Juvenile Instructor » Christopher


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.

Touchdown Jesus, Catholic Blessings, and Supporting Mormon Religion

By: Christopher - January 09, 2013

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…)

The Burden of Church History and its implications for Mormon History

By: Christopher - January 08, 2013

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.[1] 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.[2] 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…)

From the Archives: Mormon Women and Pants, circa 1856

By: Christopher - December 13, 2012

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…)

Research Query: Mormon Bachelorhood

By: Christopher - November 28, 2012

From William and Mary graduate student and friend of JI Spencer Wells:

The Juvenile Instructor turns 5 today

By: Christopher - October 26, 2012

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…)

Found in the Archives: James Covel in Canada, circa 1818?

By: Christopher - October 22, 2012

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…)

Brigham Young’s Early Religious Life and Conversion in Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

By: Christopher - October 16, 2012

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…)

Announcement: John Turner’s Utah Tour this Week

By: Christopher - September 10, 2012

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…)

Rehearsing for American Citizenship: Thomas Simpson on “The Death of Mormon Separatism in American Universities, 1877-1896″

By: Christopher - September 06, 2012

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…)

Gender and the “Priesthood Ban”: Some scattered thoughts

By: Christopher - August 23, 2012

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.


An open letter to political theorists who presume to lecture historians on how to be historians

By: Christopher - July 20, 2012

To whom it may concern:

I’m thrilled that you’ve taken an interest in Mormon studies. I think that there is much interdisciplinary work to be done in this emerging (sub)field and welcome the perspectives you bring from your own discipline. There seems to be some confusion on your end, though, about what historians do. Let me try and assuage your concerns by assuring you of two things: (more…)

2012 MHA Award Winners

By: Christopher - June 30, 2012

Highest MHA award

Leonard J. Arrington Award

William G. Hartley—citation attached (more…)

Reminder: 47th Annual MHA Conference in Calgary next week

By: Christopher - June 20, 2012

Just a reminder to our readers that next weekend (June 28-July 1) in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the Mormon History Association will be holding its annual conference. There’s a number of fantastic panels, papers, and sessions dealing with a whole range of fascinating topics. A number of JIers are on top to present, as are many friends of JI. It should be a great conference and I hope to see many of you there. Be sure and introduce yourself if you’re a reader and we’ve never met. (more…)

Article Spotlight: Benjamin Park, “(Re)Interpreting Early Mormon Thought”

By: Christopher - May 29, 2012

Mormonism has a complicated relationship with Protestantism. It also has a complicated relationship with the United States of America. If Mitt Romney’s impending nomination as the Republican candidate for President has done nothing else, it has reinforced in my mind that complexity. It was with sincere appreciation, then, that I read Ben Park’s timely article in the latest issue of Dialogue. No, Ben’s essay does not address Mitt Romney. But it does examine Mormonism’s historical relationship with both the American nation and its Protestant establishment. (more…)

Review: The Man behind the Discourse: A Biography of King Follett

By: Christopher - May 24, 2012

Mortensen, Joann Follett. The Man Behind the Discourse: A Biography of King Follett. Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2011.

A few weeks ago, a friend at church noticed the book I’d brought along with me that day and asked about it. Showing him the cover, he immediately responded, “King Follett? Is there enough information to write a full-length biography?” At that point, I’d only read the first few chapters, and wasn’t sure how to answer. I finally finished the book a couple of days ago, but I’m still a little unsure about my answer.

King Follett, an early convert to Joseph Smith’s Church of Christ whose name is familiar to modern Mormons because of its rhetorical association with one of Smith’s most famous sermons, left behind no written record. No journal and next to no correspondence have survived. And posthumous biographical summaries offer little more than the most basic information about his life. With that in mind, Joann Follett Mortensen has accomplished a wonderful feat, gathering together the scattered references to her third great-grandfather (passing mentions in LDS church records, legal and public documents, and occasional (and almost always brief) references in the diaries and journals of his fellow Latter-day Saints) and turning it into a comprehensive and lengthy history (468 pp. + 4 appendices, a bibliography, and index) of King Follett and his immediate family. (more…)

Malcolm X and Mormon Studies: A short review and some reflections on comparative religion

By: Christopher - April 17, 2012

I was pleased to learn this week that the late Manning Marable’s exhaustive biography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, was awarded this year’s Pulitzer Prize in History. Thoroughly and thoughtfully revisionist, Marable’s account of Malcolm X’s life challenges much of what is presented in The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a now classic piece of 20th century American literature that has popularized a particular view of the Nation of Islam minister and his role in the Civil Rights, Black Muslim, and Pan-African movements. Deconstructing the Autobiography (which was published posthumously and, as Marable highlights, heavily edited by “co-author” Alex Haley), Marable then reconstructs the life of the man born Malcolm Little, utilizing a wealth of primary sources, including letters, diaries, interviews, and even FBI files. It is a fascinating biography and well worth the read for anyone interested in the life of this controversial figure.

It also provides a captivating account of the Nation of Islam’s rise in mid-20th century America. The NOI—a somewhat militant Black Nationalist sect that emerged in Great Depression-era Detroit and Chicago—was founded by the mysterious Wallace D. Fard but grew to national prominence under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad in the mid 20th century, when Malcolm Little converted and quickly rose to prominence as a talented preacher and recruiter. Later, Malcolm grew disillusioned with Muhammad’s leadership and left the NOI. His inability to leave it alone, though, ultimately led to his assassination in February 1965 at the hands of NOI henchmen. (more…)

Announcing a new column: Peculiar People: Mormonism through the World and the World through Mormonism

By: Christopher - April 04, 2012

Some of you may have already seen the new column at Patheos.com’s Mormon Portal launched last week. The brainchild of two JI bloggers, Peculiar People aims to provide “commentary on culture, politics, the humanities, sports, the arts, and so on through the lens of Mormonism.” Featuring a talented team of contributors—including our own Ben P, Matt B, Ryan T, Max M, and myself, along with present and prior JI (guest) bloggers Rachel Cope, Heidi Harris, Rachael Givens, and David Howlett and a whole slew of other brilliant scholars of Mormon history and culture (Patrick Mason, Susanna Morrill, Taylor Petrey, Richard Livingston, Kate Holbrook, Seth Perry, Xarissa Holdaway, Emily Belanger, and Alan Hurst)—the column will appear twice weekly (Monday and Wednesday). We hope to attract both Mormon and non-Mormon readers, and invite those of you who follow JI regularly to check in over there occasionally, too. (more…)

Review: Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism

By: Christopher - March 29, 2012

Givens, Terryl L. and Matthew J. Grow. Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

In 1854, Parley P. Pratt, Mormon apostle, theologian, polygamist, and apologist, set out to write his autobiography. In a letter to church historian George Smith, he explained that it was intended to be “a Lean, megre sketch of Church History. As my hurried life, and hurried manner of writing, prevents my branching out on many interesting items” (as quoted on p. 348). As anyone who has read Pratt’s autobiography—published posthumously by his son in 1874—can testify, it goes far beyond the “Lean, megre sketch” he apparently set out to write, and has served as both a ready resource for historians of 19th century Mormonism and a beloved book to thousands and thousands of lay Latter-day Saints to the present day. But Pratt was certainly right in noting that the Autobiography left out “many interesting items.” In Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism, accomplished scholars Terryl Givens and Matthew Grow set out to investigate those “many interesting items”—including many episodes that Pratt would likely never have discussed in detail even if he had the time and space to do so.

What struck me most forcefully while reading Givens and Grow’s book was Parley Pratt’s personality. Described by the authors as having a “tempestuous character,” Pratt comes across (more…)

Reminder and Webcast Information: “At the Crossroads, Again: Mormon and Protestant Encounters in the Nineteenth and Twenty-First Centuries”

By: Christopher - February 23, 2012

As a reminder to those interested, this weekend (Friday and Saturday, Feb. 24-25) at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy is sponsoring what is being billed as a “groundbreaking event” intended to “facilitate a conversation of the ‘mind and heart’ that will set the standard for how members of religious communities can discuss differences in a way that does not compromise intellect or integrity, but is also sincere and empathetic.” Entitled “At the Crossroads, Again: Mormon and Methodist Protestant Encounters in the Nineteenth and Twenty-First Centuries,”* featured presenters include a number of well-known and recognized scholars of Mormon and Protestant history, theology, hymnody, politics, gender and sexuality, and social activism, including David Campbell, David McAllister-Wilson, Kristine Haglund, Eileen Guenther, Terryl Givens, Kathleen Flake, Elaine Heath, Robert Bennett, and Warner Woodworth, plus many more. A full schedule is available here and brief biographies of the several presenters here. (more…)

Announcing the Mormon History Association’s New Website

By: Christopher - February 17, 2012

Those of you who have received the latest issue of the Mormon History Association’s newsletter—newly rebranded as MHA News and available as a PDF here—likely noticed two important announcements noting the Association’s new logo and new website. From the newsletter: (more…)

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