Welcome to a new series at Juvenile Instructor entitled “The Gathering.” In this series of posts, several JI-ers will respond to a single question posed by another JI blogger. If you have a question you’d like to submit, please post it as a comment at the bottom of this post.
If you could assign two books on Mormonism to be read for a US History comprehensive exam, what would they be?
David G.: There are several that I think would work well here, but I’m going to choose J. Spencer Fluhman’s “A Peculiar People”: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America and Jared Farmer’s On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape. Both of these works exemplify recent efforts to use Mormon history to illuminate and speak to broader fields. In Fluhman’s case, he engages American religious history, using Mormonism to understand how Protestants defined legitimate and illegitimate manifestations of “religion.” Farmer, on the other hand, uses Mormonism to understand the American West, asking how religion can inform themes that are important to Western history, such as indigenous displacement, settler replacement, and place-making in the region.
Jeff T: So many books to choose from. I keep going back to Sarah Barringer Gordon’s The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America because of its national scope and meticulous research. There are so many projects that can come from that one, and so many topics that it can speak to. It’s the best one-stop shop for all things federally legislative against Mormon polygamy (and whether federal law can regulate religious belief and practice). I also think Patrick Mason’s The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South is undervalued. It’s a great intellectual/cultural study that gets at the logics and experiences of conflict. What’s not to love about religion and violence? The things that these books do well, as with many on this list, is that they use Mormonism as a case-study to speak to broader historiographies in creative ways. They balance advancing Mormon history as well as American history more broadly.
J Stuart: I agree with David and Jeff–there are several that would be excellent candidates! In fact, I wish the question asked about an American Religious History exam in a religious studies department (where I would choose Flake and Fluhman). But because, it’s US History, I would first suggest Farmer, because it’s environmental and Native history that also speaks to religion and politics. My second choice would be Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. Reeve’s analysis gets into racialization, as well as the ways in which whiteness could change and be appealed from 1830-1910. In this way he speaks to the uses of Whiteness Studies beyond the working class.