"A Peculiar People": Anti-Mormonism and the Making of Religion in Nineteenth-Century America

UNC Press Books
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Though the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion, it does not specify what counts as a religion. From its founding in the 1830s, Mormonism, a homegrown American faith, drew thousands of converts but far more critics. In "A Peculiar People", J. Spencer Fluhman offers a comprehensive history of anti-Mormon thought and the associated passionate debates about religious authenticity in nineteenth-century America. He argues that understanding anti-Mormonism provides critical insight into the American psyche because Mormonism became a potent symbol around which ideas about religion and the state took shape.
Fluhman documents how Mormonism was defamed, with attacks often aimed at polygamy, and shows how the new faith supplied a social enemy for a public agitated by the popular press and wracked with social and economic instability. Taking the story to the turn of the century, Fluhman demonstrates how Mormonism's own transformations, the result of both choice and outside force, sapped the strength of the worst anti-Mormon vitriol, triggering the acceptance of Utah into the Union in 1896 and also paving the way for the dramatic, yet still grudging, acceptance of Mormonism as an American religion.

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About the author

J. Spencer Fluhman is assistant professor of history at Brigham Young University.

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Additional Information

Publisher
UNC Press Books
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Published on
Sep 17, 2012
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Pages
240
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ISBN
9780807837405
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 19th Century
Religion / Christianity / Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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This book is annotated with a rare extensive biographical sketch of the author, Andrew Lang, written by Sir Edmund Gosse, CB, a contemporary poet and writer. A review of Mr. Lang's work would come late, were it not that the book has been the subject of discussion for many years.The author considers the modern science of the History of Religion to teach, that Man derived the conception of Spirit from reflection on phenomena of sleep, dreams, death, shadow, and experiences of trance and hallucination. Ghosts, thus obtained, became the first objects of belief and worship, and were gradually magnified into gods, of which, in the end, one became supreme; on the other hand, from belief in the survival of the soul grew the notion of immortality. This system he proposes to study from fresh points of view. In the first place, he treats what he calls the X phenomena among savages, clairvoyance, crystalomancy, second-sight, demoniacal possession, and so on, giving examples to show the prevalence of similar experiences; he considers that their apparently supernatural character may have much to do with the theory of a separable soul, and apparently inclines toward a belief in the verity at least of the occurrences. The statements concerning the savage phenomena are not especially full, the account not undertaking to exhibit a complete view of the department. The second part of the treatise undertakes to supply a substitute for the nihilistic doctrine; this is, that the idea of God as, to use the writer's words, " a primal eternal being, author of all things, the father and friendof man, the invisible, omniscient guardian of morality, belongs to the lowest savages, who reverence this supreme deity without idol-worship or sacrifice, as immutable, impeccable, all-seeing, benevolent, and lovable.
The dramatic first-person account of life inside an ultra-fundamentalist American religious sect, and one woman’s courageous flight to freedom with her eight children.

When she was eighteen years old, Carolyn Jessop was coerced into an arranged marriage with a total stranger: a man thirty-two years her senior. Merril Jessop already had three wives. But arranged plural marriages were an integral part of Carolyn’s heritage: She was born into and raised in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), the radical offshoot of the Mormon Church that had settled in small communities along the Arizona-Utah border. Over the next fifteen years, Carolyn had eight children and withstood her husband’s psychological abuse and the watchful eyes of his other wives who were locked in a constant battle for supremacy.

Carolyn’s every move was dictated by her husband’s whims. He decided where she lived and how her children would be treated. He controlled the money she earned as a school teacher. He chose when they had sex; Carolyn could only refuse at her own peril. For in the FLDS, a wife’s compliance with her husband determined how much status both she and her children held in the family. Carolyn was miserable for years and wanted out, but she knew that if she tried to leave and got caught, her children would be taken away from her. No woman in the country had ever escaped from the FLDS and managed to get her children out, too. But in 2003, Carolyn chose freedom over fear and fled her home with her eight children. She had $20 to her name.

Escape exposes a world tantamount to a prison camp, created by religious fanatics who, in the name of God, deprive their followers the right to make choices, force women to be totally subservient to men, and brainwash children in church-run schools. Against this background, Carolyn Jessop’s flight takes on an extraordinary, inspiring power. Not only did she manage a daring escape from a brutal environment, she became the first woman ever granted full custody of her children in a contested suit involving the FLDS. And in 2006, her reports to the Utah attorney general on church abuses formed a crucial part of the case that led to the arrest of their notorious leader, Warren Jeffs.
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