• Sat. Mar 25th, 2023


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Laura Hales, Who Examined Her Church’s Tough Issues, Dies at 54

Admirers disagreed.

“As a writer and podcaster, Laura Hales had the rare combination of being smart and personable, intellectual and approachable,” Patrick Q. Mason, who holds the Leonard J. Arrington chair of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University and has written extensively on the church, said by email. “She demonstrated how to do deep dives into fraught subjects while remaining personally loyal to the church.

“Insatiably curious and a lifelong learner, she excelled at translating complicated issues for broad audiences.”

Laura Elizabeth Harris was born into a Latter-day Saints family on Aug. 12, 1967, in Madison, Wis. Her father, Alfred, was an agricultural engineer, and her mother, Margaret (Lewis) Harris, was a teacher.

The family lived in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan while Laura was growing up. In 1988 she graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor’s degree in international relations. That same year she married Brian Dursteler; the couple had five children before divorcing in 2005.

Ms. Hales earned two master’s degrees, in professional writing at New England College in New Hampshire in 2013 and in North American history at Arizona State University 2020. She and Mr. Hales, who had already written several books on polygamy (a practice the mainstream church has not endorsed for more than a century), married in 2013.

Ms. Hales said that the idea for her podcast arose in 2016 when a church member in Sweden, where she and Mr. Hales were presenting at a conference, complained to her that books on the church were hard to get hold of in that country, and that the only podcasts available were either antagonistic or overly devotional. “There is no middle ground,” the man told her, so she set about trying to provide one.

Ms. Hales took up many topics in her writing and on her podcast, but she dealt with polygamy so often that in 2015 she wrote an essay for The Millennial Star, a blog maintained by church members, entitled “Why I Write About Polygamy.” In the essay, she mentioned that she and her husband had given a number of presentations on the subject.