Silence and Absence: Feminist Philosophical Implications of Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother

Abstract

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormonism) affirms the existence of a divine woman, a Heavenly Mother as a companion to a Heavenly Father. Feminist philosophers of religion have argued for the importance of a divine feminine as a challenge to patriarchal religion, yet the Heavenly Mother tradition has not created an egalitarian religion in Mormonism. Mormon feminists have charged that relative silence about this teaching is a primary cause of this discrepancy. This paper explores the performative dynamics of speech and silence and their relationship to presence and absence in a feminist analysis of power.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Special thanks to Jeffrey J. Turner and the anonymous reviews who read a draft of this essay and provided some critical recommendations.

  2. 2.

    Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2002, 1992), 5–6.

  3. 3.

    ‘Mother in Heaven,’ LDS.org 2015. https://www.lds.org/topics/mother-in-heaven?lang=eng.

  4. 4.

    Margaret Toscano, ‘Heavenly Motherhood: Silences, Disturbances, and Consolations,’ Sunstone April 3, 2012. https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/heavenly-motherhood/

  5. 5.

    Merlin Stone, When God Was a Woman (New York: Harvest/HBJ: 1976), 228.

  6. 6.

    For an overview of the history of the movement and a critical appraisal of its assumptions, see Cynthia Eller, The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory: Why and Invented Past Won’t give Women a Future (Boston: Beacon Press, 2000).

  7. 7.

    See for instance, Kevin Barney, ‘How to Worship Heavenly Mother (Without Getting Excommunicated),’ Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 41, 4 (2014): 121–46; Fiona Givens, ‘“The Perfect Union of Man And Woman”: Reclamation and Collaboration in Joseph Smith’s Theology Making’ Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 49, 1 (2016): 1–26.

  8. 8.

    Linda P. Wilcox, ‘The Mormon Concept of a Mother in Heaven,’ Sunstone, September–October 1980: 9–15.

  9. 9.

    Janice Allred, God the Mother and Other Theological Essays (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1997), 42.

  10. 10.

    Margaret Toscano, ‘Is There a Place for Heavenly Mother in Mormon Theology? An Investigation into Discourses of Power,’ in Discourses in Mormon Theology: Philosophical and Theological Possibilities, ed. James McLaughlin and Loyd Ericson (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 215–16.

  11. 11.

    Toscano, ‘Heavenly Motherhood.’

  12. 12.

    Valerie Hudson Cassler, ‘I am a Mormon Because I am a Feminist,’ Mormon Scholars Testify, 2010. https://www.fairmormon.org/testimonies/scholars/valerie-hudson-cassler

  13. 13.

    Quoted in David L. Paulsen and Martin Pulido ‘“A Mother There”: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,’ BYU Studies Quarterly 50,1 (2011): 75.

  14. 14.

    Paulsen and Pulido ‘“A Mother There”,’ 71.

  15. 15.

    Paulsen and Pulido ‘“A Mother There”,’ 85.

  16. 16.

    Paulsen and Pulido ‘“A Mother There”,’ 76.

  17. 17.

    Toscano, ‘Heavenly Motherhood.’

  18. 18.

    Toscano, ‘Heavenly Motherhood.’

  19. 19.

    Toscano, ‘Is There a Place for Heavenly Mother,’ 199.

  20. 20.

    Toscano, ‘Is There a Place for Heavenly Mother,’ 206.

  21. 21.

    J. L. Austin, How to Do Things With Words, ed. J. O. Urmson and Marina Sbisà (2nd ed.; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966).

  22. 22.

    Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative (New York: Routledge, 1997), 145.

  23. 23.

    Butler, Excitable Speech, 133.

  24. 24.

    Butler, Excitable Speech, 133.

  25. 25.

    Russell M. Nelson, ‘Truth—And More,’ Ensign (January, 1986). Emphasis in the original.

  26. 26.

    Cheryl Glenn, Unspoken: A Rhetoric of Silence (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004), 2.

  27. 27.

    Glenn, Unspoken, 25.

  28. 28.

    Glenn, Unspoken, 32.

  29. 29.

    Diarmaid MacCulloch, Silence: A Christian History (New York: Viking, 2013), 5.

  30. 30.

    MacCulloch, Silence, 239.

  31. 31.

    MacCulloch, Silence, 239.

  32. 32.

    Margaret Montoya, ‘Silence and Silencing: Their Centripetal and Centrifugal Forces in Legal Communication, Pedagogy and Discourse’ University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform 33 (2000): 263–327.

  33. 33.

    https://www.glsen.org/day-silence

  34. 34.

    Roberts, Dorothy E., ‘The Paradox of Silence: Some Questions About Silence as Resistance’ (2000). Faculty Scholarship. Paper 1318. http://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/faculty_scholarship/1318

  35. 35.

    Hillery Glasby ‘[]: National Day of Silence’s Rhetorical Silence as Performative Rhetorical Activism,’ Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies 12,3 (2016):

  36. 36.

    https://www.glsen.org/article/breaking-silence

  37. 37.

    ‘Finding the Presence in Mormon History: An Interview with Susanna Morrill, Richard Lyman Bushman, and Robert Orsi,’ Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (June 4, 2011). Online. https://www.dialoguejournal.com/2011/06/finding-the-presence-in-mormon-history-an-interview-with-susanna-morrill-richard-lyman-bushman-and-robert-orsi/

  38. 38.

    Jake Johnson, Mormons, Musical Theater, and Belonging in America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2019), 20.

  39. 39.

    Quoted in Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright, eds., Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 175–76.

  40. 40.

    Quoted in Brooks, Steenblik, and Wheelwright, Mormon Feminism, 253–54.

  41. 41.

    Allred, God the Mother, 54–59.

  42. 42.

    Givens, ‘“The Perfect Union of Man and Woman”.’

  43. 43.

    Toscano, ‘Heavenly Motherhood.’

  44. 44.

    Robert A. Orsi, History and Presence (Cambridge: Belknap Press, An Imprint of Harvard University Press, 2018), 38.

  45. 45.

    Orsi, History and Presence, 5.

  46. 46.

    Orsi, History and Presence, 29–30.

  47. 47.

    Orsi, History and Presence, 41–42.

  48. 48.

    Eliza R. Snow, ‘My Father in Heaven,’ Oct. 1845, Times and Seasons (Nauvoo, IL), Nov. 15, 1845, vol. 6, no. 17, p. 1039.

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Petrey, T.G. Silence and Absence: Feminist Philosophical Implications of Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother. SOPHIA 59, 57–68 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11841-020-00770-z

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Keywords

  • Mormonism
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • Divine feminine
  • Heavenly Mother
  • Mormon feminism
  • Performativity
  • Silence