Origins

Scholarly approaches to Mormonism have also been influenced by the resurgence of critical and apologetic debates, and many scholars no longer seek to employ the phenomenological models of functional objectivity popular with the New Mormon historians. John L. Brookes's award-winning 1994 history of early Mormonism entitled The Refiner's Fire accepted as fact Joseph Smith's invention of revelatory experiences and highlighted Smith's heavy borrowing of hermetic and Swedenborgian modes of thought and ritual in the construction of Mormonism. In 2000, Mormon scholar Teryl Givens published By the Hand of Mormon, a literary and historical look at The Book of Mormon that focused on its role in early Mormon thought as well as the contentious debates that the book has spurred in recent years. While Givens presents his work as an open airing of criticisms and the response offered to them by FARMS and other apologetic groups, Givens clearly favors the FARMS arguments, and offers them up without the same vigorous critique to which he subjects the work of anti-Mormon authors. Both books were published by prestigious presses (Cambridge and Oxford respectively), which suggests that a new era of sectarian warfare may be afoot in the scholarly arena.

Although it is possible that cooler heads may eventually prevail and relegate the boisterous insider/outsider debates to the scholarly margins, the success of Mormonism and the persistent presence of Mormons in prominent political, economic, cultural, and ecclesiastical roles will tend to encourage partisan wrangling in the interpretation of Mormonism's past and resist less polarized modes of historical discourse.


Study Questions:
1.     What are the three “camps” of historical commentary on Mormonism? What does each believe?
2.     Explain the prophet/fraud dichotomy.
3.     What did Fawn M. Brodie write that has created a controversy within the Mormon church? Why is the book still popular today?
4.     How have scholars created debate about Mormonism?

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