With Mormonism on the verge of an unprecedented cultural and political breakthrough, an eminent scholar of American evangelicalism explores the history and reflects on the future of this native-born American faith and its connection to the life of the nation.
In 1830, a young seer and sometime treasure hunter named Joseph Smith began organizing adherents into a new religious community that would come to be called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and known informally as the Mormons). One of the nascent faith’s early initiates was a 23-year-old Ohio farmer named Parley Pratt, the distant grandfather of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
In The Mormon People, religious historian Matthew Bowman peels back the curtain on more than 180 years of Mormon history and doctrine. He recounts the church’s origin and development, explains how Mormonism came to be one of the fastest-growing religions in the world by the turn of 21st century, and ably sets the scene for a 2012 presidential election that has the potential to mark a major turning point in the way this “all-American” faith is perceived by the wider American public - and internationally.
Mormonism started as a radical movement, with a profoundly transformative vision of American society that was rooted in a form of Christian socialism. Over the ensuing centuries, Bowman demonstrates, that vision has evolved - and with it the esteem in which Mormons have been held in the eyes of their countrymen. Admired on the one hand as hardworking paragons of family values, Mormons have also been derided as oddballs and persecuted as polygamists, heretics, and zealots clad in “magic underwear”. Even today, the place of Mormonism in public life continues to generate heated debate on both sides of the political divide. Polls show widespread unease at the prospect of a Mormon president. Yet the faith has never been more popular. Today there are about 14 million Mormons in the world, fewer than half of whom live inside the United States. It is a church with a powerful sense of its own identity and an uneasy sense of its relationship with the main line of American culture.
Mormons will surely play an even greater role in American civic life in the years ahead. In such a time, The Mormon People comes as a vital addition to the corpus of American religious history - a frank and fair-minded demystification of a faith that remains a mystery for many.
©2012 Random House Audio (P)2012 Matthew Bowman
“What do Mormons stand for? Are they quintessential good citizens or troubling religious deviants? Why are Mormons running for president? Matthew Bowman offers a quick, lively, and informative trip into the heart of Mormonism. All who are concerned or just curious will learn a lot about the making of modern Mormons from this book.” (Richard Lyman Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling)
I'm not Mormon, but 2012 witnessed such a barrage of all things Mormon (historical articles cropping up on blogs, but also the New Yorker, etc.) that I needed a broad overview of both Mormon history and theology. Bowman offers an appreciative, but serious approach to this nuanced religious tradition. The sometimes strange history left me feeling ambiguous about Mormonism's role in nineteenth and twentieth century American politics.
Say something about yourself!
This book was a very balanced introduction to Mormonism. It neither bashes or aims for new recruits - just the straight fascinating facts.
Enjoyable Easy Read
It was great to hear about the passion and zeal of the Prophet Joseph Smith. With all his human frailties, he accomplished a lot in his short time as leader of the LDS Church.
Hearing about the translation of the Book of Mormon in two months was amazing.
Bowman takes a holistic approach to outlining the doctrine of the LDS church and explains the core beliefs in an even way. It is a refreshing and historical view of the Mormons, as opposed to most contemporary critiques of the LDS church that isolate specific historical practices or quotes and/or focus on one or two experiences of unhappy former members, when the vast majority of those associated with the Mormons are living happy, fruitful lives.
When I drive, I read... uhm listen. I like SciFi, Fantasy, some Detective and Espionage novels and Religion. Now and then I will also listen to something else.
If you don't know much about the Mormons and you want a birds eye-view, this is a good place to start. Although the writer, Dr Matthew Bowman, is himself a Mormon, he attempts to stay as neutral as possible in relating the history of this alternative Christian movement. While he should be commended for getting it right most of the time, he doesn't engage sufficiently with the criticism slung at the Church of Christ of the Latter Day Saints. His reluctance in discussing the church's theology in more detail might also have to do with him being a Mormon.
Yet he gives a good overview of the Mormons without much if any bias that shines through. While it is an interesting read, dealing with a great scope, it sometimes become tedious and long. The interpretative reading isn't always on scratch. It actually felt as if the interpretative reader himself was becoming bored with parts in the book.
But the book is a much needed overview of Mormonism and its continuous transformation into a modern American belief system. It is informative.
I can recommend the book anyone who don't know much about Mormons.
"A little one sided"
Matthew Bowman is a Mormon. There - I've said in four words what he failed to say in 12 hours or so of this audio book. It is the duty of any serious minded achademic to declare such a compelling interest from the start, even if he feels he has not allowed himself to be swayed by it.
The book is interesting but must be used as a starting point to carry out your own research as so many potentially negative details are missing. The book accepts practices such as divining with seer stones as being factual. Very few dissenting voices are heard. What happened to the missing 116 pages? This book quickly (and glibly) describes them as being simply lost and bounces along happily. The truth may not be known but there is more to the story than that and it should be included. Why did it cause Joseph Smith such anguish? Was it because he had failed in his instructions from Moroni or was it because he eared he had been caught in a trap? Only one side is given here - the side that portrays Smith in the best possibly light.
In many of these cases there are two explanations. One is that Smith was party to the most miraculous and extrodinary events to take place on earth in the modern era. A direct and lengthy channel of communication with an angel is no small matter. The other explanation is that Smith was a liar. These are both possibilities that should be explored, but this book always assumes only one - the former.
It is an interesting book and gives a fascinating glimpse of the word from a Mormon point of view, but it is not the achademic study I was hoping for. There are also Mormon hit jobs available equally biased from the opposite point of view. I'm not interested in them either. I just wanted a good straight forward factual book containing all the information in a scholarly manner - that and a little integrity. This book has neither.
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