Dimensions of Faith


A study of Mormonism’s quirks, cultural narratives, and histories from some of the best thinkers in contemporary Mormon Studies.

June, 2011


In the brief time between when the alarm clock rings and the start of the day, we usually cherish those few extra moments of warmth in the sheets. However, soon enough we’re happy to be up and about, exploring the world around us. Similarly with religious studies, we may cling to the comforts of the past—what we find familiar in our faith—but then curiosity and conscience pull us to new revelations and sources of knowledge.

In these seventeen articles on things Mormon—prominent people, religious experience, memory, media, literature, and investigative theory—there is an obvious respect for the past and simultaneous desire to get to the bottom of things, to test the boundaries of knowledge. For instance, Jonathan Stapley and Kristine Wright look at the history of ritual healing within Mormonism, including the use of magic handkerchiefs and blessings performed by women. Matthew Bowman’s essay on “A Mormon Bigfoot” looks at the story retold in Sunday school and elsewhere about an early Church apostle who saw the biblical Cain. Brian Stuy examines Church President Wilford Woodruff’s account of the American founding fathers reaching from beyond the grave—a summons the prophet responded favorably to—requesting temple baptisms on their behalf. Unknown to Woodruff, this ordinance had been performed the year before. And Kathleen Flake looks at how the First Vision and other founding narratives were not emphasized in the Church until the twentieth century.

Other contributors include Gary James Bergera, Martha Bradley, Newell Bringhurst, Samuel Brown, Claudia Bushman, Brian Cannon, Douglas Davies, Rebecca de Schweinitz, Lawrence Foster, Reinhold Hill, and Jacob Olmstead.

Stephen C. Taysom is a professor of religious studies at Cleveland State University. He is the author of Shakers, Mormons, and Religious Worlds: Conflicting Visions, Contested Boundaries and a contributor to Telling the Story of Mormon History. He has published in BYU Studies, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Mormon Historical Studies, and the Western Historical Quarterly. He and his family live in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Additional information

Book Author

2 reviews for Dimensions of Faith

  1. Julie J. Nichols, Association for Mormon Letters

    Stephen C. Taysom, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Cleveland State University and the editor of this impressive collection, declares in his introduction that this is the book he “would love to have had as a graduate student. That way, [he] could have simply thrust it wordlessly into the hands of those who expressed skepticism about the fitness of Mormonism as an object of serious academic study. Anyone who gives the essays in this book a thorough and fair reading will be left with no reservations on that score” (vii). Readers should not think of it as a “comprehensive archive,” he says, but as “an introduction to the kind of fine scholarship that is flowering in the field.”

    The anthology is beautifully produced, thoroughly documented, and diverse and interesting in its subject matter. The essays are grouped into five categories: biography, theory, experience, memory, and media/literature, and include such wide-ranging topics as the images of Mormons in early twentieth-century film (and the way the Church handled these images); Joseph Smith’s use of William W. Phelps as a ghostwriter; Mormon studies in late twentieth-century Europe; and Wilford Woodruff’s vision of the Founding Fathers. I recommend it without hesitation: the essays, by well-known and not-so-well-known scholars throughout the Mormon Studies world, are all gems, thoroughly researched, convincingly written, and fascinating in their conclusions. Every one deserves to be in a “Reader in Mormon Studies.”

    A glance at the table of contents arouses curiosity and interest from the first essay (“The Private versus Public David O. McKay: Profile of a Complex Personality,” by Newell G. Bringhurst, originally published in the Fall 1998 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought) to the last (Claudia Bushman’s “Edward W. Tullidge and The Women of Mormondom,” published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought in 2000). Among my favorites, simply because they pertained to questions in which I have a long-standing personal interest, were Matthew Bowman’s “A Mormon Bigfoot: David Patten’s Cain and the Conception of Evil in LDS Folklore,” in the “experience” section, and “Re-placing Memory: Latter-day Saint Use of Historical Monuments and Narrative in the Early Twentieth Century,” by Kathleen Flake, in the “memory” section.

  2. B. Hodges, By Common Consent

    Taysom’s book is a testament to the fact that the emerging field of Mormon studies is white, already to harvest, “wide enough to accommodate all who put forth the effort and expend the intellectual energy to contribute” (x). This seems to be the primary reason Taysom edited the collection, the success of which can be measured to the extent that “it leads readers to other books and articles in the expanding world of Mormon studies. Moreover, its success will be amplified if it provides writers and researchers with new ideas and approaches to energize their own work” (vii-viii). There is enough diversity and rigor in Taysom’s Mormon Studies Reader to demonstrate the vibrancy of Mormon studies today, while simultaneously showing us that things are only just beginning. The individual papers are worthy of Taysom’s task.6

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *