Saturday, May 18, 2013
Posse begins with our anti-hero hero in Cuba fighting the Spanish-American war. He has been impressed, re-enslaved, so to speak, sent by sheriff, judge, and jury, to serve under a racist Confederate loving colonel (Billy Zane) who walks around in Confederate grey with Rebel regalia replaced by that of the United States and acts like a combination big plantation owner and Western judge, jury, and executioner. Colonel Graham sends Jessie and his motley group of mostly black soldiers, on what we viewers think is a suicide mission behind enemy lines. It is really a mission to capture a chest of gold from the Spanish troops. Long story short, Jessie and his gang take the gold for themselves, escape the colonel, his loyal flunkies, and Cuba for New Orleans and eventually America's Western frontier. The Colonel, this is a revenge film after all, chases Jessie and his band of brothers to New Orleans and then to the Western frontier town of Freemanville.
Freemanville, it turns out, and this is where Posse is one of those rare Hollywood Westerns, was built by King David (Robert Hooks), Jessie's preacher father, who has led his people West to build a town where Blacks can gain freedom, freedom through education. White racists, however, can't leave Freemanville alone. They attack the town where they crucify King David and send Jessie off to war.
Jessie has returned to the Wild West, gold bullets and gun in hand, to take revenge on those who killed his father and sent him to war. This being a late twentieth century Hollywood payback film with lot of the standard vivid and brutal violence and a lot of the fairy tale in it, Jessie takes revenge on those from Cutterstown who killed his father and sent him to war, defeats Colonel Graham and his minions who follow him to Freemanville, kills Freemanville's Black Marshall (Blair Underwood) who is in cahoots with the White racist sheriff of Cutterstown (Richard Jordan) and his KKK troglodytes to acquire as much Freemanville land as possible because the railroad is coming through, and gets the beautiful girl he was forced to leave behind (Salli Richardson) and who the Marshall wants to marry, all after a suitably bloody and lengthy final battle.
Posse is one of those Hollywood movies where the bad guys are really bad and the good guys are a little bad just like viewers apparently want them. It is one of those typical Hollywood action adventure films in which we are hit over the head both verbally and visually again and again to make sure we get the point the film is trying to make. But it is also a film that wants to make several revisionist historical points. There were Black cowboys in the West, many of them. There were Black towns in the West. There were "grandfather clauses", laws which prohibited Blacks whose grandfathers were slaves from voting, particularly though not exclusively in the post-Reconstruction South, and which were also, until they were found unconstitutional by Supreme Court, in 1915, used to dis-empower Blacks. These grandfather clauses would also be used to take the land and dis-empower Mexican Americans in the Southwest and America's natives in Oklahoma.
I, Ron, eek gives Posse a little of this and a little of this. On one level Posse is a typical paint by the numbers late twentieth century action adventure film where the character and visual clichés come fast a furious from the stock villains with crazed look in their eyes and crazed craziness in their voices to horses jumping out of train cars and the sepia quality of the cinematography. There's even a little bit of Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954). On another level Posse is a little of that. Its revisionism is a welcome if not so fresh addition to the typical Hollywood genre formula. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (John Ford, 1962), Cheyenne Autumn (John Ford, 1964), Roots (ABC, 1977) Dancing with Wolves (Kevin Costner, 1990), and Lone Star (John Sayles, 1996) all brought revisionism, American Indian revisionism and Mexican American revisionism, to the big screen and small screen before Posse. Posse doesn't do it, in my opinion, anywhere near as well as the revisionist films I have listed above and which certainly don't exhaust the cross genre category, particularly The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence and Lone Star. Still if any of this is your cup of tea check it out.
Posse, 1993, Gramercy, Polygram, MGM, (many others), directed by Mario Van Peebles, written by Sy Richardson and Dario Scardapane, 2:32:1
Thursday, May 16, 2013
While the Christian religious blockbuster has been on its last legs since the 1960s occasionally they still pop up once in awhile. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004), a film I have not seen, shows that there is still big money to be made in harvesting those green Christian fields. Increasingly, or so it seems, it is small scale Christian films that are being made these days. I recently watched Catherine Hartwicke's 2006 The Nativity Story thanks to DVD, a film critics have described as the Jesus film meets the independent art cinema of Hartwicke's earlier film Thirteen (2003). Yesterday, again thanks to DVD, I watched Color of the Cross.
Color of the Cross, directed by Jean Claude Lamarre, co-written by Jean Claude Lamarre, co-produced by Jean Claude Lamarre, music co-written by Jean Claude Lamarre, tells, so the blurb on the back of the DVD keepcase tells us, the story of the last forty-eight hours in the life of Jesus Christ and challenges commonly held assumptions about him". Color of the Cross starts with an interesting premise, what if Jesus were black and his blackness affected how some of his fellow Jews looked at him and the attitude some of his fellow Jews had toward his teachings. It adds to this the traditional Christian film narrative tropes of the fear Jewish religious leaders had about Jesus's somewhat revolutionary ministry, though it gave it a racial twist, and the Roman fear of insurrection in one of its conquered territories. Color of the Cross begins with Jesus and his twelve disciples entering Arimethea to take their Passover seder in the upper room. It ends, thanks to a rather jarring jump cut from Gethsemane, where Jesus is arrested by the Romans thanks to Judas's betrayal, to an arresting scene of a bloody Jesus dying on the cross while mother Mary wails at the cross's feet all the while being comforted by the prostitute Mary Magdalene. There is no brutal passion of the Christ here. Only the brutal and bloody blood coloured death of Jesus on the cross.
My sense was that Color of the Cross wasn't quite sure, and perhaps didn't have the money, to be what it really wanted to be. It attempts to follow in the epic footsteps of Christian blockbusters before it with its grand King James Bible like language, but its music, which is largely synthetic, and its sets, which while excellent are not epic or grand, just don't cohere. Color of the Cross, in other words, is too epic and holy to be arty and really engage the issue of race and Western perceptions of Jesus as vanilla white and it is not epic enough to be moving in that religious blockbustery sort of way where believers relive, in widescreen technicolour you can almost touch, taste, see, and feel, the sacred tale they were taught (indoctrinated with) in Sunday School.
I, Ron, eek! cannot recommend Color of the Cross. Lamarre, by the way, has made a DVD only sequel, Colour of the Cross 2: The Resurrection. I could only make it through 15 minutes of this film, which uses a lot of footage from the original. What I saw was even worse than the first. Color of the Cross made only around $85,000 dollars at the box office in the United States, something that may tell us, better than the film itself, about religion and race and perceptions of Jesus in contemporary America.
Color of the Cross, 2006, directed, co-written, and co-produced by Jean Claude Lamarre, 1:78:1 ( IMDb lists the film's original aspect ratio as 2:35:1 while the DVD version of the film lists 1:78:1 as the oar of the theatrical release of the film).
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
While most faithful Mormons and faithful Mormon faith historians would want to attribute Mormon gender notions and gender roles to “revelation” most twentieth and twenty first century scholars have tended to see primitive Mormon gender ideologies, cultures, and structures as the products of broader economic, political, cultural, demographic, and geographic forces in the nineteenth century, all materialist explanations that became prominent in the social sciences and humanities since their rise as disciplines in the nineteenth century.
Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, for instance, argues that the Burned Over District, that area characterized by religious revivals stretching from Utica, New York to northeastern Ohio, the geographic space in which Mormonism arose, was characterized by two broad social movements that originated as a result of the economic changes afoot in the region, economic changes that largely had their source in the building and operation of the Erie Canal. According to Smith-Rosenberg the Erie Canal stimulated both a middle class movement characterized by Evangelicalism, merchant males, middle class husbands who worked outside the home, a cult of domesticity in which women took care of husband, children, and home, and a radical movement populated by young, mobile, and relatively “poor” individuals who were more experimental in their gender and marriage forms and who as a result stood outside the dominant middle class culture of male capitalist merchants and female homemakers and moral mediators. Smith-Rosenberg numbers the Mormons, the Shakers, and the Oneida Perfectionists amongst these experimental religious and ideological revolts against “bourgeois ideology”.
There is a fundamental problem with Smith-Rosenberg’s argument, however. Apart from categorizing Mormonism, Shakerism, and the Oneida Community as radical and noting that they all reconstructed the nuclear family, Smith-Rosenberg has very little to say about how and why the same economic forces constructed the very different gender cultures and social structures of celibate Shakerism, shared marriage Oneida, and polygamous Mormonism.
Other analysts of primitive Mormonism have emphasized the impact of American politics on Mormon culture. Klaus Hansen, for instance, notes that primitive Mormonism had a democratic quality to it. Mormonism, Hansen notes, emphasized the ministry of all male believers. All Mormon males, he writes, had priesthood “callings”. For Hansen the male egalitarianism of Mormon priesthood culture and social structure was a reflection of the broader political and economic contexts of the male “egalitarianism” of Jacksonian America with its extension of the franchise to all White male men.
If Mormons were influenced at all by the egalitarianism some see as common in Jacksonian America it was an egalitarianism that was patriarchal and hierarchical, however. The revelations contained in the Doctrine and Covenants make it clear that God’s Church was to be led by males, guided by revelations received by a male “prophet, seer, and revelator” and led by a male king, Joseph Smith, the Church’s authoritative and virtually all powerful “President” and “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator”.
Still other scholars see Mormonism as an extreme form of hierarchical authoritarian patriarchalism. Charles Sellers, for instance, who, like Smith-Rosenberg, takes a largely economic approach to forces bringing about economic, political and cultural change in the Burned Over District, sees Mormon patriarchal masculinity as a response to a nineteenth century Christianity undergoing feminization. Smith’s church, he writes, appealed to males obsessed with a loss of honor and power. Smith, he says, wove a patriarchal fantasy out of the shame and desperation associated with powerlessness, poverty and the associated loss of his family honor. For Sellers Mormonism’s appeal was not its doctrines but its patriarchal utopianism and communalism.
The problem with Sellers’s economic factors give rise to social psychological approach is similar to those associated with Smith-Rosenberg’s argument. Why, if poverty and powerlessness were at the heart of Mormonism did Mormonism take the form it did while other social movements of the poor took different shapes? Was it the fight for Smith family honour that made Mormonism Mormonism? The other major problem with Sellers’s analysis is that his depiction of the Mormon prophet as a fraud and a trickster and his suggestion that LDS theology, with its patriarchalism, resulted from a kind of “male panic” caused by the economic dislocations in family structure brought about by the transformations wrought by the Erie Canal, borders on if it doesn’t cross over into caricature, something that may tell us more about the ideologies underlying some more polemically oriented academic analysis than it does early Mormonism.
While economics, politics, geography, and demography matter, and they matter very much, particularly economics, when one is exploring the birth of social and cultural movements one has to go beyond economics, politics, geography, and demography, and engage and explore the culture of social and cultural movements because it is culture and the meanings, symbols, and rituals associated with culture, that is at the heart of the social and cultural construction of social and cultural movement identity and community. Given this it is unfortunate that many if not most of the explorations of the birth of one social and cultural movement, Mormonism, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have centred on the economic forces—the rise of the Erie Canal—the political forces—theocratic and hierarchical Mormonism as a reaction to Jacksonian “democracy”—and geographic and demographic forces—Mormons as New Englanders who consciously or unconsciously sought a return to New England Puritanism.
While broader demographic, geographic, economic, political, and institutional contexts like the Erie Canal, Jacksonian democracy, and New England Puritanism reborn surrounded and undoubtedly impacted both old and new “religious” movements in the Burned-Over District, Mormons did, for instance, come from specific class or status and gender backgrounds, Mormonism did arise in specific geographical contexts and migrated into the ever expanding and contracting frontier, Mormons did have to make a living within a economy in transition from agrarian to mercantile forms, Mormonism did arise in a political culture experiencing the impact of democratization and reactions to greater democratization, and Mormonism did arise and grew in areas with specific institutional and non-institutional frameworks, these facts don’t come close to telling the whole story about Mormon origins or the origins of Mormon identity. Any analysis worth its salt has to address the issue of why Mormonism and other social and cultural groups, religious or otherwise, in the Burned-Over District and beyond impacted by the same demographic, geographic, economic, political, and institutional forces gave rise to both culturally similar and culturally different social and cultural movements. It is, in my estimation, cultural differences which allow us to get at the heart of the question as to why some seekers joined the Mormon Church, others the Shaker community, others the Oneida Community, others the Adventist Church, and still others the “Christian” Church.
The only way we can truly begin to understand why some individuals became Mormons, others “Christians”, others Adventists, others Evangelicals, and still others anti-revivalists is through an attentiveness to the culture of each group which arose in the Burned-Over District, to the historical pedigrees of these cultural movements, and to the ways these cultural scripts framed group responses to broader social, political, economic, and cultural issues. Religious systems are, after all, interpretive systems which give meaning to the world around them and the events that occur in that world.
In this paper I want to move beyond economic, political, geographic, and demographic approaches to Mormon gender and explore what primitive or early Mormonism’s sacred texts, the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, tell us about the gender identities Mormonism created and how these gender identities were manufactured.  Sellers, by focusing on Smith and Smith’s making of Mormonism, was, at least in part, I think, on the right track. It was, Joseph Smith, the male “President” and “Prophet” of God’s one true church who, in the final analysis, made Mormon men and Mormon women. Because Mormonism placed such a significant emphasis on the authority of Joseph Smith regarding him as its authoritative “Prophet”, “Seer”, and “Revelator” the Mormon belief in Smith’s authority had important consequences for Mormon culture and on individual Mormon lives and distinguished Mormonism from other social, cultural, and religious groups around them.
When Joseph Smith, the Mormon “prophet, seer, and revelator”, created a “new” or “novel” version of Christianity in the 1830s and 1840s one of the things he manufactured out of old cultural and social wine initially in the Burned Over District and then beyond in Missouri and Illinois was “new” gender roles for newly made Mormon men and women. Smith was able to create a distinctly Mormon culture because religious seekers and later faithful Mormons believed that he, Smith, was their “prophet”, “seer” and “revelator”. They believed that an angel had given him the Book of Mormon and that God had given him the power to “translate” it. They believed that Smith received authoritative divine communications from on high for his new church and that they, when they joined the new church, had to take these “revelatory” commandments seriously and try to harmonize their lives with these divine commands because they were, they believed, divine commands.
The “sacred texts” that Smith claimed he “received” and in some cases “translated”—the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants—tell us much not only about what Smith and the early Mormon faithful thought about doctrinal issues like baptism, church organization, and the “gathering to Zion”, doctrinal issues that are at the heart of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, but also about gender and gender roles, about, in other words, notions of maleness and femaleness in the newly formed primitive Mormon community of the 1830s and 1840s.
In the Book of Mormon, a collection of documents, which, according to Mormon tradition and legend, were written by and about remnants of the House of Israel that had immigrated to the New World, and that had been given to Smith by the Angel Moroni to translate in order to show the Jews and Gentiles that Christ was the Eternal God, was first published by Smith in 1830 in Palmyra, New York. In the Book of Mormon men and women are husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, civilized or heathen, rich or poor, saints or sinners, righteous or unrighteous, free or captive, gathered or scattered, white or dark, and saved or damned. In the Book of Mormon God’s people have relationships with God, with each other, and with the Church and its leaders. Book of Mormon men are authors of holy books, chiefs, judges, kings, rebels, warriors, priests, governors, disciples, teachers, prideful, circumcised or uncircumcised, husbands, fathers, and sons. Book of Mormon women are toilers, spinners, concubines, whores, wives, mothers, daughters, and child bearers. Sometimes, according to the records contained in the Book or Mormon, God’s people fall into iniquity thereby separating themselves from God or his Church leaving only a few holy men behind to call sinners back to saintliness, a narrative, by the way, clearly drawn from the Bible Smith read.
While the Book of Mormon was important in the lives of the early Saints it was not the Book of Mormon that would serve as the template around which Mormon men and women would try to construct their lives. For most of the faithful the Book of Mormon was simply proof that their “Prophet”, Joseph Smith, was God’s “Prophet” and that he was restoring the apostolic church to the earth after an absence of over a thousand years. Instead it was the divine revelations contained in the Book of Commandments and its successor the Doctrine and Covenants which addressed how God’s church should be structured and how God’s people should live their lives that served as the guidebook, as the “catechism”, for how Mormons should think, live, and act in the world and what they might expect in the next world beyond the veil.
The Book of Commandments and the Doctrine and Covenants, published in Jackson County, Missouri, “Zion”, in 1831 and Kirtland, Ohio in 1835 respectively with additions added to the 1835 edition in 1844, contain revelations received between 1823 and 1844, revelations generally read to the assembled faithful in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, revelations which engage doctrinal issues such as the nature of true baptism, the nature of the “gathering to Zion”, the nature of the celestial kingdom, the nature of “eternal progression”, the form the coming apocalypse which will destroy the governments of the world will take, the nature of Church government, the importance of mission work and calls for Mormon men to undertake it, and, as this last aspect of the revelations makes clear, notions of what constitutes “proper” gender roles in the newly restored Church.
Central to primitive (and to contemporary) Mormon understandings of manhood and maleness and the structure of power within the Mormon community are the revelations concerning the Mormon priesthood in the Book of Commandments and the Doctrine and Covenants. The Mormon priesthood structure developed between 1829 and 1835 and consisted of two priesthood forms restored, according to Mormon ideology, from the biblical past through Smith to the present day Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods.
The Aaronic priesthood, which governed the temporal affairs of the church and whose members were usually regarded as descendents of the “sons of [the Tanakh patriarch] Aaron”, was restored in 1829 when John the Baptist appeared and laid hands on Smith and his second in command Oliver Cowdery forgiving them of their sins. The Melchizedek Priesthood, a priesthood organization whose genealogy went, according to Smith, back to the priest who, according to the Old Testament book of Genesis, blessed the Hebrew Patriarch Abraham, was restored in 1830 when Peter, James, and John, laid hands on Smith and Cowdery making them Melchizedek high priests. Through this laying on of hands these three apostles of Christ gave Smith and Cowdery the authority to confer the Holy Ghost upon believers once they were baptized and made the Melchizedek Priesthood the body governing the spiritual affairs of the Church making the priesthood the basis of all “legitimate” power in the Church.
Each Latter-day Saint male was “called” to serve in priesthood offices with specific duties and specific powers in the early church. A trinity of “callings” characterized both the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods. The Aaronic Priesthood consisted of “priests”, “deacons”, and “teachers” while the Melchizedek Priesthood of “elders”, “seventies”, and “high priests”. In the earliest days of the church “elders” were empowered to baptize, administer the sacrament or communion, bestow the Holy Ghost, ordain other priesthood offices, bless children, and take the lead in meetings. “Priests” had the same duties save for bestowing the Holy Ghost, blessing children, and ordaining elders. “Teachers” and “deacons” assisted the “priests” and watched over the Church to ensure that it was strong. They differed from “priests” in that they lacked any ordinance powers. Although “priests” could ordain “priests”, “teachers”, and “deacons”, only “elders” could issue a license authorizing “each ordained person to perform the duty of his calling”. In the absence of “elders”, first “priests” and then “deacons” were empowered to lead meetings.
The restoration of these priesthoods did not, as I mentioned, occur simultaneously in early Mormonism. Revelation was continuous phenomenon in primitive Mormonism. Prior to the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood the Mormon Church did not have the intense hierarchical character it would later come to assume. This church of “priests”, “deacons”, and “elders” was led by its “First and Second Elders”, Smith and Cowdery respectively. They presided over General Conferences which met annually to discuss both the spiritual and temporal affairs of the church and which “sustained” the leadership of the “First and Second Elders” of the church and Quarterly Conferences, which were much like the quarterly conferences of contemporary Methodists, where Mormon “elders” gathered together to do “what business needed to be done”.
This more democratic and egalitarian phase of the Mormon Church didn’t last long. In 1831 Smith received a revelation which revealed that he alone was to be the sole medium of revelation for the Church as a whole. Other revelations, including that restoring the “Melchizedek Priesthood” followed between 1832 and 1835 and made Mormonism even more hierarchical than it before. Eventually only high priests of the “Melchizedek Priesthood” could take their place in the highest offices of the restored church of Jesus Christ.
Collectively known as the General Authorities, the highest officers and their offices in the church include the “First Presidency”, the “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles”, and the “Presiding Bishop”. At the head of this restored church stood Joseph Smith, as “President”, “Prophet”, “Seer”, and “Revelator” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As God’s representative on earth Smith administered the church, chastised it, revealed new revelations to it, and dictated to it how God’s kingdom was to be built. By his authority regulations were established and subordinate appointments were made. Smith as president was the legal “trustee in trust” of all properties the church owned and had title to. He was the supreme authority in religious, political, civil, and economic fields. To help him in these duties he chose two other “high priests” to be his counselors forming, in the process, the “First Presidency” of the church, the church’s highest governing body.
The “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” stood next in power and authority to the “First Presidency”. Chosen by Smith and hence, by God, since it was believed that God worked through Smith, the Twelve had oversight over missionary work. In the early days of the church they were sent by the “Prophet” into all corners of the world to preach the restored gospel. As a part of their oversight role they made decisions about church government, finances, colonization, and other affairs of the church.
Next in power and authority to the “Twelve Apostles” was the “First Council of the Seventies”. The “Council of the Seventies”, consisting of the seven “presidents of the Seventies”, was responsible for directing the missionary work of the church.
Last but not least among the “General Authorities” was the “Presiding Bishop”. The “Presiding Bishop”, “called” like other church leaders by God through “the Prophet”, looked after the temporal financial affairs of the church and was responsible for the operations of the “law of consecration and stewardship” and later the “law of tithing. Like the “Prophet, Seer, and Revelator” the “Presiding Bishop” “called” two counselors of his choosing to assist him in his duties. He also appointed a “Deacon’s Quorum” to assist him in taking care of the poor, the needy, and the infirm and to help him keep in touch with local “bishops” who, beginning in Nauvoo in the 1840s, presided over sections of that city.
Beyond the “General Authorities” an important and powerful body in Mormon Nauvoo in the 1840s was the “Council of Fifty”. The Council included amongst its members a number of high-ranking males including Joseph Smith, all of the Apostles, and a few sympathetic non-Mormons, some of whom had access to the corridors of power in Washington, DC. Smith called the Council a “living constitution” and it performed several functions in Mormon Nauvoo. It performed governmental functions sending petitions to Congress seeking redress for attacks on and confiscation of Mormon property in Missouri in the late 1830s, campaigned for Smith after he announced he was running for President, and sent delegates to the Republic of Texas offering to help it achieve American statehood. Additionally, in a “kingdom” rent with dissension over doctrinal novelties like plural marriage it attempted to establish order, consensus, and obedience to the church hierarchy. In the long term, the Council was apparently meant to supplant the political, economic, and social arrangements of Jacksonian America with its individualism, egalitarianism, and progressivism and to help usher in God’s millennial reign over the earth (Doctrine and Covenants 28:9 (September 1830), 29:7-8 (September 1830), 57:3-5 (July 1831)). The Council’s function, in other words, was to rule the world until the end times when Christ would come again and established his kingdom on earth.
Another important “calling” and figure in the early church, though not today, was the “Church Patriarch”, an office and calling Smith traced back to the Hebrew patriarchs of old. Smith appointed his father Joseph Smith Snr. first patriarch of the Church on 18 December 1833. His “calling” was to give special blessings to church members. He also often provided members with information about what biblical “tribe” they belonged to. Smith Snr. was succeeded as Presiding Patriarch by his eldest son Hyrum pointing up the importance of the notion of lineal descent in Mormonism, a notion again that was traced back to the Hebrew patriarchs of old. Like his father Hyrum gave special blessings to Church members.
Power within primitive Mormon culture and the Mormon community, by the way, was not only hierarchical in nature. It was also spherarchical in form. The power of a bishop, for example, was delimited to a specific geographical territory. The sphere of power of the Mormon prophet extended to the entire church.
When Smith created the female “Relief Society” in 1842 he read the “elect lady” revelation before the entire female organization just as he read revelations before the gathered male priesthood. In the “elect lady” revelation Emma is called by Jesus through Joseph Smith to be an “elect lady”, a “comforter” to her husband, Joseph Smith, a “scribe to the Prophet”, Emma was one of the scribes who recorded Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon, an “expounder of Scriptures”, an “exhorter” to the Church, and an editor of “sacred hymns”. In her “calling” to the presidency of the Relief Society, in the words of Joseph Smith's “Illinois Journal”, Emma fulfilled the “elect lady” revelation.
Though the “elect lady” revelation focused on Emma’s “callings” the fact that Smith read the revelation before the newly formed Relief Society, suggests that the “elect lady” revelation was not meant simply meant to indicate to the gathered sisters that Emma was the “elect lady”. It also suggests that the revelation was to serve as a kind of proto-constitution for the “Relief Society” itself. In 1842 Smith proclaimed the Relief Society “...a kingdom of Priests ...[to whom]...the keys of the kingdom are about to be given.” Joseph Smith thus “set apart” or “ordained” the President of the society, his first wife Emma, and her two councilors giving them the “keys” to administer to the sick and comfort the sorrowful. The Relief Society, like the male priesthood organization, had its teachers and deacons and it had its “ordinations”, “gifts”, and “keys”. In thus mirrors the male priesthood organization of the church.
The meaning of the statements Smith made to the “Relief Society” have been very controversial and contentious particularly in the context of the professionalization of Mormon Studies and a growing feminism within the contemporary Mormon community since the 1970s and the resulting struggle over the meaning of Mormonism and what it means to be Mormon in the contemporary Mormon Church. Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn argues that evidence shows that Smith set apart the “Relief Society” as a female priesthood organisation. Jill Mulvay Derr, Janeth Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher, on the other hand, in their semi-official history of the Relief Society, argue that the “Relief Society”, while autonomous, was to operate within the order of church government, i.e., under the direction of the male “Melchizedek Priesthood”. For Derr and her colleagues, the “Relief Society” was patterned after the male Priesthood rather than organized as a female version of it. Though we may never know for sure which of these readings is correct, the evidence seems to indicate that Quinn is right about the “Relief Society” being the female counterpart of the male priesthood structure after all Smith’s “Journal” for 1842-1843 indicates that the “sisters’ of the Relief Society would come into possession of “[p]rivileges, blessings, and gifts” of the “Priesthood”, but that Derr, Cannon, and Beecher are correct about it operating under the authority of males in the church. While certain “callings” in the “Relief Society” parallel those of the male priesthood structure, they certainly were not as broad as those of the male priesthood organization. Nor were they as powerful. Nor should we forget that it was a male, Joseph Smith, who specified that and how the “Relief Society” should be organized and “laid hands” upon its female leader, Emma Smith, transferring power and authority to from him to her in the process. In other words, it was through Smith’s charismatic and patriarchal power and authority that Emma gained her position in the “Relief Society” and her power an authority to “lay on hands”. Mormon women, in other words, are rather like the Mormon conception of the Mormon female God “Mother-in-Heaven” whose primary role seems to be a helpmeet and comforter to her divine husband, “Father in Heaven”.
Whether the Relief Society was the female priesthood or not the Relief Society would become the most important female organization in Mormon society and culture. From its founding in Nauvoo the “Relief Society” sought to aid the poor, to watch over the morals of its members, including its sexual purity, to provide homes for the homeless, to provide work for widows, and opportunities for the women of the Relief Society to “refresh themselves spiritually”. The roles mandated for Mormon women and routinised so to speak in the Relief Society, in other words, were akin to the roles women played in other female reform societies of the early and mid nineteenth century and in middle class American religious communities more broadly.
Proper gender organization and the roles attached to them weren’t the only thing revelation commanded for the Mormon faithful. Mormon men were also counseled to be “meek”, “lowly”, “holy”, “righteous”, “long suffering in faith and virtue”, temperate “godly”, kind, charitable, good stewards, pure in knowledge, without hypocrisy, without guile, loving, faithful, virtuous, garnishing of thought, and confident in the presence of God (D&C 107:30 (April 1835), 104:11 (April 1834), 121: 41-46 (March 1839)). Additionally, they were told to fulfill their obligations to their families, to their wives, and to the church. Men are, according to revelation, to provide for their families, to teach their children the “doctrine of repentance”, “faith in Christ”, the doctrine of “baptism” by age eight, to “pray and walk uprightly before the Lord” (D&C 68:25, 28), and to labour for the church (D&C 75:28 (January 1832)). Fathers are commanded to turn the hearts of their children to themselves (D&C 98:16 (August 1833)).
Mormon women, if the revelations for Emma Smith are a guide, are urged to comfort their husbands, remain faithful, beware of pride, remain meek, keep the commandments of God, forgive their husbands, cleave unto their husbands, be forgiving, and abide by the commandments on plural marriages, by accepting those chosen as plural wives for the prophet husband by God. If they do this, revelation says, Mormon women will be blessed by God and their families will multiply. If they don’t, they will be destroyed (D&C 25 (July 1830) and 132 (July 1843)). Like Mormon men, Mormon wives have a number of reciprocal obligations to their husbands and their children. They are said to have claims on their husbands for their maintenance (D&C 83:2 (April 1832)) and they are commanded to “teach” their children the “doctrine of repentance”, “faith in Christ”, the doctrine of “baptism” by age eight, and to “pray and walk uprightly before the Lord” (D&C 68:25, 28 (November 1831)). Mormon children are counseled to repent and be baptized (D&C 68:25, 27 (November 1831)). They are said to have claims upon their parents until they come of age (D&C 83:4-5 (April 1832)).
Reciprocal obligations were central to primitive Mormon life in general and primitive Mormon gender relations in particular. The church, the revelations claim, has an obligation to its all of its members whether, man or woman, immigrant or native, well-off or poor, (D&C 51 (May 1831), 72 (December 1831), 78 (March 1832), 82 (April 1832)), widow or orphan (D&C 83:6 (April 1832)). Parents are told to bring their children up in the light of Mormon truth (D&C 93:40 (May 1833)). Men and women have responsibilities to God and God to Mormon men, women, and children. If Mormons follow God’s commandments they will, it is claimed, be blessed by God and, as a result, be provided a place to live, the blessing of children (D&C 104 (April 1834) and 105 (June 1834)), and will achieve a place in the afterlife (D&C 76 (February 1832) and 132 (July 1843)). If they do not obey God’s commandments they will be punished (D&C 104 (April 1834) and 105 (June 1834)).
Marriage was central to Mormon gender relations. It was said to be “ordained of God” (D&C 49:15 (May 1831)), and “sealed for time and eternity”, this life and the next life, (D&C 132:15ff. (July 1843)) if consecrated by proper authority, namely Mormon “high priests”. Mormon men are urged to leave their fathers and mothers and take a wife (Abraham 5:18 (1835)). The highest form of marriage in the Mormon community was believed to be “plural marriage” since it was held to be part of God’s “new and everlasting covenant” (D&C 132 (July 1843)). Revelations command Mormon women to recognize “the principle” as part of God’s divine plan. Childbirth, likewise, was seen as an integral aspect of covenantal relations between God and men and women. Mormon doctrine emphasized the commandment to be fruitful and multiply as part of God’s divine plan for human beings (Mormon readings of Genesis 1:28 and Psalm 127:3-5).
Both the “Priesthood” and the “Relief Society” served important internal and external functions in the Mormon community. The Mormon “priesthood” structure with its offices and callings marked some Mormon men off from other Mormon men—some were “Melchizedek Priesthood” holders others were not—defined variations in power within the male Mormon community—some were “General Authorities” while others were not—distinguished Mormon men from Mormon women—men have the “priesthood” women don’t—and distinguished Mormon men from “Gentile” men and women outside the Mormon community who didn’t have the restored priesthood at all. Just as the male priesthood structure marked off boundaries between men both within and outside of Mormon culture and society the Relief Society was an important boundary maker for Mormon women. As members of a divinely restored organization with an “elect lady” at its head who held the “keys of the kingdom” Mormon women believed that they alone had the proper “authority” to perform specific “callings”. It was this ideology which distinguished them from both Gentile women and Gentile men. Both the Priesthood and the Relief Society were thus important identity markers and played formative role in constituting and constructing new Mormon men and women both within the Mormon community and outside it.
Gender roles and the institutionalisation of power along gender lines in Mormonism was very different from that of the other so-called “radical” religious social movements of the Burned Over District Smith-Rosenberg makes so much of. Neither the Shakers nor the Oneida Community had the elaborate priestly hierarchy or the extreme patriarchal authoritarian structure Mormons did. For Shakers, the illiterate visionary Ann Lee was the charismatic seer and prophet, the embodiment of the female aspect of Christ. After her death a gender based patriarchal/matriarchal power structure arose in Shakerism whose commands were regarded as authoritative and to which obedience was due. At the Shaker command center in New Lebanon, New York, one “Father” and one “Mother” served as patriarch and matriarch for all Shakerdom. After 1780 another “Father” and “Mother” guided Shakerdom’s economic affairs. Paralleling the power structure in New Lebanon each Shaker commune had a “Father” and a “Mother” who led the spiritual life of men and women in each community and another “Father” and “Mother” who guided the economic affairs of the commune. Additionally, each Shaker community was subdivided (using the second Jewish Temple with its restrictions on who could enter certain parts of the temple as a model) into communal or advanced member meetings, children's meetings, less advanced member meetings, and after 1800, new member meetings. It was only in the communal meetings that the full communal life for which Shakers are so well known for, was practiced. It was from this meeting that Shaker leaders were drawn.
Oneida’s John Humphrey Noyes asserted that God was both male and female. At Oneida both male and female members served on its twenty-one committees and in its 48 departments. Noyes was its authoritative charismatic leader (though, in practice he maintained flexibility in the expression of his authority). According to some analysts, there was probably greater equality of gender at Oneida than anywhere else in early and mid-nineteenth century America. Oneida’s males practiced coitus reservatus during sex thus making it possible for women to avoid the travails associated with pregnancy. Additionally, Oneida’s women could choose what work they wanted to do and could choose their sexual partners, first without intermediaries but later through intermediaries. This changed, however, by 1860 when Noyes and a handful of other spiritually powerful “brothers” took over most of the community's major decisions including who would have sex with whom. Members of the community were now grouped by degree of spirituality. The more spiritual you were, the more power and authority you had. The most spiritual “brothers” had more power and authority than the most powerful “sisters” and the less powerful “brothers and “sisters”. The more powerful “sisters” had more power and authority than less spiritually powerful “brothers” and “sisters”. The less spiritually powerful “brothers” had more power and authority than the less spiritually powerful “sisters”. What this meant for the practice of complex marriage was that the more spiritual males and females inducted lower females and males into the perfection of “free love”. Noyes and his elite spiritual comrade “brothers”, of course, made sure that they introduced the most desirable lower spiritual “sisters” to complex marriage themselves. Eventually the community came to practice a kind of eugenics under the guidance of Noyes and a stirpiculture committee, which chose the partners who engaged in “group marriage”. Again, and not surprisingly, Noyes and other spiritually superior male leaders saw themselves as the most fit male practitioners of this spiritual eugenics and hence were more often “chosen” to engage in Oneida's eugenics experiments.
Smith played a central role in the creation of Mormon identity, Mormon community, and Mormon gender roles. We can see Smith’s role in the construction of Mormonism and Mormons by looking at the Book of Mormon he “translated” and the “revelations” he received which were written down and published as the Book of Commandments and Doctrine and Covenants. When he told Mormon men that god wanted them to become “priests” most did. When he revealed God’s command that Mormons must migrate westward, most did. When he revealed that the faithful were to “gather” in and build “Zion”, most followed him to that “Zion” and helped him to try to establish the “city of God” there. When he “called” Saints to build temples, most helped build them in whatever way they could. When he told the Saints that the earth was about to undergo a drastic change and that they would be at the center of these cataclysmic changes, most believed him. When he told Saints that they were subjects of God’s one true and only church, most believed him. When he told the women of the Relief Society to aid the poor and to look after their husbands and children, most did. When he “called” for volunteers to go to Missouri, many volunteered. When he “called” Parley Pratt to be an apostle, he became one. When he “called” Pratt on a mission to the England, he went. When he “called” Hyrum Smith to be presiding Church Patriarch, he became Church Patriarch. When he “called” John Whitmer to write the history of the church, he did, if not fully to “God’s liking”. When he “called” Edward Partridge to be Church Bishop, he accepted. When he sent Lyman Wight to Missouri, he went. When he asked Lucy Walker, Sarah Ally, Melissa Lott, Mary Rollins Lightner, and Eliza R. Snow to become his plural wives, they did though only after some mental anguish. When he “called” his wife Emma to compile the church’s first hymnbook, she took up her “calling”. When he “called” Emma to become an “elect lady” and President of the Female Relief Society, she did. When Emma, in turn, “called” Elizabeth Ann Whitney and Sarah Cleveland to serve as her counselors in the Relief Society, they did. Most Mormon men and women embodied what their “Prophet” told them in their lives and actions. They still do. And if we truly want to understand Mormonism and the forces that brought it into being we need to understand the critical role culture and ideology play in constructing distinct identities and different communities. It is not enough to say that economics or politics did it. This paper, I hope, has been a small contribution to that effort.
1. I want to thank the late great Brigham Card for his help with earlier versions of this paper. I began it in the late 1990s and made revisions to it in the mid-2000s and in 2013. My analysis of primitive Mormon gender roles is based on a reading of the Book of Commandments (Independence, MO.: Herald House, 1989), the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants (Independence, MO.: Herald House, 1971), and the 1830 Book of Mormon (Independence, MO.: Herald House, 1981). For an excellent secondary work on the revelations Smith received see Lyndon Cook; The Revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith: A Historical and Biographical Commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1981). All scriptural references in this paper are to the 1971 and 1989 editions of the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants unless otherwise noted.↩
2. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg; Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (New York City: Oxford University Press, 1985) particularly “Bourgeois Discourse and the Age of Jackson”, pp. 167-181, “The Female World of Love and Ritual” pp. 53-76, Smith-Rosenberg; “Beauty, the Beast, and the Militant Woman: A Case Study in Sex Roles and Social Stress in Jacksonian America”, pp. 109-128, Smith-Rosenberg; “Women and Religious Revivals: Anti-Ritualism, Liminality, and the Emergence of the American Bourgeoisie” in Leonard Sweet (ed.); The Evangelical Tradition in America (Macon. GA.: Mercer University Press, 1984), pp. 199-231.↩
3. Klaus Hansen; Mormonism and the American Experience (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 45-82.↩
4. Mark Noll; America’s God from Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York City: Oxford University Press, 2002). D&C 20:3 and 43:2ff. (April 1830)↩
5. Charles Sellers; The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815-1846 (New York City: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 219-225.↩
6. John Brooke nicely makes the point in his The Refiner’s Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1844-1844 (New York City: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. xv-xvi, that if it is not mobility or class and status that made some “seekers” became Mormons while others became Oneidans still others Shakers still others Campbellites and still others Adventists we need to ask what it was. I have been extensively influenced by Clifford Geertz; “Religion as a Cultural System” in Michael Banton (ed.); Anthropological Approaches to the Study of Religion (London: Tavistock), pp. 1-46, and Peter Berger; The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City, NJ: Anchor, 1967) in this paper. Works which emphasize the importance of culture in the analysis of religion and religious groups include Gordon Wood; “Religion and the American Revolution” in Harry Stout and D.G. Hart (eds.); New Directions in American Religious History (New York City: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 173-205, Rhys Isaac; The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), Robert Wuthnow and Tracy L. Scott; “Protestants and Economic Behavior” in Harry Stout and D.G. Hart (eds.); New Directions in American Religious History (New York City: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 260-295. ↩
7. I found the following useful for understanding and interpreting gender in the Jacksonian era: Susan Juster; “The Spirit and the Flesh: Language and Sexuality in American Protestantism” in Harry Stout and D.G. Hart (eds.); New Directions in American Religious History (New York City: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 334-361, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg; Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America (New York City: Oxford University Press, 1986), especially, “Beauty, the Beast, and the Militant Woman: A Case Study in Sex Roles and Social Stress in Jacksonian America”, pp. 109-128 “The Cross and the Pedestal: Women, Anti-Ritualism, and the Emergence of the American Bourgeoisie”, 129-164, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg; “The Female World of Love and Ritual” in Nancy Cott and Elizabeth Pleck; A Heritage of Her Own: Toward a New Social History of Women (New York City: Simon and Schuster, 1979), pp. 311-342, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg; “Beauty, the Beast, and the Militant Woman: A Case Study in Sex Roles and Social Stress in Jacksonian America” in Nancy Cott and Elizabeth Pleck; A Heritage of Her Own: Toward a New Social History of Women (New York City: Simon and Schuster, 1979), pp. 197-221, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg; “Women and Religious Revivals: Anti-Ritualism, Liminality, and the Emergence of the American Bourgoisie” in Leonard Sweet (ed.); The Evangelical Tradition in America (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1984), pp. 199-231, Nancy Hewitt; “The Perimeters of Women’s Power in American Religion” in Leonard Sweet (ed.); The Evangelical Tradition in America (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1984), pp. 233-256, Anne Boylan; The Origins of Women’s Activism: New York and Boston, 1777-1840 (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2002), Lori Ginzberg; Women in Antebellum Reform (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson), Barbara Welter; “The Feminization of American Religion”, in Barbara Welter; Dimity Convictions: The American Woman in the Nineteenth Century (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1976), pp. 83-102, Barbara Welter; “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860”, American Quarterly, 18:2, pp. 151–174, Nancy Cott; The Bonds of Womanhood: ‘Women's Sphere' in New England, 1780-1835 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, second edition, 1997), Gerda Lerner; “The Lady and the Mill Girl: Changes in the Status of Women in the Age of Jackson, 1800-1840” in Nancy Cott and Elizabeth Pleck; A Heritage of Her Own: Toward a New Social History of Women (New York City: Simon and Schuster, 1979), pp. 182-196, Cott; “Passionlessness: An Interpretation of Victorian Sexual Ideology, 1790-1850” in Nancy Cott and Elizabeth Pleck; A Heritage of Her Own: Toward a New Social History of Women (New York City: Simon and Schuster, 1979), pp. 162-181, Carol Berkin; First Generations: Women in Colonial America (New York: Hill and Wang, 1996), Carol Berkin; Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence (New York City: Knopf, 2005), Catherine Clinton; The Other Civil War: American Women in the Nineteenth Century (New York City: Hill and Wang, 1984), Rosemary Radford Reuther and Rosemary Skinner Keller (eds.); Women and Religion in America: Volume 1: The Nineteenth Century: A Documentary History (New York City: Harper and Row, 1984), Mark Carnes and Clyde Griffen (eds.); Meanings for Manhood: Constructions of Masculinity in Victorian America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), E. Anthony Rotundo; American Manhood: Transformations in Manhood from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York City: Basic, 1993), Elizabeth and Joseph Pleck (eds.); The American Man (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1980), and Mark Carnes; Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989). Most of these works focus on white, middle class men and women.↩
8. There is a wealth of material on Mormonism. For my money the best introduction to this new social movement is Jan Shipps; Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Faith (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987). Smith, by the way, is, in Weberian terms, yet another example of a charismatic figure.↩
9. Joseph Smith; The Book of Mormon (Palmyra, NY: Printed by E.B. Grandin for the author, 1830), title page. Examples of relevant depictions of what men and women do in the Book of Mormon can be found in the following Book of Mormon passages: Jacob 3:7, Moroni 9:11, 3 Nephi 21: 21-22, I Nephi 12:23, Mosiah 4, 2 Nephi 9:30, Alma 39:6, 1 Nephi 19:11, Ether 12:18, Alma 48:4, 2 Nephi 25:15, 3 Nephi 16:5, Mormon 8:1, Alma 47:17-19, Mosiah 29, Jacob 1:11, Ether 7:4, Ether 15:6ff., Moroni 9:2, Alma 45:16, 2 Nephi 6:26, Alma 2:16, 3 Nephi 19:4, Jacob 2:18, Alma 1, Moroni 8:8, Alma 28:5, Mosiah 10:5, Ether 10:5, 2 Nephi 28:14, Jacob 2:28, 1 Nephi 16:7, 1 Nephi 7:6, 1 Nephi 17:1, Jacob 2:28.↩
10. The Book of Commandments was set for publication in 1833. An anti-Mormon mob, however, destroyed the press on which it was being printed in Independence, Missouri. Only around 100 copies of the Book of Commandments survived. The Book of Commandments contained 65 of the revelations Smith supposedly received. Eventually a committee was appointed by Smith to collect and revise the revelations. Scribal and printing errors were corrected and the texts of the revelations were occasionally clarified. The revised and corrected revelations were published as Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) in 1835. 103 revelations made up the covenants part of the D&C. The “lectures on faith” made up the doctrinal part of the book. On the history of the Doctrine and Covenants see Robert Woodford; “The Doctrine and Covenants: A Historical Overview” in Robert Millett and Kent Jackson (eds.); Studies in Scripture, Volume 1: Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret), 1984, pp. 3-22.↩
11. Doctrine and Covenants (Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981). Passages on gender and gender roles in the D&C can be found in D&C 13 (May 1829), 20:73 (April 1830), 29:7 (September 1830), 84:4 (September 1832), 76 (February 1832), 87:6 (December 1832), 68 (November 1831), and 42 (February 1831). Something, by the way, and this something may have theoretical and historical relevance, that is readily apparent about the revelations compiled in the Book of Commandments and later in the Doctrine and Covenants, as it was with the Book of Mormon, is the biblical language in which they are written in and their focus on contemporary theological or doctrinal matters like baptism and proper church organisation. There is no discussion of the Erie Canal in the revelations of the D&C. Nor does one find a discussion of American political culture in the book. The economics and politics one does find within these revelations is, as one should expect from a document grounded in large part in a reading of the Tanakh or Old Testament, primarily theocratic.↩
12. The revelation on priesthood in the Church can be found in D&C 84 (September 1832).↩
13. The best book on the history of the restoration of the priesthood in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in my opinion, is Gregory Prince; Power on High: The Development of the Mormon Priesthood (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1995). ↩
14. D&C 43 (February 1931).↩
15. The establishment of the First Presidency is recorded in the “Kirtland Minute Book” II, 6 April 1838. For revelations that delineate the office and callings of the First Presidency see D&C 68:15, 19, and 20 (November 1831), 90: 12-16, 32 (March 1833), 102: 1 (February 1834), 107:21, 22, 29, 33, 85-95 (March 1835).↩
16. For revelations that delineate the office and callings of the Twelve see D&C 18:28 (June 1829), 107:39, 58 (March 1835), 112:21 (July 1837), 118 (July 1838), 124:128 (January 1841).↩
17. For revelations that delineate the office and callings of the Seventy see D&C 107:25-26, 34, 38 (March 1835).↩
18. For revelations that delineate the office and callings of the Presiding Bishop see D&C 20:67 (April 1830), 41:9 (February 1831), 46:27 (March 1831), 64:40 (September 1831), 68:22-24 (November 1831), 70:11 (November 1831), 72:2, 5, 7, 8, 16 (December 1831), 84:12 (September 1832), 107: 17, 68, 73-76, 78, 88, (March 1835), 120 (July 1838). ↩
19. On the formation of the Council of the Fifty see “Journal of Discourses” 1:202–3, 2:189, and 17:156–7. For scholarly analyses of the Council see D. Michael Quinn; “The Council of Fifty and Its Members, 1844 to 1945”, BYU Studies 20 (2), 1980, pp. 163–98 and Klaus Hansen; Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1967).↩
20. For revelations delineating the office and calling of the Presiding Patriarch see D&C124: 91-96 (January 1841). On the Church Patriarch see Irene Bates and Gary Smith; Lost Legacy: The Mormon Office of Presiding Patriarch (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996).↩
21. The “elect lady” revelation can be found in Book of Commandments 26 and Doctrine and Covenants 48 (March 1831). On Emma Smith see Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery; Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith Prophet's Wife, “Elect Lady”, Polygamy's Foe (New York City: Doubleday, 1984). Note that it is Smith who receives the revelation for Emma, Smith who establishes the Relief Society, and Smith who “calls” Emma to her position in the Relief Society. Smith’s speech at the organization of the Relief Society can be found in Joseph Smith; The Joseph Smith Papers: Volume 2: Journals December 1841 to April 1843, edited by Andrew Hedges, Alex Smith, and Richard Lloyd Anderson (Salt Lake: Church Historians Press, 2011), entry for 17 March 1842.↩
22. Smith was engaged in translating the Book of Mormon when this revelation was received. The revelation can be found in Book of Commandments 26 (July 1830), Doctrine and Covenants 48 (1835 edition), and Doctrine and Covenants 25 (1979 edition). Doctrine and Covenants 48 eliminated “of Zion” after “daughter” from the original text. The Smith quote is from Joseph Smith; The Joseph Smith Papers: Volume 2: Journals December 1841 to April 1843, edited by Andrew Hedges, Alex Smith, and Richard Lloyd Anderson (Salt Lake City: Church Historians Press, 2011), entry for 17 March 1842.↩
23. Joseph Smith; The Joseph Smith Papers: Volume 2: Journals December 1841 to April 1843, edited by Andrew Hedges, Alex Smith, and Richard Lloyd Anderson (Salt Lake City: Church Historians Press, 2011), entry for 17 March 1842. The original version of the 30 March 1842 statement can be found in microfilm copies of the Relief Society minutes, Nauvoo, in the Special Collections room of the Harold B. Lee Library, BYU. The minutes of the Relief Society for 17 March 1842 make reference to the origins of the Relief Society and state that “deacons” and “teachers” were “offices” of the Relief Society. “Nauvoo Minutes of the Relief Society”, 17 March 1842, quoted in full on page 446, footnote 65, of Jill Derr, Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher; Women of Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society (SLC: Deseret, 1992). On the Relief Society see the semi-official Jill Derr, Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher; Women of Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1992).↩
24. D. Michael Quinn; “Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843”; in Maxine Hanks (ed.); Women and Authority: Re-emerging Mormon Feminism (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1992), pp. 365-410, and Jill Derr, Cannon, and Maureen Ursenbach Beecher; Women of Covenant: The Story of the Relief Society (SLC: Deseret, 1992), chapter one.↩
25. In Utah the Relief Society would play important roles in the training of women for the professions and in getting out the female vote prior to the US government's overturning of Utah Territory's universal franchise law of 1870.↩
26. The notion that Mormons alone held the power and authority of the true priesthood is one important defining aspect of Mormon identity. It is a sense of identity grounded in cultural superiority or ethnocentrism. Mormons aren’t alone, of course, in grounding views of themselves and others in ethnocentrism. It is a common global phenomenon.↩
27. My understanding of the Shakers has been aided by Lawrence Foster; Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), pp. 21-71, Patricia Brewer; Shaker Communities, Shaker Lives (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1986), Priscilla Brewer; “The Shakers of Mother Ann Lee” in Donald Pitzer (ed.); America’s Communal Utopias (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), pp. 37-56, Stephen Stein; The Shaker Experience in America: A History of the United Society of Believers (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), Edward Deming Andrews; The People Called Shakers (New York City: Dover, 1953), Clarke Garrett; Origins of the Shakers: From the Old World to the New World (Baltimore MD.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987), and William Sims Bainbridge; “Shaker Demographics 1840-1900: An Example From the Use of Census Examination Schedules”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 21:4 (1982), pp. 352-365. For an excellent collection of Shaker documents see Jean M. Humez (ed.); Mother’s First-Born Daughters: Early Shaker Writings on Women and Religion (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993).↩
28. My understanding of Oneida is based on Maren Lockwood Carden; Oneida: Utopian Community to Modern Corporation (New York City: Harper and Row, 1969), Lawrence Foster; “Free Love and Community: John Humphrey Noyes and the Oneida Perfectionists” in Donald Pitzer (ed.); America’s Communal Utopias (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997), pp. 253-278, Lawrence Foster; Religion and Sexuality: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), pp. 72-122, and Robert David Thomas; The Man Who Would Be Perfect: John Humphrey Noyes and the Utopian Impulse (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977). The biblical reference is Acts 2:44-45. Constance Noyes Robertson’s Oneida Community: An Autobiography (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1970), reprints circulars related to women’s dress, work, and activities in the Oneida Community. Noyes believed that parents passed their moral characteristics on to their children, hence the need for spiritual eugenics or “stirpiculture”.↩
29. D&C 41:9 (February 1831), 49:1 (May 1831), 52:7 (June 1831), 69:3-8 (November 1831), 81:1 (March 1832), 124:124 (January 1841) and 129 (February 1843). On Mormonism as an identity and an ethnicity see Patricia Nelson Limerick; “Peace Initiative: Using the Mormons to Rethink Culture and Ethnicity in American History” in Limerick; Something in the Soil: Legacies and Reckonings in the New West (New York City: Norton, 2000), pp. 235-255 and Dean L. May; “Mormons” in Stephen Thernstrom (editor); The Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), pp. 720-731. For twentieth century guides on what it means to be a Mormon man and a Mormon woman see the books by Helen Andelin, Fascinating Womanhood (1965), The Secrets of Winning Men/The Fascinating Girl (1970), and Man of Steel and Velvet (1972), written by Andelin’s husband Aubrey. All were published by Pacific Press of Santa Barbara, California and later reprinted by the mass-market paperback publisher Bantam Books of New York City. The Mollywood update and remake of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (Andrew Black, 2003) set in Provo and at BYU, parodies Mormon guides on true womanhood and how to get a man via the film’s “Pink Bible: How to Bring Your Man to His Knees”. Needless to say, Mormon Utah is a very appropriate cultural geography in which to update Austen’s Regency Britain since twentieth century Mormon Utah bears a lot of similarities to early nineteenth century Britain in terns of ideologies of gender.↩
30. I am drawing on two theoretical oldies but in my opinion goodies—I am not as dedicated a follower of theoretical fashion as others, I guess—Max Weber and Victor Turner in this paragraph. Weber has been central to my understanding of charismatic religious figures (Max Weber; Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology (Berkeley: University of California Press, two volumes, 1968), pp. 399-634 and 1111-1157). Turner has been central to my understanding of betwixt and between or liminal states and their role in identity and community construction, reconstruction, and cultural dynamics (Victor Turner; “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage” in Victor Turner; The Forest of Symbols (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967), pp. 93-111 and Turner; Liminal to Liminoid in Play, Flow, and Ritual: An Essay in Comparative Symbology, Rice University Studies, 1974). For an excellent application of Turner’s take on liminal states to American religion, specifically the rise of Southern revivalism and evangelicalism, see Dickson Bruce; And They All Sang Hallelujah: Plain Folk Camp Meeting Religion, 1800-1845 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1974), pp. 61-95. For an excellent history of Christian culture including Christian primitivism and Christian dispensationalism see Linda Woodhead; An Introduction to Christianity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).↩
Friday, May 10, 2013
Jesus is thus rather like Shakespeare. Shakespeare too has been decontextualised and has become, for some, to take one example, in his The Merchant of Venice (assuming he wrote it) the champion of anti-anti-Semitism and for others the very essence of anti-Semitism.
In the twentieth century Jesus has been a world's greatest salesman, a hippie, an Ebenezer Scrooge like capitalist, a rebel with an anti-status quo cause, god's son who knows best, and an activist liberation theologian. I wonder if Christian gun nuts have created a Jesus for the twenty-first century who is a champion of gun rights, semi-automatic clips, and assault rifles yet?
Academics, by the way, haven't been able to escape the prison house of hermeneutics anymore than Christians or Shakespeareans have. I have set through classes in which academics read their own beliefs and prejudices into a text turning what it said into something they wanted it to say. Academia as ideological wish fulfillment.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
The implied equation of criticisms of Israel with anti-Semitism is a specious equation to say the least. I know anti-Semitism and anti-Semitism is not empirical criticisms of Israeli state actions. Israel is one of the last in a long line of settler societies that came roaring out of Western Europe between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries and was so hazardous to the health of so many, a club that includes the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, to name just a few. All one has to do is reflect on the treatment of indigenous peoples by those settler societies to recognise the similarities between what they did to the American Indians, the Canadian First Nations, the Aborigines, the Maori, and the African tribes to what Israel has done and is doing to the Palestinians.
This specious and Foucauldian equation of criticisms of Israel with anti-Semitism is the semiological equivalent of the equation of criticisms of the US and its imperialism with anti-Americanism and intellectual and empirical criticisms of Mormon ideology with anti-Mormonism. This is what ideologues and demagogues do in an attempt to inoculate themselves and whatever they are emotionally attached to against empirical criticisms. They demonise these criticisms making them tabu to those multitudes who they so easily manipulate via, for example, nationalist emotion laden ideology.
Now don't get me wrong, I care about Israel. I have on many occasions in the past defended the state of Israel in a variety of ways. I am glad Israel exists if nothing else as a safety valve in a Christian and Muslim world which has not been particularly hospitable to Jews in the past or the present. But I am also a historian. I am also someone who cares about empirical truth. I am also someone who cares about what the nation I care about is doing in the name of national security. I am also someone who cares about justice.
By the way, recognition of the above doesn't imply binary thinking, namely that the Palestinians are the essence of all that is good in the modern world. That is another one of those demonisation moves, moves which are really strategies to keep the masses from thinking rationally and reasonably about the issue of Israeli colonialism and imperialism and the brutality that always accompanies colonialism and imperialism regardless of who is doing it.
As to Hawking's decision to boycott the President's Conference, I say bravo. I may not agree with his decision but it is pleasant to see an academic take a stand beyond that of the typical academic armchair variety for a change.
Saturday, May 4, 2013
Once upon a time I believed that if you simply provided evidence to human beings about the cruelty of their or their government's actions whether in the streets or around the world, they would eventually be repulsed by their or their government's actions and do the compassionate and humane and right thing. I don't believe in that fairy tale anymore.
That human beings can support or stand by while their government lies about weapons of mass destruction, while the intentional policies of their government means that human beings will die in deserts when they didn't have to, while millions of American citizens don't have access to the health care that could make a difference in their lives and in their life chances, while the one percent on Wall Street do almost anything to enrich themselves even if they have to exploit, manipulate, and walk over others to do it, while a lack of background checks and the banning of assault weapons and semi-automatic magazines leads to human deaths every day, while the military tortures and brutalises those it regards as terrorists, has cured me of any naïve belief in the inherent goodness of humankind, particularly Western humankind. Humans I have come to see, are not only brutal and cruel to the environment, the very thing that allows them to survive and thrive, and to other species be they whales or bison, but also to their own kind.
I, of course, already knew this on some level even when I was a teenager and early twentysometing. I knew about how ethnocentrism and identity construction worked and works. I knew about the Crusades. I knew about the mutilation and genocide of the American First Peoples. I knew about the cruel treatment of the Canadian First Peoples. I knew about the brutal treatment of the Australian Aborigines. I knew about the Holocaust. I knew about misogyny and racism and homophobia. But I guess I needed to believe that humans were at heart compassionate and humane. I wish I could still believe all this pie in the sky. But I can't. And no amount of that comforting illusion that human cruelty is the product of rare human insanity will help me maintain the illusion or help me sleep at night. Nor will the fact that there still are some compassionate and humane human beings out there. What a disappointment life has been. I wonder if it would have been less disappointing if I hadn't lived through the sixties?
I usually don't look at the data on SPI's because it is fatally flawed. The only reason I am requesting some of this data at this time is because the Department I teach in now requires it.
There are a number of theoretical and methodological problems with these "indicators". One fundamental problem is that it is grounded in a retail model of evaluation, the customer is always right model. There are a number of problems with such a model. It doesn't deal with the competencies of consumers for instance. Another major problem is that you can't simply look at the retail side of things. You have to compare and contrast it to the items for sale. You need, in other words, to look at retail comments in relationship to what was sold, the syllabus, in other words, which, by mandate, contains our objectives (I forget the fancy name SUNY gives them) and our lesson plan.
The nice thing about Digital Measures (which I had to use at RPI when I taught there)--which is why I am recommending their use here at SUNY and the expenditure on them if you want to continue with this approach--is that you have to put your objectives and how you tried to reach them in DM's. This allows the analyst to look at both the sales side and the retail side. I think you can also put a link to your syllabus as well, the syllabus that many consumers don't or only lightly read these days for some reason (the Michelle Rhee School of Education, i.e., teaching for the test, which involves doing everything for the consumer).
While using Digital Measures is a vast improvement on the consumer only approach because it adds the sales side of the ledger to the equation, there are still a number of problems with "teacher evaluations" but that is another and much longer story. Suffice it to say statistics are all surface and no depth. And that is one of the problems.
This email was predicated on the fact that as an adjunct at SUNY I now have to to access and record grade breakdown percentages and the means for the consumer responses from the SPI's, the Student Perception Indicators, SUNY collects at the end of each term for each class, at least theoretically. I needed this data for the new and improved will you be rehired in the Department expanded FAR forms we adjuncts are now required to do. And boy do I enjoy doing more work for the same pittance as before when we didn't have to do this significantly and substantially expanded bureaucratic work. We only had to do FAR's in SUNYspeak, Faculty Activity Reports, which, since they were electronic, were relatively quick and painless to do once you had the basic data in. Anyway, I couldn't unzip the online versions of the SPI's from home on my Mac and I was annoyed by the far too many step process of accessing them in the first place. Using these things should be easy not only for tech heads but those with limited tech experience like me. The reason so many steps are required to access this data is because SUNY you see, does this in house making accessing this data more complicated than usual because they are starting from scratch and using relatively primitive software in order to do it.
There are programmes out there, as i mentioned, like Digital Measures, which, if SUNY wanted to spend the money, make accessing statistical material like the SPI's relatively easy, almost as easy as opening an email programme. Additionally, DM contains objectives (SLOs in SUNYspeak) from syllabi making comparison between these and student perceptions possible for evaluators with relative ease, something any analyst worth his or her analytical salt should do automatically and which should be de rigueur in the teacher evaluation "profession" despite how much more work it would require the analyst to do.
I don't keep the paper copies of the SPI's SUNY gives us. The major reason, apart for a place to put them--the campus digs for adjuncts is usually a room that we inhabit with a bunch of other adjuncts and a few ancient, and I mean ancient, computers, I don't keep them is, as I noted, that I don't find them particularly helpful in my teaching.
One of the reasons, one I touched on earlier, I don't find SPI's helpful is that they don't counterpoint consumer perceptions with the objectives in teacher syllabi and lesson plans, both of which reveal the logic and intentions behind our classes and should be mandatory since they act as a check and balance on student perceptions.
What I find most interesting about SPI's, I am a student of human history and its culture after all, is what they reveal about many college students today. Before I get to these, however, I want to talk a bit about the measures themselves. There are several theoretically and methodologically questionable assumptions at the heart of SPI's and teacher evaluations in general. They seem to assume that students of college going age are tabula rasa, they don't, after all, collect data on student economic, political, cultural, and educational backgrounds, an assumption Locke never made. Locke argued only that humans were born with a blank slate. Apparently the people who put together these measures think that students are wet sponges just waiting to sop up knowledge in the courses, even the general education courses they are required to take. Apparently they think that there is no "noise", nothing getting in the way, of student's ability to rationally analyse a class by checking objectives in the syllabus (we are mandated to put them there) against the structure and content of the course, things like competency, ideology, or even reading the syllabus. There are, however, a number of problems with this assumption. Empirical audience analysis over the years has shown that cultural contexts, cultural ways of seeing, cultural ways of perceiving, cultural ideologies, impact how one "reads" the social and cultural stuff of of the human world. Audience analysis, in other words, tell us as much if not more about the reader than about that that which they are reading. Humans are more Bender than Data before he got emotions as corporations and advertisers but apparently not economists know. Additionally, one can raise valid questions about whether 18, 19, 20, and 21 year olds have the academic competencies to judge a class put together by someone with years of academic experience just as one can raise questions as to whether young people are fully competent to debate, in an analytical and systematic way, the ethics and morality of the wars they are often called on to fight. Age and the experience it can bring is the great unequaliser. And then there is the fact that more and more students don't seem to be, if SPI's and observations I have made in classes over the years are a guide, reading the syllabus on a regular basis and using that syllabus as a guide for their sojourn through the class anymore.
Syllabitis has been a problem in every class, lower division and upper division, I have taught since at least 2007. Putting syllabi and lesson plans online where they are easily accessible hasn't, by the way, improved this situation. It has actually made it worse. The post computer generation isn't necessarily computer or World Wide Web competent. The worst case of syllabitis I ever saw in one of my classrooms was in a Journalism class I taught at Albany State University in 2009. A number of the students, I don't know exactly how many though it was, I gathered, more than one or two, in this class said that I did not tell them when assignments were due, what assignments were worth in terms of grade points, and what the grading breakdown was for each assignment. And they took their "concerns" to the chair of the Department of English, the department that housed Journalism classes. The fundamental problem with these claims, as the Department Chair and Journalism head found out when I was called in to address these "concerns" was that all of these things these students said were empirically false. All of these things were clearly addressed in the syllabus.
So how did these students miss what the syllabus said about all of these things? They can't read English? Don't think so. They can't comprehend written English? Don't think so. They didn't recall the syllabus and didn't bother to return to it to see what the answer to their questions was despite the fact that it was online and accessible from any computer in any place around the globe with access to the internet? Perhaps. They didn't read the syllabus? Perhaps. Regardless of the reason or reasons I think this tells us something about students, student backgrounds, and the ever increasing work that teachers have to do these days beyond the putative subject matter of their college classes which suffers as a result. Today I not only have to teach students how to write a paper, how to use a computer, how to set up a blogger account, and how to use a syllabus and the importance of referring to a syllabus throughout the course of the term. This problem, by the way, is not only a problem in public universities like SUNY Albany and SUNY Oneonta but also a private college like RPI with its more selective students.
I attribute syllabitis (and the problematic teacher evaluation measures we use these days), in part, to the Michelle Rhee School of Educational Dogma that emphasises teaching for the test, a strategy which leads to, even in high school where we should not only be teaching substance in a more interdisciplinary fashion but also teaching students independence, including intellectual independence, just the opposite. Instead what takes place in high school, as far as I can tell, is a situation in which students are told what they need to do by teachers verbally on a daily basis and basically told that education is simply an automatonic regurgitation of the "facts" man or ma'am. Education today attempts, in other words, to turn students into dependent robots. Their ability to regurgitate "facts" or not on "tests" are seen by those pushing the Michelle Rhee educational theology as an indication of how well the teacher is doing. The teacher as scapegoat. I suspect that student expectations are coloured by this regurgitation model of education when they matriculate in college and so they don't understand the importance of the syllabus in college education and they expect the same thing in college. As a result I now have to go through almost every inch of the syllabus during class time, something I didn't have to do in the past, in order to try to get students to understand the importance of the syllabus. I routinely mention to students the importance of the syllabus throughout the course of the class. Hardly a week goes by that I don't have to remind students that what they are asking about is in the syllabus. I have even made students sign a statement that they read and understand the syllabus in the past. I will let you decide what this says about college students today and what it is like teaching college students in colleges today. I will also let you decide as to whether robotic regurgitation should be at the heart of a liberal arts "higher" education.
Suffice to say that the teaching for the test regurgitation model of education is, in my opinion, undermining the very essence of a liberal arts education, namely, critical thinking, critical independence, telling what is rot from not rot. It may be fine for education in grades 1 through 4 or 5 but it is not what a liberal arts higher education should be. Unfortunately, the Michelle Rhee model of education is becoming the way higher education in America is working year after year after year. C'est la vie dans l'académie.