MORMONISM AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE by Klaus J. Hansen

MORMONISM AND THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

How the Mormons became just another denomination (almost): a timid, disjointed, but thought-provoking study of the most successful religious experiment indigenous to America. Hansen (Queen's University, Kingston, Ont.) writes history in a way that will strike the Mormon faithful as harshly critical and most ""Gentile"" readers as suspiciously benign. Thus, he concedes that Joseph Smith introduced polygamy as a heavenly outlet for his restless earthly libido, but he stops short of treating this or any other Mormon practice as sexual oppression, quoting without comment the Saints' doctrine that woman is ""one of the choicest gifts of God to man."" With characteristic blandness Hansen notes that ""the authenticity of the Book of Abraham has been seriously challenged by scholars,"" whereas the simple fact is that Egyptologists have proved this Mormon scripture to be, consciously or otherwise, a hoax. Hansen admits that even today the intensely conservative Mormon hierarchy exerts an unparalleled control over the laity, yet he tries to argue that Mormon society exhibits real political pluralism. Apart from such apologetic touches, however, Hansen makes some solid points. He shows, for instance, how the communal impulse of Mormon life, which offended outsiders because of its ""un-American"" rejection of pluralism, harked back to pre-industrial New England. The aggressive individualism and burgeoning capitalism of the Jacksonian era (which coincided with Smith's early visions) left many ""losers"" and disaffected types in its wake, and some of these turned to the Latter Day Saints. But in the end, of course, Mormonism surrendered to the legal pressures and the economic rewards of Gentile America--an ironic defeat ably described. Hansen has the unfortunate habit of invoking all sorts of authorities for hasty elucidations (in one of his worst he makes Smith into a Julian-Jaynesian ""bicameral man,"" and then compares Smith's gift for spontaneous composition with Mozart's). But he's well-informed and careful, and his work, despite its ideological limpness, should be welcomed by all students of Mormonism.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago Press