Desperate times (the expected dearth of posts at the end of the semester) call for desperate measures (narcissistically posting about our own scholarship).
Parley Pratt, whose theology was as rugged as his looks.
In summer 2009, I participated in the Mormon Scholars Summer Seminar, that year led by Terryl Givens and Matt Grow, where I had the opportunity to study the writings of the Pratt brothers. While my seminar paper was on Parley Pratt’s theology of embodiment, which soon evolved into a larger article on early Mormon theologies of embodiment in general, the topic with which I became particularly transfixed was how Joseph Smith’s teachings were adapted and appropriated during the first few years after his death. At first, I was interested in the very parochial nature of the issue—the specifics of theological development, who said what and when, and what ideas were forgotten, emphasized, or even created anew. But I then became even more interested in broader questions: how were Smith’s ideas interpreted in the first place within a specific cultural environment, and how did Smith’s successors utilize that environment when molding their own theology? And further, what does that process tell us about the development of religious traditions in general, and the progression of religion in antebellum America in particular? (more…)
This is Part One of my interview with Maxine Hanks, who edited and published her well-known feminist anthology, Women and Authority: Re-Emerging Mormon Feminism, with Signature Books in 1992 here. (more…)
If you haven’t noticed, we have a proliferation of Mormon history journals. So much so, in fact, that it is difficult to keep up. (One way to stay on top of things: the forthcoming Mormon Studies Review!) That’s where your friends at JI come in with our journal recaps.
One journal that unfortunately is often overlooked is Mormon Historical Studies, edited by Alex Baugh. This is unfortunate, because it is often the most “nerdy” and over-specialized of the journals–and I mean that as the highest compliment. When it comes to straight history, this journal often carries strong work, and its pages often smell of archival research. The most recent issue is no exception; in fact, it is perhaps one of the strongest issues they have published to day, partly because it is a combined issue for the entire 2012 year (they often publish two issues a year). Below are the contents, with a little commentary by yours truly. (more…)
Review of: Richard E. Turley, Jr. and Brittany A. Chapman, eds., Women of Faith in the Latter Days: Volume Two, 1821 – 1845 (Deseret Book, 2012).
I really cannot improve upon the opening lines of the introduction to this projected seven-volume series:
Although approximately half the people in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been women, their lives of faith and dedication are just beginning to receive the attention they merit. This series, Women of Faith in the Latter Days, aims to enhance awareness of these women through inspirational accounts written for a general readership.
The newest edition, the second in the series, considers thirty women* born between 1821 and 1845, and it’s a blockbuster volume both in the women who are included and in the list of authors who set their hand to crafting readable yet accurate and historically contextualized narratives of their lives. The essays purposely introduce both “well-known and previously obscure” women, presenting them in alphabetical order, a notably democratic editorial decision. They epitomize the pioneer women whose piety and self-sacrifice could have easily become fossilized in sentimental hagiography. But that’s not what this series is about, thank heaven. (more…)
First I must say this: Hooray! The publication of the Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes has been a long time coming—one hundred and seventy one years, to be exact. The Beginning of Better Days: Divine Instruction to Women from the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. by Sheri Dew and Virginia H. Pearce, presents powerful words and meaningful experiences, both with the Nauvoo Relief Society and with its interpretation. (more…)
Suppose that you were interested in Mormon women’s history, and suppose that you owned a library card and a computer. Now suppose you wished a smart group of LDS scholars would make you a list of classic texts and maybe comment a bit on why each book is worth a read. And while they were at it, throw in a roundup of web and digital resources for Mormon women’s history, too.
Voila! Today is your lucky day. The JI authors have been busy crowdsourcing this annotated bibliography of our must-read books and online archival resources for the history of Mormon women. (more…)
Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith. Salt Lake City: The Deseret News Press, 1938. 490 pp.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the publication of a classic of Mormon biography, Joseph Fielding Smith’s Life of Joseph F. Smith. It is a book that is many things: part genealogy, part hagiography, part scrapbook, part apologia, part castigation of anti-Mormon sentiment of any shade, and part history of Mormonism’s transformation into a 20th century organization. Its 490 pages are replete with personal stories, the kind winnowed from a lifetime of observing a loved one and careful interviewing of those who knew JFS intimately. Conversely, (more…)
If you don’t subscribe to Dialogue yet, repent now and change your ways before the day of judgement arrives.
In case you missed it during the business that is the holiday season, the winter issue of Dialogue appeared on its website. As its lead article, our own Steve Taysom offers a fabulous look at one of the new and provocative theories in religious studies: Robert Orsi’s “abundant events.” This theory should be familiar with Mormons studies practitioners and Dialogue readers since Orsi, Richard Bushman, and Susanna Morrill did an interview about it in Dialogue‘s fall 2011 issue. Put simply, Orsi’s theory starts with the problem that plagues many scholars: what does one do with supernatural events that are claimed by the religious people one studies? Or as Steve summarizes, “how do scholars of religion account for experiences that are simultaneously irrational and real?” (4-5) Orsi’s response is to construct a conceptual category that both avoids the reductionism of skeptical scholars while still providing a framework in which the importance of the claimed experience can still be analyzed. Taysom examines the theory and sees how it works when applied to the study of Mormonism’s gold plates.
To summarize Steve’s fantastic article, I’ll gist his main argument, critiques, and conclusion, and then highlight what I think are the two most important aspects of the work. After giving a helpful summary of both the academic summary of religion as well as Orsi’s theory of “abundant events,” Taysom engages the benefits and pitfalls of such an approach. The biggest benefit, according to Taysom, is that “Orsi is attempting to create categories that bring religious experience into the ‘real’ world rather than attempting to fence them off” (5). But Taysom’s biggest critique is that Orsi never really explains whether it is the event or the narrative of said event that carries so much weight within a faith tradition. He is not willing to agree with Orsi that “abundant events…seem to exist and act independent of mundane historical agents” (9). For Taysom, it is the later narratives of the event that influence how people act and react, not the original event itself. “I can conclude,” writes Taysom, “that Orsi’s theory of abundant events is useful to the study of religion in general, and Mormonism in particular, only to the extent that it recognizes, accepts, or explains, in an explicit and clear manner, the role of narrative in the process of making the events ‘real’” (10). (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…)
Major Problems in American Religious History, 2nd ed. Documents and Essays edited by Patrick Allitt. Major Problems in American History Series. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2013. vii-xx, 519 pp.
Patrick Allitt (Emory University) has updated the American religious history volume in Wadsworth/Cengage’s Major Problems series for 2013 – the original edition was published in 1999, so a second edition was long overdue. And it turns out that it was worth the wait, if you can swallow the $95 price tag. (more…)
John Turner wraps up the JI’s roundtable discussion of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet.
Four-and-a-half years ago, during my initial research trip to Utah, I ventured down to Provo and had lunch with Spencer Fluhman and several of his students. Among them were David Grua and Chris Jones (and Stan Thayne, I think). The Juvenile Instructor was a newborn blog at the time. So it’s a bit surreal for me to have read the topical reviews of Pioneer Prophet over the past six weeks at this blog.
I love the field of Mormon history for many reasons. The rich sources. The voluminous scholarship. Most of all, I love the fact that so many people care about the Mormon past. This has some downsides. It makes the field contentious and testy. One need only read the “letters” section of the most recent Journal of Mormon History. Such contention, however, is more than outbalanced by the passion that so many individuals bring to their writing and to conversations about Mormon history. That passion is contagious.
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…)
Brigham Young “has never been less than the tyrant of the Mormon church, and if there does not cleave his soul today the deadly crime of wholesale murder in the massacre of Mountain Meadow, there will be forever, probably, cleave to his name the guilt of that awful slaughter, in the conviction of the American people, who would have indulged in no reprehensible joy, if he had been brought to the bar of human justice for that and the involved iniquities that defame his memory and disgrace his name.” (more…)
John Turner assumed a tall task when he decided to write a biography of Brigham Young, a larger than life personality who, after Joseph Smith, was the defining figure in nineteenth-century Mormonism. Young was a key participant in the church’s founding years and was the driving force behind the Mormon settlement of the Great Basin. As Amanda noted in her contribution to this roundtable, the sheer scope of Young’s life required Turner to not only familiarize himself with a mountain of primary sources, but also the extensive and growing secondary literature on various facets of the second Mormon prophet’s life and environment. She also fairly notes that no biographer (except, perhaps, Richard Bushman) can be reasonably expected to competently cover all parts of a subject’s life equally, which will doubtless leave some readers disappointed. Brigham Young’s engagement with and impact on the Natives of the Great Basin was one area that Turner sought to contextualize within a broader secondary literature and, for the most part, he was highly successful. (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 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…)
The Juvenile Instructor is pleased to announce a round table discussion of one of the most important works to appear on Mormon history in recent memory–John G. Turner‘s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet. Turner’s biography, published by Harvard University Press, represents perhaps the apex of what I’ve called elsewhere a “Brigham Young Revival,” as historians have revisited the second Mormon prophet with renewed vigor after a long period of scholarly neglect. In the early twentieth century, historians found Brigham Young to be a far more interesting figure than Joseph Smith, since the former embodied scholars’ fascination with the frontier as the source of American culture and distinctiveness. Smith, by contrast, was usually cast as a womanizing deceiver who preyed upon credulous dupes, whose achievements paled in comparison to those of his successor. By the 1940s, however, scholars began to see Smith in a more positive light, producing several important studies and biographies, while the interest in Young waned. In the post-Civil Rights era, Young’s primary importance for historians lay in his racial policies and controversial theological teachings. Only Leonard Arrington published a major work on Young during this period, whose 1985 Brigham Young: American Moses reflected an earlier era of frontier historiography. (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…)
Andrew H. Hedges, Alex D. Smith, and Richard Lloyd Anderson, eds., Journals, Volume 2: December 1841-April 1843 in The Joseph Smith Papers, gen. eds. Dean C. Jessee, Ronald K. Esplin, and Richard Lyman Bushman (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2011). xl, 558 pp. Cloth: $54.95; ISBN: 978-1-60908-737-1.
On October 2, 1841, Joseph Smith deposited in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, a first edition Doctrine and Covenants, a Bible, and other items deemed sufficiently important to preserve for future generations. Among these was a memorial to the U.S. Senate describing the Latter-day Saints’ persecutions in Missouri and a history of the persecutions published in the Times and Seasons. The addition of these two histories to a repository that included sacred writ demonstrated the degree to which the Latter-day Saints were committed to writing about their persecutions and preserving their writings for subsequent readers. As sociologist Jeffrey K. Olick has noted, “collective memory” is not a single or monolithic “thing,” but a “wide variety of mnemonic products and practices,” which only “gain reality by being used, interpreted, and reproduced or changed.” Early Mormon writings on persecution, then, are best understood as mnemonic products that were gradually “used, interpreted, and reproduced” as they shaped how Mormons and others remembered the past. (more…)
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Empires, Nations, and Families: A History of the North American West, 1800-1860, by Anne F. Hyde. History of the American West Series. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2011. xiii-xv, 628 pp.
The great project of turning the West into part of the United States, initiated in 1803 and begun in earnest in the 1840s, had made little progress in many places. Much remained flexible and contingent about life on its complex border into the second half of the nineteenth century. Residents of the West seemed quite ambivalent about nationality, easily claiming new citizenship when it served personal or business needs. During a time when no one knew which nation or empire would finally impose control, effective trade was the sole source of power. And it continued to be a world defined by personal connections. (30)
So argues Anne Hyde, Professor of History at Colorado College, in Empires, Nations, and Families, winner of the prestigious Bancroft Prize earlier this year. (more…)