Several years ago–perhaps 2009 or 2010–I first heard about a paper slated to be published in a major literary journal that radically reinterpreted the Book of Mormon as an Amerindian apocalypse. Whispers of both its imminent publication and its brilliance continued, and at some point, I was forwarded a prepublication draft of the paper. This isn’t altogether unusual in Mormon Studies–unpublished papers and theses, typescripts of difficult-to-access manuscript sources, and PDFs of out-of-print books passed from person to person have a long, storied, and sometime litigious history in the often insular world of Mormon scholarship. But unlike other instances I’m aware of, the importance of this paper was not in its access to otherwise unavailable primary source material or its controversial content, but rather in its interpretive significance. (more…)
Book Review: Michael Homer, Joseph’s Temples: The Dynamic Relationship Between Freemasonry and Mormonism”
Michael W. Homer, Joseph’s Temples: The Dynamic Relationship Between Freemasonry and Mormonism (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2014).
There are few topics in Mormon history more fraught than the relationship between Mormonism and masonry. From the Mormon apologetic folklore that Joseph Smith only attended three masonic meetings to the anti-Mormon accusation that the temple rituals were merely plagiarized masonic rites, this is a topic that enlivens discussion in academic classrooms and missionary companionship study alike. Michael Homer’s Joseph’s Temples is the most recent contribution to this discussion, as it is a vastly expanded version of his previous work on the topic. And though it may not be up to addressing the deeper and more complex issues involved with the topic that are demanded by today’s Mormon studies field, it is the culmination of four decades of Mormon scholarship on the religion’s contested history with the contested fraternity.
Unlike most work on Mormonism and masonry, this book is not dedicated to the two years between Joseph Smith’s introduction of temple endowments, which came months after his induction to the Nauvoo Lodge, and his death in Carthage Jail, when his last words were the masonic call for distress. Rather, this book has a very broad chronological and geographic sweep, detailing freemasonry’s development in Renaissance Europe to masonry’s demise and resurgence in Utah. Half of the book does, though, detail with the Nauvoo period, which chapters dedicated to race, gender, ritual, and succession. Though this framework for chapters made it somewhat redundant at times—and certainly did not help with the book’s length—it did add to the book’s exhaustive nature, which is indeed its best strength. (more…)
The latest issue of the Journal of Mormon History arrived in subscribers’ mailboxes recently. Here’s a brief rundown of the articles:
- “The Curious Case of Joseph Howard, Palmyra’s Seventeen-Year-Old Somnium Preacher,” by Noel A. Carmack
- Carmack compares Joseph Smith’s method of translation through seer stones with two New York “somnium preachers,” Rachel Baker and Joseph Howard, who delivered devotional and theological messages while appearing to be asleep or entranced. Carmack argues that Baker and Howard provided a context within which to place JS’s “subconscious religious exhortations taken down by dictation–one of which occurred only blocks away from the reflective, developing boy prophet.”
- “The Upper-Room Work: Esotericism in the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite), 1853-1912,” by Christopher James Blythe
- Blythe continues his ongoing investigation of Cutlerite history with an investigation of the role of esotericism (basically, the practice of “secret” rituals) in the development and persistence of Culterite identity in the face of competition from RLDS and other Restoration groups. (more…)
Just a quick note to turn your attention to two fine documentary articles published in the latest issue of BYU Studies Quarterly:
This post belongs to our occasional “Scholarly Inquiry” series which facilitates conversations with important scholars in Mormon history and studies. Today we reprise our focus on religious practice and ritual from a few months ago and hear from Dan Belnap, professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at BYU. Belnap, who has a particular interest in ritual in both ancient and contemporary contexts, is the editor of a book entitled By Our Rites of Worship: Latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in History, Scripture, and Practice, and published by the Religious Studies Center at BYU and Deseret Book last year. (And it features, one must add, a stellar chapter from our very own J. Stapley on the development of Mormon ritual!) We appreciate Professor Belnap’s responses and invite your thoughtful engagement. Also, stay tuned for Part 2.
Blaine M. Yorgason, Richard A. Schmutz, and Douglas D. Alder, All That Was Promised: The St. George Temple and the Unfolding of the Restoration (SLC: Deseret Book, 2013). 348 pp.
Those who have been to St. George, Utah, know that the LDS temple there is something of a spectacle. Blindingly white against the red-rock bluffs that surround it, the contrast is startling enough that it seems to demand some kind of compelling explanation. St. George is now flourishing as Utah’s warm-weather mecca, but for generations it was a quiet and dusty desert outpost like many others throughout the state. Then, the incongruity must have been even more glaring. Why build a temple of worship at such an early date and in such remote place? To what purpose? And, retrospectively, to what effect?
Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn from the Latter-day Saints. By Stephen H. Webb. Oxford University Press, 2013. 203 pages (with appendices). $27.95
Stephen Webb, a Roman Catholic philosopher and theologian, attempts to introduce non-Mormons to Mormon metaphysics and theology with a “rosy” outlook onto his subject (42). Although Mormon Christianity is published by Oxford University Press, its tone and Webb’s frank admission that he is a practicing Catholic may help Mormon Christianity to gain wide distribution from Christian bookstores, as well as Deseret Book (the LDS Church owned bookstore-which does carry the book). Webb’s means of understanding Mormonism are derived from his argument that Mormonism is a positive, Christian amalgamation of Catholicism and Protestantism. He employs each religious tradition to explain Mormonism to a non-specialized audience (15). (more…)
Susanna Morrill is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of White Roses on the Floor of Heaven: Nature and Flower Imagery in Latter-day Saints Women’s Literature, 1880-1920 and several excellent articles. She has previously guest blogged for JI here and here.
In the latest issue of the Journal of Mormon History, Boyd J. Petersen effectively and succinctly describes Mormon women’s dialogic literary conversations about Eve in the Woman’s Exponent: “The speaking of many voices created a carnivalesque atmosphere where language was at once serious and subversive.”  This is a really great description of what was going on in Emmeline B. Wells’ Exponent. This periodical gave Mormon women a distinct, authoritative bandwidth within the community to express their views, views that as Petersen notes sometimes “subvert[ed] and sometimes co-opt[ed] the patriarchal gaze that watched over the publication.”  Petersen adds much to our understanding of how the present-day understanding of Eve developed as he meticulously chronicles the diversity of interpretations of Eve that appeared on the pages of the Exponent: she was alternately a hero, a goddess, “the hapless and unintentional instigator of the Fall.” 
If you subscribe to BYU Studies Quartely like I do, you’ll know that the latest issue is no longer hot off the press. Not even warm, really. Mine has been lying around for a while, clamoring for recognition, languishing for want of care. Without further neglect, then, the JI brings you another content overview for BYUSQ 52:4. Three historical articles in the issue may be of interest to JI’s readers:
The latest Journal of Mormon History has been reaching subscribers’ mailboxes this week, which means it’s time for the JI’s semi-regular brief reviews of the issue.
Ronald W. Walker, joined by Matthew J. Grow, completes his two part analysis of the 1851-1852 “Runaways” incident in “The People Are ‘Hogaffed or Humbugged’: The 1851-52 National Reaction to Utah’s ‘Runaway’ Officers, Part 2,’ 1-52. The first installment, which appeared in the last issue of JMH, chronicled the origins of the crisis with the first non-Mormon federal appointees in Utah Territory. This second part continues the story as the scene shifts to the nation’s capital, and follows the public affairs and behind-the-scenes activities of Jedediah Grant, John M. Berhisel, and Thomas L. Kane. Walker and Grow not only tell a gripping tale, but also demonstrate the importance of this event in the long and tortured history of Mormon-federal relations from the late 1840s through the 1890s. Unlike the similar struggle with federal appointees in the lead-up to the Utah War, the 1852 even actually turned out in the Mormons’ favor. The article provides a teaser for Walker and Grow’s forthcoming documentary volume on Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane’s correspondence. (more…)
Todd M. Compton. A Frontier Life: Jacob Hamblin, Explorer and Indian Missionary. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2013. 642 pp. Illustrations, photos, maps, bibliography, index. Cloth: $44.95; ISBN: 978-1-60781-234-0
Todd Compton’s first major contribution to Mormon history was his 1997 In Sacred Loneliness, a collective biography of Joseph Smith’s plural wives. In his most recent offering, Compton has returned to the biographer’s craft, with a definitive examination of Jacob Hamblin, a prominent figure in the Mormon colonization of southern Utah and the Southwest. Hamblin was a devout Latter-day Saint, who preached the Gospel to Indians, married plural wives, and played a key role in the expanding Kingdom of God in the West. Even in his lifetime, Hamblin achieved renown not only among the Saints as the “Apostle to the Lamanites,” but also nationally as a guide and an interpreter for John Wesley Powell’s famed expeditions to the Grand Canyon. Previous Hamblin biographies have been either fictionalized or hagiographic, reflecting the “Hamblin legend” that emerged in the nineteenth century. More recent works, reacting against these earlier portrayals, have cast Hamblin in a more unfavorable light. Compton’s biography, the first full-length scholarly treatment of Hamblin’s life, presents a positive reevaluation, while not ignoring the frontiersman’s flaws. Compton expertly analyzes Hamblin’s evolving attitudes toward Indians, showing how the missionary gradually became the “Apostle to the Lamanites.” (more…)
Sheri Dew’s recently released Women and the Priesthood: What One Mormon Woman Believes (Deseret 2013) comes on the heels of an eventful year for liberal Mormon women. The day(s) of Pants, the petitions for women to pray in conference, and the launching of Ordain Women’s official site, among other events, have provoked widespread discussion on the well-worn but still dimly understood topic of women and the priesthood.
Women and the Priesthood, despite the title, isn’t so much an attempt to answer questions about women’s lack of priesthood authority (ordination), the nature of the priesthood, or the relationship between gender and the priesthood, so much as it is an attempt to discuss women’s general status and participation in the Church. This is important to note, since readers approaching the book with the former questions in mind will most likely be disappointed. Dew dedicates only one chapter to the topic of women and the priesthood, packed between seven other “contextual” or “foundation-laying” chapters, which highlight ways women should understand their eternal role, identity, and relationship to God and the Church.
It is clear early on that Dew’s imagined audience is split between those who think women have no significance in the Church (i.e. uninformed outsiders or members who are missing the picture) and those wishing to defend women’s current position in LDS belief and practice. As a result of this polarization, a considerable population is excluded: active, faithful members who are uneasy with or puzzled about the relationships between women, gender, and the priesthood, as currently practiced or discussed by the Church. (more…)
This is the fifth annual installment of my “Retrospect” series here at JI, in which I offer an overview of scholarship in the field from the last twelve months. (For previous installments, see, in reverse chronological order, here, here, here, and here.) I always enjoy these posts, as it not only allows me to keep track of everything that has been done, but also see broader trends in the field. And to better accomplish that latter goal, I include articles from the last twelve months as well, since that gives a broader understanding of the current historiographical interests and movements.
As always, while I aim to be broad and liberal in scope, I am still human with my own interests and biases. Thus, it is very likely I overlooked some important books and articles, so it is your job to fill in my gaps in the comments. And just like last year, at the end of the post I will offer my own picks for MHA’s awards, and encourage you to do the same.
Response: J.B. Haws Answers Questions about his recent JMH article and his forthcoming book (Part II)
We’re pleased today to welcome back J.B. Haws for Part II of our Q & A on his recent article in the JMH and his forthcoming book, The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (Oxford, December 2013), both exploring the changing image of Mormons in American media from George Romney’s presidential run in the 1960s to his son Mitt Romney’s campaigns in the early 21st century. Last time, we focused mainly on Haws’ methods and sources. Today, we’re exploring specific aspects of his analysis and a few of his conclusions.
Response: J.B. Haws Answers Questions about his recent JMH article and his forthcoming book (Part I)
In August, I reviewed J.B. Haws’ recent article “When Mormonism Mattered Less in Presidential Politics: George Romney’s 1968 Window of Possibilities”, published in the summer issue of the Journal of Mormon History. Haws, an Assistant Professor of Church History at BYU, graciously agreed to participate in a Q & A to answer some of my lingering questions and those submitted by members of the JI community. In the course of our conversation, we also discussed how the research he presented in his article is extended in his forthcoming (and highly-anticipated!) book, The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (Oxford, December 2013), which promises to be an important and much-needed addition to our understanding of Mormonism in the contemporary period, as well as of public representations (and misrepresentations) of Mormonism across the last half of the 20th century.
JBH: I should say, by way of preface, that as I read through your questions, my reaction after every one was to think, “Wow—great question.” But I’m going to resist typing that every time (but just know I’m still thinking that!). Thanks for these thoughtful and thought-provoking questions.
CHJ: Thank you, J. B.! We’re excited that you were willing to offer us some answers. So—let’s get to it!
The Fall 2013 issue of BYU Studies Quarterly recently hit the web and print subscribers’ mailboxes, which means that it’s time for another quick journal content overview for JI’s readers. All the usual caveats apply—that is, these summaries are meant to whet your appetite, but for the full effect you’ll want to visit the pieces and their arguments in their totality. In this issue of BYUSQ, four original articles and other tidbits are on offer.
Kenneth L. Alford, ed. Civil War Saints. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center (BYU), 2012. xxxiii + 569 pp. Hardcover $31.99. ISBN 978-0-8425-2816-0.
I have contributed here a thorough and lengthy discussion of this book; if you would like just the highlights, please read my first and last paragraphs below. –NRR
As America continues its commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, it is fitting that at least one new book should come out examining the connections between Latter-day Saints and the war. Kenneth Alford aims in this edited volume to update and add to the small body of literature surrounding Mormons, the Utah Territory, and the Civil War. While he falls short of creating a one-volume comprehensive treatment of the subject, he and his co-contributors have explored important, previously-uncharted territory that make this book an important addition to any Mormon or Civil War History enthusiast’s library. (more…)
Responses: Paul Harvey and Edward Blum respond to Noel Carmack’s Review Essay in the Journal of Mormon History
Almost exactly one year ago, the University of North Carolina Press published Edward Blum and Paul Harvey’s The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, a sweeping and provocative analysis of the ways in which Americans from various walks of life over the last four hundred (!) years have imagined Jesus. Among the many contributions the book makes, and of particular interest to JI readers, is the authors’ situating Mormons as important players in the larger story of race and religion they narrate so masterfully. In fact, one paragraph in particular has garnered more attention than nearly any other part of the book—a brief discussion in chapter 9 of the large, white marble Christus statue instantly recognizable to Mormons the world over. In the latest issue of the Journal of Mormon History, Noel Carmack authored a 21 page review of The Color of Christ, focusing on their treatment of Mormonism and paying particular attention to their discussion of the Christus. Professors Blum and Harvey generously accepted our invitation to respond here, as part of both our ongoing Responses series and as an appropriate contribution to our look at Mormon material culture this month.
Not long ago BYU Studies Quarterly rolled out its summer issue, and it’s time for a quick overview of the historical articles there. For those unfamiliar with the journal, BYUSQ has been running under the auspices of BYU since 1959, long enough to claim to be “the original Mormon Studies journal.” (Until April 2012, the journal ran under the title of BYU Studies.) Currently under the editorship of Jack W. Welch, the journal is interdisciplinary and its purposes run parallel to those of BYU: the journal aims to be “faithful and scholarly throughout, harmonizing wherever possible the intellectual and the spiritual on subjects of interest to Latter-day Saints and to scholars studying the Latter-day Saint experience.”
The Summer 2013 issue offers several articles that will interest JI’s readers. In the leadoff article, Richard Bennett offers a sequel to his earlier piece “‘Line Upon Line, Precept Upon Precept’: Reflections on the 1877 Commencement of the Performance of the Endowments and Sealings for the Dead,” BYU Studies 44, no. 3 (2005): 38-77. In that article, Bennett emphasized the completion of the St. George Temple as a “watershed moment in the history of the development of modern Mormon temple work.” The article outlined the expansion of certain forms of temple work as the temple was completed, and characterized the period as highly formative for Mormon religious thought and practice. (more…)
First of all, we hope you enjoy JI’s new look. And yes, we are aware that the “music notes” can easily catch your attention.
But the blog is not the only thing that was in need of a facelift recently–so was the historiography surrounding the “succession crisis.” One of the popular topics that was repeatedly researched during the rise of New Mormon History, the story of how Mormonism became/remains so prone to schism has received a lot of attention. Historians like Michael Quinn, Andrew Ehat, Ron Esplin, and many others laid the archival groundwork for much of the narrative—and that’s just for the period immediately following Joseph Smith’s death. The John Whitmer Historical Association, which sponsors an annual conference as well as a biannual journal dedicated to the various traditions that race their roots back to Joseph Smith, continues to pump out fascinating scholarship year after year. And most of the major works in Mormon history now realize they must address these schism issues—think of the recent biographies of Parley Pratt and Brigham Young—it has begun to infiltrate the mainstream of Mormon studies.
But just like any topic within the wild and still inchoate (sub)field of Mormon history, its approaches have continued to evolve. In the beginning, very few works, besides that of Danny Jorgensen, invoked a theoretical methodology in tracking what Jorgensen called “Mormon Fissiparousness.” Rather, most narratives, while grounded in ground-breaking archival research, relied on basic teleological trajectories and focussed on seemingly objective tools like facts, dates, names, and words. (more…)