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Q&A with Gordon and Gary Shepherd for Jan Shipps: A Social and Intellectual Portrait May 27 2019

 

 

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Q: For those unfamiliar with Jan Shipps, what can you tell us about her and why she is important within Mormon studies?

A: In the mid-to-late 1970s, Jan Shipps began to emerge as an important new scholarly voice in Mormon history circles. She was not a Latter-day Saint (LDS), and she was a woman claiming the right of place in a field dominated by men. Yet she proved she could more than hold her own with the male scholars who constituted the inner circles of both the LDS-based Mormon History Association and its RLDS counterpart, the John Whitmer Historical Association. Her scholarly work was fresh and insightful, she rapidly ascended to positions of leadership and made meaningful organizational contributions within both groups, and she helped mediate differences between scholarly proponents of these two historically antagonistic camps of Mormonism. These men respected, accepted, and encouraged her. By the early to mid-1980s Jan’s reputation for unbiased and nonpolemical writing and speaking on Mormon topics also earned her the confidence of both the national media (who consulted her constantly for her take on news stories related to Mormons and the LDS Church) and upper echelon authorities of the LDS Church (who gave her unprecedented access to them and their views on the same topics). She was simultaneously instrumental in persuading many prominent religious studies scholars and American Western historians of the significance of Mormonism as a case study in their own disciplines that had previously trivialized or dismissed the serious study of Mormons, past and present. Her 1985 book, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition, received widespread critical acclaim and cemented her reputation as an authoritative scholarly interpreter of both Mormon history and contemporary Mormon culture. In succeeding years, her reputation and influence remained strong, and she continued—well into her eighties—as an active scholar, mentor to a new generation of women historians, and as an organizational participant within the expanding field of Mormon studies that she had herself helped to legitimate.

Q: What made you decide to write a book about her?

A: Although the two of us are only marginally connected to Mormon history circles, we had known Jan professionally for a number of years. This connection was due mostly to Jan characteristically reaching out to people like us who demonstrated a manifest interest in the scholarly study of Mormonism from other perspectives (sociology in our case), and we were well aware of her important contributions to the related fields of Mormon history and Mormon studies. Five years ago, she invited us to her home in Bloomington to confer for two days on a then-current project of ours that she found interesting while soliciting our views on a current project of her own. Our natural inclination is to ask a lot of biographical questions in the process of interacting with other people, and we quickly became a lot more familiar with her as a person on this occasion (and on others that subsequently followed). We reflected on what a remarkable transformational story her life presented—a life that merited telling at least in terms of how she had transitioned from unpromising beginnings growing up in Depression-era Alabama, to entering into adulthood as a post-World War II housewife and mother without a college degree, to eventually emerge, in middle age, as a pre-eminent scholar of Mormonism. It didn’t take long for such reflections to crystallize into a conviction that we could, should, and would attempt to tell her story.

Q: Can you briefly explain what kind of analysis this book provides beyond a typical biography?

A: We have not tried to write a thorough, conventional biography that explores every known pertinent fact about our subject in detailing the full arc of her life. We call our project a “social and intellectual portrait,” laying out a basic summary of what we perceive as life-shaping experiences, personal characteristics, role model and mentor relationships, and environmental circumstances—from early childhood through mid-adulthood—that shaped, prepared, and eventually propelled Jo Ann Barnett into improbable prominence as Jan Shipps, the “outsider-insider” Mormon observer par excellence. We also make a detailed argument that Jan’s Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition merits inclusion with Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History, and Juanita Brooks’s Mountain Meadows Massacre as the three most impactful scholarly books thus far written on Mormon topics. Hand in hand with this argument, we also show how Jan’s deep and extensive participation in professional academic circles—both Mormon and non-Mormon—significantly advanced the stature of Mormon studies as a legitimate and important field of scholarly inquiry. Finally, we suggest how Jan’s own evolving religious beliefs and attitudes regarding contemporary feminist issues have interacted with her understanding and interpretation of Mormonism.

Q: Give us a brief look into Jan Shipps background. When did she decide to start researching and studying Mormonism and what prompted her?

A: Jan arrived in Logan, Utah in the summer of 1960, accompanying her husband, Tony, who had just been hired as the new assistant head librarian at Utah State University. Jan was 30 years old, mother of an 8-year old son, had a number of credits earned at women’s colleges in Alabama and Georgia (but had not completed an undergraduate degree) and knew virtually nothing about Mormons. But she was naturally tolerant and curious about Mormons and immediately began to read as much as she could find about them, including Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom (Arrington was then professor of history at USU but on sabbatical at the time). Jan registered for classes at USU to obtain teaching credentials so she could supplement the meager family income. She changed her degree from music to history to facilitate this aim and serendipitously took a historiography course from visiting professor, Everett Cooley (who was temporarily filling in for Arrington). Cooley recognized Jan’s potential as a student and gave her an assignment to research and write about a Mormon topic from primary source materials to which Cooley had access. Jan succeeded brilliantly in this assignment while pursuing a self-directed crash course in readings on Mormon history. When Tony was hired for a new library position the subsequent year at the University of Colorado, Jan opted to enroll in a master’s degree program in history at UC, again with the intention of gaining additional required credentials to become a public-school teacher. Given her recently acquired experience at USU, she chose to write a course paper on a Mormon topic and produced what later became her first published article: “Second Class Saints,” an analysis of Black Mormons. She followed up this paper by expediently writing on another Mormon topic for her master’s thesis, “The Mormons in Politics. 1839–1844.” When Jan was subsequently (and unexpectedly) encouraged by CU history faculty to continue graduate studies as a Ph.D. student, she was by now committed by intellectual passion and commitment (and not just convenience) to write her dissertation on “The Mormons in Politics: The First Hundred Years,” and to continue pursuing a scholarly focus on Mormon topics.

Q: Above, you heralded Jan Shipps’s 1984 book, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition, as one of the most significant books in Mormon studies. For readers who are less familiar, can you give a brief description of her book and offer a few reasons for its significance?

A: In spite of Jan’s subtitle, “The Story of a New Religious Tradition,” the story she tells is not a conventionally detailed or comprehensive narrative of Mormon history and the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jan’s approach is to instead understand the rise of nineteenth-century Mormonism using comparative, analytical, and theoretical religious studies methods. While the seven chapters of her book can all be read as separate essays, combined they sustain a coherent thesis about the relatively rare emergence and organizational transformation of a new religious tradition in the context of nineteenth-century American history and religious culture. Jan’s central thematic argument requires that we not only consider early Mormonism in the context of American religious history but that we also see it in broader historical comparison to the rapid rise of Christianity as a new religious tradition from its initial incarnation as a Jewish sect. By new religious tradition, Jan means explicitly that the theological beliefs and associated religious symbols, rituals, and religiously mandated practices diverge so much from the parent religious tradition that they burst the bounds of the old and must be grasped as something fundamentally new and distinctive.

The insights about the emergence and subsequent development of Mormonism that Jan produced began with an analogy to early Christianity. Analogies are heuristic devices that stimulate possible solutions to unresolved problems or debated questions. The debated questions about Mormonism are: What kind of religion is it? Is it Christian or non-Christian? How and why did it emerge and spread so rapidly when and where it did in nineteenth-century America? How did it not only survive furious resistance as a perceived Christian heresy but ultimately flourish to become a rapidly expanding international religion in the twentieth century? And in the process of doing this, what kind of religion did it consequently become for its adherents both at home and abroad? These are the kinds of questions that concern Jan’s analysis of Mormonism and not merely a descriptive, chronological account of its history and most prominent leaders.

In short, Mormonism is not written to be either faith promoting or faith debunking. It is not a conventional history. It is a comparative and analytical treatise that positions Mormonism within larger historical, cultural and social contexts. It commanded the attention and respect of eminent scholars and conferred increased recognition and legitimacy on the scholarly field of Mormon studies. 

Q: You mentioned that Jan Shipps became a go-to expert for the national media whenever they covered a Mormon-related topic. How did Jan achieve this status? And how did her national media presence affect her relationship with the leaders of the LDS Church?

Jan not only became deeply involved with “insider” LDS and RLDS scholarly organizations (The Mormon History Association and the John Whitmer Historical Association), she also presented and published her work on Mormonism in a number of nationally prestigious outlets while simultaneously assuming active leadership roles in the professional organizations that sponsored these same scholarly conferences and journals (e.g., The National Historical Society, the Western History Association, the Center for American Studies, and the American Academy of Religion, among others). Prominent participation in these organizations gave national exposure to her scholarly work and advocacy of Mormon studies and garnered the attention of the media at a time that coincided with escalating interest in Mormons and the LDS Church due to such issues as Blacks and the priesthood, the Equal Rights Amendment, the Hoffman bombings, and the rapid growth and increasing influence of the LDS Church and prominent individual Mormons around the world. Given her growing reputation in national scholarly circles, It didn’t take long for the media to discover Jan as a non-Mormon expert on Mormons, who could provide unbiased but authoritative information and analysis on these and many other issues of interest. At the same time, through both local and national network sources, LDS Church officials reciprocally came to appreciate Jan’s unflagging promotion of detached but non-polemical scholarship on Mormon subjects. This appreciation was particularly facilitated through the savvy efforts of LDS Church Director of Press Relations and Public Communications, Jerry Cahill, to arrange Jan’s access to Church leadership as a mutually trusted bridge between them and national news outlets.  

Q: How did Jan's Methodist faith evolve through the years that she studied Mormonism? How do you feel her religious tradition affected her writings on Mormonism?

A: Jan grew up as a dutiful, simple believer but a not very pious Methodist. The most important religious principles she acquired from her childhood were tolerance of others’ religious beliefs and the notion that the primary purpose of religion was to help people in need. Her religious tolerance has matured into an active curiosity about diverse religious perspectives and genuine respect for the legitimacy of religious beliefs that are sincerely held in different religious traditions. This outlook came into its maturity as she studied Mormon history, beliefs, and practice—all completely unknown to her at the outset of her academic career. Jan’s detached, analytical, but respectful treatment of Mormonism’s beginnings and development as a new religious tradition was a hallmark of her early, acclaimed work. Ongoing, increased contact with ordinary Mormons, Mormon scholars, and LDS Church leaders have deepened her appreciation of Mormonism as a valid religious tradition. But she is not a convert to Mormonism and remains committed to the organizational expression of her Methodist beginnings. However, Jan’s private religious beliefs are more complicated, diverse, and universal than those proclaimed either by conventional Methodism or Christianity in general. She prays for others because she knows it brings them comfort. But Jan does not pray for herself, because she believes in her own ability to cope with life’s problems and in a just God who knows her heart.

Q: What are you hoping readers will gain from this book?

A: We hope all readers will come to appreciate—as we did in conducting our research—the truly remarkable, utterly unanticipated unfolding of Jan Shipps’s life and career. This is a life that should inspire us all. But it should particularly inspire the aspirations of many young LDS women who struggle to strike a working balance between their deeply felt religious and family commitments and the full development of their intrinsic talents, potential to grow, and ability to see and take advantage of life opportunities on an equal par with men. And we hope readers with a scholarly interest in Mormon studies, particularly younger students and scholars whose awareness and interests have developed since the heydays of Jan’s seminal contributions, will become more appreciative of the foundational role Jan played in promoting Mormon studies as an important field of study.

Gary and Gordon Shepherd


Free ebook offer: Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives May 16 2019

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This collection of essays by renowned historian Davis Bitton traces how Joseph Smith has appeared from different points of view throughout history. Bitton wrote: "People like Joseph Smith are rich and complex. . . . Different people saw him differently or focused on a different facet of his personality at different times. Inescapably, what they observed or found out about him was refracted through the lens of their own experience. Some of the different, flickering, not always compatible views are the subject of this book.”

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Q&A with Melvin C. Johnson for Life and Times of John Pierce Hawley: A Mormon Ulysses of the American West February 08 2019

 

 

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Q: Give us a little information about your background and how you came to become a historian of Mormonism and the American West.

A: I was born in Northern California and grew up in Carlsbad California where I graduated from high school. Renowned historian Will Bagley and I attended the same LDS seminary in Oceanside in the mornings before high school. I pursued degrees at Dixie College in St George Utah and Utah State University in Logan Utah. Then I served twelve years in the military as an airborne infantryman and legal administrator. After being discharged from the military, I attended Stephen F. Austin State University and graduated with a Masters in both history and English. I taught at several universities and colleges and retired from Angelina College in Texas. Halli Wren Johnson, my wife, and I live in Salt Lake City Utah, although we maintain strong connections to eastern Texas. Let me say I loved Dixie College (the only junior college in America, it seemed, that would accept me). I met historian Juanita Brooks there and had no idea who she was, or that the massacre at Mountain Meadows had occurred just thirty-five miles up Highway 18. I had no idea what the massacre at Mountain Meadows even was at the time!

I came to be fascinated by the intersection of Mormonism in the American West at Texas Forestry Museum, Lufkin, Texas. Local forest industries funded my research position in Forest and Mill Town history. During my research, I came across references to the Mormon Millers (sawmills owned and operated by Mormons) of the Texas Hill Country before the American Civil War. I created a Mormon Miller database and began inserting research notes as I came across them in my other pursuits. Eventually, I entwined the Mormon Millers of the Hill Country into my interest in German Texans before the American Civil War and made more intersections. Beginning in 1996, I started researching and out of that came the award-winning Polygamy on the Pedernales: Lyman Wight’s Mormon Villages in Antebellum Texas 1845 to 1858, which won the John Whitmer Historical Association Best Book Award in 2006 funded by the Smith-Pettit Foundation.

During all of that, the life of John Pierce Hawley became a compelling narrative. The son of Sarah and Pierce Hawley, John came of age and the Latter-day Saint Black River Lumber colony in Wisconsin Territory in the early 1840s. Bishop George Miller and Apostle Lyman White directed this lumber mission. The colony's mission was to provide lumber and timber for the construction of the Nauvoo Temple and the Nauvoo House (a large-scale hotel project that never saw completion). Apostle Lyman Wight broke from the Quorum of The Twelve Apostles soon after the death of Joseph Smith Jr. Wight could not submit to Brigham Young's leadership of the Church. Instead, he carried out a mission that was given to him by Joseph Smith Jr. to the Republic of Texas to establish a colony for the Latter Day Saints. John Pierce Hawley help to build the first Mormon temple west of the Mississippi in Zodiac, Texas, in 1849. In it, he was sealed to Sylvia Johnson and was a witness and officiator in the rites and rituals of the Zodiac Temple.

Q: John Pierce Hawley left Wight’s colony, converted to Brigham Young’s Utah church, and became one of the early settlers in southern Utah’s “Dixie” area. What can you tell us about this period of his life?

A: John Pierce Hawley followed Wight for eleven years until he broke with him in 1854 and followed his father, Pierce Hawley, to the Indian nations in what is now Oklahoma. Two years later in the Cherokee Nation, John and Sylvia Hawley (and most of his family and kin) converted to the Utah church led by Brigham Young. That summer and fall the Hawley’s joined the Jacob Croft company and emigrated to Utah Territory. On the trail, they passed the ill-fated Martin and Willie handcart companies. In Utah, the Texans were interviewed and re-baptized, and the Hawleys were sent to Ogden in northern Utah. The following spring, John and his brother George were called, along with many other Texans, to Washington County in southern Utah to begin a mission on the Rio Virgin growing cotton and support a barrier “wall” of colonies that Young built in the Intermountain West to protect the stronghold of Zion.

John and Sylvia Hawley, as well as John’s brother George and his three plural wives, lived in Pine Valley, Utah for thirteen years—from 1857 to 1860. John worked as a road inspector, constable, public and religious school superintendent, and was the presiding elder from 1857 to 1867. However, because John was monogamous, William Snow, brother of Apostle Erastus F. Snow, was installed as the first bishop of Pine Valley. Apostle Snow did not think monogamous priesthood holders should obtain leadership positions in the Church.

Q: Some of John Pierce Hawley’s contemporaries accused him of being involved in the massacre at Mountain Meadows. What does the historical record tell us?

A: After a less than inspiring agricultural year in Washington, the Hawley brothers went to Spanish Fork, Utah, to pick up their wives and be sealed to them in Salt Lake City by Brigham Young. On the return to Dixie, they rode with the doomed Fancher-Baker wagon train that was massacred at Mountain Meadows by the Mormon militia from the Iron County Brigade, commanded by Colonel William Dame. John D. Lee, one of the other militia leaders, later accused John Hawley of being present at the massacre. John’s brothers, George and William, have been identified as being on the Meadows killing fields. John denied any participation in it and even condemned the atrocity in his local congregation. His public condemnation nearly got him killed, as members of his congregation included some of the murderers. A secret meeting resulted in a narrow vote to let him live.

Q: Eventually, John Pierce Hawley left Brigham Young’s church and joined the Reorganized church, led by Joseph Smith III. What can you tell us about the events that led to his conversion?

A: In 1868, several events change John’s life. He received his second endowment under the hands of Apostle Erastus Snow in Salt Lake City and assisted Apostle Snow in giving others their second endowments. John was then sent on a mission to Iowa to convert his RLDS family members to the Utah church. He spent five months there, and as he reported, neither he nor his relatives converted one another. However, John's mission to Iowa planted seeds in him. Over the next year-and-a-half, John struggled with the principles of polygamy, Brigham Young’s Adam-God teachings, the harrowing threat of “blood atonement,” and overbearing priesthood leadership. In November of 1870, both John’s and George Hawley’s families converted to the Reorganized church. They left Salt Lake City on a train to western Iowa and never returned. All the Hawleys in Iowa remained participants in the Reorganized church until their deaths.

Q: In what ways do you think John Hawley’s story is significant within Mormon history?

A: John Pierce Hawley is important because he is a Mormon Ulysses of the American West. His interactions with Mormonism brought him through the interior of the Great American West from the Wisconsin Territory, to the Republic of Texas, to Indian territory, to Utah Territory, and back to Iowa. He crisscrossed the interior of western America five times because of his devotion to Mormonism. He served missions to eastern Texas, along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, to northern Utah, and western Iowa. He was fascinated with Mormonism and was a fervent disciple of Joseph Smith Jr. His life demonstrated that for him, there was “more than one way to Mormon.” He kept trying until he got it right for himself.

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Free ebook offer: The End of the World, Plan B: A Guide for the Future November 08 2018

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Environmental decline, political gridlock, war and rumors of war, decadence, and immorality. The End of the World, Plan B traces the idea of the end, or destruction, of the world through a number of spiritual traditions. It shows that our present understanding of the “end game” has been distorted by a modern emphasis and demand on justice as the ultimate good. As an alternative to this self-destructive approach, Charles Shirō Inouye shows that in these traditions, justice is not the isolated end in itself that we ought strive for; rather it is taught in tandem with its balancing companion: compassion. Plan B is a hopeful alternative to our fears about how things are going.

“Inouye reminds us that justice is not enough and that obedience is not the currency of salvation. He urges us to recognize the limits of the law, to see that, severed from a willingness to compassionately suffer with the world’s imperfection and evanescence, our righteous hunger for balancing life's books will destroy us all.” — Adam S. Miller 


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Who is Lot Smith? Forgotten Folk Hero of the American West November 06 2018

 


WHO IS LOT SMITH?

LOT SMITH is a legendary folk hero of the American West whose adventurous life has been all but lost to the annals of time. Lot arrived in the West with the Mormon Batallion during the Mexican-American War. He remained in California during much the Gold Rush, and was later a participant in many significant Utah events, including the Utah-Mormon War, the Walker War, the rescue of the Willie & Martin Handcart Companies, and even joined the Union Army during the US Civil War. Significantly, Lot Smith was one of the early settlers of the Arizona territory and led the United Order efforts in the Little Colorado River settlements. What follows is a brief sketch of Lot's service in the Mormon Batallion and the experiences that shaped him.

Lot was reared by a hard-working Yankee father and a devoutly religious mother. His mother passed when he was fourteen. At the impressionable age of sixteen, Lot joined the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican-American War as one of its youngest members. His father passed before he returned to his family. Consequently, his experiences in the Mormon Battalion shaped his life significantly. The struggles of this heroic infantry march of two-thousand miles across the country embedded within him several valuable characteristics.

During most of the journey, his company marched with very scanty rations. Despite his teenage-boy-appetite, he learned that he could survive on almost nothing. At one point during the march, Smith and others were so hungry that they ate the bark from a pepper tree. It did not agree with Smith. Ever after, he never allowed pepper at his dining table. In later life, when he and the soldiers under his command suffered intense hunger during the Utah and Civil Wars, he knew how they felt and empathized. When neighboring Arizona colonists faced famine, he quickly came to their aid. When his own colonists had food shortages, he did not ration the provisions. He knew what near starvation felt like.

Lot Smith came to value the comfort of clothing and shoes in the absence thereof. As the battalion march continued, his clothing and shoes wore out. He had only a ragged shirt and an Indian blanket wrapped around his torso for pants. At the death of one of the soldiers, he gratefully inherited the man’s pants. His feet were shod with rawhide cut from the hocks of an ox. Ever after, he never took shoes for granted. It appears that he may have developed an obsession for them. Soon after his arrival in Utah Territory, he was known to have bought himself a pair of shoes that was outlandishly too large. He said that he wanted to get his money’s worth! Years later, he bought thirty pairs of shoes at a gentile shoe shop. When he saw the astonishment of the shopkeeper, he said, “If these give good service, I’ll be back and buy shoes for the rest of my family!” He frequently carried an extra pair of shoes. In at least two recorded instances, he gave an extra pair of shoes to grateful men who were in desperate need. He knew how feet with no shoes felt—sore, bruised and cut.

Several times the battalion marched miles and even days with no water. One of the more fortunate times, the soldiers found rainwater in wallows mixed with buffalo urine and dung. Only a few sickened. Once after marching two days without water, they were promised water at the end of their march, only to find that there had been water, but the officers and their mounts had finished it off. The troops crowded around the moist hollow and dipped with spoons and sucked through quills for a mouthful of water. Another time after a more than two-day waterless march, Smith helped dig for water. He was then asked to carry a keg of water back to the soldiers, who had been too weak to continue, with strict orders to start with the farthest soldier. He passed the first few but could no longer pass his pleading thirsty comrades. Compassion became one of his strong characteristics. Yet he also learned obedience—strict obedience. For his disobedience, he was tied to the back of a wagon to walk in trying and humiliating circumstances. Throughout his life, he expected firm obedience of himself and from those he led in war, those he led in colonizing, and those within his family.

Smith developed endurance during the Mormon Battalion march. He carried a shoulder load of paraphernalia, walked as many as twenty-five miles or more each day—sometimes dragging mules through the heavy sand. There was no stopping—and absolutely no pampering. When the going got rough, he had to keep going. He suffered extreme heat and freezing nights on the deserts.  Through all of these challenges, he learned to laugh at the hardships and to maintain a happy optimistic view of life. He emerged from the Mormon Battalion as a young man who knew he could do hard things.

It is not known how skilled Smith became with a gun during his battalion march, but during his later years in Arizona, he was known to be an expert marksman who could shoot accurately even from the hip. Every morning he took a practice shot. Navajos and Hopis would come from miles around to challenge him. He gained a reputation of the most feared gunman in Arizona.

Smith faced many life-threatening ordeals throughout the rest of his life. Many different kinds of hardships would test his endurance. He faced them with courage, a trust in God, and an upbeat attitude. His example inspired those who followed him. As a significant and beloved military leader, he knew how to succor those under his command. One who served with him in the military said, “We loved him because he loved us first.”

Lot Smith learned many valuable life lessons on the Mormon Battalion march that served him well. Yes, he rid his table of hot pepper—and he should have done away with something else hot—his temper!


Talana S. Hooper is a native of Arizona’s Gila Valley. She attended both Eastern Arizona College and Arizona State University. She compiled and edited A Century in Central, 1883–1983 and has published numerous family histories. She and her husband Steve have six children and twenty-six grandchildren.

 


Lot Smith recounts the Mormon frontiersman’s adventures in the Mormon Battalion, the hazardous rescue of the Willie and Martin handcart companies, the Utah War, and the Mormon colonization of the Arizona Territory. True stories of tense relations with the Navajo and Hopi tribes, Mormon flight into Mexico during the US government's anti-polygamy crusades, narrow escapes from bandits and law enforcers, and even Western-style shoot-outs place Lot Smith: Mormon Pioneer and American Frontiersman into both Western Americana literature and Mormon biographical history.

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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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Flash Sale: 40%-63% off Mormon theology titles! October 25 2018

Friday, Oct 26 through Monday, Oct 29. Theology titles by James McLachlan, Blake Ostler, Adam Miller, Joseph Spencer, James Faulconer, Jacob Baker, Blair Van Dyke, Loyd Ericson, Charles Inouye, Charles Harrell, Robert Millet, and more...

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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Q&A Part 2 with the Editors of The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism & Sacred Texts September 11 2018

Edited by Blair G. Van Dyke, Brian D. Birch, and Boyd J. Petersen
276 pages, Paperback $25.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-638-3)
Hardcover $35.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-637-6)



Part 2: Q&A with Brian D. Birch
(Part 1)

Q: When and how did the Mormon Studies program at UVU launch?

A: The UVU Mormon Studies Program began in 2000 with the arrival of Eugene England. Gene received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to explore how Mormon Studies could succeed at a state university. A year-long seminar resulted that included a stellar lineup of consultants and guest scholars. From that point forward, the Religious Studies Program has developed multiple courses complemented by our annual Mormon Studies Conference and Eugene England Lecture—to honor Gene’s tragic and untimely passing in 2001. The program also hosts and facilitates events for independent organizations and publications including the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology, the Dialogue Foundation, the Interpreter Foundation, Mormon Scholars in the Humanities, Association for Mormon Letters, and others.

Q: How is the UVU Mormon Studies program distinguished from Mormon Studies programs that have emerged at other campuses?

A: Mormon Studies at UVU is distinguished by the explicitly comparative focus of our work. Given the strengths of our faculty, we have emphasized courses and programming that addresses engagement and dialogue across cultures, faith traditions, and theological perspectives. Permanent course offerings include Mormon Cultural Studies, Mormon Theology and the Christian Tradition, Mormon Anthropology, and Mormon Literature. Our strengths lie in areas other than Mormon history, which is well represented at other institutions—and appropriately so. Given the nature of our institution, our events are focused first and foremost on student learning, but all our events are free and open to the public and we welcome conversation between scholars and nonprofessionals.

Q: How long has the annual UVU Mormon Studies Conference been held, and what have been some of the topics of past conferences?

A: As mentioned above, the Mormon Studies Conference was first convened by Eugene England in 2000, and to date we have convened a total of nineteen conferences. Topics have ranged across a variety of issues including “Islam and Mormonism,” “Mormonism in the Public Mind,” “Mormonism and the Art of Boundary Maintenance,” “Mormonism and the Internet,” etc. We have been fortunate to host superb scholars and to bring them into conversation with each other and the broader public.

Q: Where did the material for the first volume, The Expanded Canon, come from?

A: The material in The Expanded Canon emerged came from our 2013 Mormon Studies Conference that shares the title of the volume. We drew from the work of conference presenters and added select essays to round out the collection. The volume is expressive of our broader approach to bring diverse scholars into conversation and to show a variety of perspectives and methodologies.

Q: What are a few key points about this volume that would be of interest to readers?

A: Few things are more central to Mormon thought than the way the tradition approaches scripture. And many of their most closely held beliefs fly in the face of general Christianity’s conception of scriptural texts. An open or expanded canon of scripture is one example. Grant Underwood explores Joseph Smith’s revelatory capacities and illustrates that Smith consistently edited his revelations and felt that his revisions were done under the same Spirit by which the initial revelation was received. Hence, the revisions may be situated in the canon with the same gravitas that the original text enjoyed. Claudia Bushman directly addresses the lack of female voices in Mormon scripture. She recommends several key documents crafted by women in the spirit of revelation. Ultimately, she suggests several candidates for inclusion. As the Mormon canon expands it should include female voices. From a non-Mormon perspective, Ann Taves does not embrace a historical explanation of the Book of Mormon or the gold plates. However, she does not deny Joseph Smith as a religious genius and compelling creator of a dynamic mythos. In her chapter she uses Mormon scripture to suggest a way that the golden plates exist, are not historical, but still maintain divine connectivity. David Holland examines the boundaries and intricacies of the Mormon canon. Historically, what are the patterns and intricacies of the expanding canon and what is the inherent logic behind the related processes? Additionally, authors treat the status of the Pearl of Great Price, the historical milieu of the publication of the Book of Mormon, and the place of The Family: A Proclamation to the World. These are just a few of the important issues addressed in this volume.

Q: What is your thought process behind curating these volumes in terms of representation from both LDS and non-LDS scholars, gender, race, academic disciplines, etc?

A: Mormon Studies programing at UVU has always been centered on strong scholarship while also extending our reach to marginalized voices. To date, we have invited guests that span a broad spectrum of Mormon thought and practice. From Orthodox Judaism to Secular Humanists; from LGBTQ to opponents to same-sex marriage; from Feminists to staunch advocates of male hierarchies, all have had a voice in the UVU Mormon Studies Program. Each course, conference, and publication treating these dynamic dialogues in Mormonism are conducted in civility and the scholarly anchors of the academy. Given our disciplinary grounding, our work has expanded the conversation and opened a wide variety of ongoing cooperation between schools of thought that intersect with Mormon thought.

Q: What can readers expect to see coming from the UVU Comparative Mormon Studies series?

A: Our 2019 conference will be centered on the experience of women in and around the Mormon traditions. We have witnessed tremendous scholarship of late in this area and are anxious to assemble key authors and advocates. Other areas we plan to explore include comparative studies in Mormonism and Asian religions, theological approaches to religious diversity, and questions of Mormon identity.


Download a free sample of The Expanded Canon
Listen to an interview with the editors


Upcoming events for The Expanded Canon:


Tue Sep 18
 at 7pm | Writ & Vision (Provo) | RSVP on Facebook
Wed Sep 19 at 5:30 pm | Benchmark Books (SLC) | RSVP on Facebook


Q&A Part 1 with the Editors of The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism & Sacred Texts August 29 2018

Edited by Blair G. Van Dyke, Brian D. Birch, and Boyd J. Petersen
276 pages, Paperback $25.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-638-3)
Hardcover $35.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-637-6)


Part 1: Q&A with Blair G. Van Dyke (Part 2)

Q: How is the Mormon Studies program at Utah Valley University distinguished from Mormon Studies programs that have emerged at other universities?

A: The Mormon Studies program at UVU is distinguished by the comparative components of the work we do. At UVU we cast a broad net across the academy knowing that there are relevant points of exploration at the intersections of Mormonism and the arts, Mormonism and the sciences, Mormonism and literature, Mormonism and economics, Mormonism and feminism, Mormonism and world religions, and so forth. Additionally, the program is distinguished from other Mormon Studies by the academic events that we host. UVU initiated and maintains the most vibrant tradition of creating and hosting relevant and engaging conferences, symposia, and intra-campus events than any other program in the country. Further, a university-wide initiative is in place to engage the community in the work of the academy. Hence, the events held on campus are focused first and foremost for students but inviting the community to enjoy our work is very important. This facilitates understanding and builds bridges between scholars of Mormon Studies and Mormons and non-Mormons outside academic orbits.

Q: Where did the material for The Expanded Canon come from?

A: The material that constitutes volume one of the UVU Comparative Mormon Studies Series came from an annual Mormon Studies Conference that shares the title of the volume. We drew from the work of some of the scholars that presented at that conference to give their work and ours a broader audience. Generally, the contributors to the volume are not household names or prominent authors that regularly publish in the common commercial publishing houses directed at Mormon readership. As such, this volume introduces that audience to prominent personalities in the field of Mormon Studies. It is not uncommon for scholars in this field of study to look for venues where their work can reach a broader readership. This jointly published volume accomplishes that desire in a thoughtful way.

Q: What are a few key points about this volume that would be of interest to readers?

A: Few things are more central to Mormon thought than the way the tradition approaches scripture. And many of their most closely held beliefs fly in the face of general Christianity’s conception of scriptural texts. An open or expanded canon of scripture is one example. Grant Underwood explores Joseph Smith’s revelatory capacities and illustrates that Smith consistently edited his revelations and felt that his revisions were done under the same Spirit by which the initial revelation was received. Hence, the revisions may be situated in the canon with the same gravitas that the original text enjoyed. Claudia Bushman directly addresses the lack of female voices in Mormon scripture. She recommends several key documents crafted by women in the spirit of revelation. Ultimately, she suggests several candidates for inclusion. As the Mormon canon expands it should include female voices. From a non-Mormon perspective, Ann Taves does not embrace a historical explanation of the Book of Mormon or the gold plates. However, she does not deny Joseph Smith as a religious genius and compelling creator of a dynamic mythos. In her chapter she uses Mormon scripture to suggest a way that the golden plates exist, are not historical, but still maintain divine connectivity. David Holland examines the boundaries and intricacies of the Mormon canon. Historically, what are the patterns and intricacies of the expanding canon and what is the inherent logic behind the related processes? Additionally, authors treat the status of the Pearl of Great Price, the historical milieu of the publication of the Book of Mormon, and the place of The Family A Proclamation to the World. These are just a few of the important issues addressed in this volume.

Q: What is your thought process behind curating these volumes in terms of representation from both LDS and non-LDS scholars, gender, race, academic disciplines, etc?

A: Mormon Studies programing at UVU has always been centered on solid scholarship while simultaneously broadening tents of inclusivity. To date, we have invited guests that span spectrums of thought related to Mormonism. From Orthodox Judaism to Secular Humanists; from LGBTQ to opponents to same-sex marriage; from Feminists to staunch advocates of male hierarchies, all have had a voice in the UVU Mormon Studies Program. Each course, conference, and publication treating these dynamic dialogues in Mormonism are conducted in civility and the scholarly anchors of the academy. Given our disciplinary grounding, our work has expanded the conversation and opened a wide variety of ongoing cooperation between schools of thought that intersect with Mormon thought.


Download a free sample of The Expanded Canon
Listen to an interview with the editors


Upcoming events for The Expanded Canon:


Tue Sep 18
 at 7pm | Writ & Vision (Provo) | RSVP on Facebook
Wed Sep 19 at 5:30 pm | Benchmark Books (SLC) | RSVP on Facebook


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