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Kathleen Flake’s 2009 Arrington lecture gave a sneak preview of research she has been conducting on the topic of plural marriage and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. Flake, associate professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt University, brings a unique list of qualifications to her study by combining elements of law, religious studies, ritual, and the skills of an historian. Using these tools Flake explores what she calls the “priestly logic” of plural marriage, seeking to understand not only how 19th century outsiders viewed the peculiar institution, but how practicing Mormons themselves made sense of it. Flake confines her study to the time period of 1852, when Orson Pratt first declared the practice publicly, through 1890 when the first manifesto was issued by the president of the church, ending the practice officially.1 Flake argues that for all the negative reports of plural marriage—both from outside and within the Church—there were also some who flourished under the practice, or at least found a way to make it personally meaningful. The institution of marriage itself has not been a static practice and Flake recognizes the changing opinion regarding the ideal marriage. By the 1800s the view was shifting; marriages were beginning to be entered based on love rather than economic or other considerations. Polygamy seemed to fly in the face of the Victorian idea of marriage in practically every respect. Drawing on the accounts of sympathetic non-Mormons, Mormon leaders, and Mormon women who participated in the practice Flake described the “priestly logic” of the practice, which involved child bearing, family rearing, and kingdom building, all tied together by the ritual act of marriage.


Arrington Student Writing Award Winner for Second Place.



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