Category: Mormon Studies

FairConference, Thursday Afternoon Sessions

Bob Rees A review of Earl Wunderli’s Imperfect Book   Started with this Card Colour changing trick video ( to illustrate that too much focus on one thing can cause you miss the many other things that are going on. What aren’t you noticing? Emerson said,  “Tell me your sect, and I’ll tell you your argument.” How we approach the Book of Mormon will determine what we find within it.  Rees was impressed with Earl’s thoroughness. He has read extensively and carefully. He approached as though cross-examining it in a court of law, and like any good lawyer making a case, he has been selective in choice of witnesses. Wunderli’s book does not give a balanced presentation, although it gives an impression of having done so. And he does raise important questions about the Book of Mormon, from the use of KJV language, internal stylistic consistency, anachronistic scientific understanding, mythology, and so one. Wunderli sees himself of side of reason, science and truth, and as a result paints the other side unreasonable, unscientific, and inclined to believe in myths and falsehoods. He doesn’t acknowledge that some scholars are open to spiritual ways of knowing, that there is more than one legitimate avenue for seeking knowledge. Those of us who use both approaches see differently than those who use just one. And this cuts both ways; those rely solely on spirit may be indifferent to any evidence. In Book of Mormon…

Socially Constructed Mormonism

This is the second post (see first post) discussing ideas presented in the recently published memoir of retired LDS sociologist Armand Mauss, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic (Univ. of Utah Press, 2012; publisher’s page). After taking five years away from his graduate work to serve as a counselor in a bishopric, Mauss returned to his studies in 1962 at UC Berkeley, where he quickly encountered a serious challenge to his faith.

The Problem With Correlation

Over at Worlds Without End, Seth posted Overcoming Correlation, or Mormon Studies and Pastoral Care. Why do we keep talking about Correlation? Obviously, there’s something wrong, but there are various opinions as to what exactly that is and how one might go about fixing it. After recounting his own scholarly engagement with Mormon Studies, Seth offers a couple of conclusions about Correlation, its problems, and how Mormon Studies might help solve them.

MR: Samurai Jesus: A Review of Takashi Miike’s “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai”

The Mormon Review vol. 5 no. 1 is presented here, with Jonathon Penny’s review of Takashi Miike’s 2011 film Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai. By Jonathon Penny Open on a gaunt, intelligent looking man—Tsukumo Hanshiro—seeking the indulgence of a retinue of samurai at the palace of a feudal lord. He claims to be a ronin, a lordless samurai, left to wander in poverty after the dishonor and dissolution of his clan. His request: to commit ritual hara-kiri so that, it is explained to us, he might regain some of the honor he has lost.  There is skepticism. Not two months before, Chief Retainer Saito informs him, another ronin from the same clan made the same request. This one, Chijiiwa Motome—younger, more gaunt, and with less bearing—sought an audience with Lord Li, delayed the ritual, fidgeted and fretted.  There was skepticism. Takashi Miike’s resume reads like the inside cover of a pulp novel. He has directed film after film whose English titles, at any rate, smack of that Hong Kong irony we all thought Kurt Russell was lampooning, if we grew up in the 80s, or that Tarantino was satirizing, if we grew up later: “Bodyguard Kiba: Combat Apocolypse [sic] 2,” anyone? How about “Rainy Dog”? “Full Metal gokudô”? “Blues Harp”? “Andromedia”? “Ichi the Killer”? “Ninja Kids!!!”? I’ve never bothered with any of them, though I did see “13 Assassins” (2010) and I indulged in “Sukiyaki Western Django” (2007). (Hey, it was…

New Progress for Mormon Studies

The University of Virginia today announced today a $3 million anonymous donation to establish the Richard Lyman Bushman Chair of Mormon Studies in the University’s Department of Religious Studies. The chair is still subject to approval by the University’s Board of Visitors, after which a search committee will look for candidates for the inaugural appointment, due to begin serving in the 2013-14 school year.

The blood of Israel in Europe

At a multi-stake conference in Berlin in 2010, Area President Erich W. Kopischke quoted Joseph Smith as having declared that “England, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium have a considerable amount of the blood of Israel among the people which must be gathered out.”

The Kirtland Church: A Review of Hearken O Ye People

I received my review copy of Hearken, O Ye People at work; I opened it and began to read on the El heading home. And, from page 1 (or, actually, page xvii), my jaw dropped. Staker started his book with an almost-15-page chronology of Kirtland, beginning in May 1796 as a group begins to survey townships in the Western Reserve and ending on July 6, 1838, when Kirtland Camp leaves Kirtland to settle in Missouri. For that chronology alone, Hearken, O Ye People is worth its price, at least for those form whom the Kirtland years are overshadowed by the founding of the Church in upstate New York, the conflicts and eventual extermination order in Missouri, and the theological and organizational innovations in Nauvoo.

Nothing to Apologize For (Part II)

[Times & Seasons welcomes the second in a pair of posts from Ralph Hancock this week, who previously guested with us in 2010] I argued in Part I that the move from “apologetics” to “Mormon Studies” requires a bracketing of truth claims that may serve legitimate scholarly purposes, but that carries with it certain significant risks.  The New Mormon Studies presents orthodoxy as stifling and itself as intellectually liberating, but it risks purveying a more subtle and powerful conformism, the conformism of secular academic prestige and careerism.  This is intended, not as a condemnation, but as an alert.  We ought to embrace opportunities for rich and productive dialogue with those who do not share our Answers, but we ought not set aside our interest in Answers and thus in effect elevate human (especially professional) “dialogue” itself to the highest status. On with the bracketing, I say, but let us beware of the definitive brackets, those that will not allow themselves to be bracketed.   The questions of Eternity should be the ultimate frame of reference to which we continually return to ponder the results of our bracketing, rather than succumbing to enticements to reduce our eternal concerns to the categories of professional scholarship.  Of course thoughtless conformism is a danger inherent in our humanity, and one from which the pious are by no means exempt.  But “traditional” believers have a certain advantage over professional bracketers in that they confess the existence of a truth…

Practical Apologetics: Defining the middle path in Mormonism

Rachel’s post a couple of weeks ago, The Threat of New Order Mormons, attracted so much discussion that I would like to follow up with my own discussion of middle-path Mormons. Various terms are used to describe those who self-categorize themselves as something other than fully active, fully believing Mormons: Uncorrelated Mormons, Cultural Mormons, New Order Mormons, Liahona Mormons, and so forth. My view is that there are many paths that lead away from full activity and belief, so it is wrong to expect one label to adequately describe what is actually happening. It’s clear these members move away from the center of Mormonism on some items of belief or practice, but which items are the problem for any given individual varies across the population. Here are some different half-way paths.

Guest Post: Why I Find Developments at the Maxwell Institute Concerning

[A guest post by Professor David Earl Bohn, retired professor of political philosophy at Brigham Young University] Recently, the Maxwell Institute announced a significant change of course on its website—one that re-directs the Institute’s focus away from apologetics and Mormon-centered research and toward a more generic emphasis on religious scholarship. The “bloggernacle” had actually been abuzz about rumors of  these developments since before they were officially confirmed. (For a non-exhaustive sample of related posts and articles see: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Cause for Concern Many of us who care deeply about Mormon research and scholarship have witnessed these developments unfold with some concern.  The character of these changes and the actual manner in which they have been carried out thus far have raised serious questions about whether the very raison d’être of the Maxwell Institute, including the significant achievements of the Mormon Studies Review (and its predecessor), are not being undermined or even abandoned. Over time, all institutions necessarily undergo “a change of guard.” For organizations that have clear mandates such as the Maxwell Institute and the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (or “FARMS”)—which came under the Institute’s umbrella in 1997—this transition might be expected to bring differences of style and manner, along with some new ideas and approaches. However, the changes at the Institute seem to involve considerably more than this, including the unexpected and awkwardly handled removal of key Institute figures who played a central role in establishing FARMS and carrying…

MR: Exquisitely Loud and Indelibly Close

The Mormon Review vol. 4 no. 1 is presented here, with Jonathon Penny’s review of Stephen Daldry’s 2012 film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. By Jonathon Penny I’m late with this, as with so much in my dog-eared, half-buttoned, last minute, Subway-sandwiched, twenty-first century life. I wrote the other day, on reflection about the harried nature of workaday (and workanight) life that I was precocious as a child, ambitious, full of expectations for myself and for the world around me bending to my will made holy for a borrowed righteousness and then the sag set in and I lost all of that to work and weekend and the paying of bills and the buying of groceries and clothes—the valid preoccupations of a grown up and the invalid occupations of a man of today that suck the meat and marrow, if I let them, if I forget them see them objects and not tools and not excuses to move about the world and make it ring and rhyme and ripple for my passing through it, little though I am and ought to be. When I was that child, it was Lloyd Alexander and C.S. Lewis and Ursula LeGuin and later Ray Bradbury who nurtured that precocity, who fed and shaped it, who layered their heroic visions of childhood over fable and fantasy, Goliath and God. Well, when I was a child I hardly needed provocation. And now that I am a…

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 that is set or discusses areas outside of the U.S. It also includes every work about Mormonism I could find that is not in English.

Notes: Mormonism and the Internet

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?

Call for Papers: IV Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference

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 Kirtland, Ohio. A few years more and Smith founded another congregation in Missouri, and began to gather new converts to both of these two sites. Adverse events forced them to abandon Ohio, and then Missouri, and Smith founded a new city to which all Mormons would migrate, Nauvoo, Illinois. In 1847, after the murder of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young Saints relocated the Saints and founded a new territory in Utah. Throughout the nineteenth century, Mormonism displayed a unique feature: centralization and migration. Members were encouraged to migrate to “Zion”, the gravitational center of the Church, or as some authors call it, “headquarters.” During the first half of the twentieth century that policy evolved into a more congregational concept, where the Church established congregations in different locations, eventually spread throughout the world, without migratory pressures and without an emphasis on a focal…

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.

12 Questions with Grant Hardy – part I

To cap off our roundtable review of Grant Hardy’s new book Understanding the Book of Mormon we’re fortunate to feature an interview with the book’s author. The interview will be posted in two parts. Our thanks to all who have participated, and especially Bro. Hardy.

Books of Interest to the LDS Nerd

A few of these are forthcoming, a few have appeared recently. I am compelled to read them all, as soon as I can get to them. Now Available Charles Harrel,“This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Kofford Books) “In this first-of-its-kind comprehensive treatment of the development of Mormon theology, Charles Harrell traces the history of Latter-day Saint doctrines from the times of the Old Testament to the present.” I have my doubts that someone who does not equally control original Biblical sources and LDS history, as well as the vast amounts of secondary literature on historiography, exegesis, etc. can give LDS doctrine a truly comprehensive diachronic treatment, and compress it into 597 pages. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to Harrel, an engineering professor, for making the attempt and I look forward to reading it. Too many LDS labor under the assumption that the status quo sprang fully formed from Joseph Smith. I don’t recall which of my friends said, but it’s in my Evernote file, “If there’s one thing Mormons excel at, it’s enshrining the status quo and assuming that if we do anything, there must be a good reason for it, and if there’s a good reason, it must have been revealed as the only way to do it, and if so, then it must have always been that way in all dispensations. And a lot of people’s faith can be shaken when it turns out not to always…

Mormon Studies Courses

A few years ago I came across a list of Mormon Studies courses complied by BYU professor Gideon Burton in 2008, the same year that the Claremont Graduate University started their Mormon Studies program and a year after Utah State started its program. Since it has been a few years, I thought Gideon’s list should be updated. I believe it gives a sense of how Mormon Studies is developing.

Grant Hardy and Personal Scripture Study

Every semester, one of my principal goals in my tax classes is to get my students to engage with the Internal Revenue Code. And it’s harder than you might think: often they don’t read the Code itself, focusing instead on the explanations in their casebook.[fn1] And their aversion to reading the Code is completely understandable: unlike court decisions, the mainstay of law school, there is no narrative flow, no character, no imagery, nothing that we traditionally latch onto in order to immerse ourselves in a text. And frankly, using the casebook isn’t a bad short-term decision. The casebook explains what the Code provisions mean and how they’re applied, at least in simple situations.But in the longer term, relying on the casebook’s explanation does my students a disservice. While it helps them be able to answer my questions in class, and while it likely helps them do decently on my exams, if they rely on the casebook at the expense of reading through and struggling with the Code, they don’t develop their skills in reading and understanding the Internal Revenue Code. Ultimately, while their casebook helps them understand the tax law on a surface level (and, for that matter, provides a necessary starting point), if they’ve read the casebook at the expense of reading the Code, they’re going to be in trouble when my final asks them to read and apply a Code section that we never read in class.[fn2] In…

Call for Papers: 3rd Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference

3rd Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference Annual Conference of the Associação Brasileira de Estudos Mórmons (Brazilian Mormon Studies Association –ABEM) January 28, 2012 São Paulo, Brazil Call for papers “Mormonism and its relationship with other denominations” The Mormon religious tradition is based on the concept of an apostasy by all Christian denominations and their consequent lack of divine authority, hence the claim to be the “only true and living church.” In contrast, this same tradition emphasizes its members’ broader religious freedom, and even their need, to recognize and seek the whole truth from any source, including other religious traditions. This dichotomy between excluding and including beliefs, practices and institutions has, throughout history, created a rich and complex dialogue between Mormons and non-Mormons. In Brazil, the traditional religious syncretism alongside an increasing religious diversity makes understanding this dichotomy extremely important for the study of Mormonism in our situation. As examples of topics to be addressed, we suggest the following: o       The doctrinal, organizational or ritual influence of non-Mormon sources on Mormonism and vice versa; o       The relationship between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Christian and non-Christian denominations, their conflicts and collaborations, and their attempts at differentiation and integration, as well as reactions to proselytizing; o       The different perceptions of the major religions in Brazil and Latin America among Mormons, including perceptions of Catholicism, Protestantism, Neo-Petencostalism, Spiritualism, Afro-Brazilian religions, etc.; o       The relationship between the Church of Jesus…

The Implied Statistical Report, 2010

A couple of years ago my post The Implied Statistical Report, 2008, looked at what can be learned from a detailed examination of the data the Church releases each April Conference. This conferences’ data includes an additional statistic not found in earlier reports, the number of Church Service Missionaries, which led me to look again at the statistics to see if I might find something else.

A tool for Conference analysis

While we know that gospel principles are eternal, we must also admit that the language used to describe them changes over time. And now we have a tool for discovering and analyzing how Church leaders have changed their descriptions of the gospel over the past 160 years.

International Bibliography 2010

With the growth of the LDS Church worldwide, I think few academics of Mormonism disagree that the Church’s international progress deserve more attention. Even so, I was surprised when I compiled a list of international publications from last year. The list is substantial.

MR: Death Is Lighter than a Feather: A Review of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce

A new issue of The Mormon Review is available, with Adam Greenwood’s review of The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis. The article is available at: Adam Greenwood, “Death Is Lighter than a Feather: A Review of C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce,” The Mormon Review, vol.3 no. 1 [HTML] [PDF] In this essay, Greenwood reads The Great Divorce as an instance of theological fiction, and theorizes the genre in relation to its sisters, science fiction and fantasy. For more information about MR, please take a look at the prospectus by our editor-in-chief Richard Bushman (“Out of the Best Books: Introducing The Mormon Review,” The Mormon Review, vol.1 no.1 [HTML][PDF]). In addition to our website, you can have The Mormon Review delivered to your inbox. Finally, we’d like to issue a renewed request for submissions.  In particular, if you have submitted a piece to the Review in the past but received no response, please consider yourself cordially invited to re-submit.

MR: Groundhog Day

A new issue of The Mormon Review is available, with Adam Miller’s review of Groundhog Day, directed by Harold Ramis. The article is available at: Adam Miller, “Groundhog Day,” The Mormon Review, vol.2 no. 5 [HTML] [PDF] For more information about MR, please take a look at the prospectus by our editor-in-chief Richard Bushman (“Out of the Best Books: Introducing The Mormon Review,” The Mormon Review, vol.1 no.1 [HTML][PDF]). In addition to our website, you can have The Mormon Review delivered to your inbox. Finally, please consider submitting an article to MR.

MR: “Recovering truth: A review of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method”

A new issue of The Mormon Review is available, with James E. Faulconer’s review of Truth and Method by Hans-Georg Gadamer. The article is available at: James E. Faulconer, “Recovering truth:  A review of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method,” The Mormon Review, vol.2 no. 3. [HTML] [PDF] For more information about MR, please take a look at the prospectus by our editor-in-chief Richard Bushman (”Out of the Best Books: Introducing The Mormon Review,” The Mormon Review, vol.1 no.1 [HTML][PDF]). In addition to our website, you can have The Mormon Review delivered to your inbox. Finally, please consider submitting an article to MR.