Ben has a bachelor's degree in English and history from Brigham Young University, a master's degree in historical theology from the University of Edinburgh, and a master's degree in political thought and intellectual history from the University of Cambridge, where he is currently a PhD student in history. His interests include American intellectual, religious and cultural history, primarily in a transatlantic context, during the 18th and 19th centuries. He lives in the outskirts of Cambridge with his wife and two children, and currently serves on the editorial board for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. His top posts include "A New Framework for a New Generation of Mormon Studies", "Jesus College, and Ashamed Faith"; "Historical Fundamentalism and Mormon History"; "Sally Hemings, Thomas Jefferson, and Mormon History"; and "Joseph Smith, Thomas Dick, and the Tricky Task of Determining Influence." His work has also appeared at Patheos (see here , here, and here). More background can be found here.
This past weekend I read through Armand Mauss’s recent (and excellent) memoir, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journals of a Mormon Academic (SLC: UofU Press, 2012). There is lots to digest in it, and it should inspire several posts/discussions, but one thing stood out to me in the chapter that gave an overview of his career. I had no idea Mauss had such a circuitous route in academia before landing at Washington State University for three decades: he began as a high school teacher, moved on to a community college, and eventally landed university positions, first at Utah State University (where he somehow negotiated an Associate Professor position before finishing his dissertation!) and then at WSU in 1969, all the while working many odd jobs to support his family of eight children and finishing his schooling at night. Once at WSU, his career blossomed with many publications and increased respect.
It wasn’t until the 1980s, though, that he decided to turn his attention to Mormon studies. His dissertation dealt with Mormonism and race, though he had put that topic aside during his first decade plus as a faculty member. It wasn’t until he had “earned his dues” (his words) as a scholar and member of the sociology department, singling out his ability to bring in state and federal money for his academic projects, that he could do work on Mormonism full-time (26). Only then could he take the skills and talent he gained in other fields and use them to analyze his own faith tradition. (more…)
Yesterday I highlighted books and articles from the last year. But 2012 is nearly history now, so let’s look forward to the next year. What you’ll find below are the books I am most excited to appear in 2013 (or very early in 2014).
This list in no way attempts to be comprehensive. (For that, let’s all hope Jared T continues his legacy of fantastic and exhaustive “Recently Released and Forthcoming Books in Mormon History” at his new site.) Rather, this post just captures a number of titles I am really excited about–make sure to add to the list in the comments. And as is unfortunately common in the publishing world, there is a chance some of these titles may slip into the next calendar year, but at least we know they are not too far off. (more…)
Continuing a tradition from the past three years, here is my overview of what I found to be the most noteworthy books and articles from the last twelve months. I like this format because it not only allows discussion of different media of publication, but it also encourages us to contemplate broader themes that are currently “hot” in Mormon historiography. (Also make sure to check out Stapley’s always-helpful Christmas book list.)
As with previous years, I am posting this in early December and will thus miss those books published later this month. Further, the selection process was purely subjective and represent my own interests; please add your own suggestions in the comments. (more…)
Dinger, John S. ed. The Nauvoo City and High Council Minutes. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2011. lxxxi + 616 pp. Appendixes, index. Hardback with dust jacket: $49.95; ISBN 978-1-56085-214-8.
In his preface to this volume, John S. Dinger claims, “The minutes collected in this volume are a treasure trove of material reading to the religious and secular life of the early Latter-day Saints,” and that “these two sets of documents are, I believe, two of the most important primary sources for the period” (xvi). I agree, and thus take privilege in reviewing the volume. Nauvoo is an absolutely fascinating period of Mormon history, filled with contention, innovation, conflict, dissent, and intrigue. All of these tensions come out in these important documents, as well as the mundane events that transpired in day-to-day activities.
Though the two councils in question, the City Council and High Council, were two separate bodies, they had significant overlap. Both were made up of Mormon authorities, both looked to Joseph Smith for leadership, and both seemed to merge the church/state realms that America prided itself on keeping separate (though never, in actuality, succeeded). What took place in one council likely had significance to the other, and decisions from both bodies demonstrated the LDS Church’s performance of power during the waning years of Joseph Smith’s life. What we witness in these meetings are men attempting to run the Kingdom of God on earth–no small task to take place in disestablished America. Religious sermons are offered in secular council, secular decisions are made in religious courts. Perhaps more than anything else, this collection demonstrates the permeable boundaries of church and state in Mormon Nauvoo. (more…)
As Patrick Mason rightly noted in his guest post on Friday, “the Mormon moment was good for Mormon studies”–even if it had, by now, worn out its welcome. Perhaps the most obvious result of the past two years was a deluge of columns, op-eds, essays, and articles designed to explain Mormonism to a curious audience. And by “deluge,” I mean “holy-crap-there-are-tons-of-new-stuff-ever-week-to-the-point-that-they-all-mesh-together.” So in attempt to make sure they don’t all fade from memory, this post tries to, with the help of friends, list some of my favorites. (I’m sure I’ve forgotten many–that’s where you come in handy: if you suggest something I find very important, I’ll even add it to the list.) If I had more time/interest, I would try to outline some of the major lessons and offer a general narrative arc of where the “moment” went over the past two years, but I’ll save that for someone else.
Below, you will find the author, title, venue, date, summary, and brief excerpt from what I remember to be the “best” of the Mormon moment coverage. Please add any that I missed in the comments, as well as take issue with/challenge some of my selections.
(And to the future historian who was looking for sources when anaylizing this “Mormon moment”: you’re welcome.) (more…)
[We are pleased to host this contribution from JI's good friend Patrick Mason, Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Mason holds a PhD in history from Notre Dame University, and his first book, The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South (Oxford UP, 2011), has received great praise. His work can be found, well, everywhere nowadays, and is currently working on (at least) two projects: a volume, co-edited with David Pulsipher, on a distinctive Mormon theology of ethics and peace, as well as a biography of Ezra Taft Benson, which will explore the rise of both Mormonism and the Religious Right. For Part II of his commentary, this time on the ramifications of Romney's loss on Mormonism in general, see his post at Peculiar People.]
The Mormon Moment was good for Mormon Studies. It raised the profile of Mormonism in universities, media outlets, churches, and living room conversations across the country. The fact that a devout Latter-day Saint was a serious contender for the White House made his religion a serious topic of conversation, even for people who find the religion’s faith claims anything but serious. Like it or not, academics, journalists, and public intellectuals learned, Mormonism is a force to be reckoned with. (more…)
[Another installment in the roundtable on John Turner's Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet.]
If the first few chapters of Turner’s excellent biography narrate the foundations of Brigham Young’s Mormon experience, as Christopher outlined Tuesday, then it is the chapters surrounding Young’s assent to the Church’s top position (chapters 4-6) where the pioneer prophet’s dominant image comes into view. The period of succession following Joseph Smith’s death in 1844 used to be one of the dominant topics in Mormon historiography in the 1980s–led by scholarship from D. Michael Quinn, Ronald Esplin, Andrew Ehat, and partly spurred by the Hoffman-forged Joseph Smith III ordination document–but has since faded to the periphery in many ways. Since the topic’s heyday, a general narrative has taken prominence: Joseph Smith left, at least publicly, a very ambiguous plan for what would happen when he was gone, leading to a handful of quasi-legitimate succession claims. Brigham Young, this narrative generally says, gained the largest number of adherents in the wake of this “crisis” due to his Nauvoo ecclesiastical duties, temple activities, and, especially, his sheer will. While there are several problems with this framework–and Rob Jensen outlined some of them here–it is still quite formidable for most purposes, especially when focusing on the leading figures. (Focusing on the average saint during the period is a completely other matter.) Turner’s Brigham Young, along with Terryl Givens and Matt Grow’s Parley P. Pratt, offer important nuance to this narrative and, importantly, extends the analysis by showing the broader ramifications of what went on between 1844 and 1847. (more…)
I’m sure almost everyone has heard the news by now. Today, the University of Virginia has announced the establishment of the Richard Lyman Bushman Chair of Mormon Studies, which will be housed in the Department of Religious Studies (see coverage here). This chair has been in the works for a while, and it is remarkable how quickly they were able to raise a $3 million dollar endowment, but that just points to the excitement out there for the topic. (It also helps that east coast donors have probably not been hit up for the other Mormon studies chairs out west.)
A few rapid-fire thoughts on this important development: (more…)
As summer closes and fall is upon us, that means it is time for another round of issues from Mormon studies journals. The following are several articles that stood out to me from the latest issues of Dialogue, Journal of Mormon History, and John Whitmer Historical Association Journal. I hope we have some further engagement with some of these articles in the near future, including some more “Responses” articles. (more…)
[From JI's good friend Joseph Stuart.]
Before getting to my summary, many thanks to Brian Cannon, Jessie Embry, and the Charles H. Redd Center for making Professor Turner’s visit possible. It is incredibly difficult to bring open forum speakers to BYU; their efforts (and the Redd Center’s funds) made the biography and the visits possible.
Now, to the notes…
Turner’s argument took shape in the juxtaposition of two stories: The English mission (1840) and an early “trial” in 1849.
1840: Brigham was at Manchester, England, and nearly 40 years old, a convert of only 8 years. He was now the President of the Twelve, and was leading the Church’s mission to England and had “exactly one wife.” After six weeks in England, there had been scores, even hundreds of converts. One night, while visiting a family, HCK and BY sang and spoke in tongues. BY was disappointed that the Manchester Mormons had not yet received the Gift of Tongues. After English holiday that celebrated Pentecost, the English Saints wanted a display of the religious gifts present in Acts 2. In his diary, Brigham Young said that he and Parley Pratt talked for “some time about the necessity of the Saints having the spirit of God.” The Saints tried to display “gifts,” and one Brother Green “almost spoke in tongues” (Turner quipped that the words were on the “tip of his tongue” and “tongue tied”). Brigham then spoke and sang in tongues, and many English Saints followed, one woman being able to speak in 7 different languages. (more…)
Rosemary Avance is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication where she studies the intersection of religion, culture, and the media. She is currently the recipient of the Eccles Mormon Studies Fellowship at the University of Utah’s Tanner Humanities Center. She is spending the year in residence in Salt Lake City, researching and writing her dissertation on modern Mormon identities.
I’m so pleased to be guest posting here at JI—one of my favorite blogs and an important source for keeping up with modern Mormon identities. My dissertation is on just that topic: how Mormons today negotiate their identities, and particularly how the internet plays a role in the articulation of various heterodoxies. I’ve been hesitant to comment or post here and elsewhere in the bloggernacle because my research tracks, in part, representations of Mormonism in real time—so contributing to those representations by offering my “take” threatens to, essentially, muddy my data. Despite all the blogs, message boards, and Facebook pages, it turns out that Mormondom online is actually quite a small world.
But I’m pleased for the opportunity to introduce myself and my academic work, so my plan is to offer a bit of my theoretical orientation to LDS identities, explain my interest and background, and then maybe complain a bit. Because the work I’m doing is – at the moment—incredibly frustrating. (more…)
JI’s good friend Rachel Cope passed along the news that BYU’s Church History and Doctrine Department are looking for applicants. You can find all the information you need at this site. (Click on “Search Positions” on the left-hand side of the page, then on “Job Type” click on “Full Time” for “Job Category” click “Faculty.” You will then click on the opening for Church History and Doctrine. Note: do not choose the option labeled “Professional,” unless you want to apply for a teaching position that teaches 6-7 courses per semester, each with over 100 students. The other option has a smaller teaching load with larger research expectations.) Below is the most relevant information: (more…)
In the August 22nd issue of Christian Century, there was a plethora of pieces on Mormonism due to Mitt Romney’s official nomination as the GOP presidential candidate. Most saw, read, and praised the thoughtful piece by Kathleen Flake on Mormonism’s scriptural canon. Others were somewhat bemused with Richard Bushman’s list of “essential books on Mormonism” (which I personally found somewhat puzzling). But there were also pieces behind the CC’s paywall that deserve attention: Ed Blum’s incisive review of Gutjahr’s The Book of Mormon: A Biography, and a very nuanced and important essay by Patrick Mason on “Visions of Zion: Changes in Mormon Social Ethics.” Not only is it great to see the CC spend so much time on Mormons, but even better to see them give the space to thoughtful and leading scholars in the field. Since many here probably don’t subscribe to the magazine, I thought I would gist Mason’s thoughtful piece. (more…)
On October 4-6, Gordon College will play host to the 28th biennial meeting for the Conference on Faith and History. Keynote speakers include David Hempton (recently appointed as Dean of Harvard Divinity School) and Mark Noll, and there are loads of fascinating paper topics that will be addressed. Most relevant to this crowd, there are two Mormon-themed sessions with familiar faces. Bellow you’ll find the panels, papers, and names. (more…)
The Juvenile Instructor’s empire expands.
We are pleased to add three phenomenal historians to our ranks: Janiece Johnson, Jenny Reeder, and Rachael Givens. All are rising stars in the field of Mormon history, and each brings a unique contribution to our team. This is how they introduce themselves: (more…)
I recently listened to Joanna Brooks’s fascinating interview on Mormon Stories (which I recommend, especially as a supplementary activity to reading her marvellous memoir), and was struck by one point of the conversation. John Dehlin asked Joanna if the type of identity she exemplifies—that of “unorthodox”—was something new, something that couldn’t have happened long ago. Joanna rightly pointed out her long intellectual genealogy within the LDS tradition, noting that her position is not so much new but exemplary of what many Latter-day Saints had done before her.
The idea of unorthodox figures in LDS history is an important point that deserves further consideration. It also relates to a recent focus of study of mine, Edward Tullidge, who was the topic of my MHA paper this last year. To demonstrate that this isn’t a new phenomenon, I’d like to give a bit of background to Tullidge, mostly plagiarizing my paper, and then touch on his relevance. In today’s age, when the concept of an “Unorthodox Mormon” seems to be heralded as a modern idea, it is important to note the heterogeneous history that is Mormonism. (more…)
We’ve advertised this before, but it’s important enough to advertise it again since the dates are approaching. Besides be co-organized by one of our own JIers (Matt B), we’ll have several contributors in attendance who will provide updates and recaps.
Note there are two events, although closely related. (more…)
We are extremely excited to introduce our new guest poster, Saskia Tielens. Saskia has commented sporadically on JI before and has proven herself to be an astute observer of Mormonism and Mormon studies. A summary of her presentation on Mormonism’s gold plates and material culture can be found here. This is how she introduces herself.
Saskia Tielens earned her BA and MA in American studies from Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. She is about to start her second year as a PhD student in Dortmund, Germany, and is writing her dissertation on the ritualization of Mormon history as well as teaching various courses in the American studies department there. Most recently, she was a participant in this year’s summer seminar on Mormon culture, led by Richard Bushman. Saskia particularly enjoys coming at Mormon studies as a non-Mormon, and considers the concept of funeral potatoes to have enriched her life.
Her first contribution, reflections on teaching a class on Mormonism as a non-Mormon in Europe, will go up tomorrow morning.
Join us in giving Saskia a warm welcome.
In many ways, the strength of Mormon studies can be measured by the number of quality voices. It is in that vein that we at JI happily welcome another Mormon studies blog to the fold: Worlds Without End. Here is how they describe themselves:
Worlds Without End: A Mormon Studies Roundtable is a group blog for friendly, high-quality academic conversation about Mormon religious worlds and their larger contexts, connections, and consequences. Participants have been carefully selected for their intelligence, diversity of perspectives, and friendly, constructive, respectful styles of discourse.
The use of the term “conversation” is deliberate. Worlds Without End is intended to be academic, but not dry or impersonal. We strive to produce quality content that will be of interest to academics as well as hobbyists, but we also work hard to balance this with humor, pictures, and a warm and lively communal atmosphere. Contributors to Worlds Without End don’t “bracket” their personalities here. We believe our personal beliefs, experiences, and voices are part of what make us interesting and give significance to the things we write. Writing in our own voices is an invitation for readers to connect and engage with us on a personal as well as an intellectual level. It is also, however, an act of vulnerability, so please be considerate in your interactions with us.
Worlds Without End, ultimately, is more than a blog. It’s a vision of one possible future for the discipline. We strive to model the openness, insight, creativity, and verve that we believe represent the ideal way forward for Mormon Studies.
As a fellow group blog who shares many of those ideals, we heartily welcome them and look forward to their contributions. Many of their contributors are good friends to JI, and others we hope to get to know more.
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The last few years have been a coronation of sorts for Richard Bushman–and rightfully so. After a prolific and prestigious career, the American Historical Association devoted a session to his work, the Mormon History Association distinguished him with their Leonard Arrington Award, and a group of former students held a conference in his honor. (I wrote my reflections of the conference here.) The most recent issue of Journal of Mormon History includes many of the papers presented at that last conference, including several JIers. I just finished the entire issue last weekend, and concluded it was probably the strongest JMH issue in years, as nearly every article was at an exceptionally high level of academic standards.
(It should be noted, however, that the issue as a whole was strong in a few very, very narrow fields: Joseph Smith’s thought, Mormonism and political thought, and historical thought in general. See a pattern? Now this is primarily the result of the participants’ building off of Richard Bushman’s own work–a commemorative issue in honor of Jill Derr would probably look much different, for instance–so the lack of engagement with the 20th century, material culture, lived religion, or, gasp, women’s history can, at least partially, be overlooked. But since these themes tend to dominate Mormon history in general, I maintain the “partially” qualifier.) (more…)
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