Mormon Studies in the 21st Century

Historian, author, and educator Patrick Mason tells his students that Mormon studies is just a really fun place to play. It gets to the heart of the questions we have in 21st century society.

By studying Mormonism, we can learn more about the world we live in as it touches on the following:

  • Minority/majority relations;
  • How we can organize a democratic society;
  • The role of religion in the public sphere;
  • Gender issues;
  • Marriage; and
  • Family.

Mormonism, Mormon history, Mormon theology usually has something to say about these foundational issues.

Host Russell Stevenson of LDS Perspectives Podcast interviews Patrick Mason about how the way historians do their business has changed over the last 100 years. In the 19th century, history tended to be bipolar with anti-Mormons on one end and church leaders, members, and historians offering their version from a faith-promoting perspective that acknowledged God’s involvement in affairs.

By the late 20th century, historians began to weigh truth claims in a more dispassionate manner. Their goals were less polemic and more directed toward enhancing understanding–wherever that may lead.

Please join us for this interesting discussion.

LDS Women Speaking Up and Speaking Out

Editors Jenny Reeder and Kate Holbrook, respectively 19th- and 20th-century women’s historians, discuss their multi-year project to bring LDS women’s speeches together in At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women in this episode of the LDS Perspectives Podcast.

This is the second book to come out of the Church Historian’s Press in as many years with the goal of making LDS women’s experiences, history, and discourses available to the mainstream membership.

Before the reader even opens the book, the nostalgic cover art of At the Pulpit brings to mind its two opposing themes: change and familiarity. One glance at the over-sized corsage adorning Belle Spafford’s tailored dress may spawn a flood of memories. When was it that they stopped having women wear corsages at conference anyway? The scene is as familiar and comforting as it is foreign.

Because women didn’t typically speak in conference settings before the mid-20th century, the definition of “discourse” is stretched a bit for this anthology. To Reeder and Holbrook’s credit, this makes the book seem less like a collection of discourses than treasured glimpses into the relationship LDS women have had to their God over the last 185 years.

It is less a collection of talks than a creative medium for teaching about how attitudes toward the roles of women at home and in the LDS Church have changed and in some ways remained the same.

Many may find the introductions to each discourse the most enjoyable portions of the book. In these brief overviews, readers not only receive context for the discourse but also context for the time in which it is given.

Overall this is a welcome addition to the fine work coming out of the Church History Department and to the library of anyone wishing to entertain a more nuanced view on the amplitude of women’s voices in LDS discourse over the years.

Mental Health Myths

Religious LDS culture has historically struggled to find a place for matters of mental health and depression as it dovetails with our mortal experience and our theology.

As a result, many members may be unsure of how we as a people stand with respect to issues of depression, anxiety, and other common mental health issues.

Elder Alexander B. Morrison writes: “I assure you that Latter-day Saints are in no way exempt from the burden of mental illness, either as victim, caregiver, family member, or friend. In every ward and stake, there are severely depressed men and women; elderly people with failing memories and reduced intellectual capacities; youth or adults struggling to escape the dark specter of suicide; persons of all ages, both sexes, and every walk of life, who exhibit aberrant, even bizarre behavior.”

Using Elder Morrison’s book “Valley of Sorrows” as a backdrop resource, Brian Murdock, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and LDS Perspectives host Nick Galieti begin their discussion by debunking common myths about mental health issues.

Murdock then addresses the topic of clinical depression: what depression is, and what it isn’t. He offers some insights to consider for people who are currently suffering from depression, as well as to those who are interacting with those experiencing clinical depression. This episode also offers some practical advice for bishops, or other members of the church who want to help those with depression.

This episode is a great introduction and survey of the subject of one of the most common mental health issues we find in our society.

Access mental health resources mentioned in this episode at LDS Perspectives Podcast.

Revisiting the Journal of Discourses

In LDS Perspectives Podcast’s first doubleheader, they present an episode covering the discrepancies between the shorthand versions of speeches of early LDS Church leaders in Utah and their published versions. First, Russell Stevenson interviews Gerrit Dirkmaat about the research he and LaJean Carruth did comparing the shorthand notes of George Watt to some of the speeches in the Journal of Discourses.

Dirkmaat-Gerrit-1

The authors examined hundreds of sermons and sometimes they varied by hundreds of words. Dirkmaat points out that when one is talking about doctrine, words matter. While the essence of these speeches are similar in the shorthand and published versions, the words used vary greatly.

The Journal of Discourses have historical and religious value, but Dirkmaat urges members to be careful quoting specific passages and to realize that in most cases, there is know way to know the specific words used.

LaJean Purcell Carruth has an unusual skill: she can read the shorthand of George Watt, the transcriber of the speeches contained in the Journal of Discourses, his private printing venture. Over the past thirty years, she has learned his distinctive style — the unique upturns and curves he made in his notations. As she transcribed his notes, she noticed that they varied — sometimes greatly — from the printed versions of the same speeches. She wrote a poem about what she noticed:

There was a man named George Watt,

Who could improve Brigham Young, so he thought.

So he took out words here,

And he added words there,

And his accuracy was not what it ought.

LaJean Purcell Carruth©

LaJean expounds on what she has learned about the speaking styles of early religious leaders. They spoke extemporaneously and without notes and were more prone to engage in speculative theology than current leaders.

She emphasizes that Brigham Young was a powerful speaker. He cared about the people, and they knew that he cared about them. When George Watt changed Brigham Young’s words, he changed what Brigham Young said about himself. She feels the real Brigham Young has been lost to us as we view him through his discourses printed in the Journal of Discourses.

In her research, she discovered that the “one drop” phrase attributed to Brigham Young by Wilford Woodruff did not exist in the original shorthand transcription of George Watt and other statements relating to the priesthood and temple ban varied as well.

LaJean shares with Laura Harris Hales what she has learned about Brigham Young from the words left out of the Journal of Discourses and other important speeches.

Be sure and check out the resources mentioned in this podcast at LDS Perspectives Podcast.

Learning from Muslims

Several years ago a group of professors at BYU-Idaho designed an interdisciplinary course called “Global Hotspot: Pakistan at the Crossroad of Conflict.”

Students are asked to learn and analyze issues relating to Pakistan’s history, geography, culture, languages, and religions. But the real purpose of this course is to use Pakistan as a giant case study to help students develop skills and abilities that they can use in understanding people and countries that are quite different.

Those skills include–

  • Recognizing and overcoming stereotypes in their own thinking;
  • Understanding how factors such as history, geography, and religion influence countries and individuals;
  • Identifying and appreciating strengths and weaknesses in other cultures and nations, and
  • Understanding how the nations of the world are connected.

Professor Eaton notes that we all sometimes engage in sloppy analytical thinking by casually accepting stereotypes or the assumptions of others, and we should challenge these notions.

He also thinks that respecting others while holding firm to unique beliefs is a somewhat lost art but a necessary balancing act for members of the Church to engage in. We can respect other believers of God without sacrificing our beliefs.

Join Laura Harris Hales of LDS Perspectives Podcast as she interviews Robert Eaton about understanding Pakistan and our own place in the world.

To access material mentioned in this episode, visit LDS Perspectives Podcast.