About a year ago, I asked for advice about how to structure a course on American evangelicalism. Many first-rate suggestions were forth-coming.
This fall, I’m teaching a course on Mormonism in Heidelberg, Germany (gluecklicherweise auf Englisch, sonst waere es mir sehr peinlich). For the next year, I am residing at the Heidelberg Centre for American Studies, in the heart of Heidelberg’s Altstadt. My HCA office is next to that of Jan Stievermann, one of the editors of the Biblia Americana for the Mather Project (more on that another week). Small world. Fun place.
Despite Jan’s presence, I’m finding it incredibly difficult to think about American Christianity while a stranger in a not-that-strange land. Instead, I’ve been busy buying the wrong ingredients for recipes at the grocery and scavenging election posters beloved by my daughter. The Pirates (who did not cross the five-percent threshold) are her favorite party, but I eschewed their marijuana-legalization poster (with a cute cat on it) as age-inappropriate but did take one of a dog who opposes political corruption. It’s also hard to resist visiting Heidelberg’s churches and hillside ruins.
So, I’m having difficulty figuring out how to structure a class in Germany on Mormonism. Any thoughts? [And, just at the outset, there's really no need for snarky comments on how to protect Germans from a non-Christian cult, etc....]. I’m planning to go heavy on primary sources. Joseph Smith “First Vision” narratives, Book of Mormon, revelations, for starters.
What on plural marriage? I like the Nauvoo Relief Society Minutes, Zina Huntington’s diary, Louisa Beaman’s letters (edited by Todd Compton in the Journal of Mormon History). Any other thoughts?
My competency (such as it is) fades rather sharply after 1877. I’m planning to bring my students (it’s an undergraduate Hauptseminar) to a local Mormon ward for a block of Sunday meetings. I’d love for them to become familiar with some LDS hymns. We’ll sample some of the American culture of critiquing / lampooning Mormonism through Mark Twain, South Park, and the musical. And I’d like them to get a sense of Mormonism as more than just an American religion.
The entire enterprise makes me think of my colleague Tal Howard’s God and the Atlantic, a reminder that Europeans have long found American religion baffling and that many Europeans consider Americans superstitious, ignorant, and anti-intellectual. I imagine that it will be a challenge to persuade my students to take the Latter-day Saints seriously as a subject of religious, political, and cultural import. I will probably work harder at providing my students with the context I probably ought to be giving my students back home as well.
All advice appreciated, whether on teaching in Germany, teaching American religion abroad, or on teaching Mormonism.