Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971-1999, 3 vols. (Gary James Bergera, ed.)

Signature Books, hardback, 2500pp, $150/set, early 2018

Leonard Arrington (1917–99) was born an Idaho chicken rancher whose early interests seemed not to extend much beyond the American west. Throughout his life, he tended to project a folksy persona, although nothing was farther from the truth.

He was, in fact, an intellectually oriented, academically driven young man, determined to explore the historical, economic, cultural, and religious issues of his time. After distinguishing himself at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and serving in the army during World War II in North Africa and Italy, Arrington accepted a professorship at Utah State University. In 1972 he was called as the LDS Church Historian—an office he held for ten years until, following a stormy tenure full of controversy over whether the “New Mormon History” he championed was appropriate for the church, he was quietly released and transferred, along with the entire Church History Division, to Brigham Young University. It was hoped that this would remove the impression in people’s minds that his writings were church-approved.

His personal diaries reveal a man who was firmly committed to his church, as well as to rigorous historical scholarship. His eye for detail made him an important observer of “church headquarters culture.”

The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology (Jonathan Stapley)

Oxford University Press, 192pp, hardback, $29.95, Feb 2018

A church’s liturgy is its ritualized system of worship, the services and patterns in which believers regularly participate. While the term often refers to a specific formal ritual like the Roman Catholic Mass, events surrounding major life events–birth, coming of age, marriage, death–are often celebrated through church liturgies. By documenting and analyzing Mormon liturgical history, Jonathan Stapley is able to explore the nuances of Mormon belief and practice. More important, he can demonstrate that the Mormon ordering of heaven and earth is not a mere philosophical or theological exercise. Liturgy informs and reinforces believers’ behavior, he shows, and we find a complete religious world, incorporating women, men and children, all participating in the construction of the Mormon universe. This volume casts analytically difficult and historically incongruous concepts such as priesthood, authority, and gender in new and coherent ways. Stapley uses previously untapped documentary and archival sources to elucidate new narratives in each chapter, tracing concepts from the beginning of the Latter-day Saint movement to the present. The Power of Godliness is the first work to establish histories for these unique liturgies and to provide interpretive frameworks for them.

Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Critical Studies of Major Sources in Early Mormon History (ed. by Robin Jensen, Mark Ashurst-McGee and Sharalyn D. Howcroft)

Oxford University Press, 384pp, hardback, $74.00, Feb 2018

Joseph Smith, founding prophet and martyr of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, personally wrote, dictated, or commissioned thousands of documents. Among these are several highly significant sources that scholars have used over and over again in their attempts to reconstruct the founding era of Mormonism, usually by focusing solely on content, without a deep appreciation for how and why a document was produced. This book offers case studies of the sources most often used by historians of the early Mormon experience. Each chapter takes a particular document as its primary subject, considering the production of a document as an historical event in itself, with its own background, purpose, circumstances, and consequences. By studying the documents not merely as sources of information, but as artifacts that reflect the culture in which they were created, truths about that culture are revealed. This book will help historians working in the founding era of Mormonism gain a more solid grounding in the period’s documentary record by supplying important information on major primary sources.

Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation (William Victor Smith)

Greg Kofford, 2018

The July 12, 1843 revelation was the last of Joseph Smith’s formal written revelations, and it was a watershed in Mormonism for many reasons. Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation constitutes a study of the text of that revelation, its genetic profile as an endpoint for a number of trajectories in Mormon thought, liturgy, and priestly cosmology, and a brief exploration of its historical impact and interpretation. 

Reading Scripture, Reading  Creation: The Ancient Near Eastern Context of Genesis 1 (Ben Spackman)

Maxwell Institute, 2017

Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, 1867-1883 (Devery S. Anderson, ed.)

School-of-the-Prophets-200x300Signature Books, hardback, 600pp, $47.95, 2018

Ministerial training was an early goal of Mormonism. The priesthood-led institution called the School of the Prophets, established in Kirtland, Ohio, in 1833, was basically a divinity school for prospective missionaries. However, topics of study included, instead of prophecy and revelation, penmanship, English grammar, arithmetic, philosophy, literature, government, geography, and history. For seven weeks there was even a course in Hebrew, but it was discontinued. Still, it was in this setting that Joseph Smith received his revelation on diet and health and some of the spiritual manifestations associated with the Kirtland temple dedication. Brigham Young re-established the school in the Salt Lake Valley in 1867; his successor, John Taylor, resuscitated it for a while in 1883. Young’s emphasis was theology, first as an appendage to Deseret University, and then as a separate institution. Presented here for the first time are all available minutes for the Utah period.

The Battles of Zion: Mormonism and Violence (Patrick Mason)

Cambridge University Press, 2018

Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith: Two Nineteenth-Century Restorationists (RoseAnn Benson)

RSC, hardback, $24.99

Two nineteenth-century men, Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith, each launched restoration movements in the United States. They vied for seekers and dissatisfied mainstream Christians, which led to conflict in northeastern Ohio. Both were searching for the primordial beginning of Christianity: Campbell looking back to the Christian church described in the New Testament epistles, and Smith looking even further back to the time of Adam and Eve as the first Christians.


Oxford University Press, 2019

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction: The place of the PGP in LDS scripture, Mormon studies, and religious studies.
  • Chapter 1: Joseph Smith, and the making of modern scripture. A historical account of the component parts of the PGP (particularly the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham) and the history of its compilation and subsequent canonization. This chapter would chart the progress of the PGP from a missionary pamphlet in 1851 to scripture in 1880.
  • Chapter 2: “Caught up to an exceedingly high mountain.” The Book of Moses. A detailed historical and cultural analysis of the Book of Moses in terms of its production, and place in LDS culture and curriculum from the 1830s to the present.
  • Chapter 3: “Zion was taken up into heaven.” Theological Contributions of the Book of Moses. An argument for the theological primacy of the Book of Moses
  • Chapter 4: The Book of Moses and the Book of Genesis: Textual Considerations and Conundrums. What did Smith mean by a “new translation?”
  • Chapter 5: “Written by his own hand, upon papyrus.” The curious history of the Book of Abraham. From mummies to the Met.
  • Chapter 6: “These two facts do exist” Theological Contributions of the Book of Abraham. Mormonism’s new cosmology.
  • Chapter 7: Failed narratives and Fashioning new ones. The cultural and intellectual setting of Joseph Smith’s Abrahamic “translation.” Can this text be saved?
  • Chapter 8: Emending the scriptures: JS and the translation of the Bible (JS-Matthew) Mormon millennialism then and now.
  • Chapter 9: Historicizing the Origins of Mormonism (JS-History) Introducing Smith’s First Vision to the world (and to the Mormons). The problem of competing First Vision accounts.
  • Chapter: 10: Of Creeds and Articles (The Articles of Faith) Representing Mormonism in an anti-creedal church. From Fraud to Philandery to Football in the public imagination.
  • Chapter 11: The Fading of Millennialism. Mormonism emerged in the midst of a virtual frenzy of millennialism sweeping America during the Second Great Awakening. After the failure of the Saints to establish a Zion in Missouri, the Mormons continued to anticipate their return to reclaim the land from which they had been forcibly evicted in the 1830s. The canonization of Matthew 24 was perhaps the last, desperate gesture to keep alive a hope that even then was fast becoming a tenuous relic of Mormon thought.
  • Chapter 12: Conclusion. A nineteenth century chronicler noted that only three works were regularly studied in Mormon Church curricula: two were works by Parley Pratt. The third was the Pearl of Great Price. How can we account for its demotion in the LDS gaze, and is that trajectory likely to continue? As a related question, What are the prospects for Mormonism’s “open canon”?

Stretching the Heavens: Eugene England, Mormonism, and the Dilemmas of Discipleship (Terryl Givens)

University of North Carolina Press, 2020

 Gene England is one of the most influential and controversial figures of 20th-21st century Mormonism. If, as Greg Prince has argued, David O. McKay was the LDS prophet who gave shape to modern Mormonism, England helped play a parallel role from outside the church hierarchy. He performed this function in four principal ways. First, as the principal founder of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, England launched the first and most influential independent journal in the Mormon tradition.

Second, through his personal essays, he became perhaps the most inspiring lay voice in the later 20th century LDS community. He remains to this day the premier practitioner of the personal essay in the LDS tradition, and several of his essays continue in vibrant circulation with substantial after-life.

Third, as founder of the Association of Mormon Letters, editor of the first published anthologies of Mormon Literature, and in his professorial role creating and teaching Mormon literature, England is arguably the Father of Mormon Studies (in a way parallel to his contemporary Leonard Arrington’s role as Father of Mormon Historical Studies).

Finally, by virtue of his propensity for finding himself in a conflicted public posture, England came to embody in a painful and costly, agonistic way, the limits of faithful independence of thought in the LDS tradition.          

Eugene England’s story is germane to Mormonism’s transition into modernity, because it encapsulates in one emblematic narrative an individual caught in the crossfires of an institution slow to adapt, and an eager constituency ready for liberalizing. England still has his detractors who thought him too much the theatrical provocateur, the egoist who “never had a thought he didn’t write and publish,” as well as his fervent admirers who venerate him as a persecuted saint, and martyr to the cause of intellectual freedom and faithful dissent, crushed by an authoritarian institution. This biography will take an approach between the two extremes. England was no angel, and the Mormon leadership no devils. His story has the hallmarks of a Hegelian tragedy: two opposing forces, each with a viable claim to be representing the Good, caught up in moral fervor, but with each making errors in judgment and foresight.

Book of Remembrance: Mormon Sacred Kinship in America (Fenella Cannell)

William Bickerton: The Untold Story of an American Prophet (Daniel P. Stone)

Signature Books 

Faith and Reason, Conscience and Conflict: The Paths of Lowell Bennion, Sterling McMurrin, and Obert Tanner (Robert A. Goldberg, L. Jackson Newell, and Linda Newell, eds.)

University of Utah

My Dear Sister: Letters Between Joseph F. Smith and His Sister Martha Ann (David Whitchurch and Richard Holzapfel)

Deseret Book, oversize hardcover, 544pp, $39.99

This book contains a transcript of all 164 letters written by Joseph F. Smith to his sister, Martha Ann Smith Harris (along with 44 letters from Martha), and includes a large sampling of photographic images of the originals. These letters provide a treasure- trove of personal insights into the lives of Joseph and his sister

  • Seven decades of correspondence between the orphaned children of Hyrum and Mary Fielding Smith as they share their innermost feelings, joys, heartaches, decisions, and family happenings.
  • Letters dated from 1854, when Joseph was a fifteen-year-old missionary in Hawaii, to 1916, just two years before his death.
  • Joseph F. Smith’s reflections on the death of his parents and his remarks about the visit of the Prophet Joseph’s sons who had traveled from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City.

The Words of Joseph Smith, rev. and enl. ed.(Andrew F. Ehat, ed.)

hardcover (2 vols.?) 

Ezra Taft Benson and Anticommunism: A Documentary History (Matthew Harris)

University of Utah Press

Ezra Taft Benson: Mormon Apostle-President, Outspoken Conservative, and Crusading Cold Warrior (Matthew Harris, ed.)

University of Illinois Press

The Mormon Church and Its Gospel Topics Essays: The Scholarly Community Responds (Matthew Harris & Newell Bringhurst, eds.)

University of Utah Press

“The Long Awaited Day”: The LDS Church, African Americans, and the Lifting of the Priesthood Ban, 1945-2015 (Matthew Harris)

The Lioness of the Lord: Letters of Augusta Adams Cobb Young to Brigham Young (Connell O’Donovan)

University of Utah

The Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, vol. 4: The Abraham/Egyptian Papers, facsimile ed. (ed. by Robin Jensen and Brian Hauglid) 

Church Historian’s Press, 2018

The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism and Sacred Texts

Greg Kofford Books

Mormonism Among Christian Theologies (Brian Birch and Grant Underwood)

Oxford University Press

Underground but in the Light: The Plural Community of Centennial Park (Jennifer Huss Basquiat)

Every Word Seasoned with Grace: A Textual Study of the Funeral Sermons of Joseph Smith (William V. Smith)

A Compilation of Historical Selections from the General Handbook of Instructions of the LDS Church: 1899-2006 (Michael Paulos)


The Reed Smoot Hearings: American Politics and American Religion (Michael Paulos/Konden Smith)

University of Utah

Mormonism in America (Phil Barlow and Jan Shipps)

Columbia University Press, hardcover, 320 pp, $45.00 

Convictions: Mormon Polygamy and Criminal Law Enforcement in Nineteenth-Century Utah (Sarah Gordon/Kathryn Daynes)

University of Illinois

biography of Jane Manning James (Quincy D. Newell)

Oxford University Press

biography of Joseph F. Smith (Steve Taysom)

biography of Ezra Taft Benson (Patrick Mason)

biography of William H. Chamberlin (James McLachlan)

biography of Margarito Bautista (Elisa Pulido)

intellectual history of James E. Talmage (Spencer Fluhman)

Oxford University Press, 2019

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