Cutting Edge Latter-day Saint Research, December 2023

Ehat, Stephen Kent. “Asymmetry in Chiasms, With a Note About Deuteronomy 8 and Alma 36.”Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship,Volume 59 (2023)

Some students of the Book of Mormon have claimed that chapter 36 of the book of Alma is structured as a chiasm. Some of the proposals depart from perfect symmetry, presenting elements of the suggested chiasm seemingly out of sequence. This has often been pointed to as a weakness in the proposed chiasm or as a problem arising from translation or editorial work, or even as evidence that no real chiasm exists over the text of the chapter. Perhaps, however, asymmetry may be a deliberate feature of ancient chiasmus. Understanding the presence and role of occasional asymmetry or skews, as they are called, may help us better appreciate the rhetorical tools employed in crafting chiastic texts anciently. In particular, we can see that the structure of Alma 36 may well be a beautifully crafted chiasmus featuring what may be an intentional skew similar to those that scholars have identified elsewhere in scripture. One such other chiastic text with a skew in it appears to be Deuteronomy 8. Indeed, one skew proposed in Alma 36, together with conceptual and other structural characteristics of the text, including the proposed chiasm of the text, perhaps suggests that some of the message and structure of Deuteronomy 8 may have served as a model for part of the message and structure of Alma 36.

Austin, Michael. The Testimony of Two Nations: How the Book of Mormon Reads, and Rereads, the Bible. University of Illinois Press, 2024.

Like the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible, the Book of Mormon uses narratives to develop ideas and present instruction. Michael Austin reveals how the Book of Mormon connects itself to narratives in the Christian Bible with many of the same tools that the New Testament used to connect itself to the Hebrew Bible to create the Christian Bible. As Austin shows, the canonical context for interpreting the Book of Mormon includes the Christian Bible, the Book of Mormon itself, and other writings and revelations that hold scriptural status in most Restoration denominations. Austin pays particular attention to how the Book of Mormon connects itself to the Christian Bible both to form a new canon and to use the canonical relationship to reframe and reinterpret biblical narratives. This canonical context provides an important and fruitful method for interpreting the Book of Mormon.

Levinson, Julian. ““A bunch of blond meshugeners”: Mormons in the American Jewish Imagination.” Beyond Whiteness: Revisiting Jews in Ethnic America (2023).

Cragun, R.T., Gull, B. and Phillips, R., 2023. Mormons Are No Longer a Majority in Utah: Causes, Consequences, and Implications for the Sociology of Religion. Journal of Religion and Demography, 10(1-2), pp.162-184.

This paper uses a sample of Utahans to estimate the percentage of the state belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS, or Mormon Church). We find that the Mormon share of Utah’s population is lower than is commonly believed. This finding has relevance for certain theories in the sociology of religion that make inferences about church growth and vitality based on the religious demography of Utah. We show how the process of secularization, changes in Mormon fertility, and shifts in migration into Utah combine to alter the religious landscape of the state. We close with a discussion of the implications of our findings for the sociology of religion.

Walker, Alexis Romero. “Digital Discussions among Women Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: Vulnerability in Private Facebook Groups Grounded in Motherhood.” Journal of Religion, Media and Digital Culture 12, no. 2-3 (2023): 185-203.

Latter-day Saint women find comfort in community, including in online spaces. This study is a digital observation of a private Facebook group of thousands of lds mothers. It recognizes patterns around conversations of religion, politics, and gender roles. It examines how lds women create or maintain identity through interpretation of moments where vulnerable topics are discussed. The study expresses the importance in better understanding religious groups of women and their communicative practices that influence their identity within private online groups. The study also provides a framework for the methodology of exploring large but private groups on social media platforms.

Huston, M. David. “Racial Innocence and the Christus-Based Latter-day Saints Symbol.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 56, no. 4 (2023): 63-81.

On April 4, 2020, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) formally adopted an institutional symbol that is now prominently displayed on the Church logo and is imprinted on Church publications, websites, videos, and other forms of communication. This symbol includes a depiction of Bertel Thorvaldsen’s statue Christus Consolator. As philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich notes, all religious symbols both point beyond themselves and are also socially situated; symbols do not, in and of themselves, communicate outside a given cultural understanding.1 The crucifix, for instance, carries deep theological meaning for many Christians, not because there is anything inherently communicative about two perpendicular lines but because within the cultural milieu of Christianity (1) the crucifix points to deeper theological realities tied to belief in Jesus and (2) the crucifix reinforces and engages a particular socially constructed way of understanding of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. All that is to say, a symbol is a space of social exchange that simultaneously draws us into deeper reflection and reinforces a particular cultural (socially situated) understanding. The reality that symbols are a space of social exchange is also necessarily true for the LDS Christus-based symbol.

There are a variety of ways in which the new LDS symbol could be analyzed. This essay seeks to focus narrowly on the new LDS symbol’s cultural interaction with the issue of race, specifically the way in which this new symbol reinforces the idea of “Jesus-as-white” and the impacts this theology of whiteness has on LDS adherents. Following the lead of Joanna Brooks, this essay will generally frame the discussion against the backdrop of racial innocence. As will be discussed in more detail below, Brooks describes racial innocence as including the “performance of not-noticing” and “holy ignorance” when it comes to issues of race and, more specifically, institutional racism.2 Racial innocence is a particularly applicable framework for an analysis of the new Christus logo for two reasons: (1) Put plainly, the physical image of Jesus portrayed in the Christus, and thus in the new symbol, is based on a white body; and (2) the LDS Church has not yet acknowledged the reality that it has formally adopted a white Jesus as its institutional symbol nor has it grappled with the implications that this decision may have on LDS adherents.

In this essay, I will examine the LDS Church’s new Christus-based symbol and how it interacts with contemporary discussions of race. First, I will examine the Christus itself and touch on the contemporaneous social situation surrounding the LDS Church’s embracing of the statue. Second, I will look at the stated (official) intention behind the new Christus-based symbol, including the ways in which LDS leadership tried to steer meaning construction, and thus how the new Christus-based symbol enacts a form of racial innocence. Lastly, I will briefly consider some of the theological impacts of this new symbol. I hope to demonstrate that, as in other situations where racial innocence is present, intentional or not, the announcement of the new LDS symbol demonstrated a “willed obliviousness” to the issue of race and “especially to the thorny moral responsibility entailed in institutional racism.”

Howlett, David, and Nancy Ross. “Creating a Feminist Religious Counterpublic: RLDS Feminists and Women’s Ordination Advocacy in America, 1970–1985.” Religion and American Culture: 1-28.

The 1970s witnessed an efflorescence of religious feminism in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, particularly around the issue of women’s ordination. We pose a model for understanding this development—the formation of publics/counterpublics—and explore how it illuminates our case study. Drawing upon oral history interviews and archival sources, we document how RLDS women created independent publications, grassroots consciousness-raising groups, feminist classes and conferences, and Women-Church–inspired worship to reimagine priesthood within their church. We conclude that the lens of a counterpublic offers a capacious view of our topic, one capable of integrating both social movement theory and network theory. Furthermore, we suggest that the RLDS example featured in this essay is simply a manifestation of a larger late twentieth-century American “feminist religious counterpublic” formed across many religious denominations and groups that held a shared feminist social imaginary.

W. Jindra, Ines, Jenna Thompson, and Fredi Giesler. “Gender, Symbolic and Social Boundaries, and Deconversion from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” Sociology of Religion (2023): srad043.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is characterized by specific expectations in the realm of gender roles and sexuality, expectations which can be interpreted as heteronormative symbolic boundaries between the LDS Church and the world at large. In this article, through qualitative interviews, we explore the ways 27 women who leave the Church are influenced by, respond to, and ultimately reject some of the symbolic boundaries. We found that many women struggle with gendered expectations regarding home, careers, with norms regarding heterosexuality and sexuality within marriage, and gender identity conformity expectations, rejecting them at different times in their lives. Intersecting with the life course, we demonstrate how the interaction between the rejection of these symbolic boundaries and experienced social boundaries in the form of exclusion from the family, community, and church-related institutions contributes to deconversion and shapes its consequences afterward.

Palmer, Jason. “Tiny Papers: Peruvian Mormon Substances of Relatedness.” Dialogue 56, no. 4 (2023).

Smith, Christopher C. “A People’s History of the Book of Mormon Archaeology: Excavating the Role of “Folk” Practitioners in the Emergence of a Field.” Dialogue 56, no. 3 (2023).



5 comments for “Cutting Edge Latter-day Saint Research, December 2023

  1. Stephen, do you have any thoughts on Cragun et al.? It seems to overlap with some of your areas of interest. It seems to me like there might be two stories to tell. One is that areas of high LDS density tend to disperse over time as people move in and out, and you’d also expect Utah to moderate politically. The other is that religious affiliation is declining, and Utah will take on harder political edges as the moderating effects of religious observance decrease, as has been suggested for Evangelicalism in southern states.

  2. I just read: Smith, Christopher C. “A People’s History of the Book of Mormon Archaeology: Excavating the Role of “Folk” Practitioners in the Emergence of a Field.” Dialogue 56, no. 3 (2023).

    Good stuff. Thank you.

  3. @Jonathan: It’s paywalled, so I haven’t been able to get into the nitty gritty technical details, but I’m not surprised by the topline. We all know the official church numbers are upward biased because most people don’t bother to remove their names from the records. And, like you say, secularization, plus people moving in and out across time now that members aren’t religiously tied to Utah. The Utah diaspora is a real thing, plus the booming tech sector and California diaspora affecting non-member move-ins, etc.

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