Women in the Academy: Rachel Cope

By February 25, 2010

Rachel graciously shares autobiographical reflections in the first profile of the “Women in the Academy” series. These reflections show the ways in which she has been shaped by women in and out of the academy, from her great-grandmothers to Gerda Lerner to Louisa May Alcott. As she shares her journey, Rachel reveals pieces of her vision for women in and out of the academy in America and around the world. Rachel’s thoughts serve as an exciting window into the “beautifully transformative” effects of study and creation, for men and women alike.

Education: BA (history, BYU); MA (American history, BYU); PhD (American history ,women’s history and religious history, Syracuse University)

How did you become interested in your area (s) of expertise/specialization?

My academic journey commenced when I was a little girl. I was fortunate to have a mother and grandmother who had graduated from college and who referred constantly to great works of literature. I believed I was Jo March by the age of seven or eight. While the other girls read The Babysitter’s Club, I made my way through Charles Dickens, C. S. Lewis, Jane Austen, and the Bronte Sisters. Although I did not understand everything I read, I learned to love to read, to write and to think (to the point that I didn’t want to take dance lessons because I feared it would cut into my reading time).

In second grade, I read two biographical pieces in the Weekly Reader that inspired me. One told the story of Deborah Samson, a young woman who wanted to be a soldier. Because females were not allowed to serve in such positions, she cut her hair and disguised herself so she could fulfill her dream. The other article detailed the experiences of Helen Keller, a woman who overcame physical and gendered limitations. I stood in awe of both and realized women could do anything. Before I had entered my teens, I had decided that I wanted to earn a PhD.

My intellectual quests were defined further at Brigham Young University. The blossoming of personal interests in the religious past and an epiphany-like moment led to a previously unexpected direction: I became a history major. From BYU I went to Syracuse University, where it became obvious to me that women’s history had to be a part of my academic focus. In fact, it seemed rather odd that it took me so long to realize the obvious. Women’s religious history fit me perfectly, and led to a dissertation topic I found intellectually and spiritually enlightening. While dissertating was certainly difficult, it was also beautifully transformative. I treasure that time and anticipate the opportunity to pursue other meaningful projects in the future.

What are you currently studying, or what are some of your current projects (papers, books, dissertations, etc.)?

Each of my research projects contributes to the idea that accounts of female religiosity are not appendages to American history; they are American history (an insight I gained from Ann Braude, of course). I discovered this, most poignantly, when I became acquainted with the personal writings of Catherine Livingston Garrettson. Because I wanted to know everything about her, I traveled to her house, stood at her gravesite, visited her church, and explored her hometown. During this time, she became more real to me, and, consequently, so did her contemporaries. As I continued to read women’s journals, diaries, and correspondence, I saw more than I had seen before. How women worshiped, what they read, how often they prayed, what they wrote in their journals, with whom they interacted, to what extent they shared their beliefs and served others–these things mattered to them. Indeed, the daily as well as the weekly, the private as well as the public, impacted their personal lives and their cultures.

When I discovered the writings of Catherine Livingston Garrettson, I did not realize that her religious experiences and spiritual reflection would seep into my consciousness, transform my perspectives, connect my interests to one another, and ultimately capture and influence the overarching theme of my broaching academic career–how women lived and expressed their religiosity in nineteenth-century America, and how these experiences impacted conversion and shaped and reshaped their identities. Consequently, my research interests are connected to my desire to continue identifying and examining female religiosity in such a way that the larger narratives of American religious history can shift in new directions.

Currently, I am finishing an article about women as religious seekers. In April, I will be a visiting scholar at the Manchester Wesley Research Centre in England (and in my free time I will be exploring the English countryside with my little cousins Rosie and Tilda, wandering through fantastic cemeteries and old churches with my uncle, and “eating for England” with my gran; I love being a historian!). Oh yes, I will also be perusing journals and correspondence written by early Methodist women. In particular, I will be searching for their conceptions of sanctification. Future plans entail lots of research and writing about women, revivalism and conversion, as well as a project that focuses on the ways in which antebellum women relied on religion as a means to deal with domestic violence and abuse. I have yet to determine where that project is going.

What has your experience been like as a woman in the academy?

When I was in elementary school, I learned that my great-grandmothers, Irma Shumway Cope and Elizabeth Jackson Parry, had given similar answers to the same question: If you could change anything in your life, what would it be? Both expressed deep regret that they had been unable to receive a formal education. Struck by the parallel responses given by two very different women–one an Irish Catholic raised in the bustling seaport of Liverpool, England, and the other a Mormon raised in a tiny community in southern Utah–I decided that I wanted to become well educated and that I would educate other women. I thus came to understand, rather early on, that education creates a myriad of choices that empower women to make a difference in and beyond their professions. In grad school I realized I could do this, in part, by including women in the historical narrative. To be told that there are no limits on what women can accomplish is encouraging, but to recognize the many ways women have engaged in the human experience over the course of time is transforming. As Gerda Lerner so aptly stated, “Not having a history truly matters.” And, thus, having a history–having roots–confirms that women can indeed accomplish anything.

For me, personally, “femaleness” has been a central part of my academic experience: it has influenced why I study, what I study, how I study and what I want to do with my studies. Initially, it was a catalyst. As I have mentioned, my mom and my grandma, Deborah Samson and Helen Keller, Elizabeth Jackson Parry and Irma Shumway Cope, Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austen taught me that women can be educated and that they can educate. They can think and write. They can dream and achieve. Women can do and become. Although most little girls from Spanish Fork, Utah, do not go on to get PhDs, I had internalized these lessons enough that the occasional discouraging or judgmental comment stung but did not defeat. Other women had taught me that I could, spiritual promptings confirmed that I could, and I knew that I could, and nothing else mattered. I met my goal. Now what?

In terms of gender in the academy, a lot of progress has been made. To claim it is enough or that it is no longer an issue, however, is ignorant at best. Has society–has the world–really changed enough? I think the question that needs to be asked is how the academy is using “knowledge” about gender to improve life outside of intellectual theorizing. A recent trip to India has only convinced me further that changes need to occur. As long as women are discouraged from pursuing dreams, as long as female infanticide rates remain high, as long as domestic violence and abuse are rampant, as long as rape is someone’s awful reality, as long as child pornography remains a thriving industry, as long as little girls are convinced that thin is never thin enough, as long as personal worth is based on the exterior rather than the interior, as long as torture and murder are real, as long as mouths remain unfed and hearts and lives continue to be broken, we cannot say we have done enough. I do not know all of the answers, but I do believe that writing women back into history and encouraging women to pursue education is an important first step. I hope to contribute to that step, and to find ways to help with the second and third steps.

In your field who are some women (living or dead) you admire? Why?

I feel indebted to and admire the work of some of the first historians who had enough courage, passion, and insight to write women back into history: the scholarship of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Gerda Lerner, most specifically, has had a profound impact on me as an individual and as a scholar. I have also been influenced by the work of Ann Braude and Catherine Brekus. Both have made women’s religious history a viable field.

For someone who is interested in studying what you do, what are some books you would recommend on the subject?

A random sampling:

  • Robert H. Abzug, Cosmos Crumbling: American Reform and the Religious Imagination.
  • Ann Braude, Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women’s Rights in Ninteenth-Century America.
  • Catherine A. Brekus, Stranger and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845.
  • Candy Gunther Brown, The Word in the World: Evangelical Writing, Publishing, and Reading in America, 1789-1880.
  • Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe, The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth-Century New England.
  • D. Bruce Hindmarsh, The Evangelical Conversion Narrative: Spiritual Autobiography in Early Modern England.
  • Elaine Lawless, Holy Women, Wholly Women: Sharing Ministries of Wholeness through Life Stories and Reciprocal Ethnography.
  • Gerda Lerner, The Creation of the Feminist Consciousness: From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy.
  • Gerda Lerner, Why History Matters: Life and Thought.
  • Phyllis Mack, Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophecy in Seventeenth-Century England.
  • Robert Orsi, Madonna of 115th Street: Faith and Community in Italian Harlem, 1880-1950.
  • Richard Rabinowitz, The Spiritual Self in Everyday Life: The Transformation of Personal Religious Experience in Nineteenth-Century New England.
  • Mary Ryan, Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790-1865.
  • Mechal Sobel, Teach Me Dreams: The Search for Self in the Revolutionary Era.
  • Scott Stephan, Redeeming the Southern Family: Evangelical Women & Domestic Devotion in the Antebellum South.
  • Ann Taves, Fits, Trances, & Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James.
  • Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History.


Article filed under Miscellaneous Women in the Academy


  1. What a fantastic start to the series, Liz.

    Thanks, Rachel, for your thoughtful reflections offered here. I’m excited about your current and future research (especially that dealing with Methodism).

    I know the bulk of your research doesn’t deal directly with Mormonism, but I know you have done some work on the subject in the past. Without giving away what you’re going to present at MHA this year, could you briefly address what you see as the current state of Mormon women’s history and potentially fruitful future avenues of research?

    Comment by Christopher — February 25, 2010 @ 5:57 pm

  2. I think the question that needs to be asked is how the academy is using ?knowledge? about gender to improve life outside of intellectual theorizing.

    A great point.

    I do not know all of the answers, but I do believe that writing women back into history and encouraging women to pursue education is an important first step.

    An even better point.

    This was a great read, Rachel; thanks for sharing a part of you and your experience with us.

    Comment by Ben — February 25, 2010 @ 7:56 pm

  3. Rachel, thank you for sharing your experiences and ideas in such an eloquent and exciting manner. Reading your insights reminded me how much I enjoy women’s studies.

    I especially appreciated your quote that “accounts of female religiosity are not appendages to American history; they are American history”. Expanding our view of history is vital. I remember that the reason I hated history in middle school and high school was because it seemed to be made up only of wars and powerful men. It wasn’t until I began studying at the university level that I realized, through the more integrative teaching styles of my professors, that history is encompassing, which means that the study of history must then be inclusive. Women’s history and African-American history and other types of history are not their own separate forms of history, but are part of the narrative of the human experience and should be treated as such.

    And Elizabeth, thank you for coming up with the idea of this series – I’m excited for future posts. It’s great to hear from and concentrate on successful female scholars.

    Comment by Ardis S. — February 25, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

  4. Thank you for your kind words Chris, Ben and Ardis!

    Great question, Chris. Gerda Lerner has noted that women?s history consists of (a) compensatory history, (b) contribution history, and (c) reconstruction history. Compensatory history is an attempt to find lost or overlooked women. Contribution history, quite obviously, emphasizes women?s contributions. Finally, reconstruction history considers how the past is gendered and reconstructs it accordingly. The first two approaches make women?s history an appendage to the larger narrative, while the last actually causes the narrative to shift in new directions. I think historians of Mormon women have compensated and contributed some, but I am not sure we have really reconstructed enough. This is of course true of women?s religious history in general, a problem Catherine Brekus discusses in the introduction to her edited volume, The Religious History of American Women: Reimagining the Past. Simply put, historians need to think about the ways Mormon history can be ?transformed or enriched? by asking ?questions about women?s lives as well as men?s? (34).

    A year ago, I taught Mormon Women?s History at BYU, and loved seeing students (on occasion) recognize that the inclusion of women in the larger context actually shifted the narrative. I recall one young woman enthusiastically reporting that she had been reading an article about an event in Mormon history, and that because of the material and ideas we had discussed in our class, she had concluded that the author had made some crucial omissions. ?The story,? she informed me, ?is different from the one he tells.? She then added, ?And a few weeks ago, I wouldn?t have even noticed.? This young woman had learned to read and challenge an established narrative. Her factual knowledge was complemented by her growing historical consciousness. Moments like that should not be rare. I know I need to think of ways to make this happen more often in my writing and my teaching.

    Ardis, when I was in high school I loved math and English and disliked history. It wasn?t until I was in college that I realized history could be about more than the Civil War and the World Wars. I had discovered a whole new world.

    Comment by Rachel — February 25, 2010 @ 11:35 pm

  5. This discussion makes me even more excited for the presentations from Catherine Breckus and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich at MHA; those will be worth the price of admission itself.

    Comment by Ben — February 26, 2010 @ 4:43 am

  6. Oh great–now I know Rachel is even more impressive and intimidating than I thought! 🙂 Thanks for starting this series, Elizabeth!

    Comment by Kristine — February 26, 2010 @ 8:52 am

  7. Agreed, Ben. Imho, we managed to get two of very best. It is going to be fantastic.

    Kristine, come to my Zumba class. Your opinion will change will rather quickly!!!!

    Comment by Rachel — February 26, 2010 @ 9:53 am

  8. I especially appreciated your quote that ?accounts of female religiosity are not appendages to American history; they are American history?. Expanding our view of history is vital. I remember that the reason I hated history in middle school and high school was because it seemed to be made up only of wars and powerful men. It wasn?t until I began studying at the university level that I realized, through the more integrative teaching styles of my professors, that history is encompassing, which means that the study of history must then be inclusive. Women?s history and African-American history and other types of history are not their own separate forms of history, but are part of the narrative of the human experience and should be treated as such.

    Amen, Ardis S!

    Great to get to know you, Rachel!

    Comment by sister blah 2 — February 26, 2010 @ 11:55 am

  9. Rachel, I will have to wait until this weekend to really get into this, but just wanted to drop a quick note to say thank you for kicking off this series!

    Comment by Jared T. — February 26, 2010 @ 1:14 pm

  10. Thank you Rachel. Your post has cast a beam of light and clarity on an area that I have been struggling with as I work on a family history/biography. I can’t quite put this into words right now, but the compensatory/contribution/reconstruction definitions are exactly what I need to think about. Thanks for the book list too.

    Comment by Susan W H — February 26, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

  11. Susan, you are certainly welcome. I am glad it has been helpful.

    Some of the comments that have been posted have led to some rumination on my part; one of my favorite haunts (although I am not able to frequent it that often, particularly now) is Oberlin College. That campus is sacred space to me. For those of you who don?t know your Oberlin history (which I am assuming would be most people), it was the first college to regularly admit African-American students (1835) and is also the oldest continuously operating coed institution (after admitting four women in 1837). The first black woman to receive a BA did so at Oberlin. On top of that, Charles Finney was the president for a while, and the town itself was very involved in the abolition movement. All fascinating!

    As I see it, Oberlin allowed blacks and women to become a part of the human story. To me, that institution symbolizes transformation, discovery, opportunity and identity: its history not only gave people a future, it has also helped provide women and African-Americans with a past. When I was doing research there, I would wake up really early in the morning so I could have campus to myself. Often, I would take a long walk, and reflect upon the past, the present and the future. It was a meaningful time for me: although I hadn?t realized it when I began grad school, I was searching for my history (not my personal history, or my family history, or my religious history; I knew those things. I needed to understand the history of women. I had to know what it has meant to be female over time). So, I discovered more of myself at Oberlin: my roots, my history, my connection to other women. They were like me. They had paved the way for me and for others. And because their lives mattered, so did mine. Roots are indeed crucial.

    I have wondered, on occasion, if I am one of the few who felt the need to understand (to somewhat borrow Lerner?s title) Why Women Matter, but I have discovered that most women long to know, even if they don?t know they do. Around the time I was finding my own way to women?s history, I taught a Relief Society lesson from a conference talk on spiritual gifts. In short, I used examples of women from the scriptures and from church history to illustrate each point. It was quite simple, actually. For weeks, I had women (old and young, well educated and barely literate, lifelong members and recent converts) coming up to me and thanking me for teaching them something about other women. I kept hearing: ?I never knew . . . ? It was then that I realized everyone?everyone?needs roots. And so I committed myself to studying women and religion.

    For those interested in the importance of historical rootedness, Gerda Lerner and Laurel Ulrich are great places to turn. I would also recommend The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan. I am also going to add Mary Kelley’s Learning to Stand and Speak: Women, Education and Public Life in America’s Republic to my reading list.

    Thank you Ardis and Sister Blah 2 for directing my thoughts back to Oberlin.

    Comment by Rachel — February 26, 2010 @ 4:30 pm

  12. Oberlin also has a cool Mormon connection because Lorenzo Snow went there for a bit before moving to Kirtland and converting to Mormonism.

    Comment by Christopher — February 26, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

  13. True. Thanks, Chris. They also own the Spaulding Manuscript.

    Comment by Rachel — February 26, 2010 @ 5:04 pm

  14. As I recall, Oberlin also has some connection with the Spaulding manuscript saga.

    Rachel, thank you for these thoughts. I think the problems you address are ones that many subfields struggle with–how to break down the barriers that, in my view, continue to dominate how “mainstream” historians narrate the American past in textbooks and syntheses. Despite forty years of solid social history, politics, wars, and the east coast continue to structure how most of these works deal with the past, with social and cultural history providing nice detours. I like that you’re willing to move beyond women’s historiography to ask how what you’re doing matters to these broader narratives. When discussing the H-SHEAR reviews of Howe’s What Hath God Wrought in my Southern Women’s history class last year, my prof (at TCU) surprised me by stating that she didn’t think that there was much value in these types of syntheses, simply because the synthesizers normally pay lip service to women, reserving a small amount of space for them, but otherwise failing to restructure their “national” narratives from a gendered point of view.

    Also, I wonder if you could comment on what I perceive as the eastern-US bias in women’s (and religious) history and the potential problems that poses for studying Mormon women after 1847. Philip Goff once commented to me that in his experience, Western historians are far more likely to deal with religion than religious historians are willing to treat the West. Do you agree? (I’d say Western historians are usually just as bad at ignoring religion) I think this presents a bit of a problem, given that much of the Western women’s history paradigm is centered around women of color, which of course cuts out the majority of Mormon women.

    Comment by David G. — February 26, 2010 @ 8:43 pm

  15. David, your observations are all insightful: there are a number of barriers (and trying to figure out how to fix everything is pretty difficult, eh?). I am going to have to say that I do not agree or disagree (entirely) with your professor. To dismiss all syntheses seems a bit extreme to me. There is certainly value in many works despite their limitations and omissions. That being said, future texts can and should enrich, alter and expand the narrative. I like how Catherine Brekus puts it (warning: I will be restating her thoughts in my less eloquent words): it is important to ask questions about how women’s experiences change the larger narrative. In some cases, the answers to those questions may not alter the story, but in others, one may discover a whole new world of possibilities. We need historians who are willing to ask news kinds of questions and who are open to the fact that those questions may have answers.

    So, in an ideal world, we would all learn how to integrate many facets of the human experience into our work; we would be open to new angles and lenses and we would not allow our own biases to influence us. But, as we all learn in graduate school (as well as other life experiences), smart people are not quite as smart as we always thought they were, and personal biases are rampant while open-mindedness is sometimes less available than we might have hoped. I am a strong believer in self-awareness and change; I do my best to incorporate both into my life. But, I am wise enough to know that I fall short of my lofty goals quite often and I recognize that many people choose to not change. I don’t think the problems of history will ever be fixed (as we resolve one issue another will emerge), but, I do think a generational shift has taken and is taking place. And, if we commit to lifelong learning, and if we can accept that we are sometimes wrong, shifts will occur quite naturally. I think we have all had experiences in which a particular book altered some aspect of our world view. A trip (like my trip to India) changes us forever. A personal experience impacts our outlook. Or most importantly, the Atonement transforms our very natures. All of these things (life itself) shape what we value and how we see. I guess I am just saying that if we keep learing new things, we will come to recognize things we have never seen before, and integration will become more likely. So there is my dose of idealism for the day.

    If you want to read a book that really challenges some traditional assumptions (it has changed some of my thinking), I would suggest you look at Mary S. Hartman’s, The Household and the Making of History: A Subversive View of the Western Past.
    As for your other question, I am not sure I am the most qualified person to answer. I did do a MA at BYU, which means I learned a lot about western history. When I went to Syracuse, I noticed that the West did not exist there, but I am afraid I was quickly swept into the world of Eastern bias. My research has focused primarily on New York and New England. And, 1847 is rather late for me. I don’t know that I know the historiography well enough to draw a conclusion, but your assertion sounds accurate to me. It does seem like many young Mormon historians are moving away from western history and into the world of religious history or religious studies. Any thoughts on that?

    I also have a question for Chris, Steve Fleming and Ryan (in relation to the last post Chris wrote): you discussed the ways in which Mormons have been added or deleted and how they have been represented in American religious history narratives. What about women? Any thoughts? (Ryan, I assume Catherine Brekus deals with that in your class?)

    Comment by Rachel — February 27, 2010 @ 10:02 am

  16. As I mentioned on Chris’s post, American religious historiography isn’t something I’ve kept up on and I was sort of just focussing on Mormonism when I did the article David mentioned. An oversight I know but I’ve tried to remedy that in my own work.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — February 27, 2010 @ 1:54 pm

  17. Certainly, Steve. I was just wondering if anything had stuck out. Thank you for the link.

    Also, I fear I dismissed the concerns of David’s professor too much. She made very legitimate points. The term subfield, in and of itself, is telling, isn’t it? I’m not quite sure how we can claim women are a subfield or a minority (although we do) when they are, in fact, usually more than half of the population. Those categories (perhaps unintentionally) suggest that women are still considered appendages to history, that the main story is not really their story. I don’t really know how we can fix that, but I think we are and should continue trying.

    Because things have improved, we sometimes make the mistake of thinking we have corrected such problems. I was at a dinner honoring a member of the BYU community the other night, and someone asked all of the women who were the first females in their department to raise their hands. I was astounded by how many hands went up. And I was touched by the closing plea (directed to the women there) to keep moving forward.

    I personally hope that the narrative can shift enough that my little girls (assuming I ever have any) never have to ask “Why are men more important than women?”

    Comment by Rachel — February 27, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

  18. It is hard to read this post and not think of Howard Zinn who passed away earlier this month. He moved easily between what Rachel might call the first, second, and third steps toward social justice. And yet he was a heretic to many historians. His sweeping synthesis of radical and revisionist historiography was read by millions but bemoaned by scholars who chafed at his focus on rebels and victims to the exclusion of almost everyone else. I think more historians would have found Zinn palatable if he had limited himself to compensatory or contribution history. His fatal flaw, some of them might say, was committing the sin of reconstruction. Activists usually attraction more attention than reformers, but their ambitious agendas are not usually known for nuance.

    I think it would be interesting to hear more about the orientation of Mormon history, and both the traditional and new Western histories, to the compensatory, contribution, and reconstruction options available in writing the history of underrepresented communities.

    Comment by Sterling Fluharty — February 28, 2010 @ 7:39 pm

  19. Thank you for your thoughts, Sterling. I’m not really sure I would compare myself to Howard Zinn (truthfully, I would love to be a Mother Teresa, but I lack her selflessness, nobility and courage). My personal aim is reformation rather than activism.

    As a teenager, particularly when I was tired, I would worry about things “normal” kids did not think about. My dad would often say, “Rachel, you don’t have to solve the world’s problems before you go to be tonight. Take things a step at a time.” Since then, I have learned that same lesson over and over again. I mentioned Methodist convert Catherine Garrettson in my post. I love her because she taught me so much about myself. Catherine longed to attain entire sanctification. For 50 or so years, she expressed this desire in her journal. She could not understand why she was falling short of such a righteous desire: “NOW Lord NOW” she would plea. When Catherine reached her 90s (yes, I do mean her 90s), she finally started to recognize a process of change that had been taking place day after day after day. Sanctification was her daily reality. Another example could be drawn from the autobiography of Lucy Mack Smith. At one point, she finds herself reflecting on a series of events that had ignited her desire to find a religion that resonated with her. For 20 years, she recalls, she had been pleading with God to direct her and to answer her. Nothing substantial happened until her young son had a vision. At that point, two decades of searching suddenly made sense. Every step had been preparing her for something yet to come. My point? Catherine and Lucy learned that change and discovery are processes. Is the writing of history any different?

    As historians, and as humans, we slowly chip away at things. We do our best to understand events and ideas from the particular lenses we have been given. We challenge ourselves to consider new perspectives. And we move forward an inch at a time. You and I may be thinking, “Gosh. I haven’t gotten anywhere yet.” But we’re wrong. Even the slightest movements matter. Yes, I want perfect history NOW, but I am realistic enough to know that the narrative will improve at a snail’s pace. Of course I have to belive it will become richer and deeper, otherwise, why did I spend a decade in school?

    Comment by Rachel — February 28, 2010 @ 11:48 pm

  20. You are welcome. I didn’t mean to single you out for a comparison to Howard Zinn. David also helped to spark those particular thoughts. There is a lot to admire in Mother Teresa, but I wish she hadn’t opposed liberation theology. I can understand the gradualism you advocate for a humanistic discipline like the humanities. But the postwar history I have studied suggests that some social movements were successful precisely because they became tired of waiting for solutions to the world’s problems. As for why any of us spend a decade in school, I believe we fall in love with the life of the mind. We want to believe that what we write will change how history is written and maybe even make the world a better place. I haven’t abandoned that dream, but it has taken me a while to work through my doubts about the usefulness of some contemporary historical writing.

    Comment by Sterling Fluharty — March 1, 2010 @ 1:30 am

  21. Sterling, agreed on all accounts. There are times when someone has to say, “Hey, the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.” I wish more people had that courage. The reality is that most people are more comfortable with gradualism (particularly in the church). I also find that gradual shifts prepare me for my big jumps. I think that is what Lucy Mack Smith found; as she looked back, she realized a number of little incidents had pushed her forward. When big change came, she was ready.

    Comment by Rachel — March 1, 2010 @ 9:10 am

  22. Thanks, Liz for pulling this together. I look forward to the rest of the series. And thank you all for your comments.

    Comment by Rachel — March 1, 2010 @ 9:17 am

  23. Rachel: There certainly is a perception that most young grad students have opted for religious history/studies rather than Western history. But I think it’s noteworthy that four recent published dissertations have approached the religion from a New Western History standpoint (Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount, Paul Reeve’s Making Space on the Mormon Frontier, Dan Moos’s Outside America, and Todd Kerstetter’s God’s Country, Uncle Sam’s Land; Matthew C. Godfrey’s Religion, Politics, and Sugar perhaps fits in this group too). None of these works deals much with women, unfortunately. But it seems that grad students have found success going West as well as the religious route.

    Comment by David G. — March 1, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

  24. Thanks, David. Great examples. I guess I should have said young scholars are finding multiple ways to approach Mormon history. Western history used to dominate, I think, but now we are looking through multiple lenses. Exciting times. By the way, this is sort of what Matt and I will be talking about at MHA; our presentations will be on the short side because we (with Chris as the commentator) are hoping to facilitate a group discussion about this very topic . . . so everyone be thinking about what you can add!

    Comment by Rachel — March 1, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

  25. By the way, I will be easy to pick out at MHA. From what I hear, I am known as the stuffy dresser: business attire, heel, pearls . . . things like that. Unless of course I decide to mix it up a bit this year; I could wear a Mother Teresa habit. We shall see . . . 😉

    Comment by Rachel — March 1, 2010 @ 2:29 pm

  26. Thank you, Rachel. I am so pleased that you could be part of the series. You have certainly inspired me. 🙂

    Comment by Elizabeth — March 1, 2010 @ 2:46 pm

  27. Thanks Rachel, I enjoyed your blog. I have special place in my heart for you and what you have done. We need more women like you for inspiration and emulation. Lorraine

    Comment by Lorraine — March 18, 2010 @ 4:31 pm

  28. […] and Doctrine in the BYU Religious Education Department. You can read more about her background in a previous post when she participated in the JI’s Women In The Academy […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Guest Post: Rachel Cope on Religious Education at BYU — January 17, 2011 @ 10:51 am

  29. […] of African descent, separated by time but not by faith. Today’s offering comes from Rachel Cope, who describes her recent visit with the last surviving Shaker women, and the impact of that […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Women’s History Month at the JI: Rachel Cope on Shaker and Mormon Women — March 14, 2011 @ 10:36 am


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