This last weekend I had the great privelege of attending JWHA’s 36th Annual Conference, held at exotic Old Voree, Wiconsin. This year’s theme was “1844-1859: A Time of Transition” (preliminary program found here). Reminiscent of DKL’s roundup from last year, here are a few things that stood out to me the most, though there are numerous other experiences and papers I could list.
Highlights from JWHA’s 2008 Conference
1. The opening McMurrin lecture given this year by Roger Launius, author of several Mormon-related books (probably the most important of which is the biography on Joseph Smith III). His address was entitled “Darwinism, Creationism, and the Mormon Experience,” and he focused on the evolution debate within the Mormon tradition, specifically focusing on the RLDS/Community of Christ. He is an eloquent presenter, and had some fun information. An intriguing discussion in the Q&A followed.
2. Tons of fascinating sessions on Strang. It seemed that there was almost always at least one concurrent session focused on the Strangite movement. Among the many presentations, Kyle Walker delivered an excellent paper on William Smith’s transitory alliance with Strang, Robin Jensen spoke on Strangite newspapers, John Quist spoke on the Strangites’ practice of polygamy, and John Hamer presented on mapping Beaver Island. Although I wasn’t able to make a lot of Strangite sessions, the few I did go to were very revealing and mind-expanding–they are just a fascinating movement. John Hamer mentioned that he is hoping of compiling all the Strang papers and publishing them, a project I certainly hope to see happen.
3. An excellent plenary address at the Awards Banquet given by D. Michael Quinn on “The Ambiguous History of Us-Verses-Them in the Mormon Experience.” Following the paper, Jan Shipps commented that the paper was Quinn’s finest contribution to Mormon studies in quite some time. Following the dinner, most of the attendees gathered in the resort’s club to watch the presidential debate. After witnessing and analyzing the debate with people from numerous Mormon traditions and various political alliances, I think all other debates will be somewhat anticlimactic–at least for me.
4. A great session on Joseph Smith and polygamy. Lawrence Foster presented a paper on how polygamy was the main point of internal conflict in Nauvoo, and how its tensions led to the vast dissensions. Brian Hales then presented his paper on JS’s practice of polyandry, arguing that he believes there is no documented support for sexual polyadry (meaning sexual relationship within polyandrous relationships). He takes all the polyandrous wives case-by-case and accusation-by-accusation to defend his thesis. Interesting stuff, and will definitely receive a lot of challenges (especially in George D. Smith’s upcoming book on Nauvoo polygamy which Signature Books had a review copy at the conference I got to flip through). Hale’s first volume of his work on JS and polygamy should be out next year from Kofford Books, so we’ll see how all his documentation stacks up. It was a pretty convincing presentation, though.
5. Joseph Jessup and Eric Rogers gave a fascinating presentation on Mormon Fundamentalists in Pinesdale, MT. Joseph was raised in the Allred group before joining the LDS Church (but still has favorable relations with them) and Eric is the CES guy in Pinesdale, so both have had a lot of experience with the Group. They did a great job of showing the vast differences between fundamentalist groups, and Joseph even mentioned how most in the Allred group see Warren Jeffs and the FLDS Church as repulsive. They proposed that the relationship between fundamentalist groups are similar to the differences between the LDS Church and other Mormon groups: they share a common heritage and some major doctrinal foundations, but at times can be different as can be. One really interesting point they made was that because the Allred group has such a favorable relationship with the local government and therefore don’t have any tension or “persecution,” they are not as tight a cohesive unit as they once were and are starting to see a sizable number of members join the local LDS Church.
6. The crowd at JWHA was both knowleageable and friendly. Anyone could have candid conversations with Newell Bringhurst, Phil Barlow, Jan Shipps, Ron Esplin, John Hamer, Steve Shields, Bill Russel, Michael Quinn, and the list can go on and on. John Hamer and Michael Karpowicz were always friendly and open despite their hectic schedule in running the show.
7. Bill Shepherd, the Strangite Church Historian and basically the “host” of the conference, was both “quirky” (in a good way) and very hospitable. He was extremely kind to everyone and went out of his way to welcome anyone who he saw.
8. Perhaps the funnest part to me was the field trip everyone went on Saturday afternoon. All of us piled on to two school buses and travelled around to see various Strangite historic sites, including the house Strang died in, the cemetery where several important Strangites were buried, and the Hill of Promise where the Plates of Voree were uncovered. John Hajicek, a Strangite historian and Mormon collections guru, was kind enough to show several valuable Strangite artifacts.*
9. The Latter Day Saint Hymnfest on Sunday morning was also quite memorable. We sang a wide arrange of hyms from different Mormon traditions, finishing with “The Spirit of God” (a hymn reverenced in each Church) which we sang standing up and with real power. A magical experience.
Next year’s conference will be held in Independence, MO, on September 24-27. The theme will be “Race, Gender, Ethnicity, and the Restoration,” a topic that has gotten some attention lately on the blog.
Hope to see all of you next year in Zion!
*John provides an intriguing glimpse into the identity politics associated with the numerous Mormon movements in his comment #16.