Works in Progress

The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism’s Beleaguered Scripture

with Brian Hauglid

Expected publication date: early 2019, Oxford University Press.

The Pearl of Great Price is at the center of the most pressing controversies involving Mormon theology and Mormon history today, including disputes over the historicity of the Book of Abraham, conflicting versions of Joseph Smith’s visionary accounts, and the viability of Mormonism’s professed anti-creedalism. At the same time, the scriptural volume impinges on issues far beyond the scope of Mormon Studies, including questions of canon formation, the sustainability of creeds in the modern church, and the survival of enchanted worlds in a secular age.

Table of Contents:

  • Introduction: The place of the PGP in LDS scripture, Mormon studies, and religious studies.
  • Chapter 1: Joseph Smith, and the making of modern scripture. A historical account of the component parts of the PGP (particularly the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham) and the history of its compilation and subsequent canonization. This chapter would chart the progress of the PGP from a missionary pamphlet in 1851 to scripture in 1880.
  • Chapter 2: "Caught up to an exceedingly high mountain." The Book of Moses. A detailed historical and cultural analysis of the Book of Moses in terms of its production, and place in LDS culture and curriculum from the 1830s to the present.
  • Chapter 3: "Zion was taken up into heaven." Theological Contributions of the Book of Moses. An argument for the theological primacy of the Book of Moses
  • Chapter 4: The Book of Moses and the Book of Genesis: Textual Considerations and Conundrums. What did Smith mean by a "new translation?"
  • Chapter 5: "Written by his own hand, upon papyrus." The curious history of the Book of Abraham. From mummies to the Met.
  • Chapter 6: "These two facts do exist" Theological Contributions of the Book of Abraham. Mormonism’s new cosmology.
  • Chapter 7: Failed narratives and Fashioning new ones. The cultural and intellectual setting of Joseph Smith’s Abrahamic "translation." Can this text be saved?
  • Chapter 8: Emending the scriptures: JS and the translation of the Bible (JS-Matthew) Mormon millennialism then and now.
  • Chapter 9: Historicizing the Origins of Mormonism (JS-History) Introducing Smith’s First Vision to the world (and to the Mormons). The problem of competing First Vision accounts.
  • Chapter: 10: Of Creeds and Articles (The Articles of Faith) Representing Mormonism in an anti-creedal church. From Fraud to Philandery to Football in the public imagination.
  • Chapter 11: The Fading of Millennialism. Mormonism emerged in the midst of a virtual frenzy of millennialism sweeping America during the Second Great Awakening. After the failure of the Saints to establish a Zion in Missouri, the Mormons continued to anticipate their return to reclaim the land from which they had been forcibly evicted in the 1830s. The canonization of Matthew 24 was perhaps the last, desperate gesture to keep alive a hope that even then was fast becoming a tenuous relic of Mormon thought.
  • Chapter 12: Conclusion. A nineteenth century chronicler noted that only three works were regularly studied in Mormon Church curricula: two were works by Parley Pratt. The third was the Pearl of Great Price. How can we account for its demotion in the LDS gaze, and is that trajectory likely to continue? As a related question, What are the prospects for Mormonism’s "open canon"?


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.


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.