Rasmussen, “Mormonism and the Making of a British Zion”

In May, the University of Utah Press will release “Mormonism and the Making of a British Zion” by Matthew Lyman Rasmussen (University of Lancaster). The publisher’s description follows:

Mormonism in Britain began in the late 1830s with the arrival of American missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not long afterward, thousands of British converts emigrated to Utah and became a kind of lifeblood for the early Mormon Church. England’s North West, where Mormonism had its strongest presence, has become a place of profound significance to the church, yet its early importance to Mormonism has never been fully explored. Matthew Rasmussen’s detailed account examines how Mormonism has changed and endured in Britain.

After many British believers left for America, church membership in England fell so sharply that the movement in Britain seemed to be on the brink of collapse. Yet British Mormonism gradually rebuilt and continues today. How did this religious minority flourish when so many nineteenth-century revivalist movements did not? Rasmussen explains Mormonism’s inception, perpetuation, and maturation in Britain in a compelling case study of a “new religious movement” with staying power.

Kester, “Remembering Iosepa”

This month, the Oxford University Press will publish Remembering Iosepa: History, Place, and Religion in the American West by Matthew Kester (Brigham Young University). The publisher’s description follows. Remembering Iosepa

In the late nineteenth century, a small community of Native Hawaiian Mormons established a settlement in heart of The Great Basin, in Utah. The community was named Iosepa, after the prophet and sixth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph F. Smith. The inhabitants of Iosepa struggled against racism, the ravages of leprosy, and economic depression, by the early years of the twentieth century emerging as a modern, model community based on ranching, farming, and an unwavering commitment to religious ideals. Yet barely thirty years after its founding the town was abandoned, nearly all of its inhabitants returning to Hawaii. Years later, Native Hawaiian students at nearby Brigham Young University, descendants of the original settlers, worked to clean the graves of Iosepa and erect a monument to memorialize the settlers.

Remembering Iosepa connects the story of this unique community with the earliest Native Hawaiian migrants to western North America and the vibrant and growing community of Pacific Islanders in the Great Basin today. It traces the origins and growth of the community in the tumultuous years of colonial expansion into the Hawaiian islands, as well as its relationship to white Mormons, the church leadership, and the Hawaiian government. In the broadest sense, Mathew Kester seeks to explain the meeting of Mormons and Hawaiians in the American West and to examine the creative adaptations and misunderstandings that grew out of that encounter.

Turner, “Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet”

From John G. Turner (George Mason), a new biography of Mormon leader Brigham Young, who, at one point, was both President of the LDS Church and Governor of the Utah Territory: Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Harvard 2012). The publisher’s description follows.

Brigham Young was a rough-hewn craftsman from New York whose impoverished and obscure life was electrified by the Mormon faith. He trudged around the United States and England to gain converts for Mormonism, spoke in spiritual tongues, married more than fifty women, and eventually transformed a barren desert into his vision of the Kingdom of God. While previous accounts of his life have been distorted by hagiography or polemical exposé, John Turner provides a fully realized portrait of a colossal figure in American religion, politics, and westward expansion.

After the 1844 murder of Mormon founder Joseph Smith, Young gathered those Latter-day Saints who would follow him and led them over the Rocky Read more

Fluhman, “‘A Peculiar People’: Anti-Mormomism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America”

An interesting work about nineteenth-century American religious and political history by J. Spencer Fluhman (BYU), “A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (UNC Press 2012).  The first major Supreme Court religion clause decision, Reynolds v. United States, was decided in 1878 and involved the prosecution of a member of the LDS Church for bigamy in what was then the Utah territory.  The publisher’s description follows.

Though the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion, it does not specify what counts as a religion. From its founding in the 1830s, Mormonism, a homegrown American faith, drew thousands of converts but far more critics. In “A Peculiar People”, J. Spencer Fluhman offers a comprehensive history of anti-Mormon thought and the associated passionate debates about religious authenticity in nineteenth-century America. He argues that understanding anti-Mormonism provides critical insight into the American psyche because Mormonism became a potent symbol around which ideas about religion and the state took shape.

Fluhman documents how Mormonism was defamed, with attacks often aimed at polygamy, and shows how the new faith supplied a social enemy for a public agitated by the popular press and wracked with social and economic instability. Taking the story to the turn of the century, Fluhman demonstrates how Mormonism’s own transformations, the result of both choice and outside force, sapped the strength of the worst anti-Mormon vitriol, triggering the acceptance of Utah into the Union in 1896 and also paving the way for the dramatic, yet still grudging, acceptance of Mormonism as an American religion.

What We Get When We Talk About Religion and Politics

I found this piece by Frank Bruni in Saturday’s New York Times to be interesting in several respects.  One of Bruni’s claims is that we have not yet really tried to explain the various character flaws and other personality quirks that we (by which I mean the Times writers) see in Mitt Romney by reference to his religious background.  It is important that we do this, says Bruni.  So, for example, we should try to understand Romney’s “muffled soul” by engaging in some extended religious psychology about Mormonism.  Here’s a bit from Bruni:

Read more

Mormonism & the Republican Primaries: LDS & the Romney Family History

On January 17, HarperCollins released The Real Romney, a new biography of the sometime Republican primary front-runner by Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, whose research adds an interesting supplement to Laurie Goodstein’s recent article in the New York Times (see the CLR discussion of Goodstein’s article here).  The Real Romney pays significant attention to the Romney family’s foundational role in the Latter Day Saint Movement.  In a January 19 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, Kranish stated that he and Helman focused on Romney’s “ancestral story . . . because through that story [one] can really understand the story of Mormon[ism]”;  and, according to Kranish, Romney’s family history is one “intertwined” with “Mormon life.”  (If nothing else, the Fresh Air interview is, in itself, fascinating.)

Kranish and Helman reveal that the Romney family was acquainted with Joseph Smith and Brigham Young in the early days of the LDS Movement, founded a new Mormon community in Mexico, practiced polygamy in the nineteenth century, and advocated for progressive reforms within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints during the twentieth century.

For more on Kranish and Helman’s take on the Romney family and its continuing and significant involvement with the LDS movement, please follow the jump. Read more

Mormons, Evangelicals, and the Republican Primaries

The New York Times reported recently that the budding Republican primaries have sparked Evangelical unease toward Mormonism (an unease reminiscent of the 2008 Republican primary fight).  According to Correspondent Laurie Goodstein, Mitt Romney’s lead after the New Hampshire Primary might flag as the primaries move from the Northeast into South Carolina and Florida—favoring, possibly, Rick Santorum, who is popular among Evangelicals.  Ms. Goodstein cites the anti-Mormon preaching of the Rev. R. Philip Roberts, president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Rev. Roberts advances a view apparently shared by a certain coterie of Evangelicals that Mormonism is a threatening, apostatical religion.  According to Rev. Roberts, a Romney presidency would legitimize Mormonism and pave the way for an increase in Mormon proselytism, something he and like-minded believers fear.

The term “Evangelical” encompasses a broad range of beliefs and attitudes, so any generalization about them is suspect.  But the Pew Forum reports that 15% of white Evangelical Republicans would not vote for Romney simply because of Romney’s Mormonism—a relatively small proportion  in a general election but one more decisive in a primary.  Thus, Ms. Goodstein’s article illustrates just how much a candidate’s religion alone may deter voters, notwithstanding the candidate’s political views.

Update (Jan. 20):  HarperCollins recently released a new biography of Mitt Romney, The Real Romney, by Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman that explores the Romney family’s ties to the early Latter Day Saints Movement.

LDS in the USA: Mormon Influence in American Society

Associate Professor of Political Science at Saginaw State University, Lee Trepanier, and Lynita K. Newswander of the University of South Dakota will soon publish LDS in the USA: Mormonism and the Making of American Culture (Baylor, 2012).  The book seeks to move beyond cultural myths and misperceptions about Mormonism and describe its past and present contributions to American social and political life.  See the authors’ abstract below:

From the politics of Glenn Beck to reality television’s Big Love and the hit Broadway show The Book of Mormon, Mormons have become a recognizable staple of mainstream popular culture. And while most Americans are well aware of the existence of Mormonism—and some of the often exaggerated myths about Mormonism—the religion’s public influence has been sorely understudied.

Lee Trepanier and Lynita K. Newswander move beyond clichéd and stereotypical portrayals of Mormonism to unpack the significant and sometimes surprising roles Mormons have played in the building of modern America. Moving from popular culture to politics to the Mormon influence in social controversies, LDS in the USA reveals Mormonism to be quintessentially American—both firmly rooted in American tradition and free to engage in the public square.

Trepanier and Newswander examine the intersection of the tension between the nation’s sometimes bizarre understanding of Mormon belief and the suspicious acceptance of the most well known Mormons into the American public identity. Readers are consistently challenged to abandon popular perceptions in order to embrace more fully the fascinating importance of this American religion.

—DRS, CLR Fellow