American Religion. Apocalyptic Literature. Folklore.
Latter Day Saint Studies.
I research and write about story - particularly those stories told by everyday people about the catastrophic, the supernatural, and the divine. I am fascinated by my own religious tradition and for the past two decades have immersed myself in the literature, legends, sermons, and personal narratives of the Latter-day Saints. I often focus on the reception of story, often writing on the way Latter-day Saints and others have read and interpreted scriptural texts, Aztec codices, and American apocalyptic literature.
Since receiving my Ph.D. in American Religious History from Florida State University in 2015, I have held positions in the Religious Studies program at Utah State University, the Joseph Smith Papers, and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University.
My book, Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse looks at 200-years of Latter-day Saint engagement with last days prophecy. Read more about it below.
I am currently finishing a book entitled, A Season of Apocalyptic Writing in Dystopia USA. Inspired in part by Daniel Defoe’s fictionalized history, A Journal of the Plague Year, which chronicled the Great Plague of London in 1665, my book looks at American society during the current era of pandemic and widespread anxiety. I emphasize how individuals and movements have tried to make sense of the moment through ideas of conspiracy, last days prophecy, and varied kinds of skepticism. I also write about related events that have captured the nation’s attention, including the Chad and Lori Daybell case. A Season of Apocalyptic Writing is a mixed genre experiment, including journal entries and personal memoir, alongside pieces of journalism and traditional scholarship.
My published work has appeared in a variety of academic journals, including the Journal of Religion, the Journal of the Bible and Its Reception, Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religion, Communal Societies, Religion Compass, BYU Studies Quarterly, Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Material Religion: A Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief, Journal of Mormon History, and several others. My article “Would to God I Could Tell You Who I Am”: Nineteenth Century Mormonisms and the Apotheosis of Joseph Smith,” Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religion 18, no. 2 (2014): 5-27, was the recipient of the Article of Excellence Award by the Mormon History Association and the Thomas Robbins Award for Excellence in the Study of New Religious Movements. I have published shorter essays for a popular audience at Juvenile Instructor, Maxwell Institute blog, Public Square, Sightings, Religion Dispatches, and the Utah Historical Association blog.
In addition, I am an editor on three volumes of the Joseph Smith Papers.
Throughout my career, I have had many opportunities to be involved in the fields of Religious Studies, Mormon Studies, and folklore. Between 2008 and 2011, I served as the founding editor of the Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies. I have held a variety of positions in the John Whitmer Historical Association, including on their board of directors from 2011 to 2014. In 2016, I began my service as a book review editor for the Journal of Mormon History. In 2019, I was appointed co-editor, along with Jessie Embry. In 2019, I served as an assistant judge in the category of Religious Non-fiction for the Association of Mormon Letters. Currently, I am co-president with my partner, Christine Elyse Blythe of the Folklore Society of Utah.
Featured Academic Article
Journal of Book of Mormon Studies.
"This article documents the all-but-forgotten Latter-day Saint use of Codex Boturini—a sixteenth-century Mesoamerican codex depicting the Mexica (i.e., Aztec) migration from their mythical homeland Atzlan to Tenochtitlan, the seat of the empire’s government—as physical evidence for Book of Mormon history. In the perspective of these Saints, the pictorial manuscript was an independent record of the Book of Mormon. For decades, Mormons published images from Codex Boturini (or described them) alongside commentary that translated the pictographs through a Mormon lens. …positing which chapter and verse was illustrated by which image. …These divergent interpretations reveal the extent of nineteenth-century Mormonism’s passion for finding the sacred narrative of the Book of Mormon in American antiquity.”
Latter-day Saints were not the only one to see Christian narrative in Mexica codices. This is an image from the Aztec Codex Vaticanus, which according to some Christian interpreters depicted the fall of Eve and Cain's murder of Abel. This image appeared in John Delafield, An Inquiry into the Origin of the Antiquities of America (Cincinnati: N. G. Burgess, 1839).
The Latter-day Saint periodical The Prophet published portions of Codex Boturini, interpreting the Aztec manuscript as a pictorial Book of Mormon. This initial scene depicting the journey from the Aztec mythological homeland Aztlan was re-interpreted as a depiction of the journey of Lehi's family from Jerusalem.
Two years before The Prophet interpreted Codex Boturini as a telling of 1 Nephi, the apostle John E. Page discovered a copy of Codex Boturini included in Delafield's Inquiry. After a vision that instructed him to compare the manuscript to the Jaredite narrative in Ether, he developed a reading of the text that placed the above scene at the Tower of Babel and the voyage of the Brother of Jared. The copy of Codex Boturini included in Delafield was about 20 feet long and 20 inches wide folded and attached at the back of the book. Page recognized it as an ideal visual for his lectures which he made use of for the following decade.
Over the next 150 years, several Latter-day Saint commentators have re-discovered Codex Boturini and proposed their own Book of Mormon readings to the pictorial content. Many of these explicitly pointed out the similarities they saw between the Aztec hieroglyphics and the Egyptian hieroglyphics translated by Joseph Smith as part of the Book of Abraham.
For more information on this multigenerational Latter-day Saint reception history of Codex Boturini, follow the link above.
For more academic articles by Christopher James Blythe, visit his scholar's page on the Maxwell Institute website.
“Christopher Blythe has written an essential guide for understanding the religious culture of Mormonism. Terrible Revolution takes readers from early expectations of an imminent Second Coming, to the White Horse Prophecy, to contemporary preppers. An essential text.” –John G. Turner, author of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet
“Mormonism emerged out of an American religious landscape steeped in the vibrant imagery of what scholars have called ‘catastrophic millennialism.’ Latter-day Saint prophets and lay visionaries have woven their own apocalyptic narratives about their church’s pivotal role in the destiny of the United States. In this illuminating study, Christopher Blythe spins a masterful narrative that combines an impressive breadth of sources, official and popular, to tell a story still unfolding in the 21st century.” –Terryl Givens, author of Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought
Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse is the first book to offer a 200 year history of Latter-day Saint apocalyptic ideas. With a history of conflict with broader American society, nineteenth century Saints envisioned divine deliverance by way of plagues, natural disasters, foreign invasions, American Indian raids, slave uprisings, or civil war unleashed on American cities and American people. These violent images promised a national rebirth that would vouchsafe the protections of the United States Constitution and end their oppression. After Utah obtained statehood, as the church sought to assimilate to national religious norms, Church leaders began to disavow and regulate apocalyptic prophecies. Terrible Revolution argues that the visionary world of early Mormonism, with its apocalyptic emphases, continued in the church's mainstream culture in modified forms but continued to maintain separatist radical forms at the level of folk-belief.
Learn more about Terrible Revolution
"Why Its Time For A New Book on Latter-day Saint Views of the Apocalypse," Maxwell Institute Blog.
A Reading from Terrible Revolution, chapter 3, on "Joseph Smith's Martyrdom and LDS Prophecy."
Utah Historical Quarterly Blog
July 7, 2020
In this essay, I examine the causes and contexts behind the "Race Riot" fears that shook northern Utah in September 1965.
Public Square Magazine
June 16, 2020
In the wake of the protests in Salt Lake City, rumors circulated of impending home invasions throughout northern Utah. Protestors allegedly planned to knock doors and “if people answer when they knock, they [would shoot] to prove black lives matter.” This essay contextualizes these rumors with a larger history of legends of racial violence in Salt Lake City.
Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship
In this essay, I examine a letter written by Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone in 1983 and deposited in the cornerstone of the Atlanta Georgia Temple. The letter is addressed to twenty-first century members of the Church and is written with the expectation that these future Saints will have been alive for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. I consider the claims made about this letter from a recent viral video entitled “7 Year Tribulation in the SEVENTH Seal TIMELINE.”
Religion Dispatches, May 4, 2020
An examination of conspiracy theories relating to the Covid-19 vaccine and the Book of Revelation's prophecy of the "Mark of the Beast."
Juvenile Instructor, April 24, 2020
This essay was written in the wake of the March 2020 announcement of the return of LDS missionaries to their home countries in the face of the pandemic. At the time, there was speculation that this event had been prophesied.
Sightings, February 27, 2020
This essay is the first of a series of essays I have written and published on the Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow case. My purpose in writing this essay was to correct false reports that Chad Daybell was the leader of an organized group. Instead, I posited that he was an influential figure in a network of Latter-day Saint apocalypticists. At the time, the bodies of J.J. Vallow and Tylee Ryan had yet to be discovered.
Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
Provo, Utah 84604