Category: Mormon Studies

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…

John Turner on Brigham Young

John Turner’s well-known biography Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Harvard University Press, 2012) provides one of the most well-rounded and in-depth look at the second president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It remains today one of the definitive biographies of an incredibly complicated man and leader.  Recently, Kurt Manwaring sat down with the author to discuss the book after eight years of time to reflect on the volume and on the prophet it discusses.  What follows here is a co-post, with excerpts and commentary on the interview.  For the full effect, however, I recommend going over and reading the interview here. In the interview, Turner discussed some of his thoughts about his biography on Brigham Young.  He noted that he was “incredibly gratified by the book’s reception,” including many complimentary reviews across the board.  He noted that there were “a few dissenting views, but I regard those in much the same way that Brigham regarded dissenters.” When asked if he would write the book differently today, Turner stated simply that “I wouldn’t change anything of significance,” just “a few very minor errors that careful readers brought to my attention.”  He also stated that Brigham Young probably wouldn’t “like it very much,” but noted that he (Turner) “wouldn’t want someone to write a warts-and-all biography about me either.”  Overall, John Turner still seems happy with how the biography turned out. One aspect of his biography that I appreciated…

Hebrew Studies and the Book of Abraham

We’re continuing our discussion of Joseph Smith’s translations and the recently-released volume Producing Ancient Scripture today, turning to the Book of Abraham in an interview with Matthew Grey.  This is a co-post to Kurt Manwaring’s interview with Matthew Grey, where he discusses his research about the ways in which Joseph Smith’s study of Hebrew affected the translation of the Book of Abraham.  To read the full interview, which I highly recommend, follow the link here. Last week, we discussed how Joseph Smith seems to have drawn upon contemporary scholarship (the Adam Clarke commentary) as part of his translation of the King James Version of the Bible.  In that interview, Thomas Wayment made the interesting remark that: “Clarke may be part of Joseph’s heritage of coming to understand how ancient languages work,” since the study of both Hebrew and the Kirtland Egyptians materials followed his main work on the Bible revision project.[1]  Matthew Grey adds his insight in this week’s interview that the major catalyst for both the Egyptian materials and Joseph Smith’s study of Hebrew seems to have been the translation of the Book of Abraham.  This seems to show, in the words of Grey, “a recurring pattern in Joseph Smith’s translation projects, in which he was inspired by ancient objects (including gold plates, the King James Version of the Bible, and Egyptian papyri) and proceeded in his translations by blending his revelatory gifts with his best academic efforts (such as…

Memory and the First Vision

How do we account for differences between the various accounts we have on record of the First Vision?  What role does memory play in how it was presented over time?  How have we viewed those accounts since they were first recorded?  These are big questions that are central to our understanding of Joseph Smith’s experience.  Steven C. Harper took a look at these questions and more in his book First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins (Oxford University Press, 2019) and also sat down recently for a 10 questions interview with Kurt Manwaring to talk about his book and the First Vision more generally.  What follows in this co-post is a summary of his remarks with some commentary, but I recommend taking the time to read the full interview here. Dr. Harper’s book is divided into three parts, the first of which delves into the issue of autobiographical memory.  In his interview, Harper talked about how the field of memory studies needs to be taken into greater account by historians of the First Vision: There are many untested, unproved assumptions about memory that are taken for granted in scholarship about the First Vision. It’s common, for example, to see the assumption that memories decay at predictable rates. It’s a maxim that recent memories are accurate and distant memories are inaccurate. Those are reassuring things we tell ourselves, but they are unfounded. Memories are much more unpredictable than that. They are based…

The Impact of a Scholar – Truman G. Madsen

Throughout the twentieth century, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has seen several academic figures who had an impact on the collective thought of church members.  Hugh Nibley and Eugene England are a couple examples of this group, but one other well-known academic figure in 20th century Mormonism that stands out is Truman G. Madsen.  A philosopher and an educator, Truman G. Madsen is best known for his lectures on the Prophet Joseph Smith and some of his other works on Latter-day Saint theology, philosophy, and history, such as Eternal Man, Defender of the Faith: The B. H. Roberts Story, and Presidents of the Church: Insights Into Their Lives and Teachings.[1]  After passing away in 2009, his son, Barnard Madsen, was tasked with writing Truman G. Madsen’s biography, which was published in 2016.  Barnard recently sat down with Kurt Manwaring for a 10 questions interview about the life and impact of his father, which can be read in full here.  What follows is a summary of his remarks with some commentary. When asked “what is Truman Madsen’s greatest legacy?”, Barnard responded that it was “the character of Joseph Smith, and that he [Joseph Smith] was the clearest window to the Living Christ.  For over sixty years, Dad studied his life and teachings, every original and second-hand source he could find of those who knew Joseph best.”  Studying the life and teachings of Joseph Smith was something that Truman…

A New First Vision Podcast

We are now in the year 2020, which is 200 years after the date that Joseph Smith said that he was first visited by God the Father and Jesus the Christ.  At the most recent general conference, President Russell M. Nelson noted this anniversary and invited us to “prepare for a unique conference that will commemorate the very foundations of the restored gospel.”[1]  On New Year’s Day, he reiterated this, stating that: “I designated 2020 as a bicentennial period commemorating 200 years since God the Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith in a vision.”[2]  In addition to a special general conference, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has begun releasing other resources to commemorate and celebrate the beginning of the Restoration, including a new six-episode podcast, “The First Vision: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast.”[3]  Kurt Manwaring recently visited with the host of The First Vision podcast, Spencer W. McBride, to discuss the series.  What follows here is a summary of their discussion with some commentary, but I recommend reading the full text, available here. The podcast is a set of six episodes discussing different aspects of the First Vision with historians.  Each episode is fairly short (only one runs longer than 30 minutes).  Topics include the culture of the United States of American that contributed to the First Vision, what question Joseph Smith was really asking, what the location the vision took place…

Temples, Sacrifices, and Revelations

Temples hold a central place in Latter-day Saint history. The narrative of building the Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples and the impact it had on our theology is a dominant theme of the early Church. Even going beyond that, however, much of the history that followed has temples looming in the background, even though it would be decades before another temple was completed in Utah Territory. In one of the recent Kurt Manwaring 10 questions interviews, Richard Bennett discusses some of his thoughts on the subject and his recent publication Temples Rising: A Heritage of Sacrifice. This is only a summary with some commentary here, but I suggest reading the full interview. Richard E. Bennett is a professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University. He has been deeply involved with Mormon studies journals as a former president of the Mormon History Association, a former Associate Editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies and a current member of the editorial board for BYU Studies. Bennett is the author of several historical works, including The Nauvoo Legion in Illinois: A History of the Mormon Militia, 1841–1846, We’ll Find the Place: The Mormon Exodus, 1846-1848, Mormons at the Missouri: 1846-1852, and Temples Rising: A Heritage of Sacrifice. Bennett’s attention was turned to temples by his studies of the Latter-day Saint exodus: While researching and writing my two books on the exodus … I learned that temples and temple covenants played…