Out of Obscurity

Mormonism since 1945

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Editor(s): 
Patrick Q. Mason, John G. Turner
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , August
     2016.
     360 pages.
     $35.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780199358229.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In their edited volume Out of Obscurity: Mormonism since 1945, to which they both contribute a chapter, Patrick Q. Mason and John G. Turner provide the reader with a rich selection of material charting the expansion, struggles, and issues affecting Mormonism over the past seventy-five years. The book is divided into four parts, each dealing with a major issue, with contributions from a mixture of established academics and early career researchers.

Part 1 is devoted to internationalization and contains contributions from Nathan B. Oman and Taunalyn F. Rutherford. In the first two chapters, the authors discuss the challenges and issues faced by the church as it expands abroad, particularly those pertaining to legal problems and immigration concerns encountered while attempting to increase membership.

Part 2, entitled “Political Culture,” includes contributions from Mason, J. B. Haws, James Dennis Lorusso, Max Perry Mueller, and Neil J. Young. Mason and Haws discuss prominent figures Ezra Taft Benson, and George and Mitt Romney, respectively. They explore the impact and influence these figures have had on both Mormons and non-Mormons, considering their roles within the church and government politics. Lorusso deals with the Church Welfare Program and Mormon attitudes toward a strong work ethic and free enterprise. 

Mueller examines the church’s unfortunate history of racism and its reluctance to allow Black and Native American members into the priesthood. Mueller briefly touches on issues of female ordination and the historic treatment of the LGBTQ community. Young continues this theme by expertly examining the nuanced history of the LDS view of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. He focuses on this issue in relation to the growing support the church offers to homosexual members, albeit while still encouraging their chastity, as well as the church’s continued opposition to same-sex marriage.

The third part of the text focuses on gender and includes chapters by Amanda Hendrix-Komoto, Kate Holbrook, Caroline Kline, and Kristine Haglund. Hendrix-Komoto addresses the unease and partial reconciliation the LDS church encountered during its expansion into the Pacific with issues such as understandings of the body, sexuality, and interracial marriage. She pays close attention to the Brigham Young University campus and Polynesian Cultural Centre in Hawaii. Holbrook tackles the role of women in Mormonism, the impact of the Relief Society, and the attempts made to embrace traditional female roles in the face of feminism. 

Kline addresses subtle changes made by church leadership figures in promoting a shift from the traditional role of husbands as the de facto patriarchal heads of the family, to the growing importance of wives holding an equal partnership, with differing roles, alongside their husbands in nourishing and strengthening their family. Haglund charts the changing face of LDS women’s publications from the printed journals in the early days of the religion to the recent rise of online blogs.

Part 4 addresses religious culture and includes contributions from Matthew Bowman, Rebecca de Schweinitz, Sara M. Patterson, and Turner. Bowman examines the complex relationship between Mormons and evangelical Christians, discussing how the LDS church has emerged as a conservative bastion. De Schweinitz’s chapter looks at the various ways in which the LDS church endeavored to retain, and increase, active youth membership during the late 1960s and early 1970s through a number of initiatives and programs.

Patterson discusses the 1997 sesquicentennial celebrations of the arrival of Mormons in the Salt Lake Valley. She covers in detail the accounts of individuals in 1997 who followed in the footsteps of Mormon pioneers on their journey from Nauvoo in 1847. Turner contributes the final chapter, which explores the past attitudes of the LDS church to scholarly and academic examinations of its history; some Mormon academics have been excommunicated because of their work. The chapter also touches on the efforts the church has made more recently to open its archives to scholars and be more reserved in its criticism of accounts that do not shine a favorable light on the church or attempt to sanitize its history.

This book is a great example of a text that is suitable for upper-level undergraduate and graduate students wishing to expand their knowledge of Mormon history, as most chapters assume more than a basic knowledge of the subject. Individual chapters could easily be assigned for both undergraduate and graduate classes. The book’s chapters are relatively short in length, around twenty pages or so each, and this allows one to dip in and out of the text. The inclusion of chapters by established academics in the field, as well students in the last stages of their doctoral work at the time of publication, helps demonstrate a plurality of voices and is an excellent example of the editors’ efforts to support junior scholars. 

I was disappointed that a chapter was not devoted to contentions between the LDS church and fundamentalist Mormon groups. The absence of a chapter about plural marriage was particularly conspicuous, given how television and press coverage of plural marriage has been received in recent years, including the rise of documentary and reality programs. With the LDS church keen to distance itself from the polygamy practiced by fundamentalist groups, the church has repeatedly made efforts to signal the difference between the mainstream LDS Church and fundamentalist factions. It seemed odd not to include a discussion on that topic.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Philippa Juliet Meek is a doctoral student in Religious Studies at the University of Denver and the Iliff School of Theology.

Date of Review: 
June 16, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Patrick Q. Mason is the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies and Associate Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University. 

John G. Turner is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University.

Keywords: 

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