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Religious Studies

Professor explores role of women in American religions

June 03, 2014

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In a post for the Mormon history blog The Juvenile Instructor, Associate Professor of Religious Studies Susanna Morrill ties understandings of female roles in the Mormon church to themes in other American religions and American culture.

As a case study, Morrill examines Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of the Relief Society, a handbook distributed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ Relief Society. Founded by Joseph Smith in 1842, the Relief Society was originally organized to protect widows, orphans, and the poor. Today, its main goal is to promote the spiritual growth of women in the church.

“The handbook of the LDS Relief Society tells us a lot about how church leaders and members conceive of the importance of women in the Mormon plan of salvation,” Morrill writes. “But it also illuminates long-standing theological connections made in the United States more generally.”

Morrill sees evidence of Mormon theology in the way American culture has approached gender roles throughout history. Many 19th-century Americans believed, for example, that mothers were the spiritual centers of the home, responsible for raising children as moral citizens. Like members of the Mormon church, Americans of other religions also thought families would stay together in heaven.

Said Morrill, “We can use the Mormon case study as a focusing tool in order to illuminate these religious beliefs and practices in wider American culture.”

Caleb Diehl ’17 contributed to this story.

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