Mormon People of Paradox

More good stuff from the Oxford University Press blog (in addition to the one by Daniel Walker Howe previously posted) -- Terryl L. Givens, "People of Paradox," a short piece which concludes:

It is one of the great paradoxes of the Mormon experience in the nineteenth century that the American flag suggested to the Latter-day Saints both promise and oppression; it was both an emblem of God’s purpose and designs and bitter ensign of a nation that expelled, disenfranchised, and persecuted them. . . .

Mormon culture has thrived on this and kindred paradoxes. A church that embodies hierarchy and centralized authority surpassing that of the Catholics while celebrating a conception of individualism and agency that in some regards surpass Pelagius. A religion filled with the rhetoric and promise of theological certainty, which at the same time conceives of salvation as an educative process that will reach into the eternities. And a people whose isolation from the mainstream is marked in blood and history, reflected in a language of exceptionalism and difference, and reified by architecture and physical space, even as that same people aspires to search out, proselytize, and bind together the entire human family living and dead.

It could be that to call these conflicting tendencies in Mormon culture paradox is to resort to euphemism for what is really the simple inconsistency so often at the heart of human ways of ordering experience. Or paradox could be a sign of immaturity, an indication that Mormon ways of articulating their values and preferences have not yet found a synthesis free of fault lines. In any event, exploring the ambiguities and tensions at the heart of Mormon culture reveals a faith tradition more complex and multi-dimensional than the caricatures often generated by the simplistic language of sound-bites and presidential campaigns.

Click on the link above for the full piece.


john turner said…
Thanks for the link, Paul. Givens is one of my favorite writers on Mormonism, and he writes with a delicious sense of irony. I haven't read People of Paradox, but I found his By the Hand of Mormon to be one of the more thought-provoking books on that subject.
Christopher said…
People of Paradox is a fun read, as is Givens's _The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy_, a look at the various ways that Mormons have been defined as an "other" in American society.
Spencer Fluhman said…
I have to echo the praise for People of Paradox. It is simply the best one-volume peek into Mormon culture available. A single book can't everything, of course, but, wow, Givens gets to a great deal in this one. He has a handle on issues across all of Mormon history, too--most shy away from such breadth. Definitely a "must read" for those interested in understanding the movement.

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