Session 311 (9:00 a.m., Saturday, September 23)
Title: A Practitioner’s Perspective on the Smith “Holiness to the Lord” Parchment by Nicholas S. Literski, J.D., Ph.D.
Abstract: Since drawing attention in the 1980s, the Smith family’s “Holiness to the Lord” parchment has remained especially enigmatic, in part because scholars lacking personal experience with ceremonial magic have persisted in treating it as the “folk magic” of ignorant country-dwellers, rather than the ceremonial or “high” magic practiced by educated, privileged classes. Viewed from an insider perspective, the parchment is a complex, intellectual, and highly-intentional spiritual tool. Dr. Nick Literski will draw from historic magical texts and related scholarship that has become available in recent decades, as well as insider experience as a practicing ceremonial magician, to reveal new insights (and upend some longstanding assumptions) regarding the “Holiness to the Lord” parchment’s origins, nature, and purposes.
Biographical Sketch: Nick Literski (they/them) is an Adjunct Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and a professional spiritual guide. Dr. Literski’s research interests include spirituality, Paleolithic cave art, ceremonial magic, Mormon history, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Nick’s work has been published in the FARMS Review of Books on The Book of Mormon, as well as multiple scholarly journals and anthologies in the field of depth psychology. Their recent co-authored book, Method Infinite: Freemasonry and the Mormon Restoration, was published by Greg Kofford Books in 2022. Dr. Literski has previously presented on topics related to Mormon history, Freemasonry, and ceremonial magic at conferences of the John Whitmer Historical Association, the Mormon History Association, and Sunstone, as well as various podcasts.
Title: “False Teaching in Regard to Lineage and Matrimony” Lyman Wight and Re-imagining the Latter Day Saint Tradition in Zodiac, Texas by Christopher James Blythe and read by Casey Paul Griffiths
Abstract: I propose to give a talk on what we know about the unique teachings of Lyman Wight in Zodiac, Texas. This, of course, includes his interpretation of the Council of Fifty, which I have written about in some depth previously. However, it also includes how Wight re-instituted temple rites in Zodiac (curiously, he performed both interpretations of the Kirtland endowment and Nauvoo endowment). He performed adoptive sealings in order to undo what Brigham Young had instituted in the Nauvoo Temple (I’ll explain that in the talk). He also instituted a series of rules about marriage, which included who one could marry based on the tribes which individuals are assigned in patriarchal blessings (as well as arranged marriage). Wight also used a divining rod, performed faith healings, and referenced apparitions. He insisted he had a continued relationship with the deceased Joseph Smith. He developed arguments for why Joseph Smith III should succeed his father, as well as arguments about his own importance as a messianic figure who would lead the Saints to Missouri. I will discuss all of these ideas and both argue that Wight’s later views are already hinted at earlier in his life but develop in conflict with Brigham Young.
Biographical Sketch: Christopher James Blythe is a research associate at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. He is the editor of the Journal of Mormon History and was a documentary editor at the Joseph Smith Papers from 2015 to 2018. The paper will be ready by Christopher’s wife, Christine Elyse Blythe. Christine is the William A. Wilson Folklore Archives Specialist at Brigham Young University and a scholar of vernacular religion and belief. From 2017 to 2021 she was editor of the Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies and is currently co-president of the Folklore Society of Utah and Executive Director of the Mormon History Association.
Session 312 (9:00 a.m., Saturday, September 23)
Title: Urbanism and the early LDS movement by Andrew Ankersen
Abstract: In his 1975 book The Venture of Islam Marshall Hodgson proposed that Islam developed as a direct result of the growing spread and importance of urban living in the Arabian Peninsula in the late 500s and early 600s C.E. With this framing in mind Hodgson understands Islam as the first truly urban religion and uses this fact to explain certain aspects of its theology, spread and practice. Borrowing from this framework this paper will argue that the changing scope of urbanism in the United States more generally and Upstate New York specifically provided the material conditions necessary for The Latter Day Saints movement to take off. Contrary to the case laid out by Hodgson that the wide scale embrace of urbanism by previously rural people lead to religious innovation, I will argue that in the case of the early church it was the rejection existing urban society that lead to the rapid spread of such innovations. This is not to say that early Latter Day Saints rejected urbanism wholesale, the Plan of Zion makes it clear that the spread of city living was taken as something inevitable. It is nevertheless the case that all early Latter Day Saints city planning projects had a distinct impetus and flavor. I would further argue that this framing can shed light on not only the practices of the early Latter Day Saints movement but the second great awakening more generally.
Biographical Sketch: Andrew Ankersen is a Graduate Student at the McGill school of religious studies. Currently pursuing a Master’s Degree focusing on the Greek influence on late second temple Jewish writing using postcolonial approaches. Before attending McGill he went to NYU where he received a BA in Linguistics and Hebrew and Judaic Studies. While he doesn’t study it formally he takes a keen interest in early LDS history as it intersects well with his other interests, namely large human migrations and religious development in colonial environments.
Title: Cryptomnesia, Trances, and Other Psychological Phenomena That Can Explain the Translation of the Book of Mormon by Ellen C. Miller, Ed.D.
Abstract: Despite amateur and professional archeologists finding no support for the events recorded in the Book of Mormon, there are records that demonstrate that many of the places and events described in the Book of Mormon are similar to places and events in the life of Joseph Smith, Jr., such as Joseph Smith, Jr., and Nephi sharing a similar family constellation, being the third son of their respective families. The phenomena of inducing a trance state and revealing information thought previously unknown (as Joseph Smith, Jr., did when translating the Book of Mormon) has occurred with other persons throughout history, the best-known person to do this besides Joseph Smith, Jr., was Edgar Cayce. This presentation will explore not only how the translation process of the Book of Mormon was not unique to Joseph Smith, Jr., but also how many of the details of the places, events, and persons described in the Book of Mormon mirror places, events, and person in the life of Joseph Smith, Jr. Cryptomnesia is a psychological phenomena when a person reports an event that he/she/they believe to be new information, but is actually something they experienced or learned in the past. Examples of self-induced trance-induction and cryptomnesia will be provided.
Biographical Sketch: Ellen Miller, Ed.D., is a retired educator who spent most of her career testing students with special needs to determine appropriate educational placement and services. Community of Christ/LDS history has been a life-long interest which has become easier to indulge since her retirement in the spring of 2022.
Session 313 (9:00 a.m., Saturday, September 23)
Title: The Lord’s Supper in the early Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by Michael H. Nielsen (RS)
Abstract: The Lord’s Supper is a less distinctive and contemplated feature of the early Reorganization. This paper examines various concerns of carrying out the Lord’s Supper during worship services along with theological reflection on its meaning and usefulness. Relevant data culled from the faith’s periodicals provides an interpretive backbone on which to demonstrate the printed word’s value as a dialogue venue and ecclesiastical control tool for the Lord’s Supper. The RLDS doctrine and practice of the Lord’s Supper served not only as an element in theological moderation with conservative slanting. It maintained doctrinal continuity to Joseph Smith Jr.’s revelations without being prescriptive. Ultimately the paper intends to fill a small lacuna in RLDS historiography and spark an elevated cognizance of an essential Christian ritual in the unique context of antipolygamous Latter Day Saintism.
Biographical Sketch: Michael H. Nielsen is a native of Saint George, Utah, and alumnus of Dixie State (Utah Tech) University. He worked as an intern at the Joseph Smith Historic Site in Nauvoo, Illinois; the Kirtland Temple Historic Site in Kirtland, Ohio; and as a docent at Silver Reef Museum in Leeds, Utah. He operates a nonpartisan website that serves as an outlet for his curiosity in Mormon history. When he is not researching or reading, he enjoys hiking, bowling, and chocolate chip cookies.
Title: Who Was the First Female Latter-day Saint Baptized in England? Does It Even Matter? by Robyn Spears (RS)
Abstract: Generations of Latter-day Saints in Idaho and Utah believed their ancestor, Ann Elizabeth Hodgkinson Wamsley Palmer, was the first female baptized in England. Testimonies, a church magazine article, and even Palmer’s Bear Lake grave marker testified to the validity of this history. Meanwhile, a thousand miles away in Missouri, generations of members of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believed their ancestor, Ann Cottam Dawson, was the first female baptized in England. Testimonies, a church newspaper obituary, and a letter written by Dawson herself witness the truth of this claim. So, who was it? Palmer or Dawson? This lecture will put this debate to rest.
Biographical Sketch: Robyn Spears enters her fourth year as a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Arkansas. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Brigham Young University (1999) and her master’s degree in history at the University of Arkansas (2020). Most recently, she is the recipient of the 2023 Religious Studies Center Dissertation Grant from the Department of Religious Education at Brigham Young University and the 2023 Ralph V. Turner Endowed Travel Award from the Department of History at Fulbright College at the University of Arkansas. Robyn and her husband, Greg, have five brilliant children and one adorable dog.
Session 314 (9:00 a.m., Saturday, September 23)
Title: Mormon presence determines 1867 Texas Supreme Court case by Katherine F. Peake
Abstract: During their wanderings in Texas, Lyman Wight and his followers cleared land, built homes, and farmed in several places, including Lower South Grape Creek. After leaving Gillespie County for Burnet County, other pioneer settlers purchased and moved onto 10 tracts of land along Grape Creek. Subsequently, in 1853, the original patent holder brought a “trespass to try title” lawsuit against these settlers. Of the 10 tracts in question, one settler was able to keep his land, using the doctrine of adverse possession. This settler was able to attach the time of Mormon occupation to his time of occupation and thus meet the legal requirements for adverse possession. Of the 10 purchasers, he alone received a favorable outcome in the Texas Supreme Court ruling in 1867. The nine other purchasers were not so fortunate and either had to buy the land a second time or move off. If not for the Wightite presence, this one landowner would not have been awarded possession. Focusing on the Wightites on Grape Creek, using Gillespie County District and County Court records, the memoire of Levi Lamoni Wight, Gillespie County family histories and interviews, and other published sources, this paper will explore how the Mormon presence on Lower South Grape Creek has uniquely benefited one non-Mormon pioneer family.”
Biographical Sketch: Katherine Peake raised her 5 children on Lower South Grape Creek near a Wightite farm in Gillespie County, Texas, prior to their settlement at Zodiac. Neither a Mormon nor a historian, Katherine has uncovered a story involving Mormons, German pioneer settlers and lawsuits. A licensed Texas attorney, Katherine served as the Fredericksburg Municipal Judge from 1984-2011.
Title: A Book of Joseph—and Oliver: Collaborators for a Seer’s Autobiography by Susan Staker
Abstract: In the wake of Oliver Cowdery’s 1838 excommunication, Joseph Smith begins the autobiography canonized in Utah, his final work on the project a year later in Nauvoo. Joseph never takes this history beyond fall 1830 when he sends Oliver west to find the New Jerusalem. After narrating events before Oliver’s arrival, Joseph settles into a structure for the autobiography: a chronological arc of revelations dictated from 1828 to 1830 (mostly to Oliver), each with a new introduction. That Joseph includes 1835 versions for the Doctrine and Covenants, often revised, makes the telling strange. Most of the revisions Joseph makes in 1835, again with Oliver as scribe, re-imagine the 1828-1830 texts. Joseph’s 1838/1839 introductions amplify these changes. Many details, both in Joseph’s story of angel and gold plates and in revised early revelations, are first previewed in letters about Joseph’s early history written and published by Oliver beginning in September 1834, with Joseph’s input. This paper reexamines the arc of Joseph’s autobiographical projects against this early and continuing confluence of collaboration and negotiation—Joseph and Oliver, first and second.
Biographical Sketch: Susan Staker is an independent historian living with her husband Don Stout on Whidbey Island in Washington state, where she reads, writes, gardens, rides the ferry, and walks her dog. In past lives, she did editorial work for Adobe Systems, Signature Book, and Sunstone magazine and studied narrative theory at the University of Utah. In addition to publishing multiple articles on Joseph Smith, she co-authored Sisters and Little Saints: One Hundred Years of Primary (with Carol Cornwall Madsen) and edited Waiting for World’s End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff and Mormon Mavericks: Essays on Dissenters (with John Sillito). She has presented on Joseph Smith at Mormon History Association, John Historical Whitmer Association, American Academy of Religions (Northwest), Sunstone, and Joseph Smith Papers.
Panel 321 (10:45 a.m., Saturday, September 23)
Panel Title: Bridging Various Restoration Groups by Rick C. Bennett, Steven Pynakker, and David Boice
Abstract: Social media influences share their experiences in bridging various restoration groups and other Christian denominations.
Biographical Sketch: Rick Bennett is the friendly, independent historian at the heart of Gospel Tangents Podcast: The Best Source for Mormon History, Science, and Theology. When he isn’t interviewing LDS scholars, Restoration prophets, and other Mormon experts, he is teaching math and statistics at Utah Valley University. He also freelances in the network television/cable T.V. industries as a sports statistician. Rick holds a Master of statistics degree from the University of Utah, and has worked as a research biostatistician in the fields of dermatology and traumatic brain injuries.
Biographical Sketch: Biographical Sketch: Steven Pynakker hosts the YouTube podcast Mormon Book Reviews. He is an Evangelical who started his YouTube channel in March of 2021. He had a lifelong interest in Mormonism and decided to start a channel where he would review the books of his collection. Mormon Book Reviews is now one of the fastest growing Mormon Podcasts in the industry.
Biographical Sketch: Fuzzy, bald-headed, and ready to fire-off the best dad jokes–Dave Boice is a faith-based Christian author living on Planet Earth. After spending a year touring the United States to attend some of the world’s most interesting churches, he wrote about the experience in his spiritual memoir, 52 Churches in 52 Weeks. Some laughed, some cried, some stuck it in their car’s glove compartment and promised him they’d read it later. He shares his experiences and insights on YouTube at 52 Churches in 52 Weeks.
Session 322 (10:45 a.m., Saturday, September 23)
Title: Policing Polygamous Women: Plural Wives, the “Raid,” and the Federal Regulation of Sexuality in the Early Progressive Era by Makoto Hunter
Abstract: On paper, the Edmunds Antipolygamy Act of 1882 specifically targeted men as criminal polygamists and defined women as victims. However, as federal agents sought convictions, their attention turned from polygamist men as defendants to polygamous women as potential witnesses. Prosecutors considered the bodily presence of a plural wife an ideal smoking gun to prove unlawful cohabitation. Federal marshals went out of their way to surveill and subpoena plural wives to testify against their husbands. A law ostensibly targeting men instead precipitated monitoring women. This paper examines the federal state’s assertion of power over women’s bodies in the history of late-nineteenth-century antipolygamy. Not only a clash between church and state, the 1880s antipolygamy “Raid” also pitted women against a government which claimed authority to know and control their bodies.
Biographical Sketch: Makoto Hunter is a graduate student in American history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Studying and writing on religion, sexuality, and the carceral state in America, she currently researches the federal policing of women’s bodies in the Progressive Era, the place of late-nineteenth-century antipolygamy enforcement in the histories of sexuality and crime, and romance literature among Latter-day Saints. Portions of her work can be found online in the Intermountain Histories public history project and the 2023 Association for Mormon Letters virtual conference recordings.
Title: The Curtis Family, companions on the Journey by Daniel M. Kelty
Abstract: The Curtis families of Oakland County Michigan had various family members participate with Lyman Wight on the Zions Camp march, the Pineries mission, and the Texas colony. Their kids continued the journeys with the Mormon Battalion and a flee to San Bernardino Ca to avoid conscription in the Texas confederate army.
Biographical Sketch: Daniel M. Kelty is a retired librarian Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is historian for the Headwaters Mission Center, Community of Christ. He has two published papers in JWHA Journals and contributes to BYU’s Mormon Places website with information on RLDS, Cutlerite, Strangite, and Southern California RLDS branches. He has two grandchildren and seven great grand children . He has a library degree from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and over 40 years serving as historian for his church. He currently has a website, www.seekyebestbooks.com to share his research and distribute books and materials from his collection of over 10,000 items relating to the restoration groups.
Session 323 (10:45 a.m., Saturday, September 23)
Title: From Clueless Kid to a Theology of Love and Justice by William D. Russell (RS)
Abstract: As a young child he was sure that the church he attended was the “one true church” but he couldn’t tell you why. As he grew older he was mainly interested in a variety of sports but didn’t take religion seriously until he was 15 and reluctantly attended a week-long youth camp directed by a young missionary named Bob Flanders, a future professor at Graceland. At Flint Northern High School he considers his teammates on the track and cross country teams, most of whom were black, extremely important in his life. Additionally, his family finally bought a TV set in his senior year, 1955-56, which happened to be the year of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which led him to take racial issues seriously and to study the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at length over the years. He has also been influenced by the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, and John Shelby Spong. As a religion major at Graceland he was greatly influenced by his major professor Dr. Roy Cheville. In church history he was influenced by Richard Howard, Paul Edwards, Alma Blair, Leonard Arrington and others. The end result of Bill’s studies and other influences was the creation of a theology focused on love and justice.
Biographical Sketch: William D. Russell is one of only four living members of the 14 persons who met at RLDS Church Historian Richard and Barbara Howard’s home in September 1972 to found the John Whitmer Historical Association. The other three are Dick Howard, Grant McMurray, and Pat Spillman. Bill is the only founder who is present at the 2023 annual meeting in Fredericksburg, Texas. He has a B.A. in religion from Graceland College in 1960, an M.Div. from Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri in 1967, and the Juris Doctor (JD) from the University of Iowa in 1976. He also has 75 graduate hours in history from Saint Paul and the University of Iowa, where he had five courses in American Religious History from Sidney Mead. Mead mentored Martin Marty and several other leading historians of American Religion when he taught at the University of Chicago before moving to the University of Iowa. Bill is a former President of the John Whitmer Historical Association and the Mormon History Association. He taught American history, religion, and politics at Graceland for 41 years, plus ten years parttime. He also wrote a “Political Scene” column in the Lamoni Chronicle newspaper for 50 years. He is now retired and living in Lamoni, Iowa. He continues to be very active in church history.
Session 324 (10:45 a.m., Saturday, September 23)
Title: Meet one of the Authors of Hawn’s Mills Hamlet: A Phase III Archaeological Investigation by Paul DeBarthe
Abstract: As part of the JWHA Books archaeology monograph series, Paul DeBarthe and Michael S. Riggs wrote about their five-year project conducting a Phase III archaeological investigation of the Hawn’s Mills historical site in Caldwell County, Missouri. Paul and Mike propose to present a power-point (including many photos not included in the book) and artifact display session to discuss aspects of the research findings in their book. More specifically, they will delve more in-depth into how the project came to be, was funded and provide credit to those that helped made it happen. Paul and Mike will discuss some of the myths about the Hawn’s Mills saga that their research uncovered. Highlight will be given to the not-so surprising evidence discovered of a 2,000-year-old Middle-Woodland occupation. A note will be made about how Mormon era artifacts recovered during a 1970s BYU excavation conducted at Adam-Ondi-Ahman were compared with the findings at Hawn’s Mills and how use of this information will now become a useful tool for work others may do at other Caldwell/Daviess County locations. Then there was the sticky issue of what was to be done about the dry well location where 15 bodies were hastily interred. This controversial topic will be asked and answered. Finally, Paul and Mike will conclude with recommendations for future work at the now LDS Church owned Hawn’s Mills site. Time will be left for lively questions and answers following the presentation.
Biographical Sketch: Paul DeBarthe serves as lead archeologist at the Joseph Smith Historic Site, Nauvoo, Illinois where this summer exciting discoveries at the Times and Seasons…, no, we are talking about Hawn’s Mills Hamlet and the Lyman Wight site. Paul hosts the Book of Mormon Perspectives Forum on Zoom on Monday evenings with participants from across the Mormon spectrum and beyond. With a career as teacher, archaeological experience since 1971 with Robert T. Bray at the Summer Kitchen and Bee House, and fascinating discoveries to report from more than 20 seasons of archaeological investigation in multiple countries and states, he promotes the entelechy of history..
Session 331 Presidential Banquet & Address (6:30 p.m., Saturday, September 23)
Title: Saints in Space! by Casey Paul Griffiths
Abstract: Restoration historians are fond of talking about life on the frontier, but in Texas we have the history of the frontier can be found alongside history of the final frontier! Members of Restoration faiths have played a vital role in the development, operation, and continued vitality of space exploration. Approaching this new frontier raises a number of vital questions about religion, the cosmos, and the place of faith in the Space Age.
Biographical Sketch: Casey Paul Griffiths was born and raised in Delta, Utah. He served a mission in Fort Lauderdale, Florida before returning home to complete a B.A. degree in History at Brigham Young University (2002). He later earned a M.A. In Religious Education and a PhD in Educational Leadership and Foundations at BYU (2007, 2012). His studies focused on the development of religious education programs among the Latter-day Saints. Prior to joining the faculty in Religious Education at BYU, Brother Griffiths served in Seminaries and Institutes for eleven years as a teacher and a curriculum writer. His research focuses on the history of religious education among Latter-day Saints, the history of the Church in the Pacific, and diverse movements associated with the Restoration. He loves the diversity of the Restoration movements and currently serves as president of the John Whitmer Historical Association. He is married to Elizabeth Ottley Griffiths, and they live in Saratoga Springs with their four adorable children.
Hymn Fest (9:00 a.m., Sunday, September 24)
Title: Historic Hymns of the Restoration by Brian C. Hales
Abstract: The 2023 JWHA Sunday Hymn Fest will include historical songs you’ve never sung before, including one from the Lyman Wight 1847 hymnal with lyrics by Austin A. Cowles! Hymns from the major branches of the Restoration will be sung and enjoyed in this musical service for all attendees. Come even if you just want to listen, enjoy the lyrics, and learn more about their historical contexts.
Biographical Sketch: Brian C. Hales is the author or co-author of seven books dealing with plural marriage—most notably the three-volume, Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: History and Theology (Greg Kofford Books, 2013) He and his wife Laura are the current webmasters of JosephSmithsPolygamy.org. Presently, Brian is working on two book-length manuscripts dealing with Joseph Smith’s treasure seeking and the authorship of the Book of Mormon. He served a mission to Venezuela for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for fourteen years. Brian is also past president of the Utah Medical Association (2013) and the John Whitmer Historical Association (2015).