Situating the voices in Whitney’s “The Mormons”

While there is much to discuss in Helen Whitney’s currently airing documentary, I thought a reasonable background discussion would be some attempt to situate the voices that were included. I knew most, some I had never heard of. I’ll start with the ones I know, but I’m interested to hear from others what they know about the rest. Let’s not be ad hominem here, though it’s appropriate to discuss in polite terms people’s credentials as independent sources of insight. I’m assuming people know our internal heroes and leaders so won’t discuss them specifically.

Harold Bloom: immensely prominent literary critic (cut his teeth with potent and well-respected analyses of various poets) who has of late turned to cultural and religious criticism, including a 1990s treatment of American Religion that claimed that Smith was best understood as a mystic in the vein of Yahwist cults and, incidentally, suggested that if Monson were to become president, we would stop reading the Book of Mormon.

Jon Butler: Famous historian of early America who made his name with work in the late 80s and early 90s redefining the problematics of American religious history as the replacement of established European churches with more free-form Protestant denominations, always in conversation with occult/magical currents. His work (extending Keith Thomas’s work on early modern England and Leventhal’s work) paved the way for Quinn’s public fascination with occult themes in Smith’s life.

Michael Coe: mesoamerican archaeologist who has known Mormons over the years and remains flummoxed that thoughtful people could possibly ever believe in the Book of Mormon. Beyond a paper in Dialogue some years back where he stated this thesis (without much religious sophistication, just the skepticism of the professional archaeologist about the incompetence of the amateur or believing hobbyist), I’m not aware that he has any expertise in Mormonism (if he did, we’d all be announcing that the Book of Mormon is true, since he’s strictly an archaeologist).

Sarah Barringer Gordon: UPenn legal historian whose major work is a treatment of the legal and constitutional debates over polygamy in the late nineteenth-century. A sympathetic but rigorous outsider whose main focus is legal history.

Judith Freeman: descendant of early Mormons who left the church some decades ago but remains fascinated by the cultural narratives. She recently wrote a multi-perspective novel about John D. Lee, MMM, and his demise. Her background is in historical fiction, though she has done reasonably reliable research in that setting.

Will Bagley: I believe is a reporter turned independent researcher and ethnic Mormon who has been writing on MMM and feels strongly that BY ordered the trigger pull. For a time he was editing the Arthur Clark series on the Mormon Kingdom in the West.

Glen Leonard: devout LDS, worked with Leonard Arrington during Camelot (1970-1980) at LDS Archives, recently stepped down from the Museum of Church History and Art, author of the Nauvoo history, coauthor of the Story of the Latter-day Saints, and coauthor of the MMM treatment coming out this year from OUP.


Updates of relevance

Ken Clark: former CES from Idaho who apparently has been actively involved in formon websites but does not appear to have any academic credentials to speak of.

William Morain: an ethnic RLDS retired academic plastic surgeon who wrote a psychoanalytic treatment of Joseph Smith and boyhood trauma. Continues to be involved in MHA/JWHA, but as I recall was working primarily on editing plastic surgery journal recently.

Robin Lane Fox:?
Alex Baugh: BYU Church History professor.

Daniel Peterson: BYU Arabic scholar and prominent participant in FARMS and FAIR activity.
Ed Firmage Jr.: son of Ed Firmage, grandson of Hugh B. Brown, the Univ Utah law professor well known for his public positions on priesthood for women. I think Ed is an acclaimed visual artist but will confess I’m not sure.
Jana Richman: Ethnic Mormon who wrote a memoir about driving her motorcycle on the Mormon trail that received some press.

Carmon Hardy: History professor in California primarily known in Mormon circles for his work on old Mormon polygamy. He has just edited a documentary anthology of Mormon polygamy.
Richard Mouw: Head of Fuller Theological Seminary, an evangelical Presbyterian scholar who has been openly involved in ecumenical dialogues with Mormons.
Simon Worrall: British journalist and playwright who produced a treatment of the Hofmann forgeries/murder.

Phil Bolinger: Head of the MMM foundation, representing descendants/relatives of the victims.

Alex Caldiero: Former Catholic performance poet who converted to Mormonism.


  1. Sam, thanks for this- you just saved me a ton of time Googling everyone.

  2. What’s the justification for the Monson/BoM quote? Is it that we’d transition to Dickens and Elizabeth Barrett Browning?

  3. ok, will confess I have trouble keeping track of threads over 50 entries, so I have transplanted the list. I think for simplicity, once someone has been fully identified, I’ll add them back to the base of the original post. thanks to Justin for his list on the pregame show.

  4. David, it was Harold responding to listening to Monson speak. He felt that Monson used the pleasant stories as a way to distract people from the problematics of the Book of Mormon. Most people feel like it’s wishful thinking on Bloom’s part. Incidentally, someone on another thread identified him as Alan Bloom, but Alan was a UChicago political philosopher (neo-Straussian, I think, but I will confess I don’t follow closely), who wrote Closing of the American Mind then died after telling his friend Saul Bellow to write his fictionalized biography.

  5. Wow, talk about “ask and ye shall receive.” Thanks! This is very helpful. I wasn’t taking notes and didn’t remember all of them from last night.

  6. Steve Evans says:

    DMI Dave has already started a resource for this as well – it’s very helpful stuff.

  7. i.e. here.

  8. Nice summary. A couple more.

    Mouw is president of the Fuller Theological Seminary; he’s an evangelical Presbyterian who has been involved in several ecumenical dialogues with people like Stephen Robinson. He spoke at the Library of Congress seminar a couple of years ago.

    It surprised me to see Robin Lane Fox there; I was not aware he had things to say about Mormonism. He’s a classical scholar with particular interests in Alexander the Great and Hellenistic religion. He’s British and is at one of the Oxbridge schools.

    Jana Richman wrote a book about following the Mormon trail on her motorcycle a couple of years ago. I think she lives in Arizona.

  9. Worrall wrote a book on the Hofmann story, The Poet and the Murderer.

    Bolinger is a descendant of MMM victims and serves as president of the MMM Foundation.

  10. There’s this list on the website. Not complete, and repeats from what you have above but it does have their cute little photographs.

  11. Mark B. says:


    I think rather that the movement would be to Edgar A. Guest and, when waxing literary, to James Whitcomb Riley.

    Re: Ed Firmage Jr. I think he’s HBB’s great-grandson. Hugh B. Brown was married in 1908, so Ed Firmage Sr. would have had to marry a much older woman to make Ed Jr. HBB’s grandson.

    More important, why identify him as a descendant of Brigham Young (through Zina Card, HBB’s wife, I suppose). Since Ed Jr. and I share a common ancestor, Benjamin Brown, HBB’s great grandfather, I think he should have been listed thus:

    Edwin Firmage, Jr.
    Mark Butler’s 5th Cousin

  12. Mark B. says:

    Mouw is also the man who spoke at the Tabernacle a few years back and said “we [evangelicals] have been mean and should apologize.”

    For which he was castigated by the “speak truth in love really means calling a spade a spade and sometimes hitting them with it” branch.

  13. There was a quote in the first hour without a face. It’ talked about all the great religions of the world requiring revelation. Anyone help me with who said it?

  14. I’ve just blogged my reactions to the documentary and to the talking heads at:

    Interesting discussion!

  15. Amri’s comment about their cute little photos makes me laugh. Holland at times looks gruff so I’m okay with his photo, but why make GBH look so mean? And when I think of Elder Jensen, I think of a kindly, smiling man. Not the man in the photo they chose…

  16. Mark B. You don’t have to be so old to be Hugh B Brown great grandson, right smb? Mary, the second to youngest of HBB’s, married Ed Firmage Sr. They had Jr, so he was indeed HBB’s grandson. Mary contributed to the book the Four Zinas.

    David, the photos are funny huh? I was surprised by their choices.

  17. David – It was Harold Bloom, who’s very into the art and spectacle of religion.

  18. Kevin Barney says:

    I thought Will Bagley actually did a good job.

    Daniel C. Peterson is a professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at BYU and editor of the FARMS Review.

    Jon Butler was my salvation when I first encountered the Salamander letter (pre-Quinn), so I’ve got a warm spot in my heart for him.

    Michael Coe is not knowledgeable about Mormonism, but he gets a pass because the poor guy has had to deal with zealous BoM archaeology buffs over the years.

    Ed Firmage, Jr. published his account of losing his faith many years ago in Sunstone; a search would turn that up if anyone is interested (an interesting essay, actually).

    Kathleen Flake is an excellent historian at Vanderbilt and author of the recent book about the Smoot hearings.

    Terryl Givens is a professor of English at a southeastern university and author of Viper on the Hearth and By the Hand of Mormon (out of Oxford Univesity Press). He is working on a book about various ideas of preexistence.

    Sarah Barringer Gordon is at UPenn and is terrific. She’s very active in MHA, so if you want to meet her come on out to SLC at the end of May.

    I had lunch once with Randall Paul. I think it was at a Sunstone, and Blake Ostler was a mutual friend and got us together.

    I believe Ken Verdoia, who is not LDS, is in SLC and does a lot of radio and documentary programs of his own dealing with Mormonism.

  19. Mark, sorry, the grandson reference is to Ed’s dad. I realize my commas weren’t great.
    Amri, Ed Sr. is Mary’s son, not her husband (Mormons aren’t that weird).

  20. Mark B. says:

    No need to apologize Sam. And thanks for the genealogical clarification.

    I still think “Mark Butler’s 5th cousin” would be as relevant as “Brigham Young’s descendant” though.

  21. An online bio for Worrall:

    Simon Worrall was born in Wellington, England in 1951, and spent his childhood in East Africa. He has worked as a dramaturge and a playwright, and taught English in China. His journalism has been published in a variety of national newspapers and magazines, including the Observer, the Sunday Times and the New Yorker. He lives in East Hampton, New York.

  22. My bad. I thought Mary was married to an Ed Firmage? Who was her husband Firmage? I remember going to his funeral when I was 8 or something.

  23. Justin says:

    Caldiero talks about his faith on the PBS site here.

  24. Andrew Brown says:

    Mary was married to Ed Firmage. Ed Jr (except he wasn’t a Jr., he has a different middle name). is the law professor and is HBB’s grandson. He also has a son named Ed.
    HBB’s grandchildren are mostly in their sixties now, his children were having their children well into the 1950s.

  25. Mark B. says:

    And how are you related, Andrew?

  26. Mike Parker says:

    What background does Michael Coe have on shamanism that makes him an authority on whether or not Joseph Smith was a shaman? I thought that kind of stuff was the purview of anthropologists, not archeologists.

    I thought his comment was embarrassing: “Joseph started off lying, but then eventually came to believe his own stories,” etc. He clearly has no grasp of the history of the Book of Mormon translation, let alone the testimonies of the witnesses (formal and informal).

  27. Mark B. says:

    Andrew’s comment suggests that perhaps my memory of having a classmate (Provo High School, 1971) who was a granddaughter of Hugh B.’s was not just another evidence of old age creeping in.

  28. Sam MB, this post is also helpful. I was wondering about Judith. Is she an evangelical, today? I don’t know anything about her.

    But watching the show, I identified with her.

    Sort of uncanny.

  29. Andrew Brown says:

    I’m Sam MB and Amri’s brother. Ed is our great-uncle. I used to quote his anti-nuke stuff in high school debate.

  30. Andrew Brown says:

    Scratch that, Ed is our first cousin, once-removed.

  31. Mark B. says:

    So that must make us fifth cousins, too.

  32. Welcome to the family Mark B.!

  33. Todd, I believe that Judith is rather post-Christian, but I’m not certain. She is a novelist by trade who clearly treasures her Mormon heritage. Although I don’t love historical fiction or multi-narrator fiction (unless it’s impossibly crazy like the stuff McSweeney’s publishes), I thought her Red Water was a quite readable introduction to John Lee and MMM aftermath.

    Mike: Coe is pontificating outside his field. I was unimpressed with his treatment of shamans as well as Joseph Smith. I suspect his archaeology is vastly superior to his cultural criticism (as opposed to Harold Bloom, who is an able cultural critic).

  34. Aaron B says:

    If I had a nickel for everytime someone confused Harold with Allan or mistook Allan for Harold … I’d have a Bloomin’ whole lot of nickels.

    Is it just me, or was that Caldiero fellow also prominently featured in “This Divided State,” that movie about Michael Moore coming to UVSC? For that reason, I was sure he was on the UVSC faculty? Anyone know?

    Aaron B

  35. Left Field says:

    Did anyone else notice from the credits that the Narrator was David Ogden Stiers (sans the fake Boston accent from M*A*S*H)?

  36. Yes, I just noticed it this afternoon reading one of the media write-ups. I’ll listen a little harder tonight.

  37. Aaron, he was and he is.

  38. Jon in Austin says:

    Bryan Horn, the young guy who’s only quote was “You go, you go, you go…” (with reference to missionary work) was in my singles ward during the summer I spent in Happy Valley a few years back.

    He was a convert who was studying to become a priest of some other faith when some anti material got him interested in the Church and he eventually joined and served a mission in Vegas if memory serves me correctly. He later finished that mission as a tour guide at the Conference Center.

    Nice guy, I wonder in what context they found him to bring him in for an interview though…

  39. re 34: Alex Caldiero is indeed on the UVSC faculty and lives in Orem. I enjoyed reading his story on the PBS web site. Haven’t seen Alex for a number of years, but he is very active with spoken word performances and poetry and teaching, and sadly is a little less active in the church as of late. Utah Valley definitely needs more Mormons like him.

  40. Antonio Parr says:

    I know that we don’t campaign in our Church, but . . .

    Elder Marlin K. Jensen for the next vacancy in the Twelve!

    What a wise, compassionate representative of our faith, who speaks in language that can be understood outside of the corridor. I thought that he was tremendous.

  41. I found this post on another thread about the program:

    “I was interested in the story of the home schooling Tilleimann-Dick family (Kimber was the bubbly newlywed, Charity the opera singer suffering from pulmonary hypertension). So I did a Google search, and they are a very interesting family. First of all, the kids have all taken their mother’s hyphinated name (their father is named Timber Dick).

    Also, their maternal grandfather is Tom Lantos, a California Democrat who has held a seat in Congress since 1980. Lantos is a secular Jew from Hungary, who was imprisoned in a Nazi labor camp for a time before he escaped and joined the resistance. He is the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress.
    After the war he moved to the US, got a PhD in economics from Berkeley, and married his childhood friend Annette Tillman, a Hungarian from a prominant family (she is a cousin of Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor). Annette and their two girls, Annette Tillemann-Dick and Katrina Swett, joined the LDS Church at some point, although Lantos has not joined the Church. He appears to be a devoted an principled congressman, I did not read much about him I did not like. Here is a nice piece by his granddaughter Kimber.

    Katrina Swett is married to Richard “Dick” Swett, also a Mormon, and a Democrat from New Hamshire who served in Congress in 1991-1995, lost a Senate bid, and was ambassador to Denmark in the late 1990s. Katrina is currently in her second bid for a congressional seat in New Hamshire.”

  42. “Katrina is currently in her second bid for a congressional seat in New Hamshire.”

    I so not think that quote is quite correct. She has run in the past (and I think should have won), but was not in the contest for 2006.
    She is considering running for Senate in 2008.


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