It was both troubling and fascinating (something like watching a car wreck) to witness the dustup of the past few days over the unfortunate column by LDS author Joni Hilton excoriating what she dubbed “liberal Mormons.”  I’m sure that Sister Hilton is a wonderful person who may or may not regret at least some of both the tone and substance of what she wrote, not to mention the minor firestorm she set off.  I have no idea why she feels… Read more

I am an independent scholar. Not independently wealthy unfortunately – I have to earn my bread – but I am one of the growing number of people with PhDs who, for a wide variety of reasons, are not pursuing a traditional career track of teaching and scholarship, but rather have day jobs that variously engage our talents – academic and otherwise – while we continue to engage in the life of the mind on our own terms.   I’ve only… Read more

In the nineteenth sixties and seventies, an “anti-cult” movement emerged in America, assailing religious movements like Krishna Consciousness and the Children of God and Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple with the word “cult.”  The anti-cult movement was secular, and as such attacked these movements in secular language: it popularized concepts like ‘brainwashing’ and ‘deprogramming,’ warned that such religious movements were not really religious but rather elaborate means of self-gratification erected by charismatic leaders who wanted to exploit the young, and generally… Read more

  A recent flurry of debate and discussion over the issue of women’s roles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has provoked exasperation and hurt on multiple fronts. Advocates for an expansion of women’s ecclesiastical authority and responsibility point to the underrepresentation of women in church leadership structures (here, and here). For instance, during the four main sessions of the church’s worldwide General Conference last weekend, only two out of twenty-eight sermons were delivered by women (7%). In… Read more

This last weekend, during the Saturday morning session of General Conference for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Dieter Uchdorf of the First Presidency offered one of the most meme-worthy quotes for scholars of Mormonism. (You know, if Mormon scholars did memes.) While explaining that there are a number of possible reasons why some would choose to leave the Church and giving the particular example of being nagged by “unanswered questions,” he admitted that “there have been… Read more

Last month the LDS Church reinforced its advocacy of religious freedom by further expanding the resources on that subject available at its Newsroom website. In addition to launching a social media campaign focused on galvanizing support for religious liberty, the Church released several new video segments on the subject in an effort, according to its news release, to “help people of conscience everywhere understand the importance of protecting religious freedom.” One clip is an introductory message from Church Apostle L…. Read more

This post is a slightly modified reprint of an earlier post. I am adding it as part of the Patheos Roundtable on “Are Mormons Christians?” If one were to rank the issues about which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is most sensitive, near the very top of the list would be the persistant accusation that Mormons are somehow not Christians.  This is literally the first question in the FAQ section at In responding to this charge… Read more

Martha Hughes Cannon (1857–1932) wrote to her friend Barbara Replogle in 1884, “’Tis not the bringing of noble spirits into the world . . . That dwarfs talent, and retards her intellectual advancement but it is the multiplicity of household drudgery… and the conformity to the vile customs of modern society. Barbara even if we have to be poor let us not waste our talents in the cauldron of modern nothingness—but strive to become women of intellect, and endeavor to… Read more

Over the last year, a small but growing movement within the LDS church has emerged to promote women’s ordination. After the launch of the savvy and visually appealing site last March, countless Mormon bloggers have weighed in on the questions of the theology behind women’s ordination. Perhaps predictably, these arguments have ranged from the “women have always had priesthood in temples so they should have it in public” argument to the “women occupy a divinely sanctioned separate sphere” trope…. Read more

Over the last week I’ve been re-reading Carol F. Karlsen’s book on witchcraft in Puritan New England and, strangely, this has reminded me how deeply religious traditions have shaped regional cultures and identities in the U.S. I grew up in Andover, Massachusetts, one of the centers of the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. We’d visit Salem and all the historical (and tacky) commemorations of that event. I assumed everyone knew a lot about the Puritans and witchcraft. And the Pilgrims and… Read more

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