Believing History: Latter-day Saint Essays

Believing History: Latter-day Saint Essays

by Richard Lyman Bushman
     
 

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The eminent historian Richard Bushman here reflects on his faith and the history of his religion. By describing his own struggle to find a basis for belief in a skeptical world, Bushman poses the question of how scholars are to write about subjects in which they are personally invested. Does personal commitment make objectivity impossible? Bushman explicitly, and

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Overview

The eminent historian Richard Bushman here reflects on his faith and the history of his religion. By describing his own struggle to find a basis for belief in a skeptical world, Bushman poses the question of how scholars are to write about subjects in which they are personally invested. Does personal commitment make objectivity impossible? Bushman explicitly, and at points confessionally, explains his own commitments and then explores Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon from the standpoint of belief.

Joseph Smith cannot be dismissed as a colorful fraud, Bushman argues, nor seen only as a restorer of religious truth. Entangled in nineteenth-century Yankee culture—including the skeptical Enlightenment—Smith was nevertheless an original who cut his own path. And while there are multiple contexts from which to draw an understanding of Joseph Smith (including magic, seekers, the Second Great Awakening, communitarianism, restorationism, and more), Bushman suggests that Smith stood at the cusp of modernity and presented the possibility of belief in a time of growing skepticism.

When examined carefully, the Book of Mormon is found to have intricate subplots and peculiar cultural twists. Bushman discusses the book's ambivalence toward republican government, explores the culture of the Lamanites (the enemies of the favored people), and traces the book's fascination with records, translation, and history. Yet Believing History also sheds light on the meaning of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon today. How do we situate Mormonism in American history? Is Mormonism relevant in the modern world?

Believing History offers many surprises. Believers will learn that Joseph Smith is more than an icon, and non-believers will find that Mormonism cannot be summed up with a simple label. But wherever readers stand on Bushman's arguments, he provides us with a provocative and open look at a believing historian studying his own faith.

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Editorial Reviews

BYU Magazine
17 thoughtful personal and scholarily essays.

— Richard H. Cracroft

Journal of Mormon History
This volume represents a significant contribution... The depth and quality of these essays affirm Bushman's status as the most articulate scholar defending the traditional interpretation of early Mormon origins.

— Newell G. Bringhurst

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought

These essays strike at the tension between the seemingly incompatible views of the believing Mormon in the unbelieving world... Informative and revealing.

— Byron C. Smith

Deseret Morning News
Probably the greatest scholar who happens to be a Latter-day Saint, Richard L. Bushman is a historian of exceptional accomplishment.... A careful scholar, he has always balanced the academic with the religious.

— Dennis Lythgoe

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought
These essays strike at the tension between the seemingly incompatible views of the believing Mormon in the unbelieving world... Informative and revealing.

— Byron C. Smith

Christian Review - Elesha Coffman
Over against the diffidence of evangelical historians, who may sometimes say too little in what they write, Bushman's essays are refreshingly bold.

BYU Magazine - Richard H. Cracroft
17 thoughtful personal and scholarily essays.

Journal of Mormon History - Newell G. Bringhurst
This volume represents a significant contribution... The depth and quality of these essays affirm Bushman's status as the most articulate scholar defending the traditional interpretation of early Mormon origins.

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought - Byron C. Smith
These essays strike at the tension between the seemingly incompatible views of the believing Mormon in the unbelieving world... Informative and revealing.

Deseret Morning News - Dennis Lythgoe
Probably the greatest scholar who happens to be a Latter-day Saint, Richard L. Bushman is a historian of exceptional accomplishment.... A careful scholar, he has always balanced the academic with the religious.

Christian Review
Over against the diffidence of evangelical historians, who may sometimes say too little in what they write, Bushman's essays are refreshingly bold.

— Elesha Coffman

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231130066
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
03/31/2004
Pages:
312
Product dimensions:
6.38(w) x 9.26(h) x 0.86(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Grant Wacker

Classic Bushman throughout: erudite, elegant, witty, and unassuming. Others have illumined the complexities of American religious history, and still others have defended the credibility of Christian faith in the modern (and postmodern) world. But few have equaled, and none has surpassed, Bushman's ability to do both at once, cogently, and with the excitement of a conversation very much in process. Non-Mormon academics sometimes have said that the LDS tradition is still young enough to feel a need to justify itself historically. These essays suggest that the opposite may be true. In Bushman's hands LDS scholarship displays the wisdom of a traditiongracefully come of age: intelligently at ease with itself in a strangely non-believing culture.

Grant Wacker, Duke University

John F. Wilson

Reflecting a long career, these addresses and critical studies showcase Bushman's skill as a historian. As 'Mormon essays' they also highlight tensions a distinguished practitioner experiences studying his own faith. Rich and rewarding for scholars and lay folk alike.

John F. Wilson, Collord Professor of Religion emeritus, Princeton University

University

Harry S. Stout

Believing History is an unparalleled compilation of essays capping three decades of Mormon scholarship by one of the country's top American historians. Richard Bushman exemplifies the historian's goal of understanding a subject matter on its own terms, without compromising his own Mormon faith. The result is an impressive achievement of interest to both Mormon and non-Mormon readers seeking a further understanding of America's greatest religious success story.

Harry S. Stout, Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Religious History, Yale University

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Meet the Author

Richard Lyman Bushman is Gouverneur Morris Professor of History emeritus at Columbia University.

Reid L. Neilson is assistant professor of church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University.

Jed Woodworth is a Ph.D. candidate in American history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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