History through Seer Stones: A Hundred Years of Mormon Pasts

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By Stuart Parker

Available 2014


Book Description:

Since Mark Leone’s landmark 1979 study Roots of Modern Mormonism, a scholarly consensus has emerged that a key element of Mormon distinctiveness stems from one’s subscription to an alternate narrative or experience of history. In the past generation, scholarship on Mormon historical thought has addressed important issues arising from these insights from anthropological and sociological perspectives. These perspectives have joined a rich and venerable controversial literature seeking to “debunk” Mormon narratives, apologetic scholarship asserting their epistemic harmony or superiority, as well as fault-finding scholarship that constructs differences in Mormon historical thinking as a problem that must be solved.
     The lacuna that this project begins to fill is the lack of scholarship specifically in the field of intellectual history describing the various alternate narratives of the past that have been and are being developed by Mormons, their contents, the methodologies by which they are produced and the theories of historical causation that they entail. This dissertation examines nine chronica (historical narratives and associated theories of history) generated by Mormon thinkers during the twentieth century. Following Philip Barlow’s definition of “Mormon” as any religious group that includes the Book of Mormon in its canon, this project examines five chronica generated by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism’s 14-million-strong Utah-based denomination), two generated by the Community of Christ (Mormonism’s 175,000- strong Missouri-based denomination) and two generated by independent Mormon fundamentalists (polygamists), one in Utah and the other in Mexico. In so doing it examines the thought of B. H. Roberts, James E. Talmage, Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie, W. Cleon Skousen, Ogden Kraut, Margarito Bautista, Hugh Nibley, John Sorenson and a variety of CoC writers such as Harold Velt, Roy Cheville, Little Pigeon and F. Edward Butterworth.
     Following the work of Leone and Jan Shipps, it engages ethnographic perspectives on unique elements of Mormon temporal phenomenology and its relationship with ritual practice. It also examines how national political and religious movements interpenetrate with Mormonism to condition different understandings of the past; the interactions of Mormon understandings of the past with Mexican revolutionary nationalism and indigenismo, Cold War anti-communism, the 1970s New Left, Christian fundamentalism and Gilded Age progressivism are concurrently examined. Similarly, Mormon interactions with various epistemes and methodologies are canvassed, including New Testament criticism, cultural anthropology, conspiracy theory, medieval typology and the Cambridge myth and ritual school. Ultimately, a set of religious communities that prioritize subscription to a narrative of Israelite immigration to the Americas and pre-Columbian Christian history of the Western Hemisphere, including the post-resurrection ministry of Jesus Christ, has had to reach a special accommodation with history. This project is a study of the diverse accommodations that have been achieved, their epistemic bases and their sustainability in light of the different forms of time consciousness that underpin them.

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ISBN 978-1-58958-499-0

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