Smells and Bells

"Smells and bells" is a short-hand, colloquial way of speaking about high church liturgy, especially Orthodox and Catholic. It is sometimes contrasted with "Happy Clappy" low-church liturgy of Pentecostals, Baptists, and many "non-denominational" churches. I'd like to consider LDS liturgical life in contrast to the smells and bells form to uncover a bit about what sorts of knowledge and experience these rituals are meant to convey. … [Read more...]

African American Spirituals and the Mormon Pioneers

In honor of the 161st anniversary of the Saints entering the Salt Lake Valley, I would like to explore the relationship between two of the most profound spiritual movements of the 19th century: ante-bellum African American spirituals and the rise of Mormonism. While the vast majority of work with regard to African Americans and early Mormonism has focused on the explicit role that African Americans played in Mormonism, and LDS attitudes to African Americans, I would like to examine some shared … [Read more...]

A Modicum of Modernism

This post arises from one of the issues raised in Nitsav’s Apologia. (Since it’s now, like, 130 comments long, I am sure we’ll never need any other identifier for that post.) At some point in the middle of all those comments, we got on to a discussion of how others handle the problematic issues raised by close study of the Bible, and from there to the modern Catholic approach to scripture. Since I come out of the Catholic intellectual tradition with respect to scripture, I decided I’d venture … [Read more...]

Experience or Doctrine?

One of the recent debates in LDS intellectual circles has been whether or not Mormonism is about orthodoxy or orthopraxy. As far as I can remember, this debated heated up after Jim Faulconer's 2002 Yale conference presentation on this topic. This debate has more or less died down, largely because people realized that it was a false dichotomy between the two options, and everyone recognized that it was a little bit of both. Today's LDS Newsroom, however, seems to intervene in this debate with … [Read more...]

The Mormon God of Lost Objects

In many ways, the God of Mormonism is the patron saint of Lost Objects. Our relationship to this God is so close, to the point of calling him a "friend" at times, that he can help us retrace our steps to find some misplaced money, or most commonly, our keys. I admit that I have often utilized this particular service in my prayers. God's intimate involvement in our lives is one of the most central themes of Mormonism. Our testimony meetings are filled with accounts of God's participation in … [Read more...]

Mormon Literalism and the Body

Recently, Terryl Givens has celebrated one of the Mormon "heresies" (his term) of "literalism." He argues that Mormonism has eschewed the modern movement towards metaphorical understandings of religion, insisting upon its "literal" relationship to certain "facts," such as the First Vision, the materiality of the Book of Mormon, and even literalized heaven by making it material. This literalism, however, is distinct from fundamentalist Christianity which insists on a different kind of biblical … [Read more...]