- Decolonizing Mormonism: Approaching a Postcolonial Zion ed. by Gina Colvin and Joanna Brooks
Both for readers who locate themselves inside as well as those outside the Mormon tradition, this edited collection of critical and personal essays is a welcome step toward bringing Mormon studies into more serious conversation with postcolonial/decolonial, Indigenous, regional, and globalization studies. Many of these discussions have been taking place for well over a decade, formally in Mormon studies journals, conferences, and symposia; less formally in online blogs, forums, and podcasts; and for generations in peoples’ homes, across kitchen tables and living rooms. Decolonizing Mormonism, however, is the first book-length intervention in this direction, and it signals an open, eclectic, and vigorous approach from a variety of disciplines. Contributors’ backgrounds range across anthropology, art history, education, [End Page 99] filmmaking, psychology, western regional history, as well as cultural, critical race, ethnic, gender, literary, Asian, and Chicano studies, to name a few. As varied as the collection’s thirteen essays are, each responds in particular ways to a set of problems coeditors Gina Colvin and Joanna Brooks (no relation) outline in their introduction: “Mormonism reproduces American colonial dynamics, [which] fall unevenly on communities of color and non–North American communities.” Recognizing and addressing these dynamics, they state, “is an essential step in the cultivation of a more responsible practice of Mormonism and more responsible work in the field of Mormon Studies” (1).
This project has significant implications for western literary and cultural studies. The Mormon presence in western American history could hardly be overstated, a presence whose distinctive forms of communitarianism, patriarchy, land use and politics, race-based exclusion and marginalization, settler colonialism, Indigenous relations, and missiology have shaped the cultural, literary, and physical landscape of the Great Basin and the Colorado Plateau. Indeed several essays in this volume deal specifically with such patterns in the region. For example, Angelo Baca’s “Porter Rockwell and Samuel the Lamanite Fistfight in Heaven” discusses his personal negotiation of Navajo, Hopi, and Mormon identity. Growing up in the contact zone of the reservation and Mormon country, he recalls how although his family was Mormon, they “were also traditional Navajos [. . . who] went to church because that’s where people went, it was where the opportunities were, and where the educational, business, and social worlds intersected. . . . Mormon influence,” Baca continues, “is so strong that I felt it to my very core ever since I was a young boy. . . . At the same time,” he explains, “my grandparents told me the harsh truth about Mormon settlers who took land, water, animals, and language away” (67–68).
Similar tensions between individual, family, and community identities characterize essays by Elise Boxer, Alicia Harris, Ignacio Garcia, and Mica McGriggs. For example, in considering erasures of “Indigenous peoples and communities . . . from the historical and contemporary narrative of Mormon settlement in Utah,” Boxer [End Page 100] “employ[s] the term settler rather than ‘pioneer’ to disrupt the narrative and to name settler colonialism as a process that seeks to replace Indigenous people” (78, 96). And Harris claims ancestry from various European as well as Assiniboine and Dakota people who, as she puts it, “saw the face of God in the prairie that stretched out unendingly and knew the way that the earth moved in relationship to the stars, a macrocosm of their own bodies” (119). Seeking greater personal and collective reconciliation between these spiritual traditions, she asks, “Why do we, as a culture, persist in denying Native and Indigenous ways of knowing and seeing the world?” (122).
The collection’s scope, however, reaches beyond the Mormon culture region of the American West, especially considering the ways in which Mormonism has become a significant avenue by which US American cultural and economic hegemony has inserted itself across Latin America and the Pacific since the late nineteenth century. The essays by Colvin (“A Maori Mormon Testimony”) and Brooks (“Mormonism as Colonialism, Mormonism as Anti-Colonialism, Mormonism as Minor Transnationalism”) go into excellent depth, personally and historically, in describing...