SYLLABUS: Robert Rees, “Mormonism: How an American Faith Became a New World Religion”

Religious Studies 190, Graduate Theological Union

Course Description:

Mormonism is a distinctly American religion that has grown from six members in 1830 to a worldwide membership of 14,000,000, becoming, as one critic predicted, “the first major faith to appear on earth since the Prophet Mohammed rode out of the desert.” Emerging from the “burned-over district” of Western New York during the Second Great Awakening, Mormonism claims to be a restoration of primitive Christianity with modern prophets, continuing revelation, a set of unique doctrines, and its own sacred texts, including the Book of Mormon. This course examines the origins, history, and evolution of Mormonism, including the religious and cultural context out of which it emerged, the foundational visionary experiences of its first prophet (Joseph Smith), and its reflection of the stresses and strains within the dominant American religious culture. Topics include such subjects as the persecution of Mormons, their exodus to the Great Basin Kingdom, polygamy and family life, the Latter-day Saint Plan of Salvation, the “Mormon Moment,” and the future of Mormonism.

Course Objectives:

  • To examine the cultural and religious context in which Mormonism emerged as a unique American religion;
  • To introduce students to the core beliefs and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints;
  • To consider Mormon doctrine, theology and practice within the Judeo-Christian tradition;
  • To discuss the tensions within Mormonism itself and between the Church and American society;
  • To assess the future of Mormonism as a world religion.

Required Texts:

  • Richard Bushman, Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, ) NB: To get an overview of Mormonism, students are expected to have read this brief introduction by the third class session (September 19).
  • Matthew Bowman, The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith (New York: Random House, 2012).
  • A Course Reader (R) is available at Copy Central
  • LDS Scriptures (The Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price)