"The Apostle Paul and the Prophet Joseph Smith: Discourse, Charisma, and the Dynamics of Emergent Social Formations"

Alonzo Huntsman

October 21, 2010

Alonzo Huntsman, CGU Ph.D. candidate (Religion), presented summary arguments of his dissertation project, a critical comparative study of the apostle Paul and the the Prophet Joseph Smith, on the topic, “The Apostle Paul and the Prophet Joseph Smith: Discourse, Charisma, and the Dynamics of Emergent Social Formations.”

 Huntsman examined how the letters of Paul and the revelations of Joseph Smith reflected and shaped the dynamics of the construction of power, authority, and community-building. A comparison of these religious specialists focuses attention on their radical and constitutive innovations: imputation of power through the creation and legitimization of texts; the dynamic interplay of authority and access to unchallengeable, unseen powers; and a naturalization of their claims that ignores or denies the human characterization of divine claimants as social actors. Aggressively competing in different spiritual market places, both figures contested the dominant systems and showed themselves to be highly receptive to innovation. They may be seen as purveyors of “religious goods” and as actors engaged and leading others to engage in a “rational choice” game.” Their discourses of power locate and exploit power/knowledge relations in the construction of society through the claim to possession of divine authority.

Huntsman suggested that Paul and Smith would succeeded in the competition of the religious market on account of their demonstration of  charisma. Since the time of Hesiod and Homer the innovativeness of charisma has permitted the spontaneous transposition of social performers into desired social locations. Thus, Paul’s claim to being the authentic conveyor of “divine instruction,” the “gospel of Christ, ”turns around his assertion of and conviction about his charisma. Continuing the market metaphor, charisma entails displacing and confiscating rivals’ spiritual wares and elevating the individual divine entrepreneur to the stage of spiritual stardom.

Huntsman examined the prophet Joseph Smith as the acclaimed “legitimately sanctioned mouthpiece for a chosen mode of discourse,” which at the same time is represented as “inspired revelation” and normative discourse for his group. The Book of Commandments reveals the prophet’s call to be the “mouthpiece” of the spoken word already being written. The commandment presupposes the obedience of the listeners; doubt is really not an option; faith is the total saving ingredient which is necessary for the listeners’ security.

 Noting many similarities between the calling of the prophet Joseph Smith and the apostle Paul,, Huntsman concluded that “the charismatic can go so far; make the claims and prescribe techniques for acquiring belief…spiritual seeker must have both a basic confidence in the leader and the desire for the confirming experience if the confirming is to be achieved.” 

Questions for consideration:
1.  Paul is thought to have de-emphasized Abrahamic lineage; Smith is understood to have re-emphasized it. How do these different significations broaden the scriptural modalities in social practices and formations?
2.  How do the dynamics of community formation play out in the worlds of Paul and Smith in terms of their constructions of authority and engagement of rivals? 
3.  How was success understood and measured in the different formations?
4.  How does each established system come to name or label the outsiders?
5.  What windows are opened onto the functions and operations of texts and of scripturalizing illumined via the adventures of Paul and Smith?

Colleagues, as usual, your comments are welcome.

Submitted by: David Olali
Research Assistant
The Institute for Signifying Scriptures

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