Sisters in Spirit

Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective

Book Notice

Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, edited by Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavina Fielding Anderson (University of Illinois Press, 1987; paperback, 1992)

When Sisters in Spirit first appeared, it was one of only a handful of scholarly works about Mormon women collectively (as opposed to works focusing biographically on an individual’s experiences). It also broke ground as the first scholarly book to discuss several cultural issues affecting the self-identity of an American Mormon woman. Those who missed Sisters in Spirit in 1987 may want to take advantage of this new printing; its articles are still basic to a discussion of Mormon culture.

Some of the articles seek to clarify the present through the perspective of Mormonism’s past. Jill Mulvay Derr traces the rise and the fall and the signs of a rekindling of communal sisterhood. Linda P. Wilcox looks at the changing official views of motherhood and their effects on women’s feelings of (in)adequacy. Linda King Newell provides one view of the role of such spiritual gifts as healing and speaking in tongues in the lives of women from Kirtland days to the present. Carol Cornwall Madsen explores the centrality of temple worship, its power and purpose, in the spiritual lives of “the first generation of Mormon women” (103). She proposes that the meaning of the temple remains unchanged for women.

Two articles focus on scriptural definitions of women. Melodie Moench Charles notes the diverse valuations of women as depicted in the scriptures and presents her opinion as to which valuations have been selected by modern Mormon culture. Jolene Edmunds Rockwood, citing several LDS authorities, liberates Eve from the stigma of the subjugation and curses sometimes read into the Garden of Eden story; in the process she suggests that modern woman reappraise herself.

The nine articles in Sisters in Spirit offer significant, though not definitive, accounts. As Grethe Ballif Peterson comments, “These working definitions [of priesthood] are limited. They come from only eight women, though they echo concerns heard from hundreds of women in dozens of settings. They are still in process and very directly related to individual experiences” (268).

In her conclusion, Linda P. Wilcox also notes the workings of diversity: “The widening ‘theology’ [concerning Heavenly Mother] which is developing is more of a ‘folk,’ or at least speculative, theology than a systematic development by theologians or a set of definitive pronouncements from ecclesiastical leaders. For the moment, Mother in Heaven can be almost whatever an individual Mormon envisions her to be” (74).

These articles have stimulated research and discussion, both of which have been further fueled by the diversity of Mormon women themselves.


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