With Romney drawing increased attention to Mormonism in American life, I’ve wondered how much to bring Mormon history into my US history survey courses. I’m currently teaching the first half, and he’s come up a couple of times when discussing religious tests for the presidency (I first mention JFK’s Catholicism, which most of my students have heard about, and then I ask which contemporary candidate is having problems with his religion, and at least a few students are aware of opposition to Romney’s Mormonism). I know that in a few weeks Mormons will come up again, when we discuss the Second Great Awakening and then again when we go over westward migration. Neither of these instances will really address the history of polygamy, nineteenth-century tensions between the Church and the American nation, or any of the more difficult doctrines/policies that we have a hard time discussing even with church members, much less non-Mormons. Next semester I’m teaching the second half of the US survey, and I don’t expect Mormons to come up much at all in the textbook or class discussions, beyond maybe a brief mention of the 1880s polygamy raids or a reference to how Mormons tagged along with Evangelicals in the Culture Wars. I’ve adopted a book next semester, Debating the American Conservative Movement, 1945-Present, that includes Romney’s 2008 speech as a primary document, but as we all know Romney didn’t exactly give a detailed treatise on Mormon history. But since the Republican primaries will be happening next semester during my class, I’m wondering how much more I should do to introduce my non-Mormon students to Mormonism.
I considered adopting Flake’s book on Reed Smoot, since it’s accessible and designed for undergraduate classrooms, but then I had second thoughts. What if Romney somehow flames out and isn’t even close to getting the nomination? Whatever interest my students had in learning more about Mormonism would probably die out quickly if that were the case. And while Flake does a great job of showing an instance of early twentieth-century Protestant resistance to a Mormon holding elected office, I’m not sure that it really addresses “Mormon issues” in terms that make sense of the rise of the Christian Right and Christian Nationalism since the 1970s.
What do y’all think? Is there another accessible monograph that gets at the issues more directly? Perhap’s Matt’s new book, but I’m not sure where a comprehensive history would really fit in such a course. Maybe if there were a targeted book that dealt with Mormons and Evangelicals in the Culture Wars and the rise of conservatism, but I can’t think of one that really fits. Last I heard, John Charles-Duffy is writing his dissertation on this, but that won’t be available for quite some time. More importantly, is this even something that really needs to be addressed at this point in time? Maybe it would be more reasonable to wait until there’s actually a Mormon in the White House–and therefore substantial demand among students for more detailed information on Mormon history–before using a full-length monograph in a survey course.
For the record, I won’t be voting for Romney or any Republican for that matter come next November.