Research Query: Mormonism in Palestine and Israel: Globalization, Peoplehood, and Zion

By April 13, 2016

We’re pleased to host this research query from Amber Taylor, a PhD student at Brandeis University. Please feel free to suggest readings in the comments below. Amber can also be reached at ambercecile3 AT gmail DOT com.


I am working on the history of the LDS Church in Palestine and Israel. One of the larger historical arcs that I am working with is the Church and globalization – how that has affected the Church’s position regarding the people and politics of Israel-Palestine. As of yet, I have found very little material on the Church and globalization itself – I recognize that this is a rather recent topic, and Mormon studies as such is a rather emerging field. I have read various articles by Arnold Green that address various aspects of Mormon views on Jews/Judaism and Muslims/Islam. I am also familiar with works by Steven Epperson and Grant Underwood on similar topics. Likewise, I have the book Out of Obscurity: The LDS Church in the Twentieth Century from the Sperry Symposium, and have been perusing Reid Neilson’s work, as well as Marie Cornwall’s and Tim Heaton’s Contemporary Mormonism. I am wondering if anyone can point me to other scholars – including articles and books – that have looked at the way that the 20th century globalization of the Church has affected the way that leaders have talked of peoplehood and chosenness, and other such good things related to that.

Also, I have been considering the notion of “Zion” as a major aspect of my research. I am attempting to set my dissertation in a comparative framework, looking at the Church in its American setting, and examining the ways that American views of the Holy Land, Jews, and Muslims related to the Mormon views – and how both the broader American cultural setting and Mormon particularity affected one another. Specific to the concept of Zion, American culture (especially Protestant culture) has, from its very origins, been prone to talk of America and American Christianity in terms of “Zion,” or had themes of Zion weaved throughout it in myriad ways. Likewise, the concept of American exceptionalism is, of course, bound up with this. But the Mormons went a step further – they established an actual Zion, a physical space with teleological meaning. Their peoplehood as Israelites, and their actual American Zion, makes the question of the Mormon presence in Jerusalem and Palestine-Israel rather intriguing. America has always had a fascination with the Holy Land and its import in latter-day fulfillment of prophecy, yet the Mormon ethos is unique. What were/are the Mormons actually doing in the Old Zion, if they had their Zion, the New Jerusalem, on the American continent? What purpose does the BYU Jerusalem Center actually serve in all of this? Can anyone recommend any literature on this, specifically relating to the two Zions and what LDS leaders have said about them, what they mean in terms of physicality, sacred territory, and gathering?

Thank you for your help.

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  1. Barrett’s volume is a decent start. It has a devotional flavor, to be sure.

    Comment by Russell — April 13, 2016 @ 7:55 am

  2. Does your consideration of the history go back as far as the 1841 mission to the Holy Land by Orson Hyde, and the 1872 (? — I’m drawing a blank; about then, anyway) tour by George A. Smith and others? If so, their accounts in the Journal of Discourses, Deseret News, Millennial Star, and other places are easily searched.

    If you do go that far back and would find it useful, I have unpublished correspondence, most of it untapped by the histories, of the Turkish Mission (which included Palestine) from the turn of the last century, some of which includes discussion of Mormon views of that region and its past/future, which might give you a long-term idea of attitudes. I’m willing to put in some time pulling appropriate extracts from that, but it will be time consuming and I’d rather know that it was something you really wanted before I got started.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — April 13, 2016 @ 9:16 am

  3. Members of the Galilee Branch in Israel have some kind of a history/record book that I heard about when I attended church in that Branch a couple of years ago. I don’t remember any of the details, but that might be somewhere to look.

    Comment by Daniel Ortner — April 13, 2016 @ 10:30 am

  4. Jerusalem: The Eternal City by David Galbraith, Andrew Skinner, and D. Kelly Ogden also has lots of background info and insights relevant to this topic:

    Comment by anita — April 13, 2016 @ 12:35 pm

  5. I seem to remember that Eric F. Mason’s chapter on LDS Engagement with Dead Sea Scrolls Scholarship in *New Perspectives in Mormon Studies* has some stuff that is worth looking at.

    Comment by J. Stapley — April 13, 2016 @ 1:24 pm

  6. Amber, I’ve already told you how exciting and important I think your project is, and I’m really anxious to see how it develops and what conclusions you reach moving forward.

    One additional recommendation that has nothing to do with Israel or Palestine, but does touch on Mormonism and globalization is Jehu Hanciles Tanner Lecture from a few years ago. It might be worth reading:

    Comment by Christopher — April 14, 2016 @ 7:20 am

  7. Amber:
    You might find some useful ideas and information in my All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (U. of Illinois Press, 2003), especially around the process of identity construction (e.g., the construction of Mormons as Israelites) and in my chapters on Mormons and Jews.

    Comment by Armand Mauss — April 14, 2016 @ 7:49 am

  8. Exciting stuff!

    Comment by Jeff T — April 15, 2016 @ 11:22 am

  9. For the contemporary perspective, I recommend reaching out to Dil Parkinson and Doug Bradford at the BYU Arabic program. They have vast experience in the Middle East, leading the Jordan study abroad group each year. Might be a good counter-balance to the common Israel-centric way of viewing the Holy Land.

    Comment by Warren — April 18, 2016 @ 6:34 am

  10. I’d also highly recommend you get your hands on the materials given to students at the Jerusalem Center. The orientation class (which they take prior to going) has a lot of material concerning LDS views of both Palestinians and Israelis. David Galbraith was instrumental in getting the Jerusalem study abroad program up and running decades before the center was built, so he will probably have the most useful perspectives. Even at that time they were insistent that equal attention should be given to both Palestinians and Israelis. Most Mormons in the USA have a very Israel-centric view, and that is highly discouraged when you actually get over there.

    Many church leaders have spoken about the future purposes of the New Jerusalem in the Americas vs. Old Jerusalem in the Holy Land. One assumption I’ve seen often is that one will be the political center, and the other will be the religious center in the millennium. If nothing else, debunk the myth that the Jerusalem Center was built with the intent of eventually turning it into a temple.

    Comment by Mary Ann — April 19, 2016 @ 2:03 pm

  11. Thank you all for your comments and suggestions. They are most helpful. To Armand Mauss, I have been using your book for years and have found it most helpful. What a treat to see your response! I look forward to getting busy with all these ideas! Thanks again to everyone!

    Comment by Amber — April 22, 2016 @ 7:20 am


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