Kate Holbrook and Matthew Bowman, eds., Women and Mormonism: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016)
This offering from the University of Utah Press showcases current scholarship on women and Mormonism and was edited and compiled by Kate Holbrook and Matthew Bowman, seasoned scholars in the field of religious (and specifically Mormon) studies. The book comprises a tapestry of essays, mostly drawn from an August 2012 conference about women and the LDS Church. The theme of the conference and subsequently this book is, appropriately, agency—both a common central theme in the field of women’s studies and an essential component of Mormon doctrine since Joseph Smith.
In the growing corpus of academic publications about Mormon women (At the Pulpit and A House Full of Females being a couple of the most recent), Women and Mormonism is unique in its breadth and scope. As stated by the editors, this collection is the first work in over twenty years to offer “a combined thematic, cultural, and historical approach to the study of Mormon women” (3). In addition, one of the book’s primary purposes is to inspire and promote additional scholarship, and in that regard, the book moves beyond the stated theme of agency and paints a picture of not only the present state of studies on women and Mormonism but also what these studies could and should look like in the future.
Those interested in seeing a more inclusive approach to women’s and Mormon studies—one that both honors traditional historical work and embraces new disciplines and new voices—will take great interest in this volume. The editors included perspectives from a diverse group of scholars and “gathered essays from outside the historical and theological disciplines to address myriad aspects of the Mormon experience” (3). These other disciplines include the social sciences and personal narratives. In this book, readers will find contributions from scholars who are well published in the field of Mormon studies and/or women’s studies (for example, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Claudia Bushman, and Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye). They will also find non-LDS perspectives (for instance, that of Mary Farrel Bednarowski, a Roman Catholic). In addition to essays by several other scholars, the collection includes personal accounts from nonscholar laypersons (including narratives collected by Neylan McBaine and others as part of the Mormon Women Project). And several of the essays feature the perspectives of women of color and of women from outside of the United States (for example, P. Jane Hafen, a Taos Pueblo Mormon scholar, and Mariama Kallon, an asylee from Sierra Leone).
The twenty-one essays in this collection are organized into four parts: “Historical Methodology Perspectives,” “Historical Narrative Perspectives,” “Contemporary Social Science Perspectives,” and “Contemporary Personal Perspectives.” Given the multidisciplinary nature of the collection, the essays draw from a breadth of sources, including primary documents, surveys, interviews, and oral histories. A short sampling of the topics discussed include women’s agency in the context of priesthood authority and polygamy, women’s material culture and ritual objects, Heavenly Mother, LDS women in the Pacific in the nineteenth century, the issue of reformation within the Church, and Mormon women and gender norms in Europe.
The essays in this collection reveal Mormon women’s studies to be a rich and broad field with room for many applications. This book is an excellent overview of the many facets of this field that is continuing to grow and garner interest and offers a glimpse of where studies of women and Mormonism may move in the future.