Meet the Mormons: From the Margins to the Mainstream

By November 6, 2007

Matthew N. Schmalz, associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the College of Holy Cross, has an article entitled “Meet the Mormons: From the Margins to the Mainstream”  over at Commonweal: A Review of Religion, Politics, and Culture (hat-tip to American Religious History blog).  Schmalz discusses his personal history with Mormonism (“It was Kolob and associated exotica that first drew me to the study of Mormonism” he says), as well as how his students at Holy Cross react to the study of Mormonism (“I?ve found that my students combine a personal openness to Mormonism . . . with deep skepticism about details of Mormon belief.”). 

As a Catholic, he sympathizes with Mormons who struggle to get others to take their religion seriously.  He explains that unless “one sees Mormonism as something more than eccentricity or pathology” there cannot be “a more substantive kind of Mormon talk, especially surrounding Mitt Romney?s [Presidential] candidacy.”  He also briefly critiques the PBS documentary The Mormons (“[it] did not give a full sense of the diversity of Mormon life, the surprisingly broad spectrum that exists between orthodoxy and apostasy”), shares his experience at the Sunstone Symposium in 2004 and concludes by calling for others to approach Mormonism in “good faith.”

As a religion, Mormonism is still quite young-but it is a religion. As Sunstone?s Dan Wotherspoon told me, ?Someone who views others in good faith would assume that these other people have gone through similar processes in sifting the wheat from the chaff of their religion.? In other words, we share more than we might think at first. Talking about Mormonism in ?good faith? does not mean accepting all-or any-of Mormonism?s teachings. Instead, it means accepting that Mormonism is composed of real people who are best seen up close, not from high atop the Rameumptom.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Chris. Scmaltz seems very informed, and if he’s giving papers at Sunstone, I think that means he’ll be making Mormonism a subject of research. Maybe we’ll see a book from him at some point.

    Comment by David Grua — November 6, 2007 @ 2:29 pm

  2. Hopefully so, David. I take this article as a positive sign of more and more scholars approaching Mormonism as a legitimate and important area of study.

    Comment by Christopher — November 6, 2007 @ 2:32 pm

  3. I am very impressed with his approach. Obviously as a result of his background, he really wants to be sure not to misrepresent the church. Lets hope that more follow this example.

    Comment by Ben — November 6, 2007 @ 2:48 pm

  4. Ben, I’m not as concerned with others misrepresenting the church, but rather with them approaching Mormonism seriously. What exactly do you mean by “misrepresenting the church”?

    Comment by Christopher — November 6, 2007 @ 4:04 pm

  5. I am just referring to how he felt that The Mormons documentary did not represent Mormonism well because it did not examine the diversity of the full spectrum of Mormonsim. It seems that he is being very careful not to “overlook” anything.

    Comment by Ben — November 6, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

  6. Very nice, balanced take on Mormonism. He possibly overplayed the prominence of alternative voices, such as Sunstone, in the LDS world. But that’s a minor quibble to a thoughtful analysis. I’d like to see more of this kind of engagement with Mormonism from scholars.

    Comment by Seth R. — November 7, 2007 @ 10:56 am

  7. Ben, do you think there is a difference between “Mormonism” and “the Church”? You seem to use the two interchangably.

    Seth R., I think (hope?) that is the case. Mormonism seems to be increasingly situated in syllabi for university courses (and graduates surveys) in American religious history, American history, and Western history. For examples, see here and here.

    Comment by Christopher — November 7, 2007 @ 2:41 pm


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