Why Do Americans Love Pope Francis?

The other day, I was talking to my students about how the press has been giving Pope Francis very positive coverage. We hear often about phone calls he makes to a grieving, troubled people, or about his latest rejection of the costly privileges of the papacy. Facebook lights up with photos of the pope embracing disabled people, or indulging the antics of children. We’re still in the honeymoon phase with this pope and the press and average Americans, no doubt, will grow more critical of the … [Read more...]

We Are Special!: Religion, Historical Memory, and Regional Identity

Over the last week I’ve been re-reading Carol F. Karlsen’s book on witchcraft in Puritan New England and, strangely, this has reminded me how deeply religious traditions have shaped regional cultures and identities in the U.S. I grew up in Andover, Massachusetts, one of the centers of the witchcraft hysteria of 1692. We’d visit Salem and all the historical (and tacky) commemorations of that event. I assumed everyone knew a lot about the Puritans and witchcraft. And the Pilgrims and how … [Read more...]

A Review of Darren Wilson’s “Finding God in the Bible”

"Read any commentary and it'll pretty much explain the symbolism. My question is much, much simpler than that." -- Darren Wilson, Finding God in the Bible, pp. 193-194 The title is intriguing: Finding God in the Bible. It seems meant to work against what is now a several-centuries-old tradition of interpreting biblical texts without reference to God, without insisting that scripture is to have anything more than canonical weight. And Bill Johnson's foreword to the book would seem to confirm … [Read more...]

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 … [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 … [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...]

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...]

Latter Day Conversions: Divided Families and Reconciled Relationships

As a twenty-year old leader in my college youth group, I was asked one day to call a friend who had been active in our youth group but lately had been meeting with the Mormon youth group on campus. Her parents were quite concerned, as she also had begun meeting with two LDS missionaries who were set on baptizing her. And, she was romantically interested in an LDS boy. "Not good...not good at all," I mumbled to myself. Now, you should know that my youth group was affiliated with a church that … [Read more...]


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