Juvenile Instructor, a Mormon History Blog

Pageants and practice

By: Guest - March 17, 2014

Megan Sanborn Jones is currently the coordinator for the Theatre Arts Studies program at BYU. She teaches undergraduate and graduate classes in theatre critical studies. Her work about religious performance in 19th-20th century America has been published in Theatre Journal, The State of the Art, and Theatre Topics. Her book, Performing America in Anti-Mormon Melodrama, was published by Routledge in 2009 and won the Best First Book Award from the Mormon History Association. We are pleased to have her contributions here at the JI.

My interest in religious practice in Mormon history is neither wholly religious nor very historical.  I’m grateful to colleagues in the field who focus on theological practices from baptism ordinances to temple ceremonies to relief society birth rituals.  The topics I study as performance scholar are rarely fundamental to salvation.  Contextualizing Mormon ritual is generally a nineteenth century study, requiring detailed looks at the archives to tease out foundational practices and first-person accounts of origins.  My interest in the material practice of Mormonism is more contemporary.  As Ryan T. points out in his introduction to Religious “Practice” Month at the JI, “Time. . .has brought a new consciousness of the embodied, external, purposive behavior of religious actors.”  I take his description literally and examine Mormon actors of the twenty-first century, on theatrical stages, in LDS Pageants.

JI March Madness Bracket 2014

By: J Stuart - March 16, 2014

It’s that time of the year, when the snow begins to melt (hopefully) and a hoops fan’s heart turns to March Madness. This year, we at Juvenile Instructor are hosting a March Madness bracket challenge for our loyal followers. Join us! (more…)

The Genius Ritual

By: Steve Fleming - March 14, 2014

Okay, my last post talked about the concept of the “genius”: guardian beings like angels.  Here I talk about a possible ritual that young Joseph Smith might have performed on the night of the Moroni visitation.  Michael Quinn argued that Smith may have performed some type of ritual on the night of the visitation.  After summarizing Quinn’s arguments, I present the following:

An additional piece of context for the Moroni visit was the statement from the neighbor that Smith was “born with a genius.”  Again, this was a Platonic notion that remained prevalent in grimoires. (more…)

The Genius

By: Steve Fleming - March 13, 2014

The following is a short excerpt from my dissertation.  It’s part of a bigger section on the Smith family religiosity.  It therefore refers to issues discussed earlier, which may make this a little confusing.  This section doesn’t address a ritual, but it’s important context for a post I’ll put up soon that does have to do with ritual.  Extra points for those who can guess what that post will be about.

The Chosen Son.  Associates of the Smiths in Vermont and New York said the Smiths spoke of Joseph Jr. as the chosen son.  Smith had a number of traits that would have set him apart in folk culture.  The Green Mountain Boys said that the Smiths said that Joseph Jr. was “born with a veil,” which meant born with the caul: being born with the caul set children apart in European folk culture, often meaning that the child was a seer.[1]  The Green Mountain Boys seemed to link that claim to Joseph Sr.’s desire to find a stone for his son by which he would “see all over the world,” suggesting the caul and seeing with a stone were linked; Smith himself would claim the ability to “see” with a stone. (more…)

My two current favorite books on ritual/liturgy/practice

By: J. Stapley - March 10, 2014

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.

Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup 3/1-3/8

By: J Stuart - March 09, 2014

Hello and welcome to this week’s Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup! As always, if we missed something, please let us know in the comments.

If you’re looking for a great volume to teach material religion, Samira K. Mehta has a review of A History of Religion in 5 ½ Objects.

Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke at the BYU Church History and Doctrine/LDS Church History Department’s Symposium. He told the audience, among other things, “”Truth and transparency complement each other,” he said. “We always need to remember that transparency and openness keep us clear of the negative side effects of secrecy or the cliché of faith-promoting rumors.” Jana Reiss also has an excellent writeup on what she calls “this breath of fresh air.” If you attended the symposium, let us know your thoughts on the speakers!

Neylan McBaine is calling for women’s experiences working with ward and stake leadership for a future book project. If you have any experiences, positive or negative, please be sure to let Neylan know. Her project is sure to be useful in the academic sphere for those interested in Mormon religious practice.

Along those same lines, the New York Times published another article on Mormon women. The article addresses, among other things, holding children during baby blessings and the confession/church court process (and its lack of women in the process for other women). The LDS Church’s Newsroom blog re-blogged the first piece in its “Getting It Right Series.” It’ll be interesting to see if this one is as well.

The Society for the History of Women in the Americas is is hosting a writing workshop for postgraduate students on Wednesday 11th December at UCL, Institute of the Americas. Those interested should e-mail the organizers—their address is found in the link.

“The Bible in American Life” is a national study by the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture. The purpose of the study is to understand better how Americans use the Bible in their personal daily lives and how other influences, including religious communities and the Internet, shape individuals’ use of scripture. Apparently most Americans agree with J. Reuben Clark, whether they care or not, and use the KJV more than any other translation of the Bible.

If you’re in the UK April 3-5, you can hear our own Christopher present on itinerant Methodist preachers in British North America and the Carribean. For those interested in Mormons, be sure to check out Benjamin Lindquist’s presentation on “Mission, Migration, and Memory: Childhood and the Latter-Day Saints’ Trek to Salt Lake City.”


Finally, Matthew Garrett, who has shared his thoughts on the convergence of Mormon and Native American History, was interviewed this week about the Indian Placement Program in the 1970s. It was not discontinued until 2000 when the last student graduated.

Let us know what we missed. We would also love to hear about your experience at the symposium!

Building a Bibliography: The History of Mormon Practice

By: Ryan T. - March 07, 2014

Today’s the day here at JI when, in keeping with our theme this month, we compile a listing of scholarship on the history of Mormon practice. This is intended to be a collaboration, so we hope you’ll jump in and contribute. The list below ought to get us going, but many studies have surely been overlooked, and the categories are arbitrary, so additions and reconfigurations are more than welcome. What works and categories are we missing? What glaring lacunae do you see in the field? What piques your interest? What trends can you identify? How much praise can we heap upon the superstars here? Share your thoughts and insights as we build a comprehensive bibliography.


“Undone:” The Contours of a Folk Tale

By: matt b. - March 04, 2014

There’s a new Mormon urban legend making the rounds.

You may have heard it before – even from me.

The story goes like this: an infant has been brought to be blessed and given a name in a Mormon sacrament meeting, a public rite of passage initiating the newborn into the community of the congregation, and by extension, into the Church as a whole. The father for whatever reason is unavailable to perform the ceremony, so an elderly relative, generally a grandfather, steps in. The child is brought before the congregation, the old man lays his hands upon it, and promptly ordains the child to priestly office. The blessing ritual has been bungled.


Introduction to Religious “Practice” Month at the JI

By: Ryan T. - March 03, 2014

The study of American religion ain’t what it used to be. Not so many decades ago, most scholars had a rather, shall we say, circumscribed view of what it meant to do religious history. Most were preoccupied with the development of religious institutions (in other words, white Protestant churches), with the elite leaders who led those institutions, and sometimes with the formal theological agendas that those leaders articulated. All of those conventions, however, have been overturned more or less recently, and scholarship today is much more inclusive, more democratic, and more attuned to dimensions of the human experience. Much of the old model, as we now can clearly see, rested on Protestant notions about the nature of what constituted “religion” to begin with, and so the process of revision has entailed coming to grips with these subtending assumptions.


Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup

By: Steve Fleming - March 02, 2014

The main news items for this week are all the up coming events.  Matt McBride is giving a lecture on early Mormon female missionaries for the John A. Witsoe Lecture Series this Tuesday, March 4, in Logan.  This Thursday and Friday is the Church History Symposium on The Worldwide Church: The Global Reach of Mormonism.  Thursday at BYU; Friday in Salt Lake.  BYU also has a full slate of events planned for women’s history month.  And speaking of Mormon academic conferences, registration for this year’s MHA in San Antonio is now open.

A new gospel-topics entry was posted on the church’s website: this time on Mormon ideas about deification.  ABC ran an article on it.  Furthermore, the New York Times ran an article on Mormon women, and this article from the Huffington Post didn’t focus on Mormonism per se but did give us a nice picture of the temple.

The big news, of course, is that Jimmer is now playing for the Bulls.

Finally, Savannah Reid, an undergraduate at UC Berkeley, is doing research on Mormon womanhood for her senior capstone and needs people to take this survey.

Joseph Smith and the Knowledge of the Early Christian Fathers

By: Steve Fleming - February 28, 2014

In 1964, D. P. Walker declared that scholars have neglected “the revival of interest in the early, pre-Nicene Fathers of the Church,” Origen in particular.[1]  In his book, The Decline of Hell: Seventeenth-Century Discussions of Eternal Torment, Walker details the centrality of Origen to the rise of Universalism in the late seventeenth century.

In that same year, Francis Yates published her much more influential Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition.  Yates’s work overshadowed Walker’s, not only his brilliant Decline of Hell, but his equally competent Spiritual and Demonic Magic: From Ficino to Campanella (1958) and The Ancient Theology: Studies in Christian Platonism from the Fifteenth to the Eighteenth Century (1972).  Whereas Walker emphasized the importance of Plato, Christian Platonism, and the Fathers, Yates overshadowed all this with her hermetic thesis that treated Western esotericism as something other to Christianity and focused on the Corpus Hermeticum, a text of limited importance to that tradition. (more…)

Truth, fiction, or both?

By: Saskia T - February 27, 2014

The other day I was reading two articles published in BYU Studies for the Mormonism class I’m taking here at the U, both by Chad M. Orton. The one deals with Francis Webster, a member of the Martin handcart company, the other with the Sweetwater River rescue.[1] As I read them, I was constantly struck how they were almost devotional in nature, something that didn’t make sense to me as a scholar until I took a step back.


Spatial Dynamics and Polygamous Burial Practices

By: Kris - February 26, 2014

Ironically, on Monday I concurred with Amanda that too much work is focused on the history of polygamy and today I am posting about polygamy.  Oh well…

In 1910, Hannah Adeline Hatch Savage recorded the details of the death of her father Lorenzo Hill Hatch in her journal:

My dear father departed this life April 20 1910 at Logan, Utah, had he lived four more day there would have been two months difference between my dear parents death….He is father of twenty four children, twelve sons and twelve daughters, one son having preseded(sic) him to the other side.  He is the husband of four wives who all departed this life before he did.  He is buried in the Logan Cemetary(sic) by the side of his second and third wives.  His first wife died and was buried on the road between Nauvoo and Salt Lake City [1]

lorenzo hill hatch grave II

(Headstones for Lorenzo Hill Hatch and wives Sylvia Savonia Eastman Hatch and Catherine Karren Hatch – Logan City Cemetery)

When I read this passage, I was immediately reminded of an article written by her lyrical great-nephew, Levi Peterson who described her isolated burial place. He wrote,”Hannah Adeline Hatch lies in the red, wind-stirred soil of the Woodruff cemetery…The wilderness was not a fit habitation for Hannah Adeline Hatch. I am desolated by her lonely, barren grave in the Woodruff cemetery.” [2] (more…)

Mormons and Basketball in the Philippines

By: Christopher - February 25, 2014

LDS Meeting House, Kabankalan, Negros Occidental.

Just a quick note today to point readers to my post that went up yesterday at Peculiar People. It looks at the basketball-crazed nation of the Philippines and wonders about the place of basketball-crazed Mormons within that wider phenomenon. If you served a mission in the Philippines or are a basketball fan or otherwise want to weigh in, please do, either in the comments here or over there. Here’s a preview: (more…)

Lesbian Salt Lake

By: Amanda - February 24, 2014

Note: The description of the Salt Lake City lesbian community comes from Vern and Bonnie Bullough’s “Lesbian in the 1920s and 1930s: A Newfound Study,” which appeared in the Summer 1977 issue of Signs.

As part of a course I am taking on public history, we are writing an application to make the Henry Gerber house in Chicago a National Historic Landmark. Gerber was a German immigrant who founded the first gay rights organization in Chicago in the 1930s. He was a cantankerous man who was exasperated by the inability of his organization to attract people more respectable than a laundry queen, an impoverished preacher, and an employee of the railroad. When I took the class, I assumed that it would have very little to do with my dissertation research, which focuses on nineteenth-century Mormon missionary work. I was surprised when a historical consultant, who was visiting class to help us strategies ways to maximize the chances that the application would be accepted, mentioned that there had been a lesbian club in Salt Lake City in the 1920s.

I looked up surprised and asked, “Really?” (more…)

Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup

By: Saskia T - February 23, 2014

For your enjoyment, this week’s edition of the MSWR.


Job Opening: Research Assistant, Joseph Smith Papers Project

By: Ben P - February 21, 2014

[From our good friends at the CHL.]

Research Assistant-Joseph Smith Papers Project

Type: Full-Time – Regular

USA – UT – Salt Lake City

Posting Info:

  • Posting Dates: 2/18/2014 – 3/14/2014
  • Job Family: Library, Research&Preservation
  • Department: Church History Department


The Church History Department announces an opening for a research assistant with the Joseph Smith Papers project. This will be a full-time position lasting one to two years, beginning in May 2014. Compensation competitive with other internships; benefits included. (more…)

MHA’s 2014 Annual Conference: A First Look

By: Ben P - February 19, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 18.56.49In one of the most exciting days of the year for Mormon history geeks, the Mormon History Association posted a preliminary program for the 2014 conference (pdf), which will take place June 5-8 in San Antonio, Texas. I’ll let you read through it all and find whatever niche papers you are most excited about, but below you will find the plenary addresses along with the papers being delivered by your ol’ pals here at JI. (more…)

Sin, Seminary, and Mountain Meadows.

By: JJohnson - February 18, 2014

Last week a new Doctrine and Covenants seminary manual popped up on lds.org. My pragmatic self tends to try and manage expectations with new manuals, but I was pleased to see a new chapter on “The Utah War and the Mountain Meadows Massacre” with most of the chapter focusing on the massacre. The prior seminary manual (2001) included nary a mention of the massacre.[1] This manual also includes a quite extensive chapter on plural marriage (extensive in comparison to other chapters). (more…)

Mormon Studies Weekly Review

By: Christopher - February 16, 2014

Missed out on the latest news in the world of Mormon Studies? We’re here for you and back with another weekly roundup of relevant links. Let’s get to it:

Over at Rational Faiths, Connell O’Donovan writes about three newly discovered early black Mormon women. The discovery—incredibly important to recovering the African American presence in early Mormonism in all of its facets—is based on careful and surely time-consuming analysis of personal papers and printed sources.  (more…)

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