Doubting at Zion’s Gate

Through happenstance, two of my recent reads synergistically centered on doubt and the thresholds of religion.In the first, Elmer Miller’s Nurturing Doubt, the author reflects on his time as a Mennonite missionary in the Argentine Chaco (exactly where I served my LDS mission) and his later return as a professional anthropologist. He relates how his experience in ministering to the Toba, an ethnic group native to the Chaco, caused him to question the utility of the Christian message and A … [Read more...]

The Faith of Our Fathers

While chatting with a new LDS convert recently, he asked how long I had been a member of the Church. I told him that I’d actually been one from the very beginning—that my parents had been practicing members of the faith when I was born, and that I had been raised in a more or less orthodox household. In fact, I mentioned, much my family’s participation in the Church ran back some five or six generations, when early forbears made the choice to embrace the faith and let it completely transform them … [Read more...]

Expanding Our Languages of Religious Experience

“I can imagine Jesus befriending my grandfather, too, frying up some breakfast for him, talking things over with him, and in fact the old man did report several experiences of just that kind. I can’t say the same for myself. I doubt I’d ever have had the strength for it. This is something that has come to my mind from time to time over the years, and I don’t really know what to make of it.”    - John Ames, Gilead During a visit from a couple women in my ward last week, we were chatting over New … [Read more...]

On “Bracketing”

I’ll begin this post in italics, mostly so that---since this is my first post here at Peculiar People---I can introduce myself, at least briefly. My name is Joe Spencer. I’m a PhD student in philosophy at the University of New Mexico, where I work on contemporary French philosophy (Louis Althusser, Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, Giorgio Agamben) and the history of early analytic philosophy (Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Alfred Tarski, Rudo … [Read more...]

“It’s like Methodism, only more”: Mormon Conversion and Narratives of the Great Apostasy

A couple of weeks ago in Sunday School, a middle-aged woman shared her conversion story to Mormonism. Born and raised a Methodist, she noted that she always felt like something was lacking. When she discovered Mormonism, she explained, "it was like Methodism, only more."I smiled to myself as she said this, recognizing in her own conversion narrative a common refrain that dominates the autobiographical writings of her 19th century predecessors. Among the first generation of converts to … [Read more...]

Latter Day Conversions: Divided Families and Reconciled Relationships

As a twenty-year old leader in my college youth group, I was asked one day to call a friend who had been active in our youth group but lately had been meeting with the Mormon youth group on campus. Her parents were quite concerned, as she also had begun meeting with two LDS missionaries who were set on baptizing her. And, she was romantically interested in an LDS boy. "Not good...not good at all," I mumbled to myself.Now, you should know that my youth group was affiliated with a church that … [Read more...]