By May 1, 2018
In the past few weeks, a shrine to the NBA?s Utah Jazz has appeared next to Ken Sanders Books in Salt Lake City. The shrine features a confluence of religious figurines (none Mormon as of this writing), flowers, photos, Jazz memorabilia, and candles. J Stuart and Cristina Rosetti thought it would be an ideal opportunity to discuss lived religion and material religion within Mormonism. The authors acknowledge that the shrine isn?t uniquely Mormon, but we feel that there are some aspects of Mormonism that shine through when examined closely.
JS: I have jokingly referred to praying to the ?basketball gods? for favor in NBA games and playoff series. I loved seeing that someone had actually created a shrine, seemingly to the basketball gods, on behalf of the Utah Jazz. After my immediate basketball nerdery ebbed, my religious studies nerdery surfaced and I thought about how peculiar it was for there to be a shrine to anything in a place as Mormon-heavy as Salt Lake City. Of course there are fewer Mormons in Salt Lake County than throughout Utah, but it still struck me as particularly Mormon. Mormonism is both a lived and a material religion that believes in the ?presence? of supernatural beings directing events and people on the earth. Robert Orsi calls these forces ?the gods,? as he explains in History and Presence, ?Presence is real, but not necessarily good, not necessarily bad, and it is rarely either good or bad, as these words are understood in ordinary social discourse.? Presence is simply taken as for granted for many Mormons. Mormonism began with the apparition of heavenly beings and individual Mormons have continued to report their ?presence? to the present day. This shrine is another way for Mormons to acknowledge ?presence? in a way that doesn?t contradict what many of their leaders saying about the uselessness of praying for sports teams. What do you think, Cristina?
By April 5, 2018
Below is Max Perry Mueller’s response to JI’s roundtable on his book, Race and the Making of the Mormon People.
Thanks to the JI crew, especially to Jessica Nelson, Ryan T, and J Stuart for their thoughtful comments on my book, Race and the Making of the Mormon People. It?s a great honor and an immense pleasure to interact with readers who have read one?s work so deeply and carefully.
Each of the roundtable?s comments/critiques focuses on one or both of two of the major interventions of my book: the first is to theorize ?whiteness? and ?race? more broadly; the second is to theorize the ?archive.? And my response?or, better put, self-critique?is to remind us (me!) not to think too literally about race or the archive. That is, the book tries (intentionally) to have it both ways: that race and the archive are ?real??as in literal, tangible things and/or experiences?as well as ?metaphors??as in literary signifiers of signified (imagined/constructed) things.
By March 28, 2018
You can read the first and second posts in this roundtable HERE and HERE.
Max Mueller should be commended for his analysis of race and the creation of the Latter-day Saint ?archive? in Race and the Making of the Mormon People. Mueller takes the Book of Mormon seriously and considers texts that aren?t considered within broader methodological arguments about the LDS Church?s creation of race in the nineteenth century. I think that Mueller?s attention to patriarchal blessings is worth highlighting (which I do below); I also think that his use of literary methodologies opens new avenues for research in Mormon history. Mueller?s book is the first monograph to engage Mormonism?s race-making project(s) through the interdisciplinary lenses of religious studies. Race and the Making of the Mormon People will occupy a central place in the part conversation surrounding Mormonism and race for the foreseeable future.
Mueller analyzes several patriarchal blessings in Race and the Making of the Mormon People, particularly an African American woman named Jane Manning James? two blessings.[i] He rightly tries to get into James? mind as well as the mind of the patriarchs that bestowed those blessings on her head. While Mueller?s book is not a study of ?lived religion,? he presents plausible readings of the blessing for both James and suggests how these documents helped place James squarely within the ?Mormon archive.? He persuasively argues that James may have seen herself as an heir of what Mueller calls ?white universalism,? meaning that everyone?s default pigmentation is white and that she had claim to the highest liturgical practices of Mormonism. Mueller?s innovative inclusion of patriarchal blessings should be taken up by others. I?m not aware of any other sources that offer as much potential for simultaneously presenting the leadership?s and the laity?s understanding of race from the same document.
By March 27, 2018
I?m happy to confirm reports that readers of Max Mueller?s recent book, Race and the Making of the Mormon People, which we are discussing this week, will find a rich, multilayered, and searching account of theologies and important narratives of race in early Mormonism. This is a serious book, and a critical contribution to a growing body of scholarship on the functions of race in the Mormon tradition. As Mueller claims, it is one of the first to consider questions of race and Mormonism from the inside out. This means that it nicely complements recent scholarship like that of Paul Reeve and others, which has generally taken the opposite tack. Perhaps the most innovative element of the book, in my view, is how it brings consideration of both ?red? (Native American) and ?black? (African-American) constructions of race together. In some ways, the early Mormon logic of race in relation to these two groups seems incongruous, but Mueller works hard to show there are important aspects of continuity, as well. He has categorically synthesized early Mormon conceptions of race as well as anyone might expect to do.
By March 26, 2018
This is the first of three posts on Max Perry Mueller’s Race and the Making of the Mormon People. Today’s post comes from Jessica Nelson, who recently completed an MS in history at Utah State University. She is interested in race and Mormonism in the twentieth century and loves riding her stationary bike.
Max Perry Mueller?s book Race and the Making of the Mormon People actively and deliberately engages with the Book of Mormon. This is significant, and I hope that other scholars will follow suit and take the words of the Book of Mormon?along with its 19th century context and what it represents to Mormonism?seriously in their work. Mueller rightly demonstrates that the Book of Mormon?s stories of racial lineages are critically important to understanding racial constructs in early Mormonism.
Readers familiar with the Book of Mormon will be able to recognize that Mueller carefully read Mormonism?s foundational text. After finishing Mueller?s conclusion, however, I am left wondering how useful textual analysis and literary criticisms of the Book of Mormon are to fully understand race in nineteenth-century Mormonism. How central are Mormon scriptures to Mormon conceptions of racial otherness and whiteness? Can the Nephites as ?white? people within the Book of Mormon be problematized any more than the simplistic way that Mueller references them? Did nineteenth-century white Mormons even think of the Nephites as ?white? like they were? The Book of Mormon is inherently problematic as primary source material, but evaluating Mueller?s claims begs further examination of scripture and the characters in it.
By March 11, 2018
Join the Juvenile Instructor and the Mormon Women?s History Initiative this Thursday, March 15, for a lecture by Dr. Amanda Hendrix-Komoto.
Historians have written extensively about the Mormon adoption of Native children. In this talk, Amanda Hendrix-Komoto places these adoptions in the wider context of intimate relationships between Native Americans and white settlers. Fur traders like Richard Leigh (also known as Beaver Dick) become full-fledged characters who influenced Mormon communities. It also explores the lives of the Native women and children who were incorporated into white Mormon and non-Mormon families.
Thursday, March 15, 7 PM – 8:15 PM
Room 1150 of the Marriott Library, University of Utah
By March 6, 2018
This is the second in a series of posts on selecting a finishing exams and finding a doctoral dissertation topic. All of our five participants have participated in Mormon Studies in the past, but not all of them chose to pursue a Mormon Studies topic for their dissertation. If you’d like to contribute a post that addresses this topic in future, please send me an email at joseph [dot] stuart [at] utah [dot] e dee ewe.
We are grateful for this post from Alexandria Griffin, a Ph.D. Candidate in Religious Studies at Arizona State University.
I did my undergrad at the University of Utah in Anthropology. I just kind of wound up there; I had originally started out in linguistics and become disinterested when I realized it didn?t just mean I could take as many language classes as I wanted. The Anthropology department would take most of my credit hours as ?allied classes? so off I went, still taking as many language classes as I wanted. This included Arabic, which I ended up doing a study abroad for in the summer of 2010 in Alexandria, Egypt. While I was there I became very interested in the study of Islam and religion more broadly, and on my return took Islamic studies classes and began thinking about pursuing an MA in Islamic Studies.
Simultaneously, though, I began reengaging with my Mormon upbringing and checking out all of the university?s Mormon studies books and devouring them. I started wondering if there was a place I could get a degree studying Mormonism. I was surprised when I did some googling to see that there was a program that met that description in my mother?s hometown of Claremont, California.
I entered Claremont thinking I would study Mormon feminist theology, but gradually ended up weaving in my former interests in Islamic studies and writing a comparative study of women?s experiences of garments with anthropological literature on women?s experiences of hijab. I really enjoyed this project and am glad that I pursued it. However, as I looked at pursuing a PhD, I felt that staying in Mormon studies was no longer a good choice for me. As a woman married to another woman, many job avenues open to others in Mormon studies (like working for CES or at the Church History Library) are closed to me, and staying in Mormon studies seemed like making an already terrible job market worse for myself. Additionally, I felt that my attempts to discuss queer Mormon issues (in particular, looking at how organizations like Affirmation used history to bolster their arguments) were inevitably ignored in favor of analyzing my own identity as a lesbian somewhat-former-Mormon, which I found tiring.
By March 4, 2018
We are pleased to post this review from Craig Yugawa, a medical student at Washington University in St. Louis. You can follow Craig on Twitter.
Darron T. Smith?s When Race, Religion and Sport Collide: Black Athletes at BYU and Beyond is a skillful recounting of the tenuous status black college athletes face in the larger American context, especially those at ?Predominantly White Institutions? (PWIs). While covering athletics in America more broadly, Smith uses BYU?s unique institutional and racial history as a lens to focus on the societal and cultural barriers commonly faced by black athletes who repeatedly face ?objectification of their bodies, [while at the same time] leav[ing] the ivy tower battered, bruised, and empty-handed? (148). This timely work is a compelling narrative which weaves together easily understood personal anecdotes; high level social science, medical, and humanities research; and theological summary to flesh out the complicated relationship between the LDS church and the athletes of color at its flagship university.
By November 27, 2017
On the surface, Max Perry Mueller?s book is, like several other recent works, a study of the shifting racialist ideas in nineteenth century Mormonism. Like those books, Mueller argues that early Mormonism is a particularly useful illustration of the fluidity of race, particularly in the early decades of the United States. When, as Mueller argues, white Americans began in the nineteenth century to understand ?race as (secular) biology,? (12) they began arguing that those characteristics they used to classify and label ?races? were organic, functions of one?s biological makeup, and though these characteristics extended from the merely physical (like skin color) to issues of intellect and temperament, most people determined them to be inborn and hence immutable.
The Mormons, Mueller argues, were different, in two ways.
By June 8, 2017
?Following the death of Joseph Smith the policy of the church was to exclude blacks from ordination to the priesthood and from Latter-day Saint temples. Although some black members of the church were given patriarchal blessings, declarations of lineage were omitted as a matter of policy. But guidelines were not consistent, and the question remained the subject of debate. In 1934 Patriarch James H. Wallis wrote in his journal, “I have always known that one of negro blood cannot receive the Priesthood nor the blessings of the Temple, and are also disqualified from receiving a patriarchal blessing . . . But I am sure there is no objection to giving them a blessing of encouragement and comfort, leaving out all reference to lineage and sealing.” Apostle John A. Widtsoe relayed President Heber J. Grant’s reply to Wallis’s request for a ruling. It stated, “It will be alright for Brother Wallis to bless them, but as to their status in the future, that their status in the future, that is . . . in the hands of the Lord.”[i]
In a previous post, I explored the ways in which racism has been espoused by LDS leaders and average Latter-day Saints alike, and how the vestiges of some of those teachings remain in modern Latter-day Saint doctrine. In today?s post, I?d like to explore the ways in which patriarchal blessings continue to identify Latter-day Saints by racial heritage, and, in some instances, place people of African descent as separate and inferior to ?white? Mormons, through the LDS Church’s counsel not to declare an Israelite lineage to African-descended Mormons.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a ?patriarchal blessing? is a blessing bestowed by an ordained patriarch (in the vein of Old Testament patriarchs like Abraham), which dispenses direction and advice to the receiver. The blessing also declares the blood lineage of the receiver in relation to his or her connection to the House of Israel.[ii] Smith?s own theology was generally universalist, meaning that he did not preclude any person from obtaining salvation, regardless of racial background. In the New Testament, John the Baptist preached to the Pharisees and Sadducees that their Abrahamic lineage did not elevate their relationship or access to God. Indeed, John the Baptist informed the Jews, ?God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.?[iii] Joseph Smith similarly believed that Abrahamic lineage did not matter in relation to salvation or divine favor. God could raise up anyone, including Africans, as ?children of Abraham,? so far as they converted to Mormonism and accepted its principles and ordinances.