Secret ecclesiastical organizations usually draw a lot of attention, yet few secret ecclesiastical organizations have garnered as much speculation and mythologization as the Council of Fifty. Anyone with even a cursory interest in Mormon history has heard of the council, often wrapped up with rumors of kingly coronations, clandestine governments, and power struggles. Academic engagement with the organization has ranged from the ambitious (and as it turns out, overstated) Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History (Michigan State University Press, 1967) by Klaus Hansen to the more nuanced articles by Michael Quinn and Andrew Ehat. Recently, the LDS Church has announced plans to publish the long-secluded minutes from the original Nauvoo council as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. But the council left a larger printed impact than what is found in that minute book; further, the council lasted much longer than merely Nauvoo. To help chart the development and relevance of this quixotic council, Jedidiah S. Rogers has edited The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History, which compiles a large number of documents that shed light on the secretive organization from its formation in 1844 through John Taylor’s resuscitation of the council in the 1880s. There are a lot of things that could be highlighted from the volume for discussion, but as a historian of American religious and political culture, I’d like to point out two themes that stood out to me. (more…)
It’s that time of year again.
This is the sixth annual installment of my “Restrospect” series, which attempts to overview what I thought were important books and articles from the last 12 months. (Previous installments are found here, here, here, here, and here.) Every year, I wonder if I want to do this post again; every year, I decide it is once again worth it. (Though no promises for next year.) Mostly, it is an excuse to catch up on what has been published and to chart historiographical trends–something that really is only possible when you look at articles as well. I’ll also continue my tradition of offering my selections for MHA’s awards.
The usual caveat: my selections represent my own interests, and I admit I likely have many blindspots. So please fill in the gaps with your comments.
Of course, if you want more substantive engagement with recent scholarship in Mormon studies, you’d read the recent issue of Mormon Studies Review, especially since digital subscriptions are only $10. But you already knew that. (more…)
Last week, Ben highlighted the latest issue of the Mormon Studies Review. This week the Maxwell Institute gave Mormon Studies geeks even more goodness with the release of the first issue of the newly-revamped Studies in the Bible and Antiquity. You can read Carl Griffin’s overview of the entire issue here, but I wanted to take the time to highlight two of the articles included in particular. While much of what Studies in the Bible and Antiquity falls outside of the more narrow interests of JI bloggers, this issue includes a roundtable review of the BYU New Testament Commentary (BYUNTC) that features two prominent historians of Mormonism: Philip Barlow, Leonard J. Arrington Professor of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, and Grant Underwood, Professor of History at Brigham Young University and coeditor of the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
Barlow opens the roundtable with some reflections on the aims of the BYUNTC, highlighting five particular questions that the undertaking raised for him, as a believing Mormon and a scholar of Mormonism and the Bible: (more…)
(Allow me to grab my cheerleading megaphone…)
I’m happy to state that the second volume of the Mormon Studies Review is now available in digital and paperback form. If you missed it last year, I described volume one and the general outlook for the periodical here. But in short: the Mormon Studies Review attempts to chart the development of the subfield of Mormon studies, which we generally define as scholars using Mormonism to speak to larger academic issues through many disciplines (history, religious studies, literature, philosophy, sociology, etc.). The primary audience are other academics, though we are sure there are many interested in the topics that they will find much to interest them. The journal is filled by several different types of essays, all solicited: a forum (where a handful of respected scholars discuss a relevant issue), discipline essays (where a scholar engages the current state of a particular academic field), review essays (where a particular book, or series of related books, receive an extensive review), as well as traditional book reviews. As an editorial team (Spencer Fluhman is editor, while Morgan Davis, Melissa Inouye, and myself are associate editors), with extensive imput from our editorial board, choose who we think are the best people to trace the state of the subfield through their engagement with these issues and texts. We are grateful for all the authors who agreed to our invitations, especially those who are not generally part of the Mormon studies community; we feel that their participation is what makes our project most crucial to the Mormon studies world.
Melissa Inouye has a helpful overview of the new issue at the Maxwell Institute Blog; go read it now. You can also see the entire Table of Contents here. I’ll be brief by just outlining what practitioners of Mormon history will find interesting in this volume. (more…)
Terryl L. Givens. Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmology, God, Humanity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. xv, 405 ppg. Notes, index. Cloth: $34.95. ISBN 978-1-9979492-8.
Few books encompass as audacious a scope as Wrestling the Angel. In this work, the first of projected two volumes, prolific Mormon scholar Terryl Givens presents a rigorous and exhaustive overview of Mormonism’s theological foundations. This is not necessarily a historical work that systematically traces theological developments and places them in cultural context as it is an attempt to faithfully reproduce the intellectual tradition founded by Joseph Smith, refined by Parley and Orson Pratt, and tinkered with by a handful of twentieth century thinkers like B.H. Roberts, James Talmage, John Widtsoe, and, sometimes, more contemporary LDS leaders. The finished product is an overwhelming account that makes a compelling case for Mormonism’s inclusion within the Christian theological canon.
The book is separated into five sections. The first, “Frameworks,” outlines Mormonism’s relationship with theology and posits a new prism through which to understand Joseph Smith’s conception of “restoration”; the second is a very brief overview of Mormonism’s theological narrative, which is meant to ground the remainder of the discussion. The final three chapters are the “meat” of the project by taking, in turn, the three broad topics under consideration: “Cosmology,” “The Divine,” and “The Human.” Each chapter within these sections engages particular topics—embodiment, salvation, theosis, etc.—and places them within Christian theological context. (more…)
I have a post up over at The Junto this morning reflecting on my audiobook listening habits. I note there, among other things, that “audiobooks … have become a means of helping me keep up with scholarship outside of early America (including periods and subjects I will likely need to teach at some future point), introducing myself to historical subjects in which I am peripherally interested (including the history of sport, the history of food), and of listening to popular and academic histories that fit under the broad umbrella of ‘early American history’ that I might not find time to read in the immediate future.” While writing that post, my thoughts turned to the relative dearth of quality audiobooks on subjects that fall under the large umbrella of Mormon Studies.
My reasons for wanting to listen to Mormon Studies audiobooks largely mirror the reasons cited in the first paragraph — it would be a convenient way to keep up with a field I remain committed to and interested in but one in which my current research does not fall. Given the general success of books in the subfield published by major university and trade presses over the last few years, I am a little surprised that more have not been recorded as audiobooks. Looking back through the library of audiobooks I’ve purchased, downloaded, and listened to over the last three or four years (a library of 50+ volumes), I realized that it included only one Mormon title — our very own Matt Bowman’s excellent survey of Mormon history. A quick search for “Mormon,” “LDS,” and “Latter-day Saints” in Audible.com’s library turns up an odd mix of ex-Mormon narratives, nineteenth-century faith promoting titles, a couple of volumes either for or against Mitt Romney, and only a small handful of Mormon Studies titles (including, most promisingly, Terryl Givens’s The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction and Spencer Fluhman’s A Peculiar People). The only biography of Joseph Smith available is Alex Beam’s American Crucifixion [edit: I somehow missed Robert Remini’s short and accessible biography of JS.]. The offerings at University Press Audiobooks are even slimmer. (more…)
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.