Book Review: Colvin and Brooks, Decolonizing Mormonism: Approaching a Postcolonial Zion

By September 9, 2019

Gina Colvin and Joanna Brooks provide an important intervention into the field of Mormon studies with their edited volume of essays by thirteen scholars. The authors in Decolonizing Mormonism show the power dynamics that become visible by looking at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through a global lens. By viewing Mormonism from the margins, these scholars argue, it is possible to see the colonial history and structures within the LDS tradition. Colvin and Brooks are not just interested in producing scholarship to observe these dynamics. They also call for change, saying that the metropole needs to listen to these voices forgotten both by the institutional church and by Mormon studies scholars. These authors argue that the margins provide the answers to decolonize both the church and scholarship and bring Zion into existence. This is not just an historical text. The intent of this book is to challenge the stories often reflected in Mormon history, arguing that scholars can no longer be complacent in the continued narratives of colonization.

I read Decolonizing Mormonism over this past year at the same time I have been taking classes at UC Davis for my PhD in History. As part of my studies, I have also taken classes in the Department of Native American Studies. These classes have informed how I approached this book. To those more familiar with postcolonial studies and Native American and Indigenous studies, there will be much that is recognizable in this text, particularly with the decolonizing framework of the book. What makes this volume so important is that these scholars use these methodologies to look more closely at the Mormon tradition. These essays are packed with analysis and include helpful summaries and footnotes to important work in the field, providing starting points for further study and research. It is therefore a great place to begin for those not as familiar with these rich fields of scholarship and is also an essential reference and resource for those who have more of a grounding in these methodologies.

Personal narrative and positionality are present within each of the essays. This move by the authors places these pieces squarely in the tradition of Indigenous studies along with other fields, and also connects the writers to historical roots in the LDS faith. As Brooks argues, “Mormonism has been a faith propelled by personal narratives.” (184) The chapters are divided into three sections. Part I includes the stories of Indigenous authors, and how they grappled with the dominant cultural discourses within Mormonism and their Indigenous identities as they worked on their scholarship. I especially enjoyed Elise Boxer’s essay in this section. Boxer complicates the narrative of Mormon settlement in the west by using a settler colonial framework to address Indigenous removal. She challenges the “pioneer” identity and provides an important analysis of “This is the Place” Heritage Park. Authors in Part II explore the legacies of colonization, focusing on systems of racial privilege and how they structure the Mormon experience. These scholars also provide insights into how people can work to abandon these systems. Some examples of the dynamics in the global LDS church are presented in Part III. This last section has a stronger gendered analysis than the others.

There is always a wish that edited volumes include more places and voices. But this book is a starting place that opens the conversation, and calls on Mormon studies to address these legacies of colonialism. This is an important read for anyone doing Mormon history. No matter what period or location we study, the history of LDS participation in colonialism touches our work. And even if some of the concerns and narratives from this text are placed more closely to the present, that long history of colonialism runs throughout, and is therefore something as scholars we cannot ignore. As more books and articles are published that grapple with our participation in colonialism, I think it is important for us to consider as scholars what we are doing in our own work. Are we acknowledging these legacies, and how it impacts whatever we are studying? I agree with the authors of this text that we can no longer be complacent in narratives of colonization. This book is meant to challenge us as readers, and call us to action in how we approach our work, and how we view our world.

We need more works that use these methodologies in Mormon studies and history. I look forward to future books that continue to show the complexities of Mormon life in a global setting.

Look for a longer review of this book in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Mormon History.

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews International Mormonism


Comments

  1. Can’t wait to read the rest of the review in JMH. Thanks, Charlotte!

    Comment by J Stuart — September 9, 2019 @ 12:55 pm

  2. Thanks, Charlotte!

    Comment by David G. — September 9, 2019 @ 3:44 pm


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