"Reasonings Sufficient" : Joseph Smith, Thomas Dick, and the context(s) of early Mormonism
Journal of Mormon History
Salt Lake City, UT
Mormon History Association
The early development of Mormon Thought has long been a topic of deep interest. Indeed, the very concept of "development" and the idea of tracing "intellectual shifts" and "contemporary influences" enlived many academic works during the period now referred to as the New Mormon History, as historians sought to determine Mormonism's progression and relationship to its broader context. Ideas were treated as organizational structures, by which a rigid linear development could be traced from one point of classification to the next. Examinations of the broader culture were, for the first time, emphasized, as contemporaries of Joseph Smith were discovered to be making similar theological claims. Utilizing the tools of the New Social History that emphasized facts, categories, and otherwise objective measures of examination, many historians of the 1980s and 1990s often highlighted these new-found parallels to contemporary intellectual sources, no matter how tenuous, and then used these connections to draw conclusions about intellectual dependence and the theological concepts that Mormonism subscribed to. This article will revisit the issue of the theological development by focusing on the question of religious influence. Using the example of Thomas Dick, I will briefly outline how the issue of intellectual dependence has been dealt with in past historiography, present the limits and potential pitfalls of these previous approaches, and finally posit what another framework for understanding these issues might be. I will then turn to a demonstration of how this framework may appear when looking at the relationship between Dick and early Mormonism. And finally, I will argue that this new approach will not only help situate early Mormonism within its broader context, but also place emergent Mormon studies within larger and more pertinent academic conversations.