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

Religious Studies 190, Graduate Theological Union

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.


  • 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.


Religion in America: Beginnings to 1830; Puritanism and the great awakenings; Emerson and the Break from Puritanism; Joseph Smith and “The Restoration of all things”; “The First Vision”; The Book of Mormon; Christ in the New World; and more


  • Richard Bushman, Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press)
  • Matthew Bowman, The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith (New York: Random House, 2012).
  • A Course Reader is available at Copy Central
  • LDS Scriptures (The Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price) are available on-line or as free downloadable texts at scriptures.lds.org. Free (book of Mormon) or inexpensive print editions are available from LDS.org or from Amazon or other on-line sources. We will also be looking at some biblical passages, but I assume you have a bible (Latter-day Saints use the KJV, but any translation will do.)