What is Mormonism?

A Student's Introduction

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Patrick Q. Mason
  • New York, NY: 
    Routledge
    , April
     2017.
     240 pages.
     $44.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781138794603.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

What is Mormonism? A Student’s Introduction, written by Patrick Q. Mason, provides undergraduate religious studies and history students an informative overview of the religion founded by Joseph Smith Jr. in 1830. Mason’s book masterfully introduces readers to Mormon history, scripture, theology, culture, institutions, and internal diversity. 

What is Mormonism? begins with a semi-fictional account of a week in the life of a “typical” Mormon family. Although, as Mason stresses, Mormon families are very diverse, this fictional account still provides the reader insight into the everyday experiences of Mormons. Next, Mason focuses on the history of the largest and best-known expression of Mormonism: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church). He thoughtfully recounts the history of Mormonism, from the story of Joseph Smith Jr., to the appearance of the angel Moroni, the discovery of the golden plates, and the establishment of the LDS Church as an official religious institution. 

Mason also provides a historical survey of the development of the LDS Church, organized according into the Kirtland period (1831-1837), the Missouri period (1831-1838), the Nauvoo period (1839-1846), and the Pioneer Utah period (1847-1868). Then, in an interesting chapter titled “Recalibrations,” Mason explores the transformations and revisions experienced in Mormonism since 1890 in terms of politics, theology, church governance, growth, racial diversity, family, gender, and sexuality. Afterwards, Mason explains the Mormon scriptural corpus, otherwise known as the LDS “Standard Works.” His discussion focuses on how the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price are central to the shaping of the Mormon worldview and community. 

Mason continues his introduction to Mormonism with a chapter about the hierarchal organization of the LDS Church. He introduces the reader to the authoritative organization of the LDS Church both at the highest level of “general authorities and officers” and at the local level. In a chapter about the beliefs of the LDS Church, Mason discusses the Mormons’ understanding of the relationship between God and humans, Jesus and salvation, the priesthood, the Holy Ghost and spiritual gifts, and eschatology. Elsewhere Mason explains various Mormon lifestyles and practices such as missionary work, meetings, rituals, and temples. Perhaps the most interesting chapter in this book focuses on the globalization of the LDS Church. In this chapter, Mason studies the establishment of LDS communities outside the United States with special attention to Romania. Finally, in the last chapter, Mason provides an overview of the various groups who trace their religious genealogy to Joseph Smith Jr., with special attention given to the Community of Christ and fundamentalist Mormonism. 

This book is a valuable resource for students and the lay reader for several reasons. First, readers are provided a thorough yet concise overview of the history of the LDS Church. Second, readers are introduced to important aspects of Mormonism such as daily life, beliefs, and practices. Third, readers will find the organization of Mason’s book logical and easy to follow. Fourth, Mason’s book is comprehensive in content and yet a reasonable size. And fifth, Mason has written the chapters in an engaging manner that is accessible to the non-expert. 

What is Mormonism? includes several special features that will appeal to the reader. Artwork and diagrams provide the reader a visual representation of the content of each chapter. Also, the chapters include quotations from primary and secondary texts. Furthermore, each chapter concludes with endnotes that the curious reader might find helpful for more in-depth research. 

This book could easily be incorporated into a college or seminary course that focuses on Mormonism or religions of North America. Religious studies and history students will greatly benefit from this book since Mason’s introduction is interesting to read, easy to understand, and informative. One of the greatest strengths of this book is its survey of Mormon history, beliefs, and practices in clear and accessible language. Above all, Mason’s attention to evidence in its social and historical contexts will greatly aid students as they learn more about Mormonism.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Steven Shisley is Adjunct Professor of Religion at California Lutheran University.

Date of Review: 
July 30, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Patrick Q. Mason is Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies and Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California.

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