November 14, 2012
How Mormons Became American
Terryl Givens, Religion & Politics
Acentury ago, it was once a simple matter to assume a norm for American culture and situate the Mormon well outside it. Polygamy was likened to slavery in the nineteenth century (as the first Republican Party platform did in 1856). Brigham Young was compared to an Asian despot. Mormon women were victims in need of mythic frontier heroes like Captain Plum and Buffalo Bill to save them. Even Joseph Smith’s martyrdom could be seen as the penalty for his violation of the right to a free press. Mormonism made available to the playwrights of the Great American Saga the heroes and antiheroes, the virtues and vices, of that dramatic self-creation.
But today, in fiction, in film, on stage and even in the academy, the Mormon has not only been...