MSH "Translation/s" 2023 Conference Program
Updated: May 25
THURSDAY, MAY 25
7:00–9:00 pm Welcome early arrivers/Cream Soda Social @ the hotel
FRIDAY, MAY 26
8:30–9:10 am Registration (Location TBA)
9:10-9:25 am Welcome and Land Acknowledgement
Jonathon Penny, President
Benediction: James Egan, Treasurer
9:30–10:50 Session 1a: Translation and Other Textual Troubles
Translating the Unreadable Text
What constitutes “unreadability” in literature (difficulty, nonsense, hermeticism, physical/textual inaccessibility)? How might unreadability be translated? What does LDS history have to teach us about translating unreadable texts? In one sense, the term “unreadability” connotes mere language play: silliness, gibberish, noise. In another sense, it might manifest itself in complex psychological and political realities, particularly in the violent or traumatic. In yet another way, it might refer to texts that are unreadable because they have been lost, hidden, encoded, or encrypted.
This paper will examine various texts that remain (for one reason or another) unreadable and how translators are faced with the daunting task of rendering this writing into another language. Finally, this paper will consider the possibility of a methodology of translation that might be called “Mormon.” It will consider Joseph Smith’s method of translating The Book of Mormon and derive from Smith’s translation techniques a compositional theory for translating that which cannot be read.
Conner Bassett, Albright College
Taking back the ‘traitor’ in translation: Examining the intention and agenda of Joseph Smith’s Bible Revisions
It is well said that the modern English term “translator” has its origins in the word “traitor” and in the Latin traditio, meaning to “hand over someone or something.” In the Latin vulgate, the term is applied to perhaps the most notorious traitor in the history of Western Christianity: Judas Iscariot. The translator, by nature of his or her actions, hands something over to someone else, inevitably distorting the original meaning of the text given that all translation requires and produces “interpretation.”
This paper examines an instance in which a particular text, by its own admission, attempts to thwart this understanding of translation. This text is the Joseph Smith Translation or the revisions the Prophet made to the King James Bible. Smith claimed that he was not taking away but rather restoring “plain and precious truths” obscured in later translations and versions of the Bible. How does Smith’s view of this particular calling inform us about his understanding of the meaning of “translation”? Does the Joseph Smith Translation accomplish its aim? or is it, as translation, a betrayal of Scripture?
Adam Stokes, The Lawrenceville School
Moderator: Scott Hales
9:30–10:50 Session 1b: Twain, Tolkien, Bakhtin: On Creative Texts
Creation as Translation: “Spiritual” Creation in the Religious Imagination of Joseph Smith and J.R.R. Tolkien
We find an intriguing instance of translation in Joseph Smith’s creation texts: the world itself. According to Moses 3, God engaged in a “spiritual” creation before realizing the earth’s physical creation; and in Abraham 4, the will of “the gods” was somehow translated into the physical world. This idea of worldly creation as a sort of translation is tantalizingly vague and receives little attention in other Latter-day Saint scripture. However, it does have a strong resonance with the spiritual imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien. In the texts that served as a basis for his literary creation of Middle-earth (especially the "Ainulindale" in the Silmarillion), we see Tolkien exploring the role which a supreme being and a pantheon of divine powers played in creating his imaginary cosmos conceptually before they created it physically. This Roman Catholic-inflected creation text will serve as a rich conversation partner for Smith's creation texts; a conversation that will help to illuminate the ways in which the creation of the world functioned as a sort of divine translation for both Tolkien and Smith.
Jacob Rennaker, University of Southern California and Chapman University
"Lost in Translation": JST and Mark Twain's Satirical Desire to Prophetically Interpret Ancient Records
In 1869, Mark Twain compiled his travel articles from the Quaker City tour of Palestine, first published in 1867. This was Twain's first book-length work, published as The Innocents Abroad. In the middle of his Holy Land visit, Twain cryptically informed his readers that he had come into possession of some ancient writings and that he intended to present a translation to the public at a later date:
"I procured from the high¬priest of this ancient Samaritan community, at great expense, a secret document of still higher antiquity and far more extraordinary interest, which I propose to publish as soon as I have finished translating it." (Innocents Abroad p.552)
The "translation" projects Twain alludes to, he worked on privately for the next thirty or forty years. Except for the first "Niagara" version of "Extracts from Adam's Diary," Twain only began to publish these "translated" works after his staunch Presbyterian wife's death in 1904, and most did not appear until after Twain's own death in 1910. These texts include Twain's "Extracts from Eve’s Diary," "Methuselah's Diary," "Shem's Diary," (each of these appearing in the posthumous collection Letters from the Earth). In these, we can identify numerous echoes and traces of Latter-day Saint imagery and theology: the heroism of Eve, the importance of sexual relationships and family relationships in heaven, a city founded by the prophet Enoch, and so on.
In Twain's hands, these various "translations" re-imagine traditional Biblical stories. These narratives are all tongue-in-cheek, but they are arguably the earliest examples of work within the Fantasy & Science Fiction (F&SF) genre (that is to say, speculative fiction and alternative history) distinctly working from Latter-day Saint themes, most prominently, the translation of previously unknown ancient records. Twain famously satirized The Book of Mormon as "chloroform in print" and "a prosy detail of imaginary history, with the Old Testament for a model" (Roughing It, p. 127), but the idea that such a revolutionary translation might exist also seems to have covertly captured his imagination. Through his satire of divine translation, Twain pioneered the F&SF tradition we normally associate with Card, Meyer, Sanderson, and other contemporary Latter-day Saint authors.
Alan Manning, Brigham Young University Nicole Amare, University of South Alabama
Teaching as Translation, or Twentysomethings and Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World
When my students read Bakhtin’s Rabelais and His World in English, they come to class with a look on their faces like “well, we looked at all of the words, and each word makes sense as an English word, but nothing about the various strings of English words made much sense to us at all.” That is an only slight exaggeration. In this case, teaching seems like translation. My job as an instructor is to prepare students and then generate class discussions in such a way that it reframes the reading. I work to reframe the text, in this case a book, so that it connects with them and has meaning for them. I also do this reframing in a way that seems faithful to the original text while inviting connections that can be far from that original text. Finally, besides helping them with this particular translation process, my larger job is to teach them how to reframe so that they can reframe or translate other texts. This pedagogy presentation falls into these areas: how I prepare students for a class discussion that will help them learn to translate, what skills I help them develop and practice in class that help them translate this and other texts, and how exams give them additional practice as well as examine how well they have developed those skills. The presentation ends with a coda about the connection between the original text and the meanings created by re-framings or translation with my musing on the translation of the Book of Mormon.
Shawn Tucker, Elon University
Moderator: Kylie Turley
11:00–12:20 Session 2a: Nearly Abroad: Languages and Mission Work
A History of Mormon Translation and Literature Outside of English
Church members who speak languages other than English have a cultural experience different than their English-speaking counterparts. Depending on the number of speakers of each language, the resources available range from perhaps enough to none, and that is only in terms of resources provided by the Church. When it comes to unofficial and literary resources, non-English speakers rarely have anything available.
The reasons for this disparity are complex and rooted both in history and the changing cultural environments of both the Church and its members. As the Church grew, decisions about what to write in each language and what to translate from English were initially left up to individual missionaries, and then to the mission presidents and editors of the Church periodicals in each language. Outside of the scriptures, books were rarely translated into local languages and never written in those languages from scratch. Between the lack of resources in each language, the assumption of gathering and assumptions rooted in cultural imperialism, mission officials rarely had time or saw the need for producing much beyond what was necessary for a periodical.
The correlation movement only focused and narrowed the scope of non-English periodicals and publishing. In addition to keeping the content of periodicals doctrinally similar, correlation also limited what was published to devotional and administrative materials, almost all translated from English. And as the correlation progressed, periodical independence decreased until all periodicals were unified, except for limited local pages. Despite the increase in the number of members, local information available has decreased. Local members have largely been unable to produce or translate much into local languages and local markets have also not developed, perhaps because Church members are widely dispersed in each language, the economic capacity of Church members is limited and because local members have doubted the propriety of materials not produced by the Church.
Understanding this historical overview may help Church members to find paths forward to increasing the literature available to Church members who don’t read English.
Kent Larsen, Hunter College, CUNY
Translating the Book of Mormon into Danish, and the woman that history forgot
Danish was the first language the Book of Mormon was translated into after English, in 1851. In 2021 a 170 year anniversary dust jacket was available in Denmark for the Book of Mormon, which narrated the story of its translation on the back. In 2022, approaching Pioneer Day in Utah, Deseret News also told this story, as an example of Latter-day Saint pioneer heritage around the world. Both these narratives tell the story of a young sailor, Peter O. Hansen, who joins the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and translates the Book of Mormon into Danish, alongside Erastus Snow, who together with Peter were the first missionaries in Denmark in 1850.
This is a true story. But not a complete story. And the omission in this story is significant and troubling, because of the gendered nature of it. A vital contributor to the translation of both the Book of Mormon, and later the Doctrine and Covenants, into Danish, was a woman referred to as Madame Mathiasen. A language teacher in Copenhagen who taught English, French, and German, Madame Mathiasen’s linguistic skills were invaluable to the translation process. The exclusion of Madame Mathiasen from most narratives of the translation of the Book of Mormon into Danish, raises important questions around gender, religion, translation, and historical narrative. By studying letters and accounts written by Peter O. Hansen and Erastus Snow, alongside narratives of the Book of Mormon translation, this paper explores what does the omission of Madame Mathiasen mean in historical narrative?
Michelle Louise Toxværd Graabek, European University Institute
The Esperantification of Mormonism
John A. Widtsoe received permission to print several pamphlets in Esperanto from the First Presidency while he was president of the European mission in 1933. While he didn’t end up printing those brochures, it does show early interest in this constructed language. Esperanto was created by Ludoviko Zamenhof to be easy to learn. His dream was that world peace would be easier to achieve if everyone shared a common language. While Esperantists today don’t believe that everyone will learn Esperanto, they still use Esperanto as a way to meet and exchange ideas with other idealists from around the world.
The Mormon Esperanto Society sought to bring Mormonism to Esperantists and Esperanto to Mormons. Their efforts to befriend Esperantists resulted in two translations of the Book of Mormon into Esperanto (one partial) and created a rich synthesis of Mormon and Esperanto culture. Thanks to Dr. Bob Blair’s decade of teaching Esperanto at Brigham Young University (BYU), many BYU students and other interested church members contributed to the Mormon Esperanto Society. Paul Kern, a student of Blair’s, oversaw the development of the Mormon Esperanto Society for many years, taking the lessons he learned in supervising the Book of Mormon’s translation into Esperanto with him when he became the supervisor of official Book of Mormon translations in Eastern Europe.
Rachel Helps, Brigham Young University
Moderator: Robert Rees
11:00–12:20 Session 2b: The Books of Mormon: Glosses
Mormonism through the eyes of Translation Studies
Most human activity has some kind of (often) invisible relationship to translation, including interpreting. This is also true of religions, especially in the case of major religious traditions such as Christianity. Mormonism is perhaps particular in that it has a very visible relationship to translation, from the live interpreting of regular broadcasts such as General Conference, to the origin of the religious movement itself, rooted in Joseph Smith’s unusual translation projects, including that of the Book of Mormon. It comes as no surprise, then, that Mormon scholars have often researched different translational aspects of their religion. In fact, the volume of articles about, for example, the translation of the Book of Mormon is considerable. Surprisingly, though, most of these articles are not produced by translation scholars. Yet Mormonism, as a religious tradition that is very much rooted in and experienced through translation, has indeed caught the eye of some translation scholars. These scholars belong to the field of Translation Studies, a disciplinary field that focuses on all things related to translation and translators. What this presentation proposes is to consider not what Mormon scholars have said about translation but rather the opposite—what translation scholars have to say about the Mormon case. Specifically, the presentation will describe several studies that have focused on specific aspects of translation in Mormonism. Generally, these are studies that explore the nature of translation by considering the implications of Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon. By exploring what Translation Studies has to offer in terms of the nature of translation generally and the translation of the Book of Mormon specifically, this presentation seeks to provide some interdisciplinary perspective to the reflection on the relationship between translation and Mormonism.
Gabriel González Núñez, The University of Texas–Rio Grande Valley
Translating the Book of Mormon as an Ironic Sacred Text
In 2002, building upon an earlier paper, Robert Rees explored the use of irony as a characteristic of the Book of Mormon and suggestive of its origin (“Irony in the Book of Mormon,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Fall 2003). Drawing upon specific examples, Rees discusses dramatic and verbal irony. What if the Book of Mormon is inviting a broader ironic reading and what would this mean? Would such an ironic reading dissemble, relativize, destabilize, or subvert the text? What controls an ironic reading? Carolyn Sharp suggests an ironic sacred text may allow a more persuasive reading:
This may mean, then, that the pursuit of clarity as regards ironies and ironic perspectives with the sacred biblical texts themselves constitutes a transgressive inquiry into God’s way of framing the dilemma of mortal existence (and, to be sure, an inquiry into humans’ often ludicrous attempts to gain power or control). God cannot be right if we are alive and creating culture. And yet, if nothing is as it seems, God may be right after all. The best way Scripture can show this may be to contest it—to contest everything—through over-earnest assertions, hyperbolic characterizations, subtle understatements, sardonic observations, and unreliable narrators (Irony and Meaning in the Hebrew Bible, 2009).
Sharp accepts the risk from an ironic reading: “Universes hang in the balance with every act of reading an ironic sacred text” (Sharp 6). Harm is done when irony is lost or mistranslated through Latter-day Saint culture. I will use three examples: Corianton’s sin “next to murder,” the Lamanites’ “skin of blackness,” and the “promised land.” Recognizing the Book of Mormon as an ironic sacred text allows a more expansive reading.
Andrew Petersen, Independent Scholar
“And Now as I Said”: Riffing with Alma Re: Faith
Alma’s sermon on the seed has been vital to my relationship with the work of belief, grace, and rhetoric. I turn to it again and again as I seek to position (and reposition) myself as a person of faith, as a poet/rhetorician, and as a teacher. I’m especially enamored of Alma’s germinal proposition: “Let’s consider the word/seed and its relationship to life.” As an outgrowth of this proposition, I hear Alma inviting his Zoramite audience to tinker with his words, to translate his reaching out into their desire to connect with and be sustained by something beyond themselves.
My presentation takes up Alma’s invitation; in particular, it uses his utterance as a medium for playing with translation as a mode of appropriation and exegesis, as palimpsest of and theological riff on the source text. Ventriloquizing the preacher, I assume Alma’s voice, rhetorical exigencies, and pastoral concerns to present a variation on his sermon that’s inflected with my voice, my rhetorical exigencies, and my theological and pastoral concerns. Among other resonances, the resulting text sustains echoes of my close reading of Alma’s language, the urgent message of Korihor’s death at Zoramite hands, my personal faith journey, and my thinking about language itself as well as the concepts of belief and grace (my engagement with the latter two relies on and riffs with Adam Miller’s theology of grace).
Tyler Chadwick, Utah Valley University
Moderator: James Goldberg
12:30–1:50 LUNCH BREAK
2:00–3:20 Session 3a: Reapproaching the Book of Mormon
Reconsidering the Setting Forth of This and That in Mormon 7:9
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that the Bible and the Book of Mormon work hand-in-hand, citing Mormon 7:9 as evidence: “This is written for the intent that ye may believe that; and if ye believe that ye will believe this also” (my emphasis). This and that are used in this verse as demonstrative pronouns, and thus rely on proximate referents for meaning. Most members of the Church assume that means the Bible and this refers to Book of Mormon. And yet that “translation” slights Christian friends, challenges members who focus on Book of Mormon scripture study, and seemingly requires acceptance of circular logic.
The Book of Mormon’s notoriously loose use of pronouns makes finding pronoun referents more of a “translation” process than a simple application of rules. Many translations are possible, yet one stands out for its viability and problem-solving potential. If this is the Book of Mormon and that is the process by which the “gospel of Christ . . . shall be set before you” (Morm 7:8), then the verse steps away from tautological arguments and becomes an insightful and forward-moving argument about how God works, why scripture is important, and how and why the Book of Mormon is both signified and signifier.
It also draws attention to Mormon’s momentary doubts about that process, doubts that are precisely centered on the Gentile ability to translate the narrative of the Book of Mormon into meaning. Mormon is not necessarily looking for readers who approach scripture with intellectualizing distance, focused doctrinal searching, or purposeful searching for historical factuality (either ancient or 1800s). Mormon wants empathetic Gentile readers who allow comportment and identification. These readers will understand that neither this (Book of Mormon) nor that (process) is of their making—and thus they will engage in that process of setting forth this inspired book with humility and deep respect for this book and their audience.
Kylie Turley, Brigham Young University
On Opposition: A Lehite Theory of Affect
It’s safe to say that 2 Nephi 2:11 has generally been regarded as constituting the Book of Mormon’s most philosophically sophisticated moment. Dig around in the literature, and you’ll find readers arguing that it embeds within it positions ranging from that of a quasi-Heraclitean ontology of becoming to that of a quasi-Leibnizian soul-making theodicy. And quite apart from such appeals to recognized thinkers in the Western philosophical tradition, it’s a focal text for amateur theologians in the so-called “doctrinal” vein of Latter-day Saint thought. But despite all this promising attention, even the most philosophical commentators have more glossed than analyzed the passage in question. They find this or that clause to be philosophically rich, but they largely fail to ask, in earnest, about the rhetorical organization of the passage as a whole. As a result, a host of things have gone unnoticed: the complex structure of 2 Nephi 2:11, the varied points of application of its distinct parts, and, most crucially, certain philosophical ramifications of the text in light of such matters.
I mean to begin to rectify this situation in this paper. First, I’ll offer a close structural analysis of the passage, riddling out the basic exegetical implications of the verse if it’s read with care. Second, I’ll proceed to a preliminary philosophical exposition of the passage in light of its structure. My argument will be that a key aspect of the text, seriously analyzed, is a perhaps unexpected investment there in affect. Especially important is the following: At the juncture between the two pursuits of this paper, between literary analysis and philosophical exposition, stands the need to put Lehi’s words in conversation with the thought of Gilles Deleuze. It seems to me that 2 Nephi 2:11 exhibits a structure with a form that only Deleuze has probed in a serious way.
Joseph Spencer, Brigham Young University
The Heart in Latter-day Saint Scriptures
For millennia, the heart has been considered the center of being. As an organ, the heart is often seen as the locus of understanding and intuition. The science of neurocardiology posits that the heart and the brain are inextricably connected and that the quality of information the heart sends to the brain and body has a determinative influence on our emotional, cognitive, and spiritual states. As an organ and as a metaphor, the heart figures significantly in scripture, both ancient and modern. This presentation examines the central role of the heart as organ, symbol, and metaphor in understanding the words of God and the prophets.
Robert Rees, Graduate Theological Union
Moderator: Rachel Helps
2:00–3:20 Session 3b: Transforming Texts Since Beowulf
John Milton as Prophet, Poet, and Translator
It is both axiomatic and accurate to say that there is no translation without interpretation. I would also say the reverse is true: there is no interpretation without translation. Or rather, by its nature, interpretation translates a text for a given audience by making it accessible in a new way. I have argued in the past that the inclusion of biblical paraphrase in medieval texts constitutes a type of translation; I believe the same can be said of John Milton’s Paradise Lost as a radical expansion of Genesis 2-3 (and other biblical material). However, Milton doesn’t portray himself as a translator so much as a prophet-poet—a conduit of divine truth: “Milton believed himself a prophet. … He spoke as a prophet … and this belief in intimate impulse and divine favor sustained him through most of his life” (William Kerrigan, The Prophetic Milton, 11). Furthermore, although Milton draws on widely varied sources in his creation of his prophetic role, the Hebraic tradition is at its center.
In this paper, I identify ways in which Milton’s descriptions of his own poetic endeavor in Paradise Lost echo the general pattern of prophetic call narrative. The creation of this prophetic persona for Milton-as-author, which occurs chiefly in the four invocations in Paradise Lost, reveals much about Milton’s perceptions of, and hopes for, his own literary activity. This prophetic persona also has interesting ramifications for an audience of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where the roles of translator and prophet can overlap, as is the case with Joseph Smith and King Mosiah. Thus, in addition to examining Milton’s translation of the prophetic call narrative into his invocations, I will discuss the reception of his work, including its claims to divine inspiration, by a Latter-day Saint audience, following the work of John S. Tanner (e.g. “Making a Mormon of Milton”) and others.
Jenny Rytting, Northwest Missouri State University
Adaptation as Translation in Chaucer's "Man of Law's Tale": Uncovering Lost Voices Through a Radical Reframing of the Text
The Old English Beowulf famously opens with the declarative “Hwæt,” an indefinite pronoun usually translated in other sections of the text as “what.” However, its placement here at the beginning of the text has given translators pause, prompting Old English scholars to debate the intention behind this injunction, resulting in translations that range from literal to liberal. Howell Chickering (1977) takes the text at face value. Michael Alexander (1973) and R. M. Liuzza (2013) evoke an aural medieval audience with their choice of “Hearken!” and “Listen!” respectively. In 2000 Seamus Heaney was all but cast out of the world of Old English scholarship for his translation, which begins with a bold “So.” When J.R.R. Tolkien’s long-sought after translation, opening with a lovely “Lo!” was finally published in 2013 reviews declared it “beautiful and horrible.” My favorite, however, is a 2020 translation by Maria Dahvana Headley, in which she unapologetically opens the text with “Bro.” Her brilliant translation forces us to reckon with a text that is steeped in hypermasculinity and violence by utilizing colloquial language choices that remove the scholarly—and romanticized—veneer from the text. In fact, Headley’s translation so completely reframes our understanding of the text that it could almost be thought of as an adaption to the extent in which it resituates the centuries-old text in a modern linguistic context.
I intend to look at translation broadly as an act of both reclamation and adaptation. To do this, I will look at the ethics of adaptation in Chaucer’s “Man of Law’s Tale” from the Canterbury Tales. In this tale, the Man of Law narrates Custance’s journey (marriages, exiles, and a return to home) without describing—sometimes deliberately avoiding—the pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing of her only son. The absence of Custance’s pregnant and maternal body from the text mimics deeper-set tropes in Middle English Romance in which maternal bodies are simultaneously desired and erased from the text. To push against this absence I am proposing, like Headley, to adapt—translate—the Middle English narrative in a way that makes space for Custance’s voice to be heard.
Sarah Nickel Moore, University of Washington
The Artist as Translator: Shedding Light on Human Experience Through Creativity
Artists are first observers, then thinkers, then creators. Beginning with eyes to see human activity with clarity, an artist distills significance from human experience only to turn those ideas over to capable hands that produce art that instructs, informs, and delights. Translating human experience into tangible forms, such as paintings, melodies, or the written word has the power to not only make sense of the world but to transport our souls to a higher plane.
This paper will look at three different artists who shed light on human experience through their creativity: Ludwig von Beethoven, Pablo Picasso, and Mary Oliver. Beethoven translated the tumultuous world he experienced during the French Revolution, Picasso captured the horrors of war in a way that had never been seen before (Guernica), and Oliver, in contrast, made of her observations of human life poems that heal and inspire.
I argue that we can translate experiences from one person to another through art. Translation is at the heart of what creators do and who we are. In Latter-day Saint theology, we believe strongly that we are all creators, in the image and function of God. Art affirms that belief.
Mary Favro, Ensign College
Moderator: Sarah Moore
3:30–4:50 Session 4a: Blank Spaces: The Visual Arts of Invisual Experience
Translating Sacred Architecture: Exploring the Origins of Latter-day Saint Gendered Space
How does translation relate to sacred architecture? Religious buildings have historically been viewed as extracanonical textbooks that embody symbolic messages that can be read, interpreted, or translated by visitors. Likewise, sacred spaces also serve as artifacts of material culture and socio-religious practices, since design intentions were once transformed (or translated) from an idea into a built form. Thus, both the ritual-architectural design process and the experience of religious buildings possess an intimate relationship to translation. One social construct that is often neglected by historical analysis (or translations) of religious structures is how gender symbolism is encoded in built form. Yet, evidence of separating the sexes can be easily found in seating arrangements, architectural devices (walls, screens, aisles), iconography, or liturgical requirements. As a result, this paper examines how and why gender has been mapped (translated) onto Latter-day Saint sacred architecture. It seeks to accomplish this by exploring the origins of separating Latter-day Saint men and women during worship and if there is any symbolism or meaning behind the practice. Are the origins of Latter-day Saint gendered sacred space a result of religio-cultural syncretism or part of an older restored tradition? The practice has been largely ignored by historians despite its long-standing practice within temple rites and rituals. Yet, the practice goes beyond the temple to more public outdoor meetings in Nauvoo to a wall separating the sexes in the Old Tabernacle on Temple Square. Why did the practice cease for meetinghouse worship but remain intact within the walls of the temple? By analyzing these questions, this paper aims to provide insights into how gendered sacred space reveals periods of isolation and integration in Church history.
Brandon Ro, Utah Valley University
Depicting the Dream: Artistic Translations of 1 Nephi 8
Lehi’s dream was a profoundly sight-based experience. In the thirty-eight verses that make up 1 Nephi 8, the idea or act of seeing or being seen is mentioned thirty-three times. And yet, Lehi’s dream is related to us through words and not pictures. The tree, river, building, and iron rod are images that exist only in the mind of Lehi. His verbal description of them was recorded by his son Nephi, removing them a further step from Lehi’s original vision. Moreover, these elements are only known to us now through Joseph Smith’s much later translation of Nephi’s writing. Artistic portrayals of the dream are then images of images—not replicas of a known object but rather creative expressions of a fundamentally unviewable idea. This is what makes Lehi’s dream art so challenging and also so full of possibility.
Artwork based on Lehi’s dream heavily influences how we imagine the prophet’s dream. Moreover, the visual arts influence how we understand the dream. Artists are translators in the sense that they make decisions about what to include and what to leave out, and how to approach the scene. These decisions can affect the way viewers think about moments in history or passages of scripture, like Lehi’s dream. This paper will trace the development of approaches to portraying Lehi’s dream and considers what may have led many artists to consistently return to the same patterns. Furthermore, Lehi’s dream imagery is demonstrative of larger issues in Latter-day Saint visual art. In particular, this case study reveals the potential of images to affect interpretation of scripture, the role of the institutional Church in determining image saturation and preference among Church members, and patterns of image use within the Latter-day Saint tradition.
Jennifer Champoux, Northeastern University
An Element of Blank: Translating Physical Pain
In 1931, Dr. Albert Schweitzer wrote, “Pain is a more terrible lord of mankind than even death itself” (On the Edge of the Primeval Forest: Experiences and Observations of a Doctor in Equatorial Africa). Physical pain is a universal experience, and at the same time it is a soul-changing, world-changing experience. Despite its universality, translating pain into language seems to be impossible, because, as Elaine Scarry argues in The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World, “Physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it.” While psychic pain is a staple of literature, physical pain is conspicuously absent. If agony escapes language, perhaps it is unsurprising that when literature does engage with pain, it does so indirectly through metaphor, imagery, and the conflation of physical with emotional pain.
Christianity is built on a central act of brutality that caused the Savior to “tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore” (D&C 19:18). The depiction of physical pain in scripture is pointed, but the verses dealing with pain are few. Perhaps then, it is unsurprising that Latter-day Saint art, culture, and literature prefer a censored, sanitized version—Christ kneeling in an evening garden instead of the punctured, bleeding, grotesque figure nailed to a cross.
Drawing on my personal experience with trigeminal neuralgia, one of the most excruciating conditions known, and also my experiences as a creative writer and college writing instructor, I will explore the problems of translating the experience of physical pain into words. Is physical pain truly untranslatable? Does pain, as Emily Dickinson writes, have “an element of blank,” and therefore cannot truly be written? Would a hard, unflinching look at this experience bring us closer to a language for pain? I will further argue that an uncensored exploration of this “terrible lord of mankind,” in spite of its hideousness, has value, allowing for greater compassion, connection to others, and understanding of Christ and of ourselves.
Martha Petersen, Independent Scholar
Moderator: David Gore
3:30–4:50 Session 4b: “Likening”: Poetry as Translation
Members of the LDS church are encouraged to “liken” the scriptures unto themselves. The process of doing so involves an act of translation: readers aim to translate ancient language and stories into modern contexts specific to their own situations. An attentive student of the scriptures and church history effectively translates stories and language into the specifics of her/his own life and concerns.
Poetry itself is a vehicle of translation. By creating an experience for the reader/listener through the tools of framing, imagery, metaphor, and sound, the poem translates meaning from poet to audience. The more specific the poem—in its sensory details, in its evocation of what it feels like to inhabit a certain moment or scene—the more the listener/reader becomes actively involved in the piece, the body responding in sympathy by making connections to his or her own similar experiences with the content, images and sounds. It is through specific details that art is empowered to affect.
In this panel, poets will perform both kinds of translation; by sharing poetry, they will attempt to translate meaning and experience. Additionally, they take as their subject the translation of scriptural language and situations into contemporary syntax and settings, a demonstration of what it means to “liken.”
Darlene Young, Brigham Young University
James Goldberg, Poet, Playwright, and Sometime Historian
Meg McManama Lim, Brigham Young University
Scott Hales, Church History Department
Moderator: Darlene Young
Translation is the Fundamental Practice of the Restoration
Translation has historically been seen as an evidential question. In other words, the raw fact of the English texts of the Book of Mormon or the Book of Abraham demonstrated that Joseph Smith was a miracle worker. This focus on facticity seemed to be a convenient bootstrap for Restoration epistemology. Lately, that approach has seemed worn, even maybe threadbare. But I believe that translation as a miraculous artifact was never the main point within Restoration theology. Instead, I see translation as the fundamental and ubiquitous practice of the Restoration. That word, “translation,” carries the weight of the specter of death and immortality, the transmutation of bodies, and the transformation of texts. I explore three main themes within the overarching practice of translation: metaphysical complementarity, the experience of exile, and the limits of human communication. Working through these themes opens up rich academic, theological, and devotional vistas within the Restoration.
Dr. Samuel M. Brown, University of Utah
Interlocutor: Rosalynde Frandsen Welch
SATURDAY, MAY 27
9:00–10:00 Gather and Late Registration
10:00–11:20 Session 5a: On Interpreters in a Globalizing Church
Translating Signed Languages in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Most scholars have seen the work of a sign language interpreter, but perhaps rarely viewed the role as a subject of inquiry. Since the first known deaf person was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1832, families, neighbors, missionaries, and professionally-trained interpreters have witnessed and worked alongside Deaf Mormon communities. This presentation highlights historical and contemporary research of a largely unknown pedigree of practice for LDS signed language interpreters, who enjoy varying levels of support, recognition, and allowance to carry out their duties. Interpreters report vastly inconsistent experiences, which may lead to magnifying one’s talents in a genuinely positive and uplifting way, moments of hilarity, or bearing witness to minor atrocities, vicarious trauma, and burnout.
Professional interpreters negotiate their role space (Llewellyn-Jones and Lee, 2014) according to the audience, context, and purpose of their work. For those who are also active LDS members practicing within Church settings, issues of gender, status/calling and geography may overtake the focus on education, credentials, and identity/language politics typically navigated during one’s career.
As the global demand for Church resources and materials in various signed languages accelerates worldwide, this presentation responds to questions of doctrinal and cultural themes that Mormon interpreters confront both locally and within Headquarters. The case of General Conference is illustrative, in both professional and ecclesiastical terms, with a quasi-legal and a doctrinal mandate, as interpreters are seen as accommodating both a disabled viewership and a linguistic group. The short-lived option for speakers to use their own languages with simultaneous English interpretation enabled final approval of a longstanding request to have deaf signers as the onscreen interpreters. Seen as a best practice outside of the Church for filmed and platform interpreting, deaf interpreters are now normalized as an irreversible protocol for General Conference.
Anne Leahy, Independent Scholar
Translating Religion: South Indian Latter-day Saint Women and the Challenges of Living an 'American Religion'
Mormonism begins anew every day in the lives of ordinary people. There are also no beginnings without ‘translation’ of some kind whether it be linguistic, figurative, or social.
This paper will be about the beginnings of Mormonism in the lives of South Indian Latter-day Saint women and how they have tried to ‘translate’ Mormonism's peculiarities into a local Indian vernacular through their lived experiences. Mormonism as an ‘American religion’ does not translate seamlessly into a culture so drastically different as India with its complex caste structure, fragmented linguistic landscape and superabundance of social taboos.
Following the lead of Eliza Kent’s exemplary study of Christianity in South India entitled Converting Women, I will explore first-hand accounts of how Latter-day Saint women in South India have navigated the complexities of translating norms of Mormon egalitarianism, dating, marriage, dressing, impermanent local ecclesiastical authority, gender roles and more into their lives.
The overarching aim of this paper is twofold: 1) to recognize these South Indian women (such as my own mother) for what they are – modern Latter-day Saint pioneers in a whole different kind of wilderness, and 2) to point out that the ‘norms’ of American Mormonism are not so normal outside of its borders, a fact we will continue to grapple with as the church becomes more global.
Nicole Issac, Maxwell Institute (Remote)
Tongues and Training: Shifting Understandings of Spiritual Gifts and Missionary Work Among 19th-Century Latter-day Saints
Like many nineteenth-century American Christians, early Mormons believed in the spiritual gift of tongue-speaking, and considered the gift to have important purposes for missionary work. However, “tongue-speaking” did not mean the same thing to everyone; early Mormon understandings of “the gift of tongues” took varying forms—especially as a sudden outpouring of Spirit, a sign of conversion, or a divine support for language acquisition. Each of these applications appears in accounts of early Mormon missions.
However, as the nineteenth century progressed, Mormon understandings of the gift of tongues increasingly shifted to one understanding: divine help for the acquisition of a foreign language, particularly in the context of missionary service. Notably, this shift coincided with the rise of formal missionary training programs sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The coincidence of shifting understandings of the gift of tongues and formal missionary training warrants examination. Did Latter-day Saint mission to new fields (in new languages) influence the decision to require formal training for missions? Did the institutionalization of the Church through formal mission training programs impact LDS views of gifts of the Spirit? In what ways did Church leaders and individual missionaries understand the role of the Spirit in the propagation of the faith?
This paper will highlight a small portion of my ongoing research into shifting understandings of spiritual gifts among nineteenth-century Latter-day Saints, and the links between this shift and changes to the LDS missionary program. In particular, it will explore the importance of Hawaii (the Sandwich Islands) in some of these transitions. After all, some of the Church leaders whose influence contributed to the development of formal missionary training performed missionary service of their own in Hawaii, and the first known language learning program for missionaries developed in Hawaii too (led by Jonathan Napela).
The role of tongue-speaking in Mormon mission, and the ways that role changed over time, yields opportunities to better understand the way Latter-day Saints have translated their message linguistically, and have translated their ideas and their institutions too.
Greer Cordner, Boston University
Moderator: Ben Peters
10:00–11:20 Session 5b: Latter-day Philosophies, Posthuman Theologies, and Fantastic Otherings
Write Yourselves Gods: Post-Humanism as Post-Secularism in Mormon Fantasy Literature
LDS belief slips into LDS literature, from Meyer’s depiction of a version of eternal marriage in Twilight to Sanderson’s representation of mortals becoming Gods in Mistborn. In fact, as prominent scholars have argued, LDS authors often translate beliefs into magical elements that make up their most famous stories, often without mentioning Mormonism at all (England, 1994; Austin, 2015; Toscano, 2010).
To understand this tendency, I look at fantasy novels written by LDS authors to identify moments that reference Mormon ideologies. Specifically, I attempt to situate LDS faith and fantasy in the context of post-secular theory by examining how human characters transform in magical (perhaps divine) creatures in ways that parallel Coviello’s ideas about the King Follett sermon and early Mormon ideas about humans as “embryonic” Gods (Coviello, 2019; Smith, 1995). And these moments are far from uncommon: souls slip out of a sphere that resembles a pre-mortal life in Card’s Children of the Mind and Mull’s Fablehaven shows two children taking on non-human qualities as they become part fairy and monster, respectively (Card, 1996; Mull, 2006). These examples—along with the previously mentioned texts by Sanderson and Meyer—show that the post-human elements in Mormon fantasy literature tend to appear on subjects that hold tension between the secular (“good religion”) elements of LDS faith and parts that, to use Coviello’s words, could be considered “bad belief” (Coviello, 2019, pp. 46). By looking at Mormon ideologies in LDS authored fantasy novels, I aim to explain how beliefs are interpreted in magical world in line with the complexity that lingers in an only somewhat secularized religion’s literature.
Emma Tueller Stone, Cambridge University
Making Theological Kin—A Theology of Birds: Schelling, Bergson, Haraway, and Murakami in Conversation
I aim to talk about Mormon theology from a different perspective. One more intimate with the air and the sky. A theology of birds.
A theology that cannot contemplate the theology of birds is inadequate. It fails as an exploration of God. Therefore, because my spiritual life is conditional on my theology, I will start with birds, then see how it flutters into my theology of humans. I will try to sort out the possibilities that resonate with my experience with the divine to see if I can articulate something productive. By which I mean, something meaningful in my daily walk. I think birds will be necessary. I believe many other things will be important. Like evolution. Like science. Like literature. These will provide the bones of my theological exploration, but like the bones of birds, they are hollow and must be so if flights (of Fabula toons?) beyond the mere mechanical world are going to be useful. By hollow, I mean they must be light enough not to weigh down the other things that will be important for getting above the earthly mundane. But science will be important. It is inadequate for many tasks, and its values and concerns cannot be bootstrapped from its aims and methods; it is the best thing we have for sorting out the realities structuring the cosmos’ framing and structure.
So let us agree that science will be essential for our theology of birds. This theology will hold to notions articulated about frequency, dependencies, processes and particles, fields and probabilities, matter, and energy, we will examine chaos and stasis. Also spirit. I will take three guides for this journey: Romantic philosopher F. W. J. Schelling, French philosopher Henri Bergson, American philosopher Donna Haraway, and Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami.
Steven Peck, Brigham Young University
Onetwo Moremons More: a Latter-day Saint Translation of Finnegans Wake
A reader with an eye attuned to Mormonism might be surprised to have that eye caught by a dozen references to Mormonism in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Appearing as puns and allusions or even “plot” points woven into a text where meanings are stacked upon meanings until nearly all sense of meaning is entirely obscured, my presentation is an explanation of how these references got into the book and how a Latter-day Saint reading of these sections adds additional layers of complexity to the text along with rich opportunities for new interpretations the text. From the city of Nauvoo to the dance halls of Salt Lake City, sacred temple clothing to the endowment ceremony, polygamists hunting new brides to prophets known for having found those brides, there are fascinating things for an LDS-reading to dig out of Finnegans Wake.
Finnegans Wake scholars have made comments on some of these references, but this presentation will provide an overview of my comprehensive research of this topic, the first to unify Joyce’s process of writing the Wake, the texts that influenced this work, and the references that finally made it into Finnegans Wake, along with some very interesting references that were left out in his editing process. I will show that by studying writings regarding the church, joined with popular early attitudes towards the church, Joyce found figures and themes that fit well with his ambitions for the Wake, references which will also stand out to a Latter-day Saint reader of Finnegans Wake looking for anything familiar they might be able to grasp ahold of in their reading of this famously difficult book.
Brigham Barnes, Independent Scholar
Moderator: Alan Manning
11:30–12:50 LUNCH BREAK
1:00–2:20 Session 6a: Sam Brown’s Theory of Translation, Variously
Gathering the Estranged: Comparing the Translations of Roberto Calasso and Joseph Smith
As Sam Brown has argued in detail, Joseph Smith saw separation and alienation across time and space as humanity’s fundamental problems and sought to solve them through a capacious project of translation. This project aimed to give human beings the capacity to inhabit new worlds, both ancient and divine. Smith’s project shares core commitments with the “translations” of Roberto Calasso, the Italian literary maestro, whose work renders ancient and religious texts in a modern idiom that emphasizes experience over transparency and difference over accessibility. The result is books that immerse their readers in a foreign world, disorienting them in order to properly introduce them to the worlds of their Greek, Indian, or Hebrew forebears in a vast and strange human family. The difference of their worlds must be genuinely confronted, Calasso’s work implies, for any real connection to be created. The argument of this paper is that experience with the challenging but illuminating opacity of Calasso’s translations reveals how the disorienting character of Smith’s translations is perhaps a feature, not a bug, of his audacious project to gather every generation in the hands of God.
James Egan, Independent Scholar
A World in Translation: Condemnation and Salvation in Restoration Scripture
Restoration scripture contains numerous references to the world as worldliness, in such phrases as “the eyes of the world,” “the glory of the world,” “the wisdom of the world,” “the vain things of the world,” and “the sins of the world.” The world takes on the explicit meaning of vanity, falsity, riches and honor, popularity, pride, and scorn. These scriptures also provide a vision of “the redemption of the world,” of “a Savior of the world,” “this Redeemer of the world,” “who should take away the sins of the world.” These same scriptures extol the virtues of those “who have endured the crosses of the world” and can “bear the shame of the world.” How can we reconcile a world in need of punishment and condemnation working its way toward an eschatological apocalypse in fire with “the redemption of Christ, whom [Almighty God] has prepared from the foundation of the world”? This paper wagers that the answer is found in the notion of a world in translation, a world that is on its way toward making sense. Drawing on the insights of Samuel Brown’s Joseph Smith’s Translation: The Words and Worlds of Early Mormonism and Peter Coviello’s Make Yourselves Gods: Mormons and the Unfinished Business of American Secularism, I argue that to adopt any position of faith means commitment to a world in process, to the unfinished business of translation.
David Gore, U Minnesota-Duluth
Moriancumer’s Dilemma: Is Divine Language like Transparent Glass or Luminous Stone?
In his stimulating book Joseph Smith’s Translation, Samuel Brown explores Joseph Smith’s yearning for the primordial Edenic language that would eliminate social division among the human family and afford the Saints access to God’s creative power. Brown’s is a work of theologically-inflected history; his method is descriptive, seeking to represent Smith’s project from the inside out, as he and his associates understood it. Using Brown’s analysis as my entry point, I propose to measure Joseph’s personal yearnings against the witness of his textual revelations. Joseph believed that the way to remedy the social division inflicted at Babel and harness the creative power of divine language was through the recovery of the pure language. However, I’ll argue, in conversation with Brown’s book, that careful reading of Moses 6 and Ether 3 shows that the translation and mediation inherent in the social text of scripture is the best--and perhaps the only--means to that end. Scripture as a communal phenomenon both presupposes and creates the need for ongoing translation and mediation, a creative process enabled by the cloudy translucence of authorial intention. Perhaps in contrast to Joseph’s own yearnings, his revelatory texts suggest that luminous divine language is not debased by but rather depends on constant interpretative mediation. God showed Moriancumer that divine language is a luminous stone, not transparent glass.
Rosalynde Frandsen Welch, Maxwell Institute
Moderator: Joseph Spencer
1:00–2:20 Session 7b: In Discussion: Ancient Christians: An Introduction for Latter-day Saints
In 2014, the book Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy broke new ground by examining and rethinking traditional Latter-day Saint “Great Apostasy” narratives. Now, almost a decade later, the book Ancient Christians: An Introduction for Latter-day Saints invites readers into a healthier dialogue with the works left behind by early Christians. This book encourages Latter-day Saints to see ancient Christians as our spiritual ancestors, to recognize how many of our beliefs and practices originated with Christians in the second century and beyond, and to view even those beliefs and practices that differ from our own through the lens of what Krister Stendahl called “holy envy.” Most traditional Latter-day Saint views about a great apostasy are rooted in centuries-old Protestant apologetics. For this reason, the process of translating current scholarship on ancient Christians into the vernacular of a general Latter-day Saint audience poses unique challenges.
Reflecting on these challenges of translation, this panel will respond to the following questions. How does one translate the beauty of ancient Christian writings and material culture for a general Latter-day Saint audience who may hold negative views of the same? How might Latter-day Saints benefit in our relationship with other Christians and in our understanding of our own beliefs and practices by more earnestly studying the writings, art, and practices of ancient Christians? How might Latter-day Saints read our scriptural descriptions of loss and scattering or of restoration and gathering without resorting to antisemitic or anti-Christian positions and narratives? In response to these questions, we will consider how Ancient Christians: An Introduction for Latter-day Saints continues the conversation of books such as Miranda Wilcox and John Young’s Standing Apart and Patrick Mason’s Restoration.
Jason Combs, Brigham Young University
Miranda Wilcox, Brigham Young University
Patrick Mason, Utah State University
Mark Ellison, Brigham Young University
Moderator: Jason Combs
2:30–3:30 Session 8: Last Words
Translate/d: A Self, Less
MSH has meant the world to me. Over my many years as a member of the association and in its executive, I have presented scholarly papers on a range of subjects, literary and artistic, often situated at the intersection of religion and literature.
My 2010 paper—“God Father Love—Literature”—expanded the work of my doctoral dissertation in exploring the encounter with God in “less-traveled” fictions, including, most notably, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. But the paper also constituted a turn in my own “scholarly” writing—a turn that had been building for some time:
away from the theoretical and performative modes that so often characterize the earnest wonkiness of high literary criticism specifically and academic thinking and speaking more generally:
toward a poetics of criticism that engaged the reader more in the beauty of its subject, and in the language of experiential criticism than in the genealogical proofs of personal erudition.
In 2012, I abandoned all pretense at traditional scholarship, presenting a long poetic meditation on discipleship and poetry. Presented at that conference as “What Price Poetry?” and published that same year in Dialogue as “Savior, Silver, Psalms, and Sighs and Flash-burn Offerings” (45.3: pp. 182-200), this piece signaled a breakthrough realization on my part: that my vocation as a poet and my responsibility as a critic were not mutually exclusive things.
Two additional “performances” followed in later years: the long form “Wisdom for the Dead and Dying” at the Boston conference in 2017 (an hour-long, dedicated session) and last year’s “After Keats: Truth and Beauty in an Age of Doubt” (Oxford), itself a poetic response to my previous paper “Out of the Garden: Nature as Site of Revelation in Romanticism and Naturalism” (Cedar City, 2019; pub. Dialogue 52.4: pp. 63-79). The latter addressed the early stages of the critical examination of my own belief—a process begun in the early nineties but accelerated in late 2017—wherein I shared the fruits of subjecting the content and orientation of my belief to the same standards I would subject any other principle, hypothesis, proof, or bald assertion.
This presentation will complete that cycle of work. The long poem is an effort to “translate” for others the result of that years-long process of unpacking, examining, and re-categorizing experiences, articles of belief, testimonies, and impacts. It plays as well on the LDS theological notion of “translation”—namely, the transformative exaltation of physical and spiritual self from one state to another—by re-translating scriptural passages and their received meanings, re-casting the metaphors commonly applied in religious language, integrating “borrowings” from other traditions (religious and non-religious), and culminating in a translated “self.”
The presentation is at once poetic performance and a final case for the critical and exegetical power of poetry, and of poetry as a medium for revelation in secular humanist terms. And it is itself an offering—likely my last at MSH—from one intellect and one co-equal heart to others, however brightly it may flash, however quickly it may burn.
Jonathon Penny, MSH President
Moderator: Benjamin Peters, President-elect by Acclamation