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…)
Earlier this year, Tona wrote an excellent post about the fragility of digital archives following up on Max Mueller’s AHA paper that explored both the possibilities and pitfalls of the “I’m A Mormon” campaign as a primary source. Tona noted that, “What is available to historians relies largely upon on goodwill, technology upgrades, and the market.”
Within this context, it is fascinating to observe, in real-time, the debate over whether or not the General Women’s Meeting is a session of General Conference. This controversy includes the editing of a video of a conference session as well as conflicting (and possibly changing) interpretations about the status of the Women’s Meeting from LDS Public Affairs, the Deseret News website as well as lds.org. While the debate about the status of the Women’s Meeting has been largely framed as a feminist issue, it also raises questions for researchers in tracing changes to historical documents and other sources as well as how ideas get lodged in the imaginations of religious believers. As Tona states,
Things come, go, vanish, launch, in a constant state of (often unannounced) change that nonetheless presents itself as final, unchanging and authoritative… it is a historian’s worst nightmare. If you cannot see the “manuscript edits” so to speak, how do you know what changed, when, how and why? And if the old just vanishes from the online environment without a trace, what happens to the possibilities for historical research? Most of what we are all busily creating in this decade has simply been written in the equivalent of vanishing ink.
This came through my inbox last week, and I thought I would post it here in case anyone was interested.
The American Studies Consortium welcomes
Professor of English and Comparative Literature, San Diego State University
author of The Book of Mormon Girl
“When Storytelling is Movement Building:
Putting American Studies to Work in the World of Mormonism.” (more…)
I did not start to question Columbus Day until my first history course at Brigham Young University in 2008, when an instructor discussed with the class the controversies concerning Columbus and the Quincentennial in 1992. We read The Four Voyages: Being His Own Log-Book, Letters, and Dispatches with Connecting Narratives published by Penguin Classics in 1992. The class showed me how to search primary sources and understand the current debates about the legacy of Christopher Columbus. As a Latter-day Saint Native American, my complicated opinion of Columbus began to gel. I learned of his human weaknesses and impacts (both direct and non-direct) on indigenous peoples. As a historian, I came to recognize a historical figure’s context and the “pastness of history.” I became increasingly uncomfortable with the appropriations of Columbus’s image, especially in the contests over Columbus Day and Indigenous Day. (more…)
A reminder to our readers that the Fifth Biennial Faith & Knowledge Conference will be held at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville on February 27 and 28, 2015. The submission deadline for proposals is November 7, 2014. Please note that, unlike previous years, the conference is now officially open to LDS graduate students and early career scholars in religious studies and related academic disciplines interested in the intersections of scholarship and religious faith. Three members of this year’s committee (Rachael Givens Johnson, Joseph Stuart, and Christopher Jones) are all bloggers here at the Juvenile Instructor; please contact us if you have any questions.
THE FIFTH BIENNIAL FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE CONFERENCE
University of Virginia
February 27-28, 2015
In the past few days I’ve seen two different Facebook profile pictures with “I am a Mormon” written in Deseret. The happy confluence of Mormonness and nerdiness in these images makes me happy. Further, even though I know very little about Deseret or its mechanics, these images also give me entrée to talk about two of the (many) reasons Deseret failed to catch on in Mormonism or anywhere else. (more…)
The University of Utah’s Tanner Humanities Center is proud to present the Fall 2014 McMurrin Lecture on Religion and Culture with David Campbell, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and co-author of the recent book Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics. Campbell’s lecture, titled “Whither the Promised Land? Mormons’ Place in a Changing Religious Landscape,” will be held on Thursday, October 30 at 7:00 PM in the Salt Lake City Main Library auditorium, 210 E 400 S. This event is free and open to the public. More information at www.thc.utah.edu.
In his lecture, Campbell will explore how Mormons fit into a society where once-sharp religious distinctions have blurred and secularism is on the rise. With their high levels of religious devotion and solidarity, Mormons in America are increasingly “peculiar.” Does their peculiarity come at a price? Does that price include a “stained glass ceiling” in presidential politics? In other words, did Mormonism cost Mitt Romney the White House? And, how has Mitt Romney’s campaign affected popular perceptions of Mormonism?
During the past week, several of JI’s permabloggers have begun writing short intros to the birth of Mormonism for theses, dissertations, or articles. All of us expressed a desire to start the narrative after 1820, the year generally attributed to Joseph Smith’s First Vision. (more…)
Hi all, here’s the best of the Mormon week that was. No General Conference commentary or historical perspective until next week!
FamilySearch has teamed up with GenealogyBank.org for a huge–seriously, huge–digitization project that was announced recently. When it’s completed, a billion records from 100 million US newpaper obituaries, from 1730 onward will be digitized and searchable online. They’re looking for tens of thousands of volunteers to help–could be you!
Post “Mormon Moment” conference to examine LDS and media
Conference Oct. 17 at BYU Salt Lake Center will honor historian Jan Shipps
SALT LAKE CITY — At look at how journalists covered Mormonism during the 1970s Equal Rights Amendment campaign, a discussion about how Mormons are responding to a call to share their faith through social media, and a tribute to historian Jan Shipps are scheduled at the Third Mormon Media Studies Conference, Friday, Oct. 17. Admission is free. (more…)
Okay, so this is from a different era. Still, I think it applies!
1863 was a troublesome year for Abraham Lincoln. His Emancipation Proclamation went into effect January 1st, but it needed to be vindicated by victories on the battlefield. However, Grant’s prolonged siege of Vicksburg and the game-changing victory at Gettysburg wouldn’t see completion until early July.
Those victories were inconceivable mid-1863, especially after costly Union losses at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville the previous winter and spring. Lincoln had another problem on his hands, too: political trouble in Missouri, brewing since the start of the war and coming to a head in the summer of 1863. The Border State had a large population of slave owners and had been occupied by a heavy Union military presence since early in the war. The various Unionist factions that arose in the state continued to press Lincoln to support their respective camps, either in spreading immediate emancipation to Missouri or allowing slavery to exist with a more gradual emancipation plan. When a delegation of the more radical faction visited Lincoln in Autumn to appeal for his support, he refused to add presidential clout to either group.
Frustrated with the politicking in Missouri, but unwilling to join sides, Lincoln remarked to a reporter that he had “adopted the plan learned when a farmer boy engaged in plowing. When he came across stumps too deep and too tough to be torn up, and too wet to burn, he plowed round them.” In other words, he opted for the course of least resistance rather than directly dealing with the most difficult of situations—and possibly unwinnable ones— as in Missouri.
Wait—he said that about Missourians? (more…)
From our friends in SoCal.
Authority, Community, and Identity
Call for Papers
The Religion Department at Claremont Graduate University is pleased to announce its annual Mormon Studies Conference, to be held March 6 and 7, 2015 in Claremont, California. We encourage proposals from graduate students and faculty of all disciplines. There are limited travel subsidies available for graduate student presenters. The theme for this year is “Authority, Community, and Identity.
The study of Mormonism requires an exploration of what it means to be a religious person. Individuals exist within a community where they negotiate and maintain their identities. The conference organizers are open to a wide range of paper proposals, including but not limited to topics suggested by the following themes and questions: How do people negotiate their Mormon identity in joining or leaving Mormonism? How does ritual impact community maintenance and religious authority? How have developments in communication changed methods of creating orthodoxy and heterodoxy? In what ways have changing norms and debates regarding gender and sexuality impacted identity and community? How have communities of doubt influenced claims to authority and identity? How has Mormon identity and community developed regionally and internationally? What role does tradition play in different geographies? How has secularization altered Mormon community formation and institutional authority?
While this conference will focus on Mormonism in particular, we encourage comparative papers, or papers on related traditions in which the theories or insights developed have some bearing on Mormonism.
Please email paper proposals and a CV to email@example.com by November 15, 2014. Proposals should be no longer than 250 words and should be attached as a Word or PDF document. Please indicate in the email if you would like to be considered for travel funding.
We’re pleased to present today’s guest post from Barbara Jones Brown. Barbara was the content editor of Massacre at Mountain Meadows (OUP, 2008) and is now at work on the book’s sequel. She holds a master’s degree in American history from the University of Utah and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Brigham Young University. She serves on the board of directors for the Mormon History Association and on the Mormon Women’s History Initiative Team.
On September 11, 2014, dozens of people from throughout the United States gathered at the lower monument of southern Utah’s Mountain Meadows. We were there to remember the victims of the atrocity that took place in that valley exactly 157 years before, when Mormon militiamen led a massacre of some 120 California-bound emigrants. Most of the victims were from Arkansas. Only seventeen children aged six and under survived. The monument, dedicated September 11, 1999, marks the spot where the emigrants took cover behind their wagons during the five-day siege and where U.S. troops laid many of their bones to rest in 1859. (more…)
Another week, another Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup
On the more academic side of things, the annual conference of the John Whitmer Historical Association kicked things off this weekend in Lamoni, Iowa. Check out the twitter feed for JI Ben’s tweets on the conference. The feed also confirms rumors that LDS Church Historian Steven E. Snow is in attendance. BYU’s L. Tom Perry Special Collections has advertised a position for Curator of 19th and 20th Century Mormon and Western Americana Books. Also, the Mormon Texts Project announced that five historical Mormon e-books have been added to Project Gutenberg. If you’re in the Logan area next week, come hear venerable historian Ron Walker speak on Brigham Young and the Utah War at the 20th Annual Arrington Lecture.
Elder Snow and other Church History Department officials spoke at a press conference recently that provided details on the Church History Museum’s permanent exhibit renovation, “The Heavens Are Opened,” scheduled to open October 2015. As several media outlets noted, the new exhibit will augment the museum’s artifact collection with technology to enhance the story of the early Restoration (1820-1846). These newspaper articles interpret the new exhibit within the church’s recent efforts to approach its history with transparency (with the Joseph Smith Papers and the Gospel Topics essays as the most notable examples), as the exhibit will attempt to tackle difficult historical issues, such as multiple accounts of the First Vision, seer stones and Book of Mormon translation, and Nauvoo polygamy. (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…)
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…)
Exponent II’s board in 1974 and 2014 (credit: Heather Sundahl)
began in 1974 in the Cambridge neighborhood of Harvard Square. On its fortieth anniversary, its founders – silver, sassy, and more than a little surprised that what they had wrought was still going strong – returned to one of the neighborhood’s church halls packed with guests to celebrate the organization and its achievements. I was so, so happy to be there, too. (more…)
Let’s dive right in:
First things first: the Church History department is now on Tumblr! I’ve already added it to my blog roll and look forward to more fun and informative posts.
Then, a Trib article on the (presumed) relationship between Mormons and the GOP, and a Huffington Post article on Mormons, social media, and progressive activism.
And because this post deserved another link, and these are words I never thought I’d read in one sentence, “Polygamist women in ninja costumes” involved in nefarious activity. See KUTV for more details on what is a funny headline for a sad story.
Lastly, a reminder that the deadline for this year’s Mormon History Association is coming up! All submissions are due October 1. You can find the CFP here.
Feel free to add your links in the comments!
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The newly redesigned Harold B. Lee Library website is a great resource. Having spent a good deal of time with the site I thought it would be useful to highlight resources and (generally) overlooked goodness at BYU’s libraries and archives for your Mormon Studies research.
L. Tom Perry Special Collections
You know what it is, but did you know the Special Collections provides RSS feeds for the following?
The feeds can be a bit spotty, but the collection highlights are at least monthly and very helpful. One blog recently featured the excellent Newel K. Whitney Papers, which were digitized not long ago by the staff there. A few more highlights include: a direct link to search the Special Collections’ finding aids: http://findingaid.lib.byu.edu/, Trails of Hope: Overland Diaries and Letters, 1846–1869, and a web map that shows all geocoded (items with a geographic location) collections (over 3900 items!). (more…)
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