Q&A with Talana S. Hooper for Lot Smith: Mormon Pioneer and American Frontiersman November 01 2018



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Q: Give us some background into this book. How did it come together?

A: My grandfather James M. "Jim" Smith was the youngest of Lot Smith's fifty-two children. Since Lot Smith was killed by a renegade Navajo six months before my grandfather's birth, my Grandpa James sought his entire life to learn all he could about the father he never knew. He soon discovered that his father had lived a life which generated myths and legends. He obtained many firsthand accounts which were most often tinged with admiration and love—yet not all were complimentary. Jim Smith's oldest son, my father Omer, recorded the stories and enlisted the help of my mother Carmen to more completely research Lot Smith's history in libraries around the country. When Omer unexpectedly passed, Carmen continued to research, interview, and compile for another thirty years. However, by her mid-nineties, her eyesight had failed enough so that even with her magnifying glass she could no longer see her computer screen well enough to continue. I knew that Lot Smith's life story was too compelling and valuable to be lost. With her blessing and help (while she was still able), I began working to bring the biography together for publication.

Q: For readers who are unfamiliar with Lot Smith, can you give us a basic background of who he was?

A: Lot Smith, a man with a fiery red beard and a temper to match it, experienced firsthand many of the significant events in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His life was one adventure after another. He joined the Mormon Battalion at the age of sixteen and participated in the California Gold Rush. The life lessons he learned during the Mormon Battalion prepared him for a life of service—many times grueling—for the Church and his fellowmen.

Smith continued his military career. His reputation of fearlessness became widely known as a member of the Minute Men Life Guards—the cavalry that defended the Latter-day Saints in the Rockies from Indians. He was a captain of the Life Guards who rescued the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies. Major Smith served a critical role in defending his fellow Saints from what seemed certain annihilation by the US Army by burning their supplies and wagons in the Utah War. For that act, he was hailed as a hero by the Saints, but indicted for treason in the US courts. After Smith fought in the Walker War, he was appointed as a captain in the US Army to guard telegraph lines and mail routes during the American Civil War. During that service, he and his men endured a harrowing, life-threatening chase after unknown Indians who had stolen two hundred horses. Readers will enjoy several interesting trips with Brigham Young when Smith served as an escort guard. Smith lastly served as Brigadier General in the Black Hawk War and then served a mission in the British Isles.

In 1876 Brigham Young called Smith to lead colonization in the Arizona Territory. Young charged Smith to establish the United Order and to befriend the Indian tribes. Both these directives brought more adventures as they struggled to secure a mere livelihood. Smith served as Arizona's first stake president, and his Sunset United Order provided a way station for others colonizing in New Mexico, Arizona, and Mexico. Smith also helped lead Church colonization in Mexico—another ordeal.

Smith was one of the most feared gunmen in Arizona. He several times drew his gun on men meaning harm but pulled the trigger only once. Besides defending his rights as a stockman, he vowed he would never be arrested for polygamy and narrowly escaped arrest many times. His untimely death came from a shot in the back by a renegade Navajo.

Q: Can you give us a scene from Lot Smith's life that you found particularly interesting?

A: It is difficult to choose just one scene from Lot Smith's life to share. I considered the incident when one of his men was accidentally shot during the Utah War or the rescue of the Martin Handcart Company. I remember the death-defying chase up the Snake River in the Civil War. And then I consider the time when he had a shootout with a man hired to kill him. All are incredible events! And yet, I choose simple episodes Smith shared with his sons.

While Smith lived in Arizona, the federal marshals increased their efforts to arrest any polygamists. Smith had four wives in Arizona, so he was a target. He was always on the alert and evaded arrest many times by riding a fast horse and carrying a fast gun. One time when Lot and his sons were shucking corn in the field, a marshal appeared some distance away. Smith told his boys to shock him up in the corn. When the officer rode up, the boys greeted him cordially. The officer never did figure out how Smith escaped the area!

On another occasion, Smith was traveling with his son Al in a wagon. Lot looked up the road to see a man on horseback and said to Al that it looked like a U.S. Marshal. Since Lot was convinced that no deceit could enter the Kingdom of God, he wanted all his posterity to be honest and truthful at all times—even in the face of danger. So when he saw the marshal, he told his son to stay in the wagon and not to lie, or he'd skin him alive. Lot took his gun and hid behind a bush. The officer approached and asked Al if he were Lot Smith's son. Al replied that he was. Then the officer asked where his father was. Al replied, "Right behind that bush beside you." The officer didn't look; he feared Smith's gun. He merely said, "Well, you tell him that I passed the time of day with him," and said good-bye.

Q: There are a lot of myths and legends that surround Lot Smith. Can you talk about a couple and set the record straight?

A: Several preposterous stories have been attributed to Lot Smith—probably because of his reputation as a rough character with a strong personality, and an expert gunman which caused people to fear him. One widespread myth was that he was involved in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. How could Smith, the hero of the Utah War, be in Wyoming and southern Utah at the same time? Yet the myth persisted, and newspapers printed at his death that he was involved in the massacre.

One of the most oft-repeated myths of Lot Smith was that he branded his wives. It was so widely believed that at the death of his wife Jane in 1912, people still speculated if she had been branded.

The myth followed Smith to Arizona. Children of his last wife, Diantha, were told that their mother had been branded. The real story of Smith "branding his wife" involved his second wife Jane after his first wife Lydia had left. While Lot and two of his friends were branding near his home in Farmington, Jane was preparing dinner for her husband and the guests. Jane needed eggs. She went out and spied some eggs in the manger where she couldn't reach without entering the corral. Jane knew that Lot's stallion chased and bit anyone but Lot, but the stallion seemed to be dozing in the far corner of the corral. She reasoned that she could sneak in unnoticed. However, the stallion was not as drowsy as she has assumed. He jerked up his head, shrieked, and charged Jane. Without dropping his branding iron, Lot jumped and ran between his wife and the stallion. When she ducked to go under the fence, he pushed her through with the branding iron. The men at the branding fire watched as Jane twisted to check her nice skirt that she wore for company. The branding iron had cooled enough that it didn't even scorch it. One of the men laughed and said, "That's one that won't get away from you; she's branded!"

Lot, who loved to entertain and enjoyed a sense of humor, was partially responsible for starting the myth. In church meetings after this incident, he arose to bear his sincere testimony. Along with recounting his blessings, he was heard to say on more than one occasion, "And anything I own, I brand—including my wife!"

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from reading this book?

A: Most of all, I want readers of the Lot Smith biography to enjoy the incredible and fascinating life of Lot Smith. His life was one thrilling adventure after another! Since his life entwined significant events in the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I hope that readers get an up-close perspective of some of these events.

I hope readers learn through Lot's experiences that trials and hard circumstances can refine us. When Lot was in the Mormon Battalion, he experienced periods of no food, no water, no shoes, and scanty clothing. His compassion for others in similar situations was born. He was always generous to the poor and could never turn away anyone who was hungry even when food was scarce. It seems he often carried an extra pair of shoes to give away freely.

Lot's strong leadership in the colonization of the destitute Arizona Territory in the United Order was phenomenal. Through hard work and wise leadership, the colonists avoided starvation and established homes. I want readers to more fully realize and understand some of the sacrifices our forefathers made to settle the frontier land for future generations.

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Dime Novel Mormons awarded Best Anthology at JWHA September 24 2018

Congratulations to Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall for Dime Novel Mormons winning the Best Anthology Award at the 2018 John Whitmer Historical Association meeting!

To celebrate the award, we are offering all titles from the Mormon Image in Literature series for 30% off from Sep 24 through Sep 28. Use discount code DIMENOVEL at check out to get the discount.*


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Contesting Truth through Mutual Openness July 18 2018

by Charles Randall Paul

Charles Randall Paul will be speaking on the topic of religious diplomacy and signing copies of his book at Weller Book Works (Salt Lake City) on Tuesday, Aug. 7th at 6:30 PM and at Writ & Vision (Provo) on Thursday, Aug. 9th at 7PM. Both events are free to attend.

Humans are social influencers by their very existence. They are always intentionally persuading each other in some fashion. All human life includes continual negotiation of social activities from “pass the salt” to “should we get married?” When one of us believes a purpose is good and an action right, that influences a response from others—and the response influences further responses.

While the ideal might be complete social unity or unconstrained freedom for all, human groups and societies should expect continual religious and ideological contestation. Within our interconnected societies, conflicting world-views and purposes are inevitable. No social program for peace will succeed that requires adamant believers to compromise or dilute their core values. Instead, we sustain peaceful tension within our societies through co-resistance and collaboration with our ideological rivals. Crucial to this is the absence of ill-will in our collaborative contestation.

Let me now make a distinction between these terms: Enemy, antagonist, agonist, ally, and friend. An enemy desires and acts to eliminate, enslave, or diminish others by passive or aggressive means. An antagonist acts like an enemy but does not desire to be one. If she presumes you are an enemy, she might be reacting defensively with no intent to harm you otherwise. An agonist is a fellow contestant who desires to win an ideological contest through persuasion. An ally is on your side because of shared interests. A friend desires your love and well-being and will self-sacrifice to promote it. It is possible to be an ally that is also really an enemy, but it is impossible to be a real friend and an enemy. However, your agonistic rival can also be your friend—but enduring (much less enjoying) this relationship is an acquired taste and skill.

If you have a real enemy, you need to defend yourself accordingly. But we need to determine first if antagonists are true enemies or agonists. An agonist desires to contest differences in order to bring about positive change for both sides, rather than the destruction of their rival. Sportsmanship is a common attitude of agonists. Persuading agonists to your side may make them allies; but converting agonists to trust and love can make them friends even while they remain persuasive agonists. The path forward lies in vulnerable openness between rivals with an open and honest disclosure of motives and beliefs. This requires courage to exchange critical and offensive ideas and ideals without taking offense. Let there be no mistake: openness that is truly open to change is always a dangerous experiment, especially for those who are concerned about diluting true orthodoxy (on the left or right) with relativism.

To prepare for inevitable contestations over religious, political, or ideological differences, I present ten useful attitudes and methods to remember when the pressure to either disengage or eliminate our fellow agonists becomes intense. I call this The Way of Mutual Openness:

Be Honest

Honesty begins when you look in the mirror. Who do you really think you are and who do want to become? When you are deeply honest, you acknowledge your motives for doing things and express your thoughts and feelings without faking it. Your honesty prompts others to respond the same way, and with open hearts and minds real communication results.

Be Kind

Kindness goes further toward building trust than the other practices listed here. It is not weak, naive, or mere politeness. Kindness is a language easily recognized and understood by everyone. Sincere kindness is a powerful way to influence others to desire to hear you. But, be wise: nothing shatters trust more than phony, manipulative kindness, or false respectfulness.

Listen Well

It is hard to listen well when you focus more on your feelings and thoughts than those of the person addressing you. Listening well is not remaining quiet before you insert your response; it is intense focus on a unique person with a desire for understanding. By listening like this to others you offer the gift of respectful empathy that everyone craves to receive. In return others feel like they should listen well to understand you.

Share the Floor

If you want to be taken seriously you must take others seriously. Sharing the floor means allowing others equal time to speak even when you “know” you are right and they are wrong. It acknowledges the mutual dignity of those engaged in conversation. Hogging the floor is disrespectful and rude, and it always undermines your persuasive ability when you appear dismissive or fearful of what others have to say.

Presume Good Will

We often presume that others do not have our best interests at heart. Sometimes they don’t. But you sabotage any honest communication with someone you presume to be stupid, duped, or ill-intentioned. Presuming good will is not agreeing with others’ beliefs or values. It means that you grant that others are clear thinking and good hearted unless they prove otherwise.

Acknowledge the Differences

Each human is uniquely different with a unique history and perspective. Acknowledging our important differences openly frees us to know where we stand without having to guess. It creates a tone of trust for real conversation. You cannot feel whole or honest if you focus only on similarities and avoid facing differences in deep beliefs and values.

Answer the Tough Questions

With genuine differences come tough questions—especially if the goal is a trusting relationship. When you answer tough questions in a straightforward way, sharing the floor equally and presuming good will, you build strong mutual trust. You can then face offensive issues without taking offense. However, diving deeper for better understanding has a limit. Aggressive interrogation or pushing for private details destroys trust.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Any compliment feels good, but a sincere compliment from an unexpected source such as a rival or critic can move our hearts powerfully toward trust. By openly admiring the excellence or good on “the other side” you demonstrate your honesty and fairness, and your confidence that your side can handle the truth. But be cautious—insincere compliments to manipulate or disarm others disastrously undermine any grounds for trust.

Speak Only for Yourself

Each of us is unique and we don’t like others—especially outsiders—to stereotype us or claim they know what we really believe or value. So, ask rather than tell others what they think and feel. It is tempting to speak for your friends and tribe members as if they all share the same view as you do. Except when you have been authorized to speak on behalf of others, speak only for yourself and encourage others to do likewise.

Keep Private Things Private

Humans are social beings, but their thoughts and feelings are private unless expressed. Personal dignity is based in large part on your freedom to choose when and where to share your inner self with others. Being open, honest, and trustworthy does not require you to disclose all things to all people. Keeping private things private means that you strictly honor someone’s choice to say something to you alone. If you cannot keep it private, you should ask the person not to share it.

These are the times that try our souls. In our increasingly polarized society, we will doubtless continue arguing over political, ideological, and religious differences. Based on years of experience in religious diplomacy, I believe the ten attitudes above will sustain with confidence anyone using them to actively engage in challenging and rewarding conversations that build healthy trust.

 Charles Randall Paul is board chair, founder, and president of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. He has lectured widely and written numerous articles on healthy methods for engaging differences in religions and ideologies. He is the author of Converting the Saints: A Study of Religious Rivalry in America.

Author Spotlight: Blake T. Ostler July 16 2018

Conversation with Blake T. Ostler

We sat down with Blake Ostler for a short interview just in time for the paperback re-issue of Exploring Mormon Thought, Vol. 1: The Attributes of God. Blake is an attorney and independent scholar residing in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the author of the multi-volume Exploring Mormon Thought series along with over forty published articles.

Q: What began your interest in studying philosophy and theology?

A: I was a young whippersnapper when I ran into Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig who died earlier this year.  Because I had raced motorcycles and often rode motorbikes with my Dad, it was the perfect intro to philosophy—and it is still the best-selling book related to philosophy of all time. I was only a Junior in High School student, but for some reason I thought I could tackle Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. I was foolish but did it anyway. I became fascinated with Kant's view that our consciousness depends on an organizational unity and categories that are not present in the things we experience, but that, in effect, we create the unity of consciousness and provide the categories to make sense of our experience and any concepts presented to us.

Q: In your course of studying some of the greatest thinkers who ever lived, what are some of the most important questions about existence that we can ask?

A: The first question to be asked is: How is it possible that questions can be asked? Implicit in this question is: Who or what is doing the asking? How is it possible to formulate questions for a response at all? Can I come up with these questions through insight and the creativity of imagination, or I am just a conduit for all of the causes that came before? Is there an "I" asking questions or is it just a mechanism with the appearance of unity of identity? And the ultimate question: How am I aware at all to ask questions and aware that questions need to be or can asked? Is it morally obligatory to ask questions and seek knowledge? Finally: Of whom am I asking questions? Does this other have a mind that can understand the question? How would I or could I know the answer to that question?

Q: What are the differences between theology, philosophical theology, and what we do in Sunday School? How can members of the Church benefit from each?

A: Theology is the attempt of a person who has belief (and the faith that those beliefs are true) to make sense of those beliefs in the world circumstances in which that person resides. Philosophical theology is the critical assessment of religious beliefs and systems in the widest sense using the tools of philosophical inquiry. Sunday School is the participation in community interactions seeking to dialogue regarding various subjects of shared importance or imposed importance.

It is a mistake to think that these three must necessarily intersect. The communal sharing of inquiry within a Sunday School class need not involve either theology or philosophical theology. It could consist of just sharing news about each other’s lives. But Sunday School necessarily is done in a communal setting and usually by folks who share enough commonality in belief to make genuine sharing of our deeply held commitments possible and meaningful. To the extent that theology or philosophy may provide insights to enrich and edify, they are appropriate in Sunday School. To the extent that arguing for or elucidating a position using the categories and tools of theology or philosophy is done in good faith and with positive regard for others in the class, it seems to me to be valuable—because the immersion in these disciplines is given as a gift to others out of love. To the extent that it creates tension and contention, these disciplines can interfere with the communal purposes of sharing life together along a journey of exploration that only gets in the way of the very community that fosters the very endeavor in the first place.

It is a very serious mistake to think that what must happen in Sunday School is a high-level discussion of the philosophy of religion or Biblical scholarship. Like other disciplines, such learning can be used as a tool for self-aggrandizement or fostering a sense of superiority or just plain old snottiness. That is inimical to Christianity. Others may feel intimidated and unable to join the discussion. That can even happen unintentionally. Any Sunday School class that excludes in any way is something to be avoided.

Q: You have a fourth volume in the pipeline. Can you give us a sneak peek at what its focus will be?

A: The Fourth Volume (boy that seems pretentious) focuses on the problem of evil from three very different perspectives that are all live-options in Mormon thought. I elucidate a Naturalistic Finitist Theodicy that departs from the view that God is after the universe. That is, the universe existed before God became God fully divine and He grew up in an already fully-ordered cosmos and became divine by following the natural moral laws that lead to divinity. I also present a fully-developed Process Theodicy—that is the view that God is with the cosmos and in each moment of the cosmos' existence has provided an Initial Aim to lure the cosmos to reflect His desires for it. I also present a theodicy departing from the view that God is before the universe in the sense that God ordered the cosmos and all order depends on God's prior creative acts.

Thanks, Blake! We're looking forward to your next volume!

Don't miss our podcast interview with Blake on the Greg Kofford Books AuthorCast!

Exploring Mormon Thought, Vol 1: The Attributes of God
By Blake T. Ostler

Now available in paperback!

542 pages
$30.95 paperback

Part of the Exploring Mormon Thought series




Q&A with Charles Randall Paul for Converting the Saints: A Study of Religious Rivalry in America July 06 2018

278 pages, Paperback $26.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-756-4)
Hardcover $49.99 (ISBN 978-1-58958-747-2)
Available August 7, 2018

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Q: Give us some insight into your background, how you chose to write about this topic, and your involvement with religious diplomacy.

A: I was raised in northern New Jersey where my high school of 400 kids consisted of three major cliques: Jewish, Roman Catholic and Mainline Protestant.  There were four Mormons.  I was surprised to find how solid and happy my friends’ families were.  How could they be so good without The Truth?  In mid life I became interested in how religious and secular societies faced unresolvable conflicts over truth and authority and right values.  It seemed God had set up the world for pluralistic contestation, and I tried to figure out why.  These issues led me to develop interreligious diplomacy as a mode of interaction that included persuasive contestation between trustworthy advocates.

Q: Tell us briefly about the three case studies in this book. Who are these individuals and how did they differ in their tactics from one another?

A: In the early twentieth century after Utah had been accepted as a state, the major Protestant churches wanted to assure that Mormonism was not accepted as another Christian denomination.  John Nutting, a freelance pastor, evangelical/preacher came to Utah with young college age missionaries to save souls that, after hearing his revival teaching or door-to-door witnessing, simply confessed the true Jesus and stopped attending the Mormon church.  William Paden, a Presbyterian, educator/activist, helped set up 1–12 grade schools that taught LDS students “true” Christianity along with math and English. He also tried to discredit the LDS leadership, close down the Mormon Church, and educate its youth in the right way. Franklin Spaulding was an Episcopal Bishop intellectual/diplomat that aimed to educate LDS college students in the inconsistences of some of the Mormon Church claims.  He hoped to convert the Saints in their pews—urging church leaders that he befriended to change just a few doctrines and join the mainline churches.

Q: You state that ongoing debate between religious ideology is at the heart of what it means to be a pluralistic society. Can you elaborate on this?

A: Humans in societies live by stories that order their lives.  Ideological or religious traditions provide the comprehensive order and hope for a better world.  These religious stories can seriously challenge the veracity of their rival claimants to truth and authority—making for conflict.  Contemporary social conflict theorists have focused almost exclusively on conflicting economic and security interests as the engines for conflict, neglecting the cultural driver that religious tradition provides.  I am bringing into focus the potency of conflicting formational stories in any society.

Q: Why isn’t tolerance always the desired outcome? How can two opposing people or groups find meaningful ways of collaboration?

A: Tolerance is a weak social virtue (devoid of trust or good will) that collapses when economic and security crises lead societies to seek for scapegoats.  We have found that ideological opponents who engage honestly by means of persuasion actually can come to trust and “enjoy” each other’s bothersome presence.  People engage in collaborative co-resistance n many forms—sports being the most obvious—legal, legislative, scientific and commercial realms also absorb non-violent conflict managing procedures.  When religion is involved, there is no room for compromise solutions, so some form of sustaining the ideological contest in a mode of persuasion is needed.  This is healthy intolerance because it allows critics and rivals to be authentic and to have conversations that matter.

Q: For Latter-day Saints, contention is a particularly discomforting word. In your book, you say that you prefer the term “contestation.” Can you explain what you mean?

A: This is a key to understanding how the LDS can lead in the goal of peace-building in split families or societies.  We rightly learn that Jesus and Joseph thought contention—a term based on a root of forcing, twisting, coercing others—was the devil’s work.  It includes anger and contempt and resentment and revenge.  On the other hand, those who stand for something as witnesses need to elevate the term contestation that means to witness with, for or against something—the root being the testimony of a witness.  The design of heaven and Earth seems to include many intelligences with different experiences to which they can respectfully testify without fear or anger.  They have different viewpoints and experiences that bring them to conflicting contestants; honestly speaking the truth they see.  This is what the Holy Spirit prompts us to do.  It is the opposite of contentiousness even though the conflict of interpretation and ultimate concern or story remains.  Peaceful tension results from contestation—and that is enough for Zion to thrive.  Oneness cannot be identical interpretation and understanding of everything that would make individual existence redundant. 

Q: We live in an age of intense ideological polarization. What are you hoping that readers will learn from the case-studies presented in this book?

A: I want them to read the book in the broad context of the problem of pluralism that began, narratively speaking, when Eve was different than Adam.  I trace the American system of managing religious conflict as a living aspect of society.  As long as it remains in the persuasive mode, it allows free expression in the balancing of ideological drives for hegemony.  America is based on a foundation of continually contested foundations.  Our culture can thrive on pluralism, not because we follow laws of procedural conflict management, but because we have a deep belief in the value of a worthy rival in religion as well as any other aspect of life.  The case studies I show will hopefully move a reader to understand how the desire for a trustworthy opponent is a precious thing that does not come naturally but is essential to the success of a pluralistic society.

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Author Spotlight: Jessie L. Embry June 14 2018

Conversation with Jessie L. Embry

Jessie L. Embry is a former associate director of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies and an instructor of history at Brigham Young University. She is the author of several books and over eighty articles dealing with Mormon, western, and Utah history. She is currently the editor of the Journal of Mormon History.

Q: Can you give us a little background into your academic training and your interest in Mormon studies?

A: When I graduated from high school, I thought I would become a secondary school history teacher. After a number of twist and turns, I ended up as Brigham Young University majoring in history with a goal to study Native Americans and teach college. Ted Warner told me that I was right gender but wrong color. Still, he mentored me through a senior seminar paper on Indian relocation. He also gave me a scholarship for a master’s program. Then Tom Alexander hired me as a research assistant to study Wilford Woodruff. As we read books about spiritual experiences and Woodruff’s diaries, I learned research skills. Also as a graduate student, I took an oral history class from Gary Shumway. When I could not think of a thesis topic, Leonard Arrington suggested Relief Society grain storage. It sounded boring, but I learned that it was the perfect case study to learn about the changing roles of women in the LDS Church. After a mission (that I went on because I could not find a job), James B. Allen hired me to work on the Genealogical Society history. Following an Utah State Historical Society preservation internship, Tom hired me to direct the oral history program at the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies. He supported my efforts to plan oral history projects and write books and articles. Lavina Fielding Anderson helped me become a better writer. And James B. Allen allowed me to teach history classes and other department chairs continued to assign me classes.

That is the long answer. The short answer is I stumbled into history and Mormon studies, but my great mentors peaked my curiosity and taught me the value of understanding the LDS past.

Q: You have written books and articles on a wide variety of topics from Mormon polygamy, race and Mormonism, Mormon studies historiography, regional histories, and more. If you were given unlimited research funding and open access to the archives, what topic would you pick and why?

A: Sometimes people ask me what my favorite project is, and my answer is the one I am working on. Kent Powell told me that I could take the most boring subject and make it interesting. As with my master’s thesis, I have been open to suggestions and then dove in. At times in my career unlimited research funding would have been great, but that is not a problem any more. And while open access would always be nice, I am not sure that there is always the information that I would want to find.

But to answer the question, I would like to research why changes have taken place in the LDS Church and what motivated those changes. Along the same lines, I would like to know if there is a cause and effect between what happened and what was going on in the United States and the world. Since that is pretty abstract, let me give some examples. I researched LDS recreation programs which included all-church sports tournaments and dance festivals. I learned a lot about how those programs developed and why they were discontinued. I learned how the programs affected the buildings. I have some answers of why the changes, but I wish I had more. When I worked for Gordon Irving and the James Moyle Oral History Project in the late 1970s, I interviewed women about their reactions to the Women’s Lib Movement of the time. I would like to know more about the reactions of Church leaders and members to that movement. And that is my current project.

Q: As the current editor of the Journal of Mormon History, you have come across articles by numerous up-and-coming scholars of Mormonism. What trends are you seeing emerge from younger scholars and where do you imagine the future of Mormon studies to be headed?

A: I am trained as a historian, but I also learned from other disciplines. That is what I taught BYU students, and it is very gratifying to see former students become great historians. Many of them and the younger scholars are more focused on Mormon studies/religious studies than just straight history. I think that Mormon studies will include more comparative studies and focus more on theories. I hope in that change that young scholars remember that history is stories. I hope they will gather the stories and then look for the theories that might work rather than trying to make the data fit the theories. 

That being said, I am excited that there are so many young scholars interested in the Mormon past. I started my career during the New Mormon History period. Because of the negative reactions, I believe that we lost a whole generation of people studying Mormon history/Mormon studies. It is refreshing to know that we can overcome what Roger Launius called the graying of the Mormon History Association. It is good to see new faces, and I look forward to publishing these scholars in the Journal of Mormon History. I learn so much from them.

Thanks, Jessie!

Mormon Polygamous Families: Life in the Principle
By Jessie L. Embry

318 pages
$24.95 paperback




Author Spotlight: David Bokovoy November 15 2017

David Bokovoy, author of Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis—Deuteronomy, part of the Contemporary Studies in Scripture series.

Can you give us a little background into your education and how you became interested in religious studies/biblical criticism?

I majored in History and minored in Near Eastern studies at BYU. I did my graduate work at Brandeis University, a non-sectarian Jewish institution. I received my MA in Jewish Studies and my PhD in Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. I’m currently the online professor in Bible and Jewish studies at Utah State University.

I developed a passion for the study of Mormon history, doctrine, and theology in my late teenage years. This passion continued to develop during my two-year mission for the LDS Church in Brazil. As hard as it was, I would try to wake up an hour early to read the material I wanted, but that weren’t part of the official Mormon Missionary library—things like Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Discourses of Brigham Young, the Great Apostasy, and Doctrines of Salvation. I thought that if I was willing to sacrifice my sleep to read this unofficial material, I could justify breaking the rules a bit. Other than that, I was a very obedient missionary.
I loved my mission, but I longed for the days when I could devote hour after hour to serious Gospel study. When I returned home, I took an LDS Institute class from a teacher who knew a little bit of Hebrew. I knew right away that I had to learn that language to improve my understanding of the scriptures.  That study eventually led to the pursuit of graduate work in the field of historical criticism and the Bible.
How can biblical criticism compliment faith?

I have come to believe that a critical approach to scripture is, in fact, an essential part of a spiritual journey. Historical criticism is an effort to read religious texts in their original historical context, independent from one’s own religious tradition. This allows religious readers to understand the way that people from different time periods and cultures understood divinity. Religious paradigms exist in a perpetual state of flux. So, the way we understand God today is not the same way that people in the ancient world understood God. Learning to see and appreciate their approach can provide a religious reader with new ways of appreciating the divine.

Despite its religious merits, scripture should not be seen as an infallible manual to divinity. Instead, scripture is the textual result of a human effort to reflect the divine. Though inevitably flawed by mortal hands, scripture can inspire meaningful spiritual growth. This is true even when a reader encounters a construct in holy writ that she rejects, since that problematic paradigm has caused the reader to define her own spiritual conviction in opposition to the one held by the author. I believe that scripture is not a manual; it is a springboard. And I believe that historical critical analysis can help lift a reader to higher levels of enlightenment. Like Joseph Smith, I believe that Mormonism is a religion that seeks to embrace all truth, let it come from whatever source it may, including historical criticism.

What are you hoping readers will gain from reading your first volume of Authoring the Old Testament?
The first volume was a highly personal work. I had been told by a couple of my BYU professors not to pursue degrees in biblical studies because we had not ever had an LDS person pass through such a program and retain his or her testimony. I wanted to share with an LDS audience how I make sense of my faith in light of my passion for critical biblical scholarship. I wanted to show that one could be a faithful Mormon and a critical scholar.
Can you give us a sneak peek into some of the themes you’ll be exploring in the next volume?
In volume two of the series, I will introduce LDS readers to a critical reading of the prophetic books of the Bible. I hope to show how a critical historical approach to this material can help religious readers make sense of complicated works like the book of Isaiah.

Thanks, David!

Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis—Deuteronomy
by David Bokovoy

Part of the Contemporary Studies in Scripture series

“Members of the Church will be introduced to some of the results of over a century of biblical scholarship they’ve likely never heard about.”
— Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship



Also check out David Bokovoy's chapter contribution to Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics.