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The Religious Heritage of the British Northwest and the Rise of Mormonism*

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1 Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Period 1, ed. B. H. Roberts, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 4:150–153.

2 Smith, History of the Church, 4:215.

3 Wilford Woodruff, Wilford Woodruff: His Life and Labors, ed. Matthias F. Cowley (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1964), 119; David J. Whittaker, “Harvest at Herefordshire,” Ensign (January 1987): 46.

4 Job Smith, “The United Brethren,” Improvement Era 13 (July 1910): 819.

5 See Stephen J. Fleming, “ ‘Congenial to Nearly Every Shade of Radicalism’: The Delaware Valley and the Success of Early Mormonism,” Religion and American Culture 17:2 (Summer 2007): 130–31. For instance, E. P. Thompson fit Mormonism into his broader argument of the “reflex of despair” with the quote from an early Mormon missionary that his converts were “extremely poor, most of them having not a change of clothes to be baptized in”: E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Pantheon, 1964), 802. Thompson pulled this quote from a book by W. H. G. Armytage but neglected to mention Armytage's other quotation from a Liverpool newspaper saying that the emigrating Mormons “are in appearance and worldly circumstances above the ordinary men of steerage passengers”: W. H. G. Armytage, Heavens Below: Utopian Experiments in England, 1560–1960 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1961), 261–62.

6 P. A. M. Taylor, Expectations Westward: The Mormons and the Emigration of their British Converts in the Nineteenth Century (Edinburgh and London: Oliver Boyd, 1965), 150–51; Malcolm Thorp, “The Field is White Already to Harvest,” in James B. Allen, et al., Men with a Mission: The Quorum of the Twelve in the British Isles 1837–1841 (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992), 338. Compare to the numbers in Michael R. Watts, The Dissenters, 2 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1978–1995), 2:310–11, 741. This comparison lacks precision because Thorp and Taylor did not use the same classification as Watts. Furthermore, Taylor's and Thorp's data included a sizeable portion in the “miscellaneous” designation, adding further ambiguity to the comparison. The Mormons did seem to have fewer middle-class converts compared with the rest of society, but they also had fewer of the lowest class, unskilled labor. Thus the Mormons seem to have clustered near the median of the society. I found similar results among the Mormon converts in the Delaware Valley without a Quaker ancestry (the lapsed Quakers who joined the Mormons in the area were quite wealthy): Fleming, “The Delaware Valley and the Success of Early Mormonism,” 145–146.

7 Nearly fifty Mormon households were compared with the wealth of those living in the same townships: Fleming, “The Delaware Valley and the Success of Early Mormonism,” 132–36.

8 John Brooke, The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644–1844 (Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press, 1994), 59.

9 Marvin Hill, “The Rise of Mormonism in the Burned-over District: Another View,” New York History 41:4 (October 1980): 427.

10 Laurence M. Yorgason, “Some Demographic Aspects of One Hundred Early Mormon Converts, 1830–1837” (M.A. thesis, Brigham Young University, 1974), 43; Mark R. Grandstaff and Milton V. Backman, Jr., “The Social Origins of the Kirtland Mormons,” BYU Studies 30:2 (Spring 1990): 56; and Malcolm R. Thorpe, “The Religious Backgrounds of Mormon Converts in Britain, 1837–52,” Journal of Mormon History 4 (1977): 70.

11 Michael Watts found similar rates among the Primitive Methodists, suggesting that such movements were generally most successful among those with a religious upbringing: Watts, Dissenters, 2:52.

12 I have called into question the reliability of mass examination of journals for determining gender ratios among the early converts. Marvin Hill assumed that because Mormon journals and autobiographies were written overwhelmingly by men, early Mormonism was an overwhelmingly male movement: Marvin Hill, “Early Mormonism in the Burned-over District,” 427. My questioning of such evidence is in Stephen Fleming, “The Study of Early Mormonism on the Periphery,” paper given at the Mormon Historical Association Meeting, 24 May 2003, Provo, Utah. My testing of this theory in the Delaware Valley, where branch records are available to allow for testing of the actual gender ratios, found that although 13 out of 17 journals and autobiographies, or 76 percent, were written by men, the branch records show that 449 out of 813 members, or 55 percent, were female. Such data call into question the reliability of using journals to provide representative data for early Mormon converts as a whole. However, other data can be used to indicate whether the data on church adherence are roughly valid or not. While no early sources corroborate the notion that men joined at rates much higher than women, many sources note that an unusually high number of Methodists joined the Mormons. For instance, a New Jersey newspaper reported that “the [Mormon] excitement carried off quite a number from the Methodist Church”: Daily State Gazette (Trenton, N.J.), 7 May 1870. In Britain, an alarmed letter to the editor declared that “the members of our society (Methodists) seem to be the most conspicuous in sanctioning and promoting this vile and abominable doctrine”: Smith, History of the Church, 4:235.

13 The rates for the American Mormons come by combining Yorgason's study with Backman and Grandstaff's study. The American churched rate is for the year 1835 (the most representative date for the converts in the above studies) and is an estimate based on the rates in Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America, 1776–1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy, 2d ed. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 31, 56. Finke and Stark list the churched rate in 1776 at 17 percent and at 34 percent in 1850. If rates increased at a constant rate between those two dates, it would have been roughly 30 percent in 1835. The same method was used for the Methodist rate. British churched and Methodist rates are based on the 1851 census tabulated by Michael Watts in Dissenters, 2:27–29.

14 John Kent, Wesley and the Wesleyans: Religion in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 1–2, 5.

15 Martin Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John in Luther's Works, ed. Jarolav Pelikan (St. Louis: Concordia, 1961), 24:367.

16 Alexandra Walsham, Providence in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 226–32.

17 Kent, Wesley and the Wesleyans, 161.

18 Kent, Wesley and the Wesleyans, 8.

19 John Wesley, Journal and Diaries, ed. W. Reginald Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1991), 3:356–57.

20 Kent, Wesley and the Wesleyans, 95, 97, 109, 116, 123, 203. Wesley, though he witnessed many such experiences in others, never had one himself. Wesley once went so far as to lament, “I never had any other proof of the eternal or invisible world than I have now; and that is none at all, unless such as fairly shines from reason's glimmering ray”: quoted in Kent, Wesley and the Wesleyans, 192. Furthermore, Wesley was cautious that his followers not go too far in their supernatural quests, warning his flock to “beware of enthusiasm. Such is the imagining you have the gift of prophesying, or discerning spirits, which I do not believe one of you has; no, nor ever had yet”: John Wesley, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection, in The Works of John Wesley, 10 vols. (New York: Harper, 1827), 8:55.

21 John Wigger, Taking Heaven by Storm: Methodism and the Rise of Popular Christianity in America (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2001 [1998]), 110.

22 Wigger, Taking Heaven by Storm, 105.

23 Jon Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, 1990), 237.

24 Benjamin Abbott, The Experience and Gospel Labours of the Rev. Benjamin Abbott (Philadelphia: D & S Hall, 1825), 6–15.

25 Lorenzo Dow, History of a Cosmopolite (Wheeling, Va.: Joshua Martin, 1848), 10–15.

26 Wigger, Taking Heaven by Storm, 110.

27 Abbott, Labors of Benjamin Abbott, 17.

28 Frederick E. Maser and George A. Singleton, “Further Branches of Methodism Founded,” in History of American Methodism, ed. Emory Stevens Bucke, 3 vols. (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1964), 1:631; Dow, History of a Cosmopolite, 256.

29 Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith, 241.

30 Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Knopf, 2005), 23–27, 50. The Smiths fit John Kent's description of those who “lived in subcultures of their own, in which they satisfied their primary religious needs, either by manipulating Christian institutions, or by inventing religious forms of their own”: Kent, Wesley and the Wesleyans, 184.

31 Quoted in Milton Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith's First Vision: Confirming Evidences and Contemporary Accounts, 2d ed. (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980), 157.

32 Smith, History of the Church, 1:7.

33 Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith, 241.

34 Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press 1989), 201–4.

35 A. B. Hyde, The Story of Methodism, 2 vols. (Springfield, Mass.: 1888), 2:120–21.

36 Abel Steven, The Life and Times of Nathan Bangs, D.D. (New York: Carlton and Porter, 1863), 117.

37 Numbers from 1835 are based on those in the previous chart; 1805 are numbers based on the calculations using Finke and Stark's churched and Methodist rates for the years 1776 and 1850: Finke and Stark, The Churching of America, 31, 56.

38 Peter Cartwright, Autobiography of Peter Cartwright: The Backwoods Preacher, ed. W. P. Stickland (Cincinnati: Cranston and Curtis, 1856), 397–98.

39 Cartwright, Autobiography of Peter Cartwright, 342.

40 Armytage, Heaven's Below, 260.

41 Smith, History of the Church, 4:221–23.

42 Quoted in Thorpe, “Religious Background of Mormon Converts,” 53.

43 Woodruff, History of His Life and Labors, 125.

44 Millennial Star 3 (1842): 28.

45 Taylor, Expectations Westward, 144.

46 Millennial Star 14 (1852): 15.

47 Millennial Star 4 (1843): 195. Dividing line based on Cedric Cowing, The Saving Remnant: Religion and the Settling of New England (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 13.

48 Larry C. Porter, “Beginnings of the Restoration: Canada, an ‘Effectual Door’ to the British Isles,” in Truth Will Prevail, ed. V. Ben Bloxham (Solihull, U.K.: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1987): 22–28.

49 FamilySearch.org.

50 Cedric B. Cowing, The Saving Remnant: Religion and the Settling of New England (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1995), 12. Cowing takes a similar approach to David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York: Oxford, 1989) but emphasizes the presence of the Northwestern minority in New England whereas Fischer focuses essentially on the East Anglian majority. Fischer, Albion's Seed, 31–36.

51 Cowing, Saving Remnant, 4.

52 Val D. Rust, Radical Origins: Early Mormon Converts and Their Colonial Ancestors (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004).

53 Cowing, Saving Remnant, 187; Rust, Radical Origins, 42.

54 Cowing, Saving Remnant, 71–74; Rust, Radical Origins, 90–93.

55 Cowing, Saving Remnant, 224–25; Rust, Radical Origins, 69–71.

56 Cowing, Saving Remnant, 75–77; Rust, Radical Origins, 108–11.

57 Cowing, Saving Remnant, 84; Rust, Radical Origins, 134.

58 Cowing, Saving Remnant, 43–54; Rust, Radical Origins, 30. Eighty percent of Rowley's original inhabitants came from the Northwest, particularly Yorkshire. Cowing argues that Rowley exhibited Northwestern tendencies by being the last town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony to accept the Halfway Covenant, and later by embracing the New Light of the Great Awakening: Cowing, 44–47.

59 Cowing, Saving Remnant, 54–62; Rust, Radical Origins, 53.

60 FamilySearch.org.

61 Cowing, Saving Remnant, 38.

62 Cowing, Saving Remnant, 74.

63 Michael J. Crawford, “Origins of the Eighteenth-Century Evangelical Revival: England and New England Compared,” Journal of British Studies 26:4 (October 1987): 371.

64 Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855–86), 6:290.

65 K. D. M. Snell and Paul S. Ell, Rival Jerusalems: The Geography of Victorian Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 5.

66 Dorothy Sylvester, The Rural Landscape of the Welsh Borderland: A Study in Historical Geography (London: Macmillan, 1969), 166–189.

67 Helen M. Jewell, “North and South: The Antiquity of a Great Divide,” Northern History 27 (1991): 1–25.

68 Watts, Dissenters, 2:718–788.

69 Susan L. Fales, “Artisans, Millhands, and Laborers: The Mormons and Leeds and Their Nonconformist Neighbors,” in Mormons in Early Victorian Britain, ed. Richard Jensen and Malcolm Thorp (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1989), 169.

70 Fleming, “The Delaware Valley and the Success of Early Mormonism,” 137–38.

71 A. G. Dickens, “The Early Expansion of Protestantism in England, 1520–1558,” Archive for Reformation History 78 (1987): 187–222; Anthony Fletcher and Diarmaid MacCulloch, Tudor Rebellions, 5th ed. (Harlow, U.K.: Pearson, Longman, 2004).

72 John D. Gay, The Geography of Religion in England (London: Duckworth, 1971), 83–84.

73 Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century England (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), 265.

74 Alexandra Walsham, Providence in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).

75 Alexandra Walsham, “ ‘Frantick Hacket’: Prophecy, Sorcery, Insanity, and the Elizabethan Puritan Movement,” Historical Journal 41:1 (March 1998): 31, 38.

76 Walsham, Providence in Early Modern England, 226–32.

77 Walsham, “Frantick Hacket,” 36, 40.

78 Thomas Freeman, “Demons, Deviance and Defiance: John Darrell and the Politics of Exorcism in Late Elizabethan England,” in Conformity and Orthodoxy in the English Church, c. 1560–1660, eds. Peter Lake and Michael Questier (Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell, 2000), 34–35.

79 Ian Atherton and David Como, “The Burning of Edward Wightman: Puritanism, Prelacy and the Politics of Heresy in Early Modern England,” English Historical Review 120:489 (December 2005): 1221–23.

80 Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas during the English Revolution (London: Penguin, 1991 [1972]), 77–78.

81 Walsham, “Frantick Hacket,” 54–56; Freeman, “John Darrell,” 34–36; Atherton and Como, “Burning of Edward Wightman,” 1216.

82 Cowing, Saving Remnant, 72–74; Kenneth W. Porter, “Samuell Gorton: New England Firebrand,” New England Quarterly 7:3 (September 1934): 406; Rust, Radical Origins, 149–50.

83 Porter, “Samuell Gorton,” 415–17; Rust, Radical Origins, 69–70, 71–74, 148–51.

84 Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 127.

85 Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 128, 125.

86 Barry Reay, The Quakers and the English Revolution (New York: St. Martin's, 1985), 121, 112.

87 Fleming, “The Delaware Valley and the Success of Early Mormonism,” 144–45.

88 Robert Buckle, “Mormons in Britain: A Survey,” in A Sociological Yearbook of Religion in Britain 4, ed. Michael Hill (London: SCM, 1971), 164.

89 Percentage of 20,752 Quakers in a British over-15 population of 41,251,000 in 1970. Currie, Gilbert, and Horsley, Churches and Churchgoers, 66, 158.

90 Cowing, Saving Remnant, 158.

91 Snell and Ell, Rival Jerusalems, 13, 190.

92 For instance, George Lavington, Enthusiasm of Methodists and Papists Compared (1749).

93 Kent, Wesley and the Wesleyans, 86.

94 Alan Taylor, “The Free Seekers: Religious Culture in Upstate New York, 1790–1835,” Journal of Mormon History 27:1 (Spring 2001): 47. See also C. C. Goen, Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 1740–1800: Strict Congregationalists and Separate Baptists in the Great Awakening (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1987 [1962]), 107.

95 Stephen A. Marini, Radical Sects of Revolutionary New England (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), 38, 11; Cowing, Saving Remnant, 164, 200–2, 323–26.

96 Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith, 9. “Christian adherence is here taken to mean a regular or steady attachment to institutional Christianity”: Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith, 4. Since Butler focuses on Protestantism, “institutional Christianity” here means “institutional Protestantism.”

97 Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith, 226.

98 Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith, 236–47.

99 Butler admits that “the laity of early modern Europe often saw little difference between the supernaturalism invoked through magic and that pursued by the churches,” but Butler still used the clergy's classification despite his intent of exploring “popular religion”: Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith, 22. Butler refers to the occult as “quasi-Christian or non-Christian” and “quasi-pagan”: Butler, Awash in a Sea of Faith, 2, 4.

100 Michael F. Snape, The Church of England in Industrialising Society: The Lancashire Parish of Whalley in the Eighteenth Century (Woodbridge, U.K.: Boydell, 2003), 71.

101 Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400–1580, 2d ed. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2005), 8.

102 Mark Ashurst-McGee, “Moroni: Angel or Treasure Guardian,” Mormon Historical Studies 2:2 (Fall 2001): 39–75.

103 Quoted in Among the Mormons: Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers, ed. William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen (Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1994 [1958]), 37; quoted in Bushman, Joseph Smith, 50.

104 Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 265.

105 Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 267–68, 274.

106 Among the Mormons, 37.

107 Quoted in Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, 72, 73.

108 Ronald Hutton, “The English Reformation and the Evidence of Folklore,” Past and Present 148 (August 1995): 89–116.

109 Hutton, “Evidence of Folklore,” 104–8.

110 Watts, Dissenters, 2:103–10. Watts proposes that there was a link between illiteracy and this “superstition.” However, with the exception of Wales, the Northwest did not have lower literacy rates than the rest of the nation: Watts, Dissenters, 2:101.

111 Watts, Dissenters, 2:105.

112 Cowing, Saving Remnant, 140–41; Watts, Dissenters, 2:105–7.

113 Brooke, Refiner's Fire, 62–63; quoted in E. G. Lee, The Mormons, or, Knavery Exposed (Philadelphia: George Webber, 1841), 8.

114 Brooke, Refiner's Fire, 151; Bushman, Joseph Smith, 50.

115 Hugh Barbour used this term to describe early Quaker success in the north of England. Barbour compares the movements to the First and Second Great Awakening in North America and the Methodist Revival in eighteenth-century Britain: Hugh Barbour, Quakers in Puritan England (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1964), 42.

116 Bushman, Joseph Smith, 278.

117 Quoted in Barbour, Quakers in Puritan England, 72.

118 Times and Seasons 1:2 (1839): 28.

119 Smith, History of the Church, 1:2.

120 The Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Corporation of the Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 486, 524. Mormon 9:18–20; Moroni 7:37.

121 Woodruff, History of His Life, 134.

122 Woodruff, History of His Life, 140.

123 This was the case of the Strict Congregationalists: Goen, Revivalism and Separatism in New England, 200–3.

124 Smith, “United Brethren,” 821.

125 Bushman, Joseph Smith, 251. Bushman states further, “Mormonism succeeded when other charismatic movements foundered … because of the governing mechanisms Joseph put in place early in the Church's history”: Bushman, Joseph Smith, 251.

126 Bushman, Joseph Smith, 157.

127 Karl August von Reisach, “A Jesuit Interpretation of Mid-Nineteenth-Century America: Mormonism in Connection with Modern Protestantism,” ed. Mark A. Knoll, BYU Studies 45:3 (2006): 52.

128 Reisach, “Mormonism in Connection with Modern Protestantism,” 65.

129 Reisach, “Mormonism in Connection with Modern Protestantism,” 70.

130 Milton V. Backman, ed., “A Non-Mormon View of the Birth of Mormonism in Ohio,” BYU Studies 12:2 (Spring 1972): 308.

131 Quoted in Alexander L. Baugh, “‘For this Ordinance Belongeth to My House’: The Practice of Baptism for the Dead outside the Nauvoo Temple,” Mormon Historical Studies 3:1 (Spring 2002): 47, emphasis in original.

132 Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, 8.

133 The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City, Utah: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1981), 128:15.

134 Brooke, Refiner's Fire, 145.

135 Matthew Grow, “‘I Consider the Proper Authority Rests among the Mormons’: Oran Brownson to Orestes Brownson on Oran's Conversion to Mormonism,” Mormon Historical Studies 4:2 (Fall 2003): 196.

136 Reisach, “Mormonism in Connection with Modern Protestantism,” 62.

137 Goen, Revivalism and Separatism, 128–29.

138 Journal of Discourses, 14:197.

139 Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938), 327.

140 See Alan Taylor, “Rediscovering the Context of Joseph Smith's Treasure Seeking,” in The Prophet Puzzle: Interpretive Essays on Joseph Smith, ed. Bryan Waterman (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1999), 141–153.

141 Brooke, Refiner's Fire, 204; Catherine L. Albanese, A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2007), 139.

142 Quoted in Bushman, Joseph Smith, 394.

143 Richard T. Hughes, “Two Restoration Traditions: Mormons and Churches of Christ in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Mormon History 19:1 (Spring 1993): 45.

144 Quoted in Bushman, Joseph Smith, 544.

145 Douglas J. Davies, The Mormon Culture of Salvation: Force, Grace, and Glory (Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2000), 21.

146 Andrew Hunter Scott, “Autobiography,” in Susan Tate Laing, Andrew Hunter Scott: Builder of the Kingdom (Provo, Utah: Andrew Hunter Scott Genealogical Association, 2001), 480.

147 Mary Ann Vogel Cameron, “Corrections on the Life of Benjamin Morgan Roberts,” typescript, LDS Archives, 15.

148 Stephen J. Fleming and David W. Grua, eds., “The Impact of Edward Hunter's Conversion to Mormonism in Chester County, Pennsylvania: Henry M. Vallette's 1869 Letter,” Mormon Historical Studies 6:1 (Spring 2005): 133–38.

149 Smith, “The United Brethren,” 820.

150 Appleby, “Autobiography and Journal of William I. Appleby,” typescript, LDS archives, 32–36.

151 Appleby, “Autobiography and Journal,” 32.

152 Smith, “United Brethren,” 823.

153 John Greenleaf Whittier, “A Mormon Conventicle,” reprinted in Among the Mormons: Historic Accounts by Contemporary Observers, ed. William Mulder and A. Russell Mortensen (Salt Lake City: Western Epics, 1994 [1958]), 157–58.

* The author would like to thank Catherine Albanese, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Craig Harline, David Pratt, Ann Taves, Stefainia Tutino, and the anonymous reviewers for their comments on various drafts, and especially Lee Ann Fleming for the graphics and much more.

Stephen J. Fleming is a graduate student in religious studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

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