Juvenile Instructor, a Mormon History Blog

“Judah’s Daughters”: A Reflection on Teaching Women in the Old Testament

By: sswells - April 23, 2014

Please join us in extending a warm welcome to our latest guest blogger, Spencer Wells. Spencer is currently a PhD student in history at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. His is currently beginning work on dissertation project examining pacifists in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. His research in Mormon studies focuses on issues of religious and sexual tolerance. In his spare time Spencer enjoys hiking and making horrendously bad puns. Seriously folks, his puns are legendary. Here he offers his thoughts on his experience teaching a “Women in the Old Testament” Institute course over the past year.


Once every four years the LDS Sunday School trots out the Old Testament for the Saints’ perusal and edification. At times, the decision raises hackles. Complaints, of course, vary. Isaiah’s opacity dismays some, Hebraic ritual etherizes others. And theological protests invariably sprout up. As a personal acquaintance argued with me years ago, God’s actions throughout the Old Testament place Him at odds with modern liberal values. Complicit in razing cities, murdering children, and oppressing women, this teenaged Jehovah played the part of a brooding, angst-ridden Hayden Christiansen (think Anakin Skywalker) to near perfection. (more…)

Mormon Studies in the Classroom: Christopher Blythe, “Mormonisms”

By: admin - April 22, 2014

As the first installment of our new series, this post is from JI’s good friend Christopher Blythe. Chris is a graduate of Utah State University, and is now a PhD candidate in religious studies at Florida State University. He has published broadly on the divergent Mormon traditions, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the John Whitmer Historical Association.

Bringhurst and Hamer's Scattering of the Saints was a watershed moment for the study of divergent Mormonisms.

Bringhurst and Hamer’s Scattering of the Saints was a watershed moment for the study of divergent Mormonisms.

In 2008, while a Master’s student at Utah State University, Philip Barlow invited me to be his assistant for a course entitled, “Mormonisms.” This was Barlow’s first time teaching the course and his third Mormon Studies course at USU. He had some general ideas of what he wanted accomplish in the course, but I was fortunate to be able to help flesh out the curriculum, assignments, and schedule for the course. This was my first teaching experience in which I lectured roughly every fourth class period. I think it’s a fun exercise to imagine teaching the course once again. Six years later, how would I reimagine this class?

Course objective

The objective of this course was and would continue to be to problematize the standard telling of Mormon history and Mormon thought. Rather than examining Mormonism through the teachings and history of one Church, we would see that Mormon thought was always diverse and in contest. This is crucial for understanding the development of Mormonism (i.e. the current face of any one institution of Mormonism is not inevitable but based on historical events and personalities), but also to emphasize the point (first made by Jan Shipps) that Mormonism is not one new religious movement, but an entirely new religious tradition with its own branches and schools of thought. (more…)

New Series: Mormon Studies in the Classroom

By: Ben P - April 21, 2014

The flowing of Mormon studies in the print world has been well-documented. Presses are rushing for more titles on LDS topics, partly because they sell consistently well. While the quantity has sometimes overshadowed the quality of this movement, I think it is safe to say the field is much stronger as a result.

lecture-hallBut publications are only one part of the integration of Mormon studies into the academic world. Another important element is the inclusion of Mormonism in academic classrooms. This is done through several ways. The first is through better integration of Mormonism into broader courses (including classes on American Religous History, New Religious Movements, the American West, or even the classic American history survey). This is mostly accomplished as scholarly work on Mormonism becomes better known, and thus professors are more aware and likely to include it in their lectures, readings, or comprehensive exams. (I was interested to find out that here at Cambridge, the only question on religion in an undergraduate American history exam from a couple years ago was on the Mormon trek west.) Joseph Smith is always a popular topic for undergraduate students, and the Book of Mormon often serves as a surprisingly rewarding text for students to engage. Many have said that Sally Gordon’s The Mormon Question is the go-to text for teaching the intersection of religion and law in the nineteenth century. I imagine this will, and should, continue, as Mormon history becomes more intimately intertwined with the academic study of religious history. (more…)

Weekly Round Up

By: Kris - April 20, 2014

This week’s  Mormon Studies Round-Up: (more…)

Weekly Round-Up

By: J Stuart - April 13, 2014

After a brief hiatus, we are back with the weekly round-up. Let’s go!


New Developments at the Dictionary of Mormon Biography

By: Tod R. - April 12, 2014

I thought I’d write up a quick note on the status of the growing Dictionary of Mormon Biography (DMB).  We have welcomed a few more editors in the last few months and our database continues to expand.

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 10.17.36 AM (more…)

The Mormon History Comps List (2014 Version)

By: Ben P - April 10, 2014

MoHist BooksOver three years ago, I posted my first attempt at a Mormon History Canon. Since a few years have past, a few new books have shaken the field, and I am bored post-dissertation, I thought it was time to do an update. I’ve also refined the type of list this is, which is discussed below.

The goal of the list was to name 25—and the number had to stick to 25—books that every student of Mormon history should read. It is designed as a template for a grad student’s theoretical comprehensive exam list (though I should again emphasize that I’d think it’d be a stupid idea for a grad student to dedicate a portion of a comprehensive exam merely to Mormonism). Thus, books need to cover a broad swath of topics, chronologies, and approaches in order to be inclusive, but they should also match a particular level of quality. I’m also shying away from (most) biographies, edited collections, and documentary sources; those can have separate lists. (more…)

MHA Newsletter Update, Spring 2014 edition

By: Tona H - April 09, 2014

The Mormon History Association Spring 2014 newsletter is now available, and we wanted to continue our tradition of highlighting its contents and announcements.

Registration is now open for the San Antonio conference (MHA’s 49th), expertly organized by Brian Cannon, and the lead story reminds us that there is a long history of church connections with Texas dating back to 1844 and continuing through the followers of Lyman Wight, missionary efforts in the 1850s, and vibrant local growth in the 20th century. The conference will take place at the Wyndham San Antonio Riverwalk hotel, and self-guided tour maps will be available for those wanting to see the city on foot. There are still some seats open in the pre-conference tour to the Spanish Missions, and in the post-conference tour to the Wightite sites, state capitol at Austin, and LBJ locations.

Starting in July 2014, MHA welcomes its new executive directors, Debra J. and David B. Marsh of Sandy, Utah, who are profiled in this issue. Debbie is a professional genealogist and historian who will be defending her PhD dissertation at the University of Utah this summer on the Carthage mob. David is a longtime CES educator and church curriculum designer with degrees in psychology, family studies, and sociology of religion, currently working for the church’s Priesthood Department.

Calls for Papers and Upcoming Events, in order of their submission deadlines – (more…)

Joseph Smith Papers job opening

By: admin - April 08, 2014

From our friends at the Joseph Smith Papers

Historian/Documentary Editor, Joseph Smith Papers


The King Follett Discourse: The Nous

By: Steve Fleming - April 07, 2014

With Joseph Smith having given the King Follett Discourse one-hundred seventy years ago this day, I thought I would put up a post from my dissertation that addresses one of the themes from the Discourse. Here I discuss the Platonic concept of the nous, or the uncreated part of the soul that was divine.

I put this analysis in the context of discussing the Book of Abraham, so this is the part where Abraham discusses “intelligences.”

The Nous.  Using the term “intelligence” to describe pre-mortal beings was similar to the Platonic concept of the nous; indeed, intelligence is one way to translate nous in to English, mind is another.  Smith used both terms to describe a similar concept.  (more…)

From the Archives: Helen Mar Kimball blessing and the dating of her marriage to Joseph Smith

By: J. Stapley - April 02, 2014

The marriage of Helen Mar Kimball to Joseph Smith is certainly one of the most controversial polygamous relationships in LDS Church history. [n1] Relying upon the work of Andrew Jenson, the marriage has generally been dated to sometime in the month of May 1843. [n2] I recently read a blessing given to Helen Mar Kimball by her father Heber C. Kimball, dated May 28, 1843, available at the LDS Church History Library.

Walking into the Waters of Baptism

By: admin - April 01, 2014

We here at JI have an exciting announcement. A few months ago, Amanda and Natalie stumbled across a particularly moving passage in a nineteenth-century diary in which a small child was healed after being run over by a wagon on the Mormon Trail. Imagining the child’s broken, crumpled body being healed while his mother wept nearby affected the two who began to wonder how people who seemed so reasonable could have believed in the possibility of divine miracles. After several days of fervent prayer, they decided to ask the missionaries to visit them in Natalie’s home in Lansing. After finally reading the Book of Mormon, they realized Joseph Smith was a prophet and that he never could have written something so beautiful and inspiring as the Book of Mormon as a young, uneducated man. Both JIers will be baptized next week in the Lansing 2nd Ward.  Please welcome them as your brothers and sisters in Christ.

Note: Amanda has also recognized her importance as a mother and will no longer be completing her dissertation at the University of Michigan.  You may keep up with her at her new mommy blog komotodragons.wordpress.com

Weekly Round-up: Go the Crap to Sleep Edition

By: Amanda - March 30, 2014

Let me begin with a mea culpa. It was my turn to do the round-up this week and I completely forgot about it till I was sitting in Au Bon Pain after church, eating a lemon cupcake and wondering if the baby was going to fall asleep so I could do some work. (She’s still awake right now, but I have my fingers crossed that she’ll fall asleep soon or that her father will magically return and relieve me of my childcare duties.) (more…)

Choosing Modesty

By: Natalie R - March 27, 2014

By now most of us probably know about the story Hannah’s New Dress. I will let Peggy Fletcher Stack describe the scenario from her excellent and multilayered article Does Mormon Modesty Mantra Reduce Women to Sex Objects from from February 28th:

One of them tells of little Hannah, who wanted to wear to the zoo a red-and-white sundress that her grandma had given her, but she noticed it didn’t have any sleeves. So her mother put a T-shirt under it. “Now I am ready to go to the zoo,” said the child.

The message is implicit: modesty matters and should matter even to the youngest members of the church. What is most striking about this story is that the young girl is the one who recognizes the problems with the dress.


Searching for Wellness, Finding Mormonism

By: Guest - March 26, 2014

For today’s post we welcome back Susanna Morrill, friend and occasional contributor to the JI.

I have been thinking about Nancy Peirson’s journal since I first ran across it years ago during my dissertation research. It is a fantastic resource for tracking the earliest, lived religious practices of Mormons, especially medical and health practices. I am at the beginning of this project centered on Peirson’s journal; these are some initial thoughts on the subject. Nancy Peirson was baptized into the LDS Church in 1838 and remained a faithful Mormon until she died en route to Salt Lake City in 1852. Peirson was part of the Richards family, a sister to Willard Richards.  Peirson recorded her life in a journal written from 1846 to 1852. Health, illness, and death are central themes in this journal. Regularly and carefully recording the health of her friends, neighbors, and family, Peirson became increasingly fixated on illness and disease as she dealt with a painful tumor on her side, a malady that probably led to her premature death. She created a network of Mormon correspondents, a network that was focused on discussions of health and illness. Most of these correspondents were her siblings: Willard, Rhoda, Levi, and Hepsy Richards (among others). In these exchanges we see how the family’s pre-Mormon Thomsonian health practices smoothed the way for their conversions to the LDS faith.


Vernacular Architecture and Religious Practice

By: Kris - March 25, 2014

Last year I drove from Salt Lake City to Logan for the first time.  One of the things that I found most captivating along the route was the barns.  They were so different from the ones where I live. I found both the basic structure and the pitch of the roof to be intriguing, and wondered what it was about the environment and culture that made them so different from the barns I was familiar with.  I would imagine that to anybody who lives locally or drives that route often, the barns are unremarkable.  This is the challenge of vernacular architecture – the ordinariness of a building almost renders it invisible.  However ordinary buildings and landscapes are revealing indicators of culture and identity and in some cases religious practice. (more…)

Pathways for Female Socialization

By: Guest - March 23, 2014

Jennifer Brinkerhoff Platt is currently an assistant visiting faculty member in Brigham Young University’s Department of Ancient Scripture. A former seminary and institute instructor, she earned a PhD from Arizona State University in lifespan developmental psychology, focusing on women and social issues.

In the past week I attended a stake activity days event, young women’s new beginnings and a relief society birthday celebration.  While each was carefully planned, well attended and inspiring I couldn’t help but wonder how effective it might have been had the three events been combined to celebrate a female trajectory of discipleship. A clearly celebrated sisterhood across the lifespan is something I feel is lacking in the Church. LDS females lack delineated rites of passage. Activity days for 8-12 year old girl and young women programs such as personal progress are posed to set females on a path of goal setting but lack rich ritual behavior and frequent association with women of varying ages over a span of years. Further, it seems the three female auxiliaries often function territorially rather than as homogenous, unified sisters. Having said that, I’m intrigued by the possibilities of next week’s intergenerational gathering in the historic General Women’s Meeting of the Church. I’m hopeful that this initiates a pathway for female socialization including increased frequency of gatherings of this type in localized communities. (more…)

Mormon Rituals: Ordinances or Sacraments?

By: Ryan T. - March 21, 2014

This quick-and-dirty (and embarrassingly long) post traces some of the history of Christian liturgy to consider a different way to think about Mormon ritual. It’s very much exploratory; I welcome your insights and critiques.

Many of the most rancorous debates of the Reformation Era—and there were lots of them—revolved around liturgy and the practice of Christian rituals. Not only did Protestants clash with the Roman Church as they attacked and rejected the conventional set of seven sacraments, but before long, the new Protestant schools of thought were in conflict with each other as well. More than anything else, in fact, it was the debate over the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, that shattered the prospects of a united Protestant Christendom.


New Addition: Liz M.

By: admin - March 20, 2014

We’re pleased to announce that Liz M., a PhD student at Claremont Graduate University, has agreed to join the Juvenile Instructor. Here is how she describes herself:

I am working on a PhD in American religious history at Claremont Graduate University. My dissertation is on women’s popular family theologies in between the world wars. One chapter will be on Mormon women. So I am interested in family religion and women’s religious history.

Please join us in welcoming Liz to the Juvenile Instructor, the best academic Mormon history blog on the interwebz since 2007!

Practicing Charity: Everyday Daughters of God

By: Guest - March 19, 2014

By Laura Allred Hurtado

On Monday, I attended a lecture celebrating the Relief Society Commemoration given by Sharon Eubank, Director of LDS Charities, sponsored by the Church History Department. Her comments were titled “Matriarchy” and she indexed the many ways Mormon women have historically performed acts of charity and whose legacy of service continue to have influence on the many projects LDS charities executes today, albeit on a much grander scale. (more…)

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