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Mormons: Past and Present

Panel Chairs: Mike MacKay, Roger Minert | Thursday, August 27, 1:30-3 p.m.

Our panel explores Mormon religious practices. By historically drawing upon several prominent discourses within Mormonism the panel will ask the question of how missiology, scripture, and marriage practices function at the establishment of Mormonism and the contemporary Mormon religion. These are three of its most public aspects of Mormonism. It has been one of the fastest growing religions in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, in part because of its evangelical nature and worldwide presence. This includes the placement of tens of thousands of books of scripture around the world. Mormonism’s production of modern sacred scripture and claim to prophetic charismatic revelation make it a fascinating case study for religious practice and discourse. That said, Mormonism is also known for its former practice of polygamy, distinguishing itself as a unique nineteenth-century religion though it has since abandoned the practice. These three tenets of Mormon practice and discourse will be the center of our panel.

Gerrit Dirkmaat

Joseph Smith and Early Mormon Polygamy

Nothing is perhaps more closely associated with Mormonism in the minds of most people than the Mormon practice of plural marriage or polygamy. Though long since discontinued by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the one-time practice remains both controversial and the most well-known. This paper will discuss Joseph Smith’s introduction of plural marriage to certain members of his faith, including his own plural marriages, and explain the resistance to and justifications used to support the doctrine. It will focus on a discussion of the very limited source material that exists when trying to determine the details of these polygamous unions and highlight the care that must be taken by historians trying to deal with early Mormon polygamy. In particular, this paper will highlight how women who were polygamously married to Joseph Smith justified their own decisions to violate the foundational social norm of monogamous marriage and enter into a martial union that was reviled and despised by nearly every other American.

Gregory Wilkinson

Missiology and Mormonism Around the World

Missiology, Mormon or otherwise, is best understood both through theory and practicum. The papers of H. Grant Ivins provide valuable insight into both. Ivins served five years as a Mormon missionary in Japan, the LDS church’s first mission outside of Christian cultures and colonial frameworks. He studied Japanese language and culture while working to establish the Church, thus becoming a unique expert on the limitations of Christian evangelism in Asia. Upon his return to the United States, Ivins lectured often on the limited international potential of the LDS message. He eventually became the first comparative religion professor at Brigham Young University. He wrote and theorized on the potential and failures of Mormon evangelism and more generally Christian missiology in Asian and the rest of the non-Christian world. While not widely known, Ivins is an important early voice in post-colonial studies with modern relevance both for missionaries and scholars.

Mike MacKay

Material Culture and the Production and Translation of the Book of Mormon

Instead of concentrating on the literary value or theological message of Smith’s translations, this paper will turn to a material culture approach by focusing on three objects that defined Joseph Smith’s translations of sacred scripture. Unfortunately, of the three objects (the seer stone, the gold plates, and the Egyptian papyri), only a portion of the papyri is available for examination. Yet, the historical record evaluates them in various ways, which allows this paper to tease out and examine how individuals made sense of the objects. It will describe how Smith gave meaning to his seer stones, the gold plates, and the Egyptian papyri, but also focus upon how detractors altered their meaning to represent Smith as an impostor. The appropriation of meaning upon these objects defined Smith’s role and often superseded the message that the text of his translations offered modern readers. Understanding the process of translation was a precursor to motivating readers to approach the text earnestly. For this reason, the meaning attached to the objects was never inconsequential. Instead, the objects embodied Smith’s claims to truth because of their centrality to the translation process. Their meaning had the ability to foster faith in Smith’s claims and the power to undermine them. This paper will demonstrate that Smith’s religious objects were central to his translation and analyze the debate over controlling the meaning and holiness of these objects.


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Open Sessions

Thematic Outline

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