Miranda Wilcox is an associate professor of English at Brigham Young University where she teaches medieval literature and researches the religious culture of Anglo-Saxon England. She is co-editor, along with John D. Young, of the recent compilation Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy.
This interdisciplinary collection brings together fourteen essays that explore the relationship between the development of Mormon historical consciousness and one of the central tenets of Mormonism—the concept of a universal Christian apostasy from its apostolic origins.
A fundamental feature of LDS theology since the advent of the religion in the early nineteenth century, this doctrine generates a core tension in the question of whether Mormons are Christian because it informs the exclusive ways Latter-day Saints perceive their faith in relation to other faiths. Mormons identify themselves as Christian, but their belief in an apostasy leads them to reject many of the features of historical Christianity. Many mainstream Christians, however, do not accept Mormons as Christian, precisely because Mormons reject traditional Christian tenets and instead introduce new revelation, new scripture, and new forms of social and ecclesiastical organization. Standing Apart is the first book to explore the development of this fundamental Mormon doctrine and its impact on Mormon historical consciousness.
Latter-day Saints have a paradoxical relationship to the past; even as we invest our own history with sacred meaning—as the restoration of ancient truths and the fulfillment of biblical prophecies—we repudiate the eighteen centuries preceding the founding of our church as apostate distortions of the truth. Constructing a boundary between apostasy and restoration has generated a powerful and enduring binary of categorization in Mormonism that has profoundly impacted our self-perception and relations with other religious communities. Standing Apart probes how apostasy functions as a category of alterity in the development of Mormon historical consciousness and the construction of Mormon narrative identity. The contributors trace the development of and changes in Latter-day Saint narratives of apostasy within the context of Mormon history and American Protestant historiography. They offer suggestions and alternate ways that these narratives might be reformulated to engage with the past in generous and charitable conversation, recognizing mutual concerns stemming from shared divine inheritance and humanity while offering new models of interfaith relations, as the LDS Church and Mormon culture respond to challenges and opportunities in the twenty-first century.
Teaching medieval literature at BYU challenges me to make the Middle Ages relevant to my students whose perceptions are negatively shaped by LDS narratives of apostate “Dark Ages.” I want to share how my study of the history of Christianity has deeply enriched my faith in God, the restored gospel, and the scriptures. It makes me sad that the sincere devotion of many faithful seekers of truth has been forgotten. Accordingly, I have felt a deep responsibility to share the vitality and sincerity of medieval religious imagination with my students and community by expanding the scope of my scholarship to a wider audience. In 2009 I had the unexpected opportunity to organize a collaborative research project addressing the development of the Great Apostasy narrative. Although it was a very inopportune time in my career to take on such a project, I felt compelled to gather a group of Latter-day Saint scholars to imagine possibilities of telling the story of the Restoration without denigrating other religious traditions. Fifteen of us probed the development and assumptions of the Great Apostasy narrative drawing on our personal insight and expertise in our respective disciplines. In 2012, we presented our preliminary work in a conference at BYU and then polished our arguments in our book. Standing Apart was published in April 2014 and is the culmination of our research project.
Coordinating a collaborative research project, organizing a public conference, and editing a book published by Oxford University Press has been a humbling and miraculous series of adventures. The project participants provided nourishing fellowship, my co-editor John Young offered steadying perspective and expansive vision of the project, and wise colleagues gave encouragement and advice. Boundaries between the realms of public and private, present and past, and professional and spiritual blurred and intersected as we navigated cultural tensions and ecclesiastical traditions simultaneously as scholars and disciples.