SAN ANTONIO — Mormon history enthusiasts from far-flung locales are gathering in this historic city on the Mexican border for three days of scholarly sessions comprising the 49th annual Mormon History Association Conference.
“The theme of this conference is ‘The Immigration of Cosmopolitan Thought’ into Mormon history, particularly in a worldwide setting,” said Richard E. Bennett, this year’s association president, about the nondenominational gathering, which meets in a different venue each year.
“We’re looking at the impact that local cultures are having and have had on the church historically through the years. San Antonio is kind of a borderland crossing point, and, as the location for this year’s conference, symbolizes the crossing point of cultures into Mormonism, not just the Latino culture, but cultures throughout the world.”
Bennett is chairman of the Department of Church History at BYU. But the association president, which changes every year, is not always a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a fact that reflects the group’s nondenominational makeup, which includes adherents to other religious faiths that trace their origins to the founding of the church by Joseph Smith in 1830.
Between Thursday evening and Sunday morning, some 130 presenters will address the conference theme and related topics.
An opening reception Thursday night will feature a welcome from Henry Cisneros, former San Antonio mayor and former U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Michael Van Wagenen, a professor at Georgia Southern University, will give an appraisal of Mormonism in Texas.
“The following two days of conference sessions will be filled with intellectually stimulating papers and panels,” said Ronald O. Barney, executive director of the association.
“Session topics span a wide range of interest beginning with a presentation by San Antonio native Ignacio M. Garcia, a history professor at Brigham Young University, who will speak about growing up Mexican–American and Mormon in the Alamo city.
“A conference highlight will be the annual Tanner lecture delivered by Jehu J. Hanciles of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Hanciles will speak to the theme of ‘Mormonism and the New Shape of Global Christianity.’ ”
Barney said San Antonio was selected as this year’s conference location because of “its centrality to Mormon origins in Texas beginning with a colony in 1847,” which is the same year Brigham Young and the Mormons founded Salt Lake City.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the largest of several religious organizations that trace their roots to early Mormonism, claims more adherents in Texas than all other states but Utah, California, Arizona and Idaho,” Barney noted.
The conference convenes at the Wyndham San Antonio Riverwalk Hotel.
Some attendees are availing themselves of historical tours offered before and after the conference, including views of the historic Alamo in San Antonio and other noted 18th century Spanish missions within the city’s environs. The post-conference tour will visit the earliest Mormon colony sites in Texas as well as the Lyndon B. Johnson ranch and presidential library.