1990s Mormon Feminism Ignites Church Backlash #sundayreading


By Joanna Brooks

WeNews guest author

Sunday, August 12, 2012

During the early 1990s Joanna Brooks was at Utah’s Brigham Young University during the rise of Mormon feminism. In this excerpt from her memoir, “The Book of Mormon Girl,” she describes the repercussions of this growing movement.


Joanna BrooksJoanna Brooks

Credit: Courtesy of Free Press.

(WOMENSENEWS)–So it happened that I was there at Brigham Young University just in time to witness a remarkable upwelling of Mormon feminism, a feminism that started very simply in basement classrooms with the idea that all were alike unto God.

The university hired more female faculty in the late 1980s and 1990s, including Mormon women who had studied feminism and, finding nothing at its core incompatible with a just and loving God, dared to make it their own. One by one, Mormon feminist historians were publishing books reconstructing the lost worlds of early Mormon women, who, we learned, once commanded priesthood powers and forms of authority lost to women in the modern bureaucratic church.

Mormon writers like Terry Tempest Williams fearlessly spoke out for the rural southern Utah “downwinders” who lived under plumes of atomic fallout, their lives and their wholeness knowingly sacrificed by the United States government, while Carol Lynn Pearson penned a play that dared to celebrate openly our hushed Mormon belief in God the Mother.

We were not the first Mormon feminists, to be sure. There were many others before us: early visionary Mormon women, pioneer widows who commanded their sick oxen to stand and carry their wagons across the plains, plural wives who traveled east from Utah in the 1870s to become medical doctors, women who continued to anoint and bless one another’s bodies before confinement and childbirth, and in the 1970s and 1980s the courageous and embattled Mormons who campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment.

Mormon Feminism Revival

It was happening again in the early 1990s at Brigham Young University, another wave of Mormon feminism. Together, in study groups and consciousness-raising meetings where Mormon women permitted only Mormon women to speak, we taught ourselves once again to tentatively (if sometimes clumsily) parse the grammar of Mormon feminism: all are alike unto God; God is a Mother and a Father; Mormon women matter.

Little did we then realize the powerful fears this grammar would disturb.

On Aug. 6, 1992, at a gathering of Mormon liberals, artists and intellectuals in Salt Lake City, Lavina Fielding Anderson, a sixth generation member of the church, a feminist historian and editor of the “Journal of Mormon History,” disclosed the existence of the Strengthening the Members Committee, “an internal espionage system” organized by church elders in the 1980s to keep files on members perceived to be critical of the church. Brigham Young University professor and renowned Mormon intellectual Eugene England, speaking on the same panel as Anderson, reacted immediately by denouncing the Strengthening the Members Committee and calling for its dissolution.

Church spokesperson Don LeFevre confirmed the existence of the committee the following week. He explained to newspapers that the committee “receives complaints from church members about other members who have made statements that ‘conceivably could do harm to the church,'” then “pass the information along to the person’s ecclesiastical leader” to “provide local church leadership with information designed to help them counsel with members who, however well-meaning, may hinder the progress of the church through public criticism.” Another Mormon elder compared the Strengthening the Members Committee to a kind of “clipping service” that tracked critical writings, including letters to the editors, published by church members.

Counter Attack

That same summer, church members Paul and Margaret Merrill Toscano founded the Mormon Alliance to counter what they described as growing patterns of spiritual intimidation within the institutional Mormon Church. In the fall of 1992, Anderson and Mormon feminist Janice Merrill Allred formed a special Mormon Alliance subcommittee to document instances of spiritual intimidation and abuses of ecclesiastical authority within the institutional church, while professor England made a public apology for denouncing the Strengthening the Members Committee, which he admitted he had first incorrectly thought to be composed of regular church employees but which, in fact, included some of the highest ranking members of the church leadership, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

On May 18, 1993, church leaders identified the objects of surveillance, when Boyd K. Packer, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, delivered a speech to the Mormon All-Church Coordinating Council declaring that the three greatest “dangers” to the church were the “gay-lesbian movement,” “the feminist movement” and the “so-called scholars or intellectuals.”

In June 1993, Brigham Young University fired Cecilia Konchar Farr, a feminist literary critic and my mentor. Within months, several other feminist BYU professors announced their resignations from the faculty.

Beginning on Sept. 14, 1993, with the disfellowshipping of Mormon feminist Lynne Kanavel Whitesides, the church embarked on the serial excommunication of prominent feminists and intellectuals, a group now known as the September Six. One of the six was Anderson, who was excommunicated on Sept. 23, 1993, at a church court held in her local ward house.

Excerpted from “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories from an American Faith” by Joanna Brooks. Courtesy of Free Press.

Joanna Brooks is an award-winning scholar of religion and American culture, and the author or editor of five books. A senior correspondent for ReligionDispatches.org, she has been named one of “13 Religious Women to Watch” by the Center for American Progress and one of “50 Politicos to Watch” by Politico.com. She offers answers to seekers of all stripes at her website, Askmormongirl.com. She is associate professor and chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University, and lives (with her Jewish husband) and two children in San Diego.


Markandey Katju calls Mamata Banerjee ‘dictatorial, intolerant, whimsical’


PTI | Aug 12, 2012, 09.50PM IST

Markandey Katju calls Mamata Banerjee 'dictatorial, intolerant, whimsical'
Katju said the arrest of Siladitya Chowdhury, who was dubbed as a Maoist by Mamata Banerjee at a rally after he asked what steps she was taking to help farmers, amounted to “blatant misuse” of state machinery and “flagrant violation” of constitutional and human rights.
NEW DELHI: Accusing Mamata Banerjee of being “totally dictatorial, intolerant and whimsical”, Press Council of India chiefMarkandey Katju, who had once praised her,today unleashed stinging criticism of West Bengalchief minister over arrest of a man who asked her a question during a rally.Katju said the arrest of Siladitya Chowdhury, who was dubbed as a Maoist by the West Bengal chief minister at a rally after he asked what steps she was taking to help farmers, amounted to “blatant misuse” of state machinery and “flagrant violation” of constitutional and human rights.

“Her action is most undemocratic to say the least,” he said in a statement today, holding that she is totally undeserving to be a political leader in a democratic country.

The former Supreme Court judge cautioned the administrative and police authorities there against taking her “illegal orders”, warning that they could suffer the same fate as Nazi criminals did for acting on Hitler’s directions.

“I had earlier given a statement in favour of Mamata Banerjee because I thought one should see good points in a person’s personality also.

“But now I have changed my opinion and believe that she is totally undeserving to be a political leader in a democratic country like India since she has no respect for constitutional and civil rights of citizens and is totally dictatorial, intolerant, and whimsical in her behaviour,” he said.

Expressing his “shock” over the arrest of the man, Katju said earlier also she has behaved in a high handed and dictatorial manner.

She had branded a college student Taniya Bharadwaj during a TV programme as a Maoist merely because she had asked an innocuous question. She had also got one Jadavpur University professor arrested, Katju said.

The former Supreme Court judge warned the administrative and police authorities that they could face criminal proceedings for taking “illegal orders”.

“At the Nuremburg Trials the Nazi war criminals took the plea that orders were orders and they were only carrying out the orders of Hitler, their superior, but this plea was rejected and they were hanged. The West Bengal officials should take a lesson from the Nuremburg verdict if they do not wish to suffer a similar fate,” he said.

Farmer  arrested for ‘daring to question’ Mamata Banerjee

Agencies : Midnapore (WB), Sat Aug 11 2012, 17:33 hrs
Mamata Banerjee

A man who asked West Bengal Chief MinisterMamata Banerjee at a public meeting what steps she was taking to help farmers has been arrested by the police.The man Siladitya Chowdhury had told the chief minister at her public meeting at the former Maoist stronghold of Belpahari on August 8 that farmers were dying and asked what steps her government were taking since ’empty promises were not enough’.The chief minister had been taken aback and claimed that the man was a Maoist. She had asked the police to arrest the man.

The police had detained Chowdhury, a resident of Noawa village under Binpur police station, but had let him go after questioning.

He was arrested last night from his home, police sources said.

Chowdhury was produced in the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Priyajit Chatterjee’s court today and remanded to 14 days in judicial custody.

He was charged under sections 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant in discharge of duty), 333 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt to deter public servant in discharging public duty), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharging duty), 447 (criminal trespass) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of IPC.

Earlier this year on May 19, the chief minister had accused a student on a TV talk show of being a Maoist, when questioned about what she was doing about the security of women after the Park Street rape of an Anglo-Indian woman.


Immediate Release-BUJ statement on attacks on media in Mumbai

The Brihanmumbai Union of Journalists (BUJ) deplores the attack on the
media on Saturday, August 11, 2012, during the violence that broke out in
Mumbai by protestors of the riots in Assam. The BUJ is particularly
disturbed at what appears to be the sustained targeting of mediapersons and
technicians of outdoor broadcasting (OB) vans.

The protest over the killing of Muslims in Kokhrajar in Assam was called by
the Mumbai-based Raza Academy and a few other organisations. Two persons
died in the violence while several cars and shops were attacked and
destroyed. More than 50 persons , including policemen, were also injured.

When the violence broke out, photojournalists were chased and those
technicians in OB vans were told that they would be burnt along with the
vehicle if they didn’t step out!

Among those seriously injured are Vivek Bendre (The Hindu),  Prashant
Sawant (Sakal Times) and Atul Kamble (Mid-Day). They were admitted to St
George Hospital for treatment. The equipment of several camerapersons was
also damaged.

According to reports, speakers at the rally expressed ire at what they felt
was the media’s poor coverage of the riots in Assam.  When the violence
broke out, the rioters asked the identities of mediapersons and the media
they represented before attacking them. This clearly indicates that the
speeches may have incited the mob against the media and provoked the attack
on the media.

The BUJ condemns the inability of the police to act speedily and bring the
situation under control and calls the organisers to task for specially
targeting the media in their speeches. The media plays a crucial role in
disseminating information and any attempt to obstruct it is an attack on
freedom of expression. Sections of society may have reservations about the
media’s representation of their grievances but attacking the media is not
the way to redress these. Dialogue and engagement with the media is crucial
to preserving and protecting freedom of expression.

The BUJ demands that the organisers immediately rein in their members and
make amends for the violence they unleashed on the media. The BUJ demands
that the state government investigate whether there was clear provocation
for the attack on the media and whether there was dereliction of duty on
the party of police forces.





Free Online Harvard School of Public Health Course on Clinical Research

This year  Swati Piramal was elected to the Harvard Board
of Overseers, a 350 year old governing board of Harvard University
for a term of 6 years. She has been frequently asked how that would
benefit her own country. She wanted to bring the best of Harvard to
India and as a first step has ensured the initiation of a Free Online
Course on Clinical Research.


One of the big shortages we have in Indian science is the lack of
research curriculum in our medical training. India has over 900,000
doctors but few are trained to be physician scientists. This is a
glaring gap in our country. Medical doctors trained in the science of
quantitative methods can become top professionals in clinical research
and become investigators for trials. Some months ago, Swati mooted the
idea of training for doctors in research methods to the Harvard School
of Public Health and was pleased that they responded with the first
ever Edx course in Clinical research  which is online training in
Quantitative Methods in Clinical and Public Health Research.
This course has got a huge worldwide response, with over 10,000 people
already registered.  Swati’s personal goal is to enroll at least 2000
doctors /health professionals/ students interested in research, from
India for this introductory course, which is free. The faculty is
world class and have made a great contribution to global health.

Please get as many people to enroll as possible. Share this  with
others who may be interested in clinical research. Please help to
circulate to faculty/ students and others interested in research.

Free Online Harvard School of Public Health Course on Clinical
Research Premieres in October for a Global Audience

To learn more about the free, three-month online course and to sign
up, go to the following web address:

How to register.

Anyone can register for this course at the following address.


The Course Number is  PH207x

Classes Start Oct 15, 2012

Classes End Jan 18, 2013

People interested in taking the course should estimate that it will
require about 10 hours per week of effort.

About the Faculty

The course is taught by two well respected Harvard School of Public
Health professors, Earl Francis Cook and Marcello Pagano.

Kerala a State with a speedily ageing population- issues and concerns #sundayreading

Shades of grey


in Thiruvananthapuram, Front line 


Kerala faces difficult and politically inconvenient policy choices on issues linked to its final-stage demographic transition.


AN ELDERLY WOMAN with her grandson. In Kerala, the continuous decline in the number of births has been accompanied, among other things, by a rapid increase in the number of the elderly. 

IF population trends and hesitant statements by State Ministers are a clue, Kerala is set to face difficult and politically inconvenient policy choices in the near future on issues linked to its final-stage demographic transition, marked by low fertility and mortality rates.

Signs of new dilemmas are already evident in the State. It has one of the lowest population growth rates in India. Its fertility and mortality rates have fallen to very low levels. An average Keralite would live beyond 70 years. All this is leading to a situation making Kerala a State with a speedily ageing population.

At an international seminar on “Emerging Fertility Patterns in India: Causes and Implications” organised recently by the Centre for Development Studies (CDS) in Thiruvananthapuram, participants were calling attention to the “profound demographic transformation” taking place, indeed, all over the world. As a result, more than half the world’s population is now living in countries or regions where birth rates are “at or below the level needed to ensure the replacement of generations” (or 2.1 children per woman, a number known as the “replacement rate of fertility”, which denotes a stable population).

“Nearly one-third of India is witnessing a trend of below replacement level of fertility today [see box]. Our estimate is that by 2021, two-thirds of the districts in India will have below replacement level of fertility,” S. Irudaya Rajan, a professor at the CDS who has been studying demographic and migration issues in Kerala for over two decades, told Frontline.

Within Kerala, one of the first States to reach an advanced stage in demographic transition, the continuous decline in the number of births has been accompanied, among other things, by an increase in the proportion of the working population, the highest unemployment rate among educated youth in India and problems associated with their migration in large numbers in search of job opportunities, and a rapid increase in the number of the elderly within the State.

From the mid-1990s, questions were being raised on the economic implications of low fertility and mortality and on how the development achievements of the State could be sustained in the wake of such population trends and in an environment of poor economic growth. Researchers have been saying that the socio-economic implications of the reversal of demographic trends would be far-reaching in a State like Kerala.

A collection of research papers from the CDS titled “Kerala’s Demographic Future: Issues and Policy Options” released at the seminar foresees, among other things, “significant changes in the age structure” in Kerala, including “a decrease in school age population, decrease in proportion of the labour force in about two decades from 2001, decline in young working age population, a doubling of older working age population in two decades ending in 2021 and more unemployment among the older age groups than among the youth in the foreseeable future”.

Unique ageing scenario

A paper on the unique ageing scenario in Kerala estimates that the size of the population in the age group of 60 years and above in the State is expected to increase from 33 lakh in 2001 to 57 lakh in 2021 and to 120 lakh in 2061. By 2061, the proportion of the elderly would constitute 40 per cent of Kerala’s total population. Of this, 6.7 per cent would be in the age group 60-69 years; 23.8 per cent in the age group 70-79 years; and 9.1 per cent in the age group of 80 years and above.

Another study by the State Planning Board, published in 2009 as part of a United Nations Development Programme-Planning Commission project, also makes similar projections, that the number of elderly persons (60+) is set to increase from 3.62 million in 2001 to 8.93 million by 2051, an increase of 166 per cent. The study estimates that the growth rate among the elderly will be the highest during 2011-21 and will decline thereafter to a low of 7.5 per cent during 2041-51.


AN ELDERLY MAN returning home after a day’s work in an agricultural field near Thrissur. The proportion of households in the State that do not have aged persons has been decreasing. 

The CDS studies report that the cost of “dependency burden” of Kerala households will also rise quite rapidly in the future. While the young dependency ratio (defined as the number of persons aged 0-14 per 100 persons in the working age group of 15-59 years) is expected to decline from 41 to 16, the aged dependency ratio (the number of persons above 60 years of age per 100 persons in the working age group of 15 to 59 years) is to increase from 17 to 76 during the period from 2001 to 2061.

Kerala would also have more women than men in the old-age group; also, more aged widows than aged widowers. The proportion of households that do not have aged persons has also been decreasing. Among Kerala’s 14 districts, there are variations in the proportion of the elderly to the total population, with the highest percentage of elderly population (21 per cent) found in Pathanamthitta, followed by Alappuzha, Kottayam, Ernakulam and Thiruvananthapuram.

The older working age population in the State is estimated to double in number in the 20 years from 2001 to 2021, “creating an atmosphere of unemployment more among the older age groups than among the youth in the foreseeable future”.

However, unemployment among Kerala’s young working age population is set to decline in the coming decades, and “educated young workers will be able to virtually pick and choose the jobs they want”, according to the editors of the collection, Irudaya Rajan and K.C. Zachariah, an honorary professor at CDS. They also believe that the reversal of the demographic trends will ease the pressure on Kerala’s education and health care systems and offer opportunities for quality improvement of such services.


It is well known that migration from Kerala to other States in India and abroad had been one of the means by which the State coped with the ill effects of rapid demographic transition in the last 50 years and which helped it realise its human development achievements. Questions are raised on whether migration will continue at such high rates in the future too and contribute to the well-being of Kerala’s economy. Meanwhile, the State is also seeing a new trend of “replacement migration”, an increasing flow of migrant labourers from other States into Kerala.

The authors say that Kerala is now experiencing the secondary effects of migration of its people during the past decades, which are not so beneficial as the primary effects were. They include (a) the creation of educated youth unwilling to take up low-paid or unskilled jobs, and thus leading to a high unemployment rate; (b) the inflow of migrant workers from other States who are willing to accept low wages and poor working conditions and thus make a significant impact on unemployment and wage rates within, and “nullifying some of the potentially positive spin-off effects of emigration”; (c) the divisions caused by the “increasing economic and political clout of the newly rich emigrants”; and (d) rising resentment in Kerala society as a result of unequal opportunities in the emerging migration market.

The recent phenomenon of “replacement migration” is a result of a rapid decline in the number of workers in the young working ages caused by fertility decline to below replacement level, emigration of a large number of young persons to the Gulf and other destinations, and economic improvement in the State economy “which have fostered an aversion to low-paid and unskilled jobs on the part of the youth in the State”.

As a result, “the potential spin-off effects of remittances on employment are benefiting workers outside Kerala more than workers within Kerala”, with much of its remittances being drained off to other States, according to Irudaya Rajan and Zachariah.


PENSIONERS WAIT AT the sub-treasury in Thiruvananthapuram. Nearly 20,000 State government employees retire every year in Kerala. 

Read more here



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