Matthew Bowman teaches American religious history at Hampden-Sydney College, and serves as associate editor of Dialogue: a journal of Mormon thought. He’s interested in evangelicalism, fundamentalism, religion and American culture and occasionally dabbles in Mormon history, noir, and the movies. He’s published in Religion and American Culture: a Journal of Interpretation, The Journal of Mormon History, the John Whitmer Journal, and the Journal of the Early Republic.
He is the author of The Mormon People: the making of an American faith.
His greatest hits include "How Thomas Aquinas's Theory of Scripture Explains Why Jimmer Fredette is the Hinge on Which Modern Mormonism Pivots," "Glenn Beck, Jim Wallis, Sally Quinn's On Faith and social justice: a collective failure of imagination", and "Sacred Space at BYU: conference and metaconference" .
He can be contacted at matthewbbowman AT gmail Dot com.
There’s a new Mormon urban legend making the rounds.
You may have heard it before – even from me.
The story goes like this: an infant has been brought to be blessed and given a name in a Mormon sacrament meeting, a public rite of passage initiating the newborn into the community of the congregation, and by extension, into the Church as a whole. The father for whatever reason is unavailable to perform the ceremony, so an elderly relative, generally a grandfather, steps in. The child is brought before the congregation, the old man lays his hands upon it, and promptly ordains the child to priestly office. The blessing ritual has been bungled.
The biggest Mormon studies news this week is either that: A) the American Bible Society still exists, and also that 47% of Americans, according to the still-existing American Bible Society, believe that the Book of Mormon and Bible “teach the same spiritual truths.”
Or, B) That TLC is going to grace us with another reality show about a polygamous family.
Shut down the presses, everybody. (more…)
This is from John Fugal, A Review of Priesthood Correlation (Provo: BYU Press, 1968). There are any number of interesting points about correlation we can derive from this image, but most fundamental is this: though contemporary Mormons often speak of correlation as the formative era of the modern church, there is much that is foreign to present-day Mormons about material like this.
I want to make two related observations, though I’m sure there’s far more than that we can pick out.
1) Note the names of things. “Priesthood home teaching;” “Priesthood welfare;” “Priesthood missionary work.” Though correlation is often assumed to be somehow ‘secular’ – insofar as it is a form of bureaucratic reorganization and many Americans, steeped in Protestant notions of liberty, tend to find bureaucracy and the sacred a difficult reconciliation – there is intense linguistic effort here to interpret the institutional efforts of correlation as expressly religious. Indeed, according to its advocates and this chart, the purpose of correlation was to reinvigorate those aspects of church organization considered “sacred” – namely, the priesthood hierarchy. Notice how marginalized the auxiliaries are. Correlation was less, then, purely a secularizing force than a reorganization of ideas about the sacred and the secular in Mormon life, a narrowing and focusing of whence the sacred might come.
2) That process also may go a long way, I think, toward explaining the male paternalism of the correlated church. Another striking aspect of this image is its incorporation of the “home” into the structure of the church as another priesthood organization, like the Quorum of the Twelve or the ward. Centering correlation upon priesthood leadership necessarily exalts the status of men in the church, and the way this diagram reads the home is an excellent example.
Another in the JI’s series of review essays on various aspects of John G. Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet
One of the more common tropes in Mormon history is drawing the comparison between Joseph Smith the visionary dreamer and Brigham Young the hard-headed administrator. This is sometimes done with admiration or scholarly satisfaction – faithful Mormons might say that Brigham was precisely what the church needed when Joseph Smith’s assassination left the Mormons dazed and splintering, and sociologists of religion often describe the transition from Joseph Smith’s leadership to Brigham Young’s as a classic case of Weberian routinization of charisma. The dichotomy is also sometimes drawn with a sense of tragedy: many liberal-leaning Mormons imagine Joseph Smith’s Mormonism as a time of exciting intellectual freedom and theological experimentation, and see in Brigham Young the slow settling in of dull institutional authoritarianism and the end of Joseph’s enthusiastic humanism.
The Call for Papers is below. Please use this thread to, should you desire, make contacts, organize panels, and find other like-minded scholars planning on joining us in 2013
The 48th annual conference of the Mormon History Association will be held in Layton, Davis County, Utah, on June 6-9, 2013. Our theme emphasizes the particular history of Davis County and other early Wasatch Front Mormon settlements, but also invites broad investigation of what “Wests” of all types, times, and places have meant to various branches of the Restoration movement. Further, the idea of multiple Mormon frontiers challenges us to consider Mormonism’s encounters with other groups, cultures, and institutions. (more…)
We’re happy to announce that we’ve added an enlightening new permablogger to our ranks.
Cristine Hutchison-Jones (call me Crissy!) received her BA in American Studies and Religion from Florida State University in 2001, and her PhD in Religious and Theological Studies from Boston University in 2011. She is a cultural and intellectual historian of religion in the United States with a focus on religious intolerance and representations of minorities. Her dissertation, “Reviling and Revering the Mormons: Defining American Values, 1890-2008,” explored images of the Mormons in American news, fiction and non-fiction writing, and television and film. She is the author of “Center and Periphery: Mormons and American Culture in Tony Kushner’s *Angels in America*.”
Women and the LDS Church: Historical
and Contemporary Perspectives Conference
August 24 – 25, 2012
Fort Douglas, Officer’s Club Theater
150 S. Fort Douglas Blvd
University of Utah
I discovered Christopher Lasch in the fall of my first year in a PhD program, when I picked up The World of Nations while standing at a booksale table in front of Georgetown’s library. When I saw a chapter on Mormonism in the table of contents I did a double-take; it seemed odd to me still when I ran into my people in foreign venues. Nonetheless, I took the thing home.
Here is what Christopher Lasch wrote about Mormonism, in what turned out to be a rather scathing review of Robert Flanders’s Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi and a Mormon-corporate-empire hack expose by Wallace Turner: “The Mormons are so clearly a pathological symptom that a historian could not address himself to the Mormons, it would seem, without asking himself what sort of society could have produced them.” (Quoted in Miller, 117-118) (more…)
Please join us for a conference titled “Exploring Mormon Conceptions of Apostasy” to be held on March 1-2, 2012 at Brigham Young University.
The conference schedule is available at https://sites.google.com/site/mormonconceptionsofapostasy/.
The notion of an apostasy from the primitive gospel and the original church has been a key animating feature in Mormonism since its inception and in other “religions of the book.” Apostasy as a concept, however, has proven to be tremendously fluid, with individual, institutional, communal, and historical meanings and applications all proliferating in religious thought throughout the ages. Fifteen faithful Mormon scholars from many scholarly backgrounds and methodologies, will explore the concept of apostasy in various historical and religious contexts as we consider how to narrate apostasy in ways that remain historically authentic and cohere with Mormon theology. Proceedings will be published by Greg Kofford Press in the series Perspectives on Mormon Theology.
This conference is organized by Miranda Wilcox, assistant professor of English at Brigham Young University, with financial assistance from an Eliza R. Snow Faculty Grant.
Between October 25 and November 16 of last year, researchers for the Pew Forum interviewed 1,019 Americans who identified themselves as “Mormon.” That point is key.
There was surprise among the researchers and advisory board (including myself), and no doubt among the General Authorities when it turned out that 77% of Mormons in America attend church every week, because it is received common knowledge among most who care about such things that the actual rate of attendance (and tithepaying &etc) is nowhere near this high.
Before I dive into the substance of this review, it’s worth pointing out, I think, a few of the things which are going on beneath its surface. The first is me once again trying to work out the relationship between trained academic scholars and autodidact scholars, and to assess their ongoing discussion about the proper form and the structure of scholarship. This is a popular topic at the JI, which reflects more generally the state of Mormon studies. Many of the points I make below have to do with my judgment of the ways this book holds up as an academic work. A book of this scope and ambition would normally, in an academic setting be a synthesis, weaving together a vast array of work into a single whole by a scholar familiar with the field. But its author is neither a trained theologian nor a trained historian – and, of course, that wide array of secondary literature on the history of Mormon theology simply does not exist. This my mean that we should take its ambitions somewhat differently than we might otherwise. Furthermore – and second – while the work itself certainly has academic aspirations, it also reads in many places as prescriptive as well as descriptive – that is, this is a work of Mormon theology as much as it is a history of Mormon thought. Harrell thinks certain ways of believing are more useful than others, and he seeks to convince us of the fact. This is not bad; indeed, I think Mormonism needs more theology, not less, and I am delighted with Harrell’s contribution to that discussion. But again, it complicates how one might engage with the book as a work of scholarship: how should it be read? Those caveats noted, the review.
Additionally, this essay will appear in a slightly altered form in an upcoming issue of Dialogue. Subscribe!
Thanks to Matt and everyone at JI for this opportunity.
For those of us who are interested in Mormon history, particularly in graduate school or the early years of our academic careers, the question of how to position oneself is always a vexed one. I was one who very consciously did NOT want to write a “Mormon dissertation.” That’s why I chose a comparative topic: violence against religious minority groups in the postbellum South. Mormons were one of these groups, but at the time of my dissertation proposal I thought they would represent only a minor aspect of the study. I was as surprised as anyone when they turned out to be the best part of the story, and got twice the coverage in the dissertation and eventually became the centerpiece of my book.
Our next Scholarly Inquiry will be with Patrick Mason, who will in the fall assume the Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. We invite you to submit questions for Patrick – on his research, present and past, on his work at Notre Dame, and of course, on the Hunter Chair, below; answers will soon be forthcoming.
Patrick Mason is currently Research Associate Professor at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and Associate Director for Research of a multi-year research initiative called “Contending Modernities: Catholic, Muslim, Secular.” In the fall he will assume his new duties as Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University.
Patrick earned his BA in history at BYU and MA degrees in history and peace studies at Notre Dame, where he also earned his PhD in history, for which he wrote his dissertation, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Mob: Violence against Religious Outsiders in the U.S. South, 1865-1910.” From 2007-2009 he was Assistant Professor of History and Associate Director of the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University in Cairo.
His new book is The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South (Oxford University Press, 2011). He has also published articles on topics including the history of Utah state legislation against interracial marriage, anti-Jewish violence in the South, the role of religion in the African American protest tradition, the possibilities of Mormon peacebuilding, and most recently on theodemocracy in 19th-century Mormonism.
It’s my opinion that the further we get from the publication of John Brooke’s The Refiner’s Fire, a wildly inventive examination of Mormon origins through the lens of various esoteric European -isms (including occultism, the quest for hidden and often mysterical knowledge; hermeticism, a particular brand of the occult supposedly derived from ancient Egypt and for Brooke basically a restorationist concept that sought to regain Adam’s access to God, and the non -ism alchemy, or the transformation of the mundane into the exalted) the more interesting a book it seems. (more…)
(Part whatever of my ongoing investigation into the cultural intersections of religion and basketball; part I, on the intertwining cultural meanings of Mormonism and the Utah Jazz, can be found here; part II, a review of the religious pilgrimage of Cleveland Cavaliers bit player Lance Allred, here; part III, on the Puritan antecedents of LeBron James nemesis Dan Gilbert, here.)
The author of Holy Scripture is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning, not by words only (as man also can do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property, that the things signified by the words have themselves also a signification. Therefore that first signification whereby words signify things belongs to the first sense, the historical or literal. That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it. Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division. For as the Apostle says (Hebrews 10:1) the Old Law is a figure of the New Law, and Dionysius says [Coel. Hier. i] “the New Law itself is a figure of future glory.” Again, in the New Law, whatever our Head has done is a type of what we ought to do. Therefore, so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense.
– Thomas Aquinas,Summa Theologica 1.1.10.
Like Walt Whitman, and Holy Scripture properly understood, Jimmer Fredette contains multitudes. (more…)
From Evangelical Christendom 12 (1870), 27.
Evangelical Christendom, published out of London, was the official journal of the World Evangelical Alliance, organized in Britain in 1846 to coordinate and promote evangelical mission work around the globe. (An American affiliate was organized in New York City in 1847.) The journal was annual, but also comprehensive; routinely hundreds of pages long, containing book reviews, conference reports, missionary dispatches from around the globe, and a section entitled “Foreign Intelligencer,” made up of dispatches from countries around the world on the state of evangelical religion. “Mormonism in New York and Utah” is one of these.
Jacob Baker and I discovered the Latter Day Church of Jesus Christ while Bushman summer fellows in 2007. We spent a lot of time kicking back and forth analysis of this most interesting schism group, and organized an MHA panel around them in 2008. And, today, the turgid pace of academic publishing has finally reached consummation, and the paper I wrote that summer has been published in the current issue of Nova Religio 14:3 (February 2011) 42-63.
The Latter Day Church is fascinating in part because of how skillfully Matthew Philip Gill engages in prophetic mimesis, replicating the experiences and language of Joseph Smith to create himself as Smith’s heir, calling to repentance the failed church of Salt Lake City and promising a re-invigorated version of Mormon spirituality – one which both invokes Joseph Smith’s charisma anew, but which also rewrites the sacred history of Mormonism in ways that follow the cultural accommodations the LDS church has made. Gill’s movement is neither sectarian – which seeks to heighten tension with Western culture – nor a church movement – one which seeks to lessen that tension. Rather, scholars like Armand Mauss and Thomas O’Dea have observed that the LDS Church itself seems to combine both of these impulses, oscillating back and forth along a spectrum of resistance, tension, and accommodation. Just so, the Latter Day Church of Christ itself seeks to heighten both resistance and accommodation – rejecting, for instance, evidence that Joseph Smith ever practiced polygamy and embracing whole-heartedly the LDS church’s sentimental emphasis upon the family, but also heightening the sort of radical spiritual claims which have become routinized in American Mormonism. Gill, after all, has had visionary experiences of all the figures Joseph Smith claimed to have encountered, adding a resurrected Joseph himself into the bargain. As his father (and first counselor) asks derisively of the LDS Church, “We have again an era of prophets. Proper prophets. Not people who are just put into position and over time get to be a prophet . . . Where’s the revelation in that?” And such is a new church born. (more…)
Below is part II of our q&a with Stephen C. Taysom.
The Intellectual Prospects for Mormonism”: The Third Biennial Faith and Knowledge Conference for LDS Graduate Students in Religion
February 11-12, 2011
The Faith and Knowledge conference series was established in 2006 to bring together LDS graduate students and young faculty in religious studies and related disciplines in order to explore the intellectual interactions between religious faith and scholarship. In past conferences, graduate students have been invited to reflect upon aspects of their own intellectual reconciliations—or their failures to do so—between church and academy, and to offer fruitful solutions to fellow students undergoing similar intellectual journeys.
In keeping with these past objectives, we invite graduate students in religious studies and related disciplines working on issues related to religion (including philosophy, anthropology, sociology, ethics, history, and others) to consider Mormonism’s prospects. What intellectual and ethical issues do Mormons now face in the academy and in the intellectual world generally? What are Mormonism’s prospects for development, reconciliation, or heightened conflict?
The conference will feature a keynote address by Grant Hardy, author of Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide.
Papers should be brief, pointed comments of ten to fifteen minutes reflecting the author’s experience and designed to serve as starting points for discussion.
Travel and accommodations subsidies will be available for those who contribute papers.
Ariel Bybee Laughton
The upcoming Faith and Knowledge conference for graduate students in Religious Studies is now accepting participant registration for those not giving papers. The 2011 conference schedule should soon be finalized and made available to those who register. In the past, qualified registrants have been eligible for a free hotel room for the duration of the conference in order to make it easier for graduate students to attend. The $25 registration fee helps pay for the conference expenses. Register here.
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Over the past two months, Matt Bowman and Steve Taysom have had an ongoing dialogue about Taysom’s new book, in part in response to your questions. Part I is below; part II will come Thursday.