Conference Abstracts

9:00-10:30: Panel I: Individualizing Religion: Studying Key Figures

Mark A Lempke (State University of New York at Buffalo, Singapore campus), “Of Pastors, Politicians, and Peace: James Armstrong, George McGovern, and Mainline Protestant South Dakota”

Drawn from elements of a history book manuscript in which I am engaged, my paper will explore the friendship and collaboration between a prominent clergyman and a presidential aspirant.  James Armstrong, the Methodist bishop of the Dakotas throughout the 1970s, and George McGovern, perhaps the era’s paradigmatic liberal, arrived at their staunch opposition to the Vietnam War in conversation with one another.  Each a prominent Methodist with a strong voice in public affairs, their friendship was mutually beneficial, but also rooted in their ideological background.  Both men drew their vision of social justice from the social gospel tradition rooted earlier in the twentieth century, and borrowed from the role of the Old Testament prophet, reminding their countrymen that they had, in their belligerence and neglect for their neighbors, turned from God’s will.

While many associate liberalism in the United States with a forbidding secularism, the collaboration and dialogue between Armstrong and McGovern challenges this trope.  During this silver age of clerical activism, McGovern sought political support during his 1972 campaign from both evangelical and mainline Protestant camps.  Years before the Christian Right came of age, Armstrong, too, broke precedent among clergymen by openly gathering Christian campaign workers for his friend and founding an organization called Religious Leaders for McGovern.

Yet, the calculus of prairie politics in the 1970s ultimately felled the careers of both men.  Armstrong continually challenged his congregants to look with sympathy at the new identity politics groups.  But supporting radical voices who hit close to home, like the American Indian Movement’s occupation of Wounded Knee, cost him his South Dakota flock’s tolerance of his activism.  Meanwhile, McGovern’s unpopular visits to Cuba, and evangelical mobilization in his home state, led to his defeat for Senate re-election in 1980.  Each man seemed to lose his “prairie-qualities” in the minds of the state’s rank and file, and seemed tied to a condescending east-coast establishment friendly to radicals, but hostile to “Middle America.”  In defeat, both men learned a hard, but ancient truth: a prophet is not welcome at home.

Methodologically, my paper is drawn from visits to McGovern’s archives in Princeton and Dakota Wesleyan University, the Methodist archives at Drew University, evangelical materials stored at Wheaton College, and a series of interviews among Christians supporting McGovern’s presidential campaign, including Armstrong and McGovern, before the latter’s death last year.

This paper intends to add a mainline perspective to the many laudable works on evangelicals during the 1960s and 1970s, written in recent years by David Swartz, Brantley Gassaway, and Randall Balmer.  While these writers have convincingly demonstrated that not all evangelicals affiliated with Reaganite conservatism, my work adds a corollary: not all liberals were hostile to courting religious voters or drawing from the Christian theological tradition.  Like Jill K. Gill’s recent work, Embattled Ecumenism, studying antiwar pastors and the National Council of Churches, I wish to look at how ministers and policymakers tied to the mainline churches navigated between the prestige which belonging to these churches historically conferred, and their self-appointed role as prophetic critic of these very institutions.

Mary Jane Woodger (Brigham Young University), “The Innovations, Inspiration, and Implementations of Elaine Anderson Cannon on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Sainy Organizations”

Elaine Cannon “managed to be a full-time mom and still handle a full load of Church and employment responsibilities because she would get up at the crack of dawn and write her daily newspaper column or the manuals of various auxiliaries, leaving her … her ability to manage, juggle and prioritize and inspire.” Serving in various LDS Church callings throughout her life at the age of 80 she was serving as a Stake Relief Society President.  However, two facets of her busy professional and ecclesiastical life are enduring: Cannon was a key figure in organizing the LDS Student Association and establishing Lamba Delta Sigma the Church’s sorority. Secondly, in 1978 she became the Young Women Organization general president.  In these two roles Cannon’s footprint is still seen in these organizations and the individual lives of young women who participated under her leadership.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leadership comes from the lay membership.  As individuals are called to lead auxiliaries their unique personalities and skills make indelible footprints upon the organizations of the Church. Often the education, personalities and attributes of individuals has a great influence in the development and programs of these Church organizations. Each of the thirteen women who have served as the presidents of the Young Women has made unique contributions.  Among these women none have left a more indelible mark than Elaine Anderson Cannon, the Eighth President of the Young Women’s Organization who served from 1978 to 1984. Cannon’s skills and gifts greatly affected the development of this organization and made a lasting impact. Under her direction a worldwide Young Women’s meeting was held and various programs were established.  Likewise, she was instrumental in forming the LDSSA which still serves thousands of young college students nationwide.

This research is a systematic study of Cannon’s influence on the development of policy and practices of these two organizations.  This paper supports the premise that Cannon’s ideas were revelatory in nature and prepared a rising generation of Latter-day Saints for parenthood and Church leadership.  This work is an attempt to show that Cannon’s teachings permeated every aspect of the Young Women’s Organization for many years but more importantly those innovations still are being used today Church wide. This study investigates the extent to which Cannon was a prophetic innovator.  Research includes analysis of every speech, address, and sermon that Cannon gave during her tenure as a general officer of the Church. With the newly acquired Cannon diaries in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections of the Harold B. Lee Library there is a wealth of unplumbed primary documentation that will be researched.

This research will not be a mere recitation of facts. Instead, it will synthesize and interpret data so that readers are provided with a better understanding and perspective of Cannon’s teachings and programs within a historical context. This research can also guide historians and educators in achieving a better comprehension of contemporary Church institutions, practices and issues that evolved during Cannon’s leadership. A new generation can glean from President Cannon’s experience, knowledge, and impact on the transformation of this organization since the 1990s.  Keeping a proper balance between fact and interpretation this paper searches the development and implementation of Cannon’s ideas. As we explore President Cannon’s ideas about values, the home, and family, we will be better understand her influence in promoting more productive, successful LDS Women, and families within the LDS Church.

Fred Woods (Brigham Young University, Provo), “The Sail Before the Trail, or Have We Missed the Boat?”

Highlights from the Mormon Migration website concerning Mormon maritime immigration to America/Utah in the 19th century based on an examination of over 1,000 first person immigrant accounts.


11:00-12:30: Panel II: Addressing Difference I: Within Traditions and Within States

Jeremy Garber (University of Denver – Iliff School of Theology), “‘Another Way’: Modernist Artists and the Desire for Spiritual Community”

Toward the end of understanding how religious communities intersect with popular conceptions of culture, art, and spirituality, this presentation examines a particular 21st century Mennonite-originated community’s mode of engagement with art and cultural media. The Another Way community began meeting in Denver, Colorado, in January 2009, as an experimental community under the umbrella of Mennonite Church USA. The explicit motivation of the founder was to form a religious/spiritual community whose gatherings would be focused around sensing and discussing the presence of the divine, spiritual, or God in art, media, and popular culture. The qualitative research study of Another Way was conducted primarily through participant observation by the researcher and private and group interviews.

This presentation uses Deleuze and Guattari’s analysis of the Oedipal subject in Capitalism and Schizophrenia as well as their understandings of the “work of art” in What is Philosophy? to explore three primary findings of the qualitative research: 1) the tension between majoritarian and minoritarian modes of community, particularly religious or spiritual community; 2) the tension between the desire for community and modern artists’ sense of self as subjective individuals (contra Deleuze and Guattari); and 3) the continuing interpretation of “religion” as an oppressive Oedipal construct and “spirituality” as a liberating yet still individualist subjective mode of religiosity. Thomas R. Lindlof’s definition of community as 1) possessing a ‘unity’ of social obligations; 2) a cluster of shared defining moral obligations 3) stability over time aided by the establishment of symbolic nexuses; and 4) communicative occasions and codes that enable social coordination and definition. Deleuze and Guattari’s theories, combined with Lindlof’s, aid in explaining the tension between Another Way’s desire to be an alternative community and its self-identification as an aggregate of subjectivist individuals, as well as its connection of “spirituality” with positive individualism and “religion” with negative hierarchy, a philosophical construct that interferes with their expressed desire for spiritual communal connection.

Norton Herbst (University of Denver-Iliff School of Theology), “Dispensing with Denominations in Denver: An Ecclesio-theological Analysis and Taxonomy of Non-denominationalism in Modern America”

In David Buschart’s excellent work Exploring Protestant Traditions, he surveys eight “ecclesio‐theological traditions” of the Protestant Church: Lutheran, Anabaptist, Reformed, Anglican, Baptist, Wesleyan, Dispensational, and Pentecostal. Though rich in its historical value and theological analysis of these eight enduring movements, one significant Protestant tradition is missing: non‐denominationalism. Independent or non‐denominational churches have existed in limited numbers since the Reformation era. But in modern America, and especially since World War II, non-denominational churches have exploded in size, number, and influence in cities and suburbs like those that make up metropolitanDenver. Indeed, if taken as one tradition, non‐denominational churches now represent the second largest religious grouping in the country and one of the few remaining Protestant traditions experiencing quantitative growth. So, if non‐denominationalism is a valid Protestant ecclesio‐theological tradition, how does one identify and describe this collection of diverse churches that are defined primarily by what they are not?

First, this paper suggests three foundational attributes of non‐denominational churches. These attributes elucidate their theological presuppositions and explicate how their mission differs from those of their denominational counterparts. Moreover, these core attributes have served independent churches well in an increasingly postmodern, pluralistic culture. Second, this paper offers a taxonomy of four unique streams within non- denominationalism today. While each of these streams differs from the others in important ways, together they retain a coherence and conformity to the foundational attributes of non-denominationalism, such that this ecclesio-theological categorization is useful overall. Most importantly, these conclusions are grounded in a study of specific churches in metropolitan Denver. Their stories, records, ministries, and pastoral leaders offer a wealth of insights that contribute to the larger narrative of non‐denominationalism. Utilizing these local histories and data from Denver area churches, broader research regarding the historical trajectory of non‐denominationalism in American culture, and theological engagement with both, this study should provide a springboard for a much needed and more comprehensive exposition of non‐denominationalism in modern America.

Dennis Potter (Utah Valley University), “Mormonism and the Problem of Heterodoxy”

In 1819, a teenager named Joseph Smith found himself overwhelmed by the various denominations of Protestantism vying for converts in New York state. According to the Mormon narrative, this posed a problem. Usually when Mormons present the story of Joseph Smith, they portray him as being primarily concerned with the question: which religion is true? That is, Smith is often understood as dealing with the problem of interreligious diversity. However, this approach is misleading since Smith already believed in Christianity. In reality, the question posed by Smith is the following: which Christian denomination is truly Christianity? That is, Smith seemed to be concerned with the problem of intra-religious diversity, or, as I will call it, the problem of heterodoxy. These questions are not identical and it is important to pay attention to the difference. The first question is epistemological; the second question is primarily semantic. Furthermore, the semantic question is logically prior to the epistemological one. The reason is that before we can determine which religious tradition is correct, we must determine what the religious traditions actually believe. And the latter is a matter of dispute. For Smith, this problem indicated that the various Christian traditions had strayed from the practices and beliefs of the original Christians. Of course, this is a general problem. Every religious tradition that survives the death of its founder has a difficulty: how to preserve the original content taught by the founder. Since language evolves and meanings change, it would seem that the original contents of the assertions of a founding religious leader are bound to be lost in the river of linguistic flow.

Given this problem, it is no surprise that Smith revealed that none of the denominations were true Christianity. What was needed was a restoration of the original content of the Christian faith. This would require God’s voice to be heard once again. It required post-biblical revelation. And indeed, the revelation must never stop for otherwise the original content would be lost. So, the Mormon doctrines of the restoration and continuing revelation could be seen as Mormonism’s answer to the problem of heterodoxy.

In this paper, I propose to examine these doctrines as a possible solution to the philosophical problems of interreligious diversity and of heterodoxy. I will argue that as an answer to the problem of interreligious diversity the Mormon approach just begs the question. Additionally, I will argue that as an answer to the problem of heterodoxy, the Mormon solution is somewhat more promising—it is not question begging, at least. However, on the most common LDS interpretation of the restoration and continuing revelation, this approach leads to a semantics of religious belief that runs afoul of Wittgenstein’s private language argument. Finally, I argue that the semantic gnosticism that arises from this approach provides a foundation for LDS authoritarianism.

The primary purpose of this paper is philosophical and not historical. It is not my purpose to discover the original theological content of the Joseph Smith movement. Instead, I propose to accept the current LDS understanding of the doctrines of the restoration and continuing revelation, in order to assess the philosophical plausibility of present-day Mormonism. Among my sources will be LDS scriptural texts, secondary literature about Mormon theology and texts from current philosophy of religion.


2:00-3:30: Panel III: Addressing Difference II: Perceptions and Perspectives

Joel Campbell (Brigham Young University), “Unforgiving Land: Understanding the Promise and Demise of Utah’s Failed Religious Colonies”

While most would believe that Utah’s modern religious history is monolithic story about successful religious colonization, there are at least three religious colony experiments that don’t fit that stereotype.

Examples include a group of Jewish settlers who hoped to build “a normal nation” outside of their northeastern urban neighborhoods by returning to manual labor and agriculture in central Utah. Highly touted by the influential Salt Lake Jewish community, state officials, and eastern Jewish organizations, the colony thrived for two harvests. The urban city dwellers, however, didn’t last in the arid Utah valley.  The experiment lasted three years between 1912-1915.

In an ironic twist inside Mormonism’s mostly successful western colonization efforts, a group of Hawaiian Latter-day Saints gathered to Salt Lake City to be closer to the Mormon temple. Discrimination forced these devout Mormons to settle in the desolate Skull Valley 75 miles west of the city.  They called their settlement Iosepa or “Joseph” in Hawaiian. It lasted for more than two decades starting in 1889.  The unforgiving alkali desert, along with the church’s announcement to build a temple on Oahu, led to the end of the settlement and return of many of the Hawaiians to their island homes. Today, Pacific Islander descendants gather each Memorial Day to remember the dream that Iosepa represented.

Farther south and two decades later after Iosepa failed, a New Jersey spiritualist, Marie Ogden, who believed she received revelations through her typewriter created her “Home of Truth.” Followers gathered in remote Dry Valley in San Juan County, particularly from Boise, Idaho.  Ogden bought the town’s newspaper and expanded the spread of her metaphysical beliefs and her settlement. Eventually, her claims to be able to raise the dead and a missing corpse led to the group’s demise.

I will review historical research and original documents looking for explanations to following questions:

What was the religious/spiritual motivation of these three groups to settle in Utah including the role of charismatic leaders, belief systems,  and faith connections?

What spiritual rewards did believers and leaders see could be gained in the remote, arid lands of the West? Did the landscape and climate add to the religious notions of self-denial, self-reliance, self-discovery, and contemplative isolation?

How did these colonies represent a numinous for these believers and how did it also contribute to both the group spirituality and sustainability?

Mary L. Keller (University of Wyoming), “What Indigenous Studies Contributes to a 21st Century Theory of Religious Subjectivity”

How does an Indigenous Studies perspective aid in the development of a comparative theory of religious subjectivity in our interdisciplinary field?  The specializations that have developed recently include cognitive science (Sharma), evolutionary biology, network theory (Mark C. Taylor), and philosophies of time and space that explore the paradoxes of our material bodies as they engage with virtual technologies (Braidotti). These suggest a splintering of specialized discourses.  On the other hand, with the rise of an international Indigenous people’s movement, we also live in a time where Indigenous communities are re-territorializing the cultural landscape with traditions regarding the place and relationships of human bodies to landscapes that are alive with energy and spirits (Weaver, Talamantes, Fixico, Deloria, Deloria, Arnold, LaDuke).  As argued by Charles Long,  “The crisis of self and meaning in the contemporary world is at the same time a crisis of the self, and the objects upon which the self must depend, and the exchange of these objects with others. . . . It is at this point that the indigenous people of the world reveal a resource and invite a contemplation for a form of globalization conduce to a viable human world” (2003: 179).  Particularly appropriate for the Rocky Mountain West is the integration of Indigenous studies theory to our work, grounded in an ethics of difference for the category of Indigenous is itself a category of difference. Indigenous story-telling articulates the primary relationships of humans to the meaning of matter, including moral disciplines to harness the energy of the earth, discern the value of our most basic resources of water, land, and air, and cultivate the interrelationship of humans to plants and animals.

On a warming planet, our capacity “to be at home,” to be indigenous, faces the growing challenges of being “un-housed” by the volatility of the world we have created (from mortgage crises to habitat destruction to climate volatility), crises which will impact Indigenous people disproportionately. Hence this argument is offered from a gnostic diplomat (Kripal) in the service of preserving a world “in which there is room for many worlds” (Sandoval, Introduction).

Susanne Stadlbauer (University of Colorado, Boulder), “Creating a Local Islam: Piety, Locality, and Unity in the Discourse of Muslim Women in Colorado”

This paper examines how women in the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at the University of Colorado at Boulder respond to universalizing media stereotypes of Islam and Muslims a decade after 9/11. Islam in the media has been increasingly spatialized as outside the United States (or Western world) and temporalized as behind “modern” and “American” times. As part of my larger dissertation project, this paper critically assesses the women’s responses to these de-territorializing and de-temporalizing processes and their identity positioning in which spaces and temporalities gain new meaning and moralities. As a sociocultural linguist, I examine these responses and positioning across multiple discourse domains, including ethnographic interviews, personal narratives, and everyday conversational interaction. My data was collected over the course of two and a half years of ethnographic fieldwork and provides on-the-ground examples that contribute to the larger endeavor of analyzing the place of Islam in contemporary Coloradan society.

I specifically focus on how the women construct a personal Islam, which is framed by the ideological bifurcations between individual agency and Islamic practice that secular-liberal media discourses deem incompatible in the Muslim subject. Specifically, the women align their conceptual interpretations of Islam to broader discourses of (1) piety movements, as described in Saba Mahmood’s (2005) ethnographic account of a women’s mosque movement as part of the larger Islamic Revival in Cairo, Egypt; (2) Coloradan Christian piety and purity discourses; (3) secular-liberal political discourses that underpin media stereotypes of Islam; and (4) their extensive discourse of da’wah (outreach to non-Muslims), through which they reposition Islamic doctrine within the terms of American modernity, local Coloradan cultural norms, and the “secular” academic discourse at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Despite their cultural and ethnic diversity, the women repeatedly assert that they feel united by an Islam they view as nonsectarian, nonethnic, and nonnationalist, and hence compatible with cultural, religious, and academic life in Colorado.

4:00-5:30: Panel IV: Too Much / Too Little Religion?

Grace Chiou (University of Denver – Iliff School of Theology), “Enacting the Sacred: The Cultural Landscape of Mile High Vineyard”

“Persons and whole communities render their places meaningful and endow them with social importance” Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places

The interaction between churches and their spaces might appear irrelevant in a period of megachurch auditoriums.  By meeting in schools, office buildings and borrowed churches, “church” may no longer look like the spiritually-infused cathedrals of the past.  Even without stained glass or stone crosses, these ordinary locations cannot be discounted in terms of their impact.  Paul Groth posits that the interaction between people and place shapes shared identity, social relations and meaning.  Members of churches now see their interactions in space as defining that place as sacred rather than a substantive definition of space.  Thus, people imbue places with significance and create spiritual boundaries by their actions.  By examining the relationship between Mile High Vineyard church and its location on the Auraria College campus in Denver Colorado, a dialogue between people and place has created a distinct experience and personality for the church.  Rather than theology set in stone, it is the behaviors and movements which represent their belief system.  This church actively considers the production of and construction of space in order to cultivate individual and communal spirituality.

The methodology for this research has been guided by J.B. Jackson’s questions regarding  place: What’s the history of this particular place?  How do places like this come to exist?  What do they mean to us today?  My methodology was informed by Setha Low’s work, On the Plaza, on the Latin American plaza.  Between the period of April 11, 2011-May 22, 2011, I utilized participant observation and recorded the activity at the 5 pm Mile High Vineyard service in Denver.  This involved charting seating patterns by gender and monitoring patterns of movement and behavior.  I also conducted interviews with eight individuals, two were the pastors of the church.  In addition to answering general interview questions regarding their church background, behaviors and their sense of place, respondents sketched diagrams of their church experience including their pathways or what they could recall of the church’s layout.  This research speaks to larger trends for the nondenominational church today and how material culture informs their religious identity.

Clarence W. Davis (University of Denver – Iliff School of Theology), “Mile-High Black Church Collaboration and Contribution”

This paper argues that Metro Denver Black churches have made a positive contribution to the lives of low-income residents by collaborating with other faith-based organizations and other private-sector organizations (and, occasionally, public sector institutions). The primary areas of focus are health-care, and community revitalization.

Black churches in Denver are particularly effective agents of change when they collaborate with two specific, faith-related, organizations – The Center for African-American Health (the Center) and Together Colorado. By way of social analysis, including interviews and archival research, this paper presents the methods and manner in which the Center for African-American Health and Together Colorado collaborates with Metro Denver Black churches in order to empower “the community to live well” (the Center), and unlock “the power of people to transform their communities through community organizing” (Together Colorado).

According to its website, “The mission of the Center is to improve the health and well-being of African Americans, who have higher rates of illness, disability, and premature death from diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.” Newspaper articles, Center publications, interviews and personal involvement with the Center, serve as the sources from which relevant information is drawn.

Metro Denver Black churches have made positive contributions to community revitalization, or socio-economic health, through their partnerships with Together Colorado, particularly Together Colorado’s Economic Justice focus area. “Together Colorado is a non-partisan, multi-racial, multi-faith community organization that unlocks the power of people to transform their communities through community organizing.” Their focus on unemployment and underemployment, and the collaborative efforts they create and/or sustain to counter unemployment and underemployment receives particular attention.

This paper is both descriptive and prescriptive. The history of The Center for African-American Health and Together Colorado’s work with Black churches is chronicled and elucidated. Additionally, prescriptions for greater effectiveness will flow out of an analysis of the areas of weakness revealed in the history of the collaborative efforts.

Aaron Hagler (Cornell College), “The America that I Have Seen: Sayyid Qutb and Islamism’s Colorado Origins”

Sayyid Quṭb, the native-born Egyptian whose written works, most especially Milestones, became the intellectual bases for what is today known as Political Islam (or Islamism), spent the late-1940s and early 1950s in Greeley, Colorado, on a scholarship studying at the Colorado State College of Education (now the University of Northern Colorado). His time in Greeley, as well as at Stanford University and the Wilson Teacher’s College in Washington, D.C., shaped Quṭb’s views on America, prompting him to write the pamphlet The America That I Have Seen, a scathing critique of all aspects of American life. His time in Greeley was particularly influential.

Drawing upon primary source material (such as Quṭb’s The America That I Have Seen, Milestones, and Quṭb’s first work, Social Justice in Islam, which he wrote while in Greeley) as well as secondary source material (including Moussalli’s Radical Islamic Fundamentalism: the Ideological and Political Discourse of Sayyid Quṭb, Gerges’ America and Political Islam: Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests?, and Malik’s Islam and Modernity: Muslims in Europe and the United States, as well as local Colorado sources relating to Quṭb’s time in Greeley, such as 5280 Magazine’s 2003 feature “Al-Qaeda’s Greeley Roots”), this paper will seek to trace the connections between Quṭb’s memory of his time in Colorado (as evidenced by The America That I Have Seen) with his political philosophy (as evidenced by Milestones, and a number of other works). Special attention will be paid to those aspects of his philosophy that reflect (and helped shape) modern Islamism’s perception of Western political and cultural norms.

My research in general focuses on how Islamist movements, most especially Quṭb’s own Muslim Brotherhood, remember key moments of the Islamic past (the Rāshidūn period and the Crusades, in particular). To what extent did Quṭb’s historical memory of the Islamic past, Muslim norms of justice, culture, and morality, and his own prejudices about the West color his perception of America? To what extent do Quṭb’s perception of his time in Colorado shape Political Islam’s evolving perception of America?


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