Gender, race and sexuality — what attendees of this year’s Mormon history conference can expect

The June 13-16 gathering, featuring a “who’s who” of Mormon scholarship, will focus on “lived religion” in Kirtland, Ohio, a city dear to the heart of Joseph Smith’s followers.

“Lived religion.”

It’s the phrase on the tip of the tongues of the organizers of this year’s Mormon History Association conference. The June 13-16 event, which will feature many of the biggest names in the world of Mormon scholarship, is open to the public, and if there were ever a year to book a flight, this is it, MHA Executive Director Christine Blythe stressed.

The 59th annual conference will take place in Kirtland, Ohio, the former headquarters of early followers of church founder Joseph Smith, offering attendees the chance to learn about the faith’s history in a place steeped in it.

That includes the famed Kirtland Temple, built in 1836 and preserved by Community of Christ for nearly 200 years before The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bought it earlier this year. The conference will use the site — sacred to both faiths and believed by members of the much-larger Utah-based church to have once hosted Jesus himself — for tours and the closing devotional.

“Kirtland doesn’t belong to one people but multiple peoples,” Blythe, a Latter-day Saint, said, “and spans well beyond the 19th century in terms of importance.”

This year’s gathering is a chance for members, she explained, “to gather and work through” what that means together.

Historian David Howlett, a Community and Christ member and MHA president, seconded this, explaining, “I still almost feel like crying sometimes when I think about” the temple changing hands. Nonetheless, he said, he is “confident” his Latter-day Saint counterparts “will be sensitive” about what the monumental loss means for his religious community.

(David Howlett) David Howlett is a Community of Christ historian, visiting religion professor at Smith College in Massachusetts and author of “Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space.” He serves as the president of MHA.

Latter-day Saint general authority Seventy Kyle McKay, the official historian for the church, will kick off the event with an examination of the Kirtland Temple’s past and future.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) General authority Seventy Kyle S. McKay, church historian and recorder, will be featured at the coming Mormon History Association conference.

Gender, race, sexuality, globalization and Indigenous issues are all topics featured in the conference’s lineup of panel discussions and plenary addresses, including a Saturday session titled “The History and Future of Social Justice Readings of the Book of Mormon.” Still others will examine fundamentalism, podcasting and politics (separately, that is).

Paired with these more contemporary approaches to religion and history will be conversations around how early believers in the Book of Mormon understood and used the sacred text, the hymns church members in Kirtland sang, and what their leaders believed and taught.

Blythe and Howlett said they were particularly excited to hear the data report from Latter-day Saint sociologist and Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess, who will present her latest findings Saturday on “Jack Mormons,” or those members who exist on the community’s edges.

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jana Riess, speaking in 2019, will present some of her latest research into "liminal" Latter-day Saints, also known as "Jack Mormons," at this year's MHA conference.

Also notable, they said, was the Saturday lecture on “sanctified sexuality” by celebrated religious studies scholar Robert Orsi of Northwestern University.

“This conference,” Blythe said, “has something for everyone.”

Those interested in attending virtually can buy tickets online ($125 for non-MHA members, $85 for members and $50 for students). In-person tickets start at $280 per person for nonmembers.