Category Archives: literature

AMG: The Great Mormon Novel Part 2; or, no, seriously, why does Mormonism seem so allergic to scholarship?

Okay, everyone, maybe it’s just the Molly Mormon perfectionist streak in me, but it looks like my answer to last week’s query—“Where is the Great Mormon Novel?”—missed the mark a bit, and I need to give it another go.  For here is a follow-up query sent along by Nick, our diligent but lonely young Mormon scholar in St. Louis. Grab some gorp to munch on, folks, because it’s a long one, but it is worth reading.

Dear Ask Mormon Girl:

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my inquiry. But to tell the truth I was really less interested in the fate of the Great Mormon Novel than in hearing you talk more about the status of Mormon scholars in the humanities.  I know there are a number of influential LDS humanities scholars out there, but I still feel compelled to ask myself where humanist scholarship stands in relation to Mormon culture. As a graduate student in literature I am the perpetual outsider (my wife is also marginalized by default because she is not a “medical school widow”) in wards filled with aspiring physicians, lawyers, and businessmen (and sometimes women).  Each fall when introductions are made in priesthood, special emphasis is given to my marginal status as I am referred to as “our token humanities student” or “the English guy.” When a member of the EQ presidency realized that I wasn’t a medical student on my first Sunday here, his response to me was: “Oh. Well we do have a social work student that just moved in. Perhaps the two of you can be friends.” Periodically I am told (with kind intentions, I’m sure) that “I could never do what you do” by one of my fellow church members, but the subtext is always that “I would never want to and can’t understand why you do.” What makes literary scholarship such a strange pursuit?

This may be nothing more than my limited personal experience, having only been a member of the church since I was 18 and having only lived in Michigan, Missouri, and northern California since that time. Yet I doubt it. A few months ago our current mission president came to speak at our ward and made a point to explain why medical students and physicians eventually make excellent general authorities and church leaders. I felt sick to my stomach as I watched most of the heads in the congregation nod in agreement. What is it about our culture that glorifies these professions as more appropriate that the fabled “life of the mind?” Why must the “bookish” Mormons be isolated and few? Do we have no roles within church leadership? Is our resistance to hierarchy and willingness to deal in contradictions and ambiguities too unstable to be useful/productive?

I love what you said about our role in breaking stereotypes, but at what point should I be concerned that maybe Mormon culture isn’t a living human culture? That maybe we are just as conservative, insular, and intellectually uncurious as I fear? Perhaps it is part of the genetic makeup of literary scholars to be overly anxious about our place in the academy, our communities, our churches, and the world in general. Still, I find myself genuinely confused when I attend my church meetings and leave feeling like I don’t belong there.  Help?

Nick in the STL

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Filed under academics, intellectuals, liberals, literature, social connectedness

Ask Mormon Girl: Where is the Great Mormon Novel?

Dear “Ask Mormon Girl”:

I ran across this article, “The Great Mormon Novel:  Where is it?” about Brady Udall’s The Lonely Polygamist.  The article really struck me because I’m a graduate student studying literature, and I often feel like an outsider–socially, politically, and intellectually–around my peers at church.  Either I belong to a ward where higher education is viewed with suspicion (being a less “worthy” pursuit than “real” jobs), or I belong to a well-educated ward where I am the lone humanities student amongst aspiring lawyers, physicians, and those studying business.  The Slate article references a slightly older article in Dialogue that I have read many times and continue to enjoy. So, to quote the Rectors, “will we ever see the day prophesied by John Taylor, when ‘Zion shall be far ahead of the outside world in everything pertaining to learning of every kind?’” And “can we, and this is the heart of the dilemma, humbly ask the Spirit to guide us beyond our safe and certified, conventional selves?”

Nick from the STL
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Filed under literature, Women

Ask Mormon Girl hits the road: The Our Voices, Our Visions Tour

This week, I’m putting the Ask Mormon Girl column on vacation while I set out for adventure in the Book-of-Mormon Belt.

The Our Voices, Our Visions Mormon Women’s Literary Tour is hitting the road.  It’s the first ever literary tour by and for Mormon women, featuring eighteen Mormon women writers– younger and older, new and prize-winning, unorthodox and orthodox—giving readings at five universities from Claremont University to the University of Utah.

And it all began yesterday when Susan Scott, a fifth-generation RLDS / Community of Christ woman writer, arrived at the San Diego airport from her home in Ontario, Canada.

“I have a confession to make,” I told Susan as she climbed into my car.  “I’ve never really talked with an RLDS woman before.”

“And I’ve never really talked with an LDS woman before either.  Isn’t it amazing?”

Throughout an afternoon walking with my daughters on the shores near La Jolla—Susan is, after all, from wintry Canada; she needs to see some beach—we trade questions about the larger Mormon tradition we share.

“For us, Independence, Missouri is the center of everything,” she tells me.

“That’s kind of true for us too, actually,” I tell her.  “I grew up expecting to go back to Missouri some day. Did you grow up with the Second Coming?”

“Yes.”

“Is it like our Second Coming? With the end times, then Christ’s return, then the millennium, then Satan being loosed again, before the final judgment?”

“Yes.”

Susan tells me that when she was 18, she eloped with the cute musician from RLDS church camp to an RLDS commune in North Carolina.  It was called Zion’s Depot.

“You had RLDS communes?” I ask, jealous.

“It was the 1970s.  And I was very dedicated.  Wasn’t that what we were supposed to be doing? Giving away all our worldly possessions and living the faith?”

It’s dinnertime now. The sun is setting behind my flowering nectarine tree, and my daughters are drawing with colored chalk on our patio.

“You have blessed oil, do you?” she asks.

“Yes, we call it consecrated oil.”

“At the commune, one of the big debates was using blessed oil to heal the cattle.”

“We definitely have blessing cattle stories!”

Tonight, joined by poet Elisa Pulido and fiction writer Lisa Van Orman Hadley, we’ll start with a reading at Claremont Graduate University hosted by Claudia Bushman.  Tomorrow, we’ll drive across the desert to ASU.

We’re hitting the road, hoping to learn more about the tradition we call home, and looking forward to meeting you along the way.

For full details on where to see the Our Voices, Our Visions Tour this week, visit mormonwomenwriters.blogspot.com

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Filed under literature, Women