Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Possible Stratifications of early Mormon History

If we want to apply Braudel's conceptualization framework, suitably updated, to the rise of Mormonism in upstate New York, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri, then we need to identify the separate temporal strata of the context in which the event history plays out. This is equivalent to asking what would be in the three "parts" of our The American North during the Life of Joseph Smith Jr, if the parody be permitted.

One of the exciting aspects of taking this tack is that concept of la longue durée is potentially best applied not to the geographical features, but to those of the history of mentalities. Specifically, the continued presence of Gnostic and Hermetic traditions in Mormon cosmology is well worked out, as is the presence of folk magic and treasure hunting--two traditions that stack up as if internally segregated parts of la longue durée (given the temporal limits on Spanish colonization on the American continent).

Other mentalities, themselves with significant durations, were just coming to an end. While during Joseph Smith Jr's lifetime, methodism was still a rebellious new religious movement for the New Yorkers, it would soon settle and become part of the religious establishment, akin to the way 21st century Baptism has become to be equated with conservatism in the continental US of A (esp. in the South).

Alternatively, the specifics of geography were experiencing massive revision during the time. The Erie canal, completed during this time and visible from Joseph Smith Jr's home in Palmyra, fundamentally changed the context of the Great Lake region; the beginning of a longue durée comparable to an earth quake changing a regional hydrology. The rise of the steamboats on the Ohio river, exemplified by their early adoption during the Mormon time in Nauvoo, also form part of this backdrop of establishing new patterns with significant continuation (in 2011, 14.3 million tons of goods worth 6 billion US$ moved through the state of Ohio via the Erie Canal and the Ohio river).

As innovative as Joseph Smith Jr, Oliver Cowley and the other thinkers of the early Mormon church were in working out their relationship with the Christian tradition, they drew on local patterns of settlement, farming practice, commerce and banking, music and entertainment, policing and military organization. These patterns belong to la duree médiane, so they not date back to even older times.
They also drew on the rich organizational experience of religious communities, be they the Carians or some of the Pietistic prophetic groups in northern Pennsylvania that Smith Jr and Cowley were familiar with since their youth.
There was "sectarian know-how" here that the rising Mormon church took advantage of, continuously.

No comments:

Post a Comment