"Like the Hajis of Meccah and Jerusalem"
Orientalism and the Mormon Experience
Publication Year: 2012
The series, established by one of the twentieth-century West's most distinguished historians, Leonard Arrington, has become a leading forum for prominent historians to address topics related to Mormon history. The first lecturer was Arrington himself. He was followed by Richard Lyman Bushman, Richard E. Bennett, Howard R. Lamar, Claudia L. Bushman, Kenneth W. Godfrey, Jan Shipps, Donald Worster, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and F. Ross Peterson. Utah State University hosts the Leonard J. Arrington Mormon History Lecture Series. The University Libraries' Special Collections and Archives houses the Arrington collection. The state's land grant university began collecting records very early, and in the 1960s became a major depository for Utah and Mormon records. Leonard and his wife Grace joined the USU faculty and family in 1946, and the Arringtons and their colleagues worked to collect original diaries, journals, letters, and photographs.
Although trained as an economist at the University of North Carolina, Arrington became a Mormon historian of international repute. Working with numerous colleagues, the Twin Falls, Idaho, native produced the classic Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day Saints in 1958. Utilizing available collections at USU, Arrington embarked on a prolific publishing and editing career. He and his close ally, Dr. S. George Ellsworth helped organize the Western History Association, and they created the Western Historical Quarterly as the scholarly voice of the WHA. While serving with Ellsworth as editor of the new journal, Arr ington also helped both the Mormon History Association and the independent journal Dialogue get established.
Published by: Utah State University Press
Title Page, Copyright Page
Download PDF (35.7 KB)
The establishment of a lecture series honoring a library’s special collections and a donor to that collection is unique. Utah State University’s Merrill-Cazier Library houses the personal and historical collection of Leonard J. Arrington, a renowned scholar of the American West. As part of Arrington’s gift to the university, he requested that the university’s historical collection become the focus for an annual lecture on an aspect of...
About the Author
Download PDF (32.7 KB)
Download PDF (47.0 KB)
I would like to begin by noting that the namesake of these lectures, Leonard Arrington, has inspired my scholarship since I first discovered his book Great Basin Kingdom while conducting research for my dissertation on “The Mormon Landscape” in 1968. By that time, Arrington’s book was a decade old and already recognized as a classic work on both...
Mormonism and Orientalism in Context
Download PDF (57.1 KB)
In this essay, I hope to show that although Mormon history is normally, and quite understandably, studied in the context of American history, it should be placed in a broader geographic context for several reasons. First, even though the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a characteristically American religion, it held from its inception the ambition of being a universal faith. Mormons are active proselytizers, their goal being...
Mormonism and Oriental Mysticism/Materialism
Download PDF (51.2 KB)
The creation of the Mormon faith in the 1820s is intricately bound up with two paradoxical themes about body and soul, namely materialism and mysticism. On the one hand, the Mormons were nominally Christians but deviated from many other denominations regarding, one, their ways of divining and revealing hidden truths, and, two, their beliefs about the meaning of the material or corporeal world in light of spirituality...
Download PDF (43.8 KB)
A second aspect of the early Mormon faith, however, was far more earthly than mystical, and that involved the Mormons’ belief in materialism. Like other aspects of LDS faith, this belief evolved over time. As historian Thomas Alexander astutely noted, early LDS doctrine was similar to that which might be found in other, prevalent faiths on the frontier. However, as Alexander further noted, “between 1842 and 1844, Joseph Smith spoke on and published doctrines such as the plurality of gods, the...
Mormons and Oriental Despotism
Download PDF (55.5 KB)
There is a third element that needs to be discussed under the topic of how Orientalism relates to both body and soul, and that is the concern about what happens when the human will is subverted by excessive materialism and overzealous spirituality. An increasingly common anti-Mormon theme—the growing belief that Mormons were a people enslaved by their faith—relates to the popular perception that they had resigned...
The Lamanites: Orientalizing Indigenous America
Download PDF (63.7 KB)
The Mormons’ perception of time and space affected their beliefs about the Native Americans. As historian Philip Barlow noted, “Joseph Smith pre-empted Steven Spielberg by going ‘back to the future’ and then pulling it into the present.” Smith’s interpreting phenomena in light of “the ancient order of things” was closely associated with his religious beliefs and teachings. As Steven LeSueur observed, if Smith were...
Latter-day Saints and Ancient Egyptians
Download PDF (126.3 KB)
In addition to beliefs about the tribal, Near Eastern origins of American Indians, the Mormon faith is linked by text and scripture to several specific places in the Near East. Consider first Egypt, which has long fascinated Americans generally and Mormons in particular. Much fantasy and misinformation surrounds this issue, but it must be discussed here because it is one of the phenomena that link the Mormons...
Mormons as New Zionists
Download PDF (171.1 KB)
So far, I have discussed the Mormons’ supposed connections to Ancient Persia and Egypt as factors in their identity. These were important, but a core belief that the Latter-day Saints were/are the new Jews—and their land the New Zion—was the bedrock upon still other Orientalist perceptions about Mormons developed. In his book...
Mormons as Muslims
Download PDF (163.3 KB)
In addition to ancient Egypt and Judea, however, Arabia and much of the area claimed by Islam also loomed as a reference point to the newlycreated Mormon faith in the 1800s. Those outside of the faith found it tempting indeed to brand Mormons as neo-Muslims, so to speak. In fact, no aspect of Mormon identity linked it more palpably to the Orient...
Download PDF (43.3 KB)
Time will tell whether the twenty-first century will present a set of new challenges for Mormon identity. As hinted at above, with the rise of Christian fundamentalism in recent times, the Mormons are again having to work hard to demonstrate that they are part of the [Judeo- Christian] American mainstream—this, ironically, despite their own fairly conservative political values. The fact that Orientalism still applies...
Publication Year: 2012