Scholarly Inquiry: Soliciting Questions for Paul Gutjahr, Author of The Book of Mormon: A Biography

By March 5, 2012

Paul Gutjahr, professor of English at Indiana University, Bloomington has a new book forthcoming in about a month with Princeton University Press. The book is The Book of Mormon: A Biography. See an excerpt here, the table of contents and prologue here, and the first chapter here.

Dr. Gutjahr has been kind enough to participate in a Q&A at the JI. As  in the past, if you have any questions you’d like to pose, please leave them in the comments and we will consider them for submission to Dr. Gutjahr.

From his University page:

 My own academic interests tend to be eclectic. My training is in American Studies, so I favor approaches which are highly interdisciplinary in  nature. My specialized field of research is the history of publishing and literacy in the United States. More commonly, I work in the area which has  come to be called history of the book studies, and I work primarily in the North American context. I am interested in how different forms of writing  influence a vast array of cultural practices from religious preaching to proper etiquette at meals. I have written extensively on the production of  the English Bible in America. I have also edited a collection of essays on typography and textual interpretation and an anthology on 19th century American popular literature.

Article filed under Miscellaneous Scholarly Inquiry


  1. Prof. Gutjahr, your new book looks very exciting. I’m wondering how you would conceptualize the difference between your approach and that of Terryl Givens in By the Hand of Mormon?

    Comment by David G. — March 5, 2012 @ 3:13 pm

  2. Dr. Gutjahr,

    The Book of Mormon has received little press in American literary studies, notwithstanding the recent turn towards cultural studies in the last couple of decades. Any thoughts about why this is and/or what insights, if any, The Book of Mormon has to offer about 19C American literature and culture?

    Comment by DLewis — March 5, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

  3. Dr. Gutjahr: the Book of Mormon is often called the “Mormon Bible.” In your reception history, in what ways is this comparison apt, and in what ways does it fall apart?

    Comment by Ben P — March 5, 2012 @ 5:38 pm

  4. Dr. Gutjahr: There is some debate about how the Book of Mormon functioned inside Mormonism in the first few decades after its publication, and whether its literary content was actually important to that function. To what extent do you see the content of the Book of Mormon (vis a vis its existence as a religious object) as significant in its reception, among Mormons and others?

    Comment by Ryan T. — March 5, 2012 @ 6:35 pm

  5. How would you rank the Book of Mormon in defining Mormon peculiarity in America compared to polygamy, deification etc.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — March 5, 2012 @ 6:45 pm

  6. Richard Bushman has said, “For most modern readers, the plates are beyond belief, a phantasm, yet the Mormon sources accept them as fact. Interspersed with descriptions of journeys, illnesses, business deals, and lost horses are trips to the Hill Cumorah, boxes holding the plates, and times when the plates are hidden, touched, lifted, and translated. Mundane details mix with an incredible artifact whose very existence is debated. To account for the plates’ presence in the records, skeptics look for signs of trickery…These explanations keep the story within the realm of the ordinary but require considerable fabrication themselves. Joseph ‘may’ have done this and ‘probably’ did that. Since the people who knew Joseph best treat the plates as fact, a skeptical analysis lacks evidence. A series of surmises replaces a documented narrative” (Rough Stone Rolling, 58).

    I’m wondering how you would deal with the many descriptions of the golden plates including their shape, size, weight, texture, etc. Is it even possible to write an unbiased historical account of the translation of the Book of Mormon if you have to deal with these descriptions? Is it possible to avoid the question of whether the plates existed or not?

    Comment by mapman — March 5, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

  7. Wow, this is great. Thanks for your willingness to participate here, Dr. Gutjahr. While your research interests seemingly lend themselves to this project particularly well, I’m interested in hearing more about the genesis of this book. What motivated you to write it? What, if anything, did you find especially interesting and/or surprising? What other potential research projects dealing with the Book of Mormon do you see as promising/important?


    Comment by Christopher — March 5, 2012 @ 7:31 pm

  8. Professor Gutjahr,

    Terryl Givens has been increasingly insistent on the theological novelty of the Book of Mormon (though he has been curiously silent on this point in print). Do you think it’s possible for the Book of Mormon to be given a serious theological reading in the academy?

    Comment by Joe Spencer — March 6, 2012 @ 9:34 am


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