Announcement: 2014 McMurrin Lecture on Religion and Culture

By October 9, 2014

David CampbellThe University of Utah’s Tanner Humanities Center is proud to present the Fall 2014 McMurrin Lecture on Religion and Culture with David Campbell, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and co-author of the recent book Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics. Campbell’s lecture, titled “Whither the Promised Land? Mormons’ Place in a Changing Religious Landscape,” will be held on Thursday, October 30 at 7:00 PM in the Salt Lake City Main Library auditorium, 210 E 400 S. This event is free and open to the public. More information at

In his lecture, Campbell will explore how Mormons fit into a society where once-sharp religious distinctions have blurred and secularism is on the rise. With their high levels of religious devotion and solidarity, Mormons in America are increasingly “peculiar.” Does their peculiarity come at a price? Does that price include a “stained glass ceiling” in presidential politics? In other words, did Mormonism cost Mitt Romney the White House? And, how has Mitt Romney’s campaign affected popular perceptions of Mormonism?

More than One Stubborn Log in the Field

By October 1, 2014


Okay, so this is from a different era. Still, I think it applies!

1863 was a troublesome year for Abraham Lincoln.  His Emancipation Proclamation went into effect January 1st, but it needed to be vindicated by victories on the battlefield.  However, Grant’s prolonged siege of Vicksburg and the game-changing victory at Gettysburg wouldn’t see completion until early July.

Those victories were inconceivable mid-1863, especially after costly Union losses at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville the previous winter and spring. Lincoln had another problem on his hands, too:  political trouble in Missouri, brewing since the start of the war and coming to a head in the summer of 1863.  The Border State had a large population of slave owners and had been occupied by a heavy Union military presence since early in the war.  The various Unionist factions that arose in the state continued to press Lincoln to support their respective camps, either in spreading immediate emancipation to Missouri or allowing slavery to exist with a more gradual emancipation plan.  When a delegation of the more radical faction visited Lincoln in Autumn to appeal for his support, he refused to add presidential clout to either group.

Frustrated with the politicking in Missouri, but unwilling to join sides, Lincoln remarked to a reporter that he had “adopted the plan learned when a farmer boy engaged in plowing.  When he came across stumps too deep and too tough to be torn up, and too wet to burn, he plowed round them.”  In other words, he opted for the course of least resistance rather than directly dealing with the most difficult of situations—and possibly unwinnable ones— as in Missouri.[1]

Wait—he said that about Missourians?

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Mormon Studies in the Classroom: Mormonism and American Politics

By May 1, 2014

General JSThough the Romney Moment is over, the intersections between Mormonism and American politics remains a potent topic for research and discussion. In this theoretical course, which I have yet to have the opportunity to teach, I would aim to capitalize on this interest and introduce important themes from American history.

Course Objective

The goal of this course is to explore key tensions in America’s dynamic history of Church and State, with Mormonism serving as a case study. We will cover the entire historical sweep of the Mormon moment, from Joseph Smith to Mitt Romney. Throughout, Mormons and Mormonism will not be presented as aberrations to the American tradition, but as embodiments of its key features. Though there has been a temptation in the past to characterize the LDS faith as an external dissent from or challenge to the American mainstream, students will learn that the issues highlighted through the Mormon Church’s confrontation with the United States’s political establishment and democratic ideals are part and parcel of American history in general. Attention will be given to political ideals found within scriptural texts (like the critique of capitalism found within the Doctrine and Covenants), the ideas of specific individuals’ political thought (like that of Joseph Smith), particular moments of conflict (like the Utah war), unique theological strains (like the nebulous idea of theodemocracy), heightened moments of debate (like Reed Smoot’s hearings), foundational periods of transition (like Mormonism’s loud response to the Cold War), and the continued tensions of exclusion/inclusion (like during Mitt Romney’s presidential runs). Students will be expected to not only demonstrate a nuanced understanding of Mormonism’s relationship to American politics, but also the larger tensions of American culture’s perpetual dance between Church and State.

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Where is Mormonism in the study of post-World War II Religion and Politics?

By December 18, 2013

This past semester, I wrote a brief historiography of American religion and Evangelicalism in my American Religious History course. For the assignment, I read several books released in the past 5 years regarding this sub-field of American religious history (I addressed one of my favorites here). While writing the paper, my mind kept returning to a sermons of Ezra Taft Benson’s in 1962.

Benson’s sermon, excerpted below, highlights the possibilities of studying church leader’s political views and potential ramifications in shaping their believer’s politics.[1] For a bit of context, Benson gave these remarks after visiting the Soviet Union, and one year from the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The political and economic overtones not have been out of place in Evangelical sermons in the South at the same time (at least in my reading of post-WWII Evangelicalism and politics).

  • We must never forget exactly what communism really is. Communism is far more than an economic system. It is a total philosophy of life — atheistic and completely opposed to all that we hold dear. 
  • We believe in a moral code. Communism denies innate right or wrong. As W. Cleon Skousen has said in his timely book, The Naked Communist, the communist “has convinced himself that nothing is evil which answers the call of expediency.” This is a most damnable doctrine.
  • We believe in religion as a mode of life resulting from our faith in God. Communism contends that all religion must be overthrown because it inhibits the spirit of world revolution. Earl Browder, a long-time leader of the Communist Party in the U. S. A., said, “. . . we Communists do not distinguish between good and bad religions, because we think they are all bad.”
  • I visited the Soviet Union last fall…I saw no evidence that the communist leaders have altered their goal of world conquest—by economic if not by military means…[But]It takes a month’s wages to buy a pair of shoes and two months or more to buy a suit of clothes.  
  • What can you and I do to help meet this grave challenge from a godless, atheistic, cruelly materialistic system–to preserve our God-given free way of life? This is a choice land—all of America—choice above all others. Blessed by the Almighty, our forebears have made and kept it so. It will continue to be a land of freedom and liberty as long as we are able and willing to advance in the light of sound and enduring principles of right… Let us stand eternal watch against the accumulation of too much power in government. …Finally, let us all rededicate our lives and our nation to do the will of God. 


Researchers may be able to answer important questions stemming from this sermon and others. To what degree was Benson in line with other conservative religious leaders at the time? Did Mormons have a peculiar form of political conservatism, tied to their canonical statements on the Constitution? Who were the movers and shakers in Mormon anti-Communism outside of Benson, McKay, and Cleon Skousen—how did they work together to shape the Church’s public politics? How important was financial prosperity a key to Christian anti-communism? These questions could easily be extended to other religiously motivated political movements after the Second World War. These questions could also help historians of Mormonism move their projects further into the twentieth century.

The study of Mormonism seems particularly apt for studying Christian anti-Communism, beyond its embodiment in Ezra Taft Benson, David O. McKay, W. Cleon Skousen, and others. Such a study could elucidate particular strains of Mormon conservatism mingled with its theology; it could also show how Mormon yearnings to be both “Christian” and “American” may have led them to ally politically with Evangelicals–bringing Mormonism into broader historiographies and conversations.

[1] This could be said of Billy Graham, Fighting Bob Shuler, or Catholic leaders in this same time period.

Indian Removal, Zion, and the westward orientation of early Mormonism

By November 23, 2013

This post is adapted from a presentation given at the 2012 Sidney B. Sperry Symposium at Brigham Young University.*

Ideologies can turn heads. In United States of America, ideological head turning has often been westward. In this post I argue that it was the ideology and force of Indian Removal that turned the heads of early Mormons and oriented them to the West.

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Response: J.B. Haws Answers Questions about his recent JMH article and his forthcoming book (Part II)

By November 4, 2013

We’re pleased today to welcome back J.B. Haws for Part II of our Q & A on his recent article in the JMH and his forthcoming book, The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (Oxford, December 2013), both exploring the changing image of Mormons in American media from George Romney’s presidential run in the 1960s to his son Mitt Romney’s campaigns in the early 21st century. Last time, we focused mainly on Haws’ methods and sources. Today, we’re exploring specific aspects of his analysis and a few of his conclusions.

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Response: J.B. Haws Answers Questions about his recent JMH article and his forthcoming book (Part I)

By October 21, 2013

In August, I reviewed J.B. Haws’ recent article “When Mormonism Mattered Less in Presidential Politics: George Romney’s 1968 Window of Possibilities”, published in the summer issue of the Journal of Mormon History. Haws, an Assistant Professor of Church History at BYU, graciously agreed to participate in a Q & A to answer some of my lingering questions and those submitted by members of the JI community. In the course of our conversation, we also discussed how the research he presented in his article is extended in his forthcoming (and highly-anticipated!) book, The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (Oxford, December 2013), which promises to be an important and much-needed addition to our understanding of Mormonism in the contemporary period, as well as of public representations (and misrepresentations) of Mormonism across the last half of the 20th century.

JBH: I should say, by way of preface, that as I read through your questions, my reaction after every one was to think, “Wow—great question.”  But I’m going to resist typing that every time (but just know I’m still thinking that!).  Thanks for these thoughtful and thought-provoking questions.

CHJ: Thank you, J. B.! We’re excited that you were willing to offer us some answers. So—let’s get to it!

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Responses: Paul Harvey and Edward Blum respond to Noel Carmack’s Review Essay in the Journal of Mormon History

By September 24, 2013

Almost exactly one year ago, the University of North Carolina Press published Edward Blum and Paul Harvey’s The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America, a sweeping and provocative analysis of the ways in which Americans from various walks of life over the last four hundred (!) years have imagined Jesus. Among the many contributions the book makes, and of particular interest to JI readers, is the authors’ situating Mormons as important players in the larger story of race and religion they narrate so masterfully. In fact, one paragraph in particular has garnered more attention than nearly any other part of the book—a brief discussion in chapter 9 of the large, white marble Christus statue instantly recognizable to Mormons the world over. In the latest issue of the Journal of Mormon HistoryNoel Carmack authored a 21 page review of The Color of Christ, focusing on their treatment of Mormonism and paying particular attention to their discussion of the Christus. Professors Blum and Harvey generously accepted our invitation to respond here, as part of both our ongoing Responses series and as an appropriate contribution to our look at Mormon material culture this month. 

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Review: Haws, “When Mormonism Mattered Less in Presidential Politics: George Romney’s 1968 Window of Possibilities”

By August 19, 2013

Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns came to seem, in the media frenzy of the last few years, like bookends to America’s much-touted Mormon moment. But Americans’ fascination with the Latter-day Saints did not begin or end with Mitt Romney. This is not the first period in American history when non-Mormon Americans have, to some extent, embraced their LDS neighbors. In fact, Mitt Romney isn’t even the first Republican Romney whose religious affiliation has colored his national political image. His father George, the successful head of the American Motor Company in the 1950s and popular governor of Michigan in the 1960s, was a prominent candidate for the 1968 Republican nomination for President. Also like Mitt, George owed at least some measure of his political success to a period of increased interest in and positive feeling towards the Mormons. As J.B. Haws, Assistant Professor of Church History at BYU, shows in his article in the most recent issue of the Journal of Mormon History, George Romney’s candidacy was not seen as tainted by a “Mormon problem,” as were his son’s campaigns a half-century later. [1] In the United States in the 1960s, the Romneys’ Mormonism simply “mattered less” than it does in the 21st century. And if it mattered at all, Haws argues, it did so by lending George Romney the air of “benign wholesomeness” that characterized public perceptions of the Latter-day Saints in this period (99).

Haws’ current article is based on the research for his forthcoming book The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (OUP, November 2013), and essentially lays the groundwork for that longer study, in which he traces public perceptions of Mormonism in the American media across the last half-century. In the 1960s, he argues, George Romney ran for the Republican nomination for the presidency and faced remarkably few challenges to his religion—or at least what look like remarkably few challenges to those of us who lived through the most recent Mormon moment. By comparing political polling data from both Romneys’ campaigns and examining news coverage of the elder Romney’s presidential aspirations and editorial commentary on his campaign and on the larger question of the role a candidate’s religion should play in voters’ assessment of his fitness for office, Haws convincingly demonstrates that Americans were less concerned in the 1960s—or at least said they were less concerned—by the possibility of having a Mormon in the White House than were their early 21st-century counterparts. While George Romney’s religion was occasionally challenged—primarily, Haws claims, regarding the Church’s policies on race (remember, George Romney was running for the presidency in the midst of the Civil Rights movements, and a decade before the Church lifted its ban on blacks in the priesthood)—according to Haws it was not Romney’s religion but his moderate politics and his ill-advised declaration in 1967 that he had been “brainwashed” into supporting the Vietnam war that sunk him with American voters. In short, Haws argues that political views, not religious beliefs, were the elder Romney’s greatest obstacles.

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Guest Post: Ken Alford on the Mormon Civil War Vets and the GAR

By August 12, 2013

Today’s guest post is from Ken Alford, an Associate Professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University. After serving almost 30 years on active duty in the United States Army, he retired as a Colonel in 2008. While on active duty, Ken served in numerous personnel, automation, acquisition, and education assignments, including the Pentagon, eight years teaching at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and four years as Professor and Department Chair at the National Defense University in Washington, DC. His most recent book, Civil War Saints, was published in 2012. Ken and his wife, Sherilee, have four children and ten grandchildren.

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Guest Post: Patrick Mason, “God Bless America: Ezra Taft Benson’s Exceptionalist Patriotism”

By July 22, 2013

mason[Another installment in this month’s series on “Mormonism and Politics,” this post is authored by Patrick Mason. Patrick, a friend of and mentor to many on the blog, is the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, and his works include The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Post-Bellum South and (co-edited with David Pulsipher and Richard Bushman) War and Peace in Our Times: Mormon Perspectives. He is currently working on a biography of Ezra Taft Benson and a book on Mormon peace ethics. More recent family hobbies, supposedly related to peace ethics, include sneaking onto his former property with shovels and garbage bags to dig up grape vines and other shrubbery.]

The 1950s was a heady time for God in America.  Postwar enthusiasm and the fear of the surge of international “godless Communism” helped spark a national revival of religion, both privately and publicly.  Billy Graham emerged not only as the nation’s top revivalist but also as one of its biggest celebrities.  “In God We Trust” replaced the more secularly inflected “E Pluribus Unum” as the nation’s motto, and “under God” got plugged into the Pledge of Allegiance.

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Joseph F. Smith and the New York Draft Riots, Part 2: 13 & 14 July 1863

By July 12, 2013

This is the second in a three-part series of posts about Joseph F. Smith’s experiences during the New York Draft Riots of July 1863.  See the first part here.


Image:  CHARGE OF THE POLICE ON THE RIOTERS AT THE “TRIBUNE” OFFICE, Harper’s Weekly, August 1, 1863, p. 484 [1]



Joseph F. Smith arrived in New York City on July 6, 1863, after an unremarkable journey from Liverpool (though he did mention with disappointment on July 4th that “no demonstrations were mad[e] to commemorate the aneversery of American Independence,”[2] ).  He had been recently released from his missionary duties in the British Isles Mission, and was fulfilling an assignment to see several groups of Mormon emigrants safely into the U.S. and on their way toward Utah.  

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Guest Post: Bradley Kime on Mormonism in Thomas Albert Howard’s God and the Atlantic

By July 11, 2013

Today, we are pleased to announce a guest post on our July theme,  Mormons and Politics, from Bradley Kime. Here is a brief bio from Bradley: 

I just graduated from BYU with a BA in History. My Phi Kappa Phi paper, “American Unitarians and the George B. English Controversy” will be published in Religion in the Age of Enlightenment next summer, and my capstone paper, “Exhibiting Theology: James E. Talmage and Mormon Public Relations, 1915-1920,” is under review. I’ll be heading up to Utah State in a few weeks to work with Phil Barlow on an MA in History. 

I just finished reading Thomas Albert Howard’s God and the Atlantic: America, Europe, and the Religious Divide (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011). It’s a brilliant book that touches on JI’s themes for this month and last (politics and the many images of Mormonism). Howard wrote it in response to what many perceive to be the growing trans-Atlantic political implications of American religiosity vis-a-vis European secularity. Howard’s take is that a long-standing elite European discourse on American religion, which he traces through the nineteenth-century and into the twentieth, has “left a sizable mark on the formative presuppositions” behind current policy differences and European perceptions of America. (200) In other words, he argues that elite European critiques of American religion in the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries still impact trans-Atlantic political divisions in the twenty-first. And Mormonism seems to have been a particularly consistent target of those critiques. Along with some forays into the secularization and modernity debate, and the retrieval of two sympathetic commentators (Phillip Schaff and Jacques Maritain) from Tocqueville’s shadow, this is primarily a book about negative images of American religion as peddled by its cultured despisers across the pond.

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Joseph F. Smith and the New York City Draft Riots, Part 1: Background

By July 10, 2013

Image:  “The Riots in New York: The Mob Lynching a Negro in Clarkson-Street” [1]



One of the things that first interested me about Joseph F. Smith was his personality as a diarist.  He liked to pen elaborate descriptions of impressive places he visited, such as the ancient Mo’okini heiau (temple) in Hawaii, the famous Mauna Loa volcano, or the Wentworth Castle and Estates near Barnsley, England.[2]  He cataloged what he saw as faults in others, ranging from family members, to LDS church enemies, to people he encountered as a missionary.[3]  He recorded seemingly insignificant details and used trite or repetitive phrases (some of which have crept into my own journaling vocabulary), in the process illuminating much about his education, priorities, biases, and spirituality.[4]  And we can’t leave out the infamous cat massacre that Amanda HK described in a post some time ago.

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The Political Culture of Mormon History

By July 5, 2013

[This is the first post in our “Mormonism & Politics” series for the month of July; it also repeats and expands articles from a roundtable on “The New New Political History,” hosted at The Junto in January.]

This political sketch of Joseph Smith leading a Nauvoo Legion filled with women embodies the intersecting categories of gender, power, and politics of political culture.

This political sketch of Joseph Smith leading a Nauvoo Legion filled with women embodies the intersecting categories of gender, power, and politics of political culture.

Methodological and historiographical trends tend to lag behind in Mormon scholarship, but many new theories typically do end up taking root and making an impact. The New Social History move of the 1970s became nearly synonymous with New Mormon History, post-structuralism influenced discussions of Mormon founding narratives, and phenemonological approaches have recently taken hold of projects that attempt to capture the lived experience of Latter-day Saints. These methods have all enriched the scholarship on the pages of Journal of Mormon History and enlivened the halls of the Mormon History Association, though incorporation remains stagnant and uneven, primarily due to the mixed nature of the field. The further progression of Mormon scholarship within the broader academy will depend on its ability to better appropriate these and numerous other methodological tools in order to produce a more sophisticated corpus.

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Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture,

By June 3, 2013

For those of you not familiar with it, the Center for the Study of Religion & American Culture, headquartered at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), is a leading “research and public outreach institute that supports the ongoing scholarly discussion of the nature, terms, and dynamics of religion in America.” Among others things, they sponsor and host academic conferences, publish the bianual Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, and host a seminar for Young Scholars in American Religion (whose roster of mentors and seminarians reads like a who’s who of the best and brightest in the field).  

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CFP: No Person Shall Bee Any Wise Molested: Religious Freedom, Cultural Conflict, and the Moral Role of the State

By November 4, 2012

A conference planned for October 3 – 6, 2013, in Newport and Providence, Rhode Island, organized by the Newport Historical Society, the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, Salve Regina University, the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, the John Carter Brown Library, and Brown University to mark the 350th anniversary of the 1663 Rhode Island Charter.

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The Mormon Image Today

By October 9, 2012

Sister Wives. The Book of Mormon on Broadway. And of course the presidential campaign trail.

Mormons are everywhere in the media in 2012, and by many measures the Mormon image is faring well in the early 21st century. Yes, the Brown family encompasses more wives and children than the average American family, but Sister Wives showcases the seemingly very normal lives that Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine, Robyn, and their 17 children lead, struggling with relationships and weight and decisions about where to live or go to school. The Book of Mormon pokes fun at young Latter-day Saint missionaries, but in the end the show sings the Mormons’ praises for the good they do in the world. In presidential politics, Mormonism is a virtually silent presence in Mitt Romney’s campaign, but when it is brought forward it underlines the candidate’s service, both during his mission in France and during his years as a bishop and stake president in Massachusetts, and the family values that supported his 40+ year marriage to his high school sweetheart and nurtured their five handsome, successful sons.

But in each of these current examples of Mormonism in the media spotlight, there is significant underlying negativity.

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Enoch and Zion

By September 18, 2012

MARK ASHURST-MCGEE is a historian and documentary editor with the Joseph Smith Papers Project, where he specializes in document analysis and documentary editing methodology. He holds a PhD in history from Arizona State University and has trained at the Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents. He is a coeditor of the first volume in the Journals series and of the first volume of the Histories series of the Joseph Smith Papers. He is an author of peer-reviewed articles on Joseph Smith and early Mormon history. The following selection is taken from his 2008 dissertation: “Zion Rising: Joseph Smith’s Early Social and Political Thought.” Other works growing out of his dissertation are published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Mormon History (“Zion in America: The Origins of Mormon Constitutionalism” [vol. 38, no. 3 – Summer 2012]: 90-101) and in the just recently released anthology War and Peace in Our Time: Mormon Perspectives (Kofford Books, 2012). Selections from his dissertation have also appeared here at the Juvenile Instructor, here and here. Ashurst-McGee is currently working on articles on political restorationism and Zion nationalism along the path of turning the dissertation into a monograph.

 Joseph Smith’s Enoch expansion built on that for Enoch’s grandfather Enos, the grandson of Adam. Due to the “secret works of darkness” that had pervaded the land, Enos led “the residue of the people of God . . . out from the land which was called Shulon and dwelt in a land of promise, which he called after his own son whom he had named Cainan.”[1]

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Republicans, Romneys, and Mormon Moments: American Images of the LDS in the 1950s

By September 17, 2012

Mitt Romney is a politician born not in the wrong place, but the wrong time. While his opponents in the Republican primary accused him of untrustworthy geographic origins and thus of not being a real Republican, in fact Romney is simply running sixty years too late. If this were 1952 instead of 2012, the “Massachusetts moderate” would have enjoyed a political climate that twice elected Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower—the father of such massive government spending projects as the interstate highway system, who spoke openly of the value of organized labor for protecting working Americans [1]. As many have asserted during this election cycle, past Republican luminaries would not survive in their own party after its hard turn to the right in recent decades.

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