The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844

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Overview

Mormon religious belief has long been a mystery to outsiders, either dismissed as anomalous to the American religious tradition or extolled as the most genuine creation of the American religious imagination. This study presents the first extended analysis of Mormon theology to have been written against the backdrop of religion and popular culture in the early modern North Atlantic world, a context that permits the most coherent analysis of Mormon origins. John Brooke argues that Mormon doctrines of the mutuality of spirit and matter, of celestial marriage (in the nineteenth century, polygamous marriage), and of human deification can be understood only in light of the connections between the occult and the sectarian ideal of restoration forged among early modern religious radicals. Hermeticism, of which alchemy was the experimental practice, posited that humanity could regain the divine powers of Adam lost in the fall from Paradise; so too the prophet Joseph Smith promised the Mormon faithful that they would become "gods" through the restoration of ancient mysteries. Exploring the opposing forces of hermetic purity and danger - manifested in sectarian religion, magic, witchcraft beliefs, alchemy, Freemasonry, counterfeiting, and state formation - in the making of the Mormon church, the book closes with an overview of the transformation of Mormonism from the 1860s to the present.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"John Brooke takes a controversial romp over the field of previous Mormon scholarship. When he has done, he has managed to raise the intellectual pedigree of Joseph Smith by establishing his close kinship with European hermeticists and the subversive sectarians of the Radical Reformation. It is a fascinating argument that traces the influence of ideas through complicated social networks of neighbors and kin. The people 'prepared' for Mormonism are a surprising lot." R. Laurence Moore, Cornell University

"The Refiner's Fire explores the complex and always intriguing world of early Mormon theological and ritual evolution with remarkable learning, fairness, and daring—an exciting, sophisticated account sure to generate both controversy and a renewed appreciation of early Mormon spiritual creativity." John Butler, Yale University

"This is not just a revealing history of the backgrund of the first Mormons and early Mormonism but a larger history of early American culture that will do almost as much for readers who are interested in the cultural context in which this new American religion developed as it will do for those who simply want to learn more about Mormon beginnings." Jan Shipps, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis

"The Refiner's Fire explores the complex and always intriguing world of early Mormon theological and ritual evolution with remarkable learning, fairness, and daring—an exciting, sophisticated account sure to generate both controversy and a renewed appreciation of early Mormon spiritual creativity." John Butler, Yale University

"This is not just a revealing history of the backgrund of the first Mormons and early Mormonism but a larger history of early American culture that will do almost as much for readers who are interested in the cultural context in which this new American religion developed as it will do for those who simply want to learn more about Mormon beginnings." Jan Shipps, Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis

"His book is a model of the historian's enterprise....[Brooke] blends the passion of the detective and the dispassion of the good judge as he describes the background and context of Mormonism." Martin E. Marty, Commonwealth

"An insightful contribution to the controversy surrounding the origins of Mormonism." College & Research Libraries News

"Excellent....This study not only sets Mormon religious history into a frontier occult milieu but offers important understanding of the beliefs and practices of Americans outside the individual and institutional carriers commonly the focus of previous occult histories." The Reader's Review

"The Refiner's Fire is a wonderful book, thoroughly researched and rich in interpretive detail." Curtis Johnson, The Journal of American History

"The Refiner's Fire is an important and daring work for which Brooke has received the Bancroft Prize in American history....Combining intellectual and demographic history with rare skill, Brooke sheds great light on transatlantic subcultures that have not been labeled "occult" (read "hidden") for nothing." Religious Studies Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521345453
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 7/28/2012
  • Pages: 443
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Maps
Preface
Pt. I A Prepared People
1 Dreams of the Primal Adam 3
2 The True Spiritual Seed 30
3 Something of Our Ancestors 59
Pt. II Hermetic Purity and Hermetic Danger
4 A Urim Spiritual 91
5 Alchymical Experiments 105
6 I Was Born in Sharon 129
Pt. III The Mormon Dispensation
7 Secret Combinations and Slippery Treasures in the Land of Zarahemla 149
8 The Mysteries Defined 184
9 Temples, Wives, Bogus-Making, and War 209
10 The Keys to the Kingdom 235
11 A Tangle of Strings and the Kingdom of God 262
12 Let Mysteries Alone 278
App.: The Sectarian and Hermetic Circumstances of Mormon Origins in Vermont and New York 306
Abbreviations Used in Notes 311
Notes 314
Index 405
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