Andrea’s recent comment about the portrayal of Joseph Smith’s marriage relationship(s) in popular Mormon history and art prompted me to do this little study. What have LDS Church members learned from the media produced by the institutional Church about Joseph Smith’s polygamous marriages?
First, some theory.
The Exemplification of religion in the Media:
We have to be careful about assuming effects from the media because, with so many variables in play, media effects generally are not uniform nor strong. With that important caveat, empirical research in the field of mass communications on the theory of exemplification has demonstrated that the examples selected by storytellers (e.g., news reporters) do have an effect on people’s perceptions of the world—whether historical or current. This theory helps to explain why, after the passage of time, people tend to remember concrete examples rather than abstract assertions or numerical data.
Theorists have concluded from empirical evidence that the following process occurs in the brain: people use given examples to make intuitive leaps to a whole picture in their minds. In other words, “knowledge” of how the world works tends to be based on isolated, often-atypical evidence that is imprinted visually in the brain.
I would argue that this theory also has implications for religious education. Not only do religion teachers often carry the weight of propounding authoritative Truth, they also often rely on exemplification as a teaching method. That is, the use of examples (verbal and visual) to convey a larger concept is arguably an intuitive storytelling and/or educational strategy. Zillmann (1999) has explained the concept of exemplification:
“Everybody is familiar with examples. Everybody has been given examples, and everybody has related examples to others, in efforts to elucidate a broader concept or issue. Everybody, therefore, has some tacit understanding of a relationship between an example and a larger entity to be exemplified by it. Implied is that more than one example exists” (p. 72).
From our friends at the Joseph Smith Papers:
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And now for something completely different…
A few weeks ago, I introduced my first-year students to the Internet Archive, and we played a bit with the Wayback Machine, which has archived portions of the web since its beginning so we can know what digital environments looked like and how they’ve changed over time.
I also had occasion recently to pull out the files I collected while pursuing my undergraduate thesis on Mormon Indian Placement. I conducted that research between 1990 and 1992, which included some library research trips and a month of field research and collecting oral interviews. It was an interesting in-between time to engage in this kind of study. Research began at the literal card catalog in each library. I had access to computers, yes, but laptops were clunky and large, and could not wirelessly connect to anything. So I bought an electric typewriter on which to make my field notes. I carried a cassette tape recorder for interviews, and after I collected them all, I got some funding to rent a transcription machine with a foot pedal stop/start to help me transcribe them and save them on our home desktop. I backed up everything on 3.5″ disks (called floppies, for you millennials). Thinking I might need to present my research at some point, I brought a camera loaded with 35mm film and took a couple rolls of slides. Now all those things are stored in two very heavy cardboard boxes in my attic. I.e. accessible to no one, barely even me.
Tucked among my papers I found this small brochure from the BYU Harold B. Lee Library, listing ALL of its available computer research databases, most of which were installed on the library’s terminals (i.e. not accessed real-time via internet yet) and some of which required the user to switch out numbered CD-ROM disks manually. I thought it such a quaint artifact of early electronic academic resources that I took the liberty of uploading it to the Internet Archive, where it now lives. I’ve also Flipsnack’d it below (sorry it’s sideways, they don’t do landscape orientation apparently). The brochure was published in 1990, which I guess depending on your age seems like either a lifetime ago, or not very long ago at all. (more…)
We missed a week or two, so let’s hope this week’s roundup makes up for it. Or, at the least, is better than nothing.
By the way, have you heard if Mormonism has been the news lately?
In a way, this last week has been a throw-back to the second half of the nineteenth century, when stories Mormon polygamy filled the American imagination, not to mention the newspapers. The New York Times featured the recent LDS Church-produced essays on plural marriage as an A1, top-fold story that proceeded to set the media ablaze. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell’s Last Word had a nice segment that included Richard Bushman as well as the author of the original NYT story, Laurie Goodstein. Other coverage was found at PBS, The Guardian, and from the always-reliable Jana Reiss. One of the most perceptive takes, I thought, was Joanna Brooks’s. I could link to a dozen other pieces, some good and some not-so-good, but you have a google machine. (more…)
The idea of esoteric truth, or higher truths only taught to the spiritually or ritually prepared, can be found in many traditions. It has a long history in Christianity and Jesus himself declared to his apostles, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand” (Luke 8:10). Paul in particular referred to higher teachings: in 1 Corinthians 2 he declared, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified … Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory … But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” And in the next chapter Paul declared, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” (more…)
Although recent scholarship has done much to understand Native conversions to Christianity in early America, asking intriguing questions about indigenous agency and adaptation within colonial contexts, little has been written on Native converts to Mormonism. Part of the hesitance, at least for nineteenth-century historians, stems from the nature of the source material. There are, simply put, few “Native texts”—written accounts drafted by indigenous converts to Mormonism that reflect their viewpoint—prior to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From the 1850s through the 1880s, thousands of Native peoples accepted Mormon baptism in the inter-mountain American West and the Pacific Islands. Few if any of these converts could read Roman script, meaning their experience with Mormonism was largely oral in nature. They heard about rather than read the Book of Mormon and Mormon beliefs about the Lamanite ancestors of indigenous peoples. The corollary to this point is that few if any Mormon Natives could record in writing their own interpretations of church teachings, meaning historians are left with accounts of Native words that have been filtered through white interpreters and scribes. That said, some indigenous converts such as the Ute Arapeen, although unable to read or write English himself, used ingenious techniques to turn writing to his own purposes as he navigated the world around him that was rapidly being transformed by Mormon settlement. (more…)
I first read about JS’s polygamy in sixth grade when I read the World Book Encyclopedia entry on JS, which said he had like 30 wives. That seemed novel to me, though since I had heard about the church practicing polygamy I had some context. What was even more novel, I remember, was that that entry was the first time I had ever read anything on JS that wasn’t devotional. The article wasn’t particularly negative as I recall, but I remember the distinct realization that there was another way of looking at the church’s history than what I was taught in church. And I wasn’t really sure what to make of that. And I didn’t discuss it with my parents or anybody else since it seemed a little awkward and at that age I sort of wanted to avoid awkward discussions with my parents. But it left the distinct impression that there may be some unsettling issues in church history, that there were a number of viewpoints on those issues, and that I didn’t have all the answers. As I look back, I actually think that realization served me well. (more…)
The Second Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology
“Christ and Antichrist: Reading Jacob 7”
Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York
June 8—June 20, 2015
Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar
in partnership with
The Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies and
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (more…)
Some historians have told me how they fear that their sources will “talk back.” As an oral historian, I rely on my sources to “talk back.” On one level, oral history is a conversation between an inquirer and a source. In my perspective as a Navajo scholar, the relationship between a teaching elder and learning listener interweaves storytelling and oral history. Storytelling represents a form of dialogue, which depends on the rapport between speaker and audience. Among the Dine, our elders serve as storytellers, and simultaneously, public intellectuals, historians, and teachers. Dine scholar Jennifer Nez Denetdale asserts, “As manifestations of cultural sovereignty, oral histories have proven crucial in projects to decolonize the Navajo Nation and our communities, for the teachings of our ancestors are reaffirmed in the retelling of stories” . When our elders speak, we are obligated to listen and learn.
This post comes out of my experiences this fall teaching a senior seminar on “Writing Recent History” (which my students are finding especially challenging), and thinking about what that might mean in the Mormon context. And it’s also prompted by something that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said about Claudia Bushman at the Exponent II 40th celebration last month that caught my ear and which I’ve been thinking about ever since. Laurel said that one of the motivations for starting the journal was Claudia’s desire to “contain our anger by coming up with a project.” (more…)
Links to the latest Mormon Studies news from around the internet:
Mormons and Politics are in the news again. Only this time, in book form. David Campbell, John Green, and Quinn Monson’s new book from Cambridge University Press, Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics was reviewed in the Deseret News. Interested in more? Jana Riess posted a Q&A with Campbell and Monson over at Flunking Sainthood; Doug Fabrizio also hosted the co-authors on his Radio West program on Thursday.
You’ve likely heard that BYU Religious Education has revamped its curriculum, and the bloggernacle has weighed in from all angles. See here, here, here, here, and here for a sampling.
Also out of BYU, a couple of big announcements from the Maxwell Institute: The online edition of Royal Skousen’s Book of Mormon Critical Text Project has launched, and a new digital subscription option to all three journals published by the MI (Mormon Studies Review, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, and Studies in the Bible and Antiquity) is now being offered (for only $10!).
Several archives in Utah and Arizona have teamed up to create the Highway 89 Digital Collections Project, “an online aggregator and exhibition that brings together the stories of US 89, as it travels through the state of Utah.” Their aim “is to aggregate existing images, texts, and oral histories related to US 89 while simultaneously identifying and digitizing additional relevant collections.” Read more at Researching the Utah State Archives.
Finally, one final reminder that the submission deadline for the 2015 Faith & Knowledge Conference is approaching (THIS FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 7!) Get your submissions in ASAP!
Today’s post, the latest in our series where we answer questions about plural marriage, is about textual questions related to Doctrine and Covenants 132. Again, we are grateful to those who asked questions, wrote answers, and helped edit and format the post. Thanks especially to WVS, who answered the questions today. WVS has been a long-time bloggernacle denizen, blogging at his solo blog–boaporg.wordpress.com and at bycommonconsent.org. His fascinating multi-part analysis of the textual development of D&C 107 was recently published in Dialogue. He later wrote an in-depth series of posts at BCC on D&C 132, which he is currently expanding into a book. (more…)
Historian/Documentary Editor, Joseph Smith Papers
Job Description: The Joseph Smith Papers seeks a full-time historian/documentary editor with the academic training, research, and writing skills to edit Joseph Smith’s papers. The Joseph Smith Papers is producing a comprehensive edition of Smith’s documents featuring complete and accurate transcripts with both textual and contextual annotation. The scope of the project includes Smith’s correspondence, revelations, journals, historical writings, sermons, legal papers, and other documents. Besides providing the most comprehensive record of early Latter-day Saint history they will also provide insight into the broader religious landscape of the early American republic. (more…)
Friend of the JI and Joseph Smith Papers editor and historian Alex D. Smith has agreed to send along this brief comment on the recent announcement that the entire text of the Book of the Law of the Lord–a Nauvoo-era donation record book that also includes JS’s 1842 journal and the text of several revelations–has been made available on josephsmithpapers.org. As Alex notes, this is kind of a big deal. Like the Book of Commandments and Revelations (published in 2009) and the Council of Fifty Minutes (forthcoming in 2016), the publication of the Book of the Law of the Lord on the project’s website reflects the ongoing trend of including previously unavailable historical documents as part of the Joseph Smith Papers. Alex co-edited the second volume of the Journals series, which included annotated transcriptions of the the Book Law of the Lord journal entries, and he wrote an important article on the the Book of the Law of the Lord in The Journal of Mormon History (38, no. 4 [Fall 2012]). He is currently hard at work on Journals, vol. 3 (slotted to appear next year) and Documents, vol. 7, covering early Commerce and the founding of Nauvoo, September 1839-January 1841 (expected in early 2018).
Today’s post comes from Samuel Brown and Kate Holbrook, good friends of JI and exceptional scholars. This excerpt, from a forthcoming book edited by Phil Barlow and Terryl Givens, offers some provocative thoughts on the legacy of polygamy in Mormon theology. Also, be sure to check out Samuel’s essay in Dialogue, linked below. After reading the essay, I’m sure you’ll want to purchase the book to read the rest of the essay. (more…)
Here is the first, in a series, of answers to historical questions about polygamy, as a result of the LDS Church’s new Gospel Topics essays on plural marriage.
Let us know if you have more questions here.
Without further ado, here are the first three questions. (more…)
Most notably, the LDS Church released three essays on the practice of polygamy during the Nauvoo, Utah, and post-Manifesto eras. if you have questions about polygamy that were not answered in any of the essays, SUBMIT THEM HERE.
Despite the click-baity title, The New Republic had a great article on Mormon genealogy, particularly as it relates to LDS theology. Here’s a snippet:
- “The church’s most ambitious project is its online tree. Anyone who logs in to Family Search may record and research his or her family history there, but what distinguishes this tree from all the other online services is that the church is trying to connect all the branches, using its massive records and the activities of users to build a big tree of all of humanity. “
On Wednesday, we here at JI declared we were happy to (try to) answer any questions about polygamy people may have, in response to the Church publishing two more essays on the topic. In preparation for that post (or several posts) next week, I’ve hunted through the archives to find older posts on the subject. (Warning, there are a lot.) I’ve tried to group them thematically here below.
LDS responses to anti-polygamy legislation
Responses: Patrick Mason on David Pulsipher on Mormon Civil Disobedience
Joseph H. Dean and Joseph F. Smith on Mexico/Polygamy
The Manifesto and post-Manifesto polygamy
A Review of Lu Ann Faylor Snyder and Phillip A. Snyder, eds., Post Manifesto Polygamy: The 1899-1904 Correspondence of Helen, Owen, and Avery Woodruff (and another review here)
Wasted Seed and Spent Men: Corinne Allen Tuckerman and the Politics of Polygamy after 1890
Reading Like a Conspiracy Theorist, Part 1: A Post-Manifesto Polygamist’s Diary, Part 2: The Case for Polygamy, Part 3: Quinn and Hardy
From the Archives: Joseph Smith III Congratulates Wilford Woodruff on the Manifesto
From Embrace to Embarrassment: Remembering Joseph Smith’s Polygamy
Peculiar Questions Briefly Answered: Charles W. Penrose on Polygamy, Etc.
“Plurality of Wives was an Incident, Never an Essential”: James E. Talmage on Polygamy
Mormon Folklore, Part Two (Polygamy)
Susa Young Gates, Juanita Brooks, and Plural Marriage: Situating the Legacy of Polygamy in the 1920s and 1930s
Celestial Polygamy is Inevitable
Grub Street History: Peggy Fletcher Stack and The Polygamies of Joseph Smith and Warren Jeffs
The Perspectives on Parley Pratt’s Autobiography: BiV on “Conjugal Relations of Parley P. Pratt as Portrayed in his Autobiography”
Women and the Manifesto: Painting with Broad Strokes
Specific Polygamous Relationships
Helen Mar Kimball blessing and the dating of her marriage to Joseph Smith
Hannah Tapfield King’s Introduction to Polygamy and Hannah Tapfield King, Gendered History, and Class
Movie Review: Emma Smith: A Really Great Catch and Emma Smith Movie, Again
Polygamy and gender
“The cheerless, crushed and unwomanly mothers of polygamy”
“Either a misogynist or proto-feminist”: Women and Polygamy in John Turner’s “Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet”
Passionate Stability: Polygamy, Dating, and the Creation of Modern Mormon Gender
Thoughts on Polyandry
Polygamy and race
Black Methodists, White Mormons: Race and Antipolygamy
“Prelude to American Imperialism”: Mormon Polygamy, Natural Law, and Whiteness
“A situation worse than polygamy”: Mormon Missionaries, “Mulattos”, and Defending the Faith in North Carolina, 1900
When Did Mormons Become Straight: The Intersections of Mormon History and Queer Theory
Spatial Dynamics and Polygamous Burial Practices
Notes from the Utah State Historical Society’s 56th Annual Conference, Part 2: Polygamy
From the Archives: “Polygamy…is Conducive to Health, Ingelligence, and Longevity”, An 1885 Letter of George Reynolds on Ebay
In the mid- and late-nineteenth century, critics of Mormonism sometimes compared Mormon leaders to the eighth-century Persian religious leader Hashim ibn Hakim, better known as Mokanna, Al-Muqanna (Arabic: “The Veiled”), “The Veiled Prophet,” or “The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan.” In some instances commentators made more involved comparisons between the methods, character, and attributes of al-Muqanna’s followers and non-leader Mormons. (more…)
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We at JI were very happy to see the LDS Church’s release of three essays on plural marriage yesterday. The histories of Nauvoo Era, Utah Era, and Post-Manifesto polygamy have not been told by institutional sources in such a clear, open way. Facebook conversations and Twitter dialogues popped up quickly; many are still ongoing. The Bloggernacle has begun to respond already.
With that said, we at JI couldn’t help but notice that many individuals still had burning questions on plural marriage. Although many of the questions people had were actually answered by the essays, there are still more nuanced questions that were not answered by the essays. There are also questions of a more personal nature that, for obvious reasons, could not be answered by an essay aimed at a western, if not global, audience. Often, the questions asked on social media were not answered by folks with an academic knowledge of plural marriage. While many people know a lot about polygamy and polyandry, many of the responses to people’s questions were not based in history.
Juvenile Instructor wants to try and answer people’s questions about plural marriage with reference to sources, where available. As an academic Mormon History blog, we have a duty to not only analyze the essays themselves, but to engage with those interested in Mormon History and do our best to answer people’s questions about plural marriage. All questions, from academics or non-academics, are welcome.
There are a few ground rules to participating:
- We are not here to evaluate truth claims or whether or not plural marriage is “true” in any sense. That is not the point of this blog.
- Be kind. We know that plural marriage can raise a lot of powerful feelings, but there are human beings reading and answering the questions.
- We do not know the answers to every question. We cannot make any promises in regards to finding exact sources or firm answers.
Please submit your questions here. You can also ask questions in the comments. We will answer the questions in future posts.