A Smattering of Brieviews, part 3: Fluhman

Spencer Fluhman has just published his big monograph, a careful and illuminating reworking of his excellent PhD dissertation. His brief and powerful book argues, I think successfully, that American Protestants used Mormons to try to decide what religion might mean in the aftermath of disestablishment. Whatever else it meant, Protestants decided, religion did not mean Mormonism, no matter how biblical and/or Christian Mormonism might seem. I think Spencer does an excellent job of showing how simplistic and misleading prior arguments about whether persecution of Mormons was religious or non-religious ultimately are. Not even the participants were sure what was religion and what wasn’t, and they had a vested interest in imagining that they were deeply committed to religious voluntarism (idea that people can choose which church to support/join, basically the opposite of establishment) and toleration. Was the Mormon persecution religious in nature? Yes, in fascinating and important ways, it was. Recognizing differences in theology, context, and century, Fluhman does for early Mormonism what Hugh Urban did for Scientology.[1] Theirs are important reminders that when one group classifies another, those classifications tell a great deal about both those who classify and those who are thereby classified.[2] I’m also taken by the extent to which Fluhman draws attention to the kinds of cultural collisions that occur when groups differ on axioms that are generally unspoken or when one group points out flaws in the strange and ultimately arbitrary solutions another group has developed over the years to account for important cultural phenomena. The book incites some good thinking. I bought my copy from Benchmark Books.

[1] I believe there are substantial, important differences between Mormonism and Scientology and mentioned the comparison for academic purposes rather than to ignite the sneerful flames of drive-by comparisons of the two movements. The Urban book is really quite good.
[2] I offer here a spare ‘m’ as a sort of peace offering to anyone who was tempted to consider ‘whom’ instead of ‘who’ in that last sentence. You don’t actually need it, but I don’t ever want to be seen as miserly when it comes to letters.


  1. Urban, tantric thought and the occult would probably drawn more comments. :)

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