We’re taking a break from our politics theme to highlight a recent review of Spencer Fluhman’s Peculiar People: Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill, 2012) by Jon Butler. Fluhman, who teaches history at BYU, is, as many of our readers know, a mentor to most JIers, and a leading voice in the new generation of Mormon scholarship; he is also the new editor of Mormon Studies Review, which releases its first issue in December. Butler, recently retired at Yale, is considered one of the deans of American religious history, and whose books have worked to shape the field. (I recently attended his retirement conference and wrote a recap at The Junto.)
The review is found at the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, and starts with gushing praise: “The world needs more books like Fluhman’s deft account of nineteenth-century anti-Mormon literature and the fascinating American dialogues about religion that anti-Mormonism produced. Interdisciplinarity and historicity thrive simultaneously in A Peculiar People, and Fluhman’s marvelously succinct book as much elevates him as a historian of synoptic breadth as it uplifts his subject.” Butler also calls it “the quintessential history book.” High praise, indeed.
Perhaps most important and revealing about this review is that it demonstrates how the best works in Mormon studies are speaking to broader issues and questions; Butler emphasizes that Fluhman’s main achievement is not the exhaustive overview of anti-Mormon literature, though there is that, but “its contribution to understanding the concept of religion in nineteenth-century America.” This is where archival scholarship, imaginative interpretation, sophisticated theory, and broad scope meet.
To get such high praise from one of the leading figures in the field can be a pinnacle moment for any scholar. Huzzah for Fluhman!
(If your institution has access to Project MUSE, you can read the entire review here.)