Essential texts in Mormon Studies by non-Mormon authors

I haven’t a clue. What I do have, however, is an e-mail from someone working on a graduate thesis on a Mormon-related topic. This person has a good understanding of Mormonism and Mormon history by way of growing up in the church, attending BYU, and reading the standard Mormon academic sources, such as the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. This person also has a skittish thesis adviser who wants the thesis to include more scholarship about the church from non-Mormons. So, what are the titles, and who are the authors? I’m looking for people who are not Mormons, former Mormons, cultural Mormons, future Mormons, in fact not Mormon in any way at all, but who have published good work about the church in academic journals and presses. If you’re looking for academic work by an outside observer on the basic issues (like, are Mormons Christians, or what?), who do you turn to?

44 comments for “Essential texts in Mormon Studies by non-Mormon authors

  1. April 26, 2007 at 9:18 am

    Some suggestions:

    Thomas O’Dea, The Mormons
    Jan Shipps, Mormonism
    Douglas Davies, The Mormon Culture of Salvation
    Sarah Barringer Gordon, The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth Century America
    Carol Wiesbrod, The Boundaries of Utopia
    Lawrence Foster, Religion and Sexuality

  2. April 26, 2007 at 9:18 am

    From an old Chronicle of Higher Education live chat:

    Question from Scott McLemee:
    A box running alongside the article lists scholarly books on Mormonism published over the last decade–not all of them, by any means, but it’s quite a long list. And one thing you notice in looking it over is just how much scholarship on Mormonism bears the imprint of the University of Illinois Press. Professor Shipps, you’ve published books with U of I. What is its role in the development of scholarship on Mormonism?

    Jan Shipps:
    More than any other single force, it was the publication by the University of Illinois Press of a distinguished Mormon list that virtually single-handedly legitimized Mormon studies outside the community of Latter-day Saints. Most particularly, the efforts of the editor Elizabeth G. Dulany did more than any the work of any other non-Mormon editor to create a climate that makes it likely that people will recognize the importance of the work of such scholars as Sally Gordon and Terryl Givens.

  3. Deep Sea
    April 26, 2007 at 9:35 am

    The thesis adviser seems a bit silly and misguided to insist on non-LDS authors rather than top-quality scholarship, regardless of authorship. Tossing out book and article titles that fit the bill is easy enough, but this approach ignores (a) the relevance of such work (what is the thesis topic anyway?) and (b) the quality of the work. Much academic writing on Mormonism is of questionable quality, both from LDS and non-LDS authors.

    A better way to approach this might be to first narrow the scope, by examining recent bibliographic heavyweights (eg Studies in Mormon History and its companion volume Mormon History; and Excavating Mormon Pasts) for relevant literature, then trying to sort out LDS from (competent) non-LDS authors.

    In addition to what Nate listed, I’d also consult recent essays by Gerald McDermott and other work by British non-LDS authors (D. Davies, An Introduction to Mormonism; and articles by Seth Kunin and Christie Davies).

    The BYU Library has an excellent page on Mormon Studies as well:

  4. April 26, 2007 at 9:44 am

    Although mormon, The Story of the Latter Day Saints/ The Mormon Experience (both books published in the 1980s under Leonard J. Arrington) are top notch introductions to LDS history that are very respected. Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom is also a seminal piece. I don’t know how involved in the Mormon Studies field that your query is, but if he’s worth his salt he’ll have to read and respond to Quinn’s Mormon Heirarchy eventually. Juanita Brooks- The Mountain Meadows Massacre, Thomas Alexander- Mormonism in Transition

    From your description, it sounds like this person isn’t even into the Sunstone/Dialogue crowd yet.. Grab a University of Illinois Press catalog, go crazy.

  5. Costanza
    April 26, 2007 at 9:56 am

    If I were the advisor, I think I would be more worried about the fact that I had a student who was working on a thesis and was apparently not familiar with the basic literature (let’s face it, most of the titles Nate listed are standard) than with the slant of the particular authors. In my program, that’s part of what comprehensive exams were for.

  6. Jonathan Green
    April 26, 2007 at 10:04 am

    Nate, thanks very much. DS and AML, I agree that there’s great work on Mormons by Mormons, and that the adviser is being a bit silly, but the adviser’s area of research is not terribly close to Mormon Studies to begin with, so a bit of caution isn’t too surprising. The thesis itself involves an aspect of American history as it played out in Utah, and it has reached that point in its development where the writer needs to do anything the adviser asks in order to get the d*rn thing finished, no matter how silly. (Anything too silly can always be reverted to its former condition before eventual publication, if necessary.)

  7. Jonathan Green
    April 26, 2007 at 10:07 am

    Constanza: In some programs, that’s what Master’s theses are for.

  8. Matt W.
    April 26, 2007 at 10:47 am

    I’ve heard that JOSEPH SMITH by Robert Remini is good. I think Julie did a review of it once…

  9. Costanza
    April 26, 2007 at 10:49 am

    For some reason I thought you were talking about a Ph.D. thesis. You’re right, an MA is a different animal. David Whittaker, Jim Allen and Ron Walker put together an extended bibliographic essay to accompany their massive bibliography of Mormonism. It may be helpful because I think they identify Mormon and non-Mormon authors, etc. It’s called “Mormon History” and is published by U of I Press.

  10. April 26, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Can you give us a hint of the “aspect of American history that played out in Utah”? The Utah Historical Quarterly publishes many fine articles on Mormon-related subjects written by non-Mormons — if the topic had anything to do with the Utah War of 1857-58, for instance, the ideal answer to your friend’s question is to refer him to articles in UHQ and elsewhere written by Bill MacKinnon, who has recently begun participating on T&S.

  11. Kaimi Wenger
    April 26, 2007 at 11:22 am

    Remini is pretty good for what it is, though it’s quite short (compared to something like RSR) and not particularly detailed in its discussion of Mormon belief, or in a lot of areas of Joseph Smith’s life. It’s sort of a “Joseph Smith for Dummies” book for people who have no clue about JS or the church, and who want a handle on the basic information. It’s relatively well-done in what it seeks to do.

  12. Costanza
    April 26, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Also on the Utah War is _The Mormon Conflict_ by non-Mormon Norman Furniss. It’s dated (published by Yale around 1960) but still very useful.

  13. April 26, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    I know a lot of Mormons really disliked it, but I actually think that John Brooke’s _The Refiner’s Fire_ is worth a read. Brooke’s is a non-Mormon who is biblically illiterate, or at least biblically disinterested. Accordingly, he sometimes goes looking for esoteric sources for plainly biblical ideas. On the other hand, his very blindness to biblical sources makes his interpretations interesting.

    As far as I know David Bigler is not a post-Mormon. His _Forgotten Kingdom_ is a little niave in its white hats/black hats approach to the Utah period, but he is a good story teller and he does dwell with loving attention on aspects of Utah history that Mormon historians tend to ignore.

  14. April 26, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    The funny thing about Remini’s book is that it is trotted out as a reliable, “outsider’s account,” but on the many of the most controversial aspects of Joseph’s life his work is basically derivative of Mormon authors. I got a kick out of reviews of RSR that contrasted Bushman’s insiders, faith-based account of Mormonism’s founding and Remeni’s more objective account, despite the fact that Remini’s interpretation of Joseph’s early visions is essentially a summary of the interpretation offered by Bushman in _Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism_.

    That said, I think that Remini’s book is a nice little biography of Joseph.

  15. April 26, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    The PBS series “The Mormons” is set to run April 30 across the USA. They are already selling the DVD at the PBS Store. (My non-member friend is on their email list and forwarded their announcement to me.) And I already know of a lot of LDS who plan to watch/record this show.

    This will create a lot more buzz than any non-LDS writer you can list above.

  16. April 26, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    (#12) Bigler doesn’t fit the criteria of “not Mormons, former Mormons, cultural Mormons, future Mormons, in fact not Mormon in any way at all” — he is an evangelical former Mormon.

  17. April 26, 2007 at 1:07 pm

    Bigler was a good book but certainly a fairly biased one. It unfortunately is about the only book of that sort that covers the scope of Utah history in the 19th century. It sure would be nice if someone else would write one.

  18. David
    April 26, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Nathan Hatch, _The Democratization of American Christianity_ is an essential text by a non-Mormon that places JS as one among many popular reformers in the early republic. Jon Butler’s _Awash in a Sea of Faith_ is another good work by a non-Mormon that looks at JS in the context of popular magic and religion during the same period. I’d also recommend Lawrence Moore’s _Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans_, which deconstructs the traditional narrative of American religious history that had excluded Mormons and other groups from “legitimate” American Christianity. Also have the student look at past Tanner Lectures, especially Charles Cohen’s “The Construction of the Mormon People.” Although Brooke got the Bancroft for _The Refiner’s Fire_, the work got flamed at review by scholars that knew anything about Mormonism (although Shipps unfortunately recommended the book for publication). I don’t think that Remini really adds anything to the conversation, and citing Bushman would be preferable there. Nate’s list in #1 are all good, but primarily focus on the Utah period. Furniss’s work on the Utah War is still considered to be the best book on the topic, although Moorman’s _Camp Floyd and the Mormons_ (despite his name Moorman was really a non-Mormon) is also respectable.

  19. David
    April 26, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    I wouldn’t use Bigler’s work, since he’s not an academic and it wasn’t published by a university press.

  20. David
    April 26, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Although the advisor seems to be skittish, I’m afraid that he reflects the norm rather than being simply an exception in academia. Despite Bushman’s status as a top American historian and the recipient of the Bancroft, he still struggles to be fully accepted in the academy as a “reliable” source on Mormonism because he actually believes this stuff. One of the reviewers of _Believing History_ actually called Bushman “madcap” for believing that there were actually Lamanites running around in ancient America.

  21. Bill MacKinnon
    April 26, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    Re David’s feeling (#19) that he “wouldn’t use Bigler’s work [“Forgotten Kingdom”], since he’s not an academic and it wasn’t published by a university press,” I’d urge reconsideration of these standards before dismissing Bigler’s work cavalierly for these reasons alone. His research into Mormon and Utah history has been underway for more than a half-century (interrupted by WWII and Korea), and, as Nate Oman points out, taps into sources often ignored by other historians, Mormon or otherwise. His publisher for this book and most of his others was The Arthur H. Clark Co. — since 1902 the premier publisher of Western Americana primary source and narrative materials. In 2006 the University of Oklahoma Press thought so much of TAHCCo and its list that it bought it, and retained its publisher (Bob Clark), who is by the way a descedant of Presidents Heber J. Grant and Daniel H. Wells. The Director of OUPress is a Latter-day Saint. One of Bigler’s books not published by TAHCCo was brought out by the University of Utah’s Tanner Trust Fund Series; his next book, a documentary history of MMM with Will Bagley, will also be a TAHCCo/OUPress book, and his next article (on the assassination of the Aiken Party near Nephi in Nov. 1857) will appear in “Western Historical Quarterly.” There may be several grounds on which to take issue with “Forgotten Kingdom” (Nate has suggested one), but I don’t think Bigler’s academic affiliation and publisher are wisely among them. Were we to key to these go/no-go standards, we’d miss a lot in the book world, including the output of the late Dale L. Morgan (B.A. in art from UoU, no faculty appointment or university press affiliation), David McCullough (B.A. in American Studies from Yale, independent historian published by trade press only), and Allan Nevins (a non-Ph.D. who taught at Columbia while publishing through trade presses like Appleton Century and Scribner’s). Although Oxford U. Press will be bringing out the Turley-Leonard-Walker “Tragedy at Mountain Meadows,” Turley is not an academic (has a J.D. rather than Ph.D.and functions primarily as a manager of church archives and libraries) and Leonard’s Ph.D in history has largely been used in the professional setting of a church museum rarther than in a university classroom or faculty lounge.Then there’s the late Shelby Foote (B.A. in English), whose three-volume “The Civil War, A Narrative,” constitutes a league of its own, or at least Random House thought so. Aside from whether one agrees with what Dave Bigler writes, his productivity as an independent (non-academically affiliated) historian and the quality of his publishers are such that I suspect most of us — whether we know it or not — aspire to them.

  22. DKL
    April 26, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    Don’t forget Dan Vogal. His early books on 19th century opinions about Indian origins and Christian primitivism/restorationism as a context for the creation of Mormonism are the best of their type. The book of Christian primitivism even identifies historical antecedents for the doctrinal innovations introduced to the public in the King Follett discourse.

    The portion of Vogal’s biography on Joseph Smith that presents a chronology for the translation of the Book of Mormon and correlates it to the timeline of other activities and revelations is among the most ambitious (and, in my view, successful) attempts to understand the Book of Mormon in terms of 19th century America.

  23. Brad Kramer
    April 26, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Harold Bloom, _American Religion_.
    Mark Leone, _Roots of Modern Mormonism_.
    Rodney Stark, _The Rise of Mormonism_.
    Fawn Brodie, _No Man Knows My History_.

    I personally have real problems with Stark’s book, but it is important. I think it goes without saying that Brodie is also problematic, but important nonetheless.

    Important edited volumes with non-Mormon editors and/or contributors include the Metcalfe/Vogel BoM books, _Mormon Identities in Transition_, ed. by Davies, and _Contemporary Mormonism_, ed. by Cornwall, Heaton, and Young.

  24. Brad Kramer
    April 26, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    Also, look for a monograph by Johns Hopkins anthropologist Fenella Cannell on contemporary Mormon concepts of kinship (I think she’s still finishing fieldwork, but she should be done quite soon). You can check out some of her work on Mormonism here:

  25. April 26, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    I didn’t know Bigler’s personal history. I agree that his book has some real problems, but on the other hand there aren’t really a lot of other books that try to cover the same ground in one long sweep. For what it is worth, my copy has a Utah State University Press imprint.

  26. April 26, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    David: You should take a look at Shipps’ extended discussion of _The Refiner’s Fire_ in _Sojourner in the Promised Land_, which places the book in its non-Mormon historiographic context. I think that Brookes got quite a bit badly badly wrong. The virtue of his book, however, is that he is much more ambitious than Mormon authors in placing Mormonism in a much larger, trans-Atlantic context. He’s wrong on many things, but he is wrong in ways that really offer some possibilities for opening up Mormon history.

  27. Deep Sea
    April 26, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Brad, Cannell is on the faculty of the London School of Economics; she’s only visiting for the year at Hopkins.

  28. Kevin Barney
    April 26, 2007 at 4:59 pm

    Vogel and Brodie of course both fall within the former Mormon exclusion.

  29. DKL
    April 26, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    Oh, right. I misread that part, Kevin.

    On a side note, I think that it’s odd that people find Brodie problematic when every major biography released since (even those by Mormons) has affirmed her most “controversial” biographical conclusions. Bushman stated clearly in his John Dehlin interview that Brodie’s work stands. What else must happen in order to dislodge the mindless superstitions harbored by ignorant mormons about her landmark biography?

  30. Brad Kramer
    April 26, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    Deap Sea, thanks for the heads up. I knew she had been at LSE but for some reason thought Hopkins had managed to poach her into a permanent position. She’s coming to Utah next month and I’m definitely looking forward to meeting and talking with her.

  31. Brad Kramer
    April 26, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    As long as there are still Mormons who think that Bushman’s work is less than faithful, Brodie will never get her dues. All landmark scholarly works are controversial and problematic (not least Bushman’s). “Faithful” biographers do far more intellectual violence to Smith than Brodie ever dreamed of. I’m a big fan of Bushman’s work personally (more for his flirtation with genuine postmodernism and his outstanding prose than for his biases, whatever they may be) but agree that NMKMH is one of the very most important books ever written about anything related to Mormonism.

  32. Brad Kramer
    April 26, 2007 at 5:24 pm

    I’ll also add Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven. Flawed as it may be, it’s very readable and compelling. More importantly, it should be required reading for every Mormon who takes seriously the hysterical, journalistic claims about the eminent, violent threat intrinsic to Islam. It’s easy to proof-text the sacred texts (including statements of revered leaders) of mysterious religions and make them look threatening in a way that resonates widely with western audiences.

  33. April 26, 2007 at 5:32 pm

    I’ve never met or heard of a Mormon who doesn’t consider Bushman’s work faithful. I’ve heard a few suggesting it was ill advised – primarily because they don’t think everyone can handle the truth. (Insert Jack Nicholson impersonation) I disagree of course. But I’ve never heard anyone put Bushman on par with Broadie.

  34. DKL
    April 26, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Brad, I emphatically disagree with you that Krakauer’s work is reasonable, though I’ll grant that his style gives the impression of candor, and that gives it an aura of credibility. My detailed evaluation can be found here.

  35. Brad Kramer
    April 26, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    I don’t think his work is reasonable. I do think it is a fairer and more defensible treatment of Mormons than 86% of what gets said in the ‘naccle about Muslims and violence and 100% of what comes from Fox News or AM Radio. It is for that reason alone that I think most Mormons (ie those inclined to accept uncritically the anti-Muslim rantings Glen Beck and his ilk) should read it.

  36. Brad Kramer
    April 26, 2007 at 5:50 pm

    It should be noted that Glen Beck is some kind of Mormon (current, former, cultural, I don’t really know) as well.

  37. Bill MacKinnon
    April 26, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    Nate, Utah State U. Press must have brought out the paperback edition of Bigler’s “Forgotten Kingdom.”

  38. David
    April 27, 2007 at 2:10 am

    Bill McKinnon (#21): I don’t intend to dismiss all works that are written by non-academics that publish in trade presses. Juanita Brooks was not an academic (although she was published by a university press) who’s contributions to western and Mormon history need to be dealt with by historians today. _The Mountain Meadows Massacre_ can still rightfully be considered an essential text in Mormon history, but I don’t think that Bigler’s _Forgotten Kingdom_ is anywhere near that designation. Perhaps you can explain why it should be considered as such?

    But as Nate (#25) points out, half of my argument is negated as _Forgotten Kingdom_ is now available through a university press.

    Also Nate (#26): I agree that Brooke provides some intriguing frameworks that can be used to study Mormon history. But that doesn’t mean that _The Refiner’s Fire_ is an essential text in Mormon Studies. I’m not aware of anyone writing in Mormon history, whether Mormon or not, that takes his hermeticism to Mormonism connection seriously, which is the crux of his argument.

  39. Bill MacKinnon
    April 27, 2007 at 8:32 am

    David (#38): Glad to know that you didn’t mean to dismiss all non-academics publishing in the trade press, and by mentioning Juanita Brooks you’ve, of course, put your finger on one of the greatest non-academic writers of Mormon and Western history — whom I forgot. I appreciate the reminder. (In an article to emerge next month in “Journal of Mormon History” I’ve characterized T&S’s Ardis Parshall’s work as Brooks-like.) I’ view Bigler’s “Forgotten Kingdom” more as highly important than essential. As someone else pointed out above, it is one of the few, and is certainly the most recent, studies that covers the entire sweep of Utah’s territorial period, a very important time and place in Latter-day Saint history. It shouldn’t be ignored. As I think Nate pointed out, Bigler at times can come across as “difficult” for some (but not all) readers because of his keen appreciation of Brigham Young’s short suits. On the other hand, in the course of letting chips fall where they may, he has published more than anyone else (including in “Forgotten Kingdom”) about the rise of the LDS mission along Oregon Territory’s Samon River (Fort Limhi) and the federally-involved massacre there on 25 February 1858, the day Thomas L. Kane arrived in Salt Lake City.

  40. David
    April 27, 2007 at 11:03 am

    Bill: I think that we’re pretty much in agreement on Bigler’s place in Mormon historiography. Sorry for misleading you with vague language. I look forward to reading your article next month, just as I enjoyed your article in Dialogue on the Utah War.

  41. John Bryan
    April 27, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    So far no mention of “The Burned-over District” by Whitney Cross. Is it too dated?

  42. Bill MacKinnon
    April 27, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    David (#40): Thanks for your keep words and the clarifications. For me Bigler’s background is an interesting one, especially in view of what he and how he writes. Descended either directly or indirectly from Henry Bigler, one of the Mormon Battalion vets who discovered gold at Coloma in 1848 as part of James Marshall’s construction crew, and Jacob Bigler, Bishop of Nephi and a man not uninvolved in the fall 1857 events surrounding MMM and possibly the Aiken Party carnage, both of which he writes about. I believe that he’s also related in some way to the Bigler brothers who were governors of Both California and Pennsylvania nearly-simultaneously during the late 1850s and hence is also connected to Lake Tahoe, which was known as Lake Bigler when it was part of western UT.

  43. BBELL
    April 27, 2007 at 2:49 pm,1249,650209422,00.html

    Glenn Beck appears to be currently active LDS

  44. Jed
    April 27, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    Outside of Shipps, Gordon, and Davies, the best work is found embedded within larger treatments. R. Laurence Moore (Religious Outsiders; Selling God) understands Mormons better than any outside scholar who has never written a book on Mormonism. Colleen McDannell (Material Christianity; Heaven: A History) writes remarkably composed prose for a non-Mormon living in SLC. Brooks Holifield (Theology in America) is a sound interpreter of Mormonism for evangelical audiences. Charles Cohen is an insider-outsider in the making.

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