I don’t know if you are following all the new releases on the JSP and Church History websites, but much of it is completely fascinating. For instance, did you see this story about “A Bit of Old String: Mary Whitmer’s Unheralded Contributions” by my favorite historian ever? Add it to your files about women in church history.
We’ve just experienced the Mormon preaching festival. That is, general conference! In addition to inspired teaching, it gives the outside world a chance to experience some of the variety of Mormon address. And besides, I’ve been toiling over chapter 7 of the book, rewriting, rethinking some, and redoing other. This represents mental suds rising to the top of my brain-glass.
Texts are always encased by interpretation. Generations come and go, and interpretation floods over texts, at least those that rise to surface (paradoxically), via unearthing by graduate students or rediscovery by the public, or just constant devotion, etc. Scripture is no exception, and everyone, not just Nephi, deploys a kind of rationalization with circumstance and inspiration to come up with a correlated understanding, whether that be official, communal, familial, or even “backlistial.” Among Mormons, Joseph Smith’s sermons are quite often seen as doctrinal in some sense, a sense I won’t attempt to make precise.
This week, Utah Valley University plays host to what promises to be a fascinating conference on Mormonism’s scriptural canon. Five reasons you should attend: [Read more...]
In 1844, Mormonism was in for its biggest historical moment so far: the death of Joseph Smith. The headquarters of the Church was Nauvoo, Illinois and it was bursting with converts from the US and the UK. These people had some basic familiarity with the movement’s history, but they didn’t have the experience, they weren’t insiders, they hadn’t been part of those heady days of revelation upon revelation, revelations of all kinds and spectra. That deficit was addressed at the April General Conference. President Sidney Rigdon stood to preach to the very large open-air crowd. I’m not going to try and tell you everything he said. He spoke for a long time. What we are about here is, how do we know (some of) what he said? Two clerks had been assigned to take minutes, William Clayton and Thomas Bullock. Both were capable longhand reporters, and they had somewhat complementary styles. This complementarity can serve us well. I’ll give you an example (without the intrusive sics). Here is Clayton’s version of some of Pres. Rigdon’s address:
Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: Self published (but not for long…)
Rumor has it Joanna Brooks’s self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl has been picked up by Free Press/Simon & Schuster for national publication this August with an expanded chapter-and-a-half. We’ve seen a lot of chatter about her book online recently, so I thought I’d venture a review. I hope you’ll excuse my decision to kick things off with an observation based on personal experience. (The Book of Mormon Girl is, after all, a personal memoir!) My own undergraduate years were spent writing and editing articles for a variety of small Utah newspapers. I remember how daunting it felt to be assigned an article on a subject I knew next-to-nothing about, like computer animation, mechanical engineering, or say, feminism. Oh, how comforting to a journalist is that friendly, articulate insider willing to endure the inane questions of—and likely later misrepresentation by—the stammering cub reporter! [Read more...]
Updated to now include video of the lecture.
Sponsored by Sunstone and Friends of the Marriott Library at the University of Utah
Relief Society sisters now have a new resource—a compact history of the Relief Society called Daughters of My Kingdom. The new manual, which is to be used from time to time for lessons given the first Sunday of each month, is not only unusual for its focus on women but for its chronological organization. Most Church manuals are organized thematically, offering little scope for discussing change over time. Despite its uplifting narrative, this manual may require a new set of skills. As teachers of women’s history know, you can’t just “add women and stir.”
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich taught her first Relief Society lesson more than fifty years ago, when she was an undergraduate attending a student ward at the University of Utah. She began teaching women’s history at the college level in 1975 when she was a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire. She is the author of many books and articles on early American history and women’s history and is now completing her first book-length work in Mormon history, “A House Full of Females: Family and Faith in Nineteenth-century Mormon Diaries.” She is 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University.
Title: Still, the Small Voice: Narrative, Personal Revelation, and the Mormon Folk Tradition
Author: Tom Mould
Publisher: Utah State University Press
Price: $39.95 (e-book $32.00)
Wordsworth, should I believe you?
Sweet is the lore which nature brings,
Our meddling intellect
Distorts the beauteous forms of things:—
We murder to dissect.
Replace “nature” with “religion” above and you raise one of the most difficult problems I see in the study of religion, especially as I’ve studied my own faith. The wind bloweth where it listeth and we try to catch it in jars, measure it with our rulers, weigh it in our hands, graph it in our charts, fold it up and tuck it between the pages of our books. The letter alone killeth, but the spirit giveth life. [Read more...]
Title: Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives
Author: Davis Bitton
Publisher: Greg Kofford Books
Price: $19.95 (Kindle, $9.95)
The fluidity of personality; the fallibility of perception; ambiguous memory construction; the happenstance instances of recording; the ravages of time. Just a few minor things to consider when trying to recall important events in my own life. And if I face such challenges regarding the things I’ve personally witnessed, how much more cautious should I be when dealing with history? With a particular historical figure? Named Joseph Smith. Who was he? So many different Josephs to choose from.
This is the general lesson LDS historian Davis Bitton hoped to convey in his book, Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2011). [Read more...]
I am a recent convert to “Mormonism” myself. Not too many years ago you could find me vigorously arguing on Mormon-themed blogs about the importance of avoiding the word “Mormon” as a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At the time, it felt like a concession to detractors of our faith to self-identify by the nickname they derisively gave to us in the nineteenth century. Ironically, however, it was precisely our nineteenth-century ancestors in the faith who had made peace with the descriptor and good-naturedly co-opted it to describe themselves, leaving us with the lasting nickname. [Read more...]
While we believe we come “trailing clouds of glory” from a pre-mortal past, our scripture reading comes trailing clouds of interpretation from pre-Mormon centuries of hermeneutics. Our spirits weren’t created ex nihilo, nor are our assumptions while reading. This might raise a few eyebrows, but it seems to me that we members of the Church mingle the philosophies of men with scripture on a fairly regular basis. Not so much by incorporating particular ideas into our canon (though we do that too),1 but in the very way we approach scripture to begin with. The ways we read scripture mingle the words on the page with our implicit assumptions.
I realize this sounds like an indictment. But keep in mind that, according to Mormons, not everything the serpent says (“ye shall be as gods…“) is necessarily 100% false. A revelation to Joseph Smith states that God speaks to his servants “in their weakness, after the manner of their language.” A certain amount of mingling seems inevitable, so in my view the question isn’t really about whether it happens, but what we do about it.
One thing we can do is become more aware of our assumptions. Like any good Mormon might, we can start by learning our hermeneutical genealogy. That’s an exercise far outside the scope of a blog post and explorations are already underway elsewhere.2 I want to call attention here to one particular way the Enlightenment still affects our scripture reading today: in our view of biblical scholarship. [Read more...]
Matt Brown died earlier today. He was, I believe, 46 years old. [Read more...]
Spend an Evening with the Authors
We are excited to announce the arrival of Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow, published by Oxford University Press. We will have both authors at our store to speak about and sign their book on Friday, October 14. They will be here from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., speaking at 6:00, and will answer questions and sign books before and after that time. [Read more...]
I have some continuing interest in antebellum American sermon culture and this post examines some legacies of early Mormonism on the topic of sermons. Protestants of the era inherited an ongoing question over the status of the pulpit. Where do sermons fit into the rule of faith? The issue was most touchy in the more severe “Bible Alone” strains of Protestantism and one can see the same concern in Protestant debates over creedal statements and confessions or the likes of the Book of Common Prayer. On the other hand, even though the early Latter-day Saints were liberals regarding “revelation,” the relationship between pulpit and scripture in Mormonism was a curious one and bore a resemblance to that cautious calculus surrounding the subject among conservative Protestants.
The recent issue of BYU Studies contains a paper written by my co-blogger Jonathan Stapley regarding the Relief Society’s burial services the early 1900’s. The paper addresses a decline in Relief Society burial preparations, and largely attributes this decline to the Relief Society’s inability to compete with professional burial service providers. I think this is reasonable, but found it somewhat incomplete when I looked at the data. In particular, I was curious about the speed of the decline in burial preparations over time, and wondered if there might be more to the story than an inability to provide equally good burial services. In any case, it seemed like an excellent opportunity for rampant speculation. [Read more...]
Joseph Smith’s 19th century Utah editors held him in high regard, not necessarily for his personal perfection, but for his standing as opener of ancient mysteries, restorer of forgotten salvific lore and authoritative purveyor of power to defeat death, hell and the Devil.
To mark the passing of Stanley E. Whiting, the most recent president of the Church of Jesus Christ (Cutlerite), it seems appropriate in this installment of “Cemetourism” to remember the first, Alpheus Cutler.*
Alpheus Cutler’s grave is located at the site of Manti, Iowa, the first headquarters of the reorganized Cutlerite church. Once a bustling town, Manti is all but abandoned today — a victim of brinkmanship with the railroad. After Manti became an RLDS town, church leaders advised members to hold out for a good price for rail right-of-way. Rather than pay, the railroad skipped over Manti and founded a new town called Shenandoah. Over time, Manti’s residents moved to Shenandoah and even dragged many of Manti’s vacant buildings to the new town.
Now some of the last historic Cutlerite homes are falling into ruin and only the stagecoach station is in good repair. The most visible remains of the old Cutlerite town are a road, a memorial park, and a pioneer cemetery. The site is in Freemont County in the extreme southwest of Iowa — where Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri meet. The first generation of Mormons had been promised that the Second Coming of Christ would occur in their lifetimes and they knew that the Kingdom would be built in Jackson County, Missouri. Cutler saw little reason to trudge across the Great Plains to live in Utah Territory only to have to trudge back when the call came. Missouri was unsafe for Mormon settlement, but Manti was just about as close as you could get: Jackson County was a quick steamboat ride down the Missouri River.
On Monday afternoon, 18 April 2011, Stanley E. Whiting passed away at a Hospice center just outside Independence, Missouri. Earlier this year, at age 76, Stanley learned that the pancreatic cancer he successfully pushed back 3 years ago had returned with a vengeance. [Read more...]
Here is part 4.
Bibliographical disciplines have divided up into various specialties and during the last several decades the dominant Anglo-American textual theories have splintered into a variety of approaches modeled on various ideas with roots ranging from multivalued and fuzzy logics to epistemology, philology, physics, biology, etc., which coexist in some tension. This means that no matter what approach a critic or editor takes he or she is bound to fall victim to a thrashing by somebody. The good side of this is a wide open field for expression. One hopes that *someone* likes the result.
This time I want to give a few examples of various ways texts are presented. These will range from classical presentations where the editor is concerned with laying out both editorial decisions and the available alternatives, to a clear text format where the presentation records a smooth, clean (easily quotable) grammatically correct text whose relationship to manuscripts or other editions is essentially hidden from the reader or if not that extreme, at least annotation is placed in back matter.
On our way home from the Restoration Studies Symposium, Mike and I stayed overnight Sunday at “Balmy Gilead Farm” — the home of Jan and Tony Shipps, nestled in the woods just east of Bloomington, Indiana. The visit was a mixture of southern country hospitality and reminiscences of the golden age of Mormon studies, alongside discussions of current research and events in the field. Jan has hardly let her eighty-two years slow her down, as the list she shared with us of her upcoming lecture trips, projects, and books proved.
Right: Tony, Jan, and myself (holding Mr. Darcy) yesterday at Balmy Gilead Farm.
A number of BCC permas will be presenters this weekend at the annual Restoration Studies / Sunstone Midwest Symposium. The symposium kicks off Friday night with an address on the conference theme: “‘A Woman’s Place…’ Ideas, Impacts, and Experiences of Restoration Women” given by Gail Mengel. (Now retired, Gail was one of two women who became the first female apostles in the RLDS Church, now known as the Community of Christ.)
Russel Arben Fox chairs a star-studded panel that includes our own Kristine Haglund and Tracy McKay, along with Christian Harrison and Chris Henrichsen, in a session entitled “Homemaking Radicalism and Homemaking Realities.” Kristine will also be joining Stacy Mengel Keenan, JWHA Executive Director Sherry Mesle-Morrain, and Sunstone Executive Director Mary Ellen Robertson, to explore the topic of “Getting Educated: How Attending a Church University (or not) Shapes Restoration Women’s Experiences.”
My own presentation will look at the histories of two small American denominations that initially embraced problematic doctrines that they eventually jettisoned before they each ultimately became “just another Protestant church”. The Worldwide Church of God (now Grace Communion International) believed in Anglo-Israelitism (the view that the Anglo-Saxons were the lost tribes of Israel), and the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church (now Christ Community Church) famously believed that the world is flat. How has becoming just another Protestant church worked out in these two examples and what lessons might these experiences hold for the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ)?
There’s nothing quite like singing “The Spirit of God” with a congregation in the Kirtland Temple. I’ve had the opportunity three times — the first time was at the dedication of the new Temple Visitor Center, the second was at a meeting of the John Whitmer Historical Association, and the third time was yesterday. However, yesterday was the first time the congregation also gave the “Hosanna shout.” (I’ve heard a lot of reviews of lackluster Hosanna shouts — I’ve never before participated in one, so I have no basis for comparison — but I thought this one was pretty good.)
Yesterday was the 175th anniversary of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple and I traveled there for the weekend to participate in the commemorative events. Beginning Friday there were a series of special meetings, services, seminars, lectures, and tours. There were three services on Sunday itself — an LDS service in the early morning and one in the evening, and a Community of Christ service in the mid-morning. To preserve the temple, the number of attendees for each session was limited to 300 (over a thousand apparently packed in for the original 1836 dedication), so I was only able to attend the Community of Christ service, but by every account, all three were very special and moving. [Read more...]
Today, I will press my hands on my son who was born eight days ago and I will bless him. [Read more...]
Some of my favorite parts of Mormon history are the accounts and stories of rank and file members, tales from their lives that show the impact of the gospel and the culture around them. I like to see how people interpreted (or do interpret) their religion, and how their faith plays out in their lives. It’s not a secret that much of earlier Church history lacks firsthand accounts and stories from women. [Read more...]
The people at Claremont Graduate University continue to outdo themselves. On March 18-19, 2011, the Howard W. Hunter chair for Mormon Studies is sponsoring this conference.
Just when you thought last year’s Mormon Studies conference at UVU could not be improved upon…
Check this out.
The last six years have been a lot of fun, and I count myself very fortunate to have been able to work on this project and to work on it with Kristine. Honestly, there were moments in the Church History Library when I thought to myself, “If I never have the opportunity to see anything else or work on another project, I will still be full.” We owe many friends and institutions much for their support. Thank you.
I was recently commissioned by Terryl L. Givens, Matthew J. Grow, and Oxford University Press to produce a new series of maps for their upcoming biography, Parley P. Pratt: The St. Paul of Mormonism (scheduled for release in October of this year). There’s been no skimping on the maps — the volume will include ten full maps plus insets.
In keeping with the title, the bulk of the maps focus on the missionary journeys of the peripatetic Pratt. The vision of the authors, which I attempted to fulfill, was to produce a series of maps almost reminiscent of the maps at the back of LDS Bibles that show the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul.
In this two part episode, Scott B. interviews Morris Thurston, a supporter and participants in several areas of Mormon Studies. The interview covers a range of topics, including Thurston’s early experiences in Mormon Studies, later experiences with the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and the history of the Miller Eccles Studies Group, which has been holding monthly lectures and meetings in Southern California for over 30 years.
Part 1: Part 2:
Links for your convenience:
Kris Wright is a former BCC blogger.
Every important new discovery about the past changes how we think about the present, and what we expect from the future; on the other hand every change in the conditions of the present and in the expectations for the future revises our perceptions of the past. In this complex context, history is born ostensibly as a reflection on the past: a reflection which is never isolated from the present or the future. History deals with human life as it “flows” through time. 
Recently I listened to a podcast interview here at BCC in which Scott B. interviewed Jonathan Stapley about women and Mormon healing rituals. During the discussion, Jonathan was able to share his broad knowledge of Mormon history and spoke about the history of women and healing in his trademark erudite manner. Because I was already familiar with the historical sources used in the forthcoming paper and the conclusions drawn from them, the most interesting part of the podcast for me occurred in the final eleven minutes, where the theme of the uses of history and the question of objectivity emerged. Scott asked Jonathan what his hopes were for the paper and what it meant for the modern LDS Church. [Read more...]