nature and role of Christ. In Joseph Smith’s revelations, this study necessarily involves attention to the spiritual and intellectual quest (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118) to “know” the Savior (John 17:3). That the revelation should insist on the “how” of worship indicates that praxis is inseparable from the knowledge of Christ: as King Benjamin taught, it is a mark of devotion, of discipleship, the outward manifestation of knowledge (Mosiah 5:15). With this in mind, the 2020 Sperry Symposium, which will be held at Brigham Young University in October 2020, will focus on both the person of Christ and the practice of worshiping him as outlined in the revelations of Joseph Smith. More specifically, this volume seeks to understand Christ as revealed in the revelations and elucidate the practices required of those who worship a being who grew “from grace to grace.”
University of Oklahoma Press
Will Bagley, editor, The Whites Want Every Thing: Indian-Mormon Relations, 1847-1877 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2020).
American Indians have been at the center of Mormon doctrine from its very beginnings, recast as among the Children of Israel and thereby destined to play a central role in the earthly triumph of the new faith. The settling of the Mormons among the Indians of what became Utah Territory presented a different story—a story that, as told by the settlers, robbed the Native people of their voices along with their homelands.
The Whites Want Everything restores those Native voices to the history of colonization of the American Southwest. Collecting a wealth of documents from varied and often-suppressed sources, this volume allows both Indians and Latter-day Saints to tell their stories as they struggled to determine who would control the land and resources of North America’s Great Basin. Journals, letters, reports, and recollections, many from firsthand participants, reveal the complexities of cooperation and conflict between Native Americans and Mormon Anglo-Americans. The documents offer extraordinarily wide-ranging and detailed perspectives on the fight to survive in one of Earth’s most challenging environments.
Michael L. Tate et al, The Great Medicine Road, Part 4: Narratives of the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, 1856-1869 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2020).
Between 1841 and 1866, more than a half-million people followed trails to Oregon, California, and Utah in one of the largest mass migrations in American history. The Great Medicine Road, Part 4 collects the letters, diaries, and reminiscences of some of the emigrants who made this journey between 1856 and 1869, as a second generation of miners, farmers, town builders, and religious believers turned their adventurous eyes westward in search of new beginnings.
Here, in their own words, are the experiences of young men hoping to make their fortunes in mining operations that had sprung up as the gold rush wore down, in California but also now in the silver mines of Nevada’s Comstock Lode and the recently discovered gold mines of Colorado’s Denver and Pike’s Peak regions. Here also are families and farmers looking for land in the fertile Willamette Valley of Oregon, or joining the Mormon community in Utah. And here are the stories of intrepid sojourners traveling with—or without—military escorts as the Civil War, conflicts with Indians, and the Mormon stand against the U.S. government altered the circumstances of westward traffic.
University of Illinois Press
Reid L. Neilson and Carson V. Teuscher, eds., Pacific Apostle: The 1920-1921 Diary of David O. McKay in the Latter-day Saint Island Missions (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2020).
In 1920, David O. McKay embarked on a journey that forever changed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His visits to the Latter-day Saint missions, schools, and branches in the Pacific solidified the Church leadership’s commitment to global outreach. As importantly, the trip inspired McKay’s own initiatives when he later became Church president.
McKay’s account of his odyssey brings to life the story of the Church of Jesus Christ’s transformation into a global faith. Throughout his diary, McKay expressed his humanity, curiosity, and fascination with cultures and places–the Maori hongi, East Asian customs, Australian wildlife, and more. At the same time, he and his travel companion, Hugh J. Cannon, detailed the Latter-day Saint missionary life of the era, closely observing logistical challenges and cultural differences, guiding various church efforts, and listening to followers’ impressions and concerns. Reid L. Neilson and Carson V. Teuscher’s meticulous notes provide historical, religious, and general context for the reader.
Michael Hubbard MacKay, Prophetic Authority: Democratic Hierarchy and the Mormon Priesthood (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2020).
The Mormon tradition’s emphasis on prophetic authority makes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unique within America’s religious culture. The religion that Joseph Smith created established a kingdom of God in a land distrustful of monarchy while positioning Smith as Christ’s voice on earth, with the power to form cities, establish economies, and arrange governments.
Michael Hubbard MacKay traces the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ claim to religious authority and sets it within the context of its times. Delving into the evolution of the concept of prophetic authority, MacKay shows how the Church emerged as a hierarchical democracy with power diffused among leaders Smith chose. At the same time, Smith’s settled place atop the hierarchy granted him an authority that spared early Mormonism the internal conflict that doomed other religious movements. Though Smith faced challenges from other leaders, the nascent Church repeatedly turned to him to decide civic plans and define the order of both the cosmos and the priesthood.
Cornell University Press
Spencer W. McBride, Brent M. Rogers, and Keith A. Erekson, Contingent Citizens: Shifting Perceptions of Latter-day Saints in American Politics (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2020).
University of Utah Press
Ronald O. Barney, Joseph Smith: History, Methods, and Memory (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020).
Matthew L. Harris, Watchman on the Tower: Ezra Taft Benson and the Making of the Mormon Right (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020).
Val Holley, The Unspeakable Frank Cannon: A Biography (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020).
Amy Tanner Thiriot, Slaves in Zion: African American Servitude in Utah Territory (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020).
Michael Hubbard MacKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Brian M.Haugliud, eds., Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2020).
Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and of the broader Latter-day Saint movement, produced several volumes of scripture between 1829, when he translated the Book of Mormon, and 1844, when he was murdered. The Book of Mormon, published in 1830, is well known. Less read and studied are the subsequent texts that Smith translated after the Book of Mormon, texts that he presented as the writings of ancient Old World and New World prophets. These works were published and received by early Latter-day Saints as prophetic scripture that included important revelations and commandments from God.
This collaborative volume is the first to study Joseph Smith’s translation projects in their entirety. In this carefully curated collection, experts contribute cutting-edge research and incisive analysis. The chapters explore Smith’s translation projects in focused detail and in broad contexts, as well as in comparison and conversation with one another. Authors approach Smith’s sacred texts historically, textually, linguistically, and literarily to offer a multidisciplinary view. Scrupulous examination of the production and content of Smith’s translations opens new avenues for understanding the foundations of Mormonism, provides insight on aspects of early American religious culture, and helps conceptualize the production and transmission of sacred texts.