HIS 350L • Religious Formation in Amer: Case of Mormons - W
This course will investigate the ways in which America has produced new religious traditions. It will focus on the first half-century of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Only one hundred eighty years after its formation, the Mormon Church is one of the most vital and expansive of American religions; indeed, it is now a world religion. In the first half of the church's history, hundreds of thousands of Americans converted to the new religion while other Americans murdered its founder, Joseph Smith, and applauded as the American government fought not one but two wars against the Mormons. Americans obviously were clearly both attracted to and repelled by this quintessentially American religious phenomenon. Why? We will study Mormonism as a theological, economic, cultural, social and aesthetic phenomenon. We will investigate the magical world of popular religion that produced Joseph Smith; the "Gold Bible," the Book of Mormon to which Smith claimed to have been led by angelic visitors; the remarkable theological system outlined in that book and the institutional forms the new religion took; the controversial practice of polygamy; the violence perpetrated both against and by the Mormons; the arduous trek across the Great Plains and mountains to the land of Deseret and the Mormon Kingdom established therein in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake; and, finally, the ways in which contemporary Mormons understand and celebrate the controversial origins of their church. And we will conclude the course by studying the experience of a religious group that appeared just as Mormonism did--but then failed and disappeared: the Kingdom of Matthias, a remarkable cult that briefly existed in New York City in the 1830s.
Required Texts: The reading for the course will be selected from among the following: Jan Shipps, Mormonism: A Story of a New Religious Tradition Richard L Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism Terryl L. Givens, By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion _____________, The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Religion Paul E. Johnson and Sean Wilentz, The Kingdom of Matthias: A Story of Sex and Salvation in 19th-Century America. Grading: The course is a seminar and will be entirely discussion in format. There will be no lectures. As long as students faithfully prepare to discuss the assigned readings, there will be no examinations. A full fifty per cent of the course grade will be determined by class attendance and sustained participation in those class discussions. The course contains a Substantial Writing Component. Students will select a topic on some topic in early Mormon history and write a sixteen-page paper on that topic. The process will include preparing a brief prospectus of the paper, a more extended version of that prospectus of the paper and, finally, a first and then a revised version of the paper. Crosslistings: R S 346