Juvenile Instructor


National or Transnational History? by Benjamin Park
November 10, 2007, 12:06 pm
Filed under: Ben, historiography, Mormon studies

One of the objectives for most Mormon historians today (including this blog) is to attempt to place Joseph Smith within his American framework. One author who has succeeded the most in this attempt is Richard Bushman, author of Rough Stone Rolling. However, in his address at The Worlds of Joseph Smith Symposium in the Library of Congress, he spoke about putting limits on this type of approach. In it, he makes several arguments as to why Joseph should be placed within a larger framework than just American religious history.

First, he stated why he feels this “transnational” approach is necessary.

The broader the historical context, the greater the appreciation of the man. If Joseph Smith is described as the product of strictly local circumstances – the culture of the Burned-over District, for example – he will be considered a lesser figure than if put in the context of Muhammad or Moses. Historians who have been impressed with Joseph Smith’s potency whether for good or ill, have located him in a longer, more universal history. Those who see him as merely a colorful character go no farther than his immediate environment for context. No historians eliminate the local from their explanations, but, on the whole, those who value his genius or his influence, whether critics or believers, give him a broader history as well. (pg. 4)

Other quotations from his argument:

In the nineteenth century, historians of all stripes…agreed that Joseph was more than American. Something about his life and accomplishments transcended his time and place. (pg. 5).

Joseph had to have a broader history to explain his extraordinary powers, and both critics and friends supplied him with one. (pg. 6)

To be comprehended, Joseph had to be viewed from two historical perspectives – one national and the other a transnational history of apostasy and restoration. (pg. 6)

He then reviews many of the major national-type of histories that biographers have placed Joseph in, concluding that they “strip the Prophet of grandeur and depth, even the gothic horror of the religious fanatic” and “do not open new vistas for readers.” Bushman then says that he expects “that Joseph Smith’s future biographers will swing back toward the nineteenth century’s combination of American analysis and transnational histories of the Prophet, allowing Joseph Smith to escape a confining provinciality” (pg. 9). This is because, he claims, “The American history of Joseph Smith looks for causes: what led Joseph Smith to think as he did? Comparative, transnational histories explore the limits and capacities of the divine and human imagination: what is possible for humans to think and feel?” (pg. 11).

Bushman then concludes with this summary.

It is doubtful that a purely American history of the Mormon prophet will explain him. His mind ranged far beyond his own time and place, and we will have to follow if we are to understand. A small history will not account for such a large man. (pg. 18)

So, my question is, how do we balance American and transnational history? Are we often too quick to try and explain things by his cultural settings, or is that the best way to proceed? Does explaining Joseph by using the American history approach really limit Joseph to a religious fraud?



From the Archives: The Times and Seasons on Suffering, Donations, and Salvation by David Grua
November 9, 2007, 9:50 am
Filed under: Archives, David Grua

Early Latter-day Saints saw the world through martyrological lenses. To suffer persecution was the ultimate sign of chosenness and the Saints themselves used the memory their persecutions to draw distinct boundaries between themselves and their neighbors that had not suffered. Given this persecution discourse, many Nauvoo Saints that had not been in Missouri in 1838 yearned to be persecuted as had been their brethren.[1] The following excerpt from a letter written by Bishop Alanson Ripley, who had been in Missouri, shows how the Saints negotiated these boundaries to include those that had not actually suffered persecution.

The appeal of the church to the American people, clearly and understandingly sets forth the outrages practised upon the saints by the mob in the State of Missouri, a parallel of which cannot be produced in the annals of history since the days of our saviour; for we were stoned, we were whipped, we were robbed, we were imprisoned, and plundered, of all we possessed, and many of the saints sealed their testimony with their blood. But thanks be to our God, we take the spoiling of our goods[,] and the wasting of substance joyfully, knowing  that we have a building of God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens, and being expelled as we were from our homes, and plundered of all our property, renders us almost destitute of means to carry on the works which the Lord our God has commanded us to do…

[W]e firmly believe that the brethren who have funds will notice this appeal and come to our aid, and give us influence, so that they may be heirs with those who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this obtain a knowledge that the course of life which they pursue is according to the will of God.—See book of covenants, lecture 6, 9th paragraph.

It is vain for persons to fancy themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith with God and favor with him, so as to obtain eternal life, unless they, in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain a knowledge that they are accepted of him.[2]


[1] Historian Stephen J. Fleming argues that “Mormonism gave the particularly romantic the potential opportunity to suffer for conscience sake. [Edward] Hunter felt that he had missed out on something by joining Mormonism after the Missouri expulsion. Shortly before his death, Joseph Smith asked Hunter to go talk to the governor of Illinois, explaining, “‘You have always wished to have been with us from the commencement. If you go to Springfield and do this business for me now in this time of danger, it shall be as though you had been in Missouri and had always been with us.'” [HC 6:492]  In this way, Mormonism allowed these converts to live out their romanticized heritage” (Stephen J. Fleming, “‘Congenial to Almost Every Shade of Radicalism’: The Delaware Valley and the Success of Early Mormonism,” Religion and American Culture 17, no. 2 [Summer 2007]: 149). [2] Times and Seasons, July 1840, 137.



Comparing the 1981, 2004, and 2006 Book of Mormon Introductions by Christopher
November 8, 2007, 2:59 pm
Filed under: Book of Mormon, Christopher

The news that the introduction to the 2006 Doubleday edition of The Book of Mormon contains significant changes seems to be all the rage on the bloggernacle today.  Peggy Fletcher Stack’s article in the SL Tribune this morning announced that the introduction’s previous claim that the Lamanites “are the principal ancestors of the American Indians” has been altered to read that the Lamanites “are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”

It was then pointed out on two different threads that an additional change was made, but that it was a change made in the 2004 Doubleday edition of The Book of Mormon and then repeated in the newer edition.  For sake of clarification and all interested readers, below are the changes made between the 1981 edition (published by the LDS Church), the 2004 Doubleday edition, and the 2006 Doubleday edition (relevant passages are denoted with blue font).

1981 (Salt Lake City, UT: Published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)

The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible.  It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fulness of the everlasting gospel.

The book was written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Their words, written on gold plates, were quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon.  The record gives an account of two great civilizations.  One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites.  The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel.  This group is known as the Jaredites.  After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.

2004 (New York: Doubleday First Edition)

The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible.  It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains the fulness of the everlasting gospel.

The book was written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Their words, written on gold plates, were quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon.  The record gives an account of two great civilizations.  One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites.  The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel.  This group is known as the Jaredites.  After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.

2006 (New York: New Doubleday Edition)

The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible.  It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains the fulness of the everlasting gospel.

The book was written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Their words, written on gold plates, were quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon.  The record gives an account of two great civilizations.  One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites.  The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel.  This group is known as the Jaredites.  After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.

Also, as noted, the version available at lds.org still follows the wording of the 1981 edition.



Change(s) in The Book of Mormon Introduction by Jared
November 8, 2007, 10:33 am
Filed under: Book of Mormon, Jared

One word can speak volumes says this morning’s Salt Lake Tribune.  It carried a small story on a change to a single word in the introduction of the Book of Mormon in the recent Doubleday edition.  Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote the introduction in 1981 for the then new edition of the Book of Mormon and it contained this statement:

“After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.”

 The new wording is:

“After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”

A commonly held presumption has been that all Native American groups from Alaska to the Patagonia were descendants of the Lamanites ( I certainly grew up with this idea).  For some time a growing segment has felt that since the text itself does not argue for this kind of all-encompassing ancestry, there is little reason to perpetuate that view.  Though “principal” does not have to mean “sole” anyway, I can only surmise that rather than try to influence the commonly held view by redefining the “principal”, the word itself has been changed to provide minimal commentary. 

It will be interesting to see how this will affect dialogue both within the Church and outside it as we talk about Book of Mormon origins. 

Also, as pointed out by David Grua below, there is another interesting change in the Doubleday introduction.



Folklore Society of Utah Annual Conference by Christopher
November 7, 2007, 9:20 pm
Filed under: Christopher, Conferences, Folklore

On Saturday, November 17 at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City, the Folklore Society of Utah will be hosting its Annual Conference.  The keynote speaker is William A. “Bert” Wilson, Emeritus professor of English at BYU and past president of the Association for Mormon Letters.  He will be speaking on “What’s True in Mormon Folklore?” The Contribution of Folklore to Mormon Studies.” 

In addition, two of our permabloggers–Stanley Thayne and Ben Park–will be presenting papers. Stan will be presenting a paper entitled, “‘Stranger than Fiction’: Remembering Marie Ogden and the Home of Truth”, which will address folklore surrounding Marie Ogden’s millennial, celibate, communal society in Depression-era southern Utah.  Ben’s paper will address “Perceptions of Polygamy: The Oral History of Plural Marriage.”  Ben’s research looks at a variety of folkloric explanations by Mormons today in reference to the reasons why plural marriage was practiced (and stopped) by the Latter-day Saints. 

I attended the conference last year, and enjoyed it quite a bit.  The folklore conference has much more of an informal, relaxed atmosphere than academic conferences I’ve attended.  It is much smaller in both the number of presenters and the size of the audience, meaning attendees don’t have to choose between break-out sessions.  I don’t remember the cost, but it was minimal and well-worth it.  If you’re in the area and don’t have plans, try and make it out to the conference.  Folklore provides a unique and important approach to Mormon studies, and you will no doubt enjoy yourself.  Below is the complete schedule:

Folklore Society of Utah Annual Meeting

November 17, 2007

Utah Cultural Celebration Center (Rooms 104-105)

9:30-10:00          Registration

10:00-10:15        Welcome; introductions & announcements: Michael Christiansen (FSU President/host)

10:15-11:15         Keynote Speaker: William A. “Bert” Wilson: What’s True in Mormon Folklore?: The Contribution of Folklore to Mormon Studies

11:15-11:30         Break

11:30-12:45         Student Panel: Moderator-David Allred (FSU Vice President)

  • Stanley J. Thayne: “Stranger Than Fiction”: Remembering Marie Ogden and the Home of Truth
  • Ben Park: Perceptions of Polygamy: The Oral History of Plural Marriage
  • Rajalekshmy Achath: “Lerala Thanima”: The True Malayali or the Very Private Space in a Diverse Public Sphere
  • Tammy Messick: Hmong Marketplace: Representations of the Homeland

12:45-2:00          Lunch (on site: pre-ordered box lunches, $6)

2:00-3:15            50th Anniversary Planning Meeting: Moderators-Polly Stewart & Elaine Thatcher

3:15-3:30           Break

3:30-4:30           Professional Session: Moderator-Lisa gabbert (FSU Sec. Treas.)

  • Polly Stewart
  • Randy Williams
  • Ronda Walker Weaver
  • Michael Christensen

4:30-5:30            FSU Business Meeting

5:30                    End



From the Archives: John Wesley, the Latter-day Saint by Christopher
November 7, 2007, 7:28 pm
Filed under: 19th-century Mormonism, Archives, Christopher

Modern Mormons, it seems, are quite fond of “romanticizing the Reformation,” meaning that Mormons often portray Luther, Arminius, and other Protestant Reformers as being sort of proto-Latter-day Saints.  In my experience, this tendency is not limited to seeing Reformers as such, but often extends to Christopher Columbus and America’s Founding Fathers.  However, this is far from being a recent development in Mormonism’s worldview.  Parley P. Pratt, noted apostle and editor of The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, included the following in the June 1841 (Vol. 2, No. 2) issue of that periodical.

JOHN WESLEY A LATTER-DAY SAINT,

IN REGARD TO THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS AND THE APOSTACY OF THE CHURCH!!

Extract from the 94th Sermon of John Wesley, on “The More Excellent Way.”–“It does not appear that the extraordinary gifts of the spirit were common in the church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian, and from a vain imagination of promoting the Christian religion, heaped riches, power, and honour upon the Christians in general From this time they almost wholly ceased. Very few instances of this kind were found. The cause of this was not, as has vulgarly been supposed, because there was no more occasion for them, because all the world had become Christians. This is a miserable mistake! Not a twentieth part was then nominally Christians. The real cause was because the love of many waxed cold–the Christians had no more of the Spirit of Christ than the other Heathens! The Son of Man when he came to examine his church could hardly find faith on the earth.–This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian Church, because the Christians were turned Heathens again, and had only a dead form left.”[1]

A couple of things, I think, are noteworthy.  While this may indeed be just another example of Mormons’ romanticizing the Reformation, I find it interesting that in early Mormonism, there seems to have been a special affinity for Wesley in preference to other Reformers.  This particular sermon included by Pratt suggests that one reason is that Wesley emphasized an apostasy and the need for spiritual gifts–two of the features many early Mormons used in establishing their identity as God’s true church.  It is also perhaps telling that this was published in the 1840s, suggesting that despite some evidence to the contrary, Methodist practices and beliefs continued to influence Mormon thought until near the end of Joseph’s life.  

_____________________

[1] The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star (Liverpool: June 1841), Vol. 2, no. 2, 23.



Mormons in the West: Life in the Donut Hole by David Grua
November 7, 2007, 9:57 am
Filed under: David Grua, historiography, Western History

Scholars typically seek to locate Mormon history within two wide frameworks: that of American religious history and that of the history of the American West. Jan Shipps, in her review of literature on Mormonism in the West, describes the situation as a donut hole. In her essay, “Gentiles, Mormons, and the History of American West,” Shipps argues that historians of the West have skipped Utah, “circling all around the Great Basin, taking into account and telling nearly every western story except the Mormon one.”[1] The task Shipps sets for herself in the essay is to understand why that would be and to offer suggestions to western historians for ways to integrate Mormons more fully into their accounts of the region.

As for the first objective, Shipps presents several ideas for why Mormonism has been ignored in the West’s wider story. First, she argues that it is Mormon “otherness” that leads historians to shy away from trying to incorporate the Latter-day Saints. This otherness reflects the divide that we Mormons have created ourselves by dividing the world into “Saints” and “Gentiles.” This leaves Mormons to write their own history.[2] A second reason put forward by Shipps is the secularism that she perceives among historians. Since these historians do not see the divine in their own lives, they have a difficult time seeing it in the stories of the people that they study.[3] A third reason is that with “[t]he transformation of Mormonism from regional faith to worldwide church makes it so difficult to get here from there, from the familiar Mormonism of western history to contemporary Mormon Christianity, that what has been occurring in the past few decades may be the principle reason why today’s historians of the American West so often neglect the region’s geographical center.”[4] This last reason is perhaps the most intriguing of the three.

Shipps also offers suggestions for how western historians can begin to fill in the hole at the center of the donut. First, she sees Mormon history as a good counter-example to Frederick Jackson Turner’s Frontier Thesis. Turner’s provocative 1893 essay argued that the frontier was what made Americans unique, with Europeans entering the frontier in the East, struggling with nature and savages, and finally emerging in the West as Americans, fully democratic and individualistic. Shipps concludes that Mormons passed through the same process, but with very different results. “The trail was where Saints were made…they emerged in the Great Basin not as individualists committed to capitalistic ethos but as communally oriented Latter-day Saints ready to give what was necessary to give what was necessary to build up Zion.” This transformation led to the creation of an ethnic group that can be studies as are other ethnic groups in the West.[5] In addition to seeing process in the development of Mormon ethnicity, Shipps also contends that historians should peek past their secular lenses and seek to understand the Mormon worldview from the inside.[6]

The “donut theory” may not win the prize for Shipps’ most eloquent representation of the Mormon past, but it does get the point across. This review has necessarily focused on Shipps’ specific thoughts on how Mormons fit into the western narrative, but there are some wonderful autobiographical gems that she shares about her developing sense of identity as a Gentile/non-Mormon/nonmember studying the Saints. But what of her ideas for situating the Mormons in the West? I am troubled by Shipps’ acceptance of Turner’s emphasis on process rather than the New Western history’s reliance on place. Although some respected historians continue to see a process at play in western migration, most historians have followed Patricia Nelson Limerick’s lead in seeing the West as a region first and a process a distant second. In my view, historians need to cease seeing Mormons as an isolated group in the West, and recognize that although Utah never was California in terms of diversity, Latter-day Saints in their Zion constantly converged and came into contact with “others,” whether it be Gold Rushers, federal officials, protestants, Gentile merchants, and general travelers. These contacts shaped Mormonism, as well as these “others.” Focusing our analyses on these points of contact and convergence will go a long way toward filling in that donut hole.[7]


[1] Jan Shipps, “Gentiles, Mormons, and the History of the American West,” in Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000), 21.[2] Shipps, Sojourner, 25.

[3] Shipps, Sojourner, 35. Both D. Michael Quinn and Thomas G. Alexander have argued for secularism among historians for the neglect of religion in histories of the West (D. Michael Quinn, “Religion in the American West,” in Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past, eds. William Cronon, George Miles, and Jay Gitlin [New York: W. W. Norton, 1992], 165; Thomas G. Alexander, “Establishing Zion,” The Mormon History Association’s Tanner Lecutures: The First Twenty Years , eds. Dean L. May and Reid L. Neilson [Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006], 117-18).

[4] Shipps, Sojourner, 41.

[5] Shipps, Sojourner, 34-35.

[6] Shipps, Sojourner, 36.

[7] Convergence, along with conquest, complexity, and continuity comprise Limerick’s four C’s for understanding the New Western history paradigm (Patricia Nelson Limerick, Something in the Soil: Legacies and Reckonings in the New West [New York: W. W. Norton, 2000], 13-28).