New Interim Religious Education Dean, Associate Dean, Publications Director

Welcome to three new leaders of the Religious Studies Center team! Effective July 1, professor of ancient scripture Daniel K Judd began service as the interim dean for Religious Education and director of the Religious Studies Center. He most recently served as associate dean in Religious Education and previously served as chair of the Department of Ancient Scripture. He is the author of pathbreaking studies on Latter-day Saint mental health, including the first empirical study on the relationship between the grace of Christ and the mental health of Latter-day Saints: Daniel K Judd, W. Justin Dyer, and Justin B. Top, “Grace, Legalism, and Mental Health: Examining Direct and Mediating Relationships,” Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, June 2018.

J. B. Haws, an associate professor of Church history and doctrine, has been appointed to serve as an associate dean in Religious Education and associate director of the Religious Studies Center. He also serves as coordinator of the Office of Religious Outreach. He is the award-winning author of The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (New York: Oxford, 2013).

Church history and doctrine professor Scott C. Esplin has been named as the publications director for the Religious Studies Center. He also serves as the Religious Education Teaching Fellow. Editor of many books published by the Religious Studies Center, he is the author of Return to the City of Joseph: Modern Mormonism’s Contest for the Soul of Nauvoo (Champaign-Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2018).

A New Year with Inspiring New Publications

Happy new year! As LDS Church Gospel Doctrine teachers and students embark on a study of the Old Testament, we hope many will navigate their journey using our Gospel Doctrine supplemental reading. Readers may particularly enjoy our Prophets and Prophecies of the Old Testament and John Gee’s Introduction to the Book of Abraham.

Our books will include these:

Upcoming issues of the Religious Educator will feature articles such as Elder Tad R. Callister’s talk on the power of principles, Jenny Reeder’s paper on the importance of incorporating women’s voices in teaching history, and John Thomas’s insights on missionary use of the Book of Mormon around the turn of the twentieth century.

We hope these publications will be enriching and inspiring, and we hope you find as much joy reading them as we do!

A Second Look at the RSC and Maxwell Institute Partnership

A Second Look at the RSC and Maxwell Institute Partnership

Devan Jensen

The RSC and Maxwell Institute editors forged a publishing partnership in September to consolidate the two production teams. Let’s look at what the combined team has accomplished so far.

First, the RSC welcomed managing editor Don Brugger and senior editor Shirley Ricks, who, along with executive editor Devan Jensen, report to publications director Thomas Wayment and work closely with production supervisor Brent Nordgren and publication coordinator Joany Pinegar. The combined team has completed a staggering twenty-one projects since September!

RSC

  • Matthew J. Grow and R. Eric Smith, eds., The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History
  • Aaron P. Schade, Brian M. Hauglid, and Kerry Muhlestein, eds., Prophets and Prophecies of the Old Testament (46th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium)
  • John Gee, An Introduction to the Book of Abraham
  • Roy A. Prete and Carma T. Prete, eds., Canadian Mormons: History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada
  • RoseAnn Benson, Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith: Nineteenth-Century Restorationists (BYU Press and Abilene Christian University Press)
  • Ann N. Madsen and Shon D. Hopkin, eds., Opening Isaiah: A Harmony (eBook)
  • 2017 BYU Religious Education Student Symposium
  • Larry E. Dahl and Charles D. Tate Jr., The Lectures on Faith in Historical Perspective (eBook)
  • The Restored Gospel and Applied Christianity, 2017
  • Religious Educator 18, no. 3
  • BYU Religious Education Review, Fall 2017
  • Studia Antiqua (2017)
  • Reid L. Neilson and Wayne D. Crosby, Lengthening Our Stride: Globalization of the Church (forthcoming)
  • Donald G. Godfrey, In Their Footsteps: Mormon Pioneers of Faith (forthcoming)

Maxwell Institute

  • Adam S. Miller, ed., Fleeing the Garden: Reading Genesis 2–3
  • Adam S. Miller, ed., A Dream, a Rock, and a Pillar of Fire: Reading 1 Nephi 1
  • Mormon Studies Review (2018)
  • Spencer Fluhman, Kathleen Flake, and Jed Woodworth, eds., “To Be Learned Is Good”: Essays on Faith and Scholarship in Honor of Richard Lyman Bushman (forthcoming)
  • Adam S. Miller and Joseph M. Spencer, eds., Christ and Antichrist: Reading Jacob 7 (forthcoming)
  • Samir Khalil Samir and Wafik Nasry, trans., The Patriarch and the Caliph: An Eighth-Century Dialogue between Timothy I and al-Mahdī (forthcoming)
  • Adam S. Miller, Letters to a Young Mormon, 2nd edition (forthcoming)

 

Second, as with any other merger, the two publishers clarified expectations. Work has begun on four other Maxwell Institute projects yet to be announced.

Third, the RSC has approval to hire a designer to help with projects such as the Religious Educator, the BYU Religious Education Review, and our 2018 books:

  • Reid L. Neilson and Wayne D. Crosby, Lengthening Our Stride: Globalization of the Church
  • Donald G. Godfrey, In Their Footsteps: Mormon Pioneers of Faith
  • Shon D. Hopkin, ed., Abinadi: He Came Among Them in Disguise
  • Debra Theobald McClendon and Richard J. McClendon, Commitment to the Covenant: Strengthening the Me, We, and Thee of Marriage
  • Richard O. Cowan, The Los Angeles Temple: Beacon on a Hill
  • Richard E. Bennett, ed., The Journey West: The Mormon Pioneer Journals of Horace K. Whitney with Insights by Helen Mar Kimball Whitney
  • Eric D. Huntsman, Lincoln H. Blumell, and Tyler J. Griffin, eds., Thou Art the Christ: The Person and Work of Jesus in the New Testament (47th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium)
  • LaMond Tullis, Two Martyrs in Mexico: A Mormon Story of Revolution and Redemption
  • Bruce A. Van Orden, “We’ll Sing and We’ll Shout”: The Life and Times of William W. Phelps
  • 2018 Religious Education Student Symposium
  • The Restored Gospel and Applied Christianity, 2018

We are planning to remodel the office to accommodate our new team members. All in all, we are enjoying our partnership and looking ahead to a bright and productive future.

Review of Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics

Review of Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics

By Devan Jensen

Those who want to learn about the art and practice of defending the faith—known classically as apologetics—will enjoy reading Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics, a compilation of essays edited by Blair G. Van Dyke and Loyd Isao Ericson (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2017). The fifteen authors share a variety of perspectives, both praising and critiquing past and present approaches. My review focuses on this survey of apologetics, as well as related definitions and questions.

Apologetics in the Past and Present

In the age of Hugh Nibley, the term Mormon apologetics referred to a fairly traditional set of papers defending the claims of the Church or attacking critics. Today’s apologetic approaches are more varied, including “traditional apologetics, new positive apologetics as typified by [Terryl] Givens and [Patrick] Mason, a form of official apologetics as with the Gospel Topics essays, pastoral apologetics as outlined by Seth Payne, [and] religious studies scholarship examining and discussing the same LDS doctrines and practices that apologists often discuss.” These scholars have professional training in fields such as history, literature, Near Eastern languages and culture, and philosophy. The book applauds apologetic work created by the Church History Department, the Joseph Smith Papers Project, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (21–22), and FairMormon (67). It seems an oversight not to mention the strong apologetic work published by BYU Studies, the Religious Studies Center, the Interpreter Foundation, and other sources listed at LDS.org.

Defensive versus Affirmative Apologetics

The book defines several vital terms. Van Dyke defines the term negative apologetics as “responses to criticism already levied against Mormonism” (2). Daniel C. Peterson clarifies that the term refers not to being “mean-spirited” but to “rebuttal and defense” (40). Peterson compares this act to “clearing the ground of weeds, and keeping it clear, so that the seed has a chance to take root and grow” (40). Accordingly, Michael Ash prefers the term defensive apologetics (65). Adoption of this term over the other seems important because of Mormon cultural desire to avoid negativity and contention, even to the point of avoiding uncomfortable conversations that lead to heated emotions or compromise.

Conversely, the term positive apologetics refers to “arguments that justify the faith and fortify her position ahead of disagreements and criticisms” (2). In Peterson’s analogy, this is planting the seed in the ground and nurturing it. Ash refers to this as affirmative or educational apologetics (65–67). The latter terms prevent ambiguity and potential criticism that apologists have a “positive” bent or mindset that precludes the possibility of dismissing credible evidence to the contrary of their position.

Evidentialism, Fideism, and Presuppositionalism

Evidentialism refers to attempts to anchor defense of one’s truth claims in objective evidence, such as the 1987 discovery of a steel sword near Jerusalem to justify Nephi’s claim about Laban’s sword (4–5). Conversely, fideism emphasizes subjective faith over objective evidence, suggesting that spiritual matters are deeply personal (5). Van Dyke notes that “Mormons consistently manifest strains of fideism” (6) and sometimes “anti-intellectualism” (12). Presuppositionalism identifies the assumptions all human beings make about which sources of evidence we trust and seek out for additional confirmation (15–17). As one example, after the 2013 US Supreme Court announcement in favor of same-sex marriage, the LDS Church asserted, “Regardless of the court decision, the Church remains irrevocably committed to strengthening traditional marriage between a man and a woman, which for thousands of years has proven to be the best environment for nurturing children.” Van Dyke claims, “Evidentiary proof does not bear out this claim” (19). We would be wise to evaluate the presuppositions and evidence of all parties involved in such vital arguments.

Cautions about Apologetics and Human Nature

The initial chapters offer much praise for the practice of apologetics. Neal Rappleye offers several examples of Book of Mormon defensive scholarship that pushes the boundaries of scholarship in a positive direction (52–61), tempering that praise with the need for nuanced evaluation of the contributions of King Josiah (45–46). Ash notes that we, as humans, see in terms of patterns and predictions (69–71), which necessarily lead to confirmation bias (74). Scholars sometimes harshly criticize the positions of others (including apologists), seemingly unaware of the presuppositions they themselves make (76–79). Echoing Thomas Jefferson’s call for a wall between church and state, Benjamin Park calls for a divide between Mormon studies and apologetics (90). In my opinion, Jack Welch and the BYU Studies team and Richard Bushman and the Joseph Smith Papers Project team have succeeded in both arenas through well-documented scholarship and cautious assertions. I add that the Maxwell Institute and Religious Studies Center have produced material satisfying both the academy and the church. Many other institutions might be added here.

Critiques of Current Apologetics

Ralph Hancock, David Knowlton, David Bokovoy, and Loyd Ericson critique currrent practices of Mormon apologetics, though from various places on the spectrum. For example, Hancock criticizes the newly re-created Mormon Studies Review for being too neutral in faith matters, engaging non-LDS scholars on their own terms (107–9). Knowlton tackles use of the term Lamanites by FairMormon, dismissing their lack of specificity as “a crisis of faith” (207). Ericson divides matters such as Book of Mormon studies very discretely into historical facts or “religious studies,” critiquing historical examinations of “things of the soul” (220). Bokovoy recalls his gradual acceptance of the Documentary Hypothesis of biblical scholarship and then claims, “Apologetics assumes that we have the answers” (227), arguing for more critical thinking. As expected in any book that gathers diverse perspectives, these voices will variously draw praise or criticism.

Women’s Voices

Three articles focus on women’s issues. Juliann Reynolds, who helped found FairMormon, asserts that Mormon women became ardent defenders of the faith when the Church faced persecution and prosecution for the practice of plural marriage. However, although many women actively promote and defend Church doctrine in venues such as the Ensign, FairMormon, Meridian Magazine, Mormon Women Stand, and social media, they rarely identify themselves as apologists (140–48). Julie M. Smith notes that apologists have often placed more emphasis on the status quo arguments and thus neglected women’s concerns (165). Fiona Givens upholds the ideal union of men and women in the Creation and in ecclesiastical collaboration, with the general implication that men and women ideally should combine in efforts such as defending the faith (something she and her husband have indeed done).

Questions

In sum, it seems fair to assert that “every argument defending any position . . . is an apology” (27). Let’s conclude with several questions about how to do apologetics: “Will we be honest? Competent? Civil? Will we be effective, or not?” (41). To which I add several questions of my own: Who is doing the best, most exciting work in apologetics at the present? What place does evidence play in relation to matters of faith? How can scholars be most effective in evaluating evidence for their arguments? How can we evaluate evidence effectively when we are subject to confirmation bias? And how tentative should we be in making assertions and conclusions? These are a few questions raised by a reading of this important book.

Click here to view the contents and selected essays and Q&A.

New Production Partnership Forged between Maxwell Institute and BYU Religious Studies Center

Over the past decade, the Neal A. Maxwell Institute has invested considerable resources in producing high-quality scholarly and faith-promoting books, periodicals, and films. For over forty years, BYU’s Religious Studies Center (RSC) has also published excellent Latter-day Saint scholarship that both educates and inspires. In reviewing their respective roles at BYU, Maxwell Institute executive director Spencer Fluhman and the RSC’s publications director Thomas A. Wayment discovered a duplication in efforts. “We asked ourselves, ‘Why maintain two separate production teams at BYU?’” Fluhman said of their early conversations. “We realized a formal partnership potentially could enable our respective campus units to focus on its particular mission and thrive.”

We are pleased to announce a new partnership between the Maxwell Institute and the Religious Studies Center. The Institute’s top-notch production team—which includes managing editor Don Brugger and senior editor Shirley Ricks—transferred to the RSC on 1 September 2017, strengthening their outstanding staff. As the Institute invests more resources in gathering and nurturing disciple-scholars, it will look to the RSC for professional production services. Established by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland during his time as dean of Religious Education in 1975, the RSC exists to seek out, encourage, and publish faithful gospel scholarship. Both entities will continue to publish a variety of books and journals under their own imprints, with the RSC providing both units with services such as copyediting, proofreading, and typesetting—the technical things that make scholarly publishing possible. Dean of Religious Education and RSC director Brent Top agrees that this partnership strengthens both units. “We consider this a win-win for both the Maxwell Institute and the RSC,” he said. “We have complementary missions. In the end, we’ll all be in an even stronger position in providing religious scholarship to both scholars and the Church at large.”

Brugger and Ricks have provided invaluable service to the Maxwell Institute throughout its existence, and even before. Ricks has employed her keen editor’s eye for thirty years. Don Brugger has served as both senior editor and managing editor at the Institute, overseeing projects including the Mormon Studies Review, various Living Faith books, and other publications. Their kindness, competence, and professionalism will be missed at the Institute, but the campus will continue to be blessed by their gifts through their new institutional home at the RSC.

Review of The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 5

Rogers, Brent M., Elizabeth A. Kuehn, Christian K. Heimburger, Max H Parkin, Alexander L. Baugh, and Steven C. Harper, eds. Documents, Volume 5: October 1835–January 1838. Vol. 5 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Ronald K. Esplin, Matthew J. Grow, and Matthew C. Godfrey. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2017. xlvi + 656 pp., illustrations, bibliography, index, $54.95 hardback.

Review by R. Devan Jensen

Joseph Smith was a complex person. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in this volume discussing such a complicated period in US and LDS Church history.

As the introduction asserts, Documents, Volume 5 covers “moments of elation and moments of upheaval” (xix), including an 1835 recounting of the First Vision, purchase of mummies and manuscripts leading to the Book of Abraham, the School of the Prophets, a physical alteration between William and Joseph Smith, attempts at reconciliation, construction of the House of the Lord in Kirtland, glorious heavenly visitations during the dedication ceremony, a national recession and failure of the Kirtland Safety Society, widespread apostasy, launch of the Elders’ Journal, and Joseph Smith’s move to Missouri.

As with other volumes in the Documents series, the editing team succeeds in providing helpful and professional discussion of the documents, historical context, and artifacts.

Part 1 focuses mainly on an 1835 recounting of the First Vision (40–47) and translation of the Book of Abraham (69–88). This section raises intriguing questions: What connection do the Egyptian alphabet and grammar have with the Book of Abraham? How much time did the Prophet and his scribes focus on producing and recording revelation, and how much were they trying to reproduce the origins of human language? Here we are left with perhaps more questions than answers, but we look forward to more discussion in future planned volumes by Brian Hauglid, Robin Scott Jensen, and others.

Part 2 begins with tension. Elder Orson Hyde offered “a litany of complaints” against the top leadership (105). Then a disciplinary council led to a deposition by Lucy Mack Smith. An argument over that deposition erupted between sons William and Joseph Smith. When the Kirtland high council planned to censure William, he insisted he “had not done wrong” and accused Joseph of determining to always support his arguments “whether right or wrong” (111). After heated argument in a debating school, William and Joseph engaged in a fight, leaving Joseph “unable to sit down, or rise up, without help” (112). The brothers sought reconciliation. This section ends with a solemn assembly, washing and anointing, and a vision of the celestial kingdom involving the Father and the Son and the faithful deceased, including Joseph’s brother Alvin (157–59). The section of the vision involving Brigham Young preaching to “men of colour” is thought-provoking in light of the later move to Utah (160).

Part 3 describes the Hebrew School, priesthood ordinations, and heavenly visitations relating to the dedication of the House of the Lord. Some of the recorded visitations are quite dramatic (190). The hymn “Ere Long the Vail” was quite impressive (192–93). On page 206, the word “retuning” would benefit from an editorial clarification to “retu[r]ning.”

Part 4 recounts the familiar and well-documented visions of heavenly messengers (224–29). Less familiar is the section describing W. W. Phelps’s editorial about abolitionism in Ohio and the resulting backlash in Missouri (234–35), the ordination of blacks to the priesthood (235–36), and Joseph Smith’s seemingly contradictory claim in the April 1836 Messenger and Advocate “that the curse is not yet taken off the sons of Canaan” (240). These documents and accompanying notes are vital as we seek to examine Joseph Smith’s notions of race, abolition, and emancipation.

Part 5 describes the banking experiment of the Kirtland Safety Society in ways that are both satisfying and challenging. The images of currency are particularly helpful. As the leadership pressed forward with a bank despite lack of state sponsorship, readers may wonder, What qualms did board members or the general members express about the way the leadership pressed forward? The editors do a fine job contextualizing how the national panic influenced the failure of the bank experiment.

Part 6 begins after the failure of the Safety Society with pressing financial and legal problems, dissension by Warren Parrish and many others, and Joseph Smith’s grave illness. As the volume introduction states, “The spiritual exuberance that attended the dediction at of the House of the Lord just eighteen months earlier seemed a distant memory” (xxxii). This section concludes with the bold and visionary calls of Wilford Woodruff and Jonathan H. Hale to preach as missionaries in “the eastern country” and of Heber C. Kimball to serve the first transatlantic mission in England.

Part 7 includes the launch of the Elders’ Journal; Wilford Woodruff’s report of missionary labors in New York, Maine, and the Fox Islands; excommunications in Kirtland; and Joseph Smith’s announcement of moving his family to Missouri. Brief mention is made of the burning of the Church printing press in Kirtland days after it was auctioned off (xxxiv, 537), a topic reserved for discussion in a later volume of the Documents series.

Overall, this volume makes an important contribution to Mormon history and is well worth the time to search for historical treasure therein.

Around the World with the RSC

By Angela Lee and Devan Jensen

 

At the Religious Studies Center, we love publishing content about Church history, gospel doctrine, ancient scripture, and more. This year the RSC decided to focus on Church history both far and near. For 2017, we take you around the world by focusing on specific regions and their stories. We take you from Italy to Hawaii, from Arizona to England, and from Taiwan to Utah’s Dixie area, and we finish our tour with Canada!

Italy: With Mormons in the Piazza, visit Italy in the 1850s up to the present day to experience what those Latter-day Saints felt amidst a backdrop of historical forces—political upheaval, world wars, social change, and internal Church dynamics—that presented both obstacles and opportunities for growth. Authors James A. Toronto, Eric R Dursteler, and Michael Homer have done a masterful job. This book, writes Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, a professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, “is certain to become the seminal work not just of the history of the Latter-day Saints in Italy but also of ‘how new religious movements arise, expand, and take root in societies around the world.’”

Hawaii: With Kalaupapa: The Mormon Experience in an Exiled Community, Fred E. Woods discusses the dread disease of leprosy (known as Hansen’s disease today). In the nineteenth century, this disease spread through the Hawaiian Islands, causing the king of Hawai‘ito sanction an act that exiled all people afflicted with this disease to Kalaupapa, a peninsula on the island of Moloka‘i. Kalaupapa was separated from the rest of the world, with sheer cliffs on one side, the ocean on the other three, and limited contact with anyone, even loved ones. The message of the Kalaupapa community reminds us of the acute need for each of us to apply the Latin maxim “in the essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”

Arizona: In Pioneer Women of Arizona, walk alongside the Mormon girls, young women, mothers, and grandmothers who traversed the desert to settle the Arizona strip. Donald G. Godfrey, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University, writes that this book—written by Roberta Flake Clayton, Catherine Ellis, and David Boone—“is a phenomenal contribution to pioneer women’s history in the Arizona and Utah LDS communities. . . . I highly recommend this work to Mormon historians, to those interested in women’s contributions to history, and to those who just enjoy wonderful pioneer stories.” Released June 15, 2017.

England: Follow Wilford Woodruff and other Apostles to England to discover the story of remarkable missionary success in the Three Counties area of England. Ronald D. Dennis, editor and translator of the Zion’s Trumpet series, writes of this book, “The Field Is White takes the reader on a fascinating tour of research findings regarding a long-neglected topic—that of the missionary efforts of Wilford Woodruff and others among the truth seekers known as the United Brethren. Carol Wilkinson and Cynthia Doxey Green have been thorough and even relentless in their pursuit of information on every person, place, and reference associated with Mormon missionaries and their converts in Worcestershire, Herefordshire, and Gloucestershire—the Three Counties. Numerous color photographs, charts, and detailed maps further enhance a very fine read.” Released June 15, 2017.

Taiwan: We are finalizing a volume by Felipe and Petra Chou titled Voice of the Saints in Taiwan, which covers the history of the Church there. Elder Liang Shih-an (Kent), first Chinese Area Seventy from Taiwan, wrote that “this book explores how the restored gospel was received by the Chinese people despite difficult circumstances. It further discusses the growth of the Church in Taiwan over the last sixty years. Today’s success is the result of Heavenly Father’s blessings and the dedication of the missionaries, members, and church leaders. It is a fulfillment of the promises in Taiwan’s dedicatory prayer. The publication of this book will especially inspire and contribute to the future faith of the Chinese people.” Released July 31, 2017.

Utah’s Dixie area: Of course, we recognize the importance of exploring not only distant places but also regions closer to home. Dixie Saints: Laborers in the Field is the story of the common folk—the farmers and ranchers, the fruit peddlers, the road builders, the timber cutters and lumber makers, the freighters, the midwives, the mothering women and child nurturers, the quilters and gardeners, the teachers, the choir singers and band players—those whose names are on genealogy charts but are seldom in the history books. It is about agriculture before machines and hard muscle labor in gardens, farms, and ranches. “These interviews,” writes Brian Q. Cannon, professor of history at Brigham Young University, “are a unique, unparalleled source for the social history of Mormon life in the Mojave Desert region following the pioneer era.” W. Paul Reeve, director of graduate studies in the University of Utah History Department, wrote, “Dixie Saints vividly illustrates . . . their story told in their own words. It is a compelling slice of social history expertly organized and edited by Douglas Alder, one of Southern Utah’s treasured historians. In his hands, these forgotten voices from the past speak again. . . . From the mundane to the miraculous, they share absorbing tales of lives well lived but otherwise forgotten.” Released July 31, 2017.

Canada: Finally, Canadian Mormons, Roy and Carma Prete’s edited compilation, gives a panoramic view of the rise and progress of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Canada. It has all the elements of a great saga. It includes stories of converts who joined in Canada; moved to Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois; and then trekked across the Great Plains to Utah in the Rocky Mountains. It tells of Mormon pioneers from Utah arriving in southern Alberta after 1887, having made a second grand trek to escape their persecutors, and details the settlement of Mormons in Alberta. It is the story of an ongoing missionary effort from the late nineteenth century, throughout the twentieth, and into the twenty-first, with a vast number of missionaries and the sustained effort of thousands of lay leaders and members laboring relentlessly to build up the Church in that region, which now consists of nearly 200,000 members, making the Church an essential part of the Canadian religious landscape. Released October 30, 2017.

As you embark on this global tour of Church history, we wish you all “bon voyage”!

 

 

 

 

Review of At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women

Review of Reeder, Jennifer, and Kate Holbrook, editors. At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women. Salt Lake City: The Church Historian’s Press, 2017. 452 pp. Photographs, notes, appendix, index. ISBN 978-1-62972-282-5. $29.99

Review by R. Devan Jensen

At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women is well conceived, compiled, and edited by Jennifer Reeder and Kate Holbrook and a team of researchers who embody the high standards of the Church Historian’s Press. The volume is also timely, being released for the 175th anniversary of the Relief Society. But this is more than a book about the Relief Society or the Young Women organizations. It is a collection of wise, witty, and spiritual insights to inspire and enrich readers’ understanding of American religious history and Sunday School lessons. “In addition to being a scholarly history,” the editors write, “this book provides a resource for contemporary church members as they study, speak, teach, and lead” (xv).

How did this project come to be? In a recent interview, Holbrook said she envisioned a “journal of discourses” for women. Many collections traditionally emphasize the writings of male church leaders, whose writings were more likely to be recorded in church minutes. A stated goal of this volume is to “powerfully demonstrate that women have contributed to Latter-day Saint devotion through sermons, speeches, prayers, songs, and stories” (xv). She and Reeder pitched the concept to the Church Historian’s Press and found a willing reception.

To create this vital project, Reeder, Holbrook, and a team of researchers and editors scoured eclectic sources such as “old minute books and obscure newspapers.” Reeder emphasized nineteenth-century discourses, while Holbrook focused on twentieth- and twenty-first-century speeches. The editors then created introductions and notes that “provide insight into the biographical, historical, theological, and cultural context of each talk” (xv). The result is a compilation of fifty-four speeches or, in a few cases, notes of speeches. The latter do strain the definition of “discourses” and are sometimes shorter than their accompanying introductions, but the overall compilation is well done.

Auxiliary leaders such as Linda K. Burton, Julie B. Beck, and Sheri L. Dew are well represented, but this book includes other lesser-known women who spoke at BYU Women’s conference. To represent the global nature of the church, the editors quote women from North and South America, Europe, and Asia. These talks include warm and witty speeches by Jutta B. Busche, Chieko N. Okazaki, Irina Kratzer, and Gladys N. Sitati (who is both wise and hilarious).

In my honest opinion, Francine R. Bennion’s BYU Women’s Conference address of March 28, 1986, “A Latter-day Saint Theology of Suffering,” is, by itself, worth the price of the book. Bennion begins with paradoxical couplets such as Proverbs 3:13 (“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding”) and “Ecclesiastes 1:18 (“In much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow”). How do we reconcile these paradoxes? “Theology,” she writes, “provides a framework that binds diversity and complexity into a more simple net with which we can make some sense even of things we don’t fully understand” (215).

Citing incidents of suffering worldwide, Bennion writes, “Good theology makes sense of what is possible but also of what is presently real and probable. . . . It is not enough that theology be either rational or faith promoting. It must be both. It is not enough that satisfying theology be mastered by a few expert scholars, teachers, and leaders. It must be comfortable carried out by ordinary people. It is not enough that theology help me to understand God. It must also help me to understand myself and the world” (216–17). Quoting the story of Jephthah’s vow and consequent sacrifice of his daughter, Bennion asks, “What do you think about Jephthah, his vow, and his God? Your answer will depend in part upon your own version of theology” (219). Complex, intriguing, and open ended!

Bennion then quotes a BYU Honors student’s conception of the celestial kingdom in the context of Voltaire’s “best of all possible worlds.” What is the celestial kingdom like? she asks. “Well, there won’t be any problems,” he replies, saying that “everyone will be–happy. There won’t be any unkindness. No one there will be rejected or abused, or laughed at, or ignored.”

“Oh,” Bennion said, “Are you suggesting that God experiences none of these things now?” Silence. Bennion then wrote, “In wanting to get to the celestial kingdom, these students had more awareness of traditional struggle-free utopias than of our own God and our own world” (221). Thus, our theology embraces the world as it is and our struggle to make sense of it.

This is just one of the many treasures to be discovered in At the Pulpit. The book is well worth efforts to mine it for other historical and doctrinal gems.

At the Pulpit certainly complements a related project titled The Witness of Women, by Janiece Johnson and Jennifer Reeder.

Review of Conversations with Mormon Historians

Review by Spencer W. McBride

Spencer W. McBride is the author of Pulpit and Nation: Clergymen and the Politics of Revolutionary America (University of Virginia Press, 2017) and a historian and documentary editor with the Joseph Smith Papers Project, Salt Lake City, Utah.

At the core, Conversations with Mormon Historians, is a book that features historians speaking to historians about being historians. While books featuring discussions of historiography and the personal histories of historians are rarely found atop bestseller lists, for those pursuing a career researching and writing about the Mormon past, this book is an important resource for understanding how the field became what it is today.

Conversations with Mormon Historians spotlights sixteen scholars who have spent decades working in the academic field of Mormon history, including Thomas Alexander, Claudia Bushman, Richard Bushman, Kenneth Godfrey, Dean Jessee, Carol Cornwall Madsen, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Each of the interviews is conducted by an early- or mid-career scholar. After each historian answers questions about his or her personal history, the recorded interactions delve into fascinating discussions of the field’s development, its highs and lows, its boons and obstacles, and its triumphs and defeats.

Consider, for instance, the interview of Richard Bushman in which he discusses with Jed Woodworth the popular reaction to Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling. It was welcomed by many as a humanized portrait of a complex man but critics—often Latter-day Saints—claimed that Bushman “sold out to the world by not coming down stronger on the Mormon side” and bearing testimony of Joseph Smith as a prophet (191). Similarly, Claudia Bushman reflects in her interview with Kristine Wardle Frederickson on the challenge of being a Latter-day Saint in academia. Bushman states, “People will always know you are a Mormon. It goes before you; it precedes you. People are suspicious of you and doubt that you can be trusted, . . . so you just have to rise above the suspicion” (176). Historians concerned with the ecclesiastical perceptions and ramifications of total transparency in writing about the Mormon past will be interested in Kenneth Godfrey’s reminiscence in his interview with Matthew C. Godfrey. The former recalls that when he was invited to join the original board of editors for Dialogue, two of his church leaders were uncomfortable with the idea, believing he would experience difficulties if the articles published in that journal were not “just right” (252). Add to this the bewilderment Laurel Thatcher Ulrich expresses in her interview with Nathan H. Williams over the mysterious circumstances that led to her inclusion on a list of scholars prohibited from speaking at BYU—a ban that has since been lifted (555–56). Readers are presented with multiple first-person accounts of the professional telling of its past and the past of its members.

Beyond the challenges of writing about the Mormon past as professional historians, several of the interviews in this volume illuminate the origins of now-prominent initiatives, projects, and organizations. For instance, Carol Cornwall Madsen recalls in her interview with Sheree Maxwell Bench the start and subsequent progress of the Mormon Women’s History Initiative (372–76). Similarly, Dean C. Jessee, in his discussion with Robin Scott Jensen, recounts how his work on the personal writings of Joseph Smith led to the creation of the Joseph Smith Papers Project (298–301). In addition, Thomas Alexander describes in his conversation with Dave Hall the formation of the Mormon History Association and the professional recognition and rigor Alexander and others hoped the organization would lend to the burgeoning field of Mormon history (13–17).

It would be easy for the casual reader to dismiss this book as historian navel-gazing, but it would be a mistake for professional historians to do the same. The history of our field, and the men and women who built it, is essential knowledge if we are to chart a course that moves the study of the Mormon past forward into new territory and present it to a more expansive audience than previously. Toward such an effort, Conversations with Mormon Historians makes a valuable contribution.

 

 

Review of Sacred Space: Exploring the Birthplace of Mormonism

Review by Daniel H. Olsen

Daniel H. Olsen is an associate professor, Department of Geography, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

When I was asked to read and review Michael MacKay’s Sacred Space: Exploring the Birthplace of Mormonism, I was expecting to read a straightforward history of Fayette, New York, the story of founding of Mormonism in Fayette, and the efforts of the LDS Church to purchase and restore the Peter Whitmer Sr. home where, church members have been told, was the location of the organization of the church on April 6, 1830. However, I was quite surprised, as I would imagine most church members would be, to read that the location of the establishment of Mormonism is highly contested within some Mormon history circles. Some historians, following the work of Michael Marquardt and Wesley Walters in their book Inventing Mormonism, believe that the church was organized in Manchester, New York, at Hyrum Smith’s log home. Other historians, as well as LDS General Authorities, claim that Fayette is the correct location of the founding of the church. The purpose of MacKay’s book then, is to “address historical claims that the church was not established in Fayette by taking a close look at what the existing documents tell us” (18) by “revisit[ing] and reinterpret[ing] the source material” (17) used in this Manchester-Fayette historical debate in light of new documentation from the ongoing Joseph Smith Papers Project. In other words, MacKay attempts to defend the argument for Fayette being the location of the formal organization of the LDS Church.

In the introductory section of the book, MacKay in essence asks the question, “Why does this debate about the location of the founding of the Church matter?” To answer this question, MacKay looks at the importance of sacred places in Latter-day Saint thought and practice. In addition to temples, the LDS Church has purchased many historical sites related to the founding of the church, as has the Community of Christ. These sites play an important role in the church’s cultural memory and in the development of individual and collective religious identities. Indeed, thousands of members of the LDS Church and the Community of Christ undertake informal pilgrimages to these “theologically significant spaces” (1) to learn more about the establishment of the Mormon movement and to be in the places where the events of the Restoration took place. In the context of this book, the LDS Church, through its Historic Sites Division, has been very particular in terms of historical and archaeological accuracy when it comes to identifying, restoring, maintaining, and interpreting its historical sites. Sacred places that serve as the primal origin of a religion are an important part of a religion’s identity and helps to validate faith (12), and as Douglas Davies has observed, “there are many Mormons for whom the primal story of the Restoration does constitute the truth: a basic epistemology that furnishes a template for history and for the stories of family life.”1 As such, the Manchester-Fayette debate is an important one to consider, for if the official position of the church is that the Restoration took place in Fayette, but the actual meeting took place in Manchester, this fact can potentially “undermine the Church’s claim to truth and disrupt its divinely guided origin” (17).

In chapter 1 MacKay gives a quick overview of the establishment of the Church, outlining the events leading up to the April 6, 1830, organizational meeting and the ordination of Joseph Smith to be “a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, and elder of the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ” (Doctrine and Covenants 21:1). While the heading of Doctrine and Covenants section 20 states that this revelation was received “at or near Fayette,” the crux of MacKay’s arguments, as he articulates in later chapters, is that Joseph Smith’s call to be a seer, translator, prophet, apostle, and elder was given on April 6, 1830, at the Whitmer farm in Manchester, and his official ordination on that day, as outlined in other historical documents, by Oliver Cowdery, “was a founding event even within itself” (35). MacKay delves into this in more detail in chapter 2 where he reviews the historical documentation related to the church’s establishment. While the when of the church’s inauguration is well documented, MacKay notes that “confirming where Smith organized the Church of Christ” is not a simple task (40), in part because there is a lack of legal documentation showing the formal incorporation of the church and also because there are no minutes of the organizational meeting and no existing contemporary accounts of the meeting in existing journals or letter (41). Even trying to track Joseph Smith’s movements in the days preceding and following the April 6 meeting, as MacKay does in this chapter, still adds ambiguity as to where this meeting was held.

In chapter 3 MacKay reviews three documents attributed to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey where Fayette is listed as the location of the organizational meeting: a copy of conference minutes that Smith presided over on May 3, 1834, printed in The Evening and Morning Star, two deeds Crowdery signed for Smith in 1834, and drafts of Smith’s history (58). According to MacKay, “these three sources demonstrate firsthand what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery taught and recorded privately about where the Church was established” (59–60). As well, in chapter 4 MacKay looks at Revelation Book 1, where Oliver Cowdery seemed to change dates and locations of section 21 as Fayette. So why did official Church materials state that the organizational meeting of the church was in Manchester? MacKay traces this to potential editorial errors by W.W. Phelps, who may have listed all the revelations received around April 6 as having been received in the Manchester region of New York. This error was the perpetuated into other church materials.

Michael Marquardt, who recently reviewed MacKay’s book, suggests that this “little book is a propaganda piece based upon emotion rather than history. The author is more interested in his sacred space than in what the historical record brings to the story of the Restoration. . . . Most readers will not be taken in by this short book built upon emotion.”2 I apparently am not “most readers,” as I found this book to be rigorous in its scholarship and, in agreeance with Richard Bushman (quoted on the back cover, found MacKay’s findings and arguments plausible and persuasive. As well, MacKay writes in a clear and succinct manner that makes it easy for a general reader to navigate the tedium of historiography and document analysis. This “little book” is an important read for church members who not only want to learn more about the establishment of the Mormon movement but who also ground their faith in the Restoration and its attendant sacred places in “rigorous research and [a] careful examination of historical records” (18).

  1. Douglas, The Mormon Culture of Salvation (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000), 12–13.
  2. Michael Marquardt, “Review of Sacred Space: Exploring the Birthplace of Mormonism,” https://user.xmission.com-research/mormonpdf/revsacredspace.pdf.