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Annual Meeting: American Society of Church History 2016


At the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Church History, Professor Flake will present her paper “The Abraham Mythos and Mormon Marriage, Early and Late” and serve as a member of the Society’s Finance Committee. Doctoral student Bradley Kime will present his paper, “Religious Outsiders and the Catholic Critique of Protestantism in America.”

Kathleen Flake, “The Abraham Mythos and Mormon Marriage, Early and Late”

Session: “The Nineteenth-Century American Scriptural Imagination: Three Case Studies”

Abstract:  Among America’s early nineteenth-century restorationists, Joseph Smith was distinguished by his attention to the Christian Old Testament. Portrayals of the Israelite covenant and the prophet-patriarchs who negotiated its maintenance captured his religion-making imagination. Abraham received particular attention in Smith’s canonical Book of Abraham; produced during the years he initiated “plural” or “patriarchal” marriage. The new text introduced Abram as a seeker: made spiritually fatherless by Terah’s idolatry and searching “for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same.” As in the traditional account, Abram’s quest climaxes in theophany and receipt of the promises that constitute Israel’s cultic or priestly relationship to God. In Smith’s scriptural retelling and ritual instantiation of this covenant in marriage, the new Abraham is not without Sarah (or, for that matter Hagar and Ketura) in achieving priestly mediating status and progeny. These blessings made him father of nations and, for Christians, father of the faithful “rock[ed] in the bosom of Abraham.” Smith’s modern contribution to this mythos and its metaphors is to overtly link Abraham’s spiritual and literal fatherly capacities to his status as a husband by investing in temple marriage a mutually held, reciprocity of priestly power. Expressed most concretely as a procreative power, this marital priesthood was the means by which holiness or the divine nature was believed to be inculcated in the parties and their progeny. In this theology and its ritual expressions, we see the basis for both nineteenth-century and contemporary Mormonism’s preoccupation with marriage, family, and childbirth as quintessentially religious endeavors

Bradley Kime, “Religious Outsiders and the Catholic Critique of Protestantism in America”

Session: “The Uses of Propaganda in American Religious History: Catholicism, Mormonism, Protestantism”

Abstract: In the long nineteenth century, widespread Catholic commentary cast a congeries of (ir)religious outsiders as an indictment of Protestantism in America. To Catholics, Mormons and Millerites, atheists and agnostics, Spiritualists and Christian Scientists were the exegetical and educational products of Protestantism. And, to such Catholics, mainstream Protestant reactions to these groups exposed the contradictions of Protestant power and anti-Catholic discourse in America. Catholics argued that proliferating (ir)religious radicals ultimately belied Protestants’ portrayals of their own exegetical, intellectual, and politico-religious freedom from Catholic oppression. And as they countered Protestant characterizations of Catholic oppression, Catholics laid bare the mechanics of their own marginalization. What Protestants had to say about Catholicism and Catholic oppression has been carefully studied, but Catholics’ critiques of their American Protestant critics have received less attention. This historiographical imbalance tends to obscure historical Catholic perspectives on American religious history, reduce a polemical dialogue to a Protestant monologue, and exaggerate the cogency of American anti-Catholic discourse. As one initial corrective, this paper tracks widespread Catholic uses of radical religious outsiders to critique Protestantism in America. Moreover, this historical Catholic commentary is significant because it illuminates another domain of responsive strategies available to objects of religious prejudice. Outsider groups, scholars have often argued, maligned and distanced themselves from each other in order to prove their own Protestant-looking American-ness to mainstream Protestants. The Catholics considered in this study constitute an important counterexample with broad significance for the study of American religion as they used other outsiders to challenge and critique—rather than appeal to—the Protestant center of America.