Cutting-Edge Latter-day Saint Research, April 2024

Apologies for the length in advance. A lot of people had things to say about the Church and its members this month!

Carr, Ellen Melton. “Fountains of Living Waters: How Early Mormon Irrigation Innovated the Legal Landscape of the West.” Oil and Gas, Natural Resources, and Energy Journal 9, no. 3 (2024): 361.

There was no abstract, so I uploaded the PDF to GPT-4 and asked it to make a summary.  

The article “Fountains of Living Waters: How Early Mormon Irrigation Innovated the Legal Landscape of the West” explores the significant contributions of early Mormons to irrigation practices and water law in the Western United States. Beginning with their migration to the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847, the Mormons, fleeing religious persecution, implemented sophisticated irrigation systems to cultivate the arid lands of Utah. This paper delves into the historical context of water use in the region, highlighting both the indigenous and pre-contact practices that laid a foundation for the Mormons’ innovations.

The study outlines the evolution of the Appropriation Doctrine influenced by the Mormons, which prioritized water rights based on beneficial use and seniority. It discusses how these legal frameworks emerged in response to the geographic and climatic challenges of the West, contrasting them with the riparian rights common in more humid eastern regions. The analysis extends to the current challenges faced by Utah and other Western states, including the implications of climate change and increasing water scarcity on the established legal and cultural practices around water use.

The paper emphasizes the ongoing relevance of Mormon irrigation practices and their lasting impact on the legal and physical landscapes of the Western United States. It calls for a continued evaluation of water rights and conservation efforts in light of modern environmental stresses, suggesting that the historical practices of the Mormons could offer valuable lessons for sustainable water use today.

Overstreet, Dallin. “The Elusive Economic Blessings of Tithing: Mormon Temples and County Poverty.”Journal of Economics, Theology and Religion, vol. 4, no. 1 (2024)

This paper examines the relationship between Mormon temples and county-level poverty rates in the United States. The Mormon church teaches that obedience to the law of tithing, which requires members to donate 10% of their income, can break the cycle of poverty. Using the presence of a temple as a proxy for tithing participation, I test whether counties with temples exhibit lower poverty rates than comparable counties without temples. Employing several difference-in-differences models on county-level data from 2010-2018, this paper finds no statistically significant evidence that temples reduce poverty rates. The results suggest that the presence of a temple has no effect on county-level economic outcomes, contrary to Mormon doctrinal claims about the power of tithing to alleviate poverty. This finding is likely attributable to the way in which the church allocates tithing revenues, a highly centralized and hierarchical affair with no clear mechanism to reduce poverty in the communities from which funds are sourced.

Patterson, Sara M., and Quincy D. Newell. “Absent Objects and the Study of Material Religion.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion (2024): lfae026.

This article explores how absent objects continue to work on religious communities using two case studies: the gold plates from which Joseph Smith said he translated the Book of Mormon, and the first 116 manuscript pages of that translation. Neither of these objects are available to believers now, but they played and continue to play an outsized role in the early history of the Mormon tradition, but in different ways. Based on these case studies, this article argues that scholars of material religion need to attend to the absence of objects in their explorations of how religious assemblages operate.

Grunder, Rick. “A “Prophet to Your Father”: Martin Harris and the Printing of the Book of Mormon.” American Communal Societies Quarterly 18, no. 1 (2024): 65-96.

Martin Harris (1783–1875), a substantial farmer of Palmyra, New York, was the financial backer of the Book of Mormon. He was also one of “Three Witnesses” who in 1829 claimed to have seen not only the golden plates or tablets from which the book was “translated,” but also “an Angel of God” who “came down from heaven, and … brought and laid [the plates] before our eyes” in conjunction with a divine attestation of the project itself, heard in the voice of God.

As one may imagine, Harris was a complex figure whom historians have both beatified and maligned. But how did Harris see himself? And how did he view his role in expediting the publication of the Book of Mormon? Whether as freewheeling enthusiast or indecisive benefactor, this was a man whom (Latter-day) Saints needed, but had to manage.

In this paper, I will explore how Harris managed certain matters himself rather more than may previously have been supposed. Using a number of little-known or seldom-pondered remnants and scenes from Harris’s life, I will suggest a man of proactive will to accelerate the printing and dissemination of the first Mormon book as strategically as possible, in consideration of his perceived interests and available time.

Homer, Michael W. ““There’s no combination, so firm as freemason”: William Wines Phelps—New York Journalist, Mason, and Anti-Mason.” American Communal Societies Quarterly 18, no. 1 (2024): 33-64.

William Wines Phelps (1792-1872) was a prominent associate of Mormon founder Joseph Smith in Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois. He published the first Mormon newspaper and was Smith’s ghostwriter for some of his most important communications. In this paper I will focus on Phelps’s early years in western New York where he lived for almost forty years, edited three newspapers, became a Freemason, renounced that institution, and became a prominent participant in the anti-Masonic movement. I will then suggest how Phelps’s experiences in New York influenced his conversion and early career in Mormonism.

Van Orden, Bruce A. “The Rise of Anti-Masonry in Western New York and Its Connection to the Rise of Mormonism.” American Communal Societies Quarterly 18, no. 1 (2024): 3-32.

The beginnings of anti-Masonry and Mormonism coincide both in time and geography—the 1820s and western New York. Both had enthusiastic “burned over district” underpinnings. Both attracted devoted but also frequently eccentric followers. Both were enflamed in controversy. As time went on, both anti-Masonry and Mormonism became deeply involved in partisan journalistic battles and political tensions.

Wall, Maeve K. ““Don’t Touch Race”: Nice White Leadership and Calls for Racial Equity in Salt Lake City Schools, 1969–Present.” Education Sciences 14, no. 4 (2024): 427.

This paper examines school leaders’ evasive attitudes towards race in Salt Lake City (SLC), Utah, between 1969 and 1975. Salt Lake’s unique demographic status as predominantly white and Mormon underscored elements of white anti-Black racism under the guise of innocence. Utilizing critical whiteness theory and historical inquiry to analyze archival documents and interviews, I highlight one white superintendent, Arthur Wiscombe, and his failed attempts to confront anti-Blackness in schools as he navigated his conflicting values of racial justice, good intentions, and white Niceness. Framing the past as prologue, I uncover the historical legacy of white supremacy’s influence on local school policies and leaders’ actions, and make explicit connections to the repetition of these patterns today. Contemporary iterations of white supremacy rely on the same tools of whiteness used during intense periods of integration and racial awareness in Salt Lake City in the 1960s and 1970s. I conclude that white educational leaders must look more closely at the ‘nice’, color-evasive discourse that enables them to maintain power and privilege in their communities.

Hamblin, Lyle. “Proper Names and Political Claims: Semitic Echoes as Foundations for Claims to the Nephite Throne.” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship60 (2024): 409-44.

The Book of Mormon contains examples of phonemes in character names that
resemble Semitic root words. The possible meanings of the names and their timing in the Book of Mormon narrative provide a deeper level of context to the Nephite political challenges in the books of Mosiah through 3 Nephi. Specifically, the English phonemes for the Hebrew and Arabic root-word for “king,” M-L-K, appear in character names in the Book of Mormon narrative when the people of Zarahemla, who were descended from Mulek, the last king of Judah, are discovered by the Nephites in the book of Omni. “King” names then appear frequently during the time in the narrative in which there are attempts to reestablish a monarchy during the early reign of the judges. “King” names
disappear after “Moroni put an end to those king-men, that there were not any known by the appellation of king-men” (Alma 51:21, 62:9). The presence and timing of these “king” names suggests that the Mulekite claim to the local Israelite throne resonated rhetorically through Nephite politics for over a century and was violently contested in the multiple civil and external wars in the books of Alma through 3 Nephi.

Spiegel, Thomas J. “Vicarious religious ordinance: forcing your faith on the unsuspecting.” International Journal of Philosophy and Theology (2024): 1-10.

This paper gives a first theoretical formulation to a religious phenomenon which has not received much attention in philosophical discourse so far despite appearing in different highly heterogeneous religions. Vicarious religious ordinance refers to cases in which a living or deceased fully mature human being is knowingly or unknowingly assigned a religious affiliation without their consent or the consent of their dependents. I shall first offer three real-world examples of vicarious religious ordinance from Mormonism, Islam, and Shintoism and then raise some normative concerns. I suggest (i) that vicarious religious ordinance does not fit neatly into current debates about religious epistemology, especially the recent debate on religious disagreement. I argue (ii) that normative questions as to why vicarious religious ordinance elicits indignation in its ‘victims’ is not easily explained through adducing similar examples. This paper aims to motivate further coordinated research on this topic.

Skidmore, Samuel J. “Self-compassion as a protective factor against religious and sexual identity struggles among religious and post-religious sexual minorities.” Counselling Psychology Quarterly (2024): 1-17.

Religious sexual minorities often face unique stressors due to their minoritized sexual identity, which leads to feelings of depression. Self-compassion has been posited to be effective for people across identities to bolster their mental health and alleviate the adverse effects of stress. The present study uses a sample of 541 sexual minorities to answer the question, is self-compassion a useful mindset to benefit sexual minorities facing religious and sexual identity struggles, using current and former Latter-day Saints as a case study. Multiple regression analyses indicated that both religious and sexual identity struggles relate to higher depression, whereas self-compassion relates to lower depression. Further, self-compassion moderated the relationship between religious doubt struggles and depression, such that the adverse effects of doubt struggles were weakened when self-compassion was higher. Findings suggest that self-compassion is an effective mindset and tool to alleviate depression generally and in response to religious doubt for sexual minorities specifically. Implications for mental health providers are discussed.

Rackley, Eric. “‘Not Reading Just Seems Crazy to Me’ Religious Youths’ Textual Ideologies of Sacred Texts.” Language and Literacy 26, no. 1 (2024): 104-122.

This study examines six Latter-day Saint youths’ textual ideologies of sacred texts. Inductive analyses point to three shared textual ideologies related to youths’ expectations about (a) the educative nature of sacred texts, (b) the relevance sacred texts had in their lives, and (c) the amount of time they should spend reading them. Findings support and extend existing language and literacy research by providing insights into the social and cultural forces that shape how religious youth engage with and use sacred texts. Implications of this work offer paths for future literacy research and practice.

Ault, Michael K. “Building Buying-in: Understanding the Anticipatory Socialization Phase of Workers in a Full-Life Organization.” Management Communication Quarterly (2024): 08933189241247141.

This qualitative investigation explored the anticipatory socialization phase of volunteers in the missionary program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints, a full-life organization. Constant comparative analysis revealed that participants experienced three phases of organizational identification within their anticipatory socialization phase: exposure, exploration, and engagement. In the exposure phase, participants were presented with socializing messages that taught participants the rules, expectations, and values of the organization. In this phase, participants accepted the organizational identity largely without reservation. In the exploration phase, participants questioned their organi- zational identity and explored alternative, varied, and competing identities. In this phase, participants pushed their organizational identity to the periphery of their social identity. Finally, in the engagement phase, participants recentered their organizational identity and committed to their membership in the organization. Identifying these phases assists organizations and individuals in understanding and developing organizational engagement.

Harris, Susannah, Cristian Meier, Julie Gast, Lily Ward, and Melissa Ferguson. “Utah LGBQ+ Youth Need Inclusive and Comprehensive Sex Education Opportunities: Results From the 2022 Utah College Retrospective Sexual Behavior Survey.” American Journal of Sexuality Education (2024): 1-22.

Sex education in Utah teaches abstinence as its primary source of pregnancy and STI prevention. This approach is heteronormative, thus excluding LGBTQ+ youth which has been found to adversely impacts LGBTQ+ outcomes. The current study sought to retrospectively examine the perceptions of the sufficiency of sex education received by Utahns, specifically examining their perceptions of five core topics often included in comprehensive sex education and how their experiences differed by demographics. We conducted a one-time survey, using a convenience sample of 18–21-year-olds who attended high school in Utah. The survey was disseminated at four universities across Utah. The results of our study (N?=?1,091) found that LGBQ?+?participants reported more negative perceptions, or higher levels of disagreement, of sufficiency of learning about CSE topics compared to heterosexual participants. Alternatively, participants who identified as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints reported higher levels of agreement of being taught sufficient information about the five CSE topics. The results of the current study provide a rare examination of sex education in Utah and suggest the need for policy that supports inclusive sex education.

Lefevor, G. Tyler, and Samuel J. Skidmore. “Establishing the Temporal Relationship Between Religious Commitment, Sexual Identity Struggles, and Religious Struggles Among Sexual Minorities.” (2024).

Objective: Conclusions about the temporal relationship between religiousness and both religious and sexual identity struggles are frequently made in the absence of longitudinal data. The present study examines the temporal relationship between religious identification, sexual identity struggles, and religious struggles.

Methods: Participants were 132 Latter-day Saint sexual minorities who provided data at two timepoints, two years apart. We employed two cross-lagged panel models, one focusing on religious struggles and religious commitment and the other focusing on sexual identity struggles and religious commitment, to understand the temporal relationships between these variables.

Results: Cross-lagged panel models suggested that interpersonal religious struggles and sexual identity uncertainty at time 1 were negatively related to religious commitment at time 2. Similarly, religious commitment at time 1 was related to decreased sexual identity affirmation and increased religious doubt at time 2.

Conclusions: Although there is some degree of reciprocity to the relationship between religious/sexual identity struggles and religious commitment, certain struggles (interpersonal religious struggles, identity uncertainty) predicted later decreases in religious commitment, and religious commitment predicted an increase in certain types of struggles (religious doubt, lack of
sexual identity affirmation).

The following JMH articles are behind paywalls, so unfortunately I don’t have access to the abstracts. 

Wulf, Karin. “Wilford Woodruff at the Crossroads of American Genealogy.” Journal of Mormon History 50, no. 2 (2024): 22-42.

Rich, Katie Ludlow. “The Shadow Succession Crisis: Challenging the Claim That Brigham Young Disbanded the Relief Society in 1845.” Journal of Mormon History 50, no. 2 (2024): 78-104.

Bowman, Matthew. “Why Joseph Fielding Smith Rejected Space Flight: Anti-modernism and the Problem of Civilization.” Journal of Mormon History 50, no. 2 (2024): 2-21.

Shrum, Nicholas B. “Mormon-American Nationalism and the Religiopolitical Art of Jon McNaughton.” Journal of Mormon History 50, no. 2 (2024): 43-77.

Hales, Brian C. “Joseph Smith’s “Polyandry”: Expanding the Narrative.” Journal of Mormon History 50, no. 2 (2024): 105-136.


6 comments for “Cutting-Edge Latter-day Saint Research, April 2024

  1. I had to look, and the Overstreet article really is as nonsensical as it sounds. You know you’re in for a carefully researched article when it misspells “Russell M. Nelson.”

    His whole analysis rests on using the presence of a temple in a county as a proxy for the rate of tithe-paying in that county (“The key explanatory variable is an indicator for whether the county has a dedicated Mormon temple as of that year…The location of temples thus indicates that a relatively higher percentage of Mormons are paying their tithing.”). Even a cursory glance at a map of temple locations and a map of where members live suggests that temple locations have to do with raw numbers of members, not the percentage of them that pay tithing. It also strongly suggests that temple location decisions are made on a regional basis, not county.

    For what it’s worth: as a resident of one of the few states that still doesn’t have a temple, we ask about the criteria a lot. Tithing hasn’t come up as far as I know, though it’s certainly correlated with things that do, like number of members submitting names for temple ordinances and number of temple workers. (Again, number, not percentage.)

    To top it off, Overstreet’s difference-in-differences analysis is looking to see if poverty rates fall *when a temple is built*. Even if he were right about everything else, tithe-paying would presumably have to be high for some years before the Church decided to build a temple, then it would take more years for the temple to be built. So the decrease in poverty due to high tithe-paying would happen years before the temple is built and his DID model would completely miss it. He also only uses nine years of data with twelve temple dedications.

    This has to be my favorite sentence though, explaining why he might not be able to detect an effect of tithing by looking at the county-level poverty rate: “It remains possible that tithing obedience confers financial gains primarily to individual adherents or households who faithfully donate 10% of income, rather than to entire communities more diffusely.” Really! His tries to talk his way out of it, but it’s not at all convincing. It does give him a chance to say “prosperity gospel” though.

    I’d be really curious how the peer review process worked for this gem.

  2. Yeah, there are so many weird assumptions built into that article I don’t know where to start.

  3. The article on water rights looks very interesting to me, I will have to read that sometime. The Overstreet article looks like a howler. It’s difficult to imagine a clunkier operationalization scheme.

    I couldn’t find an online copy of Spiegel’s article, which is a darn shame because Spiegel’s critiques of naturalism look pretty good. As for the idea of normative constraints on vicarious religious ordinances…I really hope he’s not just doing an intuition pump but ethics is shot through with them.

Comments are closed.