Updates on the flourishing of international Mormon studies

05.28.2015 | The Maxwell Institute

Melissa Inouye, associate editor of the Mormon Studies Review, offers this update on Mormon studies on an international scale, including a preview of relevant panels at the upcoming conference of the Mormon History Association.

Melissa Inouye

Global Mormon studies is finally taking off! In the past year, Mormon scholars around the world have made great strides in investigating the depth and breadth of Mormon experiences, identities, and worldviews. Researchers are beginning to grapple with the question of how Mormonism fits into larger ethnic, linguistic, geopolitical, colonial, and transnational narratives.

A year ago, back-to-back conferences on “The World Wide Church: the Global Reach of Mormonism” (BYU, March 6-7, 2014) and “Global Crossroads: Asia and Mormonism in the Twenty-First Century” (Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, March 22, 2014) infused jolts of energy, talent, and big names into the study of Mormonism as a global religious tradition (names including church leaders like Dieter F. Uchtdorf and scholars like Terryl Givens and Laurie Maffly-Kipp). Video of the entire Asia and Mormonism conference is available thanks to the professional talents of Paris Fox who filmed in high definition. Be sure to catch Charles Shirō Inouye’s lunch plenary on the connection between Mormonism and Japanese animism, which one conference attendee was heard to declare “the best talk on Mormonism that I’ve ever heard!”

Later in 2014, two conferences held outside of North America continued to interrogate the alignment of Mormonism, culture, and minority identity. The first, a November 8th Symposium to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the LDS Church in New Zealand and the 125th anniversary of the translation of the Book of Mormon into Maori, was held at Waikato University, Hamilton, New Zealand. This was a revolutionary fusion of scholarly presentations and Maori traditions. Organizer Dr Robert Joseph of Waikato University put together a stellar program of prominent Maori leaders like Whatarangi Winiata, scholars like Gina Colvin (University of Canterbury), and LDS Church history personnel. This conference also saw the launch of Dr. Selwyn Katene’s book, Turning the Hearts of the Children, which deserves to be part of every institution’s Mormon studies collection.

The second conference, “Religious Minorities in the Medias: The Case of Mormonism in Europe and the United States”, was held on December 4-5, 2014, in Paris, France. It was organized by Groupe Sociétés, Religions et Laïcités (GSRL), a laboratory of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), with the support of the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Sorbonne) and the Brigham Young University, London Center. This conference included presentations by Dr. Chrystal Vanel (GSRL) on the French media’s reaction to the first Mormon temple in France, Bryce Taylor (Heidelberg University) on Mormonism and the media in Germany, and Mauro Properzi (BYU) on Mormonism and the Italian media. Significantly, in this conference sociologists and religious studies scholars used the case of Mormonism to better understand the situations of other religious minorities in European countries, from Adventists to Scientologists to Buddhists. Video of this conference is available here. Dr. Chrystal Vanel’s summary of this conference will appear on the Maxwell Institute Blog tomorrow.

Things just keep getting better in 2015. In January 2015, the sixth annual conference of the Brazilian Mormon Studies Association (ABEM) convened through videoconferencing, which is certainly the way of the future for a truly global Mormon studies network. (English translation of the ABEM conference program from 2010-2015 can be found here.) ((Editor’s Note: The Maxwell Institute calls attention here to ABEM conferences, but does not necessarily endorse participants or the papers presented there. As with any academic association, the accuracy and quality always varies. Moreover, some ABEM participants are involved in polemical activist-oriented discussions about the LDS Church on blogs and other outlets.)) Papers presented at the 2015 conference included the following:
“Introduction to Sociology of Religion” by Joni Pinto (Rio de Janeiro, BRASIL): A brief introduction to the basics of sociology and religious studies with a focus on how to develop Mormon Studies projects for a Brazilian (possibly non-academic) audience. 

“Preparing Missionaries in the Information Age” by Antônio Trevisan Teixeira (Porto Alegre, BRASIL), Emanuel Santana (Tianguá, BRASIL) and Suzana Nunes (Volta Redonda, BRASIL): A panel discussion analyzing the challenges and obstacles young adults serving, or preparing to serve, as Mormon missionaries face in view of the overexposure of the LDS Church on digital media, and how Brazilian youngsters are dealing with said exposure.

“Historiography as Science: Examples from Mormon History” by Marcello Jun de Oliveira (São Paulo, BRASIL): Defending historiography as epistemologically scientific using 3 examples from Mormon history: the First Vision, the Mountain Meadows Massacre and Nauvoo Polygamy.
Videos of the Brazilian Mormon Studies Association conference are available via the Association’s YouTube channel.

Since the beginning of 2015, the International Mormon Studies Working Group has been continually seeking input on how to spend about $1600 in a way that most effectively stimulates high quality work on global Mormonism. (To become involved or suggest a strategy, please email internationalmormonstudies@gmail.com.)

This spring in North America, Mormon intellectuals have been having lively exchanges on the question of ethnicity and cultural identity. On March 15 the Sunstone symposium “Theology from the Margins” brought together scholars of color to discuss “what it means to be a non-white Mormon in America.” Recently in the bloggernacle a new blog called Feminist Mormon Women of Color was launched to represent the voices of feminist Mormon women of color, many of whom currently live overseas or are cultural polyglots and whose diverse perspectives on a host of hotly contested Mormon issues are original and refreshing.

An upcoming Roundtable in the summer issue of Journal of Mormon History led by Gina Colvin will also address the question of how to develop scholarship on global Mormonism. The following research website for the study of global Mormonism has appeared on the BYU website under the umbrella of the Religious Studies program. While this website is currently still a bit sparse due to the fact that very little has been written about the international Mormon majority, the compilation of subject bibliographies and creation of a space for this field of study are steps in the right direction.

Finally, in Provo from June 4-7, 2015, the annual meeting of the Mormon History Association will feature a record of at least ten sessions that deal with global topics including Mormonism outside of North America, Mormon conceptions of race, relationships between white Mormon settlers and non-white native peoples, and locally rooted methods for collecting and analyzing primary sources. For special sessions of note, try the following three:
Session 2F, “Mormonism Meets Asia: Cultural Perspectives in Asian Mormon History”, chaired by Brittany Chapman, chief organizer of the Asia and Mormonism conference at Berkeley (above);

Session 3G, “The Cultural Complexity of Conversion: Examining Mormonism(s) in India”, featuring papers on RLDS in Odisha by David Howlett and LDS in Hyderabad by Taunalyn Rutherford and John Santosh Kumar Murala;

Session 6B, “Mormonism in Mexico and its Borderlands”, chaired by Fernando R. Gomez of the Museum of Mormon Mexican History, Inc.
Speaking of Mormons in Mexico, Jared Tamez and Jason Dormady’s forthcoming book, Just South of Zion: The Mormons in Mexico and Its Borderlands, is scheduled to appear this October.

All in all, it has been an action-packed year for global Mormon studies! We look forward to the continued flowering of the exciting story of Mormonism “as it really is” and as it truly will be.