Category: Mormon Studies

Imperial Zions

Latter-day Saints in the 19th century existed at a paradoxical intersection of American history.  When they fled to Alta California to settle the Great Basin, they were refugees fleeing from the United States.  Defiantly practicing plural marriage in the face of federal laws that opposed the principle, they came to face a heavy-handed effort by Americans to colonize their community of Deseret to match the broader American culture.  At the same time, they were colonizers in their own right, settling land claimed by other peoples for hundreds of years by dispossessing the Native Americans, while also launching a missionary effort into the Pacific Ocean.  In Imperial Zions: Religion, Race, and Family in the American West and the Pacific, Amanda Hendrix-Komoto explores these paradoxes and how the Latter-day Saints (Euro-American, Native American, and Pacific Islander) navigated them. In many ways, Imperial Zions itself sits at the intersection of several landmark studies of Latter-day Saint history, synthesizing them together while building on that foundation.  I felt like it brought together W. Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color (Oxford University Press, 2015), Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House Full of Females (Knopf, 2017), Darren Parry’s The Bear River Massacre: A Shoshone History (BCC Press, 2019), and Hokulani Aikau’s A Chosen People, a Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawai’i (University of Minnesota Press, 2012) together in one place to have a conversation and work out how they all fit together in a larger…

Clarifications on Uto-Aztecan

This post by Brian Stubbs, a well-respected linguist with numerous publications on the history of Uto-Aztecan languages, is a response to an earlier post by Jonathan Green from 2019.   In Times and Seasons, January 6, 2019, Jonathan Green published a post “Uto-Aztecan and Semitic: Too Much of a Good Thing.” A commenter, Steve J, asked: “I hope Stubbs will at some point address the concerns expressed in the post.”  Steve’s hope is justified and a response is rightfully due.  I did not learn of the post until long after it was written, thus the delay. Green is kind and fair in his opening paragraphs on my background and credentials. Later in the comments, he is again more than decent in my defense. So this is nothing against Green, only a clarification that he and many readers may appreciate. The research involves Uto-Aztecan (UA), one language family of some 30 related languages from the Utes in the north to the Aztecs in the south. UA contains a substantial amount of Semitic and Egyptian. Because some answers to the concerns are addressed in former publications, we refer to those past works with these abbreviations: Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary (2011) as UACV, which was favorably reviewed (Hill 2012) and praised by all UA specialists; Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan (2015) as Exploring; the 2nd edition of Changes in Languages from Nephi to Now (2020) as Changes in…

Relief Society Records

Documents feel like treasures to me.  They give insight into the past and have to be mined to get everything you can out of them.  Because of that, it’s really exciting that the Church has begun to release minutes from the Relief Society General Board.  In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Kurt Manwaring interviewed Anne Berryhill about the minutes that have been released.  What follows here is a co-post to the full interview. In the interview, Anne Berryhill introduced the meeting minutes as follows: During the inaugural meeting of the Nauvoo Relief Society, on March 17, 1842, Joseph Smith said: “The minutes of your meetings will be precedents for you to act upon—your Constitution and law.” (Minutes, 17 Mar. 1842) The Relief Society General Board Minutes contain records of the meetings and work of the Relief Society General Presidency and Board from its inception in Nauvoo in 1842 and can be seen as the constitution and law of Relief Society globally. The records represent efforts to organize and administer Relief Society both at a church-wide and local level. They reflect the work of women who sought to care for one another physically, morally, and spiritually. Early welfare efforts, home industry, discourses, and visits are documented. Collaborative work with national and international organizations is detailed within these records. They cover a wide range of topics and allow one to see how the work of Relief Society…

Accuracy of the Journal of Discourses

One of my ongoing dreams is to be able to afford a full set of the Journal of Discourses as part of my collection of Latter-day Saint books (though given the price tag,  it probably won’t happen any time soon). In any case, the Journal of Discourses holds an interesting place in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It is not an official Church publication, contains a lot of statements that aren’t regarded as doctrinally sound today, and its accuracy is questionable, but it is also one of the primary sources through which we access the words of earlier Church leaders.  In a recent interview at From the Desk, LaJean Carruth (a professional transcriber of manuscripts written in Pitman and Taylor shorthands and the Deseret Alphabet at the Church History Library) discussed some of her findings from transcribing the original shorthand records behind some of the sermons published in the Journal of Discourses. In the interview, Carruth shared an introduction to the Journal of Discourses: The Journal of Discourses began as a private venture endorsed by the First Presidency. George Darling Watt reported the proceedings of Sunday sermons, general conferences, and other meetings in Pitman shorthand. He then transcribed many of these for publication in the Deseret News. He was not paid for this work, and had a large family to support. It was suggested that Watt publish transcriptions of his sermons in England, and use the profits from this transcription…

Saints 3: Thoughts from Scott Hales and Jed Woodworth

I hope by now it’s apparent that I am a fan of the Saints history series and that I’ve been really looking forward to Volume 3, which comes out on the 22nd.  I will say, it’s fantastic, but you’ll get to read more of my thoughts next week.  Today, however, Kurt Manwaring published an interview with Scott Hales (General Editor and lead writer) and Jed Woodworth (General Editor and lead historian) that discusses the volume.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview. In Volume 3, we’re entering an era in the volume where the Church begins to become the modern Church as we know it, and with the growth that comes during that era, it becomes more difficult to capture all the different threads of the Church’s worldwide history.  Hales and Woodworth discussed some of how they deal with that growing complexity in a way that doesn’t bloat down the narrative: Scott Hales: When we’re considering a story for Saints, we look for three things. First, we’re looking for interesting stories—stories that will engage readers. Second, we’re looking for sacred stories—stories that show people making and keeping covenants with God. Third, we’re looking for stories that show change in the Church over time. We look for stories that help us advance the narrative and show how the Church changes and evolves under the Lord’s direction. Since we know we can’t make Saints a comprehensive history of the Church, our aim is to make it…

Let’s Talk about the Book of Abraham–a Review

Kerry Muhlstein’s Let’s Talk about the Book of Abraham Is the latest entry in a series that Deseret Book has been publishing to address controversial or touchy topics in the Church.  Based on my experience with Brittany Chapman Nash’s Let’s Talk About Polygamy (the previous volume in this series of books), I had expected something like the Very Short Introduction series by Oxford University Press, with a scholarly discussion of the topic.  Muhlstein’s work does indeed follow this pattern, presenting a concise, readable, and informative in discussing the Book of Abraham.  Unlike the Very Short Introduction series, though, it is written from an overtly faithful perspective and is apologetic in its orientation.  It is a good, fast-paced introduction for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the ongoing discussion of this controversial entry in the Pearl of Great Price. The book is divided into three sections.  The first explores the history of the Book of Abraham, looking at Abraham, the papyrus scrolls that Joseph Smith would later purchase, the translation project, and eventual publication of the book.  The second section explores a series of questions about the Book of Abraham, including questions about the process of translating the Book of Abraham, the facsimiles and explanations offered in the published Book of Abraham, and historical evidences that align with the contents of the Book of Abraham.  The final section is small (less than 10 pages) and briefly…

John Sillito’s B. H. Roberts: A Life in the Public Arena (book review)

In traditional Christianity, there are significant figures known as the Early Church Fathers who are noted as influential Christian theologians and writers who established the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of Christianity as we know it today.  While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is still a form of Christianity and is indebted to these early Christian thinkers, Mormonism is its own movement and I’ve often pondered on who we would consider to be the Church Fathers (or Parents) of the Latter-day Saints.  Certainly many of the presidents of the Church fall in this category—all three Joseph Smiths, Brigham Young, and Wilford Woodruff among them.  Beyond that, however, who would be considered a part of that category?  Certainly Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Eliza R. Snow, James E. Talmage, and Bruce R. McConkie stand out as candidates.  Emmaline B. Wells and John A. Widtsoe come to mind as well.  It’s probably no surprise to anyone who has been reading my writing for a bit, however, that the first candidate I would suggest is B. H. Roberts. Over the course of the almost 90 years that have passed since his death, Elder Brigham Henry Roberts (1857-1933) has received the high praise of being called Mormonism’s most eminent intellectual,[1] the best officially accepted theologian that Mormonism has known,[2] one of our most important historians,[3] and the most prolific and most effective defender of the Church.[4]  Imagine my delight, then, to find…

A Summary of the Arrington Mormon History Lecture: “A Marvelous Work: Reading Mormonism in West Africa”

What does Mormonism look like when reconstructed from texts in a non-American cultural context?  The self-styled Mormon Churches that developed in West Africa during the 1960s and 1970s (prior to the lifting of the priesthood and temple ban on individuals with Black African ancestry) provide a fascinating glimpse into this question that Laurie Maffly-Kipp explored at the 26th annual Arrington Mormon History Lecture in her lecture “A Marvelous Work: Reading Mormonism in West Africa.”  I didn’t get off work in time to get up to Logan, Utah and attend in person, but they did offer a live-stream of the event, which I was able to listen to, and thought I would share a summary of what was shared during the lecture.[1] Prior to lifting the ban in 1978, the Church had very little established in Africa in the way of missions or congregations.  Through exposure to the Church via Western education, a 1958 article in the Reader’s Digest called “The Mormon Church: A Complete Way of Life,” and dreams, West Africans began to develop an interest in Mormonism and sought out literature about the Church.  Missionary pamphlets, James E. Talmage’s Articles of Faith, LeGrand Richards’s A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, and a Church magazine known as The Improvement Era were the most studied Mormon literature in the area, and once some individuals had read these sources, they began to preach and form congregations that were styled as Mormonism or…

Waiting For Saints 3

Three years ago this month, Saints, Volume 1: The Standard of Truth, 1815-1846 was published.  Saints, Volume 2: No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893 followed about a year-and-a-half later in February 2020.  If later volumes had followed the same cadence for releases, we’d have seen Saints, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893-1955 right around now and Saints, Volume 4: Sounded in Every Ear, 1955-The Recent Past in early 2023.[1]  I went to check on that recently and noticed that the Saints FAQ on the official site of the history series now indicates that: “Saints, Volume 2 was released in February 2020. Volumes 3 and 4 will follow at roughly the pace of one volume every 2 years.”[2]  So, we still have about six months to go before we see Volume 3 (sigh) and it will likely be at least early 2024 before we see Volume 4.  I’m not surprised that the volumes are taking longer than I had hoped they would to come out—they are complex undertakings and the COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy on project timelines.  I have been favorably impressed with the volumes out so far, however, and Volume 3 covers what may be my favorite time period of Church history, which is why I’m anxious to see it come out. While I wait for Saints, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893-1955 to come out early next year, I figured I’d take some time to discuss why…

Terryl Givens on Eugene England

In general, the people who are in a position to be most influential in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been official Church leaders.  That’s not always the case, however, since there are a number of members of the Church who have proven influential and important in different ways—Truman Madsen, Hugh Nibley, Leonard Arrington, and Eugene England to name a few.  Among these, England was a notable figure in the rise of Mormon Studies due to his role in founding Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, founding The Association for Mormon Letters, participating in founding the first official university Mormon studies program, and for his many essays exploring Latter-day Saint culture, belief, and life.  At times, however, his efforts proved controversial and brought the ire of Church leaders.  Terryl Givens recently discussed the life and legacy of Eugene England with Kurt Manwaring in an interview about his new biography, “Stretching the Heavens: The Life of Eugene England and the Crisis of Modern Mormonism” (University of North Carolina Press, 2021).  What follows here is a co-post to the full interview, with excerpts and some discussion.  For those who want to read the full interview, follow the link here. Eugene England is shown as a flawed figure by Givens, functioning both as a “unrealized ideal” and a “cautionary tale”.  As stated in the interview: Many thousands of Latter-day Saints—and Christians generally—struggle with the tensions between personal discipleship and institutional…

Why Mormon Literature is Vital

Last night poet and author James Goldberg, current president of the Association for Mormon Letters (AML), gave a short but masterful Presidential address as part of the AML’s annual conference. His poetic style and urgent message is quite powerful, despite being just 12 minutes long. Please watch this and let me know what you think! I hope to post some thoughts during the week.

“It is given to some to speak with tongues”

I served my mission in the Midwestern United States, and we had a decent amount of contact with groups, such as the Pentecostals, who were enthusiastic about charismatic gifts of the Spirit.  I remember on one occasion, that a missionary serving in the same district approached me about an investigator they she been working with who believed that speaking in tongues (in the sense of spouting out what sounded like gibberish while under the power of the Holy Spirit) was a very important part of Christianity and a sign that God was involved in a Church.  The missionary, on the other hand (as I remember) wanted to know the best way to explain that the gift of tongues was about speaking in other languages with the help of the Spirit and that the way the investigator understood the gift of tongues was entirely unnecessary.  I referred her to the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, which has a chapter that discusses the subject, as a way of saying that both ways of understanding the gift of tongues are legitimate and acceptable in our Church’s doctrine and history, but that there are some cautions associated with the gift that need to be kept in mind. The two ways of understanding the gift of tongues do have technical terms associated with understanding two charismatic phenomena.  Glossolalia is the term for the type of speaking in tongues the Pentecostal investigator…

Kent P. Jackson on the Joseph Smith Translation

Joseph Smith’s translation projects have been a hot topic this year.  Among many others, earlier this fall we did two posts that discussed the possibility that Joseph Smith relied on the Adam Clarke commentaries for some of the changes he made in the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible.  Recently, Kent P. Jackson (a retired professor of religion at Brigham Young University) published a response to the articles that we were discussing, which share evidence of Joseph Smith using the Adam Clarke commentary.  In his article, published in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship, Jackson expressed his conclusion that “none of the examples they provide can be traced to Clarke’s commentary, and almost all of them can be explained easily by other means. … The few overlaps that do exist are vague, superficial, and coincidental.”[1]  Kurt Manwaring sat down with Kent Jackson for an interview to discuss his viewpoint, and what follows here is a co-post—a summary with some quotes and commentary on the interview.  To read the full interview, click here. As is often the case when we discuss the issue of Joseph Smith’s translations, the issue of whether or not they can actually be called translations came up in the interview.  Called the “New Translation” by Joseph Smith and his contemporaries (Jackson explains that the term “Joseph Smith Translation” was devised for the Latter-day Saint edition of the Bible in the 1970s because they needed…