Interview: Philippa Juliet Meek-Smith

School/Institution:

University of Exeter

Areas of Interest/Research:

Mormon Studies, Mormon Fundamentalism, Polygamy, Religion and Law, Sociology of Religion, Religion and the Media

What is it about your field that you love researching?

I enjoy learning new things that have yet to be fully explored, I particularly enjoy carrying out ethnographic fieldwork which gives me the opportunity to meet new people and record their experiences. I enjoy looking at media representations of religion and demonstrating the disconnect between the realities of how people practice their religion and how the media portrays these practices and beliefs.

What is one “big idea” in your scholarship?

That plural marriage ought to be legalised for consenting adults. Not only would this enable plural families to legally practice their religious beliefs without fear of prosecution but would provide protections from those in abusive marriages who wish to leave but fear legal repercussions.

What is your current research about?

My current research looks at a range of media representations of fundamentalist Mormon polygamy in the United States (including, but not limited to: television documentaries and dramas; print and broadcast news, podcasts, etc) and how these portrayals might impact public perceptions. My research then examines how media representations and public perceptions differ (or not) when compared to the realities of Mormon plural marriage as it is practiced by fundamentalist Mormons today. My research aims to dispel any incorrect public perceptions and educate the public on the realities of Mormon plural marriage.

Who is one of your academic heroes and why do you admire them?

The field of Mormon Studies is a very supportive one and many senior academics have shown me support, congratulated me on my work, and encouraged me on my academic journey. It is great to be part of such a supportive community. Not only have I received support from senior scholars, but the community of other PhD researchers and early career researchers is great too, with many of us encouraging each other, celebrating one another’s successes, and offering moral support.

What books have been formative for you in your study? Why were they so important? How did they shape you?

The ethnographic research carried out by Janet Bennion in works such as Women of Principle, Polygamy on Primetimeand Desert Patriarchy have been key texts as they form a foundation on which my research grows. Bennion’s texts helped me develop my interest in exploring fundamentalist Mormon polygamy and the relationships that exist between spouses in plural families and the pressure plural families experience when their marital status means they are breaking the law. 

I would also be remiss in not mentioning the importance of seminal texts such as the works of Richard Bushman and Claudia Bushman. Claudia Bushman’s Contemporary Mormonism was the first book I read about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and initially got me interested in Mormon studies before my focus shifted away from the mainstream church to fundamentalist groups within the Mormon tradition.

Do you have any publications we can showcase?

I have recently recorded podcasts for The Classical Ideas Podcast (https://classicalideaspodcast.libsyn.com/ep-117-a-discussion-on-plural-marriage-wphilippa-j-meek ) and Naked Mormonism (https://nakedmormonismpodcast.com/episode-174-legal-polygamy-w-philippa-meek-pt-1/ and https://nakedmormonismpodcast.com/episode-175-legal-polygamy-w-philippa-meek-pt-2/ ). 

An article I wrote was recently published in the Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies https://digitalcommons.usu.edu/imwjournal/vol10/iss1/4/ . Some of my published work including articles and book reviews, as well as unpublished work such as conference papers and posters can be found on my academia.edu page https://exeter.academia.edu/PhilippaJulietMeek, including the paper I presented at the Mormon Social Science Association One Day Conference in Orem, Utah which won the 2019 Gary and Gordon Shepherd Graduate Student Paper Award.

Where can we follow you online?

Twitter: @philippajmeek 

If we ran into you at SBL/AAR and you didn’t want to talk about your field what would you want to talk about?

Increasing legal penalties for those who commit crimes such as domestic abuse, sexual assault, coercion, etc in order to protect those who are vulnerable, particularly when current legal frameworks are not fit for purpose when it comes to prosecuting crimes committed by intimate partners. Both men and women can be victims of domestic abuse, men in particular do not always have access to the resources they need to seek help; they also face stereotypical views about who is and isn’t an abuser and assumptions that because they may be stronger or taller than their abuser that they can’t be a victim. I’m a big advocate on extending provisions for victims of domestic and intimate partner abuse. 

Other than your thesis, what research/writing project are you working on right now that you’re excited about?

I have spent time lobbying legislators in the United States with the aim of changing or abolishing laws that prohibit plural marriage. In early 2020 I contributed to the change in law in Utah that saw the practice of polygamy among consenting adults change from a felony crime with up to five years in prison to a misdemeanour charge akin to a parking ticket. I continue to do this work with the aim of seeing plural marriage decriminalised and legalised in the United States and elsewhere. I have previously published work that compares plural marriage to the legal journeys of inter-racial and same-sex marriage in the United States and I am confident that in the future those who wish to practice polygamy will be able to do so and have those marriages recognised.

>> Thank you so much, Philippa, for taking the time to share a bit about yourself and your work.


Are you a PhD student or Early Career Researcher working in Religion or Biblical Studies? If so, we’d like to hear from you. This website is dedicated solely to interviewing PhD students and ECRs on who they are, what they love about their work, and what has inspired them. If you’d like to be interviewed, head over to the Contact page and fill out the form. There’s no catch. Don’t be shy. Self-promotion is a virtue.

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