Books, Women, and the Church

This last weekend my stake held their annual Relief Society Conference. The Relief Society Presidency asked me to hold a workshop on women, books and the Church. Even though I am not a Relief Society member, I was deeply gratified to attend and discuss a topic which has held a large measure of my attention for the last number of years.

After a powerpoint (PDF) introduction to the history of literacy, education and the Relief Society (with a healthy dose of liturgical development), I distributed this bibliography (PDF). We used it as a basis for discussion. The bibliography focuses on female authors and topics. Time was a bit constrained, but I found the interaction quite fun. I must give credit to Margaret Young who gave me the fiction and poetry recommendations and many other friends who gave excellent bibliographic suggestions for addition.

I love the Relief Society. My stake rocks. That is all.


  1. Awesome, J. Possibly the only thing that can get the attention of the sisters faster than a quote from Sister Hinckley is a photo of President Uchtdorf.

    More seriously, well done. I love that your stake is aware of you and the contribution you could make to the Conference.

  2. Kathryn Lynard Soper says:

    I propose that Jonathan be cloned and distributed to every stake in Zion.

  3. Very cool, J., and well done on the powerpoint and bibliography.

    Just out of curiosity, what did you say about the Nauvoo Library and Literary Institute?

  4. Kristine says:

    I still think you should have included _Sisters in Spirit_. Wimp. ;)

  5. Thanks all. I appreciate it.

    Christopher, I used that slide as a jumping off point for a discussion on the early Mormon perspectives on books, and self education. E.g., we discussed how people donated books in Nauvoo and why they might have chosen that format. We also discussed Bernheisel’s creation of the Territorial Library during the first decade in Utah.

    Kristine, if it weren’t but for this one article that will soon be superseded… [wink right back at you]

  6. Kristine says:

    Seriously, J.?

  7. No. While I quite like Sisters in Spirit — there really is some excellent work in it — there are also a number of things about it that I think renders it problematic to readers new to the genre and without the critical skills to analyze the arguments and evidences. So while it is to be recommended, I didn’t think it was a good fit for an audience where all but a handful had never heard of any of the titles in that bibliography.

  8. Kristine says:

    ok. phew.

  9. Kevin Barney says:

    This is terrific, J. (I see you couldn’t resist showing off the personal library on the last slide!)

  10. Always happy to assuage concerns that I am simply a jerk.

  11. Thanks, Kev. That was the slide that was up during the bibliographic discussion.

  12. I am curious as to your omission of Mormon Enigma from the bibliography. and was it a requirement that all the books had to be by and for LDS?

    Awesome Powerpoint, by the way.

  13. Kristine says:

    Yeah, it seems to me that _Enigma_ is dramatically less scandalous in a post-RSR world. I can understand the decision not to recommend it at a stake women’s conference, though!

  14. Good points. Enigma, I thought would be a good pass for round two of the bibliography, but perhaps it should have gone here. Similarly, In Sacred Loneliness is a truly splendid set of biographies, but for an entry, it is perhaps not the best fit.

    The books are generally by Latter-day Saints (typically women) about Latter-day Saint women. The last “Non-fiction” category was meant to be not Mormon specific in topic, but written by our authors.

  15. J, I wish I could float you over to this side of the mountains so you could give this at our conference. Terrific work.

  16. Why didn’t this book make the cut?

  17. Because it isn’t very good.

  18. Mephibosheth says:

    here are also a number of things about it that I think renders it problematic to readers new to the genre

    I would be interested in a brief rundown of what some of the problems are, in your opinion. Presumably one of them are the arguments that women exercised the priesthood in the early church through healings, etc. but later leaders, like Wilford Woodruff, denied that they ever held it without explaining why he would have thought that (the main idea being that women practiced healings in the church before the priesthood doctrines were fully developed).

    Maybe you’ve already written about it and can just point me in the right direction.

  19. Mephibosheth, I’m not particularly interested in reviewing the book right now, but the position that you describe is problematic on many different levels. I would start with:

    Jonathan Stapley and Kristine Wright, “The Forms and the Power: The Development of Mormon Ritual Healing to 1847,” Journal of Mormon History 35 (summer 2009):42-87.

    Then look forward to our very large and detailed article “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism” which is forthcoming, probably this fall.

  20. Armand Mauss says:

    Couldn’t think of a single article from Dialogue to be included in more than 40 years of material?

  21. Thanks for stopping by, Armand. You’ll notice that I didn’t include any Journal of Mormon History articles, either. There is a lot of excellent content between them. But the “articles” section (note that I included a Dialogue personal essays compilation) is indeed pretty scant. If I’m not mistaken a couple of the articles in the “articles” compilations I included were published in Dialogue later, no? What articles would you have recommended?

  22. Kristine says:

    Yes, and they’re all substantially better in their Dialogue-edited form.

  23. Armand Mauss says:

    Yeah – I noted the indirect inclusion of some articles from Dialogue, though I was sorry that Dialogue was not credited with one or two. Especially (as per Kristine’s comment – #22), you might note for future reference that more than half of the papers in Claudia Bushman’s 2003 summer seminar were subsequently published in Dialogue and would be much more accessible there than in their unpublished in the BYU archives.
    Also, on any future such occasions, you might keep in mind that the three main Dialogue collections over the years with a focus on women’s issues were in Summer 1971 (“pink” issue), Winter 1981 (“red” issue), and Fall 2003, the latter including a few pieces by younger women, some of which might have been a bit too “edgy” for a Relief Society group, but others would have been fine. From among these three issues, especially Winter 1981, I should think you could have found one or two that would have been entirely appropriate for your purposes.
    Despite all this gratuitous advice, I don’t mean to overlook the obvious value of the bibliography that you did, in fact, provide. It was wonderful! Even more wonderful was the fact that you were asked for it. As you say, Relief Society indeed “rocks” up there!

  24. I think you are right; I should have included at least one representative article from both Dialogue and Journal of Mormon History (I’m on the JMH editorial board for pete’s sake).

  25. Is that last slide a screen capture of your iBooks library? And iPad already J.?!

  26. No, I prefer regular books. Though I do have to admit that the search functions of the New Mormon Studies CD-ROM and Google Books are irreplaceably handy.

  27. Ha! Cool. Where is that image from?

  28. I use MediaMan, which is PC version of Delicious Library.