Terryl Givens’ ‘People of Paradox’ is an important attempt to develop a theoretical and empirical account of Mormon Culture. In this post, I want to take issue with his exploration of the transition in Theatre. In short I believe Givens has failed to situate Mormonism’s approach to Theatre within the broader context of changes in class and highbrow culture in America.
Givens argues that the theatre was important for early Mormons, even though very little original work was published. This interest has diminished. However, his account fails to develop the association between changing Mormon interests and practices and the rise of the ‘highbrow’ in America. Consequently, he misses how the legitimation of the Theatre and the move toward middle-class assimilation shifted the cultural landscape of the Latter-day Saints. Moreover, in trying to provide a ‘cultural history’ of Mormonism he seems to have adopted too readily a contemporary frame of American culture which has invariably shaped that history. As a result, the data Givens pulls together suggest that his argument is a series of holes held together by string. [Read more...]