Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy

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Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy
Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy
Editor Miranda Wilcox Editor John D. Young
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014

Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy

Reviewer Gerrit van Dyk

Wilcox and Young have set out to address the relatively narrow focus of the LDS Great Apostasy Narrative, which tends to disparage, or at least discount, Christian theologians and historians after the death of the original Apostles until AD 1820. Each contributor to Standing Apart attempts to contextualize and perhaps complicate this narrative by showing a more nuanced approach to this period of Christian history. Dursteler’s updated work on the Great Apostasy establishes a strong foundation for the remaining chapters. Both of the editors also have their own contributions to the volume. Without reviewing every chapter in the book due to space, some highlights might be excused.


While there have been dozens of important devotional books about Mormonism and its doctrinal concept of the Great Apostasy, little has been published from a scholarly perspective. Ten years ago, BYU Press published a collection of new studies about the Apostasy in Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy (2005; reviewed in BYU Studies 44:3), and there has been a smattering of articles over the years on the subject, including Eric Dursteler’s important “Inheriting the ‘Great Apostasy: The Evolution of Mormon Views on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.’” Dursteler’s essay was originally published in Journal of Mormon History (2002), subsequently reprinted in Early Christians in Disarray, and now included in Standing Apart in an updated and revised form. Dursteler’s chapter is the only previously published contribution of Standing Apart’s thirteen excellent chapters (fourteen if you include Terryl Givens’s epilogue).

The editors, Miranda Wilcox and John D. Young, are associate professor of English at Brigham Young University and associate professor of history at Flagler College, respectively. Wilcox specializes in medieval literature, and Young specializes in medieval history.

Wilcox and Young have set out to address the relatively narrow focus of the LDS Great Apostasy Narrative, which tends to disparage, or at least discount, Christian theologians and historians after the death of the original Apostles until AD 1820. Each contributor to Standing Apart attempts to contextualize and perhaps complicate this narrative by showing a more nuanced approach to this period of Christian history. As was mentioned, Dursteler’s updated work on the Great Apostasy establishes a strong foundation for the remaining chapters. Both of the editors also have their own contributions to the volume. Without reviewing every chapter in the book due to space, some highlights might be excused.

Of particular note, Spencer Young offers a fine piece on the rich intellectual and spiritual environment that was the Middle Ages, a period too often viewed as theologically and artistically backwards and provincial. Lincoln Blumell discusses the documents and sources surrounding the Council of Nicaea, encouraging Latter-day Saints to reconsider some of their assumptions about the Nicene Creed as it relates to Christian and LDS theology. Additionally, David D. Peck draws parallels between Mormonism and Islam, their views of religious pluralism, and each religion’s acknowledgement of divine inspiration among members of other faiths.

Readers familiar with LDS theology will find each of the chapters in Standing Apart insightful and well researched. Scholars of early Christianity and Mormonism will likewise benefit from the academic treatment of this topic.