The year 2015 produced some remarkable books in the area of Mormon Studies, demonstrating a particular flourishing of works on fostering a strong community in the face of spiritual and cultural hurdles. I've been honored to be a contributing part of several of these books, and I think collectively they answer a hunger many in the Church today feel to learn from a wide range of students of the gospel. As all but one are edited collections of essays, those whose thoughts are represented are diverse in their political viewpoints, professions, academic training, areas of focus and approaches to the gospel. It's an exciting time to be part of a growing church striving for unity among an unprecedented era of variety!
Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings. Edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright. (Oxford University Press, 2015.) As the editors mention in their introduction, never before have key writing on Mormon Feminism been collected or anthologized as they are in this volume. To be clear, this volume focuses on Mormon Feminism from the 1970s onward, so it offers a survey of contemporary thought, even though, I would argue, exploration of the role and potential and well-being of women is in the very roots of the Church's founding in the 19th century. Still, having key writings from such pioneering thought leaders like Claudia Bushman, Valerie Hudson, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Carol Lynn Pearson - as well as seeing where the thinking has been heading over the most recent years - is invaluable to anyone who is interested in following the course of modern Mormon feminism. The book offers fantastic resources for the student or class: contributor biographies, a glossary of names and terms, additional resources, group study guide, suggested readings by topic, and a comprehensive index.
A portion of my talk from the 2012 FAIR Mormon conference is included in the book. While the editors' introduction to my talk say my work "picks up the vision of gender difference" laid out by Margaret Toscano and Valerie Hudson, I was unaware of Toscano's work when I gave the talk and hardly thought of myself answering Hudson. I was, however, picking up threads of inspiration from Maxine Hanks, the author of the seminal 1992 book which got her excommunicated, Women and Authority: Re-Emerging Mormon Feminism. Hanks was rebaptised in 2012 and is widely considered to be a leader in women's theology, and the exclusion of any of her writings in this anthology is very strange. No study of contemporary Mormon feminism is complete without Women and Authority or Hanks' voice, so while Mormon Feminism is an essential study companion, it shouldn't stand alone on the shelf.
Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt. By Patrick Q. Mason. (Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institution for Religious Scholarship, 2015.) While I loved the tone and approach of this book by the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, one of the most notable things about this book is the publisher: Deseret Book. Following on the success of Teryl and Fiona Givens' books that address faith crisis and doubt, Deseret Book has with this book publicly expressed an interest in remaining in the faith crisis arena. Although the book is still absolutely pastoral in nature, as opposed to scholarly, and Mason is always very much aware of his Deseret Book readership, the partnership with the Maxwell Institute also gives him leave to tackle some academically challenging hurdles that affect many peoples' faith: issues such as the historicity of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith's treasure seeking, the Church's history with race, the fallibility of prophets, are all addressed forthrightly. While I love Mason's personable approach, I would have liked a little more structure in the way he moves from one faith crisis trigger to the next. This topic-based outline was probably eschewed because it was too academic-feeling, but the way it is now, the reader has to search for discussions on specific issues. Mason's invitation to stay in the fold is warm and helpful, but sometimes not willing enough to wrestle with the anger some disaffected members feel. In all, though, it lays out a mode of thinking and of processing spiritually-relevant information that, if truly applied, could lead to immensely positive changes in the way we members view our heritage and doctrine.
A Book of Mormons: Latter-day Saints on a Modern-Day Zion. Edited by Emily W. Jensen and Tracy McKay-Lamb. (White Cloud Press, 2015.) This book is part of the I Speak for Myself series, a collection of narratives that enhance interfaith, intercultural understanding, a few of which I have read before. When I was asked to contribute to this collection of essays, the editors asked me to answer the question, "What does it mean to build a Latter-day Zion?" This was a particularly good exercise for me at the time, as I was coming out of the rather contentious period following the publication of my book and the excommunication of Kate Kelly. I was grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the moments in my church experience that have been most harmonious and uplifting. My favorite thing about this book is the range of contributors: a philosopher to a cartoon artist and everything in between. The sheer variety of answers to this single question is itself an illustration of how a variety of perspectives can work together to make a beautiful whole.
The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-Day Saint Women's History. Edited by Matthew Grow, Kate Holbrook, Carol Cornwall Madsen and Jill Mulvay Derr. (Church Historians Press, 2016.) This promises to be one of the most important works to come out on LDS women's history. It will be the first time many of these documents while be publicly available, and I'm confident that at the hands of these historians, they will tell a rich story about our foremothers.
A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine & Church History. Edited by Laura Harris Hales. (Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2016.) This may be the scholarly version of Patrick Mason's book, divided by faith crisis trigger (i.e. First Vision Accounts, Joseph Smith and Money Digging, DNA Evidence, Translating with Seer Stones, Race and the Priesthood). Each topic is taken on by an expert in that particular field. I was asked to take on the Women in the Church chapter.