It has been an immensely rewarding experience, in more ways than one. The richness of the material we dug through was matched by the collegiality and enlightenment of our discussions – a tone set by our mentors, Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens, with the added bonus of Jim’s presence. I think I speak for all twelve of us when I say we’d like to hang around in the Periodicals Room of BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library for another six weeks, annoying the real students by whispering to each other about the scientistic philosophy of Nels Nelson and the theological implications of the fiction in the Young Women’s Journal.
Here are abstracts of our papers; if you happen to be wandering by Room B002 of the Joseph Fielding Smith Building at nine AM tomorrow, drop in. I’m sure you’ll have to fight through the crowds.
Firstborn and Elder Brother: The Course of Mormon Christology, 1880-1930
Christ has been a central figure in Mormon doctrine since the Book of Mormon endowed him with unambiguous divinity and the Doctrine and Covenants affirmed the reality of his suffering for sin. This does not mean, however, that he as always been characterized in the same way. This paper traces shifting Mormon notions of Christ from 1880 to 1930, describing the ways that he was depicted in the work of such thinkers as John Taylor, BH Roberts, and James Talmage, marshaled by each to serve different theological needs and narratives of salvation, from Taylor’s Old Testament-centric polygamy to Roberts’s progressive optimism.
Another Other: Cultural Influences on Mormon Conceptions of Asian Race, 1880-1930
This paper seeks to describe not only the changing LDS conceptions of Asian Race between 1880 and 1930 but also the reasons behind these changes. Oftentimes, Mormonism claims to act outside the reaches of popular culture in a type of revelatory vacuum. However, the influence American cultural trends had on LDS attitudes toward race, as an example, proves why such a hermetic worldview is not only incorrect, but damaging. In this paper, I hope to outline how racial conceptions changed at the turn of the century from a hierarchical construct between the Japanese and Chinese and into a bottom-line “Asian” category by 1930 due to immigration pressures in Utah, generally accepted American racial attitudes, and international events. By observing these “theological” changes as cultural modulations instead of revelatory inconsistencies (which some may perceive them to be) we can move beyond a naive insistence of LDS infallibility and embrace the hopeful idea of a flawed but impro
The Grandest Principle of the Gospel: Hope, Meaning and Activity Underlying Theologies of Eternal Progression
The way we conceive of eternal progression today is quite different from notions of eternal progression at the turn of the 20th century. The literature from this time is replete with a fascination with this doctrine, a fascination that I contend originates in the meaning and hope the doctrine provided to Mormons battling traditional, static, and nihilistic notions of the Christian heaven. Eternal progression through eternal activity infused not only this life but all of eternity with meaning and purpose, giving these Mormons not only an anchor with which to ground their cosmology, but also a reason to get up each morning at all.
“Only As We Beat It Out on the Anvil of Our Own Experiences”: B. H. Roberts on Continuing Revelation
B. H. Roberts delivered an address to the youth of the church in January 1905, in which he responded to press reports about the Reed Smoot hearings before Congress. In explaining his theory of revelation, Roberts followed his Mormon colleagues in recognizing the need for epistemological certainty in matters of salvation, but he questioned the value of constant inspiration as the ideal, suggesting instead that we need to take more seriously the inherently divine nature of the human mind. My paper examines the historical context of Roberts’s address and seeks to understand his underlying assumptions about the possibility of communication with God, the effects of the Fall, and the nature of human intelligence. I argue that Roberts provides highly relevant perspectives on how believers can accurately interpret God’s involvement in their everyday lives and in the affairs of the church.
A Faithful Thomas: Reinstating Nels L. Nelson on the Early Twentieth Century Mormon Intellectual Landscape
Nels L. Nelson is a name probably not many students of Mormon history would recognize. This would not have been so in the turn-of-the-century Church, since Nelson was a regular contributor to the Church’s periodicals of the 1880s through 1920s. The paper will seek to present to our generation this interesting early twentieth-century Mormon theologian and strive to understand why his writing did not have more lasting impact.
“But of Celestial Marriage, Plurality of Wives was an Incident, Never an Essential”: Situating Polygamy in the Mormon Past, 1890-1940.
During the five decades after the Manifesto of 1890, Latter-day Saints struggled to define the place of polygamy in the Mormon past. On the one hand, Mormons remained committed to belief in plural marriage as an eternal principle, but on the other, assimilation into the American mainstream worked to marginalize the significance of plural marriage in narratives of Mormon religion prior to 1890. Continuing debates with the Reorganized Church and the emerging Mormon fundamentalist movement tested and refined Mormon commitments to the divine origin and suspension of polygamy. Utilizing the theory of collective memory developed by Maurice Halbwachs and other historians of memory, I examine how Mormons remembered plural marriage in a period of forgetting.
A “Splendid but Awful” Vision: B. H. Roberts on LDS Truth Claims in a Pluralist World
B.H. Roberts has much to say about the Great Apostasy, and the flaws of Christendom. However, he also emphasizes the need for a spirit of good will toward people in other churches, and cautions the Saints to avoid sectarianism. This paper explores how he negotiates the tension between making strongly exclusivist claims, and recognizing truth and goodness in other faiths.
John A. Widstoe’s Scientific Mormonism: A Case Study of “Mormon Modernity”
I look at the relationship between Mormon ontology and the particular way in which Mormonism articulates with the modern world. Widstoe is a case study for how divine/human continuity in Mormon ontology allows one to be modern without being secular.
One Grand Unified System: Herbert Spencer’s Influence on Mormon Thought
Though he is rarely noted today, Herbert Spencer–Victorian-era English philosopher and social theorist–was a hugely influential evolutionary thinker during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Latter-day Saint response to Spencer was for the most part positive, as Mormon writers harmonized his ideas with religious and scientific thinking, responded to his agnosticism, and imitated his method of systematization in their own doctrinal expositions.
Charisma, Councils, and Controversy: The Formation and Re-Formation of Revelation and Theology
The central concerns of this essay pivot around an attempt to understand some of the major theological developments during the four decades following the 1890 manifesto. More specifically, my objective is to provide a brief review of several key factors that helped shape the manner in which Church leaders responded to theological controversies, doctrinal disagreements, and speculative uncertainties. Additionally, I will want offer some suggestions about how that management and the resulting resolutions affected the presentation of doctrine and theological discourse generally. My main contention is that while these moments of crises do show vital similarities, there are crucial differences of administration between Joseph Smith and those who followed in his footsteps. What I want to propose, therefore, is that the work of his successors may be most adequately understood when he is seen as both archtype and antitype at once.
‘How Peculiar the Change after more than 40 Years:” Mormon Ideals of Marriage, 1875-1920
Using the concepts of contract and companionate marriage as general frameworks, this paper explores how Mormon ideals of marriage evolved over a time period when Mormon marital practice changed significantly. A close examination of three central themes in Mormon marital discourse–eternity, sacrifice, and love–reveals that Mormon marriage ideals did increasingly take on attributes of companionate marriage by 1920, largely by emphasizing the immediate (rather than deferred) blessings of the eternal nature of marriage, of sacrifice in marriage, and of pure love.
After the Manifesto, After the People’s Party: New LDS Political Discourses 1890-1925
This paper is an examination of Mormon political thought in the two generations following the Manifesto, as political thinkers wrestled with what a godly politics might look like, following the renunciation of theocracy and the disbanding of the People’s Party. Instead of focusing on
the numerous proclamations of loyalty, exhortations to abide by the law and denials that the Church was politically acting, this paper attempts to tease out how Mormon political dreams, ideals and aspirations changed and were expressed in this new era.