The Mormon Lens on American History





For a century and a half, Mormonism has been something of a paradox in the history of the American West: passionately argued about by the church’s adherents and detractors, but largely ignored by professional scholars unsure of what to make of the religion Joseph Smith founded in 1830 or the communities created by what Mormon scripture itself described as a “peculiar people.”

But now, as Mitt Romney’s candidacy prompts talk of a “Mormon moment,” a growing cadre of young scholars of Mormonism are enjoying their own turn in the sun, and not just on the nation’s op-ed pages. Books relating to Mormon history are appearing in the catalogs of top academic presses, while secular universities are adding courses, graduate fellowships and endowed chairs.

“People are seeing right now that Mormonism is a great laboratory for studying all kinds of questions about religion and the modern world,” said Patrick Mason, the chairman of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in California, which four years ago became the first secular university outside Utah to establish a program on the subject....



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