Works in Progress

Stretching the Heavens: Eugene England, Mormonism, and the Dilemmas of Discipleship

Expected publication date: early 2020, University of North Carolina Press at Chapel Hill

 

“It's the generally accepted privilege of theologians to stretch the heavens, like tanners with a hide.”                                                                                                                                                --Erasmus 

          Gene England is one of the most influential and controversial figures of 20th-21st century Mormonism. If, as Greg Prince has argued, David O. McKay was the LDS prophet who gave shape to modern Mormonism, England helped play a parallel role from outside the church hierarchy. He performed this function in four principal ways. First, as the principal founder of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, England launched the first and most influential independent journal in the Mormon tradition.

            Second, through his personal essays, he became perhaps the most inspiring lay voice in the later 20th century LDS community. He remains to this day the premier practitioner of the personal essay in the LDS tradition, and several of his essays continue in vibrant circulation with substantial after-life.

            Third, as founder of the Association of Mormon Letters, editor of the first published anthologies of Mormon Literature, and in his professorial role creating and teaching Mormon literature, England is arguably the Father of Mormon Studies (in a way parallel to his contemporary Leonard Arrington’s role as Father of Mormon Historical Studies).

            Finally, by virtue of his propensity for finding himself in a conflicted public posture, England came to embody in a painful and costly, agonistic way, the limits of faithful independence of thought in the LDS tradition.          

            Eugene England’s story is germane to Mormonism's transition into modernity, because it encapsulates in one emblematic narrative an individual caught in the crossfires of an institution slow to adapt, and an eager constituency ready for liberalizing. England still has his detractors who thought him too much the theatrical provocateur, the egoist who “never had a thought he didn’t write and publish,” as well as his fervent admirers who venerate him as a persecuted saint, and martyr to the cause of intellectual freedom and faithful dissent, crushed by an authoritarian institution. This biography will take an approach between the two extremes. England was no angel, and the Mormon leadership no devils. His story has the hallmarks of a Hegelian tragedy: two opposing forces, each with a viable claim to be representing the Good, caught up in moral fervor, but with each making errors in judgment and foresight.


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What Everyone Needs to Know About MORMONISM

                                                     Expected publication date: mid-2020, Oxford University Press

 

Part of Oxford's new "What Everyone Needs to Know Series," this volume will be in question and answer format, with mini-essays in response to some 100 common queries. Chapters will address history, theology, organization, practice, culture, and conflict and accommodation. Particular emphasis will be given to the contemporary church and recent developments.