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Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930

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A classic study of an influential American religion....Provides both the specialist in religion and the general reader with a thoughtful history of this complex religion.


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A classic study of an influential American religion....Provides both the specialist in religion and the general reader with a thoughtful history of this complex religion.

30 review for Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ty

    Thomas Alexander’s latest monograph on the history of Mormonism from 1890 to 1930 is a revision of his earlier work on the subject, culminating in two previous editions through University of Illinois Press. Alexander’s work has been widely cited among authors and students within the Mormon scholastic community. Recognizing the tremendous growth in Mormon studies publications over the past three decades, Alexander’s third edition of Mormonism in Transition (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 201 Thomas Alexander’s latest monograph on the history of Mormonism from 1890 to 1930 is a revision of his earlier work on the subject, culminating in two previous editions through University of Illinois Press. Alexander’s work has been widely cited among authors and students within the Mormon scholastic community. Recognizing the tremendous growth in Mormon studies publications over the past three decades, Alexander’s third edition of Mormonism in Transition (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012) provides up-to-date research that will likely prove useful to its audience for many years to come. Mormonism in Transition is structured largely in chronological order, beginning with the tumultuous 1890s and the revision of the Church’s social order. Involvement in politics among early Mormon leaders brought significant challenges for some Church members who believed they were obligated to heed the counsel of General Authorities on political positions, not just matters of doctrine. It also ushered in a shift from a closed, community-centered faith to one that was forced to confront a much broader, pluralistic society. In 1891 Wilford Woodruff noted that the Church still had the “right to control the political action of the members of our body” (5). However, by 1898 Church leaders “agreed that they would not interfere in political affairs” (7). Leaders at the time believed General Authorities ought not to run for public office, though the Senate campaign for apostle Reed Smoot would cause the Church to reconsider its position in the political world. Alexander’s treatment of the Smoot hearings is by no means exhaustive, and readily utilizes the research of Kathleen Flake (27) and Michael Paulos (xiv) among several others. Ultimately Alexander agrees with Flake’s thesis that an early twentieth-century legal theory eschewing political extremism allowed Smoot to enter the mainstream of American politics. Though the transition to political pluralism did not occur overnight, the Church’s involvement in politics seemed only apparent when measures worked in the “best interest of the community” (35). This section also sheds light on the reasons why many contemporary Mormons might favor the GOP over the Democratic Party. A decade of anti-Mormon attacks spearheaded by congressional Democrats (most notably Fred Dubois of Idaho) expelled Church members from the Democratic Party. Dubois’ efforts to disenfranchise southeast Idaho’s Mormon majority prompted local Mormon leaders to oppose him on virtually every issue. The inherently anti-Mormon platform of the Idaho Democratic Party hurt their candidates in elections until 1911, primarily because Church members voted en bloc against candidates that openly disparaged Mormon beliefs. In a state where as many as one-third of registered voters were Latter-day Saints, “anti-Mormon politics [did] not work” (35). The transition into the 1920s brought even more policy changes for the Church, including a greater effort to maintain a positive image. The secularization of Utah’s politics forced Church leaders to stop publicly endorsing candidates. The administration of Heber J. Grant operated under a policy that it might support important moral issues, recognizing that even if “public opinion generally supported the move, the Church risked a backlash which could undermine the internal harmony necessary to build the kingdom” (58). This policy seems to provide a precedent under which the modern Church functions, most notably with regard to its positions on same-sex marriage and undocumented workers. Many contemporary Mormon intellectuals have argued that the backlash from Proposition 8 in California damaged the Church’s image for many insiders and a significant, vocal number of outsiders. Likewise, the Church’s relatively moderate stance on immigration has stood at odds with the views advocated by many of Utah’s most conservative Mormon legislators. Another challenge to the Church’s paradigm shift toward modernity was its abandonment of plural marriage. Once regarded as essential for salvation, the phrase “celestial marriage” was almost exclusively used to describe plural marriage prior to the 1890 Manifesto. Faced with scriptural passages like D&C 132:4, Church leaders began to reinterpret Mormonism’s polygamous past with a distinctly monogamous exegesis. According to this new interpretation the “New and Everlasting Covenant” didn’t exclusively refer to polygamy, but also included monogamous temple sealings. Though Mormon fundamentalists were upset about the change, “most considered it little enough in view of the obvious benefits that accrued from a closer harmony to the general attitudes of early twentieth-century America” (74). Alexander continues his latest edition with a discussion of the Church’s financial and administrative changes (79-131). In 1899 for instance, apostles Francis Lyman and John Henry Smith collected salaries of $250 per month, while bishops, stake presidents, and even stake clerks were paid for their service through tithing money (105-106). The death of Joseph F. Smith in November 1918 also clarified the methods for presidential succession. Even before Smith’s death, 39-year-old Church patriarch Hyrum Gibbs Smith was arguing that he ought to lead the Church upon his cousin’s death, solely by his patriarchal lineage (123). Yet others including future Church presidents David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, and Heber J. Grant, argued for the now-accepted position that the president of the Council of the Twelve would assume the leadership of the Church upon the death of the prophet (124). Much like the stories of early Mormons claiming to see Brigham Young transfigured as Joseph Smith during the 1844 succession crisis, several Church members reported seeing Heber J. Grant sounding and looking like Joseph F. Smith. Mormonism in Transition also covers the evolution of the Church’s auxiliary organizations. Prior to the early 1900s the Relief Society enjoyed considerable autonomy from the Church’s priesthood organizations. It “collected funds and maintained its own accounts” (142) which amounted to more than $149,000 in real estate alone ($3.2 million by 2012 standards). It was only in 1915 – under the direction of the First Presidency – that the Relief Society’s finances and property came under the control of local bishops. Alexander also elaborates on the rise of the Church Educational System, (what is, in my opinion at least, the crowning achievement of the Church during its transition). The Church envisioned Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho), Snow College, Weber College (now Weber State University) and Dixie College (now Dixie State College of Utah) as feeder schools for Brigham Young University (174). It was there in 1902 that BYU president Benjamin Cluff decided to embark on an expedition to Central and South America to unearth the Book of Mormon city of Zarahemla, which ultimately ended in failure (176). The book also provides a fascinating glimpse into the Church’s international missionary program in the period between the First and Second World Wars (223-250). By the mid to late 1920s, Mormon missionaries were viewed much more favorably than their predecessors just a decade before. The improved image was shaped at least in part by a Church hierarchy that became increasingly involved in producing intelligible mass media for an audience that extended beyond the borders of the Great Basin. Though Alexander is careful to not to highlight the Church’s growth internationally until the administration of David O. McKay in the late 1960s (246), Alexander helps readers envision a Church that consistently – although not always clearly – sought to share its beliefs in any country willing to open its borders to missionary work. The final portion of Mormonism in Transition focuses on doctrinal developments, as well as the reinterpretation of the Word of Wisdom. Alexander cites the influence of temperance movements stemming from Evangelical Protestants (284) and others as the catalyst for a new interpretation of D&C 89. Prior to Heber J. Grant’s presidency, obedience to the Word of Wisdom was not a prerequisite to entering the temple. Today it represents one of Mormonism’s most unique doctrines. Concerned with the “moral tone of the community in which they lived,” (283) Mormon leaders turned to prohibition and abstinence from tea, coffee, and tobacco as a solution to perceived societal problems. Overall, Alexander presents a sympathetic, albeit balanced view of Mormon history in his latest work. Carefully researched with extensive documentation and use of primary sources, I have no reservations about recommending Mormonism in Transition to virtually any audience. Competent readers of American religious history will find Alexander’s recent treatise an invaluable addition to the ever-growing academic study of Mormonism.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kayla

    A valuable book which covers in detail some fascinating topics only covered in passing in other books. However, there are some truly dull parts, and the author's writing style tends to conceal the interest of his subjects. I didn't need to learn about the fluctuations in the price of sugar in the 1920s or exactly who was postmaster of Ogden in 1900. I suggest that the reader start with the Epilogue, which presents a good summary of the topics covered in this book (as a more complete index should A valuable book which covers in detail some fascinating topics only covered in passing in other books. However, there are some truly dull parts, and the author's writing style tends to conceal the interest of his subjects. I didn't need to learn about the fluctuations in the price of sugar in the 1920s or exactly who was postmaster of Ogden in 1900. I suggest that the reader start with the Epilogue, which presents a good summary of the topics covered in this book (as a more complete index should have done.) Then the reader can pinpoint the topics likely to interest her. Here's a brief list of what is covered in the book: 1) The gradual end of church-sanctioned polygamy, including the Reed Smoot hearings 2) Movement away from a church political party 3) Modernization of church administration 4) Reorganization of priesthood quorums and auxiliaries 5) End of most church-sponsored schools and beginning of seminary and institute programs 6) Tension between communitarianism and capitalism in church communities 7) Missionary work throughout the world, including various governments' opposition to Mormons 8) Change in interpretation of the Word of Wisdom from a recommendation to a commandment 9) Decline in Pentecostal activities such as speaking in tongues, baptism for health, and public prophecy outside priesthood authority 10) Withdrawal of permission for women to bless and heal other women and children 11) Increase in genealogical work and temple activity 12) Standardization of temple ceremonies and redesign of temple garments "From a persecuted, apocalyptic, polygamous sect in the 19th century, the Latter-day Saints had become an increasingly respected church...they fit in well and were increasingly accepted by the society which had worked so hard a generation before to destroy them."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    An indispensable read for anyone (especially LDS) that wants a better understanding of the underpinnings of modern practice and 'recent' history and evolution of the LDS church - it contains significant and relevant historical tidbits that generally left out of most history books but which are huge in the history of the organization which is said to be the precursor to the setting up of the kingdom of God on earth. Particularly timely is the interesting discussion of the financial and political An indispensable read for anyone (especially LDS) that wants a better understanding of the underpinnings of modern practice and 'recent' history and evolution of the LDS church - it contains significant and relevant historical tidbits that generally left out of most history books but which are huge in the history of the organization which is said to be the precursor to the setting up of the kingdom of God on earth. Particularly timely is the interesting discussion of the financial and political history of the church where it is clearly demonstrated how the church owes in large part its current financial stability and past financial salvation to the backing of the Federal government through grants and loan. These loans were provided to help plug the drain of a nationally protected (via tariffs) and subsidized sugar industry - of which the church was a major player in that time period. Quite a shot in the eye to many willfully ignorant saints of today who proudly beat their chests in favor of complete laissez faire republican market ideals and controls. This, as demonstrated by Alexander, is painfully iron In the words of T. Alexander, the early part of the 20th century saw the church leadership "almost constantly" at the door of the federal government looking for handouts for a period of nearly 30 years. But I digress - in any case this work is essential historical reading - although not as well written or organized as it could be, and it ends with a ridiculously short and too simple conclusion - however in the tradition of historians such as Leonard Arrington and progressives such as James Talmage and BH Roberts, Alexander holds true to the high ideals of the Gospel and doesn't sugar coat it like today's PR based perceptions seemingly require. Well, well done Alexander. This book will be a valued one on my home library shelves.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ron Tenney

    What did the Mormon Church look like at it’s one hundredth year anniversary? How did get there? In 1890, the LDS Church was a radical isolated and persecuted religion in the Intermountain West. By 1930, the Church was becoming an international organization and quintessential “American” church. In this history. Thomas Alexander carefully documents not only the changes apparent to the outside world, but the dynamics of tension and change from within the church herself. Rather than detailing a chapte What did the Mormon Church look like at it’s one hundredth year anniversary? How did get there? In 1890, the LDS Church was a radical isolated and persecuted religion in the Intermountain West. By 1930, the Church was becoming an international organization and quintessential “American” church. In this history. Thomas Alexander carefully documents not only the changes apparent to the outside world, but the dynamics of tension and change from within the church herself. Rather than detailing a chapter by chapter summary, a few observations are in order. The Reed Smoot hearings determining if the United States Senate would confirm and allow him to be seating in the Senate drug out over a four-year period of time. The publicity of these hearing was heard around the world. The Church herself was on trial more than Smoot. The intense scrutiny and hard questions forced the leadership of the Church to consider how the Kingdom of God could fit into a democratic republic. I enjoyed this book but will concede that sometimes the details were of little interest to me. If you are interested in Mormon History, the history of the United States in the Progressive era, or dynamics of change in a closed society, I recommend this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    A.

    This was chock-full of really important information about this period of LDS history, and is (to my knowledge) the only book that deeply addresses it. So it's really important. But also, sadly, this was extremely boring and tedious to read, and suffered from a serious lack of copy-editing and thoughtful historical analysis (except for the Word of Wisdom part, which was quite engaging). This was chock-full of really important information about this period of LDS history, and is (to my knowledge) the only book that deeply addresses it. So it's really important. But also, sadly, this was extremely boring and tedious to read, and suffered from a serious lack of copy-editing and thoughtful historical analysis (except for the Word of Wisdom part, which was quite engaging).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lyndsey Thackston

    This book was well organized and had important information. However, it was incredibly dry and completely ignored the important contributions of women during this era.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Samuel

    This is a clever book that begins to unravel the transformation of the Mormon Church's image from that of bearded extremist polygamists to clean-shaven mainline monogamists. In addition to transitioning away from polygamy, theocracy, and economic entanglements by the Mormon Church, Alexander chronicles the re-emphasis on tithing, the economic off-shooting of educational facilities and centralizing curriculum, and the rigid enforcement of the Word of Wisdom (partially in response to social and po This is a clever book that begins to unravel the transformation of the Mormon Church's image from that of bearded extremist polygamists to clean-shaven mainline monogamists. In addition to transitioning away from polygamy, theocracy, and economic entanglements by the Mormon Church, Alexander chronicles the re-emphasis on tithing, the economic off-shooting of educational facilities and centralizing curriculum, and the rigid enforcement of the Word of Wisdom (partially in response to social and political movements in the US--prohibition) as efforts to form a more sustainable identity that distinguished Mormons from non-Mormons but without offending American sensibilities. This is impressive scholarship and an interesting time period in which the Church becomes more corporate but also more expansive.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sam Newton

    This is a great book for understanding the major transition mormonism underwent at the beginnings of the 20th century. Doesn't have much of a narrative per se, nor does Alexander make much of an argument. But he does detail how the church changed in virtually every aspect over this 40 year period. Women stopped performing priesthood ordinances, the Word of Wisdom became a mandatory moral code, church organization became more centralized, etc. Great book. This is a great book for understanding the major transition mormonism underwent at the beginnings of the 20th century. Doesn't have much of a narrative per se, nor does Alexander make much of an argument. But he does detail how the church changed in virtually every aspect over this 40 year period. Women stopped performing priesthood ordinances, the Word of Wisdom became a mandatory moral code, church organization became more centralized, etc. Great book.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jake

    This is a fascinating review of the changes that occured within the Church from 1900-1930. The book reviews the Church's political, doctrinal, structural, missionary, and auxiliary changes in a post-polygamy setting. For me the book was a powerful reminder of how the LDS Church has continued to grow line upon line and in response both to the needs of the Church and the changes in the world. This is a fascinating review of the changes that occured within the Church from 1900-1930. The book reviews the Church's political, doctrinal, structural, missionary, and auxiliary changes in a post-polygamy setting. For me the book was a powerful reminder of how the LDS Church has continued to grow line upon line and in response both to the needs of the Church and the changes in the world.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Corey Astill

    Must-read for students of LDS history. Alexander shows how a number of doctrines and spiritual practices evolved, as well as how the church administrative system began to form post-polygamy. Great read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    Some chapters were tedious others were great but the last two (the ones on the Word of Wisdom and changing doctrines) were phenomenal. My longer thoughts on this: https://nomoremeetings.wordpress.com/... Some chapters were tedious others were great but the last two (the ones on the Word of Wisdom and changing doctrines) were phenomenal. My longer thoughts on this: https://nomoremeetings.wordpress.com/...

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    Wow, there is a lot in this book. I am not sure how much I retained, but it was certainly an interesting time period to study.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Baden

    Really interesting history of the church during these years.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Viliami

    If for nothing else, this book offers the most concise and accurate treatment of the "Word of Wisdom" to date. If for nothing else, this book offers the most concise and accurate treatment of the "Word of Wisdom" to date.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Shane

  16. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nick Literski

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michael Paulos

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael Harris

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Robinson

  21. 4 out of 5

    Matt

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Milliner

  23. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jake

  25. 5 out of 5

    Greeneggs80

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michael Robertson

  27. 5 out of 5

    Hugh

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christian Larsen

  29. 5 out of 5

    Elliot Bagley

  30. 4 out of 5

    Austin Archibald

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