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“Is There No Blessing for Me?” Jane James’s Construction of Space in Latter-day Saint History and Practice. Workshop with Quincy Newell
Thursday, May 17, 2012 - 2:00pm

The Portland Center for Public Humanities Presents a Workshop with Quincy Newell:

“Is There No Blessing for Me?” Jane James’s Construction of Space in Latter-day Saint History and Practice

Thursday May 17th, 2 p.m - 4 p.m.
Neuberger Hall 407 | 724 SW Harrison

In telling her life story, African American Mormon woman Jane James positioned herself near the center of the Latter-day Saint story, inserting herself into LDS myth-history. In this way, she carved out a space in LDS history and practice for herself despite the efforts of the church hierarchy to marginalize her because of her race. This essay focuses primarily on the autobiography James dictated in the first decade of the twentieth century in order to understand how and why James inserted herself into the center of the LDS story. First I compare James’s conversion story to other nineteenth-century conversion narratives from both African American evangelical and Latter-day Saint traditions to show how James constructed her identity as a Latter-day Saint without sacrificing her identity as an African American. In the second section, I examine James's account of gathering at Nauvoo, Illinois, and argue that James used this story to stand in for the story of the hardships and trials that all the Saints experienced on the way from Nauvoo to the Great Salt Lake Valley. The third section of this essay examines the longest portion of James's narrative, set in Nauvoo, in which she emphasizes her intimacy with Joseph Smith and his family; her access to sacred objects; and her acquisition of sacred knowledge, emphatically positioning herself as an insider in the LDS community.  Finally, I place James's autobiography within the context of her concern over her spiritual welfare. I argue that the autobiography was the fullest of James's many attempts to carve out space for herself in Mormon practice by appealing to the position she had occupied in Mormon history.

Contact us at to receive a copy of the workshop paper.

Quincy D. Newell is an associate professor of Religious Studies at the University of Wyoming.  An Oregon native, she earned her Ph.D. in religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she specialized in the religious history of the American West.  Her first book,Constructing Lives at Mission San Francisco: Native Californians and Hispanic Colonists, 1776-1821,examined the ways in which Native Americans in the San Francisco Bay area adopted, adapted, and rejected Catholicism during the Spanish colonial period.  It was published by the University of New Mexico Press in 2009.  Newell is currently working on a book manuscript entitledMarginal Mormons, which analyzes the religious experiences of nineteenth-century African American and Native American members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This event is free and open to the public. It is part of the Religion Matters Series and co-sponsored by Religious Studies.  If you have questions concerning access or accommodations for a disability please contact us at Early requests are encouraged; a week will generally allow us to provide seamless access. 

You might also be interested in this event: Marginal Mormons: Race and Religious Identity in the Nineteenth-Century Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Workshop with Quincy Newell.