Mormon Thought

Doctrine – Theology – Philosophy

In Memoriam

May 28, 2012 | 8 comments
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I spend the morning with my children at the cemetery. The high school band played, the mayor placed a wreath at the war memorial, and servicemen, including a veteran of Pearl Harbor, spoke to us. We bought red paper poppies to pin to our shirts. We didn’t talk about Memorial Day in sacrament meeting yesterday. The only mention was that the scouts would be placing flags on lawns. It seems that we should want to remember and honor those who have fought and fallen in our worship services. How many times in the Book of Mormon are the people... 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 »

Mormon Talks, Christian Sermons

May 10, 2012 | 39 comments
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Krister Stendahl, the noted Swedish theologian who was unusually considerate of the LDS Church, listed “holy envy” as one of his three rules of religious understanding. Let’s see if comparing Mormon talks with Christian sermons doesn’t create for us a bit of holy envy. I think there might be something we can learn from how other Christian denominations preach from the pulpit on Sunday. Read more »

Adventures in Family History, part 2

May 8, 2012 | 13 comments
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One Sunday evening, several months ago, I was playing around on FamilySearch, clicking back through my father, his father, his mother (or something like that), etc. After twists and turns—twists and turns I recorded so that I could get back there again—I discovered that I have ancestors from Jersey. No, not that Jersey, the one famous for Bruce and the MTV show. Its namesake, the one in the English Channel. Through my clicking, I learned that my great-great-great-grandmother was born in Jersey in 1838 and died in West Bountiful in 1912. For most, this probably wouldn’t be remarkably meaningful. I... Read more »

Mahana, You Ugly!

May 6, 2012 | 61 comments
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Let me tell you a little story. Not long ago, we moved to a new ward. After a few weeks, my husband and I were invited to come early to church to meet with a member of the bishopric. We figured, of course, that he wanted to extend a calling to one or both of us. When we arrived, he asked my husband to come in and speak with him first. So I assumed that my husband was getting the calling. To my surprise, after I was ushered into the room, the bishop’s counselor extended a calling to me.... Read more »

Review: Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia

May 3, 2012 | 6 comments
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Review: Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia

It is published as a reference work, but you can read it like a book, albeit a book of essays: Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2010; publisher’s page), edited by W. Paul Reeve and Ardis E. Parshall. Listing at $85 ($68 on Kindle), it might not find its way onto your bookshelf until a trade paperback version comes out in a few years, but at the very least it puts a very accessible LDS history reference on the shelves of America’s libraries and newsrooms, featuring 140 entries covering individuals, places, events, and issues. I stumbled across a library copy... Read more »

Troubling Dreams

April 26, 2012 | 21 comments
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I keep my visions to myself.Have you any dreams you’d like to sell? Mormons tend not to keep their visions to themselves. In his recent General Conference talk “How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life,” Elder Richard G. Scott seems to be inviting Mormons to do the same with their dreams. Read more »

Exploring Mormon Thought: Sex

April 20, 2012 | no comments
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Exploring Mormon Thought: Sex

I don’t know much about God (which is probably pretty obvious), but I have thought a lot about sex. Read more »

International Bibliography 2011

April 19, 2012 | 14 comments
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International Bibliography 2011

This year I’ve again managed to put together a bibliography of international works on Mormonism. While I thought the list was substantial last year, it is much larger this year, at least in part because I think I’ve gotten better at finding what has been published. With any luck this will help call attention to the international nature of Mormonism today and to the study of Mormonism outside of the U.S. The list includes any work that talks about Mormonism more than just in passing (as far as I can tell without actually having the work in hand) and... Read more »

Esoteric Mormonism: Marginal or Mainstream?

April 11, 2012 | 15 comments
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Esoteric Mormonism: Marginal or Mainstream?

I recently finished reading Samuel Brown’s In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death (Oxford University Press, 2012; publisher’s page). It’s an impressive book, although I disagree with the implicit argument of the book that the esoteric branch of Joseph Smith’s eclectic and diverse theology is central to his thinking and, by extension, should be central to present-day Mormonism. It is a book anyone interested in Mormon Studies should read (twice), but probably not the first or even second book on Joseph Smith that a practicing Mormon should read. Read more »

Mormon Doctrine: Confusion or Clarity?

April 5, 2012 | 53 comments
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Mormon doctrine is showing up in unlikely places lately, including the campaign trail, where earlier this week Mitt Romney squelched a questioner’s short speech that started off quoting from the Pearl of Great Price. I suspect that will not be the last doctrinal question of this campaign. But the glare of heightened publicity and attention that comes with having an LDS candidate on the presidential ticket is making it evident that Mormon doctrine — simply what it is and what it isn’t — is just not all that clear. Read more »

Notes: Mormonism and the Internet

March 29, 2012 | 9 comments
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Below are notes from today’s live-streamed presentations at Utah Valley University’s Mormonism and the Internet conference. I will bold particular comments that stand out as I listen. Readers are welcome to make additional observations in the comments. Any reader attending in person? Read more »

All History is Local: A Review of Tiki and Temple by Marjorie Newton [minor update]

March 23, 2012 | 16 comments
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All History is Local: A Review of Tiki and Temple by Marjorie Newton [minor update]

Newton, Marjorie. Tiki and Temple: The Mormon Mission in New Zealand, 1854–1958. Draper, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2012. Paperback. 343 pages. ISBN: 978-1-58958-1210. $ 29.95. Former Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, “Tip” O’Neill, is well known for saying All politics is local. By that he meant that voters choose who they support based on how it effects them locally, instead of on major national ideological issues. While how true this is may be debatable (don’t here, its off topic), I think it extends to history also. All history is local. Read more »

Call for Papers: IV Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference

March 19, 2012 | 4 comments
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IV Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference Annual Conference of the ABEM (Associação Brasileira de Estudos Mórmons) Theme “The Relationship between Headquarters and Periphery in the LDS Church” January 19, 2013 São Paulo, Brazil   Call for Papers In 1830, Joseph Smith organized the Church of Christ in Manchester, New York State, when the movement had only three distinct congregations: one in Manchester / Palmyra, another in South Bainbridge (NY) and third in Harmony (PA). In just over a year, Smith consolidated the three congregations in the area of a fourth and new congregation, directing all his followers to move to... Read more »

Policing Submissions for Baptisms for the Dead

March 7, 2012 | 44 comments
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And it’s in the news again. We have Elie Wiesel’s name slated for baptism, baptisms performed for Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal’s parents, baptism performed for Anne Frank (for the ninth time!), baptism performed for Daniel Pearl (who was killed in part, at least, because he was Jewish), and baptism performed for Gandhi. This in spite of the Church’s agreement (in 1995!) to remove Holocaust victims from the database. And, apparently, the Church has now sent out a strongly-worded letter to be read in Sacrament meetings. In the letter, the Church (strongly) reiterates the prohibition on submitting celebrity and Holocaust victim... Read more »

Taxing the United Order

February 28, 2012 | 24 comments
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Taxing the United Order

The United Order appears (for now, at least) to be a relic of the 19th century; since them, the mainstream Mormon church hasn't attempted to institute any large-scale communal economic structure based on Acts 2. And, frankly, I don't have any reason to think that it will in the 21st century; the Law of Consecration seems to be something different than economic communalism (though economic communalism fits within the Law of Consecration). Read more »

Mormon Intellectuals Part II: Jim’s Comments

February 26, 2012 | one comment
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I had previously intended to post some of Jim’s comments from an email. Instead, I’m re-posting his response to Part I here in order to further highlight what he has to say. I’ll follow this up with one more post tomorrow. Jim’s comments are as follows: I cannot tell you how touched and flattered I am by your piece, both by the kind things you say in the beginning and by the very fact that you’ve thought something I wrote worthy of such a careful, thoughtful response. My response to your essay is that I disagree with almost nothing. I think... Read more »

Mormon Intellectuals: A Response to Jim Faulconer

February 25, 2012 | 39 comments
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I disagree with some important parts of Jim’s recent piece on intellectuals in the Church (please read what he said first). By the end, I hope it’s clear that it is (in part) for “Faulconerian” reasons that I disagree with him. To begin, I’m going to indulge in a bit of biographical narcissism in order to make a point about the nature of my disagreement. The semester recently began, and as I do at the beginning of nearly every course, I told the students a story about Jim Faulconer, or rather about my undergraduate self in one of Jim’s... Read more »

Apostle Biographies or “Holes in our History?”

February 23, 2012 | 35 comments
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Apostle Biographies or “Holes in our History?”

Often I find that I am annoyed with the focus of much of Mormon History studies today. The articles and books published seem to mostly cover the Joseph Smith and Brigham Young eras, along with a bit of the later Utah period, up to the turn of the century. At least, that is my perception. Read more »

The Not-So-Great Apostasy

February 8, 2012 | 50 comments
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The Not-So-Great Apostasy

I have seen several notices publicizing an upcoming conference at BYU, Exploring Mormon Conceptions of the Apostasy. Sounds interesting, particularly in light of the one-paragraph blurb stating goals for the conference, which challenges rank and file members of the Church as well as scholars to reconsider LDS views of “the Great Apostasy”: Examining claims of historical apostasy is a pertinent task for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the last hundred years, the Great Apostasy narrative has shaped Latter-day Saint historical assumptions, contributed to the construction of Latter-day Saint social and theological identity, and... Read more »

The Real World of the Book of Mormon

February 2, 2012 | 7 comments
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The Real World of the Book of Mormon

This is the fourth in a series of posts taking a broad look at the Book of Mormon. This post continues the discussion of the prior post, The Book of Mormon as Narrative, by considering verisimilitude. This term refers to how faithfully a text represents the real world or, to various degrees, depicts events that do not conform to the readers’ view of the real world. First, a tighter definition of verisimilitude : The semblance of truth or reality in literary works; or the literary principle that requires a consistent illusion of truth to life. The term covers... Read more »

Conference Report: 3rd Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference

February 2, 2012 | 3 comments
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Conference Report: 3rd Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference

I returned yesterday from attending the 3rd annual conference of the Associação Brasileira de Estudos Mórmons (Brazilian Mormon Studies Association) inspired with the fascinating subjects covered during the conference and ready to dive into another year of research in preparation for next year’s conference. In particular, one presentation was groundbreaking, changing the perception of Mormonism in Mexico before WWII. Read more »

The Book of Mormon as Narrative

January 27, 2012 | 12 comments
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The Book of Mormon as Narrative

This is the third post in a series taking a broad view of the Book of Mormon (first, second). In this post I will discuss aspects of narrative encountered in the text. Not all scripture is narrative: consider the lengthy legal codes in the Torah and the moral exhortation found in James. Not all historical accounts are in the form of a narrative, although most history books written for the popular market are narrative histories. Most novels are in the form of a narrative, including historical fiction, which adds authorial speculation to large chunks of authentic history, often mixing... Read more »

Snow, Citizens, and Stewards

January 26, 2012 | 8 comments
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It has recently been announced that Steven E. Snow will replace Marlin K. Jensen as the new Church historian. Elder Jensen has been a wonderful historian for our church, bringing both compassion and honesty to the work.I expect this good work will continue under Elder Snow’s direction. I am curious to see what his areas of emphasis will be. I wonder if one of those areas might deal with the pioneers’ settling of West and environmental issues because in the past, Elder Snow has written on this particular stewardship topic.Elder Snow wrote an essay published in New Genesis entitled “Skipping... Read more »