Latter-day Saints in the 19th century existed at a paradoxical intersection of American history. When they fled to Alta California to settle the Great Basin, they were refugees fleeing from the United States. Defiantly practicing plural marriage in the face of federal laws that opposed the principle, they came to face a heavy-handed effort by Americans to colonize their community of Deseret to match the broader American culture. At the same time, they were colonizers in their own right, settling land claimed by other peoples for hundreds of years by dispossessing the Native Americans, while also launching a missionary effort into the Pacific Ocean. In Imperial Zions: Religion, Race, and Family in the American West and the Pacific, Amanda Hendrix-Komoto explores these paradoxes and how the Latter-day Saints (Euro-American, Native American, and Pacific Islander) navigated them.
In many ways, Imperial Zions itself sits at the intersection of several landmark studies of Latter-day Saint history, synthesizing them together while building on that foundation. I felt like it brought together W. Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color (Oxford University Press, 2015), Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s A House Full of Females (Knopf, 2017), Darren Parry’s The Bear River Massacre: A Shoshone History (BCC Press, 2019), and Hokulani Aikau’s A Chosen People, a Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawai’i (University of Minnesota Press, 2012) together in one place to have a conversation and work out how they all fit together in a larger picture. Race, women in the Church, polygamy, interactions with the Shoshone and Pacific Islanders, and the missionary work of Latter-day Saints are all explored, often from the perspective of how they fit into the larger picture of American colonization (both in facilitating and in resisting, depending on the circumstances). The stories and perspectives of Native American and Pacific Islander Latter-day Saints are also explored to better understand how they experienced being Latter-day Saints in that era.
I found the book to be quite fascinating. It was interesting to see more deeply why Latter-day Saints performed the missionary work they did outside of the Euro-American societies that most Saints came from. At the same time, I was able to learn more from a perspective of respect towards the voices of Native American and Pacific Islander Latter-day Saints. And, in addition, I heard more from the perspectives of women as they experienced the Church, shouldering the burden of keeping the households of the missionaries sent abroad afloat while navigating the complicated relationships that plural marriage created. Imperial Zions: Religion, Race, and Family in the American West and the Pacific by Amanda Hendrix-Komoto is a book that is definitely worth reading and exploring.
If you are interested in learning a bit more about Imperial Zions by Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, there is an interview over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk that’s worth the read (and which I’ll cover in a copost in a week or two).