BYU Humanities Faculty Win Awards at Annual Mormon History Association Conference

Professors James Toronto (Asian & Near Eastern Languages), Julie Allen (Comparative Arts & Letters), and James Swensen (Comparative Arts & Letters) garner awards for their books at the most recent Mormon History Association Conference.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (June 6–9, 2019)—The Mormon History Association (MHA) recently held its 54th annual conference, which appeals to all those who have an interest in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Each year, the MHA recognizes authors of books that help explore the Church and its history. The conference is held both in and out of Utah and attracts people from many religious, academic, and geographical backgrounds.

This year, three members of BYU’s College of Humanities were honored with awards at the conference: Professors James Toronto, Julie Allen, and James Swensen. Dr. Toronto received the award for best international book alongside his co-authors for Mormons in the Piazza: History of the Latter-day Saints in Italy. The book explores how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as an American-born religion, took root in Catholic Italy. Drawing from archival materials and scholarly literature in Italy, the accounts of Italian converts, and stories from the missionaries that served there, the book explores social, religious, and economic factors that facilitated the Church’s growth over a period of 150 years. Toronto notes that while the book focuses on “the intersectionality of the culture and faith of Latter-day Saints from an American context moving to a completely different context,” it also “addresses larger questions about how new religious movements develop and expand.” In doing so, Mormons in the Piazza offers a perspective that reflects the experiences of Italians, setting it apart from other religious histories that have tended to privilege the views of American missionaries.

Dr. Julie Allen’s Danish but Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity 1850-1920, received an honorable mention for best international book. The work examines how the introduction of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints into Denmark provided what Allen calls “a major break with the religious homogeneity” that the Danish people were used to. Noting that being Lutheran previously “had been the central unifying feature of [the Danes’] national identity,” Allen’s book analyzes how new Danish converts reconciled their cultural identity with their new religion and, in some cases, new homeland as they immigrated to the United States. Although Danish but Not Lutheran deals with early converts to the Church, there are clear parallels to modern Latter-day Saint culture. As Allen noted, writing the book made her “more conscious of how we treat people who make choices that make them different from the rest of the people around them.”

In a Rugged Land: Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, and the Three Mormon Towns Collaboration by Dr. James Swensen was awarded an honorable mention for best book. Swensen examines how these influential photographers came together in 1952 to photograph three towns of southern Utah: Gunlock, Toquerville, and St. George. Although Lange and Adams were friends, their collaboration came with its share of challenges since, as Swensen notes, “they . . . really had different ideas about what photography was about.” When these two perspectives collided, however, magic happened. Many of the photographs Swensen examines have never been published before. Swensen hopes that by inviting the public to read about and view these timeless works of art, more people will understand why Lange and Adams chose to explore the Latter-day Saint culture of southern Utah. “There was a reason why Dorothea Lange and Ansel Adams went there,” Swensen explains. “They were interested in these sort of virtues that they believed were slowly being abandoned elsewhere.”

To see a complete list of this year’s awards or to find out more about the Mormon History Association, visit their website by clicking here.

Jensyn Eubank (English, ’19)