Matthew N. Schmalz, associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the College of Holy Cross, has an article entitled “Meet the Mormons: From the Margins to the Mainstream” over at Commonweal: A Review of Religion, Politics, and Culture (hat-tip to American Religious History blog). Schmalz discusses his personal history with Mormonism (“It was Kolob and associated exotica that first drew me to the study of Mormonism” he says), as well as how his students at Holy Cross react to the study of Mormonism (“I’ve found that my students combine a personal openness to Mormonism . . . with deep skepticism about details of Mormon belief.”).
As a Catholic, he sympathizes with Mormons who struggle to get others to take their religion seriously. He explains that unless “one sees Mormonism as something more than eccentricity or pathology” there cannot be “a more substantive kind of Mormon talk, especially surrounding Mitt Romney’s [Presidential] candidacy.” He also briefly critiques the PBS documentary The Mormons (“[it] did not give a full sense of the diversity of Mormon life, the surprisingly broad spectrum that exists between orthodoxy and apostasy”), shares his experience at the Sunstone Symposium in 2004 and concludes by calling for others to approach Mormonism in “good faith.”
As a religion, Mormonism is still quite young-but it is a religion. As Sunstone’s Dan Wotherspoon told me, “Someone who views others in good faith would assume that these other people have gone through similar processes in sifting the wheat from the chaff of their religion.” In other words, we share more than we might think at first. Talking about Mormonism in “good faith” does not mean accepting all-or any-of Mormonism’s teachings. Instead, it means accepting that Mormonism is composed of real people who are best seen up close, not from high atop the Rameumptom.
Perhaps of interest to our readers, here are links to two blogs devoted to U.S. Religious History.
The first, Religion in American History, is run by Paul Harvey, noted historian of religion in the South, and author of some great books. Other contributing editors include a number of religious historians around the nation. Among those editors is John Turner, assistant professor of history at the University of South Alabama, who is currently researching Brigham Young’s religiosity. The blog has a number of posts that discuss Mormonism, and help situate both historical and contemporary Mormonism in wider frameworks.
The second blog, American Religious History, is a fantastic source for book reviews, interesting posts on all aspects of American religious history, and contains a detailed bibliography of Religion, Politics, and American Culture. Recently, the blog reviewed Jan Shipps’s Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition. While most readers here are probably familiar with the book, it is always interesting and valuable to see what sticks out to others in Mormonism.
I would direct all interested readers to these two blogs and encourage you to keep up with them regularly. Links to both blogs are located on the sidebar.