People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture

ISBN : 9780199915989

Terryl L. Givens
464 Pages
153 x 234 mm
Pub date
Mar 2012
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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.


Part I: Foundations and Paradoxes in Mormon Cultural Origins
1. The Iron Rod and the Liahona: Authority and Radical Freedom
2. The Endless Quest and Perfect Knowledge: Searching and Certainty
3. Everlasting Burnings and Cinder Blocks: The Sacred and the Banal
4. Peculiar People and Loneliness at the Top: Election and Exile
Part II: Varieties of Mormon Cultural Expression
Beginnings (1830-1890): The Dancing Puritans
5. "The Glory of God is Intelligence": Mormons and the Life of the Mind
6. "Zion Shall Be Built": Architecture and City Planning
7. "No Music in Hell": Music and Dance
8. "On a Cannibal Island": Theater
9. "Novels Rather than Nothing": Literature
10. "A Goodly Portion of Painters and Artists": Visual Arts
Part III: The Varieties of Mormon Cultural Expression
A Movable Zion (1890-Present): Pioneed Nostalgia and Beyond the American Religion
11. "Fomenting the Pot": The Life of the Mind
12. "A Uniform Look for the Church": Architecture
13. "No Tabernacle Choir on Broadway": Music and Dance
14. "Cinema as Sacrement": Theater and Film
15. "To the Fringes of Faith": Literature
16. "Painting the Mormon Story": Visual Arts
Conclusion: "Through the Particular to the Universal"

About the author: 

Terryl L. Givens is Professor of Literature and Religion and James A. Bostwick Chair of English, University of Richmond. His books on Mormonism and American religious culture include The Latter-Day Saint Experience in America, By the Hand of Mormon, and Viper on the Hearth.

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