People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture

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Overview

In People of Paradox, Terryl Givens traces the rise and development of Mormon culture from the days of Joseph Smith in upstate New York, through Brigham Young's founding of the Territory of Deseret on the shores of Great Salt Lake, to the spread of the Latter-Day Saints around the globe.
Throughout the last century and a half, Givens notes, distinctive traditions have emerged among the Latter-Day Saints, shaped by dynamic tensions—or paradoxes—that give Mormon cultural expression much of its vitality. Here is a religion shaped by a rigid authoritarian hierarchy and radical individualism; by prophetic certainty and a celebration of learning and intellectual investigation; by existence in exile and a yearning for integration and acceptance by the larger world. Givens divides Mormon history into two periods, separated by the renunciation of polygamy in 1890. In each, he explores the life of the mind, the emphasis on education, the importance of architecture and urban planning (so apparent in Salt Lake City and Mormon temples around the world), and Mormon accomplishments in music and dance, theater, film, literature, and the visual arts. He situates such cultural practices in the context of the society of the larger nation and, in more recent years, the world. Today, he observes, only fourteen percent of Mormon believers live in the United States.
Mormonism has never been more prominent in public life. But there is a rich inner life beneath the public surface, one deftly captured in this sympathetic, nuanced account by a leading authority on Mormon history and thought.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Terry L. Givens takes readers on a fascinating tour of the remarkable achievements of Mormon culture; its distinctive contributions to art, literature, music, theater, science, and to the life of the mind. Eventually, one realizes that this is not only a book about Mormon culture, but that it makes a substantial contribution to that culture." —Rodney Stark, author of The Rise of Mormonism

"Terryl Givens provides an elegant introduction to some of the central tenets, practices, and psychic investments of the Mormon faith. Linking Mormon teachings about agency, authority, salvation, and revelation to broader impulses in Christian and American theology and aesthetics, Givens comprehensively explores both the distinctiveness of Mormon cultural production and its continuities with wider religious currents. He describes the contradictions and persistent problems that arise, as they do in all faiths, within the lived experience of Mormonism. An outstanding work of intellectual and cultural studies, People of Paradox represents a creative and singular contribution to the burgeoning scholarship on the Mormon tradition." —Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, author of Religion and Society in Frontier California

"Givens's proposal that Mormon belief be conceived as a series of paradoxes rather than a set of fixed principles is one of the most significant advances in Mormon thought in a generation. It puts Mormon culture in a brilliant new light. Moreover, by displacing the standard themes from their usual position at center stage and exploring Mormon cultural expression instead, he gives us a fresh, new history of the Latter-day Saints. This book is filled with treasures." —Richard Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

"People of Paradox confirms Terryl Givens's status, if it was ever in question, as the leading mid-career scholar of Mormonism. People of Paradox will likely, for a generation or more, be the statement on Mormon culture with which scholars must wrestle. This well-researched cultural history succeeds brilliantly in what it sets out to do-synthetically identify and explain fundamental issues and trends within Mormon culture. It is even more exceptional as cultural criticism. No summary can adequately convey the elegance of Givens's prose or the subtlety and profundity of his insights. The book is a superb historical introduction and agenda-setting conceptualization of Mormon culture."—Western Historical Quarterly

"This is an impressive work of synthesis that engages a broad secondary literature in discussing each aspect of the Mormon intellectual and artistic heritage. While other scholars have produced excellent studies treating Mormon literature or music or visual arts, Givens is the first to offer a comprehensive survey of key aspects of Latter-day Saint cultural life across the full span of Mormon history. ...The breadth of its coverage, the insightfulness of many of its observations, and the effective use it makes of paradox to provide a richly textured portrait of Mormon intellectual and artistic life make it a solid contribution to the growing field of Mormon studies. It deserves to be widely read and discussed, and its superior literary style insures that enjoyment as well as insight will repay its readers." —American Historical Review

"Givens has accomplished something quite special with this masterful study of Mormon cultural expression: in deriving his discussion of Mormon culture from details of Mormon theology, he suggests a union of the practical and theoretical elements of religious life with a sincerity and seamlessness rarely achieved in academic study." —Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195167115
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/29/2007
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 1,260,642
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Terryl L. Givens is Professor of Literature and Religion and James A. Bostwick Chair of English, University of Richmond. His books on Mormonism and American religious culture include The Latter-Day Saint Experience in America, By the Hand of Mormon, and Viper on the Hearth.

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Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Part I Foundations and Paradoxes in Mormon Cultural Origins

1 The Iron Rod and the Liahona: Authority and Radical Freedom 3

2 The Endless Quest and Perfect Knowledge: Searching and Certainty 21

3 Everlasting Burnings and Cinder Blocks: The Sacred and the Banal 37

4 Peculiar People and Loneliness at the Top: Election and Exile 53

Part II The Varieties of Mormon Cultural Expression

Beginnings (1830-1890): The Dancing Puritans

5 "The Glory of God Is Intelligence": Mormons and the Life of the Mind 65

6 "Zion Shall Be Built": Architecture and City Planning 101

7 "No Music in Hell": Music and Dance 117

8 "On a Cannibal Island": Theater 143

9 "Novels Rather than Nothing": Literature 157

10 "A Goodly Portion of Painters and Artists": Visual Arts 179

Part III The Varieties of Mormon Cultural Expression

A Movable Zion (1890-Present): Pioneer Nostalgia and Beyond the American Religion

11 "Fomenting the Pot": The Life of the Mind 195

12 "A Uniform Look for the Church": Architecture 241

13 "No Tabernacle Choir on Broadway": Music and Dance 253

14 "Cinema as Sacrament": Theater and Film 265

15 "To the Fringes of Faith": Literature 285

16 "Painting the Mormon Story": Visual Arts 325

Conclusion: "Through the Particular to the Universal" 339

Notes 345

Index 397

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