Today we are seeing Mormon Studies slowly emerge as a legitimate field of study in the academy. Endowed chairs have been established at Utah State and Claremont Universities with more on the horizon; courses on Mormonism and Mormon-themed scholarly conferences are found at schools across the nation; and several university presses are publishing major works in the field. The LDS Church has published two articles in its newsroom on the subject, one in 2008 here and one in 2007 here.
Both newsroom articles take a warm and welcome approach to this new era of scholarship. It appears we are moving into a period where scholars are beginning to take Mormonism seriously and the Church is recognizing that, as the newsroom article puts it, “Mormonism has a depth and breadth of substance that can hold up under academic scrutiny.”
For the past few years, I have taught Mormon Literature at Utah Valley University, where, I believe, we offer more classes on Mormon themes than any other school. I have come to believe that Mormon fiction, poetry, drama, and film should be a central focus for scholars seeking to understand and teach Mormonism. Far too often, textbook descriptions of Mormonism tend to “flatten” out the diversity and complexity of the religion, and I see Mormon literature as a corrective to this tendency, enlarging the view and pointing out the breadth of Mormon thought. Terryl Givens’ book People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture provides numerous examples of the value of Mormon cultural production in expanding the vision of Mormonism. He demonstrates that the tensions within Mormon thought give rise to our culture, that great art emerges only when Mormon artists take the religion and theology seriously. And he also documents a more robust version of Mormonism than that portrayed in many Religious Studies textbooks.
So my question for AML blog readers is this: if you were suddenly asked to teach a course on Mormonism at a secular university, what works of Mormon fiction, poetry, drama, and film would you use and why? What works best depict the history and theology of Mormonism? And what works do you see as giving this broader, more robust, view of Mormonism?