Comparative religion

Two Churches, Two Gospels

January 30, 2014 | 21 comments
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As a Mormon, you belong to two churches: your local congregation, be it ward or branch (the Local Church), and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Institutional Church). While something similar may be true for members of other denominations, it is more true for and has more effect on Latter-day Saints. You may draw strength from both your Local Church and from the Institutional Church; I do, and I think most Mormons do. But they are surprisingly distinct units, with rather different, if complementary, agendas. Read more »

A Mormon Holiday

October 2, 2012 | 10 comments
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Sometimes I am a little envious of my friends whose religions involve a year full of meaningful religious holidays that strengthen and define them both culturally and spiritually. Ramadan, for instance, is a sort of month-long holiday for Muslims, complete with special foods and lots of family time. When we lived in Tunisia, I was amazed at the community cohesiveness produced by a holiday that disrupted people’s lives so much for so long. Not much work of any kind was accomplished during the month of Ramadan, but family ties were strengthened, religious convictions deepened, and there was a palpable feeling that... Read more »

You and Your Righteous Religious Mind

May 24, 2012 | 14 comments
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You and Your Righteous Religious Mind

Psychology has come a long way the last couple of decades. Instead of seeing us coming into the world with a mind like a blank slate, psychologists and cognitive scientists are discovering through cleverly designed empirical research that we are born with a preloaded mental operating system. It predisposes us to see the world like emotional, opinionated, tribal human beings rather than like rational, logical robots. You can get the whole story, with special emphasis on how moral systems and individual moral convictions are formed, in Jonathan Haidt’s new book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by... Read more »

Mormons and Muslims

October 24, 2011 | 62 comments
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Mormons and Muslims

I had a university professor who lived in Iran and ran a television program dedicated to classical Persian music prior to the Islamic revolution. He spent a lot of time during the seventies crossing sketchy borders into various ‘Stans. One of his tools for successful border crossing (not to mention survival) was a pamphlet he wrote himself, highlighting similarities between Mormons and Muslims; things like a founding prophet, directly revealed scripture, fasting, and polygamy. I was intrigued by his comparisons, and this class was one of the many things that prompted me to study Arabic and learn more about Islam.... Read more »

Bible, Church, and Mystic

August 24, 2011 | 19 comments
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On a recent trip, I took along as reading material Christianity: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2004) by Linda Woodhead. Like all of the books in the wildly successful VSI series, the book is short but informative. I want to focus on the author’s analysis of how views about divine power and earthly authority can be used to classify Christian churches and denominations, then try to place Mormonism and the LDS Church within that classification scheme. Read more »

Downgrading Doctrine

November 22, 2010 | 20 comments
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Here is a second post (see No. 1) drawn from Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One (HarperOne, 2010). In Chapter 7, titled Judaism: The Way of Exile and Return, Prothero comments on how ritual and ethics receive greater emphasis in Judaism and doctrine receives less emphasis than in, for example, Christianity. I wonder to what extent this is also true of Mormonism. Noting how narrative Exodus is followed immediately by the detailed legal and ethical recitations in Leviticus, Prothero notes that Judaism is “about both story and law,” and that Judaism stresses “doing over believing, orthopraxy over orthodoxy.” The... Read more »

Mormonism in God Is Not One

November 12, 2010 | 26 comments
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I’ve been reading Stephen Prothero’s new book, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World — and Why Their Differences Matter (HarperOne, 2010). I’m rather enjoying it, which is a bit of a surprise given that I’m not generally a religions of the world kind of guy. Anyway, Prothero devoted a generous two pages in his 34-page chapter on Christianity to Mormonism and said some refreshingly pleasant things about us. Read more »

An Apostle on Muslims

September 21, 2010 | 46 comments
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An Apostle on Muslims

Yesterday, I read the following comments on Muslims by an LDS Apostle: I am aware it is not without a great deal of prejudice that we as Europeans, and Americans, and Christians in religion and in our education, so called, have looked down upon the history of Muhammad, or even the name; and even now we may think that Islam, compared with Christianity as it exists in the world, is a kind of heathenism, or something dreadful… Read more »

Claremont Conference: What Is Mormon Studies?

April 7, 2010 | no comments
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Claremont Conference: What Is Mormon Studies?

The Claremont Mormon Studies Student Association is holding its Spring 2010 Conference on April 23 and 24 on the theme What Is Mormon Studies? Transdisciplinary Inquiries into an Emerging Field. The Conference line-up is as follows: Keynote Address Jan Shipps – Indiana University-Purdue University Critical Approaches to Mormon Studies Loyd Ericson – “Where is the Mormon in Mormon Studies?  Subject, Method, Object” Cheryl L. Bruno – “Mormon History from the Kitchen Window: White is the Field in Essentialist Feminism” Blair Van Dyke – “How Wide the Divide? The Absence of Conversation between Mormon Studies and Mormon Mainstream” Christopher C.... Read more »

James Alison and the reconciled discourse of dissent

March 24, 2010 | 11 comments
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James Alison and the reconciled discourse of dissent

Last week a friend invited me to attend a lecture sponsored by the  SLU Theology Club and featuring James Alison, a Roman Catholic priest and theologian.  Alison grew up in Britain, was raised in a low-church Protestant tradition, converted to Catholicism, and now resides in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, living as an openly gay Catholic and working with AIDS patients. That collision of proper nouns seemed provocative. The talk was to be titled “The Gift of the Spirit and the Shape of Belonging: Meditations on the Church as Ecclesial Sign.”  Even more promising: Catholic ecclesiology shares something in common with its... Read more »

Putting the Sunday in the Super Bowl

February 3, 2010 | 57 comments
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Some time ago on T&S, I survived a discussion on the history of Sunday (got no t-shirt though). That knock-down drag-out event included some talk of sports, but overall was pretty general. In light of the upcoming Super Bowl I thought it might be fun(?) to look at the rise of Sunday sport more specifically. So get out the nachos and dip. Or lace up the gloves, or whatever. Read more »

Appreciating the Qur’an

January 19, 2010 | 72 comments
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Appreciating the Qur’an

The several parallels between the Book of Mormon and the Qur’an have been noted before: the Qur’an serves as proof of Muhammad’s prophethood, an additional (although superseding) witness of the Bible’s God and salvation history, the source of devotional reading and instruction for believers. It is central to the piety of Muslims and commands their highest esteem. For non-believers to glibly dismiss it offends Muslims the same way we take umbrage when the Book of Mormon is described as something any nineteenth-century, Bible-literate yokel could have tossed off between lunch and dinner. In other ways, though, the Qur’an is... Read more »

Populism and the Early Church

September 3, 2009 | 13 comments
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I finally got my hands on a copy of The Democratization of American Christianity, Nathan O. Hatch’s look at how the egalitarian democratic spirit that pervaded post-Revolutionary America influenced five early American religious movements: the Christians (such as the Disciples of Christ), the Methodists, the Baptists, black churches, and Mormonism. Read more »

Reflections On an Interfaith Household

July 27, 2009 | 97 comments
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“She won’t join the church because we won’t let her practice polyandry.” That’s what my husband told the Stake President at his last interview. Read more »

Divide? Maybe not so much — Part 2

July 16, 2009 | 51 comments
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(See my disclaimer in Part 1 concerning the title) So, let’s discuss some of the less-acknowledged ways Mormons and evangelicals are alike. First we’ll start with things in evangelical thought which bear an unexpected resemblance to LDS thought. Read more »

Grassroots-Style Dispensations

July 7, 2009 | 18 comments
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Are Mormons exclusivists or universalists? Read more »

Divide? Maybe not so much — Part 1

July 2, 2009 | 40 comments
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(See my disclaimer about the title) There are many similarities between Mormonism and evangelical Christianity which are generally uncontested by both parties. I thought I would cover these prior to doing a post on the similarities which I suspect will be more controversial. Read more »

What death can teach us about heaven and hell

July 1, 2009 | 35 comments
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People are always making assertions about what heaven must contain in order for it to qualify as heaven for them, some of these assertions being more jokes than anything else. “It’s not heaven without sex.” “It wouldn’t be heaven if isn’t there.” “If heaven doesn’t have Egg McMuffins, I don’t want to go there.” Read more »

Why We’re Confused

June 27, 2009 | 62 comments
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An old adage among outsiders who study Mormonism states that determining what is and is not Mormon doctrine is a lot like trying to nail jello to a wall—except that the latter feat is entirely possible while the former remains a struggle to this day. Evangelicals who interact with Mormons often express frustration to that end. It seems that as soon as we think we’ve figured out what Mormons believe and how to respond to it, the next Mormon we meet will tell us “we don’t believe that,” “that’s not doctrine,” or “that’s just his opinion.” It would probably... Read more »

A New Mormon Gateway

May 29, 2009 | 8 comments
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A website with answers. That’s what Time Magazine calls the new religion website Patheos.com in “What Do Religions Believe? A Website with Answers.” The Time article describes the new site as one “that sets out to explain the differences among religions as well as illuminate the areas of common ground.” Just today the site unveiled its Mormon Gateway section, a menu of resources designed to complement the more detailed information presented in the Library section of the site. Read more »

Hey, Are Those Real Miracles?

April 22, 2009 | 22 comments
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It happens every year. I’m walking past the library, or some other building loaded with windows, and one of my students bursts out the door and runs toward me with eyes dilating, hair frazzling, nerves fraying, arms waving, and body quaking to ask, out of breath, did these things really happen? “Things” referring to the miracles and visions we have been reading about in the sixteenth-century autobiography assigned that week. What the student means is this: did the miracles or visions happen in an objective sense, so that if I or other witnesses would have been there we would... Read more »

Contemplating Missionary Work in Cuba

April 14, 2009 | 47 comments
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The Obama administration announced yesterday that it is easing a handful of restrictions imposed by the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Among other things, Cuban-Americans will now be allowed to travel to Cuba as much as they like and will be free to send money and gifts to friends and relatives without securing travel or export licenses from the Treasury or the Commerce Department. Read more »

What I Learned about Mormon Courts (and the Writing of Mormon History)

April 13, 2009 | 17 comments
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For those who are interested in Mormon legal history, my article “Preaching to the Court House and Judging in the Temple” was just published in the most recent issue of the BYU Law Review. (You can download a copy of the article here.) This article provides my own take on the rise and fall of civil cases in church courts in the nineteenth-century. Of course the story of how nineteenth-century Mormons took lawsuits over broken contracts, wandering cows, disputed property lines, and the like to their local bishops has been told before, most elaborately in Ed Firmage and Collin... Read more »

Your Easter Sermon: Food Storage

April 12, 2009 | 45 comments
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Every year on T&S there appears around Easter time a certain amount of Holy-Week envy. I haven’t seen any yet this year, and so I thought I’d take my turn to express a little. Or better, maybe this would be a good opportunity to get a sense of what is going on in Mormon Easter services nowadays. What happened in your ward this year? Read more »

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