The 2023 conference theme “Beginnings” intends to evoke the many beginnings in Mormon history. Those beginnings include Joseph Smith’s first vision and the establishment of the Church of Christ in upstate New York, but also the many other firsts throughout the faith’s subsequent history. As this American religious tradition has grown from a fledgling church to a global movement with multiple expressions, it has attracted followers and critics, nurtured disciples and dissenters, and generated gatherings and schisms. It has, in many respects, begun over and over again.
Change is a key tenet of Mormonism, from its birth in the fires of the revivals of the early nineteenth century to its introduction of new teachings, policies, and organizations as it expanded its reach and extended its influence. Individually and institutionally, the faith and its practitioners have wrestled with the shifting theological, social, and political issues of American and global history, navigating and adapting in response to slavery and abolition, political opposition toward religious practices, the struggle for women’s rights, the emergence of the United States as a global military and political force, and, more recently, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights and growing political polarization around the world.
The Rochester conference provides scholars the occasion to reassess important moments in Mormon history, as well as to explore how the faith has navigated the changing world it constantly confronted over the course of that history. It allows attendees to walk where Joseph Smith, Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass, and other such luminaries once walked, and to be materially reminded of the visions, visionaries, and movements that emerged from upstate and western New York. It also invites attention to Latter Day Saints’ historical and contemporary relationships with the region’s indigenous inhabitants. We acknowledge with respect the Seneca Nation, known as the “Great Hill People” and “Keepers of the Western Door” of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, on whose lands Rochester resides.
The process of “restoration” so central to the Latter Day Saint movement has been the effort of many women and men. Their respective visions of and interpretations may or may not have aligned with institutional authority or goals. Much of that disagreement has centered around the movement’s beginnings and its ultimate purposes. New and competing ideas and the tensions that developed from them further fostered beginnings through schism, excommunication, reformation, or reorganization.
Director & Librarian of the John Carter Brown Library and Professor of History, Brown University
Richard Newman is a historian of American, African American and Environmental History and a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology.
Nineteenth-century women's history specialist; PhD in American history, George Mason University
Sara M. Patterson is a Professor of Theological Studies and Gender Studies at Hanover College. She holds the inaugural Baron Professorship in Social Justice Education.
Matthew Bowman is associate professor of history and religion at Claremont Graduate University, where he serves as Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies. He is the author of several books.
David Howlett teaches courses on religion in America at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.
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The Journal of Mormon History is an official publication of the Mormon History Association (MHA). Its purpose is to publish scholarly work covering the full scope of Mormon history, which represents domestic and international perspectives
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Ganondagan State Historic Site located in Victor, NY is a National Historic Landmark, the only New York State Historic Site dedicated to a Native American theme (1987), and the only Seneca town developed and interpreted in the United States.
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