“A Closer Look at Mormon Studies”


Come on. Don’t make an oppressive fetish of “normalcy.”
(Click to enlarge.)
(Click again to enlarge still further.)


John Gee has uncovered some fascinating specimens.  Read, ponder, and be inspired:










Posted from Arlington, Virginia



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  • David Heap

    I am not sure what his thesis is. Is it that Mormon Studies is primarily about LGBT issues and that these papers are representative of all or most of Mormon Studies? Or is it that LGBT issues should not be included in Mormon Studies? Or that the construction of the LGBT issues in the papers referenced is wrong or irrelevant to the study of Mormonism? I know John does not like Religious Studies (and opposes any support of Mormon Studies). His views are no secret. I like many others have discussed the subject one on one with him, and read many of his critiques of the ideas. I am just not sure where these particular linked critiques are going.

  • RG

    What kind of inspiration has Gee’s analysis provided you? Personally, I find his analysis quite uneven; and I’m embarrassed for him.

    • hthalljr

      I think Gee has fairly pointed out that the academic field of “religious studies” has less to do the search for eternal truth than with leasing a penthouse in the great and spacious building. This is inevitably what will happen as academically-assimilated Mormons who crave acceptance by their “peers” try to drag “Mormon studies” into this “big tent.”

      • RG

        That does indeed seem to be his intent. I disagree with the “inevitable” “leasing [of] a penthouse in the great and spacious building”; and, frankly speaking, the degree to which he gets others to buy into such a narrative is shameful.

    • DanielPeterson

      I thought that the tiles he provided were wonderful. Objects of wonder.

      You, I take it, didn’t.

      • RG

        I actually agree with him that some (much?) of what he cites is ideology masquerading as scholarship. I disagree that it is representative of Mormon Studies (and that things such as queer theory have nothing to offer Mormon Studies). Am I to assume that you agree with Gee on the nature of Mormon Studies?

        • DanielPeterson

          Not necessarily. I speak for myself. I rather like that arrangement, and feel no obligation to allow anybody else to speak for me.

          • RG

            So where do you differ from Gee?

          • DanielPeterson

            You can read something of my view of “Mormon studies” in the hot-from-the-press current issue of the new “Mormon Studies Review.”

          • RG

            Done. Where I see your major agreement with Gee is on the critique of “studies” possibly lacking the kind of disciplinary training something like anthropology might provide. Perhaps some of the things Gee links over to are “simply an ax-grinding ideologues, having the form of scholarship but denying the power thereof.”

            Do you agree, however, with Gee’s normative claims? That the things he links over to are “mainstream” Mormon Studies (or “about as standard a paper on Mormon Studies as there is”)?

  • Jon

    Excellent job of cherry-picking by Prof. Gee. “[M]ainstream Mormon Studies,” “about as standard a paper on Mormon Studies as there is,” and “a typical example” of a Mormon Studies paper. I trust he was joking when he wrote these words.

    “The typical reader probably wonders what in the world ‘performed gender essentialism’ might be. (The computer’s spell checker does not even recognize essentialism as an English word.)”

    I would recommend that Prof. Gee upgrade his software. Word 2010 recognizes essentialism as an English word. As does Merriam-Webster: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/essentialism.

  • RaymondSwenson

    The sense I get from the four examples Prof. Gee has posted is that some scholars in the field see Mormonism as a foil for their own favorite social themes, rather than helping people understand the actual beliefs.of Mormons as a religious institution. It has a lot in common with using the Mormons as the theme of your musical comedy, purporting to tell people about Mormons and mormonism but really telling them your own beliefs, which are highly critical of real Mormons.

    • RG

      That’s worthy of critique, but Gee doesn’t stop there. He’s bent on portraying his examples as “mainstream Mormon Studies.”

      • Neal Rappleye

        I think a lot of the criticism Gee has endured for his views on Mormon Studies has stemmed from a complete misunderstanding of his actual target. By “mainstream Mormon Studies” Gee seems to have in mind what mainstream academics, at the most significant Religious Studies conference of the year, consider to be “Mormon Studies.” Not what Mormons and other marginally associated with the Church have been doing in our little niche journals and conferences. He is talking about Mormon Studies on the big stage, which by and large has seemed to have ignored the decades of scholarship that has been done by Mormons themselves in venues like BYU Studies, or even Dialogue.

        Of course, I don’t speak for Gee, so I could be wrong. But that is how I read his blog posts on the topic.

        • RG


          See my comment below, which lists the presentations at this year’s AAR/SBL. Gee is cherry-picking things to construct a narrative of an insidious Mormon Studies. The larger picture suggests something quite different. You can browse through numerous conferences that include aspects of Mormon Studies here: http://www.mormonconferences.org/index.html
          The larger picture, I would also argue, includes publications, which also goes against the narrative Gee is attempting to construct.

          • Neal Rappleye


            I don’t need a list of Mormon themed conferences. I am quite familiar with them, and attend a handful each year. (I certainly I wish I could go to more, but being a student means I live with certain limitations in terms of time an funds.) But Gee has focused on AAR because that is the biggest Religious Studies conference of the year, and represents (at least in theory) the very best thinking in the field.

            As for cherry picking, Gee provides the full slate of presentations from the year 2011 here: http://fornspollfira.blogspot.com/2013/11/what-is-mormon-studies-vii.html

            I tend to agree with him, that the presentations he has highlighted are quite representative of that year. Now, maybe that year was aberration, though Gee says it was typical? I certainly don’t know. But all your listing of the 2013 presentation titles proves is that this year was a better year. (Perhaps it is indicative of a trend? I certainly hope so.)

            I any event, I still think you are getting your panties in a bunch without really understanding Gee’s point. Here is what he says to conclude the blog post linked to above:

            “Mormon Studies has potential: potential for good and potential for evil. Proponents tend to downplay both the existence of the bad, and its size, extent, and pervasiveness. By portraying Mormon Studies only as good is disingenuous. I think Mormon Studies has potential to do good, but currently I find much of the work wanting in terms of academic quality, accuracy and faithfulness. The current trends are not encouraging.”

            Now, perhaps current trends are more encouraging than Gee says they are. But you Mormon Studies advocates are not doing yourselves any favors, in my view, in getting all huffy-and-puffy over what Gee is saying. His point is that there is bad, really bad, Mormon Studies out there. That this bad Mormon Studies is far too common, and while Mormon Studies certainly has the potential to do good things, we ought to be aware of the bad and try better to weed it out. Would it really be so hard to just say, “Yep, there has been some bad Mormon Studies out there in the past, but we are trying to make it better. You [Gee] make some goods points we ought to take into consideration.” Such a response would do a lot more to smooth over the acrimony of the past year-and-a-half, and would be much more appealing to someone like me.

          • RG


            Did you miss my comments above where I actually said that I agree with parts of Gee’s analysis? My quibble is primarily with the way in which Gee depicts things as “mainstream Mormon Studies” (a term he uses with variation in almost every single post). His recent post (11/29) is a modification of his position. Having attended, presented, and been a part of deciding what happens at the AAR, I can say that if we want to know what Mormon (or Buddhist, or Islamic) Studies is, we’ll have to look beyond the AAR to get a good picture of the situation.

            The danger of the narrative that Gee has been pushing is exemplified on this thread.

            Here’s one comment from above that got 3 positive votes:

            I think Gee has fairly pointed out that the academic field of “religious studies” has less to do the search for eternal truth than with leasing a penthouse in the great and spacious building. This is inevitably what will happen as academically-assimilated Mormons who crave acceptance by their “peers” try to drag “Mormon studies” into this “big tent.”

            See also the comments below by Loran.

            Now, if Gee’s point was simply there’s some bad scholarship out there and we’d better work to change it, that’s not a problem. But that’s not the way he’s being read by many other people. The implications are that being involved in religious studies is to sell out and take up residence in the great and spacious building. That an administrative regime change is in order at the Y, etc. These are pretty serious claims, and they warrant, IMHO, getting “huffy-puffy”. Don’t you think?

  • Loran

    Yes…LDS Vagina Monologues, and, of course, at Sunstone.

    Birds of a feather…

    The only people I can say “I told you so” to are those who supported the destruction of NMI for precisely the reason that it could then be opened up and become acclimated to this kind of politically correct sectarian academic cultism that has so long dominated the humanities and social sciences. That BYU itself could have stood by and assented, if not acquiesced, in this project is utterly beyond my comprehension.

    To the cloistered, self-absorbed, self-anointed body of LDS intellectuals who shepherded and lauded the wrenching of NMI from an institute of scholarly apologetic research and discourse to what will, I have little doubt, eventually become just another fen in the fever swamp of the contemporary academic cultural Marxist/postmodern Left, as Alice used to say to Ralph, “Here’s your can.”

  • Loran

    “I think Gee has fairly pointed out that the academic field of “religious studies” has less to do the search for eternal truth than with leasing a penthouse in the great and spacious building. This is inevitably what will happen as academically-assimilated Mormons who crave acceptance by their “peers” try to drag “Mormon studies” into this “big tent.””

    Exactly correct. “Higher” education is deeply, deeply corrupt at this juncture, and has been for some time. The humanities disciplines, and the social sciences, together, form the nucleus of, if one has studied and followed its development and maturing over the last several decades, a virtually unimaginable debasing of both academic standards and intellectual content across the academy (and the higher one goes – all the way into the Ivy League – the worse it actually becomes, in many cases).

    If the administration at BYU doesn’t understand that, by allowing Mr. Bradford et al to stage a midnight Coup d’état at NMI, and shift its vision from apologetics to a secular “studies” footing, they have (and for what, all in the name of St. John Dehlin, the fragile flower who will wither and disintegrate under the slightest criticism?) given the appearance of BYU and perhaps, even Church hostility to apologetics itself (which has, indeed, become the standard NOM narrative across the Web).

    Perhaps a little administrative “regime change” is in order at the Y?

  • RG

    FWIW, here’s what went on at this year’s conference. The program book is available here: https://www.aarweb.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/Annual_Meeting/2013/2013AARProgBookSessions.pdf

    Women and Religion Section and Mormon Studies Group
    Mormon Domesticities: Changing LDS Gender
    Constructions and Performances
    Saturday, 1:00 PM–3:30 PM
    HB-Key 4
    Susanna Morrill, Lewis and Clark College, Presiding

    Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, University of Michigan
    Defining Marriage within the Woman’s Suffrage Movement:
    Mormons, Free Love, and the Politics of Domesticity in the Late
    Nineteenth Century

    Natalie Rose, Michigan State University
    A Marriage Ideal: The Returned Male Missionary, Young Women, and
    the Future of Mormonism

    Kate Holbrook, Boston University
    The Home-makers: Why Many Latter-day Saint Women Chose to
    Work at Home

    Patrick Mason, Claremont Graduate University

    Mormon Studies Group and Religion and Popular Culture
    Parallel Prejudices: Anti-Mormonism and Religious
    Intolerance in American History
    Sunday, 3:00 PM–4:30 PM
    HB-Key 4

    Megan Goodwin, University of North Carolina, Presiding

    J. Spencer Fluhman, Brigham Young University
    Representing Mormonism and Islam in Nineteenth Century America

    Cristine Hutchison-Jones, Harvard University
    “Not Only Immorality, but Treason”: American Representations
    of Mormonism and Roman Catholicism in the First Half of the
    Twentieth Century

    Matthew Bowman, Georgetown University
    A Dubious Friendship: Conservative Mormons and Evangelicals in
    the Mid-Twentieth Century

    Gregory Grieve, University of North Carolina, Greensboro

    Religion and Disability Studies Group
    Specters of Disability: History, Pluralism, and Cultural Studies
    Sunday, 5:00 PM–6:30 PM

    Devorah Greenstein, Starr King School for the Ministry, Presiding

    Blair Hodges, Brigham Young University
    The Place of Intellectual Disability in Criticism and Defense of
    Nineteenth Century Mormon Polygamy

    History of Christianity Section and Mormon Studies Group
    Mormons and Other Christians in Conversation
    Tuesday, 9:00 AM–11:30 AM

    Colleen McDannell, University of Utah, Presiding

    Brian Birch, Utah Valley University
    “What Power Shall Stay the Heavens”: Continuing Revelation and
    Doctrinal Authority among the Latter-day Saints

    Stephen Taysom, Cleveland State University
    “I Will Possess the Bodies Thou Hast Created”: Exploring Mormon
    Exorcism, 1820–1977

    Julius Bailey, University of Redlands
    Polygamists or What Not, One Wife or Forty: Ambivalent Attitudes
    Toward Mormonism in Nineteenth Century AME Church Print

    Neil Young, Princeton University
    “The God Makers”: A Cult Movie of 1980s Evangelical Anti-

    Sara Patterson, Hanover College
    I’m also under the impression that Gee was not in attendance at any of these (I’m happy to be corrected though if that was not the case).

  • Morgan Deane

    Somebody ought to inform Amanda, who finds queer studies “intensely satisfying,” a “vital tool” for connecting with the larger questions being asked by academia (which summarizes the problem right there), and begs for them not to be “discredited” that Queer studies is not in the mainstream of Mormon research.


    And the first comment is almost a self parody of what is wrong with academia.