[This post is co-authored by Ben Park and Joey Stuart, the two conveners for this month's topical series.]
Tomorrow, we celebrate the Fourth of July. In certain ways, the celebration embodies many aspects of our historical memory: the focus on the decisions made by white men separated from combat instead of the individuals who had risked their lives in battle for over a year, the sacralization of ideals that remained divorced from reality for many decades, and, most importantly, the emphasis on political language and principles over the practical ramifications and cultural experiences that resulted from those decisions. The document, words, and ideas of the Declaration of Independence are important, of course, but our narrow focus on a simple parchment written as a de-facto justification for actions that had already been taking place for months before, and would continue for years after, on our celebration of the nation’s “founding” highlights the limited nature of not only our historical memory, but also the way in which we define “politics.
Mormonism intersects with politics in many fascinating and important ways, and has received much focus in the past. Indeed, two of the best-received and most-respected volumes in the field have dealt with the role Mormonism played in American constitutional conflict (Sally Gordon’s Mormon Question) and legislative identity politics (Kathleen Flake’s Politics of American Religious Identity). We’ve received many treatments ranging from Joseph Smith’s political thought (Mark Ashurst-McGee) to the LDS Church’s role in the Equal Rights Amendment saga (Martha Bradley), from Utah theocracy (Patrick Mason) to J. Reuben Clark’s political career (D. Michael Quinn). More work is currently on the way, including a look at polygamy within American domestic policy debates (Christine Talbot) and the political thought of Ezra Taft Benson (Mason, again). Many more works could be mentioned.
This month, we at the JI are hosting a string of posts that focus on the intersections between Mormonism and politics. But while we will feature a few that deal with the traditional notion of “politics”—legislative acts, legal considerations, and political beliefs—we hope to also demonstrate the fruits of broadening the framework, especially using the tools of political culture that has been increasingly popular in the field of American history during the past two decades. How do the experiences of the disenfranchised influence those who supposedly make the decisions? What is the impact of various decisions and policies (whether deliberate or ironic) on both the governors and the governed? Put simply, what is the porous relationship between those in power and those supposedly under their rule? This approach aims to capture more voices, dynamics, and demographics in encompassing the wider and more complicated essence of the American experience.
So over the next few weeks, we will not only explore the poignant and still important interconnectedness of Mormonism and American politics, but also the very nature of “politics” in and of itself. How do we typically define the category? What are the benefits and pitfalls of that approach? Are there more fruitful frameworks? Guests include many of those mentioned above, as well as many others, and posts will include both methodological ruminations as well as practical applications.
We hope you will participate with us in what should be a fun and informative ride.