Okay so here’s another section of my dissertation, this one on Heavenly Mother. It’s part of a larger chapter on Smith’s plan of salvation. It’s taken out of context somewhat and make several references to W. W. Phelps’s “Paracletes” that I examine in the next section. But it was getting a little long, so I think this section with suffice. Happy Mother’s Day.
God Has a Wife. In his “Paracletes,” William Phelps referred to pre-mortal spirits living with their “father and mother in heaven”; a few months earlier Phelps declared, “O Mormonism! Thy father is God, thy mother is the Queen of heaven,” in a letter to Smith’s brother William. This was the first printed reference to what would become one of Mormonism’s distinctive doctrines: Mother in Heaven. (more…)
First, a mea culpa: We at JI screwed up and failed to plan anything for women’s history month. Instead, we ended up doing a month on ritual. Although the month was fantastic and pointed to a lot of new insights and directions for Mormon history, we felt that it was important to devote a month to women’s history. We batted around a few times of the year when we could do it and eventually decided to begin the month on Mother’s Day. That decision, however, wasn’t without some trepidation. There was a feeling that conservative religious groups often reduce women to their status as mothers – lauding them for their ability to have sex and produce a child afterwards. Breastfeeding, housework, and the willingness of some women to stay home are lauded and pointed out as women’s true calling, while the other things that women do – factory work, the production of academic scholarship, etc. are forgotten. Even more marginalized are those women who chose not to or cannot have children or those who remain single throughout their lives. (more…)
I’d like to thank all the contributors and those who provided excellent discussion during the Mormon Studies in the Classroom series from the past two weeks. In case you missed any, all the links are below:
- Ben P, Introduction
- Christopher Blythe, Mormonisms
- Patrick Mason, Approaches to Mormonism
- Nate R, Mormon Studies in the 7th Grade Utah Studies
- Amanda HK, Religion, Witchcraft, and Magic
- Ben P, Mormonism and American Politics
- Grant Hardy, The Beginning of Wisdom
- Saskia, On Sensitivity
- Andrea RM, Mormon Women, Patriarchy, and Equality
We certainly didn’t cover all angles possible under this topic; no classes on Mormonism outside of America, most notably. But I am thrilled with the broad range of perspectives and backgrounds exemplified in the various posts, and the number of questions they raise.
I’m still not covinced that, in most cases, a course devoted to Mormonism is the best option, save in special circumstances. I’m of the mind that Mormonism works best when included amongst a plethora of groups dealing with the same issues. Yet I do believe Mormonism can serve a useful case study for a number of topics, as demonstrated through the various theoretical and real courses listed above.
Any general thoughts on the series? Do you think Mormonism works well in the classroom? What other courses would you have in mind? How would you incorporate Mormonism into broader courses? What books on Mormonism do you think work best in the undergraduate classroom?
As a professor of history at a predominantly Mormon university, lately I have been a magnet for students with questions about the changes for Mormon women, especially considering the recent public attention to the roles of women in our traditional religious culture. (more…)
When Ben announced his intention for a new series about teaching Mormonism, it dovetailed nicely with something I’ve been thinking about. Back in 2012, I taught a class on Mormonism at my university in Germany. This past semester, I attended one at the University of Utah. Besides the obvious difference of being a student vs being a teacher, something else came up time and time again: how although the locations couldn’t be more different, both courses exhibited a certain kind of sensitivity that was oddly similar.
This week, I have a series of eclectic links for you:
–The LDS Church donated $1.5 million to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. The museum is set to open in 2016 and sounds well worth a visit!
–Remember when the American Bible Society did a survey on American Bible reading habits? Mormons came off less-than-favorably, despite their long-held devotion to the KJV. Stacie Duce of the Deseret News addresses that issue here. (The original report can be downloaded as a pdf here.)
–NPR did an interview with Neon Trees, “the Mormon band who made it big,” on Provo, honesty, being LDS, and the occasional song lyric.
–The Salt Lake Tribune talks about why the increase in missionaries since the age change has not led to an increase in baptisms per se.
–For Utah history buffs, check out the KUED documentary “Courthouse” about Utah law and the Mormon-non-Mormon legal relationship. The Salt Lake Tribune heralds it as engaging and lively, so there you go.
–LDS and Seven Day Adventist leaders met to discuss social media, religious freedom, and the importance of keeping young people in the church.
Anything we missed? Add your links in the comments!
Today’s contribution to our “Mormon Studies in the Classroom” series comes from Grant Hardy. Perhaps the foremost scholar on the content of the Book of Mormon, Grant is well known in Mormon studies circles with his Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Guide and The Book of Mormon: A Reader’s Edition. He is a professor of history and religious studies at UNC-Ashville.
I’ve taught this course a couple of times. It was designed as a freshmen orientation class, which at UNC-Asheville means that it should be of general interest, it can’t count toward a major, and it has to incorporate a number of components on study skills, advising, time management, campus resources, etc. But it is supposed to focus on an academic topic that can engage both the professor and the students. In this case, the topic is a comparative study of world scripture, with readings primarily taken from the opening chapters of sacred texts. (The title “Beginning of Wisdom” is a nod toward Leon Kass’s marvelous book on Genesis.) (more…)
Though the Romney Moment is over, the intersections between Mormonism and American politics remains a potent topic for research and discussion. In this theoretical course, which I have yet to have the opportunity to teach, I would aim to capitalize on this interest and introduce important themes from American history.
The goal of this course is to explore key tensions in America’s dynamic history of Church and State, with Mormonism serving as a case study. We will cover the entire historical sweep of the Mormon moment, from Joseph Smith to Mitt Romney. Throughout, Mormons and Mormonism will not be presented as aberrations to the American tradition, but as embodiments of its key features. Though there has been a temptation in the past to characterize the LDS faith as an external dissent from or challenge to the American mainstream, students will learn that the issues highlighted through the Mormon Church’s confrontation with the United States’s political establishment and democratic ideals are part and parcel of American history in general. Attention will be given to political ideals found within scriptural texts (like the critique of capitalism found within the Doctrine and Covenants), the ideas of specific individuals’ political thought (like that of Joseph Smith), particular moments of conflict (like the Utah war), unique theological strains (like the nebulous idea of theodemocracy), heightened moments of debate (like Reed Smoot’s hearings), foundational periods of transition (like Mormonism’s loud response to the Cold War), and the continued tensions of exclusion/inclusion (like during Mitt Romney’s presidential runs). Students will be expected to not only demonstrate a nuanced understanding of Mormonism’s relationship to American politics, but also the larger tensions of American culture’s perpetual dance between Church and State. (more…)
In the fall, I’ll be teaching my own course for the first time. In the past, my funding has been a healthy mixture of TAships (2 years) and fellowships (4 years). At Michigan, PhD Candidates who decide they would like to teach a course as part of their final year of funding are allowed to choose their own topic. Although my dissertation focuses on Mormon missionary work, I decided NOT to focus the course on Mormonism. I felt that doing so would define me too narrowly – as a Mormon historian rather than a historian of religion, colonialism, and sexuality whose first project happens to focus on Mormonism. I also wanted to take a break from Mormon Studies. I also wanted, however, to teach a course that was related in some way to my dissertation and would challenge me methodologically. I eventually decided to teach a course called Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft that uses the tools of anthropology, history, and literary theory to think critically about the relationship between religion and magic. (more…)
As my contribution to the Juvenile Instructor’s series on Mormon Studies in the Classroom, I thought I’d discuss the place of Mormonism in the Utah Studies course, which is a required class for all 7th graders in the state’s public schools. The structure, sources, and activities for such a class are necessarily tailored to a younger audience than those of the other courses that will make up this series, but I think it’s important to consider how less-seasoned—and more often than not, less-willing—students interact with Mormon studies.
I’m only in my second year teaching the Utah Studies Course, but have been given a lot of latitude by my school (which is a charter school that employs the Core Knowledge Sequence for its main curriculum). So I’ve put a lot of thought into what I’d like my course to look like, where I think Mormonism should fit, and what I want my adolescent audience to take away from the course.
The Utah Core Curriculum introduction to the Utah Studies Course says this: (more…)
Another contributor in our Mormon Studies in the Classroom series, Patrick Mason is the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University.
“Approaches to Mormonism” is designed as a historiographical introduction to Mormonism and the field of Mormon studies (with a strong Mormon history component). This is a graduate seminar for MA and PhD students that I have taught twice at Claremont Graduate University. When I last taught it in Fall 2013 the seminar had about a dozen students, with a mix of LDS and non-LDS backgrounds.
Here is how I describe the course in the syllabus: “This course will introduce students to representative approaches used by scholars in the academic (non-polemical, non-apologetic) study of Mormonism. . . . Students will read exemplary works representing various disciplinary and methodological approaches to the study of Mormonism, and in the process will be encouraged to consider ways that Mormon studies has been shaped by, and can potentially shape, other established academic fields and disciplines. This course asks questions such as whether there exists a Mormon studies canon, where the gaps and blind spots are in the extant literature, and what the future of Mormon studies might hold—not to mention whether we can speak intelligibly about something called ‘Mormon studies.’” (more…)
Please join us in extending a warm welcome to our latest guest blogger, Spencer Wells. Spencer is currently a PhD student in history at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. His is currently beginning work on dissertation project examining pacifists in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. His research in Mormon studies focuses on issues of religious and sexual tolerance. In his spare time Spencer enjoys hiking and making horrendously bad puns. Seriously folks, his puns are legendary. Here he offers his thoughts on his experience teaching a “Women in the Old Testament” Institute course over the past year.
Once every four years the LDS Sunday School trots out the Old Testament for the Saints’ perusal and edification. At times, the decision raises hackles. Complaints, of course, vary. Isaiah’s opacity dismays some, Hebraic ritual etherizes others. And theological protests invariably sprout up. As a personal acquaintance argued with me years ago, God’s actions throughout the Old Testament place Him at odds with modern liberal values. Complicit in razing cities, murdering children, and oppressing women, this teenaged Jehovah played the part of a brooding, angst-ridden Hayden Christiansen (think Anakin Skywalker) to near perfection. (more…)
As the first installment of our new series, this post is from JI’s good friend Christopher Blythe. Chris is a graduate of Utah State University, and is now a PhD candidate in religious studies at Florida State University. He has published broadly on the divergent Mormon traditions, and currently serves on the Board of Directors for the John Whitmer Historical Association.
Bringhurst and Hamer’s Scattering of the Saints was a watershed moment for the study of divergent Mormonisms.
In 2008, while a Master’s student at Utah State University, Philip Barlow invited me to be his assistant for a course entitled, “Mormonisms.” This was Barlow’s first time teaching the course and his third Mormon Studies course at USU. He had some general ideas of what he wanted accomplish in the course, but I was fortunate to be able to help flesh out the curriculum, assignments, and schedule for the course. This was my first teaching experience in which I lectured roughly every fourth class period. I think it’s a fun exercise to imagine teaching the course once again. Six years later, how would I reimagine this class?
The objective of this course was and would continue to be to problematize the standard telling of Mormon history and Mormon thought. Rather than examining Mormonism through the teachings and history of one Church, we would see that Mormon thought was always diverse and in contest. This is crucial for understanding the development of Mormonism (i.e. the current face of any one institution of Mormonism is not inevitable but based on historical events and personalities), but also to emphasize the point (first made by Jan Shipps) that Mormonism is not one new religious movement, but an entirely new religious tradition with its own branches and schools of thought. (more…)
The flowing of Mormon studies in the print world has been well-documented. Presses are rushing for more titles on LDS topics, partly because they sell consistently well. While the quantity has sometimes overshadowed the quality of this movement, I think it is safe to say the field is much stronger as a result.
But publications are only one part of the integration of Mormon studies into the academic world. Another important element is the inclusion of Mormonism in academic classrooms. This is done through several ways. The first is through better integration of Mormonism into broader courses (including classes on American Religous History, New Religious Movements, the American West, or even the classic American history survey). This is mostly accomplished as scholarly work on Mormonism becomes better known, and thus professors are more aware and likely to include it in their lectures, readings, or comprehensive exams. (I was interested to find out that here at Cambridge, the only question on religion in an undergraduate American history exam from a couple years ago was on the Mormon trek west.) Joseph Smith is always a popular topic for undergraduate students, and the Book of Mormon often serves as a surprisingly rewarding text for students to engage. Many have said that Sally Gordon’s The Mormon Question is the go-to text for teaching the intersection of religion and law in the nineteenth century. I imagine this will, and should, continue, as Mormon history becomes more intimately intertwined with the academic study of religious history. (more…)
This week’s Mormon Studies Round-Up: (more…)
After a brief hiatus, we are back with the weekly round-up. Let’s go!
I thought I’d write up a quick note on the status of the growing Dictionary of Mormon Biography (DMB). We have welcomed a few more editors in the last few months and our database continues to expand.
Over three years ago, I posted my first attempt at a Mormon History Canon. Since a few years have past, a few new books have shaken the field, and I am bored post-dissertation, I thought it was time to do an update. I’ve also refined the type of list this is, which is discussed below.
The goal of the list was to name 25—and the number had to stick to 25—books that every student of Mormon history should read. It is designed as a template for a grad student’s theoretical comprehensive exam list (though I should again emphasize that I’d think it’d be a stupid idea for a grad student to dedicate a portion of a comprehensive exam merely to Mormonism). Thus, books need to cover a broad swath of topics, chronologies, and approaches in order to be inclusive, but they should also match a particular level of quality. I’m also shying away from (most) biographies, edited collections, and documentary sources; those can have separate lists. (more…)
The Mormon History Association Spring 2014 newsletter is now available, and we wanted to continue our tradition of highlighting its contents and announcements.
Registration is now open for the San Antonio conference (MHA’s 49th), expertly organized by Brian Cannon, and the lead story reminds us that there is a long history of church connections with Texas dating back to 1844 and continuing through the followers of Lyman Wight, missionary efforts in the 1850s, and vibrant local growth in the 20th century. The conference will take place at the Wyndham San Antonio Riverwalk hotel, and self-guided tour maps will be available for those wanting to see the city on foot. There are still some seats open in the pre-conference tour to the Spanish Missions, and in the post-conference tour to the Wightite sites, state capitol at Austin, and LBJ locations.
Starting in July 2014, MHA welcomes its new executive directors, Debra J. and David B. Marsh of Sandy, Utah, who are profiled in this issue. Debbie is a professional genealogist and historian who will be defending her PhD dissertation at the University of Utah this summer on the Carthage mob. David is a longtime CES educator and church curriculum designer with degrees in psychology, family studies, and sociology of religion, currently working for the church’s Priesthood Department.
Calls for Papers and Upcoming Events, in order of their submission deadlines – (more…)
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