Morris Thurston is a retired lawyer, historian, writer and lecturer who administers the Miller Eccles Study Group website.

Jan 012013


Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt


DATE:  January 8 (Fullerton) and January 9 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are  privileged to have as our January 2016 Miller Eccles speaker, Professor Patrick Q. Mason, Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Mason is the author of a much-anticipated book scheduled for release in December Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt. This important work will explore the challenges many LDS members face when Church doctrines are opposed by worldly influences, or seem opposed to current scientific knowledge, possibly causing doubt, disbelief, inactivity, or formal opposition.

Planted -Book Cover-Patrick MasonTHE TOPIC: For all its beneficial advances, our secular age has also weakened some people’s ties to religious belief and affiliation. Latter-day Saints have not been immune to this trend. In recent years, many faithful Church members have encountered challenging aspects of Church history, belief, or practice. Feeling isolated, alienated, or misled, some struggle to stay. Some simply leave. Many people search for a reliable and faithful place to work through their questions. The abundance of information online can make them feel frustrated. Dr. Mason offers people who struggle with questions—and people who love those who struggle—practical ways to stay planted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather than attempting to answer every possible question or doubt, he presents an empathetic, practical, and candid dialog about the relationship of doubt and faith. “We live in an age of doubt, but we need not be overcome. When we are planted in the Savior, we can be nourished as much by our questions as by the answers.”

Patrick MasonTHE SPEAKER: Patrick Q. Mason is both chair of the Religion Department at Claremont Graduate University as well as Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies. An American religious historian, he earned a BA in History at Brigham Young University, an MA in International Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame, and a PhD in History also from Notre Dame. He is the author of The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South, which examines extralegal violence against Mormons in the South and the limits of religious freedom in late nineteenth-century America. He is also the co-editor of War and Peace in Our Time: Mormon Perspectives, and editor or co-editor of two forthcoming volumes, Directions for Mormon Studies in the Twenty-First Century and Out of Obscurity: Mormonism since 1945. Before coming to Claremont, he held faculty positions at the Notre Dame and the American University in Cairo.

An expert on Mormonism and the historical role of religion in American public life, Professor Mason has often been featured in the national media, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, National Public Radio, PBS, and the Huffington Post. He currently serves as the chair of the Board of Directors of Dialogue Foundation (which publishes Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought), and is a member of the boards of the Mormon History Association, Mormon Studies Review, and the Mormon Studies Group at the American Academy of Religion.

His current writing projects include a college-level textbook that will serve as an introduction to Mormonism, a book (co-authored with David Pulsipher) constructing a Mormon theology and ethic of peace, and a biography of Ezra Taft Benson.

Patrick and his wife Melissa both teach Gospel Doctrine in the Claremont 1st Ward and live in Claremont with their three children.

Posted by Scott Volmar


 Posted by at 8:01 am
Jan 012013

podcast1Did you know that most meetings of the Miller Eccles Study Group since September 2012 are available as podcasts? Thanks to a cooperative arrangement between Miller Eccles and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, if you have to miss a meeting, you can listen to it on your smartphone or computer. What a great way to make productive use of the time when you’re driving, exercising, or working on repetitive tasks that do not require your complete mental focus!

For the past fifty years, Dialogue has been the premier journal of LDS scholarship and we are privileged that our meetings are featured as Dialogue podcasts. It is one of the factors that has made Miller Eccles the best-known Mormon study group in the world.

Click here to go to a listing of all of the available Miller Eccles podcasts, with links for downloading them. Happy listening!

Posted by Morris Thurston

Jan 012013


Nigeria and the Africanization of Mormon Identity


DATE:  November 13 (Fullerton) and November 14 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

Stevenson - For the Cause of RighteousnessWe are thrilled to have as our November 2015 Miller Eccles speaker, Russell W. Stevenson, author of For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2014, which won the 2014 Mormon History Association’s Best Book award. A Ph.D. candidate in African History, Russell traveled to Nigeria in May of this year to conduct oral-history research on Mormonism within the Igbo-speaking community of Southeastern Nigeria.

THE TOPIC: The Nigerian Mormon story enjoys a fascinating cachet in Mormon thought. Often cast as “a people prepared” and “Saints without baptism,” standard Mormon narratives cast Nigerian Mormonism as an expression of racial dispensationalism in the grand arc of the Church in the latter days. But when understood on its own terms, Nigerian Mormonism defies such easy categorizations. Contrary to the narratives of racial dispensationalism, Nigerian Mormonism enjoys legitimacy independent of its attachment to the institutional Mormon community.

Russell’s presentation will reveal the ethnic, political, and religious origins undergirding the Nigerian Mormon experience and will explore Nigerian Mormonism as a complex expression of postcolonial and neo-colonial Nigerian religiosity. Additionally, it will explain the origins of American Mormons’ embrace of African over African-American identities, as found in the writings of Alexander Morrison and E. Dale LeBaron. The story of Nigerian Mormonism reveals the power that African Mormonism has enjoyed in reshaping Mormonism’s cultural contours in the postcolonial world.

Profile.Miller-EcclesTHE SPEAKER: Russell Stevenson is author of For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2014, winner of the 2014 Mormon History Association Best Book Award, as well as Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables. He has
authored articles for Dialogue and Journal of Mormon History on masculinity and the history of Mormonism in Africa. He serves as a booster for, and contributor to, the efforts of Operation: Underground Railroad to free children in bondage worldwide.

Russell Stevenson was born and raised in rural Western Wyoming. He earned his undergraduate degree at Brigham Young University and master’s degree from the University of Kentucky in history.  He has taught history and religion classes at Brigham Young University and Salt Lake Community College. Russell resides in East Lansing, Michigan where he is pursuing a Ph.D. in African history at Michigan State University.

Russell has a large family, with 20 nieces and nephews to keep family functions lively. He currently serves in his ward’s Young Men’s presidency. His pastimes include rock climbing, kayaking, and seeking out the country’s best chicken tikka masala.

Posted by Scott Volmar

Jan 012013


Notes from the Field of Mormon Women’s History


DATE: October 9 (Fullerton) and October 10 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

Gates, Susa Young (1)We are excited to have as our October 2015 Miller Eccles speaker, Dr. Lisa Olsen Tait. A writer and historian, Dr. Tait will speak about the life, accomplishments and impact of Susa Young Gates, both in the Church and in Utah society.

THE TOPIC: Susa Young Gates was a remarkable woman; preeminent in a generation of eminent Mormon women—a writer, editor, Church leader, genealogist, temple worker, political operative, and dynamic personality who claimed she was called the “thirteenth apostle.” She advocated the advancement of women in politics, education, employment, physical health, and domesticity. But she was also largely responsible for formulating the paradigm that “men have priesthood and women have motherhood,” and she firmly advocated a belief in male headship as immutable eternal truth. The apparent contradictions in her life and ideas bring to the fore both the uses and the limitations of Mormon women’s history in speaking to current issues.

10 5 (3)THE SPEAKER: Lisa Olsen Tait holds a PhD in American Literature and an interdisciplinary Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies from the University of Houston. She has published award-winning articles and presented research about gender and generational dynamics in nineteenth-century Mormondom. Her long-term project is a biography of Susa Young Gates in cultural and historical context. She works as a historian and writer on the web team at the Church History Library and serves on the executive committee of the Mormon Women’s History Initiative Team (MWHIT), an independent group that fosters research and networking in the field of Mormon Women’s History.

Dr. Tait lives in Highland, Utah with her husband Mike and their four children. Their youngest child and only daughter is mentally handicapped. She and her husband are involved with the Special Olympics.

She has served in many callings including Primary President, Young Women’s and Relief Society Presidencies, and teaching Relief Society and Gospel Doctrine classes.


Posted by Scott Volmar

Jan 012013



Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness


DATE:  September 11 (Fullerton) and September 12 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are pleased to have as our September 2015 Miller Eccles speaker, Professor W. Paul Reeve, author of the recently published book, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness, published by Oxford University Press.

Paul Reeve BookTHE TOPIC: While most people are familiar with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ nineteenth-century racial policies, few are equally familiar with the ways in which outsiders conflated Mormons with blacks. This lecture explores the ways in which outsiders racialized Mormons in the nineteenth-century and denigrated them as “white slaves,” facilitators of racial contamination, and “Mormon coons.” In a national racial context that privileged whiteness at every turn, Mormons responded by making efforts to claim whiteness for themselves. It was a struggle that had far reaching implications, from the nineteenth-century to the twenty-first, and from Brigham Young to Mitt Romney.

Paul Reeve Photo

THE SPEAKER: W. Paul Reeve is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Utah. He is also the author of Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes, and co-editor with Ardis E. Parshall of Mormonism: A Historical Encyclopedia.  With Michael Van Wagenen he co-edited Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore. He is the former Associate Chair of the History Department at the University of Utah and current Director of Graduate Studies where he teaches courses on Utah history, Mormon history, and the history of the U.S. West.  He is the recipient of the University of Utah’s Early Career Teaching Award and of the College of Humanities Ramona W. Cannon Award for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities.  He serves on the Board of Editors of the Utah Historical Quarterly and was a past board member of the Mormon History Association and the Faculty Advisory Council of the University of Utah Press.

Dr. Reeve lives in Bountiful, Utah with his wife Beth and their six children, five of whom are currently teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17. He has served in many stake and ward callings and serves as a primary teacher.

Posted by Scott Volmar

June 19-20, 2015 — Steven L. Peck

 Posted by at 7:22 am
Jan 012013

Have I Really Done My Genealogy if I Don’t Include My Fish Grandmothers?: The Case for Evolution’s Necessity in Mormon Theology

DATES:  June 19 (Fullerton) and June 20 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are pleased to have as our June 2015 Miller Eccles speaker, Steven L. Peck, a biologist and evolutionary ecologist, who will share his unique perspective on the connection between evolutionary science and religious faith.

THE TOPIC: Professor Peck will give us an overview of the past relationship between evolutionary science and the LDS church. He will then look at the science of evolution, which is among the strongest and most vibrant sciences at work today. These findings have important implications for LDS thought. Far from seeing irreconcilable conflicts, however, Professor Peck sees Mormonism fitting so snuggly with evolution that it should be considered as the default position in our creation theology. He will discuss the potential sources of conflict between evolution and LDS doctrines and make suggestions as to how to mitigate them.

Could be the one.  MEBTHE SPEAKER: Steven L. Peck is an associate professor of biology at Brigham Young University, where he teaches the history and philosophy of biology and bioethics. He has a PhD in biomathematics and entomology and currently does research in theoretical mathematical ecology, the philosophy of biology, and insects. He blogs at By Common Consent, a website designed “to provide a thoughtful, enjoyable, and reasonable place to post and discuss Mormon topics” and also runs his own blog, looking at science and faith, at Science By Steve.

His publishing history includes scientific works including over forty articles published in American Naturalist, Newsweek, Evolution, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Biological Theory, Agriculture and Human Values, Biology & Philosophy, and an edited volume on environmental stewardship.

Professor Peck has published two acclaimed novels: The Scholar of Moab, a finalist for the Montaigne Medal, published by Torrey House Press, and A Short Stay in Hell, published by Strange Violins Editions. He has a juvenile fantasy called the Rift of Ryme, published by Cedar Fort Press. In 2011 he was nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award for the poem, “The Five Known Sutras of Mechanical Man,” published in Tales of the Talisman. He received first place in the Warp and Weave Science Fiction Competition and received Honorable Mention in the 2011 Brookie and D.K. Brown Fiction Contest

His short stories have been included in Daily Science Fiction, H.M.S. Beagle, and Warp and Weave, and his science fiction novella, Let the Mountains Tremble for the Adoni Have Fallen, was published in October by Peculiar Press. Poetry by Peck has appeared in Bellowing Ark, Dialogue, Glyphs III, Irreantum, Pedestal Magazine, Red Rock Review, Tales of the Talisman, Victorian Violet Press, and Wilderness Interface Zone. A chapbook of Peck’s poetry, Flyfishing in Middle Earth, was published by the American Tolkien Society. A selection of his poetry was included in the anthology, Fire in the Pasture. Peck was selected as the second-place winner in the 2011 Eugene England Memorial Essay Contest.

Steven and his wife Lori have five children. He currently serves as a High Priest Group instructor in the Pleasant Grove, Battlecreek 9th ward.

An alternate biography, descriptive of his life using his usual wit and humor, can be found here:

Posted by Scott Volmar

May 8-9, 2015 — Eric D. Huntsman

 Posted by at 7:22 am
Jan 012013

The Search for the ‘Real’ Jesus of Nazareth:

The Jesus of Faith, History, and Revelation


DATES: May 8 (Fullerton) and May 9 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are pleased to welcome our May 2015 Miller Eccles speaker, Eric D. Huntsman, Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU, Coordinator for Near Eastern Studies, Kennedy Center for International Studies, and Affiliated Faculty, Classics and Near Eastern Studies.

Huntsman Eric 2011THE TOPIC: Throughout most of the Christian era, believers based their understanding of the life and mission of Jesus Christ primarily on the canonical gospels and to a lesser extent on references to him elsewhere in the New Testament and upon church tradition. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, scholars began to apply source criticism, extra biblical texts, and the criteria of scientific history to the study of Jesus, spawning what has become known as Historical Jesus Studies. Since that time, the search for the historical Jesus has gone through three distinct phases or “quests.” Some people of faith have been suspicious of some of the conclusions or proposals that have come from these quests for the historical Jesus, but recently some believing scholars have been using the same methodology to come up with more faith-affirming conclusions in what is coming to be known as the “fourth quest.”

Dr. Huntsman will discuss the extent to which the Jesus of Faith and the Jesus of History match the personal experiences of believing Latter-day Saints with the risen Lord in their study, prayer, and worship.  The discussion is an attempt to better know the real Jesus and humanity’s relationship with Him, which characterizes eternal life (see John 17:3).

THE SPEAKER: Eric D. Huntsman was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico and raised in New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. He graduated from BYU with a BA in Classical Greek and Latin in 1990. He earned an MA and Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, both in Ancient History, where he specialized in Imperial Roman history and women in antiquity. He began teaching at BYU in Classics in 1994 and transferred to Religious Education in 2003, where he is a professor of Ancient Scripture. After teaching at the BYU Jerusalem Center in 2011-2012, he returned to BYU, where he was appointed the director of the Ancient Near Eastern Studies program.

Since transferring to Religious Education, Dr. Huntsman has specialized in the New Testament, where he has published on a number of topics, especially the writings of John and the Ministry and Atonement of Christ in the New Testament Gospels. He is  co-author of Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament,  published by Deseret Book. He has also published three monographs on Jesus: God So Loved the World: The Final Days of the Savior’s Life (a study of the Passion Narratives); Good Tidings of Great Joy: An Advent Celebration of the Savior’s Birth (a study of the Infancy Narratives); and The Miracles of Jesus, all published by Deseret Book. He is currently working on a book entitled Worship: Encountering and Being Transformed by God. He is also beginning a commentary on the Gospel according to John for the BYU New Testament Commentary series. His full vita and other details are available on Dr. Huntsman’s website.

Dr. Huntsman was a full-time missionary in the Thailand Bangkok Mission and has served as a bishop. He is currently an ordinance worker in the Provo Temple and sings with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He and his wife, Elaine, live in Provo with their two children.

Posted by Scott Volmar

April 17-18, 2015 — Mark Alan Wright

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Jan 012013

Lost in a Fertile Wilderness:

The Perils and Possibilities of Archaeology and the Book of Mormon

DATES:  April 17 (Fullerton) and April 18 (La Canada – Flintridge).

TIME: 7:30 p.m.

We are excited to have as our April 2015 Miller Eccles speaker, Dr. Mark Alan Wright, an Assistant Professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU. Dr. Wright is an an anthropologist, archaeologist and an expert on ancient Mesoamerican writing systems.

Wright_HeadshotTHE TOPIC: Latter-day Saints have been waiting for the earth itself to testify of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon since the time of its coming forth. Joseph Smith himself attributed relics and remains unearthed in the New World to the Nephites and Lamanites, and ardent believers in the Book of Mormon have been doing so ever since. Unfortunately, too many of these claims have been made by well-meaning but misinformed enthusiasts plagued by a limited understanding of the intricacies of archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, and other related fields.

This presentation will use current Mesoamerican scholarship to problematize some of the more well-known claims that believers often point to as evidence of the book’s authenticity. It will emphasize, however, that despite these spurious claims, a strong case can still be made for maintaining a belief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon (and that Mesoamerica continues to be the most plausible location). Furthermore, it will show how the contributions of qualified and respected Latter-day Saint Mesoamericanists, guided by their belief in the Book of Mormon, continue to quietly shape the academic field of Mesoamerican studies in important ways.

THE SPEAKER: Dr. Mark Alan Wright is a native of Southern California, born and raised in Long Beach. He did his undergraduate studies at UCLA and earned his MA and PhD from UC Riverside. All of his degrees are in Anthropology, with subfields of specialization in linguistics and Mesoamerican archaeology. He regularly conducts research in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. Dr. Wright is Assistant Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University and Associate Editor of The Journal of Book of Mormon Studies at the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. He has presented his research at academic conferences at Oxford, Harvard, Yale, Duke, and many other major universities. He has been published in Studies in the Bible and Antiquity, The Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture, and Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture, in addition to chapters published in a number of edited volumes.

He is married to Traci Wright, Adjunct Professor of History at Utah Valley University. They live with their beautiful and precocious toddler Annika on the shores of Utah Lake in the sleepy town of Vineyard.

Posted by Scott Volmar