The last few years have been good for Mormon history.
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.
Also, remember that you can find the best and most in-depth tracing of Mormon studies at the recently launched Mormon Studies Review! (more…)
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.
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…)
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.
If the recent resurgence in Mormon schism studies did nothing more than give room for John Hamer’s phenomenal images, then it has served a noble purpose indeed.
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…)
Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns came to seem, in the media frenzy of the last few years, like bookends to America’s much-touted Mormon moment. But Americans’ fascination with the Latter-day Saints did not begin or end with Mitt Romney. This is not the first period in American history when non-Mormon Americans have, to some extent, embraced their LDS neighbors. In fact, Mitt Romney isn’t even the first Republican Romney whose religious affiliation has colored his national political image. His father George, the successful head of the American Motor Company in the 1950s and popular governor of Michigan in the 1960s, was a prominent candidate for the 1968 Republican nomination for President. Also like Mitt, George owed at least some measure of his political success to a period of increased interest in and positive feeling towards the Mormons. As J.B. Haws, Assistant Professor of Church History at BYU, shows in his article in the most recent issue of the Journal of Mormon History, George Romney’s candidacy was not seen as tainted by a “Mormon problem,” as were his son’s campaigns a half-century later.  In the United States in the 1960s, the Romneys’ Mormonism simply “mattered less” than it does in the 21st century. And if it mattered at all, Haws argues, it did so by lending George Romney the air of “benign wholesomeness” that characterized public perceptions of the Latter-day Saints in this period (99).
Haws’ current article is based on the research for his forthcoming book The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (OUP, November 2013), and essentially lays the groundwork for that longer study, in which he traces public perceptions of Mormonism in the American media across the last half-century. In the 1960s, he argues, George Romney ran for the Republican nomination for the presidency and faced remarkably few challenges to his religion—or at least what look like remarkably few challenges to those of us who lived through the most recent Mormon moment. By comparing political polling data from both Romneys’ campaigns and examining news coverage of the elder Romney’s presidential aspirations and editorial commentary on his campaign and on the larger question of the role a candidate’s religion should play in voters’ assessment of his fitness for office, Haws convincingly demonstrates that Americans were less concerned in the 1960s—or at least said they were less concerned—by the possibility of having a Mormon in the White House than were their early 21st-century counterparts. While George Romney’s religion was occasionally challenged—primarily, Haws claims, regarding the Church’s policies on race (remember, George Romney was running for the presidency in the midst of the Civil Rights movements, and a decade before the Church lifted its ban on blacks in the priesthood)—according to Haws it was not Romney’s religion but his moderate politics and his ill-advised declaration in 1967 that he had been “brainwashed” into supporting the Vietnam war that sunk him with American voters. In short, Haws argues that political views, not religious beliefs, were the elder Romney’s greatest obstacles.
This post continues the JI’s occasional “Responses” series and contributes to the August theme of 20th Century Mormonism. Semi-regular guest and friend of the JI Patrick Mason, Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont, contributes this installment.
Review of David Pulsipher, “‘Prepared to Abide the Penalty’: Latter-day Saints and Civil Disobedience,” JMH 39:3 (Summer 2013): 131-162.
Pop quiz: Which group maintained the longest civil disobedience movement in American history, and the first such movement not to descend into violence? Since you’re reading a Mormon history blog, the question is a bit like asking who’s buried in Grant’s tomb. Yet even with the prodigious output of scholars working on Mormon related topics in recent years, there are relatively few offerings that not only give us new details but also really help us see Mormonism through a new perspective. David Pulsipher’s recent JMH article is one of those. (more…)
[Today's book review comes from JI's good friend Seth Perry, who recently completed his PhD at the University of Chicago's Divinity School, where he wrote a dissertation on the Bible in early America, and will be a Visiting Professor of American Religion at Indiana University this fall.]
Since it was Philip Barlow’s Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion (1991, 2013) that taught me to read paratexts, it seems fitting to approach Oxford University Press’s new and expanded edition of the book through the materials that frame it.
The back-cover blurbs attached to the new edition include these lines from a 1995 Dialogue review written by Scott Kenney, co-founder of Signature Books:
There can be no question that as a work of Mormon intellectual history this is a seminal – and eminently readable – work….Mormons and the Bible has all the markings of a Mormon classic.
OUP likes the quote – it also appears on my 1997 paperback. Characteristic of the genre, though, the blurb misses all of the subtlety of what Kenney was actually saying about the book. (more…)
Terryl L. Givens. The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy, updated edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Paperback. 978-0-19-993380-8. $24.95.
Since its original publication in 1997, Terryl Givens’ The Viper on the Hearth has been a mainstay of the study of Mormonism and anti-Mormonism in American culture. And deservedly so. Givens’ work provided the first substantial scholarly book-length exploration of images of the Latter-day Saints in American culture in any time period. His examination of the representations of Mormons in the United States in the 19th century is sweeping in its coverage of the period; thorough in its inclusion of a wide variety of sources, from newspapers to popular fiction to fictive memoirs; and convincing in its argument that, whatever American claims of separation of church and state and tolerance for differing religious views may have been, religion was at the heart of mainstream America’s intolerance, suspicion, and occasional violence toward the Mormons. For many students of Mormonism and of American religion, Viper has served as an introduction to anti-Mormonism in America. For the generation of scholars who have examined the subject since Viper’s first publication—including Megan Sanborn-Jones, Patrick Q. Mason, and J. Spencer Fluhman—Givens’ scholarship has served as a guide. No one can engage in a study of anti-Mormonism in the United States without responding to his arguments about the mechanisms of and motivations behind anti-Mormon sentiment in American culture.
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…)
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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…)