July Theme: Mormonism and Politics

By July 3, 2013

[This post is co-authored by Ben Park and Joey Stuart, the two conveners for this month’s topical series.]

In the 19th Century, Americans feared foreign "reptiles" like the Mormons and Catholics would infiltrate national politics.

In the 19th Century, Americans feared foreign “reptiles” like the Mormons and Catholics would infiltrate national politics.

Tomorrow, we celebrate the Fourth of July. In certain ways, the celebration embodies many aspects of our historical memory: the focus on the decisions made by white men separated from combat instead of the individuals who had risked their lives in battle for over a year, the sacralization of ideals that remained divorced from reality for many decades, and, most importantly, the emphasis on political language and principles over the practical ramifications and cultural experiences that resulted from those decisions. The document, words, and ideas of the Declaration of Independence are important, of course, but our narrow focus on a simple parchment written as a de-facto justification for actions that had already been taking place for months before, and would continue for years after, on our celebration of the nation’s “founding” highlights the limited nature of not only our historical memory, but also the way in which we define “politics. 

Mormonism intersects with politics in many fascinating and important ways, and has received much focus in the past. Indeed, two of the best-received and most-respected volumes in the field have dealt with the role Mormonism played in American constitutional conflict (Sally Gordon’s Mormon Question) and legislative identity politics (Kathleen Flake’s Politics of American Religious Identity). We’ve received many treatments ranging from Joseph Smith’s political thought (Mark Ashurst-McGee) to the LDS Church’s role in the Equal Rights Amendment saga (Martha Bradley), from Utah theocracy (Patrick Mason) to J. Reuben Clark’s political career (D. Michael Quinn). More work is currently on the way, including a look at polygamy within American domestic policy debates (Christine Talbot) and the political thought of Ezra Taft Benson (Mason, again). Many more works could be mentioned.


Recent years have witnessed an expanding nature of political protest within and without the Church, especially on national topics.

This month, we at the JI are hosting a string of posts that focus on the intersections between Mormonism and politics. But while we will feature a few that deal with the traditional notion of “politics”—legislative acts, legal considerations, and political beliefs—we hope to also demonstrate the fruits of broadening the framework, especially using the tools of political culture that has been increasingly popular in the field of American history during the past two decades. How do the experiences of the disenfranchised influence those who supposedly make the decisions? What is the impact of various decisions and policies (whether deliberate or ironic) on both the governors and the governed? Put simply, what is the porous relationship between those in power and those supposedly under their rule? This approach aims to capture more voices, dynamics, and demographics in encompassing the wider and more complicated essence of the American experience.

So over the next few weeks, we will not only explore the poignant and still important interconnectedness of Mormonism and American politics, but also the very nature of “politics” in and of itself. How do we typically define the category? What are the benefits and pitfalls of that approach? Are there more fruitful frameworks? Guests include many of those mentioned above, as well as many others, and posts will include both methodological ruminations as well as practical applications.

We hope you will participate with us in what should be a fun and informative ride.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Hope you will not ignore the politics that have dealt with Mexicans and Latinos in this country and how those are changing not only the nation but also Mormonism itself.

    Comment by Ignacio M. Garcia — July 3, 2013 @ 8:57 am

  2. We hope to, Ignacio; perhaps you just volunteered yourself? We’d love to have your participation.

    Comment by Ben P — July 3, 2013 @ 9:15 am

  3. Another great month at the JI!

    Comment by David G. — July 3, 2013 @ 10:48 am

  4. Given my commitments this month, I’m not sure I can do it, but if the posts get really stimulating, I might drop some “chores” and engage. Looking forward to the next post.

    Comment by Ignacio M. Garcia — July 3, 2013 @ 10:59 am

  5. […] and politically momentous occasions (yes, I’m somewhat stretching for a connection to this month’s theme).  This will be the subject of a quick trio of posts over the next few days commemorating the […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Joseph F. Smith and the New York City Draft Riots, Part 1: Background — July 10, 2013 @ 1:02 am

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

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Guest Post: Bradley Kime on Mormonism in Thomas Albert Howard’s God and the Atlantic — July 11, 2013 @ 7:15 am


Recent Comments

MHH06: New York Times Monson Obit, Petition to NYT, Response by NYT – Mormon Happy Hour Podcast on LDS Church President Obits: “[…] NYT obituaries of past Presidents of LDS Church […]”

The Other Clark on Succession in the LDS: “On point #8, it's the *future* president of the quorum of the 12 that acts as voice during the ordination, as the actual president is…”

EmJen on LDS Church President Obits: “It took me longer than it should have trying to figure out "George Smith."”

Jiminy Brunswick on Succession in the LDS: “According to Joseph F. Smith during the Smoot hearings, the selection of the senior apostle to the Presidency of the Church is "merely a custom.…”

Jason on Succession in the LDS: “I think Brian is implying that Pres. Nelson presides over the highest existing quorum in the church and thus is president of the church. This…”

Wally on Succession in the LDS: “This is, of course, tradition. There is nothing in scripture that sets this in stone. There is evidence, for instance, that when the aged Joseph…”