Interreligious Dialogue at the Library of Congress

May 11, 2005 | 16 comments
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I went to this past weekend’s conference not so much to hear any of the particular talks as to see what sort of exchange they formed. Interreligious dialogue is one of the most difficult things there is, to do well. Here are some notes on the conference as an occasion for such dialogue, and a stepping stone toward better dialogue in the future.

That this would be an interreligious dialogue was evidently part of the planners’ intent, based on the pattern of affiliations in the program. The first speaker in three, and the last speaker in all four of the daytime sessions was Mormon, with non-Mormon speakers in the middle (the Friday evening session with Elder Oaks was quite different). The positions of the speakers on the question of whether Joseph was actually a prophet of God thus seem to have been a key factor in the planning of the program.

Surely it would be difficult for that question to be far from anyone’s mind, no matter what. After all, why are we holding a conference on Joseph Smith if not because he claimed to be a prophet, and millions since have either believed or disbelieved him? Further, as Mormons, we are called “to stand as witnesses of God at all times”. Yet productive dialogue requires that most of the conversation go on at some distance from this question. Further, the venue on Capitol Hill called for a certain neutrality about religious claims.

It seems to me that in any cooperative endeavor, success requires that the participants feel they are working toward a goal they share, even if some of them also have goals not shared by all. A sense of shared purpose was sometimes present, and sometimes not, at this conference. Douglas Davies asked in the last session, “What exactly are we doing here?” I remember this part a bit differently from Ronan, but as Davies went on, “I will not be involved in apologetics,” it was clear that part of the question on his mind was what part apologetics (i.e. arguing in favor of faith claims) was playing in the conference. Jack Welch had aptly observed, near the midpoint of the conference, that the jury will always be hung on whether Joseph was a prophet, or whether the Book of Mormon is really an ancient text. It seems, then, that in the long run, success in interreligious dialogue will have to be based on its serving a purpose other than leading to one conclusion or another on whether Joseph was a prophet of God.

Here is a summary of the first session, with some thoughts on how it worked as a dialogue. I hope to post something similar on later sessions, if I have time.

Session 1
The title of the first session, “Joseph Smith in his Own Time,” suggests a focus on Joseph’s 19th century context. Yet Richard Bushman argued that Joseph Smith must be understood in light of a much larger slice of the world: “His mind ranged far beyond his own time and place.” Bushman gave an overview of historical work attempting to explain Joseph as a product of the early 19th-century U.S., and acknowledged these are sometimes “ingenious”, but argued that this style of history has “reached the end of the line”. We must take account of how richly Joseph engaged ancient and “transnational” themes, as recent analyses such as Jan Shipps’ and Harold Bloom’s have done. Further, our histories must not merely objectify him, but to be adequate they must also comprise his own self-understanding. In the latter portion of his talk, Bushman traced how Joseph’s self-understanding as a prophet might have taken shape through his experiences over the years. Although we believers at least tend to read the end into the beginning retrospectively, Joseph learned about his role bit by bit. How challenging it must have been for a sincere person to step into that role! (I might add, if Moses and Enoch hesitated, what about Joseph Smith?)

Dialogue assessment: Bushman’s points about the inadequacy of reductionistic accounts of Joseph are welcome to those who believe he is a true prophet. His points about Joseph’s self-understanding show how reasonable it is to understand Joseph as a sincere, reasonable human being, and cut against any understanding of him as a fraud or madman. Believers in Joseph as a prophet can thus find both illumination and support in Bushman’s talk. However, strictly speaking Bushman was arguing that Joseph is a more interesting and appealing figure than certain reductionist histories make him, not arguing in any direct way that Joseph must be a prophet. His paper thus welcomes a broad audience and avoids unnecessary polarization. Mormons and non-Mormons both can agree with what he says, without compromising on their faith-claims.

Responding to Bushman’s talk were Robert Remini, Richard Hughes, and Grant Underwood. Remini claimed, “Joseph Smith is the quintessential American,” and supported this claim by referring to particular features of Joseph’s life. Remini suggested that a large part of the Church’s success abroad may be due to its Americanness: “Foreigners have been going for things American since the beginning.” Remini did not claim, however, that histories of Joseph as a 19th-century American have succeeded in explaining him, and urged that historians need to do more, particularly to explain his success in founding a robust and growing movement.

Dialogue assessment: Both affable and perceptive, Remini added to Bushman’s picture, giving it a bit of his own spin. No deep disagreement expressed. Remini didn’t seem to feel any need to take a position on whether Joseph was a prophet or not, or say anything that suggested one answer or another to that question.

Hughes took a subtly different approach. Comparing Joseph to other Restorationist figures of his time, including Alexander Campbell and Anne Lee (founder of the Shakers movement), Hughes seemed to be arguing that Joseph was only at the top of a broad bell curve. The closest comparison was between Smith and Campbell (whom Sidney Rigdon had been heavily influenced by, as came up, for example, in Noel Reynold’s paper on the Lectures on Faith delivered at the March ’05 SMPT conference). Smith and Campbell agreed on some key teachings (e.g. need for restoration of church, for adult baptism, by immersion); perhaps the biggest difference can be understood as a difference between Campbell’s Enlightenment Rationalism and Smith’s Romanticism. Smith’s influence as a prophet cannot be understood merely by appeal to a 19th-century history. He drew on the powerful Biblical narrative, a cosmic narrative of creation, fall, enslavement, wandering in the desert, and redemption through Christ. But of course, lots of people have drawn on the power of the Biblical narrative. So overall, Hughes seemed clearly to be arguing that Joseph can be adequately explained without supposing that he was actually a prophet of God.

Dialogue assessment: Hughes argued firmly, in a way that seemed designed to reduce Joseph to a product of his time plus access to the Bible, but did not hit us over the head with this conclusion–I don’t think he even actually stated it. A little bit of a polemical frame of mind perhaps, but he made his point in a gentlemanly, measured way. His own view on whether Joseph was a prophet seemed to play a role implicitly in his choice of what topics to discuss, but one didn’t need to agree with him to find his points interesting and illuminating. Further, he showed finesse by making his case while agreeing with much of Bushman’s point. He did not need to reject Bushman’s call for a “transnational” understanding of Joseph; he merely suggested that the transnational context for understanding Joseph was one available to anyone of Joseph’s time and place. Hughes thus provided a fine example of how to discuss differences gracefully, without compromising one’s own convictions.

Underwood did not have to do much clean-up, if that was part of his job as the final respondent, since everything said that far was compatible with Joseph’s being a prophet, or not. Underwood expanded on Bushman’s point that Joseph needs to be understood in a transnational context. For example, he compared Joseph’s work in bringing forth ancient texts to a Tibetan Buddhist practice of bringing forth texts called “Termas” which are said to have been written by Buddhist sages long ago, then hidden in jars to be brought forward later, to refresh the tradition. Some Termas are not claimed to be based on any existing text, but are called “mind Termas” — reminiscent of the Book of Moses. Underwood also mentioned how a Danish historian is comparing Joseph Smith with Kierkegaard.

Dialogue assessment: Underwood’s talk, too, could be appreciated regardless of whether one believes Joseph was a prophet.

So, overall, Session 1 went very well. I would have liked to see more overt disagreement; it was a little bit of a love-fest with everyone agreeing that there are all kinds of ways to tell illuminating stories about Joseph Smith. The disagreements one could pursue most constructively, though, would be on something other than whether Joseph was a true prophet. The participants have spent too long already making up their minds on that, and largely for reasons that would be better discussed in a more personal setting. One does hope, though, that a dialogue that deepens our understanding of Joseph would make us more likely to reach the right conclusions about his divine calling.

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16 Responses to Interreligious Dialogue at the Library of Congress

  1. Jonathan Max Wilson on May 11, 2005 at 6:31 pm

    Thanks for the review Ben and your interesting observations. I watched the second day of the conference via the web, but I missed everything from the first day except for Elder Oaks. I look forward to the videos being made available.

  2. Ronan on May 11, 2005 at 7:02 pm

    Hi Ben,

    success in interreligious dialogue will have to be based on its serving a purpose other than leading to one conclusion or another on whether Joseph was a prophet of God

    Amen. We should aim in these things to rise above he’s a prophet/he’s not a prophet polemic. For the most part, the conference was successful. In a sense this was a pioneering effort: has a conference with such strong church support ever attempted to be so “interreligious”?

    BTW, further thoughts of mine (on “world religions”) are at United Brethren

  3. Melissa on May 11, 2005 at 9:13 pm

    Ben,

    Your description of the conference as an “occasion for interreligious dialogue” is an interesting one. It is a helpful way to frame a conference that suffered in my opinion from ambiguity of purpose. Although the topic of the conference, Joseph Smith, was abundantly clear, I think many attendees, including myself, were uncertain what the intended outcome was based on the widely divergent papers that were presented.

    The question that Davies posed during the last session about just what it was that we were all doing there gave voice to what many attendees were wondering throughout the conference. Were we there to honor Joseph Smith, to celebrate his religious genius and the LDS church as a result of that genius? Were we there as historians to place Joseph Smith in his American context? Were we there to review Joseph’s unique theological contributions? To look at the historicity of the Book of Mormon? Was this supposed to be an academic conference that experimented with various incarnations of Mormon Studies? Or, as Ben suggests, were we there to practice interreligious dialogue? Of course, these purposes aren’t incompatible, but the dogmatic and apologetic tone of some of the papers, stood in marked contrast to other more sophisticated, scholarly pieces which at times caused unfortunate miscommunication and unnecessary discomfort that impeded real dialogue in a couple of the sessions.

    Further, although there were many excellent papers ( Richard Bushman’s, Terryl Givens’ and Douglas Davies’ are stand-outs) it was also disappointing that the respondents rarely mentioned the papers they were ostensibly assigned to critique. As a result there was very little sustained engagement with the ideas in these papers not only because the respondents often presented only tangentially related work, but also because in every session Q&A was given short shrift. Perhaps we can talk at greater length here at T&S about the content of these papers.

    Finally, Ben, you write,”It seems to me that in any cooperative endeavor, success requires that the participants feel they are working toward a goal they share, even if some of them also have goals not shared by all.” You then note that this sense of shared purpose was sometimes present and sometimes not at this conference. Part of this, no doubt, is due to the fact that we are still trying to figure out how to both be good Mormons and do good work on Mormonism. It is a complicated skill and one we need lots of practice to master. But, part of the problem has nothing to do with Mormons doing work in Mormon Studies. The larger questions—the issue of whether and how to bracket questions of truth, whether the study of religion must move beyond the historical or phenomenological description into explanation, how to carry on theological debate with believers if you are an unbeliever and vice versa—-are all important theoretical problems (about which there is lively debate and no consensus) in the larger study of religion. While we have a long way to go in Mormon Studies, some of the challenges we are encountering are endemic to the field itself.

    For this reason, I was especially interested in Grant Underwood’s talk. I cannot comment on his analysis of Tibetan Buddhism because that is outside my competency, but I thought his paper was an intriguing as a model of how to test new theories in religious studies. He took Richard Bushman’s suggestions of placing Joseph Smith in a transnational context as a model for doing comparative work in religious studies and then ran with it to see where it would take him. More exploratory work like this needs to be done.

  4. John C. on May 12, 2005 at 8:12 am

    success in interreligious dialogue will have to be based on its serving a purpose other than leading to one conclusion or another on whether Joseph was a prophet of God

    Is this even possible? It seems to me that, well intentioned as this sentiment and goal may be, it ignores the elephant in the room. Is it even possible to draw a satisfying conclusion about Joseph Smith that doesn’t deal with this issue directly?

  5. Clark on May 12, 2005 at 2:05 pm

    So inquiring minds want to hear your thoughts on the puported uproar at the end of the second day…

  6. Rosalynde Welch on May 12, 2005 at 2:33 pm

    Ben and Melissa and others that were there: help me understand more about the “transnational” meme. What precisely does it mean to practice a transnational criticism? Does one merely look for apparent parallels in religious traditions regardless of time and place? Must one trace an intellectual or physical genealogy connecting the objects of comparison? What sorts of claims are made: that one object influences the other? that both manifest transcendent or “natural” features of religious practice? that features of one can draw attention to features of the other? The entire enterprise seems that it would foster a sloppy kind of analysis-by-resemblance that is prone to misread or misinterpret in order to force a parallel.

    In all frankness, Underwood’s references to Tibetan Buddhist practices strike me as bizarre and misguided. (This is completely unfair, I know, since I didn’t hear the paper, so that’s why I’m asking you to fill me in.)

  7. JWL on May 12, 2005 at 4:12 pm

    Bushman gave three examples of “transnational” JS biographers:

    (1) Jan Shipps who saw him in terms of general comparative studies of world religions,
    (2) John Brooke who saw him descending from the medieval magical worldview, and
    (3) Harold Bloom, who compared him and his teachings to cabalistic traditions.

    I think the point is that to understand the import of JS’s life and teachings one must look for comparisons beyond strictly reductionist explanations limited to his immediate environment.

    I am not clear what your concern is. The questions you raise could be used to criticize ANY comparative study. Are you arguing that comparisons of any person or peoples separated by time or place are invalid?

  8. Rosalynde Welch on May 12, 2005 at 5:38 pm

    JWL, thanks for the amplification. The only kinds of comparative studies that make sense to me are those that a) are able to specify a personal, intellectual, cultural, historical, etc connection between the two objects, and then use that connection to analyze the work done by one or both objects (ie Shakespeare’s _Tempest_ and Montaigne’s _Essays_: Shakespeare read Montaigne, then imported and transformed his ideas in the play), or b) use one object to deduce or illustrate general principles, and then apply those principles to a second object (ie as evidenced in remote African tribes, such-and-such structures characterize pre-industrial family structures, and these structures are also discernible in remote Guatemalan tribes) (or something). It sounds like Shipps’ work falls into the b) category; Brooke’s into a), if he uses folk traditions as a transmission mechanism. Bloom’s has always seemed a little crazy to me, and Underwood’s still does, unless I can learn more about the way he relates Tibetan Buddhism to JS. Without a transmission mechanism, or without a generalized theoretical structure, I don’t think comparisons of disparate objects really say much beyond the preoccupations of the researcher.

  9. Jed on May 13, 2005 at 10:21 am

    Rosalynde: Underwood, as Melissa suggests, was trying to apply Bushman’s suggestion to conceptualize Joseph Smith beyond his immediate context as a village scryer coming out of New York’s Burned-Over District. Underwood was comparing Smith’s gold plates and seerstones with termas, the Buddhist scriptural texts written on parchments and hidden in the ground or in caves. Underwood didn’t claim to know much about termas; he wanted to point out that talk of plates and magical stones is not beyond the pale any more than conversation about Buddhism itself.

    Bushman’s main point–drummed home in the last line of the talk–is that “a small history will not account for such a large man.” He was really arguing against American exceptionalism. Remini says Smith was more Jacksonian than Jackson, and Vogel makes Smith nothing more than a product of his own experience and psychology. Smith is explained away. Bushman finds these arguments unimaginative, unilluminating, and intellectually bankrupt. They are dead-end roads. How can a New York context explain the phenomenal growth of Mormonism? How are we to account for its international growth? Can any local context contain creative genius? It is like explaining Shakespeare by turning Stratford-upon-Avon upside down looking for scraps of material to account for a Hamlet or a Lear. Interesting but not useful within the largest historical horizon.

    This is not a new message. In 1981, Bernard Bailyn (coincidentally one of Bushman’s teachers at Harvard), gave a similar address at the American Historical Association. Bailyn claimed that the search for an American exceptualism had reached the end of the line. America had to look outside itself, across the Atlantic, to understand its own history. American historical writing has never been the same since. Bushman is not saying American perspectives are not illuminating; he is saying we can’t stop there, as Smith’s recent biographers have, and further, that comparison is more respectful and illuminating of human creativity than is the search for causes or the etiology of ideas.

  10. Ben H on May 13, 2005 at 11:18 am

    As Jed said, Underwood’s talk seemed to simply be taking a cue from Bushman. Yet Bushman’s reaction was a bit like yours, Rosalynde! He was a bit surprised and wasn’t entirely sure whether that was the sort of thing he had meant to be recommending! I thought it was an interesting parallel, but I agree it seems a bit random without some more concrete way of establishing relevance; perhaps though it is fair to let that come with time, though?

  11. Jed on May 13, 2005 at 1:10 pm

    Ben is right, I think, to place this conference within the conspectus of dialogue between unlike minds. In the long view of history, this conference will be seen much more for its process than its content. Its signification is what matters. The papers themselves were interesting but not earthshattering. (I do think Bushman’s paper will be the one landmark, but I fear I have a historian’s bias.) What was most interesting about this conference, in my view, was the venue and format: Mormons and non-Mormon scholars talking constructively about Mormonism in America’s hallowed halls. Has this ever happened before?

    Two years, Mormon and non-Mormon scholars met at Yale University to discuss Mormonism, the first conference of its kind. Instead of non-Mormons coming to BYU to speak, or individual Mormons leaving BYU or their home institutions to give invited lectures, in New Haven we saw a large body of Mormon scholars speaking to non-Mormons, and non-Mormons speaking back. That was a first halting step at dialogue. I say halting because the format at Yale offered little room for debate. Mormons gave the papers and non-Mormons the responses. That was it. No counter-responses, and limited questioning.

    Here, at the Library of Congress, we had a more generous format: non-Mormons were now allowed to take more prominent role (Douglas Davies gave the keynote address in the final session), and there was much more time for audience questions (in theory–but unfortunately it didn’t work out). The organizers wanted to open things up even further than Yale. Having attended both conference, I think the organizers succeeded. There was more interaction than at Yale. Instead of non-Mormons dismissing Mormon arguments or trying to pigeon hole Mormon claims, I think there was more openness and thoughtfulness here in D.C.

    Both conferences raised the same tension, and that is the tension of Mormon voice. Mormons are still not sure how to talk to outsiders. We are so hungry for a venue that we are unclear how to behave once we have one. Do we tell the story as Joseph Smith told it? Do we testify of the things we know to be true from personal experience? Do we dress up Mormonism in the sophisticated jargon of our disciplines? Mormons were all over the map at this conference. The BYU scholars were more inclined to let their personal commitments show, dropping the academic discourse for testimony. At times it felt like they felt like they were trying to convert the king, like Paul before Agrippa. Meanwhile the Mormons who are planted outside Provo were more cautious, talking more in the language of academe than the Mormon fireside.

    I think the Library of Congress ought to be large enough to handle all these discourses; an American religion should be able to speak about itself on its own terms. But admittedly the overlapping agendas created some confusion on the part of presenters and audience. The presenters were never quite sure if they were addressing primarily Mormons or non-Mormons, and if both, how to speak persuasively.

  12. Rosalynde Welch on May 13, 2005 at 3:15 pm

    Jed, thanks for the comparison of the Yale/LOC conferences; I wasn’t able to attend either, and your descriptions were enlightening. I think your diagnosis of the audience problem is spot on, and from what I’ve seen of the LOC archives, you make a fair critique.

    On the transnational issue, I’m totally with you (and Bushman) on the rather depressing narrowness of the environmentalist reductions of Vogel, et al, and I’ll take Bushman’s word when he says that the veins are fully tapped. On to bigger and better, if it’s to be had. But rigorous scholarly treatments of Joseph, even the best of them, will always, unavoidably, be reductionist in the sense that they will not be able to account for revelation: they can take Joseph’s claims at face value, they can amplify and explore and even admire those claims—but they won’t be able to use those claims as explanatory tools, because the warrants of academic argumentation simply won’t allow it. What it will allow, at least sometimes, is a sort of catch-all category of “genius” (that works as a coded doubled for “revelation” in LDS/academic treatments of Joseph)—an utterly unrigorous concept that reliably marks the limits of knowledge: when we don’t know how else to explain something, we throw up our hands and call it “genius.” This is almost always an unhelpful move: no greater understanding or light is cast on Joseph—or Shakespeare—by affixing the term. I strenuously disagree that local, contextual, material knowledge is irrelevant to the shape of genius: on the contrary, that sort of knowledge is almost always the best place to start. (This isn’t to say that one mustn’t leave the Burned-Over district; only to say that when one does leave, the more concrete, local and contextualized the connections, the better.) To understand Shakespeare, I would strongly argue, even on the largest historical horizon, one must start with the particularities of the emergent commercial theater in which he worked: high-flying invocations of genius, or swooping trans-everything claims usually don’t add much value.

    Listen, I’m fine with decrying American exceptionalism and launching forward into trans-Atlantic studies, as Bailyn demands, but trans-Atlantic studies have a plausible and concrete mechanism of transmission in the commercial, cultural, and political threads that cross and re-cross the pond. Comparison is a valid and useful method when it has a theoretical basis behind it and relevant connections in front of it. If Underwood wants to make the merely defensive point that it’s no more absurd for JS to claim hidden texts than for Tibetan monks to do so, then fine. But once we get beyond that, how does the comparison throw light on either object?

    (Forgive the strong argument; I’m getting ready to write an abstract for the Renaissance Society of America conference, and I need to get myself worked up.)

  13. Jed on May 13, 2005 at 4:53 pm

    Rosalynde:

    I may have misspoken. I didn’t mean to imply Bushman said “the veins are fully tapped.” He said there are other, larger veins, and we shouldn’t forget them while looking at the smaller local veins. He wouldn’t deny that village scrying in rural New England was not important in the making of Joseph Smith. He would say seeing in a stone prepared Smith to take on the role of seeing in crystals set in silver bows. If the role of moneydigger can be explained by New England, how is the role of prophet to be explained? Smith imagined a role for himself outside his own environment–that is the point. (Even if we believe an angel gave Smith the role, he still had to accept it, requiring imagination on his part.) Bushman wants to appreciate the effulgence of human imagination.

    I am not so sure all non-Mormon academic accounts will necessarily will reduce Smith. Bloom’s does not. Shipps’s does not. Karen Armstrong’s biography of Muhammad is not reductive. Neither is George Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards. One can write religious history that recreates a lived world without flattening that world to two dimensions.

    As for the word “genius,” I agree that the word can seem a little vacuous, an excuse for poor scholarship, etc., but from another persective the word can open up new vistas. If you call someone a genius, that is a call for scholars to take notice, an invitation to account for a subject worthy of consideration. If I call Shakespeare a synthethic genius, that does not make me sit on my hands. To the contrary, the word makes me stand up and take notice. I means Stratford alone will not explain this man. It means I must go searching beyond Stratford in the long history of passion plays, both on the Isles and on the continent; I go to the English humanism of Moor and Elyot and Bacon; I go to the rise of the bodily arts in Castiglione; I go to the growth of pagentry and public spectacle in the Court and interest in the university theater under Elizabeth, etc. I may even have go to ancient Greece to understand the plot devices of Sophocles before I can understand what moderns found in him. I go, in other words, far beyond Stratford. But this is not to say I eliminate Stratford. So it is with Palmyra.

    I have no problem with your strong argument. If it helps you with the abstract, all the better.

  14. Ben H on May 23, 2005 at 1:43 am

    John C. asks whether it is even possible to draw a satisfying conclusion about Joseph Smith that doesn’t deal directly with the issue of whether Joseph was a prophet.

    Look, of course this question is going to be key to any sort of overall take on Joseph Smith, and it will probably always lurk in the back of everyone’s mind when they are talking about him. But there is an awful lot of interesting stuff one can learn and discuss aside from whether he is a prophet or not. You can go and get lost in discovery for hours at a time without having to press that issue. Listen to Bushman’s, Givens’ or Davies’ talks for prime examples of this. I hope to say more about the Sat. am session in another post.

    Rosalynde, have you had a chance to listen to Underwood’s talk now? What did you think?

    Clark, partly I thought Davies was caught off-guard because he had given what were intended to be friendly observations, and yet Keller responded with more or less across-the-board resistance, as though he took Davies’ paper as an attack. Davies hadn’t meant to be implying anything about whether the LDS church is God’s true church or not, but Keller definitely put that issue on the table in his talk. Partly, though, this stems from different views of what a church could possibly look like and still be God’s one true church. Evidently Keller thinks such a church would have to be more unified than Davies does, leading to a different kind of disagreement than Davies had expected.

  15. noel00 on May 23, 2005 at 4:48 am

    Tomorrow (25th May) at Griffith University , AustraliaI get a chance to hear Bushman and Davies speak the the Interfaith Centre.Should be interesting. I first come accross Bushnam’s writings in Dialogue(Spring, 1969) where he responded to Wesley Walters paper on the revival question. Bushman relied in the work of Dr Backman which Walters argues is weak in many features. I continued a long letter exchange with him over the years , now I will see and hear the other writer. I remember when i was in the lds church asked an American couple what the GAs thought of the Journal Dialogue. They said they heard reports they were not happy with a rather weak response to a paper by a Presbyterin pastor. I later found out when obtaining the back issue who they were refering to. Whatever you guys may claim, Walters showed that much of the chronology of his First Vision account is out of kilter, the date the family arrived in Manchester, the timing of the joining by the family of the Presbyterian Church.
    So the major point was that JS’s 1838 history says the revival included the conversion of his mother and older siblings to Presbyterianism. Lucy said her conversion was after Alvin died, and he died on 19 Nov. 1823. So, I follow Marin Hill’s reconstruction and assessment that JS is conflating his 1820 vision with the revival of 1824-25.

  16. Ben H on May 23, 2005 at 3:04 pm

    noel00, this sounds like a very interesting event; wish I could go. Is there program information on the web somewhere? I suspect Bushman has thunk new thoughts on the first vision accounts since 1969, with a biography of JS coming out later this year.