2013 Mormon Scholars in the Humanities Conference

3.11.13 | | 12 comments

Not to shamelessly self-promote, but…

This week I will be traveling to Provo to present at the annual Mormon Scholars in the Humanities Conference? at Brigham Young University. My presentation is entitled “The Role of the Novel in Post-Utopian Mormonism,” and it’s a very abridged version of some of the foundational claims of my doctoral dissertation. You can call it a theory of the Mormon novel, if you want to. Certainly, it is not the theory of the Mormon novel.

If you’re in Provo on March 15th (the Ides of March), swing by and hear me out. My presentation time is 9:30 in the morning, which–I admit–is kind of early and maybe inconvenient. We’ll be in WSC 3215. (That’s in “The Wilk,” right? My BYU codenames are a bit rusty.)

If you can’t make it, I’ve pasted my introduction and a link to my slideshow below. It should give you a sense of the course I plot…

In his book The Mormon People, Matthew Bowman cites 1890 as a “convenient turning point” in the Mormon narrative. In that year, Church President Wilford Woodruff officially ended the Church’s sanction on plural marriage, a practice that had come to define Mormon identity since the early 1850s. This change signaled, in some ways, the beginning of a decades-long transitional period for the church that “drained from [it] the apocalyptic utopianism of the dusty Great Basin frontier and made of it a church more American, but also no less Mormon” (152, 154). What eased and enabled this shift, this paper argues, has much to do with how Mormons gradually freed Zion, their core utopian principle, from the gravitational pull of Jackson County, Missouri, and granted it an elasticity of signification that helped to preserve its utopian ideals in a post-utopian condition. This paper also argues that the Mormon novel is a product of this post-utopian condition, and grew out of the Mormons’ paradoxical desire to assimilate into American middle-class culture and continue to affirm a distinctive Mormon identity. Turn-of-the-century Mormons, after all, saw in the novel a popular genre that had the potential to appeal to the rising Mormon generation and instruct them on how to perform new Mormon identities and construct a post-utopian Zion. The Mormon novel, therefore, which I understand to be novels about Mormons by Mormon authors, offers valuable insight into the negotiations involved in making the transition from a utopian to post-utopian condition. A study of it also reveals how it continues to act as a site of post-utopian Mormonism’s ongoing efforts to achieve Zion within the context of American pluralism. Through it, we can identify and better understand how minority communities negotiate difference and maintain boundaries while participating in and contributing to an increasingly diverse and polyglot society.

12 comments: “2013 Mormon Scholars in the Humanities Conference

  1. Scott Hales Post author

    In highly lucrative markets like Mormon fiction, where money and fame corrupt, there will always be exceptions to the rule…

  2. William Morris

    I think that it’s clear that my fiction output partakes of the two main streams of post-1970s-overt-Mormon fiction — what one could call the Thayer stream and the OSC stream — in that it definitely is an attempt to reckon with the costs/benefits of Mormon American assimilation and carve out (extreme) spaces that echo the Utopian Mormon project. The former coming the the form of faithful realism, the latter in speculative fiction and/or post-modern fiction.

  3. James Goldberg

    Re: “repressed post-utopian desires”….I actually think this may be the Mormon version of the contemporary sexual coming-of-age trope. While others try to come to terms with their sexuality, we try to come to terms with the idea of Zion.

  4. Th.

    .

    I know it’s a weird thing to say and not respectable and possible not responsible, but I’m excited to someday read your disserration.

  5. Scott Hales Post author

    Wm–I haven’t read most of what you’ve written, but what I have read of it supports how you describe it. I look forward to reading more of your work. Any novels or novellas in the plan anytime soon?

    James–I look forward to seeing you (and your students) there. I also think that’s a keen insight about Mormons writing to come to terms with Zion rather than sexuality–and I might use the idea some time (giving you credit, of course). I think it’s interesting, though, that some Mormon novelists use coming to terms with sexuality as a way to come to terms with Zion. I see Levi Peterson doing that, at least, in “The Backslider” and Todd Robert Petersen doing that in “Family History” and scores of others, I’m sure.

    Th.–I’m looking forward to reading it as well. Right now it is giving me some trouble, but it’s progressing as it should.

  6. William Morris

    No novels or novellas with Mormon themes. I will do a story collection at some point–timing will depend on what happens with a couple of stories I want to include but need to either be published or rejected.

  7. Katya

    Well, if you can travel over 1,500 miles to get here, I *suppose* I can walk a couple hundred feet to come listen to you. (In all seriousness, I’m glad I saw this, because I had somehow missed it before and I’m excited to hear your presentation.)

  8. Scott Hales Post author

    Awesome, Katya. I’ll be the one in the maroon tie.

    Luisa–A wormhole would be something else. If you figure it out before Friday, let me know. I’d like to use it to cut down on travel costs.

    James–I hope you aren’t kidding about the cockroach and beret.

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