Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture: 2017 Symposium

Mormonism Engages the World

This year the Maxwell Institute’s Summer Seminar is being held in the basement of the Joseph F. Smith Building on BYU Campus. The morning session just wrapped, and I thought I’d give a very brief summary of the papers mixed (inexorably) with my own mental stirrings. Warning: these are in no way verbatim reports—they are very brief summaries. Caveat Emptor. Presenters who encounter this should feel free to disabuse the public of my errors.

This year the seminar was mentored by Phil Barlow of Utah State University and Terryl Givens of the University of Richmond, VA. Barlow was the morning emcee. The seminar was founded by Richard Bushman, initially—by his admission—to help in dealing with source materials for his seminal work, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. The seminar typically hosts some of the brightest young minds thinking about Mormon history and culture.

First up was Ben Spackman. “Mormonism as a Rough Stone Rolling: Towards a Theology of Encountering the World.” Ben is well-known in the world of Mormon blogs and is currently pursuing graduate work at Claremont graduate school.

Ben has been working for some time on the interface between Bible and science, particularly Genesis and science of the earth and biology (evolution). The paper centered on the thesis that the dividing line between the Church and the World is very porous, though insiders do not often think in that way. Ben set up his thesis by proposing two models:

Infection model. Here, the Church is seen as harboring a kind of inner unchangeable purity in opposition to a World intent on infecting that purity with philosophical impurities: evolution, worldly idolatries, sectarianisms, secularism. Within the parameters of this model lies J. Reuben Clark’s famous Church education address: the Charted Course of Church Education. [Clark’s address has a context that is important here, but I’ll skip that since Ben didn’t really touch on it.]

Quest model. This is based on Brigham Young’s philosophy that Mormonism must and does gather truth from all sources. It grants much greater value to outsiders than the infection model. Prophets and scripture have cultural backgrounds.

Ben notes that whatever model one chooses, it has always been the case that religions incorporate cultural trends, knowledge, forces, though they then often, much later characterize them as always having been present. Example: geocentric cosmology.

Phil then introduced the next paper from Amber Taylor. Amber is doing a PhD at Brandeis. Dissertation topic involves the BYU Jerusalem Center and the controversy surrounding it.

Amber’s paper was titled, “A Patriotism of Peace: Suffrage, Americanization, and the Peace Movement among Early Twentieth-Century Mormon Women.”

Scholars have ignored the women’s peace movement (1899-1915) decrying war and its associated demonstrations. Relief Society leaders had become closely associated with suffrage movers and shakers and a peace movement internal and external was connected to that. The Benevolent Empire(s) worked for peace, arbitration, temperance, abolition. When the 1888 National Council of women formed, Mormon women like Emmeline B. Wells who edited the Woman’s Exponent, condemned patriotism when it required war. The Exponent used the language of motherhood, etc. to press this point. They found allies among church voices like James Talmage: “Women have the power to make war unpopular.”

In April 1907 Utah Governor Cutler appointed Mormon women to national peace conferences. Emmiline: Mormon women Utah are cooperating in a great feministic movement for peace. Then came the Lusitania. The First Presidency then urged support for the war and the peace movement shrank.

Next up was Jessica Nelson: “World War II and Making of Modern Mormonism.” [I missed Jessica’s introduction.]

Church in war and peace. Radio addresses up to 1943 by Stephen L. Richards spoke on the Constitution as divinely sanctioned—patriotism as an integral part of Mormonism. Jessica argues that Church leadership fully aligned itself with the war philosophy of US in WWII. Mike Quinn: 20th century church decries war, but supports US leaders. Heber J. Grant wanted to stay out of war until Pearl Harbor. Even after Pearl, J. Reuben Clark was still a pacifist. David O. McKay sustained the fight against dictatorship. Threats to free agency, and national loyalty were exceptions to the anti-war message.

Patrick Mason: BOM ambivalent on war. Anti-Nephi-Lehi’s and Capt. Moroni.

Richards: WWII happened because of the perversion of divine principles.

Mormons composed rally songs and poems. Word of Wisdom became a leading theme for Mormon soldiers. Heber J. Grant: it is better to die in battle than return home unclean (W of W included-alcohol tobacco-chastity the worst). True Latter-day Saint would rather receive a coffin than a returning soldier who lost his virtue.

McKay and Ezra Taft Benson styled Mormon soldiers as missionaries.
[Several people, including Jessica perhaps, said that DOM coined the phrase “every member a missionary” at this point. That’s not true. He was preaching it as a missionary in the UK.]

American LDS rode on a wave of positive Mormon images in media. WWII brought a break out of the intermountain west shell.

PB: Richelle Wilson. “Disenchantment of Callings: From Consecration to Delegation.” Richelle is a PhD student in Scandinavian studies at the Univ. of Mich. She is on the Dialogue editorial staff.

Jana Riess survey, The Next Mormons.

Finding: nearly 3/4 of Millennials feel it’s ok sometimes to refuse a calling. A difference between official discourse and Millennials. The latter see negotiation as a part of church callings.

1. Increasing systematization of admin.
2. Rift exist in Mormon discourse between vocation and eccleastical

Disenchantment (demythologize). Increasing reliance on business theory, science, rational government. Admin less mysterious. Max Weber Studies 1 (2000): 12.

19th-century callings lifelong. Changed 1910s. Change to word “assignment” which became common after 1910.

Spontaneity removed. Ensign Nov 2005, Elder Robert Wood: I do not believe that a call comes from within you. It comes from God through servants. Is it true that feeling called in personal revelation is not legitimate?

Kathleen Flake. How did leaders make radical changes spurred by cultural change without losing members’ confidence in continuity with originating vision?

[Richelle is doing a post on her presentation so I cut this very short. Her paper was very well done.]

Aubrie Mema: the suffering Christ: finding the tragic in Mormon art.

US artist based in Albania. BS from USU.

[Aubrie’s presentation was largely visual, so I made few notes. It was very well done, however.]

Randy Powell: “Savin’ for a Rainy Day: Mormon Food Storage and the Survivalist Movement.”

Recalls the storage food in the family garage. Not unique. Few scholars have analyzed this movement. Ripe for gender, and survivalist movements (nuclear scares, energy shocks). European millenarianism. Rambo, etc.

1980s. Mormon leaders felt the angst of the wider culture. The broader culture latched on to Mormon storage doctrines and Mormon publishing catered to the wider survivalist culture.

Year’s supply explosion of discourse in 1970s-80s. Mormon leaders pled with members to provide for themselves.

There was a sense of nearness of the apocalypse with Cold War, inflation, crime rates, etc. Ezra Taft Benson: food storage as essential as Noah’s ark. Church welfare projections included incorporated end of the world scenarios.

Unintended consequences: folk tales. Nephites warn highway travelers to get their storage. One story: meeting the prophet in an elevator. Prophet, if you knew what I know, you would sell your home to get storage. Urban legends repeated these stories. Employees working at storage outlets in 1977 cited such folk tales among those buying their stuff. Mormon food storage made the larger news outlets. Paul Ehrlich: a month to year supply would ameleorate the shock of coming collapse. Howard Rough: “How to prosper the in coming bad times”. “Rough Times” newsletter. Examples of readers: not isolated weirdos but affluent professionals. Mormon food storage outlets experienced massive growth in 1970s-80s. Examples of store-ers.

Mormons played a key role among survivalists. Survivalist authors advised readers to contact Mormons about food preservation/storage.

Terryl introduced Adam Brasich. Wabash college summa cum laude. MA, PhD at Florida State. Mormon fundamentalism and plural marriage. “An Everlasting Order: Fundamentalist Mormonism’s Response to the Great Depression.”

Scholars miss by focusing only on polygamy in fundamentalist. Truth Magazine. Fundamentalists are social critics. FDR and Heber J. Grant (HJG) critiqued for not using united order. But fundamentalists also criticized the administration using the same issues as broader New Deal critics.

Polygamy secret after 1890. Fundamentalists: Church leaders were out of order. The presence of fundamentalists complicates the Mormon narrative between Great Basin Kingdom and American assimilation.

Knox: libertarian critic of New Deal bureaucratic corruption. Conservatives and liberals both criticized the New Deal. Fundamentalists combined the two approaches. Joseph Musser [major public voice of Mormon fundamentalists] was not, in the beginning, a critic of FDR. But with FDR’s attempt to pack the court, Musser saw him as overreaching. Musser saw FDR and HJG as alike in removing agency. FDR in court packing attempt, HJG in short creek test oath. Zion Park Stake excommunicated short creek when they failed to take the oath. FDR, HJG were astray because of New Deal and Welfare Program as perversions of United Order.


Gavin Feller. PhD Iowa, under John Durham Peters: LDS approach to communications technology in 20th century. “Modest with a Little Mystery: Television, Swimsuits, and Mormonism in 1950s America.”

[Gavin’s presentation was heavily visual but fascinating treatment of Rose Marie Reid. I hope Maxwell does some release of this on Youtube. It was very good.]

Liz Brocious “Invitation to a Mix and Mingle: Bringing a Mormon Theology of Agency in Conversation with a Secular Theory of Self.” MS BYU, Uof C div. PhD student at Chicago. Secular theory of self.

[Liz’s paper was somewhat technical and I’m just going to give you my raw notes. If you have questions, feel free to ask in the comments.]

Theological anthropology: composition of self. What is within you? Interfaces with social science, neuroscience, critical theory.

Can Mormonism usefully appropriate secular theory of self and vice versa?

Agency: important in Mormon discourse and in secular scholarship. 2016’s Women and Mormonism, edited by Kate Holbrook and Matt Bowman. Use this as a jumping off point of putting the secular and Mormon theories in conversation.
Argue Mormonism offers a critique of secular theory.
Mormon theology: self and agency. Truman Madsen and Douglas Davies. Opposite. Madsen’s Eternal Man point of view: Individuality is fixed.

Davies notes tension between individuality and relationality.
Mormon self is communal.

Dallin Oaks
Free agency: power to choose (absolute)
Freedom: power to act (contingent)
[This is also in Madsen’s Eternal Man book I believe–or somewhere else in his work.]

The processes of self-development are continually communal.

Secular theory.
Elizabeth Pritchard: Agency without Transcendence.
Against a transcendent explanation of self.

Sovereign self vs. society as Maker

The Making Self= capacity for change
Agency: power of alteration
Agency as maker

Shareable pieces of the individual circulate, become concepts. Humans make a diversity of things. Supports the fiction of an underlying stable background self. Nancy Hirschman: the act of choosing is necessary but not sufficient.

Pritchard and Mormon Theology [MT] seem in opposition.

But in sovereign owness, Pritchard’s [P] dialogue vocabulary is based in classical Christian cosmology.

P: Chasm between human and divine. MT: move toward divine along a spectrum.

MT complicates a chasm.
P’s critique of an autonomous self is that it cannot change. MT: Each soul is a prime mover unmoved. P accepts changeable quality as positive, but MT says it is also an attribute of God.

P embodied self: entirely constituted through social processes. MT: embodied self: entire socialality for exaltation.
P: theory of making. MT- becoming as god, There is similarity.

P is richer in making theory than MT.

P: Relative agency: power dynamics entrenched within agency.
Oaks: the power to act on choices is contingent.

P could inform Oaks mechanistically.

Social theory offers a critique of MT’s details. Varying discourses expose blind spots in each other.

Ty Mansfield, “Eternal Companions: Orders of Priesthood, Victorian Romanticism, and Shifting Narratives in Mormon Discourse on Marriage and Family.”
Marriage and family therapist adjunct instructor in religion at BYU.

[I wasn’t able to hear much of this paper.]

Norma Clabrese, “Mormonism: (The challenge to become) a “Glocal” Church in
Globalized World.” Born in Italy, lived in London. Grad cum laude Rome.

[This paper was very good, talking about the church adapting to local circumstances. I hope it makes it out soon. Important stuff.]


  1. “Mormon self is communal”… As a Mormon introvert, this phrase sent shivers down my spine.

    Thanks for the synopsis. Such amazing minds and sharing of ideas. Wish I could be there.

  2. Thank you. If I lived closer I would loved to have attended.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the notes! Those of us who live far from these things are always appreciative.

  4. Mark Ashurst-McGee says:

    Yes, thanks WVS.

  5. Like our friend krishnakumarsinghblog, I believe this is a good article.

    (For reals, though, thanks for these notes, WVS. I linked to them over at the Maxwell Institute blog.)

  6. Just a heads up for next year: Terryl announced that the Summer Seminar topic will be science and Mormonism. Looking forward to that one!

  7. Will of GOD says:

    You can call me Michael. Here is what GOD told me. (Matthew 8:11-12) There are two kingdoms; GOD’s Kingdom, and Satan’s kingdom such as America. This land was stolen by bloodshed and deception. They have a false Trinity of Executive, Legislative and Judicial. These are as the three bands that the Chaldeans formed in the book of Job, and took everything. (Job 1:17) The churches are so blind that Jesus is no longer their Shepherd, the military and police are. Police and military are not even a tiny bit acceptable to GOD, no matter what anyone says. That is the Devil and Satan, and anyone who follows or agrees with them is a goat. The flag being in churches is a sin. When we see that one third of the Angels were cast out of heaven, one third of the world’s population claim to be Christian, and this of the Christians who even so much as honor the governments of these people will be cast out with them. They are so blind that they think the Devil is a real angel of light. Satan transformed himself into an Angel of light and put his flag in the churches. When Jesus enters a church, they don’t recognize his real voice for they are not his sheep, they became the Bride of the military. In the beginning here were two sons. One son said give me my honor and I will force them to return. Those who followed the armed forces and those who honored the metal of honor fell with them. The leaders of the world that GOD accepts are those who do not become goats by following them. They live by the sword, and they die by the sword, and that is their end. GOD bless all products on Earth that open their eyes and see this. There is no; “but this or but that, or but not all of them are bad, or but we need some of them.” They claim separation of Church and state. If you educate on Jesus in schools, you get fired. GOD has been taken out of the pledge of allegiance. And do we pledge allegiance to a flag or to GOD with Jesus? Some people say; “both.” There is not both, and I don’t cover my heart and pledge to a piece of Satan’s cloth. There is no argument; there is no reasoning against this fact. We cannot serve two masters. (Matthew 6:24) (Luke 16:13) They are the goats, and we are not to follow them or we are goats. I speak of anyone who wears a badge. GOD says they are all cast out, and not one is acceptable to ME. Pure love casts out all ungodliness, that all may be turned from their mistakes. I love you. GOD bless you.

  8. Didn’t see that last comment until just now. Okay.

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