People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture

People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture

People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture

People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture

Synopsis

In People of Paradox, Terryl Givens traces the rise and development of Mormon culture from the days of Joseph Smith in upstate New York, through Brigham Young's founding of the Territory of Deseret on the shores of Great Salt Lake, to the spread of the Latter-Day Saints around the globe.
Throughout the last century and a half, Givens notes, distinctive traditions have emerged among the Latter-Day Saints, shaped by dynamic tensions--or paradoxes--that give Mormon cultural expression much of its vitality. Here is a religion shaped by a rigid authoritarian hierarchy and radical individualism; by prophetic certainty and a celebration of learning and intellectual investigation; by existence in exile and a yearning for integration and acceptance by the larger world. Givens divides Mormon history into two periods, separated by the renunciation of polygamy in 1890. In each, he explores the life of the mind, the emphasis on education, the importance of architecture and urban planning (so apparent in Salt Lake City and Mormon temples around the world), and Mormon accomplishments in music and dance, theater, film, literature, and the visual arts. He situates such cultural practices in the context of the society of the larger nation and, in more recent years, the world. Today, he observes, only fourteen percent of Mormon believers live in the United States.
Mormonism has never been more prominent in public life. But there is a rich inner life beneath the public surface, one deftly captured in this sympathetic, nuanced account by a leading authority on Mormon history and thought.

Excerpt

This work has benefited enormously from the expertise and tender mercies of a host of readers and critics. Vern Swanson is a gold mine of knowledge about Utah art; the LDS art historian Richard Oman provided valuable criticism and suggestions. Daniel Fairbanks is an accomplished artist from a line of superb artists, and his guidance and friendship alike were invaluable. Also a published geneticist, Daniel made important contributions to my sections on science as well as those on art. Steve Harper, Reid Neilson, David Whittaker, and Richard Bushman represent the acme of new and experienced Mormon scholarship, and I count them all as friends and mentors. Gideon Burton was helpful with matters of literature and film. Michael Hicks made pertinent critiques that extended beyond my music sections. Grant and Heather Hardy are exacting critics and scholars and made extensive, helpful criticisms. Larry Peer read a draft, and Armand Mauss continued his role as friend and guide in much that appears here. Lavina Fielding Anderson provided astute comments as well as encouragement, and Paul Anderson shared his expertise in Mormon architecture. As always, my friend Anthony Russell shared valuable perspectives from outside the traditions here discussed. I also thank Bill Slaughter, the master of LDS photo archives; my son, Nathaniel, for his insights and productive leads; my research assistant, Colin Tate, for help in tracking down arcane sources; and Josh Probert for his suggestions with matters artistic and architectural. As always, the first and last reader and critic was Fiona Givens, my North Star.

All were helpful, and I must emphasize that virtually all championed additions and perspectives which lost out to limitations of space—or of my own abilities. I alone bear responsibility for the idiosyncrasies and omissions in the examples covered. “There is no arguing about taste,” said the critic Horace. In fact, few things are the subject of more dispute than taste. For we are all critics after our own fashion, and a study claiming to address the sweeping subject of a religious culture is bound to offend almost everyone by dint of something left out, something overpraised, or something undervalued. I can only insist that I made no attempt at comprehensiveness. My purpose is to plumb in tentative . . .

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