Book Review: Dispensation

Angela Hallstrom’s recent compilation of LDS fiction is an impressive undertaking, bringing together 28 stories from the greatest contemporary authors our faith has to offer. And while some might quibble with a few of the authorial choices, and others might find some of the themes or language too much for their taste, there’s no question that Dispensation represents an immensely valuable compilation. While it cannot help but live in the shadow of Eugene England’s landmark anthology, Bright Angels and Familiars, Hallstrom’s work deserves its own recognition and belongs in the library of anyone with an interest in our culture. [Read more…]

Just Posted in Dialogue Classics


Eugene England–Blessing the Chevrolet
A Conversation with Henry Eyring
Richard Haglund (yeah, my dad :))–Science and Religion: A Symbiosis

Can a Good Mormon Make Over $100,000 a Year?

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This post is, in a sense, a sequel to two older posts: “Can a Good Mormon be a Meritocrat?” and “Can a Good Mormon be a Socialist?” In case you can’t be bothered to read until the end, the answers to the three questions are: “Probably not,” “Yes,” and “Sometimes, maybe, but seriously, why would you want to take that risk anyway?” [Read more…]

Review: The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

My rating: 2/5

Here’s the story: Mary has twins — Jesus, a religious weirdo, and Christ, the politician. Encouraged by a mysterious stranger, Christ makes plans to turn Jesus’ provincial message in to a world religion.

I sort of wanted to like this book, if only so I could resist the holy religious outrage which often accompanies anything written by the pop atheists nowadays. Religions would most of the time be better off confronting the abuses of faith that are pilloried by people such as Pullman, rather than pretending they don’t exist. [Read more…]

Review: Benite’s The Ten Lost Tribes

The following is a review that will be published in the Journal of Mormon History. I encourage readers to join the Mormon History Association and thereby receive this wonderful publication quarterly.

[Read more…]

Mormon Studies “auf Mish”!

My title is borrowed from Ronan, I hope he does not mind me plagiarising.  Following a brilliant post at JI on Nibley, I was talking to some Missionaries the other day about their Mission reading habits and rules (they apparently have quite strict guidelines in this Mission) and it reminded me of the time and money (photocopies are not cheap) I spent trying to gather everything I could find about the Church.  Yet, apart from Ensigns and the odd mimeographed essay from yester-year, pretty much everything I read was from either Truman Madsen and/or FARMS. [Read more…]

Review: Mormon Convert, Mormon Defector

Before the back-issues of the Journal of Mormon History had been digitized and made available online and on DVD, I needed to track down a couple of articles. Unfortunately, none of the institutional libraries nearby carry the journal and while discussing the matter with the JMH staff, they suggested that I visit Polly Aird, who happens to live across the Lake from me and has an extensive back catalogue. I did not know, when I later walked into her home, that the first member of my family to join the Mormon church was also the individual who presided in the Ward that ran her ancestors from the faith (and State of Utah). Polly has been actively engaged in Mormon history circles as she has diligently researched the story of her ancestors, and published on various topics relating to their context. Happily our families have had something of a rapprochement; we are currently serving together on the JMH editorial board. And it is with great pleasure that I review the culmination of her work. [Read more…]

Our Voices, Our Visions: A Mormon Women’s Literary Tour

I first encountered Joanna Brooks during freshman orientation week at BYU in 1989–she was sitting on a table in the checkerboard quad recruiting for the Student Review, swinging her feet and looking like a pixie with her freckles and short, dark hair.  She quickly gained a reputation on campus for being articulately outspoken on various social issues, and I admired her from afar.  But I didn’t get to know her until my junior year, when both of us took a certain contemporary literary criticism course from a certain feminist professor. On the first day, I spotted her a few seats down (her hair was longer then–super thick and shiny),  and knew this would be a class to remember. And I was right.

I’ll spare you the details of the wild, semester-long romp through Kristeva and Cixous and Jaggar (drop me an email if you want to hear about the bra burning). Instead, let me tell you about the groundbreaking multi-state event that Joanna is spearheading this month: Our Voices, Our Visions: A Mormon Women’s Literary Tour. Better yet, let Joanna tell you about it in this mini-interview we had recently: [Read more…]

Review: The Mormon Passage of George D. Watt

I met Ron Watt as a novice researcher when I first entered the old LDS Church Archives. He joined the archives with Leonard Arrington and having toiled diligently for many decades has subsequently retired (though you will still find him in laboring in the new building). He is perhaps the best expert we have on the Brigham Young Office Files, truly irreplaceable. At the end of 2009 Utah State University Press publish his magnum opus, a biography of George D. Watt. It will surely win awards (it is remarkable in many ways), but perhaps more than most recent books, it captures the humanity of its subject and exacts empathy from its readers. [Read more…]

Book Review: Women of the Old Testament

The Old Testament is a fairly intimidating source of scripture as it was produced thousands of years ago by a culture that is greatly foreign to our own. The strangeness of the Old Testament text and cultural milieu is likely particularly potent for women who approach the text. Among the few things that we can say with confidence regarding the culture of Ancient Israel is that it was misogynistic. Therefore, Camille Fronk Olsen’s recent book Women of the Old Testament is best considered as a good introductory text to help teachers, particularly those interested in applying scripture to women’s lives, tackle this very difficult work.
[Read more…]

Celibacy in (New York) City

As I reported on my recent post, I received Elna Baker’s book, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance, Christmas morning. My interest in this book was piqued by a bcc interview with Elna, and a bcc review of the book. I will report here that I loved the book and highly recommend it. I especially appreciated Elna’s honesty in telling her story. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s funny as hell. [Read more…]

2009 Christmas gift book guide

It is before Thanksgiving, I know. Nevertheless, the time has once again come to consider our relations and judge among them who will receive something cool and who will receive n’importe quoi. [Read more…]

Jehovah and the World of the OT

When the book Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament came out, Julie at T&S posted a very positive review, and I followed that up with my own (see “Finally!” FARMS Review 19/2 [2007]). A couple of months ago Julie and I had the chance to meet one of the coauthors of that book, Eric Huntsman, and found him to be as delightful a person as he is fine a scholar. [Read more…]

Review: The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations: Manuscript Revelation Books

Eleven months ago, the Joseph Smith Papers Project inaugurated their publication efforts with the Journals series (review here). While the documents of that series had been previously available, the volume was nonetheless an extraordinary contribution to the study of Mormonism and its history. In September of this year, the Church Historian’s Press released their second volume, the first in the Revelations and Translations series: a facsimile edition, comprising two manuscript revelation books. [Read more…]

Review: The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance

Elna Baker‘s new memoir, The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance,  is billed as a coming of age story of a Mormon girl in New York, a virginal Mormon girl in the face of Carrie Bradshaw’s (surprisingly STD-free) City. But her feelings of deep faith mixed with nagging doubts and her commitment to chastity while simultaneously wanting to have sex, are feelings any LDS girl or boy will know immediately as their own, even at (any one of) the BYU(s). And that’s why I think you’ll like this book, because it’s so frank and familiar. Also, it’s laugh-out-loud funny.

There are, of course, the uniquely New York stories.  Fortune cookie subway moments, an out-and-proud freshman roommate that regularly leaves a sex toy on the counter, a whole story about a  celebrity “Warren Beatty” that, even if you ran into Peter Breinholt in a Cafe Rio, would never happen in Provo. But she tells her stories, the ones known to any single Mormon and the ones particular to New York, with an honesty that is disarming.

[Read more…]

Review: A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck

A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck A Short Stay in Hell is, alas, mis-titled.

Our author finds himself in a deliciously cruel/comfortable Zoroastrian hell in which he must find the book of his life in order to escape. Trouble is, hell contains every book that could ever be written. It’s not an infinite number of books, but the size boggles his (and your) mind. Hell could last three days or three trillion years. Count on the latter.

Peck’s Mormon biography is evident here, from the relief that he is not in Baptist hell, to the guilt he feels after drinking coffee from hell’s Star Trekkian vending machines. Even hell is strangely (Utah Valley) Mormon — a place for beautiful white people with perfect teeth.

The central conceit is brilliant and there’s a real sense of pathos for our author’s desperate attempts to find and maintain human connections in an ageless place. I read it in one setting, desperate to find out if hell has an End. Peck has a real flair for capturing the yearnings of the human spirit, hell-bound or no.

Full marks too for the creation of the book’s villain — the beautifully evil Dire-Dan and his most excellent method of torture: kill — wait for resurrection — kill again. Repeat for a century.

Mormon Shame

It has recently come to my attention that we, as mormons, have done something shameful, I thought it may be too hot to post, but I can’t be silent.  [Read more…]

Diverse Latter Day Scripture

I’m house-sitting for my friend Steve Shields while I’m visiting Jackson County, Missouri, doing research. Steve is the author of Divergent Paths of the Restoration and is the top expert on the subject of all the smaller expressions of Mormonism, which are quite numerous. Whenever I visit friends in the Mormon history community, I’m always eager to see their libraries. Steve has quite an interesting collection, especially relating to the subject of little known Restoration churches. I’ve been marveling at all of the works of Restoration scripture he has on a single bookshelf. These are very interesting, and I thought I’d share some of the titles with you along with some quick excerpts, picked nearly at random.
[Read more…]


Signature Books recently announced that it has stopped publishing for an undetermined period of time. As one who is critical of Mormon Studies publishing generally, I see Signature’s move as unfortunate, though perhaps not unforeseeable. As I peruse my shelves I count not a few seminal works distributed by the press that George Smith built and I hope that most people join me in the hope that the press will soon be back in action. [Read more…]

Review: Journals, Volume 1: 1832-1839 of The Joseph Smith Papers

After literally years of anticipation and abortive publication dates, the The Joseph Smith Papers released their first volume a few weeks ago. In a year of important historiographical developments in Mormon Studies, one event was paramount: on December 1, 2008, Journals, Volume 1: 1832-1839 arrived at my door. [Read more…]

2008 BCC Christmas gift book guide

So it is that another year is come and gone. And as with other years we are happy to offer the guide to simplify Christmas giving with books that are actually worth reading. Take a pass on Yard-o-Beef and shelf-stable Cheese; give the gift of knowledge, wisdom…and POWER. [Read more…]

Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants

Soon 2008 will pass away as all things must, and 2009 will bring with it the standard changes in Sunday meeting time slots, primary classes, and, most delightfully, Gospel Doctrine curriculum. You see, on January 4, we will meet together and study the old testament of our own fashioning. Concomitant with such shifts is an offering by Deseret Book to enrich the lives of the Saints. Two years ago, the offerings were excellent; last year, not so much. This year we have an intriguing volume…let’s see how it stacks up. [Read more…]

LDS Wards and American Metropolitics

William Morris is a gentleman scholar and principal voice at A Motley Vision, the leading blogosphere destination for Mormon arts and culture commentary, discussion and news. This guest post is the product of years of begging and cajoling to get him to participate here at BCC.

American Metropolitics: The New Suburban Reality by Myron Orfield* deals with issues that are familiar to (and in many cases directly experienced by) most Americans — urban sprawl and central city decay, obsession with school district boundaries, long commutes, worry over crime stats, etc. In fact, that’s part of the point of the book: this stuff affects everyone. [Read more…]

June 8, 1978: Selected Reading

As a warm-up for BCC’s week-long celebration of Spencer W. Kimball’s 1978 revelation on the extension of Priesthood ordination of people of African descent, I’ve put together this basic, short bibliography [Read more…]

Especially for Theologians: A Report from the First-Ever Faith & Knowledge Conference

Jana Riess comes to us as one of the regular Dialogue participants.

I just returned from a very encouraging conference for young Mormon scholars–the first-ever gathering of LDS graduate students who are getting advanced degrees in theology and religious studies. About 40 such students, plus a few spouses, convened at Yale Divinity School on Friday and Saturday. We had folks from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, UNC, Claremont, Iliff, the University of Durham, and the GTU, and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few schools. (All of our sessions were held in the RSV translation room, which felt very auspicious and cool.)

Sixteen students presented papers on everything from the Deutero-Isaiah theory and the Book of Mormon to the question of whether an LDS scholar is ipso facto a defender of the faith. All these papers were sandwiched between some great opening remarks by Richard Bushman, who helped conceive and organize the conference, and a closing session by Terryl Givens, who gave us a fascinating sneak preview of his cultural history of Mormonism, due out in August from Oxford University Press. [Read more…]

Inter(e)view: The Savior and the Serpent

BYU religion professor Alonzo Gaskill‘s book, The Savior and the Serpent (Deseret Book: 2005), has as its central aim to “liken the story unto ourselves.” This is a welcome addition to Mormon thought on the Fall; readers will have to decide whether it is one they find compelling.

Professor Gaskill answered some of my questions. [Read more…]

The Prophet Jesse James

On June 9th, 1844, Joseph Smith may have sent James J. Strang (a relatively obscure Mormon living at Burlington, Wisconsin, who was known as Jesse James before he reversed his first and middle names in about 1834), a letter appointing Strang as Smith’s successor as Mormon prophet. In conjunction with an angelic ordination, this letter launched Strang’s 12-year career as one of the most colorful individuals in Mormon history. During that time, Strang played the parts of the prophet, the seer, the translator of ancient scripture, the polygamist, the colonizer, the theocratic king, the democratic legislator, and, last but not least, the martyr.

Strang’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, while still nominally in existence, effectively died with its founding prophet. Hence, the man and his organization are of almost purely abstract, historical interest. In spite of the relatively limited religious legacy of Strang and his version of the Mormon church, however, a surprisingly broad collection of quite good books have been written about the man. The most recent addition to this library is Vickie Cleverley Speek’s excellent “God Has Made Us a Kingdom”: James Strang and the Midwest Mormons. [Read more…]

Books I Have a Testimony Of

A few months ago, on a fast Sunday, Taryn (my wife) stood up during fast and testimony meeting and expressed her emotional and spiritual conviction of the value of our community fasts. Perhaps somewhat unusually, she didn’t emphasize the spiritual learning or comfort that she received through fasting; nor did she discuss miraculous, divine interventions that had been prompted through fasting. Instead, she talked about the social and economic solidarity reasons that, in Leonard Arrington’s interpretation, were the original reasons for the development of community fast days among the Mormons. In effect, my wife bore her testimony of Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom, a book that is neither canonized nor even published by the church. [Read more…]

What Da Vinci Didn’t Know: A Book Review

May_2006_DaVinciDidntKnowWhat Da Vinci Didn’t Know: An LDS Perspective
Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Andrew C. Skinner, Thomas A. Wayment

Page one of The Da Vinci Code boldly declares, “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate” (The Da Vinci Code, p. 1). Though admittedly other factors play into the success of this book, one might wonder how well it would have done without this opening assertion.

At this point, such speculation is neither here nor there. Just as many other critics have already sprung to the task of debunking The Da Vinci Code, Holzapfel and Co. have released “An LDS Perspective” just ahead of the movie opening this weekend (even references to the movie are made in the book). [Read more…]

The Landscapes of Joseph Smith’s First Vision

Historian John Lewis Gaddis has written about the “landscape of history.” I can think of no better metaphor for history, the foggy vista of the past that unfolds before (or behind!) the historian. In a sense, there is only one historical landscape–the past as it really happened–but this landscape exists on a plane far beyond our ability to recover. Instead, we stand on a hill and peer at the past, study it, scrutinize it, but can never perfectly replicate it. The historical landscapes we paint are our version of that perfect Platonic landscape, and each one differs from the next: you see light, I see shade; you see peaks, I see troughs.

A new landscape of Joseph Smith has been painted. Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling (RSR) is the must-have Mormon history of our generation (see John Hatch’s BCC review here, and the T&S symposium here). Bushman’s landscape of Joseph has more light than shade, but it is certainly not the Crayola-creation of Correlation. [Read more…]


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