D. Michael Quinn

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D. Michael Quinn
Born Dennis Michael Quinn
(1944-03-26) March 26, 1944 (age 70)
Glendale, Utah
Education Yale University (PhD)
Occupation Author
Known for Mormon scholar
Member of the September Six

Dennis Michael Quinn (born March 26, 1944) is an American historian who has focused on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was a professor at Brigham Young University from 1976 until he resigned in 1988. At the time, his work concerned church involvement with plural marriage after the 1890 Manifesto, in which new polygamous marriages were prohibited. He was excommunicated from the church as one of the September Six and is openly gay.[1]

Early years[edit]

Quinn was born March 26, 1944, in Glendale, Utah.[2] He wanted to be a medical doctor, and in preparation, he became a nursing aid at his local hospital during his senior year in high school, with a full load of patients doing everything involved except that prohibited by law.[citation needed] In college, however, he failed his pre-med program and had to change majors choosing English and philosophy instead.[citation needed] He served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for two years in England. After graduation he served for three years in the United States Army, including service in the Vietnam War.[citation needed] During his military service he was first accepted into Duke University for graduate studies in English but after leaving the Army he realized that he preferred his then hobby of studying history over other subjects. He then applied for a graduate program in history in Yale Graduate School where he graduated with a PhD in 1975.[citation needed] After graduation he took a job teaching and researching history at Brigham Young University.[3] He also worked as a research assistant to then church historian Leonard J. Arrington for 18 months.[4] Quinn taught at BYU until he resigned in January 1988 due to the ongoing pressure from some authorities who wanted to see him leave.[citation needed] At BYU he was elected once as best professor by the graduating class.[3]

Relationship with LDS Church[edit]

In September 1993, according to his biographer Lavina Fielding Anderson, his insubordination directed toward church authorities and his publication of his on-going work resulted in his excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as one of the September Six.[citation needed] Despite his excommunication, Quinn believes in the Latter Day Saint movement, although he is in disagreement with certain policies and doctrines.[5][6]

Quinn's research topics, both before and after his excommunication, were in-depth revisions of traditional accounts of Mormon history grounded in primary source material. Three of his most influential books, each of which is the focal point of intense controversy, are Early Mormonism and the Magic World View, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, and The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power.

In an April 2006 Wall Street Journal article, reporter Daniel Golden wrote that Quinn has become unhirable because almost all the funding for professorships in Mormon studies comes from Mormon donors. More recently Arizona State University (ASU) administrators vetoed the department of religious studies in its recommendation to hire Quinn. ASU faculty believe officials fear alienating ASU's 3,700 LDS students and offending Ira Fulton, a powerful Mormon donor who, according to Golden, has called Quinn a “nothing person”.[5]

In 2007, Quinn was interviewed in the PBS documentary The Mormons.

Views on Mormonism[edit]

Early Mormonism and the Magic World View[edit]

Early Mormonism and the Magic World View is an exhaustive recounting of the role of 19th-century New England folk magic lore in Joseph Smith's early visions and in the development of the Book of Mormon. Quinn argues that Smith's early religious experiences were inextricably intermingled with ritual, supernaturalism, and white magic. Evidence is drawn from friendly firsthand sources, unfriendly firsthand sources, material artifacts, and parallels in ideas. All four sources agree that Smith used a collection of different seer stones in searching for buried treasure supposedly left by pirates, Spaniards, and Native Americans. The evidence suggests that these same seer stones were one of the primary tools used by Smith in translating the Book of Mormon. Likewise, evidence from all four categories of sources supports the idea that Smith approved of the use of rods for dowsing activities. Indeed, the first published version of an early revelation told Oliver Cowdery that a dowsing rod (referred to as a "rod of nature") would serve as a means of receiving divine revelation. Other claims, including Smith's purported involvement in astrology and the idea that the Book of Mormon guardian Moroni transformed from the form of a salamander, are less supported by evidence.

Some historians, both within and without the Mormon faith, consider this book an important contribution in understanding early Mormon history, and Quinn's supporters feel his work is groundbreaking. In a 1990 book review in Church History, Klaus J. Hansen calls the book a "magisterial study" and a "tour de force", and describes it as providing a "truly stunning mass of evidence" in favor of its position. John L. Brooke made Quinn's argument the starting point of his study, The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644–1844.

Mormon and non-Mormon scholars have also criticized the book as relying too heavily on environmental parallels without a proven connection to Smith's ideas and behavior, that it accepts at face value the disputed Howe-Hurlbut affidavits about Smith's New York reputation and behavior, a late 19th-century newspaper account of a money-digging agreement involving Smith and his father, and that its central thesis is implausible without Mark Hofmann's "Salamander Letter"—which turned out to be a forgery. William J. Hamblin states in his review of the book that "the fact that Quinn could not discover a single primary source written by Latter-day Saints that makes any positive statement about magic is hardly dissuasive to a historian of Quinn's inventive capacity".[7] An additional criticism suggests that the concept of magic is flawed and inherently subjective; it implies that Smith's use of seer stones and dowsing rods was superstitious or fraudulent rather than divine. However, some of Quinn's critics acknowledge that the book is "richly documented" and an obligatory starting point for any discussion of Smith's involvement in 19th-century folkloric practices.[8]

The Mormon Hierarchy[edit]

The two volumes of The Mormon Hierarchy provide a comprehensive secular organizational history of the church from its founding to modern times, and its influence on current LDS culture and doctrine. The work emphasizes conflict, coercion, and violence, especially during the 19th century (see Danites, Mountain Meadows massacre, Blood Atonement and the Mormon wars). During the 20th century, Quinn asserts his view that the church was increasingly bureaucratized, its role in right-wing anti-communism during the 1960s, efforts against the Equal Rights Amendment, political work against same-sex marriage and some forms of anti-discrimination legislation, the church's mid-century financial crisis, conflicts over policies such as the so-called "baseball baptisms" of youth who knew little about the church, presumed disagreements among church Apostles (that Hugh B. Brown was open to rescinding the Negro doctrine in 1963, and attempted to rescind it in 1969, but was blocked from doing so by Harold B. Lee),[9] and extensive business and family interrelationships among leaders.

In a review of The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power for the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, a Mormon research organization, Duane Boyce states that there are scholarly deficiencies in the work and refers to it as a "betrayal of trust."[10]

Same-sex dynamics among 19th-Century Mormons[edit]

Quinn, who himself is openly gay, has publicly argued that homosexual relationships, between both men and women, were quietly accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its leadership up until the 1940s.[1] This theme has arisen in Quinn's The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power and is the central topic of Same-Sex Dynamics Among Nineteenth-Century Americans: A Mormon Example. Several LDS scholars have disputed Quinn's work, calling it a distortion of LDS history and saying he completely misrepresented the facts.[11][12] They deny any acceptance from previous leaders of homosexuality, suggesting that Quinn conflated an absence of early Church proscriptions of homosexuality with tacit acceptance of same, and state the current leadership of the church “is entirely consistent with the teachings of past leaders and with the scriptures.”[11][12]

LDS finances and businesses[edit]

In 2012, Quinn was reported to be working on a book about Church finances and businesses. He said in that regard, "The Mormon Church is very different than any other church...Traditional Christianity and Judaism make a clear distinction between what is spiritual and what is temporal, while Mormon theology specifically denies that there is such a distinction". Regarding management of the Church's considerable investments, Quinn said "[s]everal high-ranking church insiders told him that the church's finances are so compartmentalized that no single person, not even the president, knows the entirety of its holdings".[13]


Quinn has edited a prominent collection of major publications in Mormon history over the last 40 years, The New Mormon History: Revisionist Essays on the Past. He has written and spoken about the parallels between 19th-century American attacks on Mormon polygamy and 20th- and 21st-century Mormon attacks on same-sex marriage. He has also presented an overview of recent biographies of Joseph Smith, suggesting that these biographies maintain an artificial division between Smith the treasure seeker and Smith the prophet.

Quinn is also a noteworthy biographer of the mid-20th century Latter-day Saint leader J. Reuben Clark, Jr.. In two biographical volumes on the Mormon Apostle, Quinn has emphasized Clark's professional preeminence, his committed and sometimes inflexible leadership, his persistent pacifism and personal struggles.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b "Interview of D. Michael Quinn". PBS. April 30, 2007. Retrieved October 11, 2011. 
  2. ^ Date information sourced from Library of Congress Authorities data, via corresponding WorldCat Identities linked authority file (LAF) .
  3. ^ a b "| 267: Michael Quinn, History and the Mormon World View | August 6, 2011". Mormonstories.org. August 6, 2011. Retrieved December 4, 2013. 
  4. ^ "| 285–287: D. Michael Quinn – 21st Century Mormon Enigma | September 21, 2011". Mormonstories.org. September 17, 2011. Retrieved December 4, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Golden, Daniel (April 6, 2006), "Scholar of Mormon History, Expelled From Church, Hits a Wall in Job Search", Wall Street Journal: A1, "Mr. Quinn's personal life contributed to his estrangement from the church. The father of four was divorced in 1985 and came out as a homosexual in 1996 when he published a book about same-sex friendships and romances in 19th-century Mormonism. The church condemns homosexual behavior. Mr. Quinn says he still believes in the "fundamentals" of Mormonism but doesn't practice the faith." 
  6. ^ Anderson, however, states that the divorce was not until 1986 and argues that Quinn's orientation was not made public prior to his excommunication so had little to do with the estrangement.[citation needed]
  7. ^ Hamblin, William J. (2000), "That Old Black Magic", FARMS Review (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute) 12 (2): 225–393 
  8. ^ William A. Wilson in a 1989 book review in The Western Historical Quarterly.[full citation needed]
  9. ^ Quinn, D. Michael. The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power Salt Lake City (Signature Books, 1994), p 14.
  10. ^ Boyce, Duane (1997), "A Betrayal of Trust", FARMS Review (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute) 9 (2): 147–163 
  11. ^ a b Mitton, George L.; James, Rhett S. (1998), "A Response to D. Michael Quinn's Homosexual Distortion of Latter-day Saint History", FARMS Review (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute) 10 (1): 141–263 
  12. ^ a b Hansen, Klaus J. (1998), "Quinnspeak", FARMS Review (Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute) 10 (1): 132–140 
  13. ^ Winter, Caroline, "How the Mormons Make Money", Bloomberg Businessweek, July 18, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-31.

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