Standing Apart

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.

Comments

  1. Wow! What a wonderful project, and a beautiful opportunity for those of us who are not scholars to share in your vision and insights.

    When will the book be available, and where should we look for it?

  2. Miranda Wilcox says:

    Thanks juliathepoet. Standing Apart was published by Oxford University Press this April, and it is available on Amazon and through OUP. The title of the book in the bio is hyper-linked to the Amazon page.

  3. Another wonderfully enticing work on my wish list! This reminds me of Fiona Givens’ frequent reminder that the woman who flees into the wilderness in the Book of Revelations is in fact nurtured in the wilderness. My interest in the lives and revelations of those my Mormon historical consciousness has blinded me to in the past has been kindled. I can’t wait to read this!

  4. This is fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Jason K. says:

    Miranda: first, it’s so nice to see you at BCC. Second, I’ve been itching to read this book ever since I became aware of its existence. It looks to be an important and powerful contribution. Congratulations!

  6. For whatever it’s worth, a sentence or two of praise: this is the single best collection of scholarly writings in any area of Mormon studies that I have read in years. Just about every essay in it is eye-opening, thought-provoking, and genuinely fascinating, and some–I think in particular of those by Matt Bowman, Matthew Grey, Taylor Petrey, Ariel Laughton, and Jonathan Green–are blockbusters. Get and read and digest and argue with this book, everyone!

  7. Thank you for the post. Amazon promises I’ll have the book in hand tomorrow.

    As it relates to our Mormon tendency to depreciate the middle ages, I love this quote from John Taylor, which I first ran across in the Givens’s “The God Who Weeps”:

    Say some—“Oh, we are so enlightened and intelligent now. In former ages, when the people were degraded and in darkness, it was necessary that he should communicate intelligence to the human family; but we live in the blaze of Gospel day, in an age of light and intelligence.” Perhaps we do; I rather doubt it. I have a great many misgivings about the intelligence that men boast so much of in this enlightened day. There were men in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world. There were men who could tell the destiny of the human family, and the events which would transpire throughout every subsequent period of time until the final winding-up scene. There were men who could gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness, and deliver me from the light and intelligence that prevail in our day;

    http://jod.mrm.org/16/194#197

    It’s a bit of a proof text amidst all the other condemnations of apostasy and blight, but I love it.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Looks fantastic! Order placed. (I’m lazy, so I very much appreciate the Amazon link.)

  9. “we repudiate the eighteen centuries preceding the founding of our church as apostate distortions of the truth”

    In my opinion we think that we repudiate it more than we actually do. Traditional Christianity has had a huge impact on the LDS Church, for good and ill. But we think that we came up with a lot of the stuff we inherited ourselves. This creates an inability or perhaps unwillingness to engage with parts of the past that are important to us but that we dismiss.

  10. Miranda Wilcox says:

    True John. Most of the chapters in Standing Apart document our Christian inheritance and discuss why we claim independence from traditional Christianity.

    Thanks to everyone for your support.

  11. Miranda, one question I have from your volume so far is related to our reliance on protestant narratives by Mosheim and Milner. Maybe this is a question for Matt Bowman, but it seems to me that we’ve held on to those narratives more firmly than the protestants themselves — where is the protestant historical narrative today compared to the LDS narrative?

  12. It’s always been my belief that many members of the Church have an overly simplistic understanding of what we call “the Great Apostasy”. Many seem to view it as mainly the conscious work of individuals seperate from things like culture, historical context, pragmatic applications and interpretations suited to a specific goal or purpose, etc., and not always the motivated by maliciousness.

    I’ve always looked at the loss of truths or principles to be a sort of ongoing process that affects everyone and any organization to some degree and for a variety of reasons. The problem is that this loss is accumulative, so that even well meaning and sincere interpretations and actions can, over time, result in something far removed from it’s origins. However, we should also recognize that often while some truths or principles are lost or not fully understood over time, other truths and principles often reveal themselves as well, creating a sort of give and take.

    Anyway, I’m interested in reading the book as it sounds like this idea of apostasy being something far more complex than common Mormon coneptions is addressed.

  13. Bryan H. says:

    No Kindle version? :(

  14. Bro. Jones says:

    As a fellow medievalist and student of ancient Northwest European literature, I share your interest in exploring and sharing the wealth of resources from the “Dark Ages” with people who far too quickly write them off as unworthy of study. I’ll be purchasing your book!

  15. John Young says:

    There is an ebook version, though the only place I’ve been able to find it thus far is on the Google Play store. We hope Amazon makes it available on Kindle soon.

  16. John Young says:

    I like your thoughts on the give and take of loss and gain, John, and I think it’s important to emphasize that this give and take happens on both the macro (worldwide) and micro (communities and individual) levels. This is one of the key parts of the mortal experience, wherein we “see through a glass darkly” yet strive to “grow grace for grace.” The articles in Standing Apart invite us to move away from the binary view that characterizes the traditional Great Apostasy narrative and to adopt the kind of nuanced and expansive vision you articulate.

  17. Miranda Wilcox says:

    Steve you ask a good question, and Matt Bowman, Christopher Jones, and Ronan Head could shed more light on it. My sense from reading books, such as Dale Irvin’s _Christian Histories: Christian Traditioning_ (Orbis, 1998), is that there has been a general trend among Protestant historians and theologians to revise their traditional meta-narratives that developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, there are many strands of Protestantism, and some have more conservative attitudes about their narratives than others.

  18. Re how we view the apostasy, note Elder Andersen’s words recently in Paris: “The signs of Christ are throughout France. There are crosses and beautiful churches. As the churches are now owned by the government, there is not the vibrant faith that once filled this beautiful country. But the Lord has sent His restored gospel and the elect of the earth are being brought together that there might always be the truth available to those who seek for it. I love the French Saints.”

    https://www.lds.org/church/news/elder-andersen-visits-construction-site-of-paris-france-temple?lang=eng

    He describes Christianity in France during the apostasy as a vibrant faith. Vibrant!!

  19. BHodges says:

    Thanks for chiming in here at BCC, Miranda. In my estimation, this book is the most important Mormon studies book since Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling. I wrote a brief review at the Maxwell Institute blog for people who want to know more about the book before buying it. And they should definitely get a copy. If you buy one Mormon studies book this year, this should be it.

    http://maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/book-notes-standing-apart-apostasy/

  20. “this book is the most important Mormon studies book since Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling.”

    Well! You certainly got my attention with that statement, Brother Hodges. I am going to investigate the book a little more now. Thanks.

  21. John Young says:

    Thanks, Blair, for the positive review of the book. I’m sure I can speak for all the contributors in saying that we’re pleased it has found an receptive audience.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,516 other followers