Each of us, whether we embrace belief or not, begins a spiritual journey at birth. We come into this life endowed with agency, the great gift of God to his children, and with the light of Christ. These gifts provide us opportunity to choose whether to act in faith and develop a testimony of Christ’s divinity, or to reject faith and turn our back on the things of the Spirit. As the scriptures teach, if an individual will try the experiment of believing in Jesus Christ and in faith abide by the precepts of His gospel, additional spiritual experiences will come and deepen testimony. Over my life, as I have acted in faith and been extended grace by the Savior, I have developed a testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ and of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Although I have had many profound experiences with the Spirit, two critical spiritual experiences significantly shaped my life. Both were unsolicited and, perhaps because of this, they deeply impressed themselves on my mind and on my heart.
I was born to parents who were members of the Church and, in keeping with Church practice, I was baptized at age eight. I don’t remember much about that day, but one experience I clearly recall. After I was baptized, as is customary, my father laid his hands on my head, confirmed me a member of the Church, extended to me the gift of the Holy Ghost, and gave me a blessing. I remember nothing from that blessing except that, when he said to me “Receive the Holy Ghost,” I felt what seemed a powerful surge of electricity course through my entire body, accompanied by a tingling and a heightened awareness of the moment. At age eight that feeling was entirely unanticipated and quite startling. I have never forgotten that experience, and through the ups and downs of life, the times of complacency and the times of doubt, it has stayed with me as a witness of the reality of things of the Spirit. It was an example of God’s grace, as He mercifully reached out to a young child and provided a seminal experience that proved to have enduring spiritual ramifications.
A second experience occurred many years later in Carthage, Illinois, in the jail where the Prophet Joseph Smith was martyred. Several years before I began teaching in the religion department at Brigham Young University, I sat in that jail with my daughter and listened to a young Japanese missionary bear testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I had a testimony and believed Joseph was a prophet and I was not there seeking a further witness of this verity. Nevertheless, as she spoke, my entire being was suddenly overwhelmed by a sensation so overpowering that it stunned me, and I received an inexplicable yet powerful witness that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. To this day I treasure that outpouring of God’s grace in my behalf. It is no small matter, neither do I believe that it was coincidental, that several years after that experience I began teaching Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants courses at Brigham Young University and was able to affirm to my students my testimony of those books and of the Prophet who brought them forth.
While I recognize the supremacy of faith in developing a testimony, I also know that my scholarly career, as a historian, has reinforced and empowered my testimony of Christ and of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My journey is perhaps not typical of most scholars. I grew up a reader and an athlete. My obsession with anything that involved kicking, hitting, throwing, or shooting a ball dominated much of my youthful life. However, my joy in the physical dimensions and abilities of the human body was offset by my passion for reading and by my native curiosity. These two aspects of my personality, combined with an intensely competitive, curious, logical, and skeptical nature, made me ever ready to challenge any idea or theory before accepting its legitimacy. To verify or prove any idea I attempt to seek out the logic and rationale—the theory and principle—upon which any idea or practice is built.
With that in mind, I also follow a model that is distinct from that often employed in today’s world, where individuals demand visually discernible, scientific proof before proceeding to believe or act. The alternative (and I would suggest more legitimate) model is described by Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in the LDS Church. He explains, “In a world filled with skepticism and doubt, the expression ‘seeing is believing’ promotes the attitude, ‘You show me, and I will believe.’ We want all of the proof and all of the evidence first. It seems hard to take things on faith. When will we learn that in spiritual things it works the other way about—that believing is seeing? Spiritual belief precedes spiritual knowledge. When we believe in things that are not seen but are nevertheless true, then we have faith.”
With this modicum of faith we then have the opportunity to engage with the Spirit and to have further truth revealed to us: truth outside the realm of the corporeal, material world but equally viable and real. These ideas and concepts developed slowly over my life as I followed the fairly traditional pattern of the 1970s: I married, stayed at home, and raised a family. Recognizing my duty to care, instruct, and nurture my children, I was nevertheless restless at times.
Before marriage, I attended Brigham Young University, where I was not particularly fascinated by religious matters, though I was curious about all aspects of the religious and secular world. I loved my college experience both socially and intellectually. I loved learning and was greedy to increase my knowledge of the world around me and of the past. After bouncing between five majors and gaining enough credits for two to three minors, I finally settled and graduated in Communications—flitting between classes in public relations, marketing, advertising—and finally focusing on print journalism.
After graduation and marriage, my husband and I moved back to my home city in California. As I became more involved in Church activities I began a regular course of scripture study. With consistent study of the doctrine of Christ, my testimony of Christ and of his Church grew. I had many opportunities to teach and serve in positions in the Church that, in retrospect, educated, prepared, and trained me for the rigor and discipline of later scholarly pursuits. I received inspiration and answers to prayers, often in direct, specific and undeniable ways.
As a mother, I had experiences that can come only to mothers, or to women with a mother’s heart. These experiences improved my later ability, as I entered academia and the world of classroom and began my career as a researcher. A mother’s work involves intimate involvement and investment in others’ lives, and “mothering” attuned me to the nuances of the human condition. I approach teaching from the perspective of one who has the responsibility to nurture learning and to nurture learners. I also feel that, when I research and write, my experiences as a mother and a nurturer have improved and sharpened my ability to explore and understand the thoughts and lives of other human beings, and that they continue to do so. In all academic departments, both women and men should be necessary parts of a university student’s educational experience.
While living and raising our family in California, I also took classes at the local college, refereed high school and college basketball, played on community sports teams, became involved in community and political affairs, and was active in parent teacher groups. My five children were also active and involved, and I was busy with them—yet how I missed the life of the mind and the stimulation of an active intellectual community.
I remember a conversation with a friend who was the principal of my children’s junior high school. She held a Ph.D. from Stanford and asked me to join, and involved me in, an education consortium our school was participating in at Stanford University. On one occasion she encouraged me to consider postgraduate work. I needed no convincing, as it had always been a lifelong goal: I simply needed an opportunity.
That opportunity came, on the heels of several convincing spiritual experiences, when my husband and I felt impelled to transfer with his company and settle in Utah. Suddenly my children could get to activities and I did not need to drive them everywhere, my parents were close by to aid and assist, and I had discretionary time on my hands. I prepared to return to school—delayed three years by a surprise pregnancy and the birth of our sixth child—and finally entered a master’s program in history at Brigham Young University in the mid-1990s. It was a decision that, as I always counsel students today, was carefully taken between me, my husband, and my Heavenly Father. Even the decision as to what program to apply for—whether to study history or English literature—was compellingly answered when I took the time to seek counsel through prayer.
By the time I reentered academia there was a pattern firmly established in my life. That pattern involved the conflation of the spiritual and the secular (although I believe that all things have a spiritual dimension) and it has been fundamental to my academic accomplishments. It is that course described in the scriptures, to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” Although, as required of any graduate student and university educator, I have sacrificed and devoted long hours to study, it is only with the support and encouragement of family and the help of the Spirit that I have been able to pursue and achieve many of my academic goals.
Feeling a bit out of place among young students, I re-entered university. My life both expanded and narrowed. The life of the mind opened to me again, and, while life-long learning ought to be a feature of every person’s life, there is something to be said for the discipline, the rigor, and the instruction from individuals with expertise in various academic fields, that stimulates and stretches the mind to new vistas and new ideas. (In every university class I teach, while my goal is to encourage students to be life-long learners, and while life-long learning takes discipline and rigor, a university setting, by its nature, has the inherent capacity to challenge and stretch students’ intellectual boundaries in significant ways.)
University education also occasioned other changes in my life. I had far less discretionary time; my focus was on home, family, church, and school. I had to dispense with many “fun” activities. Leisure time was a thing of the past, sleep was a luxury, and, although I attended the sports, music, and theatre events that involved my children, I took a book with me and squeezed study and reading into every spare minute. I did it without regret.
I also did it prayerfully and, in doing so, I found that as I attended to church callings, read scriptures, and prayed, my ability to learn and to comprehend improved. When I made the decision to add weekly temple attendance to my schedule—wondering where I would find the time to do so—I learned a valuable lesson. Each time I came out of that “spiritual university,” my ability to retain, recall, and write was perceptibly enhanced. I quickly came to see that joining the spiritual and the scholarly synergized my ability to compete and to succeed academically.
After completing an M.A. in history at BYU, I entered a Ph.D. program at the University of Utah. This experience proved to be academically demanding and spiritually wrenching. My Ph.D. dissertation focused on Josephine Butler, a Christian reformer and women’s rights activist in nineteenth-century England. Butler’s life and actions emanated from her deep-seated Christian convictions and her devotion to Jesus Christ. Her spectacular achievements in the cause of women came as she tried to inculcate the gospel of Christ in her life, to act as Jesus acted, and as she taught and encouraged others to improve their lives by following Christian precepts.
Two women on my Ph.D. committee disdained all things Christian. They disputed the verity that although religion has the capacity to constrain individuals, it also has the power to liberate. The liberating aspects of Christianity provided the foundation for advancing the cause of women in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Though my dissertation was in need of better oversight and organization, their antipathy precluded any helpful assistance—even though my dissertation broke new ground and included an abundance of evidence in support of my thesis. They eventually managed to orchestrate my termination, although in the years leading up to that action I felt the guiding influence of the Savior to do certain things and anticipate certain actions.
I appealed my termination and was sustained during a long, grueling, and often despairing year by spiritual experiences and by the practical help and advice of legal minds and other academics. My termination was eventually overturned by academic administrators at the University of Utah and I was re-instated in my Ph.D. program. I was able to secure the appointment to my committee of two respected academics in England, one a renowned religious historian and the other one of the world’s leading experts on Josephine Butler. They not only approved but were enthusiastic about the work I was doing; their expertise and the high standard they demanded immeasurably improved the quality of my dissertation. I received my Ph.D. in 2007, well schooled by my British colleagues in nineteenth-century British religious, social, and women’s history.
Previous to my dissertation troubles, when I achieved ABD status (“All But Dissertation”), I had begun teaching at BYU and had been doing so for six years. Since that time and after completing my Ph.D. I have had a wide and varied teaching career. I had the opportunity, sanctioned in scripture, to study “of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms.” The range of study that this has required further attests to me of the reality of God and Christ.
I teach at both Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University. I have taught or now teach courses in the History, Religion, Women’s Studies, Honors, and Continuing Education Departments. I taught for BYU in their semester abroad program in London and also re-entered journalism about a year and a half ago as a weekly online columnist for Mormon Times in the Deseret News. My interests are obviously varied and eclectic. I have presented at academic conferences on British literature, human trafficking, the way that cultural discourse mandated and reinforced century-long foot-binding in China, Josephine Butler, nineteenth-century feminist movements, material culture, evangelicalism, the power of the story, Joseph Smith, Emma Smith, and other aspects of LDS Church history.
I have taught and developed courses in world civilization pre-history to 1650, world civilization 1500 to present, introduction to the craft of history, and historiography, as well as senior history writing courses. More specialized historical courses include British History to 1689, British History 1689-Present, Religious Women in History, European Women’s History, and Nineteenth-Century European History. In other departments, I have taught Introduction to Women’s Studies (using a sociology-based text), Book of Mormon (second half), and Doctrine and Covenants (both first and second half).
In the process of presenting at conferences, writing and developing a variety of courses, and in the cross-discipline approach this has occasioned, I have had the opportunity to engage with a vast number of theories, principles, doctrines, and ideas. We are instructed to do so in scripture: “Be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine.” I require students to read primary source documents, meaning documents that are contemporary to the period under study in the courses I teach. In reading many collections to choose appropriate selections for the courses I teach, I have been privileged to engage with myriad ideas and with great minds from across a wide spectrum of cultures and times. In all these, and as a religious, social, British, and women’s historian, I have studied many ideas and theories. As I have done so, without exception, I have found essential currents of thought that attest to the reality of God and to the spiritual dimensions of life.
While many individuals today promote the secular and blithely subscribe, with little or no thought, to such pithy maxims as Karl Marx’s “religion is the opiate of the masses,” the study of history debunks such a presentist idea. Rather, the historical record discredits any notion that across the vast sweep of history individuals overwhelmingly disparaged religious belief. Rather, religion has been a fixture and central to most of what mankind has achieved. Nor does history suggest that mankind is better off in a secular world. While the misapplication of Christian tenets has certainly been used to oppress, history more powerfully demonstrates that time and again great social reforms and social improvements have been motivated and realized by religious reformers.
Throughout the ancient world we find temples and religious ritual: They are at the center—physically and socially—of sophisticated civilizations and central to individuals in these societies. We find creation myths, and embedded in those myths is deity in some form or fashion. We find tree of life myths and notions of purpose and life after this life. We find prophets or mediators between God and man who commune with God and preach God’s word. Overwhelmingly, in the ancient world and on into the modern world, amongst the billions of individuals who have lived on the earth, it is religious devotion, not secularization, that appeals, shapes, transforms, and improves lives and behavior.
As I study history, I am struck, and my testimony of God and Christ grows, as I find strains and staples of belief that fit like so many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. When combined, these sometimes seemingly disparate pieces create a breathtaking picture of the holistic unity that exists in the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On the pages of history, we meet individuals like Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and other vicious demagogues. While they spewed hate and their impact was immense (and often immensely destructive), it was toxic. Their deeds were evil and rent the fabric of humanity, and their enduring legacy, on the whole, makes right-minded people shudder, and has been rejected.
On those same pages, we meet Gandhi, the Buddha, William Wilberforce, Josephine Butler, Mother Teresa, Mohammed, Asoka, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, bodhisattvas, and other profoundly religious individuals who manifest faith in God. Their influence not only endures but continues to appeal and to grow among myriad people who have lived and will live on the earth. These individuals’ teachings reflect certain consistent, deep-seated ethical practices and teachings that are overwhelmingly in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
I acknowledge, as the great Greek philosopher Plato acknowledged in “The Allegory of the Cave,” that humans live, as it were, “in a cave” and that the cave is our “world of sight, [and] the light…and the journey upwards [is] the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world…and is seen only with an effort; and…[what we see] is the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light.”
I see in both history and nature the presence of God, and join with the great scientist Sir Isaac Newton as he attested, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, comets could only proceed from the counsel & dominion of an intelligent & powerful Being. . . . He endures forever, & is everywhere present; & . . . exist[s] always & everywhere.”
I share the desire of the great Renaissance Christian humanist Desiderius Erasmus, who proclaimed, “The glory of [an immortal name] moves me not at all, I am not anxious over the applause of posterity. My one concern and desire is to depart hence with Christ’s favour.”
Lastly, as a woman I recognize in the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints firm and steadfast defense of the rights of women. Though LDS cultural interpretations and practices may, at times, misinterpret and misunderstand Christ’s doctrine, and though individuals outside the Church falsely charge the Church with oppression and misogyny, in reality Church doctrine articulates practices and principles that protect, defend, and elevate the rights of women.
The LDS Church stands in defense of chastity and virtue, which, throughout history, has always provided women, and continues to provide them, enormous and much-needed physical and social protection. In Church doctrine and in Church conferences men are consistently enjoined to treat their wives with respect, as equals, and the Church requires fidelity of both men and women. Church doctrine speaks of the eternal destiny of both men and women, of equal partnership between men and women; it encourages companionate marriage and defends the sanctity of the individual and of individual agency within an orderly patriarchal framework. The Church, since its inception and into our day, continues in the forefront of involving women in Church organization, in giving them authority and voice, and in encouraging education for women.
Church practices support honesty, virtue, integrity, and charity. Members are asked to pay a tithe, to give fast offerings to benefit the poor, and to visit each other monthly as a way to discern needs and to care for each other. They are to worship God and Christ, renew covenants in remembrance of the Savior’s Atonement and keep the Sabbath a holy day. Members are commanded in the “Word of Wisdom” to be health-conscious and to care for their bodies: a sublime revelation given to a prophet over one hundred and fifty years ago that today stands as a testament, now backed by the force of modern science and medicine, of God’s love and concern for his children.
In many other ways LDS doctrine elaborates the deep and comprehensive love of God for all his children, both living and dead. It binds members, by covenant, to be Christ-like in their actions, and it rests upon the principle of proper authority in the performance of all ordinances and covenants. These were all features of Christ’s church when he was upon the earth.
In a world where individuals are encouraged to disdain self-discipline and indulge their passions, where violence and brutality abound—the inevitable consequence of selfishness and self-indulgence—LDS Church teachings, as they always have, continue to promote temperance, self-restraint, charity, peace, and love. Throughout history, when these principles have been practiced, humans have existed in harmony and love. When they have been abandoned and selfishness and hedonism have reigned, people have suffered and societies have disintegrated.
What is perhaps most truly amazing is that, when all is said and done, as incomprehensible as it seems, Christ is interested in each individual. I know this because I have felt his love in my life and have received a witness of His divinity and that I am a member of His Church. In my life, the study of history combined with acting in faith testify of God and Jesus Christ and reinforce the truth of Christ’s gospel and of his Church.
Kristine Wardle Frederickson (Ph.D., University of Utah) teaches British, European, and world history, religion, and women’s studies at both Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University. She has written and presented widely on Victorian England, Mormon history and historiography, and women’s issues.
Along with many other activities, she helped to cover the 1970 World Cup soccer games in Mexico City and the 1972 Munich Olympics for United Press International, and she currently writes a weekly column for the Mormon Times portion of Salt Lake City’s Deseret News.
Among her non-academic interests are tennis, swimming, running, biking, basketball, softball, volleyball, carpentry, calligraphy, and jewelry-making, as well as politics and current events, travel, and family.
Posted February 2010