Believing History: Latter-day Saint Essays

Believing History: Latter-day Saint Essays

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Believing History: Latter-day Saint Essays by Richard Lyman Bushman

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231529563
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 02/13/2007
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 312
File size: 8 MB

About 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.

Table of Contents

Faithful History
My Belief
Learning to Believe
The Social Dimensions of Rationality
The Book of Mormon and the American Revolution
The Book of Mormon in Early Mormon History
The Lamanite View of Book of Mormon History
The Recovery of the Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon and Its Critics
Joseph Smith and Skepticism
Joseph Smith in the Current Age
Making Space for the Mormons
The Visionary World of Joseph Smith
Was Joseph Smith a Gentleman?
Joseph Smith as Translator
"The Little, Narrow Prison" of Language
A Joseph Smith for the Twenty-first Century

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.

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.

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.

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