Review of Mormons in the Piazza

Review of Toronto, James A., Eric R Dursteler, and Michael W. Homer. Mormons in the Piazza: History of the Latter-day Saints in Italy. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2017. 599 pp. Photographs, maps, notes, appendix, bibliography, index. ISBN 978-1-9443-9410-3. $34.99

Review by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel

Richard Neitzel Holzapfel is a professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University.

Mormons in the Piazza: History of the Latter-day Saints in Italy is a tour de force and has immediately become a model for future histories written about Latter-day Saints living, working, serving, and struggling to find a place in nations outside the United States.

Toronto, Dursteler, and Homer have given an invaluable gift to those who served LDS missions in Italy; LDS men and women who worked for private companies, US military, and various governmental agencies in Italy; immigrants who encountered and joined the Church in Italy; and most importantly, the Italian Latter-day Saint converts and their descendants. Additionally, the authors have provided a compelling and well-crafted narrative for non-Latter-day Saint Italians, especially religious studies scholars and academics who are interested in “Italy’s transition from a monolithically Catholic country to a condition of modern religious pluralism” (back jacket blurb).

The nearly six-hundred-page book covers the period from when Mormon missionaries first turned their attention to the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1849–51 (Italian unification did not occur until 1861) until the “Mormon Moment” in the twenty-first century. One expects a book written by three different authors to be somewhat uneven, but the authors and the editorial staff at BYU’s Religious Studies Center have done a remarkable job to even out the differences in tone, writing style, and depth of analysis by each author.

The book is a superb example of the historian’s craft even though only one of the authors is a university historian (Eric R Dursteler, PhD in history from Brown University). The other two authors are independent historians with impressive publication on a number of historical topics (James A. Toronto, PhD in Middle Eastern studies from Harvard and Michael W. Homer, JD from University of Nebraska at Lincoln).

Using a wide array of sources, including non-LDS sources in Italy, the authors have written a compelling and nuanced story of the Mormon experience in Italy. That story actually began in the United States when the Second Great Awakening, a period of intense religious excitement and activity, was waning in the 1850s. At this same moment, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints witnessed a greatly expanded missionary effort beyond the United States, Canada, and the British Isles, which had been its focus from 1830 until 1849.

In a bold move, Brigham Young and other Church leaders announced a major missionary effort in 1849 that included non-English-language missions. They hoped to establish the Church around the world, primarily in continental Europe. Specifically, Church leaders hoped to establish a base of operations in the Apennine or Italian Peninsula that would allow them to expand their missionary effort to the Middle East and as far away as the Indian subcontinent.

This proselytizing effort was based on the “Great Commission,” as it is known by New Testament scholars. The “Great Commission” is found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:19–20). From the very beginning, Mormons had taken the “Great Commission” very seriously. LDS Apostle Lorenzo Snow and his missionary companions believed they were fulfilling this commission when they “opened the Italian Mission in the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1850” (1).

The authors outline those efforts, which included spreading the restored gospel among the people of the Italian peninsula and eventually to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia, through well-organized, written, and brilliantly argued chapters. Of course, Mormons in the Piazza is not the first effort to tell the story of LDS missionary efforts beyond North America. However, it is the best book-length treatment, building upon significant articles, chapters, and books that cover similar themes. Generally, such histories have usually been told from the perspective of the LDS missionary and LDS mission leaders. In this case, the authors make sure those important voices are heard, but they have also included the voices of others, including some of those who “dropped out” (see chapter 13, “Why Some Dropped Out: Challenges to Church Growth,” 453–87).

Although every chapter adds to our understanding, Mormons in the Piazza makes several critical and important contributions to our understanding of the emergence of Mormonism in Italy. First, the book places Mormonism in a larger scholarly conversation about the “emerging portents of a ‘new religious tradition’” (ix). Although the Restoration is considered unique in its message, authority, and history, it is also one among many new religious movements to emerge in the recent past. As Rodney Stark suggests, therefore, Mormonism provides historians and sociologists an opportunity to examine why some new religious movements succeed and why others fail (see Rodney Stark, “Preface,” and “The Basis of Mormon Success,” in The Rise of Mormonism, ed. Reid L. Neilson [New York: Columbia University Press, 2005], ix, 114–38).

Second, the book considers LDS missionary work at the macro and micro levels. The authors go well beyond sources readily available at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, sources that often focus on the perspective of the missionaries, generally North Americans, to “examine the personal experiences of the converts themselves” (xi).

Third, the authors also survey carefully the “strategies, methods, and challenges of missions since the mid-twentieth century” (xi). This brilliant study is one of the few that examines issues such as “organization, policies, immigration, and conversion/retention over an extensive time period” (xi).

Fourth, although this book cannot be a “comprehensive account and thorough analysis of the people, events, and issues, related to” the history of the LDS Church in Italy, the authors “fill [a] gap in [LDS] literature by presenting historical information and analysis concerning the growth of Mormonism in Italy, issues surround the internationalization of the church, the emergence of new religious movements in Europe’s evolving religious marketplace, and conversation and retention of faith communities that aggressively purpose missionary outreach” (x).

Chapter 1, “From the Great Basin Kingdom to the Kingdom Sardinia, 1849–51” (1–44); chapter 2, “Expansion and Opposition, 1851–52” (45–80); chapter 3, “Strife, Despair, and a Spirit of Emigration, 1852–55” (81–104); chapter 4, “Outreach to Catholics and Dwindling Mormon Presence, 1855–67” (105–36); and chapter 5, “Emigrating to the ‘Land of Ephraim’” (137–76)

cover the early beginnings and end of the very first missionary push in Italy. Much of these chapters draw heavily upon Michael Homer’s and James Toronto’s earlier work (see “Bibliography,” 564–65 and 574–75). Nevertheless, these chapters provide new insights, mature thinking about specific topics that can only occur after dozens of years researching, writing, and publishing on a specific topic. These chapters are fresh, crisp, and nuanced.

The authors argue that the timing of the arrival of Latter-day Saints missionaries was perfect to win numerous converts because “three positive factors converged: political reforms in the Kingdom of Sardinia, socioreligious ferment and spiritual seeking in the Waldensian communities [in the Cottian Alps] and renewed evangelical enthusiasm within the Mormon community [in the Great Basin, USA] following the migration westward” (530).

Chapter 6, “Retreat or Return: Mormons and Italy, 1867–1945” (177–212), is a bridge to help connect the first successful missionary effort in the 1850s with the next successful missionary effort beginning in the late 1960s. Based on Dursteler’s important essay “One Hundred Years of Solitude: Mormonism in Italy, 1867–1964,” published in the International Journal of Mormon Studies in 2011, this chapter carefully outlines the various factors that prevented the Church in making Italy a focus of its missionary effort during a long period.

Some of those factors originated in Utah with the Church and others in Italy itself. As the authors opine about the last phase of the retreat, “From 1929 on [because of Italian Fascism’s suspicion of protestant groups and its alliance with Catholicism], the door for the Mormons to return to Italy was effectively closed, and it would not reopen unto the years following World War II” (211).

Chapter 7, “Prelude to a Second Mission: The Postwar Period in Italy, 1945–65”; chapter 8, “Reopening the Italian Mission, 1965–71” (259–314); chapter 9, “Struggling to Take Root: Organizational, Media, and Social Challenges” (315–50); chapter 10, “The Golden Age of Church Expansion, 1971–85” (351–82); and chapter 11, “Increasing Maturation and Acceptance in Public Life, 1985–2012” (383–422) cover the second successful missionary effort during the second half of the twentieth century until the present day.

The authors argue again that timing for the second missionary effort was perfect to win numerous converts because post–Second World War “social dislocation, economic upheaval, and political” changes provided an opportunity for minority religions to prosper. However, the authors argue the Church “missed a golden opportunity . . . that could have provided deeper and stronger roots to nurture growth during the second mission” by delaying direct missionary efforts in Italy after the war by twenty years.

Richard Lyman Bushman noted, “The art of the historian is to extract useful information from original sources where negative or positive” (“Foreword,” in Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, From Darkness unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon [Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; and Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015], vi).

Toronto, Dursteler, and Homer have not shied away from doing that kind of historical spade work among the sources, and as a result, they have produced two insightful chapters about conversion and deconversion among Italian Latter-day Saint converts: chapter 12, “Why They Joined” (423–52) and chapter 13, “Why Some Dropped Out: Challenges to Church Growth” (453–88).

These chapters are informative, candid, careful, and cautious. The questions raised and the observations made in these two important chapters seem particularly relevant today as many Latter-day Saints deal with conversion and deconversion of family, friends, and associates—people they deeply care for and love.

It is not surprising for any Italian returned missionary—all three authors served as young missionaries in Italy—to discover that “moral drift and lack of clear values in [Italian] society” and “disaffection with the Catholic Church” explain why some early converts joined the Church. Like in any country, “personal crisis and the search for existential meaning” and “seeking alternative paths to spiritual fulfillment” opened the door for many missionaries in Italy. The authors also identify the importance of LDS doctrine, worship, community and practice, including spiritual experiences, as important factors in why people joined the Church.

In discussing why some dropped out, the authors identify challenges that any faith community will experience in an increasing secular world. Toronto recently served as a mission president in Italy and certainly thought about “real growth,” an important discussion and contribution of the book (455–59). While many would attribute inactivity to a lack of testimony, the authors correctly observe that this idea “oversimplifies and distorts the complex reality surrounding religious change” (486). Thoughtfully, the authors note, “A constellation of personal motives, social forces, and internal church dynamics are at play as spiritual seeker weigh options in the religious marketplace, and most converts make a multifaceted decision based on innate human needs for meaning in life, group affiliation, and physical and economic well-being” (486–87).

In the penultimate chapter, chapter 14, “The ‘Mormon Moment’ in Italy: An Intesa and a Temple” (489–528), the authors argue the hard-won Intesa (full religious status and rights to religious communities given by the Italian government) and the building of a LDS temple on the outskirts of Rome have been significant benchmarks in the history of the Church in Italy—part of the “Mormon Moment.” From an individual perspective, these two events provided many Italian Latter-day Saints a sense of vindication—validation for their individual sacrifices in joining the Church. Nevertheless, the authors observe, the Latter-day Saint story “reminds us that, in Italy as elsewhere, a declaration of civil rights is a far cry from the realization of civil rights” (527).

Toronto, Dursteler, and Homer provide an important analysis and synthesis of their study of the rise of Mormonism in Italy as the final chapter of the book, chapter 15, “Reflection on the Rise of Mormonism in Italy” (529–42). Most importantly, the authors point to their contribution to “understand the nature, challenges, and outcomes of Mormon expansion in Italy” (529) as a mean of understanding the nature, challenges, and outcomes of Mormon expansion into other international areas. Such insights make this book more valuable than a country history of the Church, but a lens by which one could look at any land where Mormonism has and is attempting to make a permanent community of believers.

Mormons in the Piazza 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” (530).

For more about the book, click here.

RSC Books in Early 2017

Copublished by the RSC and Deseret Book in Early 2017

Mormons in the Piazza

Mormons in the Piazza: History of the Latter-day Saints in Italy

By James A. TorontoEric R Dursteler and Michael W. Homer

From the day Lorenzo Snow stepped out of a carriage onto Italian soil in 1850 to the day that Thomas S. Monson turned a shovel of Italian soil to break ground for a temple in 2010, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made evangelization in Italy a high priority. Mormon missionary work unfolded against a backdrop of historical forces—political upheaval, world wars, social change, and internal Church dynamics—that presented both obstacles and opportunities for growth. Over the span of a century and a half, the Church managed to establish a small but significant and enduring presence in Italy.

This research on Church history and religious change among Italian Mormons is intended to help provide a comprehensive account and thorough analysis of the people, events, and issues related to this important chapter in Church history.

This volume highlights the human drama associated with the encounters between foreign missionaries and local spiritual seekers, discussing the tensions and adjustments that result at both the individual and institutional levels, and explores the implications of religious growth across obstacles of faith, geography, and culture.

$34.99 Purchase online or eBook version

ISBN: 978-1-9443-9410-3

Release: January 2, 2017

Kalaupapa, the Mormon Experience in an Exiled Community

Kalaupapa: The Mormon Experience in an Exiled Community

By Fred E. Woods

In the nineteenth century, leprosy (known as Hansen’s disease today) spread through the Hawaiian Islands, causing the king of Hawai‘i to 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. In Kalaupapa, the author delves into the untold history of Kalaupapa and its inhabitants, recounting the patients’ experience on the peninsula and emphasizing the Mormon connection to it. By so doing, he brings to light inspiring stories of love, courage, sacrifice, and community.


ISBN: 978-1-9443-9413-4

Release: January 31, 2017



Zion's Trumpet 1856 and 1857 Welsh Mormon Periodical

Zion’s Trumpet: 1856 & 1857 Welsh Mormon Periodical

Edited by Ronald D. Dennis

During 1856 and 1857, fifty-two issues of Udgorn Seion (Zions Trumpet) were published to deliver guidance and information to the Latter-Day Saints all over Wales from their leaders in Swansea. Emigration was the principal focus of the first few 1856 issues. Today these publications give us a glimpse into the lives of the Welsh Saints, five hundred of whom set sail on the S. Curling in April of that year. Half of this group then crossed the plains with the Edward Bunker handcart company. Daniel Daniels, the new editor of the periodical, was pleased to publish periodic reports from his predecessor Dan Jones about the emigration. During his second year as editor of Zion’s Trumpet, a worried Daniels also published reports about Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston’s Utah Expedition, which was advancing toward Salt Lake City, where his wife and children lived. In this last book of the series, translator and editor Ronald D. Dennis maintains the format and character of the original Welsh publication, giving readers a fascinating look into this little-known period of Church history. After thirty-five years of teaching Welsh and Portuguese at Brigham Young University, Ronald D. Dennis has now completed translating Zion’s Trumpet. During his three decades at Brigham Young University, Professor Dennis amassed an extensive collection of biographies, journals, and pictures of the early Welsh Latter-day Saints.

$35.99 Purchase online

ISBN: 978-1-9443-9411-0

Release: February 27, 2017


His Majesty and Mission

Edited by Nicholas J. Frederick and Keith J. Wilson

Christianity rises or falls based on the reality of the Resurrection. Christian religious leaders of all walks have commented on the importance of the Resurrection. Accordingly, this volume is organized to enhance our celebration of the miracle of the Resurrection. The essays published in this volume represent the talks presented at the annual Brigham Young University Easter Conferences in 2016 and 2017 by Sheri Dew, Eric D. Huntsman, Daniel K Judd, Camille Fronk Olson, Hank R. Smith, and Elder Kevin J Worthen.


ISBN: 978-1-9443-9412-7

Release: March 2017



Pioneer Women of Arizona, Second Edition

By Roberta Flake ClaytonCatherine H. Ellis and David F. Boone

These are two hundred life stories of Mormon girls, young women, mothers, and grandmothers who traveled to Arizona by covered wagons and by train. These women drove teams and knitted socks while their men trailed the cattle. They settled the Arizona Strip and along the Little Colorado, San Pedro, Gila, and Salt Rivers.


ISBN: 978-1-9443-9409-7

Release: Spring 2017




No Other Success: The Parenting Practices of David O. McKay

By Mark D. Ogletree

“No other success can compensate for failure in the home” is a statement made famous by President David O. McKay, who taught Church members the importance of focusing on the family. At the age of thirty-two, he magnified his responsibilities as a newly called Apostle. He had to learn to juggle world travel, heavy Church assignments, and duties with his small but growing family. Later, as a member of the First Presidency, he spent a lot of time teaching and fostering both his children and grandchildren.


ISBN: 978-1-9443-9414-1

Release: June 15, 2017


Review of Documents, Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835


Godfrey, Matthew C., Brenden W. Rensink, Alex D. Smith, Max H Parkin, and Alexander L. Baugh, eds. Documents, Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835. Vol. 4 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Ronald K. Esplin and Matthew J. Grow. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016. ix, 668 pp. Photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, appendices, index. ISBN 978-1629721743. $54.95

Review by J. Stuart

J. Stuart is a PhD student in history at the University of Utah.

The Joseph Smith Papers Project has revolutionized the way that historians and educators can study and teach the life of the LDS Church’s first prophet. The fourth volume of the Documents series provides introductions and transcripts of its documents to help readers better understand each source. Documents, Volume 4 contains several important documents produced between April 1834–September 1835, including a sales receipt for the purchase of Egyptian artifacts that included the Book of Abraham, early documents related to the publication of the Book of Commandments (Doctrine and Covenants), and the promise of an endowment of power in the Kirtland Temple. Although Documents, Volume 4 has fewer revelations than the first three volumes of the Documents series, that should not prevent historians and researchers from engaging with the volume for research and classroom use.

Some documents are more valuable than others for specific lessons and approaches to teaching Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants (every person’s teaching approach can benefit by including material from Documents, Volume 4). With this in mind, throughout this review I articulate several key areas of the volume that educators can use to employ the documents in their gospel teaching. Specifically, I suggest ways that teachers can better explain the pragmatic aspects of Joseph Smith’s prophetic leadership, the importance of the Camp of Israel (also known as Zion’s Camp), and how the Camp of Israel prepared Latter-day Saints for callings within the early Church.

Throughout 1834–35, Joseph Smith engaged in many Church-related duties that we do not traditionally emphasize in Sunday School, seminary, or institute classes. Documents, Volume 4 presents readers with several dozen documents related to the ways that Joseph Smith and others governed the early Church. These documents will help students to see the ways that Joseph Smith and other priesthood leaders collaborated on matters both practical and spiritual. For instance, some High Council meetings address matters of Church discipline, some relate to raising volunteers for the Camp of Israel, and others give specific direction to Church members in their callings. These types of meetings reveal the ways that early Church leaders made decisions and operated, providing a glimpse into the decision-making processes that we need our students to learn in order to serve in their own callings. They also highlight the “busyness” of Joseph Smith’s life. He participated in scores of meetings, corresponded with many people, preached, led the Church through financial struggles, and oversaw the publication and spread of his teachings. Using these documents, teachers can help their students recognize the weight of Joseph Smith’s day-to-day duties as they help their audience understand his religious teachings.

Documents, Volume 4 also contains letters written to Emma Smith that shed light on the familial responsibilities that Joseph did his best to tend to while doing all that he could to lead the Church (48–59). These documents portray a very human side to Joseph, a valuable counterbalance to hagiographic narratives that downplay the parts of the Prophet’s life not directly related to Church governance or doctrine. These sources also allow educators to introduce students to the Smiths’ marital relationship, which faced the highs and lows that every marriage faces (with the additional stresses of Joseph’s frequent absence on Church business). Joseph Smith spent a lot of time doing things other than receiving revelations or pondering the topic of his next sermon. Like Latter-day Saints today, he balanced family responsibilities and other concerns outside of Church governance.

Even within his Church responsibilities, Joseph Smith grappled with leading the Saints through events like the Camp of Israel. The sources in Documents, Volume 4 remind readers that Joseph Smith was not perfect, nor did he operate in ideal conditions. He argued with his fellow Saints over petty matters like the presence of a dog in the camp. Cholera swept through the camp, and more than a dozen participants passed away as a result. However, the Camp of Israel’s failure to win back Jackson County through military means reveals important traits of Mormonism’s first prophet. Joseph Smith possessed the humility to disband the camp even though it went against what he wanted to do personally. The Camp of Israel demonstrates how Joseph Smith received “refined” revelation when the Saints’ circumstances required.

Documents, Volume 4 also invites readers to consider why the Lord would ask the Saints to march to Zion despite their failure to recover their land and property. Teachers could ask students to consider that many of those who accepted both the revelation to redeem Zion as well as the Lord’s instruction to disband the Camp of Israel became leaders of the Church in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and elsewhere. In fact, Joseph Smith specifically said that the Camp of Israel proved the Apostles’ faithfulness and capacity for leadership (221, see 219–34 for more on the calling of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). Educators could organize a lesson around the idea that Latter-day Saints have always had to serve in the face of frustration and disappointment—and why those who persevere in times of trouble (a trait belonging to model disciples) might be seen as especially ready to lead other Saints.

Sources in Documents, Volume 4 also help to explain the expansion of priesthood quorums and the evolution of Church government from April 1834–April 1835. Using letters, meeting minutes, revelations, and other documents available in this volume of The Joseph Smith Papers will undoubtedly help teachers to better answer student questions about priesthood organization and the evolving responsibilities of Church leaders. Teachers can use the meeting minutes, letters, and revelations in Documents, Volume 4 to discuss the practical reasons why the early Church’s governing structures changed. Joseph Smith could not manage the minutiae of everyday Church governance without help; the Lord provided other leaders to assist in leading a Church experiencing rapid growth.

Educators should also be sure to teach their students about the participation of women and children in the Camp of Israel. While teaching about the importance of women’s contributions, educators should point out that a woman, Jane Clark, gave the second-largest financial donation to the Camp of Israel—fifty dollars (148). Unfortunately, because of record-keeping practices in the nineteenth century, we know much less about female participation in the early Church than male participation. As educators, we can do much more to teach the history of women in Mormonism—this document provides a great opportunity to include their faithful actions.

The sources in Documents, Volume 4 reveal the ways that Joseph led the early Saints, and how the Lord proved the faithfulness of many early leaders of the Church. The documents also provide material that educators can use to teach about Joseph Smith’s personal life and the ways that it affected his Church duties. Teachers can and will glean important information for teaching Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants from Documents, Volume 4. I wholeheartedly recommend that teachers use the documents from the Joseph Smith Papers Project to add variety and detail to their lessons and to increase their own gospel knowledge.



Review of By Study and Also by Faith


By Study and Also by Faith: One Hundred Years of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2015. Notes, black-and-white illustrations, 654 pp. with index. ISBN-13: 978-1-4651-1878-3, US $33.50.

Review by Scott C. Esplin

Scott C. Esplin is an associate professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.

“In the history of the Church,” President Boyd K. Packer taught, “there is no better illustration of the prophetic preparation of this people than the beginnings of the seminary and institute program. These programs were started when they were nice but were not critically needed. They were granted a season to flourish and to grow into a bulwark for the Church. They now become a godsend for the salvation of modern Israel.”[1] Seeking to chronicle this history, the recent volume, By Study and Also by Faith: One Hundred Years of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, captures the system’s rise from a humble beginning of seventy students in 1912 to become a worldwide organization that provides religious education to over 700,000 students a year.

In the volume’s foreword, Elder Paul V. Johnson, former Commissioner of the Church Educational System, outlines the book’s purpose: “We were in danger of losing a great deal of knowledge of our history. Some other organizations cut their connections to their roots and begin to drift. This organization could not afford this,” he warned. “Our history doesn’t limit us, but like a plant’s roots it anchors and nourishes us and is crucial for growth. Our history helps us grasp our identity and protects us” (viii).

The prologue adeptly overviews the foundation of education in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Drawing from the words of modern revelation and the practices of the early Saints, it outlines the groundwork laid for Seminaries and Institutes by educational endeavors in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Utah. Importantly, the prologue connects the Church’s earlier academies and religion classes to the modern Church Educational System, helping the reader recognize that the seminary and institute programs were the continuation of larger efforts to nurture faith in the hearts of youth and young adults. While some readers might wish this and later parts of the book were strengthened by a discussion of religious instruction beyond Mormonism or a deeper examination of the alternatives to released-time religious education, the prologue nicely places the formation of the seminary and institute system within a larger Church context.[2]

Following the prologue, the book focuses its remaining nearly six hundred pages specifically on the history of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. In chapters that are as long as one hundred pages each, the book details the operations of programs that grew beyond their Wasatch Front beginnings to their current reach around the world.

The authors, who, it appears from the acknowledgments, all have backgrounds in Church education, seem to grapple with a challenge faced by every teacher: too much material to cover and a reluctance to leave anything out. As one who has tried to talk more quickly in a class in order to teach more material, I resonate with the difficulty, or even the reluctance, they faced to “reduce and simplify.” However, the words of Elder Packer quoted earlier regarding the history of the program might apply to the volume specifically. From a reader’s perspective, some of the information the book contains is “nice but . . . not critically needed.” For example, a general readership likely does not need details of the Alpine summer school from 1927 and 1928 (48–50), a listing of extracurricular activities by teachers and students in the 1930s (62), the development of choirs at the Logan and Salt Lake City institutes in the 1940s and ’50s (111), a reference to William E. Berrett constructing a coffin for his deceased child (141), or the listing of computer reporting programs in the 1990s (418–19). The challenge of too much detail is especially evident in the latter half of the volume, where the authors write about events that they and some of their readers personally experienced. Of course, this difficulty is faced by anyone who attempts to write in an historical way about events of the recent past involving living subjects. The challenge increases when the writing is done by committee. Though the volume is well researched and seeks to be exhaustive, some of its information might better be placed in a footnote or in a separate collection altogether.

Admittedly, the book maintains its detailed focus on the seminary and institute systems. Therefore, beyond the prologue, which touches on other Church education endeavors that were foundational to the programs in question, the bulk of the book makes little mention of related religious education programs like those at BYU, BYU–Idaho, and BYU–Hawaii. To the authors’ credit, when the other Church universities are mentioned, it is always in the context of their connection to the history of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. This is the case with the discussion of BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson, as his role as chancellor of the Unified Church School System is emphasized, and with the overview of BYU–Idaho’s Pathways Program, as the book draws connections to the larger Institute of Religion system.

As an institutional history, the book is heavily organized around people. This may be appropriate because teaching is, first and foremost, a people-oriented profession. From the beginning of each chapter, which, with the exception of the prologue, starts with a full-page picture of a person central to the story (Thomas J. Yates, first seminary teacher; President Henry B. Eyring, two-time commissioner of the Church Educational System; Stanley A. Peterson, associate commissioner/administrator of religious education and Church schools; and so forth), to appendix 7, which contains twenty-three pages of administrator biographies, the book is people-dominated. Page after page contains interesting pictures of people important to the history. Even when the expansion of the program internationally is discussed, it is in conjunction with people. For example, when the first international programs are examined, they are introduced with headings that include both a location and a person: Great Britain—John M. Madsen, Australia—J. L. Jaussi, and New Zealand—Rhett James (184–91). This pattern of discussing a building, program, or country in conjunction with people important to the story is consistent throughout the text.

The focus on people comes at a cost, however—one that Elder Johnson acknowledges in his foreword. “Despite this volume’s relatively large size, it cannot be comprehensive. There are too many people, too many powerful accounts, and too many miracles and blessings to squeeze into one volume” (ix). Therefore, the emphasis on certain people, most often those with connections to central administration, exacerbates a challenge, especially for a program that is no longer limited to the Wasatch Front. The problem of selectivity is especially evident in the aforementioned appendix of administrator biographies, as the book does not clearly identify the criteria used for determining inclusion. With more than 3,000 current employees and over 44,000 volunteers worldwide, prominent people are going to be missed, even in a book of over six hundred pages. For example, Joseph M. Tanner is only mentioned in a passing sentence as a bridge between Karl G. Maeser and Horace H. Cummings, though Tanner served as superintendent of Church schools for five pivotal years (25). Additionally, a personal introduction in the text to nearly every central-office administrator, coupled with detailed biographies of these leaders in an appendix, subtly brands the book as an institutional production, though system-wide non-administrators and volunteers outnumber full-time administrators dramatically. Therefore, thousands of current and former full-time employees and volunteers who dedicated many years to the work of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion may feel their history was neglected. While the book will resonate with those who know and love the leadership of the Seminary and Institute systems, much remains to be written from the perspectives of women (443–47), students (453–56), and volunteers (456–59). In fact, institutionally, as many pages are dedicated to employment practices including compensation and contracts (541–44) as are specifically dedicated to the voices of women, students, and volunteers.[3] Furthermore, perspectives from non-English-speaking areas of the world are limited.

These observations are not intended to be criticisms of what is a remarkable product. In fact, President Packer’s observation that the program had become “a godsend for the salvation of modern Israel” is also evident in the history. The tone of the volume is admittedly and unapologetically positive, as a volume dealing with this topic and published by the Church should be. “The history of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion is one of faith, sacrifice, and devotion,” writes Chad H Webb, administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. “It is a history of commitment to and love for our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ. It is a history of love for the sacred word of God, of love for youth and young adults and of lives dedicated to teaching, lifting, preparing, and protecting them” (xi–xii).

While the book outlines challenges faced by Seminaries and Institutes of Religion over time, it openly asserts that God’s hand coupled with the sacrifice of loyal employees advanced the program. For example, describing the challenges faced in expanding beyond Mormonism’s traditional intermountain region, the book concludes, “As in Church education’s infant days, the right leaders and teachers came forward to overcome each obstacle” (93). This volume ascribes to the perspective voiced by President Joseph F. Smith: “The hand of the Lord may not be visible to all. There may be many who cannot discern the workings of God’s will in the progress and development of this great latter-day work, but there are those who see in every hour and in every moment of the existence of the Church, from its beginning until now, the overruling, almighty hand of Him who sent His Only Begotten Son.”[4] While not flawless, By Study and also By Faith succeeds in chronicling the divine hand in the history of Seminaries and Institutes.


[1] Boyd K. Packer, “Teach the Scriptures” (address to Church Educational System religious educators, 1977), 4.

[2] For example, additional detail could be added to clarify Elder David O. McKay’s initial opposition to the seminary program (41).

[3] These voices do emerge occasionally in other portions of the book, but not as separate sections.

[4] Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, April 1904, 2.

Craig L. Foster’s Review of “Conversations with Mormon Historians”

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Review of Alexander L. Baugh and Reid L. Neilson, eds., Conversations with Mormon Historians, Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in cooperation with Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 2015. pp.580 + xv, including index. $34.99.

Abstract: Conversations with Mormon Historians is a compilation of interviews with sixteen Latter-day Saint scholars. The book reveals why they went into their chosen professions, their rise to prominence as historians, and their thoughts regarding important topics such as the Prophet Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Part of understanding history is to understand the historians who wrote it. In other words, to truly grasp historical interpretations and perspectives, we need to know the historians behind the works of historical writing. Only then can we recognize how and why various historical events and people are being portrayed. . . .

See the full review here.

To buy the book, visit here.

RSC as Professional Preparation

Elizabeth Pinborough, RSC, Church Publishing Services

“The Religious Studies Center has been an important part of my professional success. At the RSC I received professional job training while I was a student and was able to work on professional projects, which prepared me for employment as an editor after I graduated. Learning from professionals there was invaluable, and I was able to hone the skills I gained in class by working on real-world projects. I could also see that knowledge in action and broaden its scope. In my editing work I have relied on the knowledge of the publishing process I gained at the RSC. I also made lifelong friends and associates there. I am incredibly grateful for all the RSC taught me.”

—Elizabeth Pinborough, former RSC editing intern and now writer at Church Publishing Services Department

Job training at the RSC is made possible through your donation. To donate to the Friends of Religious Education, click here.

RSC Authors at 2016 MHA Conference

Cliff Lodge, Snowbird, Utah, MHA

MHA Conference, Cliff Lodge, Snowbird, Utah, June 9-12, 2016.

Join us for the 2016 MHA Conference June 9–12 at Snowbird Resort’s beautiful Cliff Lodge. To register, click this link. Sign up soon because the Early Bird discount ends on Saturday, May 7. The following RSC authors will speak:

Jonathan A. Stapley, “Mormon Ordination: Texts, Powers, and Priesthoods”

Clinton D. Christensen, “Racial Perception and the Priesthood: Practice Among Latin American and Caribbean Saints”

Matthew C. Godfrey, “A Season of Blessings: What We Learn about Ordination and Patriarchal Blessings in Kirtland, Ohio, from the Joseph Smith Papers”

Jill Mulvey Derr, “How Women Created and Negotiated Their Institutional Presence: Emergent Narratives from Key Documents in The First Fifty Years of Relief Society

John C. Thomas, “Ambivalence Lost? Remembering and Forgetting Unknown Tongues”

Brant W. Ellsworth, “Portals to the Past: Reflexivity and the Study of Memories”

Casey Paul Griffiths, “Young, Progressive, and in Love: Joseph F. Merrill, Laura Hyde, and the Origins of Latter-day Saint and PR Man”

Richard E. Turley Jr., Roundtable and Audience Discussion: Global Practice

Richard L. Bushman, “The Council of Fifty Minutes—An Initial Scholarly Appraisal”

Richard E. Bennett, “The Council of Fifty Minutes—An Initial Scholarly Appraisal”

Tona Hangen, “Performing Trek: Becoming ‘Pioneer Children’ in the Digital Age”

Laura Harris Hales, “Legal Briefs or Pastorals? The LDS Church’s Three Official Statements on Marriage and Family”

Barbara E. Morgan and R. Devan Jensen, “Line Upon Line: Joseph Smith’s Growing Understanding of Families and Heaven”

Jennifer Brinkerhoff-Platt, “A Cultural Perspective on Latter-day Saint Eternal Family Discourse”

Brett D. Dowdle, “Promised Gatherings to Promised Lands: Mormon Gatherings, Early Zionism, and Orson Hyde’s 1840 Mission to Jerusalem”

Samuel Brown, “‘To Read the Sound of Eternity’: Speech, Text, and Scripture in the Book of Mormon”

Terryl Givens, “The Book of Mormon and the Reshaping of Covenant Theology”

Ugo Perego, “Was Joseph Smith the Biological Father of Josephine Lyon? The Genetic Evidence”

Brian Hales, “Polyandry and the ‘Offer’ Mentioned in D&C 132:51”

Kenneth L. Alford, “The Utah War’s 1858 Move South Viewed through Women’s Eyes”

William P. MacKinnon, “Rescued or Kidnapped: The Trans-Atlantic Saga of Henrietta Polydore”

Patrick Q. Mason, “Twentieth-Century Environmental Politics in the Mormon Culture Region”

Kate Holbrook, “Mothers at Work: A Look at the 1970s”

Dave Hall, “Changing Realities for Mormon Women: The Gospel Literacy Effort During the Presidency of Elaine L. Jack”

Stephen J. Fleming, “When Did Joseph Smith Know What He Knew? Hints at Pre-Existence, Deification, and Eternal Marriage in the Book of Mormon”

Janiece Johnson, “Becoming A People of the Books: Early Mormon Converts and the New Word of the Lord”

Scott C. Esplin, “Changing Their Practice: Latter-day Saint and Reorganized Church Approaches to Historical”

Andrew H. Hedges, “Practice in the Papers: News from Utah, 1847–49”

Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, “Agriculture, Adversaries, and Apostasy: Joseph Smith’s Unpublished Revelation and the Conflict over Frederick G. Williams’ Consecrated Farm”

Justin R. Bray, “The Nose Knows: Mormons, Smell, and Sensory History”

Reid L. Neilson, “‘A Fine Intellectual and Spiritual Opportunity’: Church Historian Leonard J. Arrington’s Tour of the LDS Church’s Asian Area General Conferences, August 1975

Ardis E. Parshall, “‘The Matter is Having My Close Attention’: Discoveries into Winston Churchill’s Investigation of Mormonism in Britain”

Find RSC material from these authors by clicking here.

“The Worldwide Church”: A Kaleidoscopic Collection

In a new book titled The Worldwide Church: Mormonism as a Global Religion, noted authors discuss the history and challenges inherent to the growing global nature of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ranging from India to Taiwan to Africa, the Czech Republic, Mexico, and Russia. The volume is bookended by keynote addresses by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, and Terryl Givens, professor at the University of Richmond. The book is edited by Michael A. Goodman and Mauro Properzi, professors of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, and copublished by the BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book.

The book features stories of pioneering members worldwide. Rosemarie Howard, reviewer for the Deseret News, writes, “This kaleidoscopic collection of papers offers insights as well as faith-promoting stories and experiences illustrating the multifaceted and expanding international nature of the LDS Church.” To see the complete review, click here. To buy a copy, visit here.

Worldwide Church, Mormonism Global Religion, Goodman, Properzi

“The Worldwide Church: Mormonism as a Global Religion,” edited by Michael A. Goodman and Mauro Properzi. Courtesy of BYU Religious Studies Center.

German Ambassador Receives “Called to Teach”

LeGrand Richards presenting "Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser" to German Ambassador Peter Wittig, April 6, 2016

LeGrand Richards presenting “Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser” to German Ambassador Peter Wittig, April 6, 2016. Courtesy of Kate Andreason.

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A. LeGrand Richards. Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015.

His Excellency Peter Wittig, German ambassador to the United States, presented a lecture on April 6, 2016, hosted by the Kennedy Center for International Studies at Brigham Young University. On behalf of the university, author LeGrand (Buddy) Richards presented Ambassador Wittig with a copy of Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser at a luncheon hosted by BYU president Kevin J Worthen. The book was published by the Religious Studies Center.

Karl G. Maeser has rightfully been called the spiritual architect not only of Brigham Young University but also of the Church Educational System. As the first superintendent of Church Education, he helped found and maintain over fifty academies and schools from Canada to Mexico. He helped develop the public education system in Utah and helped establish the Utah Teachers Association. The students he taught personally included future United States senators and members of the House of Representatives, a United States Supreme Court justice, university presidents, and many General Authorities. He translated twenty-nine hymns and about a third of the Doctrine and Covenants into German and founded Der Stern, the Church’s German magazine (now called the Liahona).

To learn about more about the book, click here.

Designing Success at the RSC

Alex Masterson, RSC design intern

Alex Masterson, RSC design intern. Courtesy of Alex Masterson.

After being here [at the RSC] for about two and a half years, my time here is soon coming to an end. During that time, I’ve participated in five different internships, several of which were quite competitive, and published several articles and one award-winning children’s book. After looking back, I can comfortably say that I couldn’t have accomplished even a fraction of what I did without the opportunities, experiences, and knowledge that I gained here at the RSC.

I’m certain I could not have learned as much as I did in any class offered at BYU. I learned things about editing that they didn’t cover in the copyediting classes, and I was able to master InDesign and become incredibly proficient with Photoshop. I learned so much about publishing and academia in general, and I got the opportunity to digitize maps, which I’ve found I really enjoy. For all these things, again I have all of you to thank, along with some of the other students.

Most of you probably already know, but I just got a job as a technical writer for Entrata. I will be very sad to leave. My last official day will be sometime in May (depending how long it takes to finish Zion’s Trumpet). But I just wanted you to know the difference your opportunities make in the lives of the students.

Thanks again for all you do!

Alex Masterson