Largest-ever Mormon History Association conference shows study of past is alive and well in the present

Logan gathering will feature hundreds of presenters from around the world.

(Tribune file photo) Brigham Young, second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

With more than 200 presenters from nearly every continent, and many more attendees, this year’s annual Mormon History Association conference, to be held June 2-4 at Utah State University in Logan, may very well represent the largest gathering ever of academics and scholars studying Mormonism.

Titled “Landscape, Art and Religion: The Intermountain West and the World,” the event will feature nearly twice the number of panels when compared to previous years, with 10 to 11 possibilities to choose from in each concurrent session. Discounts are available for MHA members and students.

True to its title, the conference — perhaps more than any before it — seeks to “extend the realm of history into the cultural past as well as into the religious, political and scriptural past,” according to Claudia Bushman, current president of MHA.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photos) Richard and Claudia Bushman in 2018.

This emphasis is reflected throughout the programming, starting with Thursday night’s opening reception featuring a carefully curated art exhibition followed by a concert featuring the Deseret String Quartet and Craig Jessop’s American Festival Chorus. The reception and performance are free and open to all.

Architecture, film, literature and visual arts are featured prominently throughout the next two days of presentations and roundtables, all of which will be streamed online for $60.

At the same time, topics relating to race, gender and indigeneity are woven into many of the presentations’ titles, including the Friday afternoon panel “CRT and CTR: Fifty Years of Teaching the History of Race in Zion.” Chaired by USU’s Ross Peterson, its presenters include the University of Utah’s Ronald Coleman, Genesis Group co-founder Darius Gray, and U. Professor Emeritus Larry Gerlach.

Meanwhile, author Greg Prince will head a session on the Gay Mormon Literature Project, which describes itself on its website as “the mountain vault for gay stories in Mormonism — an archive of literature with LGBTQ+ Mormon characters and themes.”

For her part, Bushman said she is particularly curious to hear religious studies darling Kathryn Lofton of Yale University present on the history of the “Mormon smile,” scheduled for Saturday at 9 a.m.

Writer Kristine Haglund, who, along with historian Richard Bushman, served as a program committee chair, said the conference embodies larger trends within the study of Mormonism, including the arrival of newer and younger voices.

“There is lively interest among younger scholars,” Haglund, author of a new book about the late essayist Eugene England, said. “I feel less worried about ‘the graying of Mormon studies’ that we talked about nervously in the early 2000s.”

(Courtesy) Kristine Haglund's new book about the work of Latter-day Saint essayist Eugene England.

Haglund also stressed that not all the most interesting work is relegated to the ivory tower.

“The professionalization of Mormon history and Mormon studies continues steadily,” she said, “but MHA and other Mormon organizations have continued to make space for talented laypeople, too, which constantly reminds us about why and how and to whom history matters.”

Those interested in attending in person or online can still register through MHA’s website.