--POSTPONED-- 2020 Conference Program
Updated: Mar 31
The 2020 Mormon Scholars in the Humanities Annual Meeting will be held at Pembroke College, University of Oxford, March 26-28 in Oxford, UK. The conference theme is “Aesthetics.”
THURSDAY, MARCH 26
Excursus, being a particular tour of sites of probable but not necessarily general interest
Led by Catherine Taylor
FRIDAY, MARCH 27
8:00-8:45 a.m. Breakfast (Campus lodgers—Pembroke College Dining Hall) and Registration (Outside Pichette Auditorium)
8:45 a.m. Welcome and Benediction: Shawn Tucker, MSH Vice-President (Elon U)
9:00-10:20 Session 1 Silence, seeing, and expressing
Religious silence and art
Religious Silence and Art: A religious silence is the silence of a speaker who has learned to still or quiet herself – in prayer, in meditation, in seeking attunement to the hidden meaning of things. A religious silence restrains itself, choosing not to add to the chaos and din of the world. In this paper, I offer a partial taxonomy of silence, and explore the phenomenology of religious silence through painting, literature, and music.
Mark Wrathall, Oxford University
Seeing and representation: the beholder’s share
What we see (visual salience) is—in the sciences—largely given by the inherent nature of cues and stimuli. The strong program of “reality-reading,” observation and measurement, has led to powerful breakthroughs and scientific advances. In this paper, I discuss the unintended consequences of this strong program and its foundations in (psycho)physics. I argue that insights from the arts and humanities offer a window into an alternative paradigm, which also has a scientific basis. I compare and contrast these two forms of seeing and offer a tentative, “unified” way forward.
Teppo Felin, Oxford University
Duende, death, and the practice of expressing faith
The Spanish poet Lorca draws on the figure of Duende to articulate an ambiguous aesthetic that balances both power and fragility, a celebration of life that can only be achieved when the possibility of death is immanent. While Duende, in Lorca’s reading, appears to be more readily available to some performers than others, it is not entirely reducible to technical skill. Rather, Duende flows from the internal struggle with the contradictions of our mortality. Lorca's exploration of Duende is conducted through certain art forms - namely, bullfighting and flamenco - but the argument of this paper is that Duende can be applied to religious contexts too. Indeed, the phenomenon of Duende appears to have certain religious dimensions that connect easily with the performative elements of how we express our faith through sermons.
Aaron Reeves, Oxford University
Moderator: Jonathon Penny
10:30-11:50 Session 2a Sacred arts?
Karen Lynn’s “The Mormon Sacred and the Mormon Profane” (1980): How much of “an aesthetic dilemma” forty years later (2020)?
In 1980, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and in response to President Spencer Kimball’s talk on “The Gospel Vision of the Arts,” the BYU Press issued a collection of essays edited by Steven Sondrup and entitled Arts and Inspiration: Mormon Perspectives. The year 2020 marks four decades since those collected essays appeared in print and provides an opportunity for revisiting and reflecting on positions therein argued. With the recent passing of English professor, historian, musician, and hymn-writer Karen Lynn (née), who was the author of one of the most provocative essays, I would like to honor her by addressing the aesthetic dilemma she advanced in “The Mormon Sacred and the Mormon Profane: An Aesthetic Dilemma” to gauge where and to what extent we have made progress in the past forty years.
Madison Sowell, Brigham Young University (Emeritus)
Mormon kitsch: a Deweyan critique of aesthetics in Mormon worship and culture
John Dewey describes aesthetic experience as a mindful moment of transformational, meaningful, and engaged presence of the embodied creature within its ever-shifting physical environment. This type of experience helps the creature find adaptation through struggle, as well as harmony and enjoyment in the world. Religious worship must take on the challenge of cultivating aesthetic experience in its practices for the sake of developing a better character in its disciples, a strong sense of shared history amongst its people, and an institutional responsiveness to need within the community. These qualities are vital for connecting with and reforming a society suffering from aesthetic anemia, which has led to a Mormon culture that produces and consumes art kitsch and frequently flattens out a richly layered doctrine. Practical suggestions for more intentional integration of the aesthetic into Mormon worship are offered. Analysis of the roles of poet, prophet, and president establish a framework for reclaiming the artist’s role as arbiters of meaningful art production within the Mormon community, rather than institutional leadership.
Faith Kershisnik, Independent Scholar
The arts of mormonism
As producer of Brigham Young University’s annual theatre season, I have observed that many patrons’ discourse of theatre has abandoned a nuanced understanding of art, in exchange for an aesthetic framework of “entertainment.” Perhaps this should not be surprising, since the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet—published by the same religious organization that sponsors BYU—is also absent any discussion of art, referring only to “entertainment” and “media.” Inspired by this set of observations, my presentation will begin to ponder the ways that “art” functions within the discourse of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the attendant Utah Mormon Culture. Moreover, I will begin to ask how else we might think about art—as non-conceptual object (Adorno) or as part of a “distribution of the sensible” (Rancière)—and, more importantly, how this re-thinking might benefit the LDS Church’s mission, which Utah Mormon Culture ostensibly supports.
Wade Hollingshaus, Brigham Young University
Moderator: Jenny Webb
10:30-11:50 Session 2b Aesthetics of/and (Mormon) women
Allen & Overy Seminar Room
A brief history of heavenly mother in Latter-day Saint poetry and art
I will share a brief aesthetic history of Mother in Heaven in poetry and art, focusing especially on the flourishing and expansive direction of both over the last ten years.
Rachel Hunt Steenblik, Wenzhou Kean University
Reader, I did eat: Jane Eyre and the evolving typology of Eve Charlotte Brontë’s groundbreaking novel represents a changing view of the female—from weak temptress to clear-eyed agent of change. Though persistent negative perspectives on Eve continue to influence feminine self-concepts and patriarchal biases, shifts in typology represent hope for a fully rehabilitated attitude toward her and all women.
Luisa Perkins, Independent Scholar
Imaginative space: Mormon women’s poetry and a theology of post-mortal life
This paper explores the crucial role of creative works in the Church by analyzing how nineteenth-century women constructed and promoted their own vision of heaven within poetry. Using the more than four hundred poems published in the Woman’s Exponent between 1872 and 1900 that depict Mormon women’s views on the afterlife, I explore the elements in the poetry that connected these women to mainstream nineteenth-century Christians and disconnected them from their male leaders.
Amy Easton-Flake, Brigham Young University
Moderator: Michelle Hill
11:50-1:20 LUNCH BREAK
1:30-2:50 Session 3a Beholding, making, becoming
Beholding and creating as platonic conceptions of happiness
Ancient Platonists conceived of happiness as becoming like God, which they took to involve the soul's flight from this world to a higher one where it contemplates the unchanging Forms. I propose an alternative interpretation of godlikeness in Plato, one rooted in his characterization of God as a creator.
John Armstrong, Southern Virginia University
Rhetoric, aesthetics, and the making of faith
This presentation describes the creative act as an act of faith for the artist and an act of making faith in the audience. Faith (pistis) is the power by which worlds are made. It (pistis) is also a technical term in rhetoric—which is not separate from aesthetic—and also describes the means by which a rhetor/artist makes faith in an audience. These pisteis include the projecting of the artist’s own character, the inducing of audiences to experience certain attitudes, and the crafting the subject in a way that enables the audience to participate with the rhetor/artist in the act of creation. In doing so, faith is made in an experience that invites participants to become better versions of themselves.
Jarron Slater, Utah Valley University
Who we are and who we want to be: Aspiration and human agency
In this paper I argue that aspiration is central to human agency. A distinctive feature of human agency is that who one wants to be (including wanting to be different) is already part of who one is. There are various reasons one could resist this position, including self-deception and more garden-variety self-ignorance. Moreover, because being a certain way involves a strong bodily component, my mere desire to be a certain way seems clearly to not (yet) make me that way. Because I am deeply sympathetic to these concerns, my account of aspirational human agency and the relationship between who we are and who we want to be seeks to distinguish between aspirational self-conceptions and (merely) self-ignorant self-conceptions.
Justin White, Brigham Young University
Moderator: David Gore
1:30-2:50 Session 3b “For the edification of youth”: Church media for the youngest saints, 1970-2010
Allen & Overy Seminar Room
“Based on a true story”: fiction, nonfiction, and truth narratives, 1971-2011
Beginning in 1971 with Church-wide correlation, Church magazines consolidated around three core magazines: The Ensign for adults, The New Era for youth, and The Friend for children. Faith-promoting narratives--both fiction and non-fiction--provided the bulk of the magazines' material and shared space for the first twenty years of these publications. However, beginning in the 1990s, the magazines quietly shifted away from fiction stories to nonfiction stories. This paper analyzes the shift away from fiction stories, particularly in The Friend, and analyzes the aesthetic, practical, and theological implications of this shift.
Megan Armknecht, Princeton University
The mission theology of EFY music, 2000-2015
Although the mission program and missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are iconic, there is virtually no formal Latter-day Saint mission theology. Nevertheless, informal attempts at characterizing Latter-day Saint mission abound in media portrayals—especially in media aimed at youth. This paper examines the theological implications of mission-related music from “Especially for Youth” albums in order to sense popular understandings of Latter-day Saint mission and some of the potential (un/intended) effects of those approaches to missionary work.
Greer Cordner, Boston University
Transcending form and speaking to eternal truths: poetry for youth in the New Era
Since the first edition of the freshly minted New Era, poems have been regularly published in this magazine. The topics of these published poems have varied from purely aesthetic depictions of nature, to musings about love, to proclamations of core doctrines of the church. Many verses do not discuss the gospel or openly mention God or faith. Such a diversity of poetry within officially sanctioned Church magazines illustrates that not all literature must be overtly didactic to be considered inspirational and faith-building.
Sharisa Aidukaitis, University of Virginia
Moderator: Rachel Hunt Steenblik
3:00-4:20 Session 4a Aesthesis in Mormon making/sense
Placing the Cardston temple in early Mormon temple architectural history
When Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, the religious group desired to separate themselves from the United States physically, politically, and architecturally. By the turn of the century, four pioneer temples had been completed in Utah using architectural designs to connote sacred space, and their Gothic Revival design was a stark contrast to the classically inspired temples built previously at Kirtland and Nauvoo. When a temple was built in Cardston, Alberta (1913-1923), it was a radical departure from its Gothic predecessors in Utah. The new temple symbolized Utah’s recent interest in integrating into American society shortly after being admitted to the Union as a state in 1896, and relied heavily on Frank Lloyd Wright's modern Prairie School style.
Amanda Buessecker, Carleton University
Cinematic sensations: screen angels, embodied viewers, and the first Mormon film
The first Mormon-produced feature film, One Hundred Years of Mormonism (1913), sought to create an embodied experience for viewers by connecting (corporeal) presence with a meaningful religious past. Grounding affect theory in esthetic choices—including trick photography and meticulous historical re-enactment—reveals how Latter-day Saints navigated the new medium to ward off anti-Mormon doppelgänger in cinema and to ensure an affective experience for in-group audiences. Promising the “most thrilling and sensational picture film yet” shaped a mode of filmmaking that connected medium-specific conventions with the materiality of the human body.
Mason Allred, Brigham Young University-Hawaii
A transformative third space: Latter-day Saints and popular culture
When a person stands in relationship to any form of art whether literature, painting, music or other forms they enter a transformative third space as they stand in dialogue with it. This dialogue is rooted in the culture and traditions of the observer; the interaction suggests that Latter-day Saints can be transformed through this dialogue and can begin to understand what it is to be Latter-day Saint only in dialogue with the ‘other’. This paper explores the theological underpinning of all forms of dialogue and will then extend this to the arts. Gideon Burton has expressed a similar view when experiencing Mozart: “At the same time, this reflection reveals something back to Latter-day Saints about who they are and how their culture responds to great art: we read The Magic Flute, and The Magic Flute reads us” (2004: 23). We cannot help but be changed by engagement with inspired truths and art.
James Holt, University of Chester
Moderator: Heather Belnap
3:00-4:20 Session 4b Reflections of ourselves: broad views
Allen & Overy Seminar Room
(An) Introduction to communal criticism
A communal critical approach is inspired by Matthew Lieberman’s insights into how humans are social beings. In his book Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, Matthew Lieberman draws on recent neuroscience research to describe how humans are built to live harmoniously with one another. Mormon scholars in the Humanities participate, often uneasily, in academic communities and in a faith community. Communal criticism sheds light on how communities make sense of texts. That critical approach also sheds light on the pull, pains, and pleasures of being in those communities.
Shawn Tucker, Elon University
Latter-day eloquence: Mormon rhetoric and the exalted plain style
This paper seeks to identify and articulate a tradition of eloquence in Latter-day Saint oratory. By considering a few significant speeches by Latter-day Saints from the pioneer era to the present, this paper introduces the exalted plain style as a framework for understanding and appreciating this tradition. In preparation for a larger, book-length project, this paper also seeks feedback from participants on what speeches might be considered for a volume celebrating Latter-day Saint eloquence.
Ben Crosby, Brigham Young University
Reflections of the past: mirroring events and characters in historical fiction This presentation draws from theorists such as Kent den Heyer and Kathy Nawrot to explore how authors of historical fiction synthesize factual events with fictional characters. This synthesis, or “mirroring,” creates an aesthetic bridge between reader and literature, resulting in a more intimate connection between the reader and those from the past on literary, genealogical, and spiritual levels.
Russell Shaffer, University of South Dakota
Moderator: Luisa Perkins
4:30-5:20 Session 5a Does God care about aesthetics?
Wallace Stevens posits that “The wonder and mystery of art as indeed of religion is the revelation of something wholly other by which the inexpressible loneliness of thinking is broken and enriched.” The wonder and mystery of both Art and religion depends on the depth and richness of each and how they interact with and serve one another. The hope for both art and religion is that they will be realized, received, and celebrated through the highest and noblest expressions of which human hearts, minds and imaginations are capable.
Bob Rees, Graduate Theological Union
Wallace Stevens was an attorney who sold insurance, either of which professions is more likely to recommend him to Mormon heaven than his excellent poetry. Mormon academics boast of Elder Orson F. Whitney's boast that we shall "yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own"…which he evidently concluded without considering the subversiveness of Shakespeare's Tragedies, the vulgarity of his Comedies, or the terrifying worldview of Milton’s heaven and hell. But no matter, because history has proven Elder Whitney mistaken; and the arts have proven to be more amusements than redemptions: essential to some of us in the way Disneyland is essential to others.
Clifton Jolley, Advent Communications (Read by Gloria Gardner Rees)
Moderator: Wade Hollingshaus
4:30-5:20 Session 5b
On seeing beauty: reflections on Der gegenstand der ästhetik by D. H. Kahnweiler
Allen & Overy Seminar Room
An introduction to Kahnweiler’s life, works, and writings
Levinson—himself an artist, historian, and critic—will introduce the key works and ideas of Kahnweiler.
Orde Levinson, Magdalen College, University of Oxford
Seeing beauty through Kahnweiler’s aesthetic
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” asserts the aphorism. But how does the eye see beauty? How is what the eye sees related to the personhood of the beholder and to her society? What are possible relationships between the work of art produced by the artist and what the beholder sees? Can works of art be mis-seen? These are just some of the questions that are addressed in Daniel Henry Kahnweiler’s text Der Gegenstand der Ästhetik (The Object of Aesthetics: 1915, published in German in 1971). For Kahnweiler the beauty in an artwork comprised what Kant termed das ding an sich, the thing in itself. For beholders of art works it was possible to miss this beauty because their prior experience led them to mis-read the work, perhaps overly focusing on techniques of production. Like many aspects of human activity how we see beauty is learned.
Ian Finlay, Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford
Moderator: Teppo Felin
Truth in its beauty, love in its tenderness: the dynamics of a theological aesthetic
Revered Dr. Andrew Teal
Professor of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford
Chaplain, Fellow, and Lecturer in Patristic and Modern Theology, Pembroke College
Farmington Fellow, 2019-2020 Warden, Community of Sisters of the Love of God
Interlocutor: Mark Wrathall
Professor of Philosophy, University of Oxford Fellow and Tutor, Corpus Christi College
The Forte Room
SATURDAY, MARCH 28
8:00-8:45 a.m. Breakfast (Campus lodgers)—Pembroke College Dining Hall
9:00-10:20 Session 6a Aesthetics and “Mormonism”
Possibility and potential: a Mormon aesthetics of the charismatic
This paper will introduce the history of Mormon charismatic practices, focused around the trajectory of glossolalia within Mormonism, and will develop a reading of several contemporary examples of an explicit charismatic aesthetic as found in contemporary Mormon literature (Renee Angle's experimental poetic re-imagining of the lost 116 pages, entitled WoO , and Marita Dachsel's series of poetic monologues voiced by Joseph Smith's plural wives, entitled Glossolalia ), arguing that a charismatic aesthetics is an aesthetic acceptance and reworking of a Spirit experience within the fundamental framework of Mormon materiality. A Mormon charismatic aesthetics thus enacts a mode of thinking otherwise: a simultaneously material and Spirit mode that presents an alternative strategy, a divergent perspective, an otherwise form for thought/thinking. In developing these contours, the paper explores the theological emphasis within Mormonism on potential, possibility, and multiplicity in ways that then reflect back on the Mormon aesthetic project as a whole as gathering up and together rather than divisionary demarcation.
Jenny Webb, Independent Scholar
An aesthetics of memory: Derrida and Latter-Day Saint archive fever
Latter-day Saints have what may be called an obsession with record keeping and life-writing. This paper will explore the tension between the divine injunction to keep a record and the impossibility of comprehensively keeping such a record in a fallen world. Using Derrida (and Freud’s) archive fever as a framework, I will demonstrate how Latter-day Saint theology answers the death drive impulse, creating a Latter-day Saint literary aesthetic of memory.
Gerrit van Dyk, Brigham Young University
Decolonizing “Mormonism”: toward a universal Latter-day Saint literary theory
This paper proposes a theory that decolonizes what it means to be a Latter-day Saint by removing any cultural or geographical markers that would situate Latter-day Saint identity—and subsequent literary criticism— in a specific, provincial habitus. This paper proposes a rejection of the “Mormo-American” approach to literature and criticism in favor of a more universal and accessible literary theory that contains a truly global vision of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint.
Peter Eubanks, James Madison University
Moderator: James Holt
9:00-10:00 Session 6b Women in the crosshairs/at the crossroads
Allen & Overy Seminar Room
Victorian periodicals, women’s fashions, and the male response
Despite its everyday and sometimes trivial façade, fashion was one of the many arenas where women’s rights were fought. Victorian periodical illustrations gave a voice, a forum, and a mirror for controversial and entrenched social issues during the decades long fight over women’s fashions.
Michelle Hill, San Antonio College
Towards a Mormon iconography: LDS women’s writings on art and aesthetics, 1900-50 In the early twentieth century, a number of LDS women became ardent aesthetic evangelists. Capitalizing on the broader trends of the sacralization of art and women as cultural custodians, Emmeline B. Wells, Leah Widtsoe, Alice Merrill Horne, Mary Teasdel, Mabel Frazer and others wrote extensively about the potential power of art for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Church-sponsored publications such as the Relief Society Magazine and the Young Woman’s Journal were filled with an abundance of art-related material, including philosophical exegeses, educational materials, exhibition reviews, and reproductions of artworks. This paper will present the general contours of early twentieth-century women’s writings on their vision for the development of the faith’s art, and will argue for the centrality of these women to the formation of a Mormon aesthetics and iconography.
Heather Belnap, Brigham Young University
Moderator: Amanda Buessecker
10:30-11:50 Session 7a de arte Cristiana
Emblematizing the practice of religion in Rembrandt’s Christ Preaching
Rembrandt’s print Christ Preaching enigmatically includes a boy drawing at the feet of Christ. This paper argues Rembrandt is expanding on a similar Dutch emblem, making the image a commentary on not just the practice of art but also the practice of religion and the application of classical pedagogical models to Christianity.
Jennifer Champoux, Northeastern University
On the edge of a knife: hostility and hospitality in Rembrandt’s depictions of Abraham I examine two paintings from the Dutch master Rembrandt’s studio in which Abraham appears with a knife in order to reflect on the thin line between hospitality and hostility. Both paintings were made in the 1630s. One, Abraham and the Three Angels, depicts the scene from Genesis 18 where Abraham entertains angels in his tent. The other, The Sacrifice of Isaac, captures the biblical moment of release, when the angel calls to Abraham, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad.”
David Gore, University of Minnesota—Duluth
Walking with spirits: sarcophagi and the early Christian aesthetics of death
Largely overshadowed by the study of funerary sites and monuments in Rome, early Christian Provence and its environs were home to a flourishing necropolis, a city of the dead at the very borders of the city of the living. The Alyscamps cemetery in Arles, France was established by the Romans and continued to be used by early Christians as a literal avenue for the dead, a pathway to the Elysian fields. Even today, the street is lined with sarcophagi honoring the dead and guiding them to their rest. As Latter-day Saints, we claim association with our dead and affinities with the so-called “Primitive Church” from the sixth Article of Faith, and yet there are many rich and revelatory evidences within the aesthetic, visual, and material culture of early Christianity that have been neglected. This paper addresses a series of sarcophagi from Arles which reflect aesthetic iconographies associated with the ascendant hope for the soul.
Catherine Taylor, Maxwell Institute (Brigham Young University)
Moderator: Shawn Tucker
10:30-11:50 Session 7b Frame/work: the aesthetics of perception
Allen & Overy Seminar Room
A crucified Christ: An examination of Latter-day Saint perceptions, doctrine, and artwork
When asked the location of where Christ atoned for our sins, many Latter-day Saints emphasize Gethsemane. Where does this emphasis come from? This presentation demonstrates that the Bible, restoration scripture, Joseph Smith, and church leaders collectively emphasize Christ dying for our sins on Calvary much more frequently than they do his suffering for our sins in Gethsemane. Why is there this mismatch between perceptions of members and authorized church teachings? What doctrinal insights might we gain from a greater focus on the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ?
John Hilton III, Brigham Young University
Tolstoy says that art “transmits feelings” from makers to recipients, and my experiences with sculpture, painting, music, film, and especially poetry, fiction, and scripture will not let me gainsay that. Together with other witnesses, he pulls me toward Susan Sontag’s suggestion that “In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.” So I wonder: who has better reasons to explore that than we whose scriptures declare that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man” and that “spirit and element inseparably connected receive a fulness of joy”?
Bruce Jorgensen, Brigham Young University (ret.)
Possibilities and problems in integrating aesthetic evolution into an LDS framework
I attempt to illuminate two interrelated areas of Mormon philosophy through the frame of sexual evolution. First, Mormon discourse on evolution, in spite of excellent recent work of Steven Peck and others, has focused far more on traditional Protestant concerns like the special (or not) creation of “man,” to the exclusion of addressing the challenge of aesthetic mate choice for a natural-theological framework. Does Beauty occur in nature as an attribute of a Creator, or as the manifestation of “base” impulses of his creatures, or (my view) both? Second, I explore how specific findings of sexual evolutionists both demand that Latter-day Saints reconcile their discourse on chastity to the erotic undercurrent of everyday life—particularly in its relation to the aesthetic sense—and suggest a path toward doing so.
Ian McLaughlin, Independent Scholar
Moderator: Janiece Johnson
11:50-1:20 LUNCH BREAK
1:30-2:50 Session 8a Mormon artists/Mormon aesthetics
C.C.A. Christensen, Carl Bloch, and the evolution of Latter-day Saint art and aesthetics
This paper explores the divergent trajectories of C.C.A. Christensen and Carl Bloch, two similar, yet profoundly different artists. It investigates why these Danish artists of similar origin and training have been embraced and forgotten and seeks to answer what their competing reputations reveal about the ever-evolving aspirations and aesthetics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
James Swensen, Brigham Young University
Merrill Horne, Whistler, and the aesthetics of harmony in turn-of-the-century Utah I investigate how Alice Merrill Horne, the mother of Utah art, looked to James A. M. Whistler, a key figurehead of the Aesthetic Movement in England, as she developed and described the visual culture of late late 19th- and early 20th-century Mormon Utah. Specifically, I will consider how she was drawn to the concept of harmony in relation to art and aesthetics.
Emily Snow, Independent Scholar
A Kierkegaardian view of J. Kirk Richards’ Eve and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge
Although Kierkegaard is viewed by many as looking beyond the aesthetic to the ethical and religious, (von Balthasar, George Pattison), more recent examinations argue the aesthetic within Kierkegaard’s religiosity is more important and complex than previous interpretations acknowledge (Peder Jothan, Sylvia Walsh). Jothan suggests Kierkegaard’s poetics can be used to critique artistic work. Considering what Kierkegaard’s poetics might be, I will critique Richards’ painting and consider the aesthetic and the self-art relationship in becoming Christian.
Andrew Petersen, Independent Scholar
Moderator: Jennifer Champoux
1:30-2:50 Session 8b “Songs of experience”
Allen & Overy Seminar Room
Ingmar Bergman’s aesthetics of faith, doubt, and divinity in the modern age An artist of the secular age, Ingmar Bergman’s films contain rich engagements with questions of faith, doubt, and grace. Though his work is characterized as cold, austere, and bleak, Bergman creates a cinematic aesthetic of religious struggle that can provide enlightenment, guidance, and comfort to the modern spiritual individual.
James Perkins, Independent Scholar
After Keats: truth and beauty in a poetry of doubt
Last year, I argued that Keats’ axiom can mean that beauty is both a function of truth and its actual limit, and that considerations of truth beyond that limit are irrelevant, perhaps even irreconcilable with a notion of truth, including matters of belief. Throughout the past year, I have been writing poems that reflect on my own wrestle with truth and with the truths to which I have long subscribed. This presentation applies Keats' thesis and William James’ formulation of a “will to believe” to poems that doubt: can facing one's doubts—as truthful feelings if not actual truths—and further facing the impacts of that honest doubting yield beauty? truth? And if so, do language and our responses to it create the truths we claim?
Jonathon Penny, College of New Caledonia
Unorganized Matter, Creation, and the Chance for Beauty: Annie Dillard as case study
This paper explores the insights of Annie Dillard to provide an argument about the meaning of our experiences of beauty in the natural world. I will argue that a theology of a creation out of unorganized matter that is subject to chance is precisely what gives beauty a chance. That is to say, as Annie Dillard defines aesthetics of the natural world, beauty is only possible, or at least most meaningful, when it is experienced as something unexpected and unearned and as something incapable of being possessed. This understanding of aesthetics has important implications for Latter-day Saint creation theology.
George Handley, Brigham Young University
Moderator: John Armstrong
3:00-4:20 Session 9a Approaches to the Book of Mormon
Is the Book of Mormon beautiful? Should it be?
This paper examines how scholars have analyzed the Book of Mormon as literature, from Mark Twain’s complaints about “chloroform in print” to Richard Dilworth Rust's "Feasting Upon the Word" to the recent "Americanist Approaches to the Book of Mormon" (2019). It both traces the development of this approach and analyzes how Book of Mormon scholars have adopted, or resisted, contemporaneous trends in literary studies, showing how aesthetic, formalist, or archetypal readings of the Book of Mormon have given way to historical-critical approaches that situate the Book of Mormon alongside other nineteenth-century American texts, literary or otherwise. It then uses this narrative to test the value of treating the Book of Mormon as an aesthetic object.
Dallin Lewis, Southern Virginia University
The Book of Mormon and a rasadhvani affective-narratological approach
South Asian rasa aesthetics posits the “poetic” meaning of a text as affective-empathetic experience. According to the dhvani school, scripture can then be read both poetically and doctrinally in a complementary manner. The Mahābhārata’s poetic and doctrinal meaning is disillusionment with the world (nirveda) leading to a desire for release from rebirth (mokṣa) expressed through the narrative’s compiler-author, Vyāsa. The Book of Mormon’s dual meaning is then to be found in Mormon as principal narrator and diegetic compiler. The affective-doctrinal meaning becomes sorrow over the implications of agency.
Frederik Kleiner, Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
The aesthetics of the book: early Book of Mormon imagination and imagery
Published in 1830, the Book of Mormon’s first edition did not include any images—yet nearly 600 pages of text and the reception of that text created an early Book of Mormon aesthetic. As individuals began to read and develop a relationship with the text, many converts began to search for imagery to fit a compelling narrative. Geographical space consistently offered new potential for an aesthetic of place, These early converts imagined themselves surrounded by the Book’s narrative and history. In Nauvoo, the earliest Book of Mormon books and art would build on this Book of Mormon aesthetic imagination to create a Book of Mormon aesthetic that would move with the Saints across the western United States and transform over time.
Janiece Johnson, Maxwell Institute (Brigham Young University)
Moderator: James Holt
3:00-4:20 Session 9b Aesthetics in Slavic literature and thought
Allen & Overy Seminar Room
Symbol and spirit: the aesthetics of truth in the orthodox theology of Pavel Florensky
The Russian religious and artistic renaissances at the turn of the 20th-century were characterized by a desire to get out from under the realism and positivism in the literature and thought of such 19th-century giants as Lev Tolstoy. Moving away from concepts like social progress, objective knowledge, and utilitarianism in art, which they viewed as largely failed projects, early Russian Modernist writers and thinkers turned towards irrationality, mysticism, and what we now call symbolism to create new space for artistic and spiritual meaning. One such figure of this time was the polymath Pavel Florensky, an Orthodox priest and theologian who was also intensely and personally involved with Modernism and its principles. My paper examines Florensky's most important theological work The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, tracing the currents of Modernist thought within it. I focus specifically on Florensky's symbolist aesthetics and how they form his religious worldview and suggest ways in which this aesthetics may overlap with LDS views on art, truth, and spiritual reality.
Braxton Boyer, University of Toronto
Poetry for the planet: the environmental aesthetics of Lina Kostenko
The Ukrainian poet Lina Kostenko paints a picture of aesthetic environmentalism, describing both the beauties of the natural world and the horrors that occur when mankind forgets its sacred stewardship to the environment. Her poems are at times bucolic, praising the transcendence of nature; yet these elevated reveries are frequently peppered by scathing mentions of pollution, nuclear disasters, and the other negative effects people are exerting on the planet. Her call to awareness and action extends to all inhabitants of the earth, regardless of religious persuasion.
Sharisa Aidukaitis, University of Virginia
Moderator: Megan Armknecht
4:30-4:45 Last Words
Jennifer Champoux, Vice-President, MSH—Northeastern University
Sharisa Aidukaitis is a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia where she holds the Jefferson Fellowship. She has a B.S. from Brigham Young University in molecular biology, and an M.A. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from UVa. Her research interests include Pushkin and Soviet-era poetry.
Mason Kamana Allred is an assistant professor of Communication, Media, and Culture at Brigham Young University, Hawaii. He earned his MA and PhD from UC-Berkeley. His interdisciplinary work has appeared in venues such as JAAR, Jewish Studies Quarterly, and Mormon Studies Review.
Megan Armknecht is a Doctoral Candidate in History at Princeton University. She has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University, an Mst in U.S. History from Oxford University, and an M.A. in History from Princeton. She studies 19th century U.S. History, and her dissertation focuses the intersections of gender and diplomacy in U.S. foreign relations.
John Armstrong is the Willis J. Smith Professor of Philosophy at Southern Virginia University, where he has taught since 1998. He is the author of several articles and reviews on Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus and is a past president of MSH. Heather Belnap is an associate professor of art history and coordinator of the European Studies program at Brigham Young University. Her primary field of work is women, art and culture from 1750 to the present. She is currently working on several projects related to Mormon Studies.
Braxton Boyer is a PhD student in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Toronto. His main interests are religious thought and spirituality in the works of Lev Tolstoy, the Russian religious renaissance at the turn of the 20th-century, and the intersection of spirituality and literature in general.
Amanda Buessecker is currently completing an MA in Art History and a Graduate Diploma in Curatorial Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She received her BA in Art History from Brigham Young University and has spent many summers digging at archaeological sites in Israel. She has worked in curatorial positions through the BYU Museum of Art, the Springville Museum of Art, and the National Gallery of Canada.
Jennifer Champoux is a lecturer in art history at Northeastern University. She previously taught art history courses at Emerson College, Emmanuel College, and Colorado Community Colleges Online. Her writing on religious art has been published in BYU Studies, Dialogue, and LDS Living. She holds a BA in international politics (BYU) and a MA in art history (Boston University).
Greer Bates Cordner is a Ph.D. student at Boston University School of Theology, where she earlier received a Master of Theological Studies degree. She also holds a B.A. in History from Brigham Young University. Greer researches American religious history and Latter-day Saint missiology.
Ben Crosby is an associate professor of rhetoric in the English Department at Brigham Young University. He teaches courses in the history of rhetoric, rhetorical criticism, and persuasion. His scholarly work focuses on political and religious discourse and the history of American public address.
Amy Easton-Flake is Associate Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University. She has a PhD in American Literature and an MA in Women’s Studies from Brandeis University. Her research focuses on nineteenth-century women’s poetry, reform literature and biblical hermeneutics.
Peter Eubanks is Associate Professor of French at James Madison University in Virginia. His research interests center on Renaissance poetry, literary criticism, and Franco-American cultural misunderstandings. His articles have appeared in Romance Quarterly, Montaigne Studies, Literature and Belief, and other venues.
Teppo Felin is Professor of Strategy at University of Oxford's Saïd Business School. Beyond his research in business strategy, he also does interdisciplinary research on the emergence of novelty and the nature of perception, rationality and reality. His research has been published in varied outlets, including Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, Research Policy, Perception, Organization Science, PLOS ONE, Arizona State Law Journal, MIT Sloan Management Review, Academy of Management Review, Erkenntnis, and other outlets. Prior to Oxford, Felin was on the faculty at BYU and Emory University. He was born and raised in Helsinki, Finland.
Ian Finlay holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences, and an MA and PhD in Education, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Theology from the University of Oxford. For the past ten years, in addition to teaching at the University of Oxford, Ian has been working with Orde Levinson on art history, initially on the work of the English artist John Piper and more recently on the writings of Daniel Henry Kahnweiler. His essay ‘Learning to See’ is included in Levinson’s Book Hitting the Nail on the Head: the complete writings of John Piper. David Charles Gore is Professor & Department Head in the Department of Communication at the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he regularly teaches classes in the history and theory of rhetoric. He is the author of The Voice of the People: Political Rhetoric in the Book of Mormon published in 2019 by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute and co-author, with Joshua Trey Barnett, of "Dwelling in the Anthropocene: Notes from Lake Superior," an essay to be published in a forthcoming issue of Ethics & the Environment.
George Handley teaches interdisciplinary humanities at BYU. His research centers on the intersection between literature, religion, and the environment. His most recent books include If Truth Were A Child, Climate Skepticism, and a new collection of essays on Latter-day Saint theology and the environment, entitled The Hope of Nature.
Michelle Hill is an adjunct instructor at San Antonio College and Brigham Young University-Idaho. In the summer of 2019, she co-led a study abroad program to Greece. She is also a museum professional with over 13 years of experience and currently works at the Briscoe Western Art Museum.
John Hilton III is an Associate Professor in Religious Education at Brigham Young University. He received a M.Ed. degree from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Instructional Psychology and Technology from Brigham Young University. He has published over sixty articles in academic journals and written inspirational books for LDS youth and adults. In addition to his religious research, he has studied ways to lower the cost of education and improve learning outcomes for vulnerable populations. He has also been a guest lecturer at three universities in China.
James D. Holt is Associate Professor of Religious Education at the University of Chester and the Chair of Examiners for Religious Studies with one of the major awarding organisations in the UK. He is the author of Beyond the Big Six Religions: Expanding the Boundaries in the Teaching of Religion and Worldviews (University of Chester Press, 2019) and Religious Education in the Secondary School: An Introduction to Teaching, Learning and the World Religions (Routledge, 2015).
Wade Hollingshaus is chair of Brigham Young University’s department of Theatre and Media Arts. Currently, he is a Core Convener of the international Performance Philosophy research network. He is the author of Philosophizing Rock Performance: Dylan, Hendrix, Bowie. Other work has been published in Theatre Topics; Nordic Theatre Studies, Scandinavian Studies; Review: The Journal of Dramaturgy; The Journal of Religion and Theatre; and The Journal of Finnish Studies.
Rachel Hunt Steenblik is a Mormon feminist theologian and poet. She co-authored Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings and authored Mother's Milk: Poems in Search of Heavenly Mother and I Gave Her a Name. Her most recent endeavor is a social media project documenting and sharing what she calls "Tiny Kindnesses." She currently teaches philosophy at Wenzhou Kean University in Wenzhou China.
Janiece Johnson is a Willes Center Faculty Research Associate at the Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University. She specializes in American religious history—specifically Mormon history, gender, and the prosecution for the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Dr. Johnson has graduate degrees in American History and Theology from Brigham Young University, Vanderbilt’s Divinity School, and the University of Leicester in England. Her work has included the religious experience of early female Mormon converts, the prosecution for the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and its interdependent relationship to the popular narrative told about the massacre. She is co-author of The Witness of Women: First-hand Experiences and Testimonies of the Restoration (Deseret Book, 2016) and general editor of the recently published Mountain Meadows Massacre: Collected Legal Papers (University of Oklahoma Press, 2017). Dr. Johnson’s current research centers on the Book of Mormon in practice and the relationship of early Mormon converts to their new American scripture.
Clifton Jolley is a Mormon poet, critic, and essayist. His “Voices” column ran for seven years in the Deseret News concurrent with his writing “The Spoken Word” for the Tabernacle Choir. His Op-Eds appear regularly in the Salt Lake Tribune.
Bruce Jorgensen retired in 2014 after teaching reading and writing at BYU for 39 years, and now enjoys having more time to read and write what he feels like, mostly when he feels like, and as well as he can. It’s still not easy. He may almost have finished what he did not intend to be a small book about one short story by Alice Munro, an early and unsuspecting fragment of which he presented at MSH in 2015 at Berkeley. Writing on Munro got him into this present essay, which he suspects may get him farther out on a limb than he’d prefer.
Faith Kershisnik (née Heard) approaches art with the patience and delight of a gardener and the curious analysis of a therapist. Weaving her interests of poetry, literature, religion, painting, and critique, she creates experimental environments and works in which people come together to be stretched, pulled, and unified. Kershisnik has been published in the Mormon Lit Blitz, Segullah, and in Looking for Something: Selected Paintings. Her work has been exhibited and performed throughout the United States. Faith earned her MA in MFT from BYU in 2009 and practices therapy in the place where Jung, Buddha, and Sue Johnson meet.
Frederik Kleiner was born in Bamberg, Germany and grew up in Germany, the US, and Canada. He studied Linguistics at BYU. He completed an MA in English and Literary Theory at Kiel University in Kiel, Germany and wrote his thesis in cooperation with the Dayalbagh Educational Institute in Agra, India. Frederik is now finishing a dissertation on a post-secular study of the Book of Mormon as literature. He is married and has one son.
Orde Levinson is an Oxford based art historian, artist, and published author of more than eighteen books including poetry, plays, critical analyses, and artist compendia. He is considered to be one of the leading authorities on John Piper (author of the catalogue raisonné of his prints and of his writings), as well as a recognised expert on the history of cubism. As an artist, his collection of poetry was praised by Samuel Beckett as “a moving feat” and his play based on the life of John Muafangejo premiered in the National Theatre of Namibia to positive reviews. He has directed a successful Oxford based production of The Merchant of Venice and has lectured and is working on a forthcoming book on the play, The Rialto Dialogues. He studied at Magdalen College, Oxford for a PhD on the writings of Daniel Henry Kahnweiler.
Dallin Lewis is an assistant professor of English at Southern Virginia University. His research focuses on eighteenth-century British literature. He is currently working on a project on Jane Austen and the concept of gratitude.
Ian McLaughlin, a sometime native of Rexburg, Idaho, works as a copyeditor and freelance writer in Seattle. He has long been interested in the philosophy of evolution and its relation to religion and is currently finishing a two-year project on how nineteenth-century LDS views of evolution were forged in the nascent Church Academy system and conditioned by popular (and inaccurate) contemporary science writers. Most recently, he was a graduate student at Columbia University in political philosophy; he plans to return to school for literary studies in 2021.
Jonathon Penny is Associate Dean of the School of University Studies at the College of New Caledonia. He has published occasional scholarly pieces (mainly on literary uses of scriptural apocalypse), short fiction, and poetry, and is the author of a four-play cycle set in Southern Alberta, Canada—Are We Not All Strangers (Cardston, 2016), Diggers (Magrath, 2017), Junction Town (Stirling, 2018), and Home/front (Raymond, 2019). He also translated Jad Hatem's Postponing Heaven for the Maxwell Institute (2015). He is the current president of MSH. James Perkins is an award-winning filmmaker, a writer, and a student currently finishing his undergraduate education at the University of California-Berkeley. He is currently working on his thesis on ambiguity in cinema and is expected to graduate with honors in May with a degree in Rhetoric and French.
Luisa Perkins is a novelist, essayist, and lyricist. Her book Prayers in Bath was a finalist for 2017’s AML Novel of the Year. Her award-winning short work has been published in Dialogueand Sunstone and has been heavily anthologized. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Andrew Petersen practices law in Tucson, Arizona. He has represented clients in significant trial and appellate court cases in state and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court. He has authored numerous articles on legal issues, including an annotation on constitutional tort claims. He has also written and presented papers on the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Andrew earned his law degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1995, and graduated summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Arizona with a degree in English and Political Science in 1992.
Bob Rees is Director of Mormon Studies at Graduate Theological Union, former Director of the UCLA-Royal Colleges of Art and Music Programs, and former Dean of Fine Arts at UCLA.
Aaron Reeves is an Associate Professor in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford, a Fellow of Green Templeton College, and a Visiting Senior Fellow in the International Inequalities Institute at the London School of Economics. He is a sociologist with interests in public health and political economy. His work involves examining the causes and consequences of social and economic inequity, primarily in Europe and North America.
Russell Shaffer is a PhD candidate in English at the University of South Dakota. His focus is on 20th- and 21st-century American literature, and historical fiction. He has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA from Weber State University.
Jarron Slater received a PhD in Rhetoric and Scientific & Technical Communication from the University of Minnesota in 2018. Currently, he teaches at Utah Valley University. He has published in Rhetoric Review and the Journal of Religion and Communication, and he has a chapter in the forthcoming Style and the Future of Composition.
Emily Snow is an art historian, writer, and content marketing specialist based in Salt Lake City. She earned a BA in art history and curatorial studies from Brigham Young University and an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.
Madison U. Sowell received his Ph.D. in romance languages and literatures from Harvard. At Brigham Young University he served as a department chair, associate dean of undergraduate education, and director of the Honors Program. He was provost at Southern Virginia University before becoming the 2018-19 Rothschild Fellow at Harvard’s Houghton Library and provost at Tusculum University. He has published eight books, including an edited collection on Dante and Ovid (1991); a translation of Giordano Bruno’s The Cabala of Pegasus, with S. Sondergard (2002); and two co-authored books with his wife D. H. Sowell and colleagues F. Falcone and P. Veroli: Il balletto romantico: Tesori della Collezione Sowell (2007) and Icônes du ballet romantique: Marie Taglioni et sa famille (2016).
James Swensen is an associate professor of art history and the history of photography at Brigham Young University. His research interests include documentary photography, American photography, and the art and photography of Utah and the American West.
Catherine Gines Taylor is the Hugh W. Nibley Postdoctoral Fellow at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. She specializes in late antique Christian art history and iconography. Dr. Taylor holds graduate degrees from the University of Manchester and Brigham Young University. Her work is focused on the interdisciplinary study of art, scripture, lay piety, Christian patronage, and patristic texts. More specifically, her research centers on images of women in early Christian contexts. Her monograph on the iconography of the Annunciation was published by Brill in 2018. Dr. Taylor’s current research investigates the typologies of Susanna and Wisdom on sarcophagi and within funerary contexts.
Shawn Tucker is an Associate Professor of Fine Arts at Elon University. He is currently working as a Vice President for Mormon Scholars in the Humanities. His research areas include pride and humility, the virtues and vices, and laughter.
Gerrit van Dyk is the Philosophy and Church History/Doctrine librarian at BYU-Provo where he focuses his research on the intersection of philosophy, theology, and Latter-day Saint Movement studies. He has published and presented on various topics in library science, classics, religious studies, poetry, and Latter-day Saint literature.
Jenny Webb lives in Woodinville, Washington, where she works as an academic editor in the fields of comparative literature and Mormon Studies. Her work has appeared in journals such as Dialogue, the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Recherche Littéraire, and The Comparatist, and she has contributed chapters to several different volumes on scripture and theology. She is a past president for Mormon Scholars in the Humanities and also serves on the Executive Board for the Latter-day Saint Theology Seminar.
Justin White is an assistant professor of philosophy at Brigham Young University. His work focuses on 19th and 20th-century European philosophy and philosophy of agency. He has recently published on regret, Heidegger’s philosophy of art, despair in Kierkegaard, and the phenomenology of expertise, and is currently writing on self-ignorance, and on habit in Merleau-Ponty.
Mark Wrathall is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford, and a Fellow and Tutor of Corpus Christi College. He is interested in in the phenomenology of agency, of religious life, and the temporal structure of selfhood. A collection of his essays – Phenomenology and Human Existence – is appearing soon with Oxford University Press.