I am a PhD student in the department of history at the College of William & Mary whose research focuses on evangelical religion in the early modern Atlantic world. Within the realm of Mormon studies, I am interested in the intellectual and cultural origins of Mormonism and its early converts, lived religion, the experience of "ungathered" Latter-day Saints, and the confluence of race and religion in the Mormon past and present. I also blog at Religion in American History.
As my contribution to this month’s theme of childhood, children, and youth, I want to throw around a couple of loosely-formed thoughts on how Mormonism fits into the history of childhood spirituality.
First, Mormons sometimes claim that the reason God appeared and spoke to the boy Joseph Smith that spring day in 1820 was specifically because JS was just a boy. As in the days of Samuel, God needed a pure vessel, one simultaneously untainted by worldly knowledge and skepticism and eager to learn and obey.
Of course, Joseph Smith isn’t the only boy/young man to experience a vision and receive a prophetic calling, and Mormons aren’t the only ones to connect the dots between the receipt of those visions and childhood innocence/willingness. American Christians have long used both the Old and New Testaments to bolster the claims of boy (and less commonly, girl) prophets and preachers. One researcher has found nearly 500 examples of child preachers from the 18th century until the present, and the phenomenon is particularly common in charismatic Christian churches, as the fascinating and somewhat tragic story of Marjoe Gortner illustrates. While historians have done a wonderful job of contextualizing Joseph Smith within the larger American prophetic tradition, they/we have mostly ignored where and how he fits into the history of childhood preachers/prophets. It seems like a potentially fruitful framework for understanding JS and his prophetic calling in new light. (more…)
Another week, another list of links from the world of Mormon Studies. Let’s get started:
Those of you who enjoyed last month’s series of posts on material culture will want to read Rachel McBride Lindsey’s post at Religion in American History on a recently-rediscovered quilt auctioned off at her grandmother’s childhood church (Tabernacle Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri). Lindsey concludes:
My grandmother was a small child in 1938 and her memories of the quilt are probably more collective than personal. The quilt is not a proxy of material culture—that capacious category assigned to the stuff we designate as somehow meriting sustained inquiry—and neither is it a proxy of the tiny hands that have grown soft and arthritic, or the many other hands that stitched hundreds of names and sewed its patches into a single tapestry. It is not an unmediated connection to the past, but it is a connection whose twines are composed of threads and stories. Itself a patchwork, it asks us to piece together not only the history of the church and the ownership of the quilt, but also the many other histories of which it is a part.
Another non-Mormon post of potential interest to JI readers is Ken Owen’s thoughts on historical heroes over at The Junto. His concluding thoughts are certainly relevant to readers of Mormon history: “I’ll keep my heroes, for without them, I’d begin to wonder why history mattered at all. But I’ll remember that heroism is also a mug’s game, and I’ll do my best to keep my eyes open to the broader questions—good and bad—raised by the lives of those I admire.” (more…)
As a sort of follow-up to my post a couple of weeks ago on early Mormonism on the Jersey Shore and as my own contribution to the blog’s emphasis on material culture this month, I thought I’d offer some brief thoughts on Mormon images of Christ and their appropriation and use by non-Mormons.
Earlier this summer, a family member handed me a handful of pamphlets she’d picked up during a recent trip to the Jersey Shore. Knowing of my own interests in Methodist history, she thought I’d appreciate the literature she’d picked up at the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Methodism has a long and rich history in New Jersey—Asbury Park, a seaside community made famous by Bruce Springsteen, was named after the father of American Methodism, Francis Asbury, and the town of Ocean Grove traces its own roots to the efforts of two Methodist ministers in the mid-19th century to establish a permanent camp meeting site to host summer retreats and worship services. While I found the content of the pamphlets interesting, I was struck most by the image adorning the tri-fold pamphlet advertising a series of lectures entitled “Our God Present During Difficulty.” (more…)
The original Heisenberg?
Over at the blog for The Appendix: A new journal of narrative and experimental history, Benjamin Breen has written a fascinating post on historical discoveries of illicit drugs. Capitalizing on the success of Breaking Bad‘s final season (a show centered around the dealings of a cancer-diagnosed high school chemistry teacher-turned-meth cook), Breen notes that while “the invention of Breaking Bad‘s blue meth has become the stuff of television legend” very few people “know the true origin stories of illicit drugs.”
After briefly covering “the first academic paper on cannabis” (penned in 1689 by British scientist Robert Hooke, who noted that “there is no Cause of Fear, tho’ possibly there may be of Laughter.”), Freud’s 1884 publication extolling the virtues of cocaine, and “Albert Hoffmann’s accidental discovery of acid,” Breen turns his attention to “the strange fact that methamphetamine was actually invented in 1890s Japan.” In 1893, Nagayoshi Nagai successfully synthesized meth by “isolat[ing] the stimulant ephedrine from Ephedra sinica, a plant long used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine.” For those interested in the whole story, I recommend clicking over and reading the entire post—it really is quite fascinating. But one throwaway line caught my attention and will almost certainly interest readers here. Describing ephedrine, Breen notes that it “is a mild stimulant, notable nowadays as an ingredient in shady weight-loss supplements and as one of the few drugs permitted to Mormons.” (more…)
A couple of weeks ago, my wife, kids, and I closed out our summer vacation with a quick trip “down the shore” (we’d been staying with my in-laws in northern New Jersey, and I’ve been assured that’s the preferred terminology of locals for what the rest of America calls “going to the beach.”) Thanks to the wonderfully helpful research of our own Steve Fleming, I knew that Mormonism’s history in the Garden State dated back to the late 1830s, but I wasn’t sure if there was much activity along the Jersey Shore. Re-reading Steve’s article, along with a short piece in the April 1973 issue of The Ensign by Stanley B. Kimball (hey, remember when The Ensign used to publish short historical essays by actual historians? That was awesome.), I learned that not only did Mormonism’s history there date back to the 1830s, but that Joseph Smith himself preached in the region. From Kimball’s article: (more…)
Welcome to the inaugural installment of our new regular feature, Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup, which will appear each Sunday morning and consist of links to news and interesting items related to the study of Mormon history and culture. JI bloggers will take turn curating the post each week, and although we’re casting the net fairly wide here, the content posted will likely reflect that individual’s own interests. We don’t necessarily expect a lot of discussion to show up in the comments of these posts, though you are more than welcome to comment on any of the linked content and encouraged to post links to any relevant news items we might have missed. Thanks for reading!
We’ll start with links to summaries of the two Mormon Studies conferences held last weekend in the Beehive State: FAIR (ably summarized by speed-typist Blair Hodges in a two part series at the Maxwell Institute Blog here and here) and Sunstone (reported on in the City Weekly here). If there other worthwhile reports of either, please do post links to them in the comments (especially if they report on the more scholarly papers presented at either). (more…)
JIers clean house.
As announced at this evening’s Awards Banquet in Layton, Utah:
Best Undergraduate Paper
• Joseph R. Stuart, “The Time Has Come: The Context and Post Script of the 1890 Woodruff Manifesto.” Brigham Young University
Best Graduate Paper
• Benjamin Park, “Early Mormonism and the Paradoxes of Democratic Religiosity in Jacksonian America,” University of Cambridge
Best Thesis Award
• Matthew Lund, “The Vox Populi is the Vox Dei: American Localism and the Mormon Expulsion from Jackson County, Missouri,” Utah State University
Best Dissertation Award
• Richard D. Ouellette, “The Mormon Temple Lot Case: Space, Memory, and Identity in a Divided New Religion,” University of Texas at Austin (more…)
For those of you not familiar with it, the Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture, headquartered at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), is a leading “research and public outreach institute that supports the ongoing scholarly discussion of the nature, terms, and dynamics of religion in America.” Among others things, they sponsor and host academic conferences, publish the bianual Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, and host a seminar for Young Scholars in American Religion (whose roster of mentors and seminarians reads like a who’s who of the best and brightest in the field). (more…)
“We Latter-day Saints are Methodists, as far as they have gone, only we have advanced further.” -Joseph Smith to Peter Cartwright
I’ve argued elsewhere that the above quote encapsulates how many Methodist converts to early Mormonism understood their new religion. The more I study the trajectory of Methodism in antebellum America and the beginnings of Mormonism, the more I’m convinced that the statement also highlights an actual historical truth. In matters of ecclesiology, theology, and liturgy, early Mormons—whether consciously or not (and I think there’s some of both going on)—took a concept originated and/or popularized by Methodists and went one step further, thus simultaneously building on and challenging the foundation from which the new religion sprang. For this reason, among others, I think a close reading of Mormon texts—including scriptural texts—that pays particular attention to Methodism’s discursive community can yield important insights into the Mormon past. (more…)
A friend of mine excitedly posted a link the other day on facebook with the accompanying note that “Warren G. Harding’s recipe for waffles is freely available on Google books.” The link took me to a 1922 cookbook entitled The Stag Cook Book, Written for Men By Men (or, alternately, as the cover to the right shows, with the slightly different subtitle A Man’s Cook Book for Men). Dedicated to “That Great Host of Bachelors and Benedicts Alike, who at one time or another tried to ‘cook something'; and who, in the attempt, have weakened under a fire of feminine raillery and sarcasm, only to spoil what, under more favorable circumstances, would have proved a chef-dœvre,” it reminded me of Tona’s fascinating and fun post from last week on “etiquette and advice manual[s] updating 19th and early 20th century counsel for the 21st century man.” Here, I realized, was a very real example (if one in which the author/editor’s tongue was planted firmly in his cheek) of the sort of literature artofmanliness.com tries to update for the 21st century.* And it didn’t disappoint. In addition to Warren G. Harding’s waffle recipe (in which we learn that “President Harding is a staunch upholder of the gravy school and likes his in the form of creamed chipped beef”—none of that sissy honey or maple syrup for the ringleader of the Ohio Gang), we’re also given access to Charlie Chaplin’s steak and kidney pie speciality and Houdini’s scalloped mushrooms and deviled eggs. So what does any of this have to do with Mormon history, you ask? Well, among the other contributors to the volume was Mormon senator Reed Smoot, who provided his peach cobbler recipe. Without further ado, here it is in all of its sugary goodness: (more…)
Not even a Catholic blessing could save Manti Te’o and the dying pop-culture Mormon moment he represents. (source: Wall Street Journal)
[cross-posted at Religion in American History]
On Monday afternoon, just hours before the Alabama Crimson Tide blew out the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the BCS National Championship football game, Peggy Fletcher Stack posted a short note at the Salt Lake Tribune‘s Following Faith blog on the Catholic pregame rituals of ND.
Specifically, Stack drew readers’ attention to the Mormon story embedded within a fuller exploration of that subject at the Wall Street Journal: Star linebacker, Heisman Trophy runner-up, and devout Mormon Manti Te’o joins his teammates in “attend[ing] a Catholic Mass, receiv[ing] ‘a priest-blessed medal devoted to a Catholic saint,’ and ‘kiss[ing] a shrine containing two slivers Notre Dame believes came from Jesus’ cross.'” He was even photographed receiving a blessing from Notre Dame president emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh (a blessing Te’o reportedly sought out). Football team chaplain Father Paul Doyle explained that Te’o has privately told him that “he feels supported here [at Notre Dame] in his Mormon religion.”
All of this immediately brought to mind some of my previous thoughts on Mormon supplemental worship, in which Latter-day Saints supplement their Mormon activity by attending other Christian church’s services (a habit that dates back to at least the late nineteenth century). While the example provided by Te’o is clearly part of that larger historical tradition, it also strikes me as unique for a couple of reasons: (more…)
For those unable to attend this year’s annual American Historical Association held in New Orleans last week, Twitter is a godsend, and on Saturday night, the site was all abuzz as Laurie Maffly-Kipp, professor of Religious Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill, delivered the presidential address at the annual meeting of the American Society of Church History. Entitled “The Burden of Church History,” Maffly-Kipp’s address was a call to members of the ASCH to not abandon church history as the field of American religious history moves further away from institutional histories in pursuit of histories that analyze spirituality and deconstruct the meaning of religion. I’ve yet to read the entire address, but Elesha Coffman has posted a helpful summary and insightful response at Religion in American History that I encourage all to read. (more…)
I’ve watched with interest the ongoing debates this week over the proposed “Wear Pants to Church Day” spearheaded by a group of Mormon feminists. I’ve little desire to wade into the treacherous waters that conversation has become, but thanks to our resident Strangite expert Robin Jensen, I now know that the history of Mormon women and the controversial wearing of pants extends back much earlier than the late 20th century. (more…)
From William and Mary graduate student and friend of JI Spencer Wells:
It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since that fateful day at J-Dawgs when five lowly BYU students decided to start a blog devoted to the academic study of Mormon history. Yup, that’s right. The Juvenile Instructor turns 5 today. We’ve added new bloggers (there’s 25 of us now! 25!), regretfully said goodbye to a couple of others, and grown and developed and (hopefully) improved during that time. I’ll offer my own belief that the JI is bigger and better and stronger than it’s ever been. And a lot of that has to do with you, our readers. Among the most regular comments I hear from people about the JI is how much they appreciate and enjoy the quality of conversation that goes on in the comments section, and I tend to agree. For those that have been with us since the beginning, thanks for sticking around. And for those who only recently found the blog, thanks for stopping by. We hope you’ll visit often. (more…)
In March of this year, the newly rebranded BYU Studies Quarterly published an article I wrote entitled “Mormonism in the Methodist Marketplace: James Covel and the Historical Background of Doctrine and Covenants 39–40.” The article, which began as a short and poorly-written blog post here at JI a few years earlier, represented the culmination of a year in the archives pouring through manuscript sources and rolls and rolls of microfilmed newspapers and church records from three different Methodist churches (assisted by the indefatigable staff at the United Methodist Archives and History Center in Madison, New Jersey), piecing together the life and preaching career of a man I initially knew next to nothing about. It also represented the culmination—or so I thought at the time—of my research on connections between Methodism and early Mormonism. I’d moved on to what I imagined at the time as an entirely unrelated project: my dissertation, which examines the growth and development of Methodism in North America and the Caribbean from 1760 to 1815. (more…)
I suspect that most readers of John Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (and consequently, most readers of this roundtable) are interested primarily in the final thirty years of Young’s life, or at least some aspect of it. It was during that time, after all, that the most obviously exciting, controversial, and significant events in Brigham Young’s own life and the church that he led occurred; it was during that time that Young became the pioneer prophet the book sets out to describe and analyze. (more…)
For our Utah readers, friend of JI and author of the recently-released Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet John Turner will be speaking about his book at locations along the Wasatch Front. If you’re around, be sure and make it a point to attend. Here’s the schedule: (more…)
The latest issue of Religion and American Culture arrived in the mail several weeks ago, and swamped with a thousand other things to read, I tossed it on my bedside table and promptly forgot about it. While cleaning in preparation for the arrival of visitors last weekend, I pulled the issue out from under a stack of library books and scattered, semi-coherent dissertation notes I scribbled down in the middle of the night while laying in bed and quickly glanced at the table of contents. I was pleasantly surprised to see an article on Mormonism, and even more pleased when I saw that Thomas Simpson was the author. (more…)
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Earlier this week, Max Mueller posted at Peculiar People some thoughtful reflections on non-Latter-day Saint historians of Mormonism and their role as “friendly critics” to Mormons and Mormonism. He used recent op-eds authored by Helen Radkey and John Turner on proxy baptisms and Mormonism’s history of racial exclusion, respectively, to frame his argument. It’s well worth reading and recommended to all JI readers.
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