This week is a busy one for me. Apart from my usual classwork and teaching, I am presenting a paper on Friday at Composing Spaces: An Interdisciplinary Graduate Conference, a small conference put on by some of the graduate students in my department. The paper I’m presenting is on a Mormon lit theme. Here’s a slightly revised version of the abstract I submitted to the conference committee:
Mormons have long imagined their spaces and boundaries as simultaneously inclusive and exclusive entities. For instance, the early revelations of Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet, encouraged an active evangelism that sought to unite all of humanity within the family of Christ. At the same time, however, Smith and his followers actively pursued plans to construct a sacred city in western Missouri that would establish a physical boundary between those who were among God’s elect, and those who were not. While their plans for this city were never fully realized, they continued to create other Mormon spaces—some physical, some not—and establish boundaries to maintain and protect them from outsiders
For my presentation, tentatively titled “A Broader Geography of Mormonness: Making Space and Extending Boundaries in the Fiction of Todd Robert Petersen” I intend to look at ways Todd Robert Petersen’s novel Rift seeks to reevaluate how Mormons have traditionally thought about their spaces, the boundaries that maintain them, and those—from both inside and outside of the boundaries—who seem to pose a threat to their integrity. In order to do so, I intend to draw upon Stephen C. Taysom’s recent book Shakers, Mormons, and Religious Worlds: Conflicting Visions, Contested Boundaries and others, like Jan Shipps’s Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons, Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell’s American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us, and a few relevant critical essays to contextualize Petersen’s fiction against the history and theories of Mormon boundary- and space-making. In my presentation, I also intend to draw upon Thomas A. Tweed’s theory of religion from Crossing and Dwelling in a small but significant way to show how Petersen’s fiction suggests ways Mormon boundaries can be rearticulated in a way that is more open and accommodating to difference.
I’m hoping the presentation will go well. I’ll probably write a post about it if anything interesting happens.