Dan Brown’s “Inferno”: An Eternal Return

I just finished reading Inferno, Dan Brown’s latest book. I’m no expert on Brown, though I have also read The Da Vinci Code. He is justly derided as a bad writer, but he is a good storyteller and sets his attractive characters in compelling locations. I think that Brown’s popularity also comes from his ability to touch on big cultural issues and questions—sometimes overtly and sometimes more indirectly—in familiar, reassuring ways. He touches on them, but doesn’t resolve them for the reader. He r … [Read more...]

Justice, Law, and Politics

Reflections on the Case of Edward Snowden Happy birthday, America!For all of you thinking about getting the country a gift, the good news is that you don’t have to worry about giftwrapping, since the government (and Google, and Amazon, and Apple) already knows what you’re going to give, when you got it, and how much you paid!The Edward Snowden case, following on the Bradley Manning and Julian Assange leaks and others in recent years, has opened a national conversation on the … [Read more...]

“Matt and Me (But Mostly Me)”*: A Conversation about _The Book of Mormon_ on Broadway

The Book of Mormon, the musical comedy co-written by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, went into previews on Broadway the week I turned in my dissertation on images of the Latter-day Saints in American culture from 1890 to the present. Sadly, this meant that while I quoted much of Parker and Stone’s work in my dissertation (South Park, Cannibal! The Musical, Orgazmo), I did NOT include a discussion of their Tony-winning musical in my work. Last week, I finally got to see the show, a … [Read more...]

*Angels in America* at 20: Revisiting Tony Kushner’s Millennium — and His Mormons — in the 21st Century

2013 is the 20th anniversary of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize for his groundbreaking play Angels in America, which first appeared on Broadway in two-parts in 1993. Kushner's sweeping epic critiqued conservative politics in Reagan-era America and confronted the devastating realities of HIV-AIDS for the gay community. Along the way, Angels engaged with a variety of American identities, cultures, and issues, many of which are grounded in religion and spirituality. In addition to the obvious … [Read more...]

“It’s like Methodism, only more”: Mormon Conversion and Narratives of the Great Apostasy

A couple of weeks ago in Sunday School, a middle-aged woman shared her conversion story to Mormonism. Born and raised a Methodist, she noted that she always felt like something was lacking. When she discovered Mormonism, she explained, "it was like Methodism, only more."I smiled to myself as she said this, recognizing in her own conversion narrative a common refrain that dominates the autobiographical writings of her 19th century predecessors. Among the first generation of converts to … [Read more...]

Mending a Fractured World

age-of-fracture

In his Bancroft Prize-winning book, Age of Fracture, Daniel Rodgers tells the story of how, following the 1970s, America's intellectual world fell apart. Ideas that were taken for granted during the mid-twentieth century, like national consensus, gender norms, racial identities, historical meaning, and market-based capitalism, fragmented into numerous directions. The social unrest of the 1960s (which challenged traditional assumptions), the end of the Cold War (which eliminated the nation's most … [Read more...]

Finding a Bit of Comfort in the Image of Mormonism That Americans Most Respect

About a week ago, I decided to write my next post on a recurrent popular representation of the Mormons that we didn’t see much of during Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign: the image of Mormon violence. I was going to talk about why I think this image didn’t surface during the recent Mormon moment, and whether or not I think it has a future now that the moment is over. But since last Friday, we have all watched in horror as unspeakable violence and its aftereffects have unfolded in Newto … [Read more...]

Mormon Supplemental Worship

I've long held an interest in Mormons who supplement their weekly worship in Latter-day Saint congregations with occasional (or in some cases, very regular) attendance and participation in some other tradition's meetings. That interest was initially sparked by my study of ungathered Latter-day Saint converts in the American South around the turn of the 20th century who, left to make of their new religion what they could in the absence of ordained priesthood and regular church meetings, continued … [Read more...]


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