A couple of years ago, I was reading David Hall’s edited volume Lived Religion, and ruminated a bit on my reading along with a request for suggested volumes. For practice month here at the JI (deep in my heart it is really ritual/liturgy month), I wanted to similarly open up with a discussion of two books that have influenced my current study of Mormon liturgy, and then ask for your advice.
Owen Davies, Popular Magic: Cunning-folk in English History (London: Continuum, 2007).
This (and the various rabbit holes that it reveals in which to delve) has done more than anything else to contextualize Mormon folk practice for me. I appreciate what folklorists have done in the last one hundred years to document practices, but it is just data, and often profoundly acontextual. With Davies, all of the sudden the various flowers of Mormon (and American) folk practice have a garden and potential taxonomy. I’ve started to call the various “magic” practices of early Americans and emigrants “the attenuated cunning folk tradition” and the ways in which Mormons resonate or diverge from the tradition is illuminating. Strong companion volumes are Jonathan Roper’s English Verbal Charms and Charms, Charmers and Charming. Imagine a hemostatic charm appearing in the diary of late-nineteenth-century American-born Relief Society president with the most recent recorded variant from early eighteenth-century Britain. Rad.
Alcuin Reid, The Organic Development of the Liturgy, 2nd ed. (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 2005).
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s forward alone is worth the price. Here is the deal: I think that Mormons should be looking to Catholics and Catholic Historians instead of Evangelicals for inspiration and rapprochement. I think this because Mormons (and their church) are recapitulating 1,500 years of intellectual engagement with their faith and historiography, albeit in an almost negative log timescale. The best antecedent to the last 30 years of Mormon History: the Catholic modernist crisis of the late 19th and early 20th century. It’s uncanny. The development of Mormon Liturgy? See Liturgical History, Catholic. The Organic Development should be read as performative for believing Mormon thought-leaders. Mormon Liturgy (among other topics like theology) currently lacks any real critical engagement within the institution, though recent essays, both at the history.lds.org and “Gospel Topics” website suggest that may be changing. This volume provides a fruitful template with which Mormons can engage Mormon History while maintaining the most rigorous evidentiary and historiographical standards, all while strengthening their faith tradition. Also isn’t there a conference on this somewhere? I know Bowman hits on it a bit.
My work on Mormon Liturgy primarily involves lots (and lots) of reading in Mormon and antebellum Christian source material. Along with this I get into a fair amount of Catholic liturgical history (and similar work from Anglicans, etc.). Also Atlantic religious history generally and stuff like Davies and Roper above specifically. While I’ve found some Ritual Studies material like Driver to be useful, I’m going to let folks like Taysom and Flake do the heavy theoretical lifting and respond to Bell, et al. I don’t know whether I lack the patience or constitution, but it is something. Consequently dear readers, what reading outside of Mormon History do you suggest to contextualize, or expand what researchers like me are doing?