Our book review section features reviews from Rational Faiths as well as guest reviewers. The reviews are opinion-based and hopefully will spark curiosity and conversation about the books that are chosen. We are always looking for guest reviewers. This is not limited to Mormons – all faiths are welcome. We appreciate diversity and seeing things through filters other than our own. Additionally, if you are a publisher or author that would like your book reviewed on our blog, please contact us.

80: Top Ten Books on Mormon History – The Angel and The Beehive

http://media.blubrry.com/rationalfaiths/p/rationalfaiths.com/podcast/80TopTenBooksAngelBeehive.mp3 Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: iTunes | Android | RSS Mormon History has many tools that can be used to gain insight to the past. On particularly useful tool in understanding people and institutions is the discipline of sociology. Armand Mauss used poll information, survey data, and his own notes taken while in attendance at church, as well as work from other sociologists interested in religion to produce The Angel and the Beehive: THE MORMON STRUGGLE WITH ASSIMILATION. It is in this work that the terms assimilation and retrenchment gain traction in the Mormon Intellectual communities provide new means to understand how the church adapts to the changing social landscape. Armand’s book is insightful, balanced, and quite objective in describing the changing church as well as in situating Mormon social conservatism in relation to other religious groups in the United States. TL/DR: In this eighth installment of “Top Ten Books on Mormon History,” Ben and I discuss a classic that came on the heels of the September Six excommunications and analyzed the shifting views of institutional and grass-roots Mormonism in the 20th century, The Angel and the Beehive: THE MORMON STRUGGLE WITH ASSIMILATION Other books and articles mentioned in the discussion: Currently the BYU Studies site in undergoing maintenance. As soon as they have things fixed I’ll link to the following article: Griffiths, Casey Paul. “The Chicago Experiment: Finding the Voice and Charting the Course of Religious Education in the Church.” BYU Studies 49 no. 4(2010): 91-130 Rethinking Retrenchment: Course Corrections in the Ongoing Campaign for Respectability Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-day Saints in American Religion (Religion in America) Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics (Cambridge Studies in Social Theory, Religion and Politics) Our “Top Ten Books on Mormon History” list was composed for someone new to Mormon History. The criteria for inclusion are the book’s demonstration of: Use of a sophisticated academic approach and emphasis on analysis over merely regurgitating data and documents. Coverage of an important person, event,...

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Review: Highway to Dhamphus

Oct 22, 15 Review: Highway to Dhamphus

Posted by in Featured, Movie Reviews

My husband and I were recently able to see Highway to Dhampus, written and directed by Rick McFarland. The basic storyline is that a socialite, Elizabeth, is trying to repair her image by visiting an orphanage in Nepal, and being photographed doing so. She is accompanied to the remote orphanage by an American photographer, Colt,  and a native Nepalese pilot named Ajit. The photographer is there strictly for business. He is bothered by Elizabeth’s selfishness and inability to see anything beyond herself. He has no interest beyond getting the job done.  Their pilot is equally unimpressed with Elizabeth and dislikes that she doesn’t have pure intentions. In the trailer we see the headmistress of the orphanage tell Ajit, as he is venting his frustration with her intentions, that “The children don’t see intentions”. I loved that line. It reminded me of the pure innocence and goodness of children. It also made me remember that my kids usually see the good in me and not the failings that I constantly tear myself up over. Highway to Dhampus was filmed beautifully. The mountains and scenery in remote Nepal were amazing.  I really enjoyed the long scenery shots and the beautiful music to accompany them. Beyond the beautiful setting, the story of the film was what really touched me and caused a lot of deep introspection. My life has taken me on an interesting path. In 2011 we lost twin boys at twenty weeks due to preterm labor. When one loses a child, or really any loved one who is taken too soon,  it forces an introspection to look deeper at life, death and life after death. Director Rick McFarland wrote this film to reflect on elements and characters of his own life. He talked about how his mother had passed away and how he incorporated loss into Highway to Dhampus. This, of course, hit a very personal chord with me, having dealt with losing my babies and mourning the loss of experiencing life with them. The...

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79: Sunstone Kirtland Recap, Yo!

http://media.blubrry.com/rationalfaiths/p/rationalfaiths.com/podcast/79SunstoneKirtlandRecap2015.mp3 Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: iTunes | Android | RSS Sunstone Kirtland 2015 Overview: Last weekend a team from the Rational Faiths blog made the pilgrimage to present at the 2015 Sunstone Kirtland Symposium. Benjamin Knoll, Thomas Hatton, and Brian Dillman came up from the south while Brian Kissell met us there coming from the north. Our hosts were kind (crazy?) enough to let us present a panel entitled “Navigating the Landscape of Online Mormonism.” We arrived on Friday night just in time for dinner at the Kirtland Tavern. It was a bit surreal to see all of the familiar faces that you had only seen online or heard about. We went and sat at the end of the table, next to D. Michael Quinn (who prefers the name ‘Mike’ for future reference), who blew our minds as he talked about his upcoming book on the history of finance in the LDS church. Apart from Brother Quinn, we chatted with a number of really cool individuals and families. (As a sidenote, a few people brought their children, so if childcare could potentially stop you from attending, have no fear.) Following dinner, we headed over to the Kirtland temple for a human rights vigil for the rights of LGBTQIA individuals. It was a great experience to be inside the Kirtland temple at a devotional service. The various speakers shared their experiences and challenged those present to stand up to injustices that we see in the world. Saturday started off with a historical tour of the Nauvoo Temple led by Lachlan Mackay of the Community of Christ. After lunch there were panels and presentations throughout the afternoon. (The podcast link above provides our thoughts and ruminations on the Saturday afternoon presentations, so we won’t go too deeply in detail in this blog post.) The presentations were really diverse and well done. After the sessions, we enjoyed a lovely dinner, followed by presentations by John Hamer on the history of the Restorationist movement...

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A Review of: Voices for Equality: Ordain Women and Resurgent Mormon Feminism

Religious and theological history has gaps when it comes to women.  Edited by Gordon Shepherd, Lavina Fielding Anderson and Gary Shepherd, Voices for Equality: Ordain Women and Resurgent Mormon Feminism helps to close that gap. Voices for Equality is a compilation of essays, studies, blog articles, and personal stories, written by both scholars and activists currently interested in gender issues within the Mormon context. The editors have divided the book into four sections. The first, “Conceptualizing Issues of Gender and Equality in a Conservative Faith,” presents the development of ideology within the framework of the LDS Church. The second section, “Historical and Cultural Context,” concentrates on female ordination, but does not limit its discussion to the Mormon world. Rather, it encompasses the journey toward female ordination as experienced by other conservative faiths. The third section, “LDS Organizational Structure & Ecclesiastical Dynamics,” provides a brief, but valuable, explanation of the Mormon ecclesiastical structure and how its status quo limits women. The fourth section, “LDS women in the 21st Century Church,” details changes within the Mormon culture. Of particular consideration are changes to mission culture, the expanding influence of the bloggernacle and other social media venues, and the pivotal influence of the Ordain Women movement. At first glance, the opening section may seem broad in focus as to be confusing. However, it serves as an excellent introduction to many issues in LDS feminism and the influential figures who have led the decades-long movement. It includes the background of the beginnings of Ordain Women, as told by Lorie Winder Stromberg.  Gordon and Gary Shepherd join forces in their article, “Conflict and Change in Closed and Open Systems: The Case of the LDS Church,” a clear-cut analysis of the Church’s organization structure, its impact and limitations on women, and the likelihood the status quo will change.  They point out that, because Mormons believe in a Church of continuing revelation, changes can change at any time, but these changes come only from the top, a top that is limited to...

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Evolving Faith: Wanderings of an Mormon Biologist – A Review

Oct 13, 15 Evolving Faith: Wanderings of an Mormon Biologist – A Review

Posted by in Book Reviews, Faith, Featured, Reviews, science

Steve Peck is one eclectic dude. The same guy that uses complex computer models to study evolutionary biology and researches tsetse flies for a living also writes fictional stories featuring characters like the Oxford failed conjoined twins (with a third conscious center comprised of a neural mass) living a cowboy life in Moab Utah, or a poor Soren Johansson who died early from brain cancer to find out that Zoroastrianism was the one true religion and he was stuck in an infinitely (effectively) large library condemned to the most mundane and impossible task imaginable before he could be released from this hell.  Well beyond that he dabbles in philosophy and theology (when I say dabble I mean to indicate that his works are published in top journals/venues, even his poetry has been published in Nature). So with a guy like this I didn’t know quite what to expect in his writing for this volume. Audience By way of critique I have to say that it is not clear who the audience for this book is. An essay collection, which is precisely what Evolving Faith is, can be quite coherent if the essay writer(s) has the collected works in mind. In this case the original writings span more than a decade and come from a range of different sources. So it is understandable that some towards the beginning are suited to a group of students in a selected readings of contemporary philosophy course and others towards the end are more of a general audience type of work (accessible to all that are literate). While I can understand the variance in the type of language used in each essay as well as the expected language/understanding/education of the reader for each essay, I think this volume could have benefited from more editing/curation than it has. I have a hard time imagining the typical undergrad confused by the disparate messages of the religion courses and science courses being able to wade through the ideas, arguments/logic, and vocabulary employed in many of the first few chapters. Perhaps I don’t give enough credit...

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74: John Dominic Crossan at Writ and Vision

http://media.blubrry.com/rationalfaiths/p/rationalfaiths.com/podcast/74CrossonWV.mp3 Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: iTunes | Android | RSS Renowned New Testament scholar and author John Dominic Crossan was featured in the Writ and Vision bookstore on Tuesday, July 28th, to sign copies of his new book, ‘How To Read The Bible And Still Be A Christian.’ In addition to book signing the event included oral reviews of Crossan;s Book from Eric Huntsman (NT scholar teaching at BYU), Kim Berkey (Philosophy of Religion student at Harvard Divinity School), and our own Colby Townsend (student at the University of Utah in Religious Studies and Comparative literature). Following the reviews, Crossan responds and then continues to take questions from the...

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73: Top Ten Books on Mormon History – The Politics of American Religious Identity

http://media.blubrry.com/rationalfaiths/p/rationalfaiths.com/podcast/73ReedSmoot.mp3 Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: iTunes | Android | RSS Many of the history books we read or hear spoken of relate to the 19th century and address topics such as polygamy, priesthood, temple origins, Joseph Smith, and the trek west. The 19th century Mormon experience feels so foreign to our 21st century selves that it boggles the mind in how we arrived at this highly organized institution from the wildly changing one of the 19th century.  Well, the turning point is the Reed Smoot trial starting in 1904. This is when polygamy was more aggressively abandoned and the early church origins were emphasized over the Nauvoo era doctrine and practice. Kathleen Flake produced a phenomenal work highlighting this era in The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle. Here is where the church had a choice to maintain the status quo and drift into dust pile along with other failed 19th century new religious movements or assimilate into the protestant American mainstream as much as possible. Joseph F. Smith chose the latter and is really the reason why we focus on the First Vision rather than section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants these days. TL/DR: In this seventh installment of “Top Ten Books on Mormon History,” Ben and I discuss a wonderfully written analysis on the beginnings of 20th century Mormonism, The Politics of American Religious Identity: The Seating of Senator Reed Smoot, Mormon Apostle. For a short written review of Flake’s book read my take on my personal blog. Additionally a very detailed view of this era that focuses on more changes within the institutional church check out Mormonism in Transition by Thomas Alexander. Our “Top Ten Books on Mormon History” list was composed for someone new to Mormon History. The criteria for inclusion are the book’s demonstration of: Use of a sophisticated academic approach and emphasis on analysis over merely regurgitating data and documents. Coverage of an important person, event, or period in Mormon history...

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A Response to John Dominic Crossan, ‘How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian’

I was invited to respond to John Dominic Crossan a few weeks ago at a book event at Writ & Vision in Provo, Utah. I was honored to spend the time getting to know Dom, and greatly respect his honesty, scholarship, and kindness in allowing me to share a few of my thoughts with him and the audience about his book. The following were my remarks that night in response to his book. –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– The first session that I attended at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature was titled “Use, Misuse, and Impact of the Bible,” and its theme was “Biblical Genocide in Biblical Scholarship.” The session experienced a lively debate, especially between two of the four panelists, Eric Seibert and Hector Avalos on the topic of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. Dr. Seibert is a Professor of Old Testament at Messiah College and identifies as a believing Evangelical Christian. Dr. Avalos is a Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University and is no longer an Evangelical Christian, and identifies as an atheist. Seibert wanted to make clear that the genocide of the Canaanites and the conquest of Israel/Palestine in the Book of Joshua were morally reprehensible events, and something that the God of the Bible would not have commanded. Avalos agreed that this was not something a god would command, but for very different reasons. While Seibert walks the line of calling into question the authority of the Bible and being a traditional believing Christian, Avalos concluded that god does not exist and that we should discard texts that teach divine violence like the Book of Joshua. Although I use the example of these two scholars I do not mean to portray that there are only two paths in approaching how to understand divine violence in the Bible, or that either of those two paths is a better one over the other. John Dominic Crossan’s new book is an example of creating a different path, that I...

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The New Testament Made Harder

The New Testament Made Harder: Scripture Study Questions, by James E. Faulconer, has already been well reviewed in several places. I can’t do a better job of telling you what’s in it than other reviews, and I’m not qualified to give an academic critique, so instead I’ll share a personal story of scripture study and show you a little of how The New Testament Made Harder (henceforth NTMH) affected me when I was offered the chance to review it for Rational Faiths. NTMH Description The New Testament Made Harder is part of a series of books written by James E. Faulconer intended as a study aid for Gospel Doctrine classes. The chapters examine texts assigned for each adult Sunday School class. Faulconer gives a little background, typically in the form of some basic history behind the text, then starts offering the reader questions. The questions are often accompanied by references to related scriptural texts or other information that may guide the student toward deeper or more informed answers without dictating what those answers should be. My Scripture Study Before NTMH When my older brother went on a mission, I wanted to follow his example. So as a Sophomore in high school I committed to read from the scriptures every day. It wasn’t always much, but it got me through the Book of Mormon a couple of times, the New Testament, and almost all of the Old Testament. My Mom had helped me through the Doctrine and Covenants as a Freshman. I read every day with a handful of exceptions for the following 18 years. As a missionary the study increased to at least 30 minutes a day, and afterward continued with 20-30 minutes a day until I was 33. My mission president encouraged us to go beyond the scriptures as part of our study, but to keep the scriptures and the core of our study. Then my wife and I had our first child. With the intense disruption of my patterns brought about by fatherhood,...

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For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism 1830-2013

by Mike Barker Ah, yes. Race. We’ve all heard the aphorism, “Two things you never want to discuss are religion and politics.”  For many whites, we want to add a third thing, “Don’t talk about issues of race.”  But to be honest, we must. Especially those of us born into white privilege. It’s a discussion where us whites need to do a lot more listening to your Black and Latino brothers and sisters and do a lot more talking amongst our white-selves. But it’s hard work. To be honest, it seems most progressive and post-Mormons don’t want to talk about it unless it is to shame the Church. Often the converse is true for traditional believing Mormons –  race is only discussed when trying to defend past racist policies and ongoing institutional racism.  The white American LDS Church just hasn’t figured out how to talk about race and racism as it is reflected in our individual lives; that is just too painful. With that being said, Russell Stevenson’s opening preface to, For the Cause of Righteousness,  is a self-examination of his own white privilege.  In his opening paragraph he states: “One of the tragic luxuries of living a white narrative is the ability to entertain the delusion that non-white populations and their struggles are, at best, irrelevant.” Later in his preface, Stevenson sets up the boundaries of how he is going to approach the global history of Blacks and Mormonism when he states: “Religion is made on the ground as well as it is revealed from Mount Sinai.” That is, Mormonism’s racial attitudes descended from leadership, but also came up from the grass roots.  This is a controversial view for some, as it puts some of the blame on the Mormons that are not in high leadership positions.  Or to be even more explicit, some have called Stevenson’s view, “victim blaming.”  As Stevenson constructs his approach, he presents a complicated and compelling argument of why/how “leadership” doesn’t always lead. CHAPTER ONE In chapter one, Stevenson weaves the well known story...

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