The Beautiful Mind and Life of Jen Lindell
by Edward J. Blum
You’ve never heard of her, but you would have. She had earned a doctoral fellowship to the Religious Studies department at the University of Pennsylvania and in the fall would have begun her apprenticeship under Anthea Butler and Sarah Barringer Gordon. She had just finished a Master’s Thesis on Mormon-Indian interactions beginning with the initial publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830 and ending with the Mountain Meadow Massacre of 1857. She was my star student who taught me so much about race and religion, helped with my own projects even amid her own routine trips to the hospital, and died far too earlier
.Jen Lindell wrote a Master’s Thesis that easily could have been expanded into an award-winning dissertation. Her broad interest was in the dynamic ways religion influenced the lives of everyday people and on how religious ideas influenced racial perceptions and vise-versa. She fixated on early Mormons and their conceptions of and interactions with Native Americans. She wanted to understand how white people who weren’t considered white by others (in large part because of their distinct faith) at first reached out to non-white people (Native Americans) as potential brothers and sisters, but then years later treated those people with disdain and violence. Lindell refused to take a “top down” approach – which would focus principally on Joseph Smith and Bringham Young – and instead looked to the laity. Reading deeply and widely through diaries, letters, memoirs, and local newspapers, she found epic encounters and love and betrayal, missions and murder, friendship and violence.
Soon, Lindell’s thesis will be deposited in the San Diego State University library and will be available online. I hope scholars interested in Mormonism and race will check it out. She’s got some rich material and fascinating insights. Even more, anyone who reads it will get to know in a small way the brilliant mind that I had the pleasure of learning from for a season. We miss you, Jen, and we’re so glad we got to be a part of your beautiful life.