Stephen Betts

PhD Candidate, Religious Studies

Stephen is a 4th year PhD Candidate in Religious Studies specializing in American Religions. He holds an MA in Religious Studies from UVA and an MA in Linguistics and BA in Ancient Near Eastern Studies from Brigham Young University. His dissertation, "Down into Egypt": Mormonism, Matriarchy, and the Myth of Ham, investigates a grammar of "Egyptian hieroglyphics" created in 1835 by Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. This "grammar" assigns each glyph to a narrative unit and includes instructions for how to translate them in combination. When reassembled, the various glyphs tell an alternative history of the biblical story of Abraham and situate the Covenant with respect to what came to be known later as the Curse of Canaan or Ham, popularly used in antebellum America as a justification for black chattel slavery. Drawing on Paul Ricoeur's hermeneutic phenomenology to think about Smith's "grammar" as the prolegomenon to a language of mythic symbols, the dissertation then turns to Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas's metaethics and Black studies scholar Kai Parker's concept of "black revelation" to think through what it might mean for racial encounter to be mediated by such a language.