Scholars & Saints

What Is Mormon Studies? (feat. Patrick Q. Mason)

March 12, 2024 UVA Mormon Studies Season 2 Episode 1
What Is Mormon Studies? (feat. Patrick Q. Mason)
Scholars & Saints
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Scholars & Saints
What Is Mormon Studies? (feat. Patrick Q. Mason)
Mar 12, 2024 Season 2 Episode 1
UVA Mormon Studies

What is Mormon Studies? How does one do it? In what way does it fit into the broader field of Religious Studies? In this all-new season of Scholars & Saints, UVA Religious Studies Ph.D. student Nicholas Shrum goes back to the basics of the discipline with renowned LDS historian and Utah State University professor Patrick Q. Mason. The two discuss Dr. Mason's personal journey to Mormon Studies, his experience in making it educationally accessible and engaging, and his broader insights into the field.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

What is Mormon Studies? How does one do it? In what way does it fit into the broader field of Religious Studies? In this all-new season of Scholars & Saints, UVA Religious Studies Ph.D. student Nicholas Shrum goes back to the basics of the discipline with renowned LDS historian and Utah State University professor Patrick Q. Mason. The two discuss Dr. Mason's personal journey to Mormon Studies, his experience in making it educationally accessible and engaging, and his broader insights into the field.

(00;00;00) Scholars and Saints Introduction
Nicholas Shrum: You're listening to Scholars and Saints, the University of Virginia Mormon
Studies podcast. On this podcast, we dive into the academic study of Mormonism, where we
engage recent and classic scholarship, interview prominent and up-and-coming thinkers in the
field and reflect on Mormonism’s relevance to the broader study of religion. Scholars and Saints
is brought to you by support from the Richard Lyman Bushman Endowed Professorship of
Mormon Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. The
podcast was founded by UVA Religious Studies Ph.D. candidate Stephen Betts. For the past
several years, Stephen spoke with dozens of Mormon studies scholars and helped connect
thousands of listeners to the world of Mormon Studies. Starting this year in 2024, I, Nicholas
Shrum, a Ph.D. student in religious studies at UVA, will carry on the podcast goal of exploring
some of the most pressing issues and cutting edge methods in Mormon studies and put them in
conversation with scholarship from the discipline of religious studies.
(00:01:04) An Overview of Dr. Mason:
NS: On today's episode, I chat with Dr. Patrick Q. Mason, Professor of Religious Studies and
History, the Leonard J. Arrington, chair of Mormon History and Culture and the director of the
Religious Studies Program at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Dr. Mason received a
bachelor's in history from Brigham Young University and master's degrees in history and
international peace studies and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Notre Dame. In our
conversation today, we discuss how Dr. Mason became involved in the academic study of
Mormonism, what Utah State's program has to offer students and the broader academy, and his
thoughts on what Mormon Studies is, including how one teaches it, what makes it attractive to
scholars, along with its limitations. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Dr. Patrick Mason.
(00:01:58) Professor Mason’s Introduction:
NS: Welcome, everybody, to the University of Virginia Mormon Studies podcast, Scholars and
Saints. Today on the podcast, we're going to be speaking with Patrick Q. Mason, a professor of
religious studies and history at Utah State University.. Today, we're going to be talking about
Mormon studies in general. We're going to talk about his intellectual background, his interest in
Mormon studies as a field of study, and some of the directions and other insights that he might
have into Mormon studies. So please join me in welcoming Patrick to the podcast today. Thank
you, Patrick.
Patrick Mason: Thanks, Nicholas. Great to be here.
(00:02:35) Dr. Mason’s Academic Background

NS: Thank you so much. So just to begin, I'd love to ask you about your academic background,
schooling, and research interests. We can get more to the chair that you hold at Utah State. But
I'd love to know more about your background first.
PM: Yeah, sure. So I won't give you the whole life story, but academically. So I went to BYU as
an undergraduate and I'm one of those very strange people who knew exactly what I wanted to
do. So I was a declared history major from day one. I wanted to be a historian. I wanted to be a
history professor. I can't tell you why exactly. My parents aren't academics. I don't think I've ever
met a professional historian. I just knew that's what I wanted to do. And so I went through the
history program there. And I've always been primarily interested in American history. So that's
what I focused on there at BYU. And then I went to the University of Notre Dame for graduate
school, in particular, because of their emphasis on American religious history. For the past
several decades it's been one of the best programs in the country in American religious history.
So I went there. And if you would have asked me in my first couple of years in graduate school,
what I was focusing on– clearly was American history and American religious history–but then
within that, as a kind of subspecialty, I would have told you African-American religious history.
I spent the first two or three years really focusing on that, and won an award for one of the
papers I wrote along those lines. And that was definitely my primary interest. You know, I'd
been interested in Mormonism, in Mormon history, but a little bit more casually. I'd taken a
course at BYU that was really important and formative for me, but it was very much a secondary
interest, partly because of the job market. I figured nobody was hiring Mormon historians,
especially in the 1990s and 2000s. And so it really was an accident. Along the way, I also got a
master's degree in International Peace Studies.
I've always been deeply interested in questions of violence and peace, especially religious
violence and religious peacebuilding. And so when it came time to write a dissertation, I was
really interested in the experience of religious minorities in the South, especially between the
first and second Ku Klux Klans. So I wrote a dissertation about violence against religious
minorities, and I thought the story was primarily going to be about violence against Catholics
and Jews, obviously Black Christians as well. But in some ways that's like a I mean, that's that's
a category unto itself: violence against African-Americans, which was so much more extensive
than against any other group. But I really thought it would be a story about Catholics and Jews. I
threw Mormons into the story almost as an afterthought. And it turned out when I got into the
archives–you know, sometimes things surprise you when you actually do research–it turned out
that there was more violence against Mormons than against Catholics and Jews combined in the
late 19th century South. This isn't like the Parley Pratt stuff. This is after the Civil War. And so
that was surprising to me and when it came time to turn the dissertation into a book, I had the
choice to either keep that comparative framework or just zero in on what turned out to be my
best case, which was the Mormons. And that's what I chose to do. And so in some ways, very
accidentally, I became a Mormon Studies scholar, and it was right at the time– and I'll finish this
story–but it was right at the time that I published that first book that the Howard W. Hunter Chair

in Mormon Studies was opening up at Claremont Graduate University. Richard Bushman was
stepping aside after having opened that position and been there for three years and through a
series of rather unlikely circumstances, I ended up getting that position. So in the space of a few
short years, I went from Mormon studies, really being kind of a casual interest to it being my
full-time job.
NS: Oh no, that's awesome. And so you mentioned that you had taken–you said it was kind of a
survey course at BYU?
PM: Yeah. It was a course on Mormon History with David Whittaker, who was the long-time
librarian and the curator of Mormon Americana at Special Collections there. So he taught a
course on Mormon history in the history department. This wasn't in Religious Education, so it
was a history course. And that was really my first exposure to the academic study of Mormon. It
was a terrific course. So I give huge credit to David Whittaker as being the earliest and one of the
most significant influences on me in terms of exposing me to this world of what we now call
Mormon studies. And it was just Mormon history.
(00:07:47) What is Mormon Studies?
NS: Got it. So you're introduced to the academic study of Mormonism as an undergraduate.
You're more fully introduced to Mormon studies during your Ph.D. at Notre Dame writing your
dissertation. So it's kind of an interesting question. I am at a university with the Mormon Studies
program. You're at a university with a Mormon Studies chair, and I'm interested in your take on
what Mormon studies is?
PM: Right? Well, it's a terrific question. And actually, there really wasn't such a thing when I
was a graduate student. Especially in graduate school, I was self-taught on all this; none of the
professors really knew anything about Mormonism, even though they were some of the top
experts in the world on American religious history. Their knowledge of Mormonism and
Mormon history was pretty superficial. And so it didn't take long for me to become the expert in
the room when I shifted my focus that way. But Mormon Studies emerged over time, really in
the first decade of this century. I wrote an essay and edited a book a few years ago called
Directions for Mormon Studies in the Twenty-First Century, and to answer your question, I'm
going to do the obnoxious thing of actually reading a few sentences from this.
NS: Please do!
PM: Because I think it puts it a little bit more succinctly than I could just by talking. So in this
essay I said:
“In Mormon studies, Mormonism and Mormons appear as the subject or object of
scholarly study. But the questions, concerns and issues at the heart of the study are

principally generated outside the community of religious believers themselves. In terms
of research, agenda, approach and analysis, Mormon studies is attentive to official church
institutions but not beholden to them and goes far beyond and sometimes contrary to
ecclesiastical concerns and interests. The difference between Mormon studies and church
history is less the topics under consideration, though in practice, they often do vary
significantly, than the orientation of the study. Church history primarily faces inward,
Mormon studies, primarily faces outward. Mormon studies is more engaged with the
academy than the church, more oriented to Athens than Jerusalem, so to speak. It is
chiefly influenced by and in conversation with the categories, theories, paradigms, and
discourse of the secular academy.”
So, I mean, that was the best way that I tried to put it. So it's not the Mormon Studies is better
than church history or denominational histories. They're just different in terms of their
orientation, their approach, their audience. Church history can be equally rigorous, it can be
equally substantive. It can be, you know, equally smart or more so than Mormon Studies. It's just
a different orientation. So that's why at BYU and Religious Education, it's a Department of
Church History. It's focused on the life, the history of the church for church members. Whereas
Mormon studies is more attuned to broader debates and conversations within the academy. It
certainly seeks to be accessible and useful for interested Latter-Day Saints. Its primary
orientation is to the academy, rather to the church, though at least that's that's the way that I
understand the distinction now.
NS: I really like that. And thank you for bringing in that, I mean, excellent succinct definition
that you obviously have thought through extensively over the years. So thanks for bringing that
in. I think one of the misconceptions or the things that people might consider Mormon Studies
when they see that there are programs or journals dedicated to it, is that Mormon Studies is a
discipline, whereas it sounds more like you're saying this is not necessarily a discipline per se,
it's interdisciplinary and it's the questions that you're asking that you can use different disciplines
and methodologies to answer those questions.
PM: Yeah, that's that's exactly right. And I make that point later in this essay. Mormon studies is
an interdisciplinary field in the same way that there are lots of other studies, whether it be
religious studies. My home department here, my home field or American studies or Middle East
studies or something like that. Generally speaking, this is not always consistent, but generally
speaking, “studies” fields are not disciplines in themselves, but they're interdisciplinary fields. So
what unites them is an object or subject of study, whether it be religion, or gender or the Middle
East, or Mormonism. But then the indicator of studies suggests that actually you can bring lots of
different disciplinary approaches to the table in order to understand that thing that the people are
united around. So when I go to the American Academy of Religion Conference, which is the
primary conference for religious studies scholars, you've got historians and theologians and Bible
scholars and linguists and anthropologists and sociologists all in the same room together. So all

with very different disciplinary training. But what brings them together into the same room is
their shared interest around this thing called religion. The same thing would be true of Mormon
studies. It includes Mormon history. I'm a historian–that's that's my disciplinary background. But
Mormon studies is more capacious than that and would include people from other disciplinary
backgrounds, whether it be religious studies, textual studies, literary studies, theology,
philosophy, sociology, and on and on and on.
(00:13:40) Leonard Arrington Chair of Mormon Studies
NS: Oh, excellent. Thank you for that addition. So I'd like to kind of change the conversation to
talking a little bit more about Utah State, the Mormon studies chair, the Leonard Arrington chair.
And I'm curious about what Utah State as an institution brings to Mormon studies as a
conversation within the academy. Can you can you speak to that just generally? And then maybe
we have some other questions with that?
PM: Yeah, sure. So I always have over my shoulder here is a picture of Leonard Arrington, so
he's always looking over me. And for people who may not be familiar, Leonard Arrington is
widely considered to be the father or Godfather of Mormon history. He was an economic
historian. His great book is Great Basin Kingdom, which he published in the 1950s. And one of
the things that Arrington did so successfully is that he showed what it looked like to study
Mormonism without being embroiled in sectarian debates. In other words, not bringing evidence
to the table to either prove or disprove the truth claims of Mormonism, but simply to understand
it as a religious system or as a historical phenomenon in and of itself, essentially the human
dimension of it. And setting aside what God was or wasn't doing on any given day or time. And
so Arrington eventually became the Historian of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
and had a really important career there. But the chair here is named after him because he was a
faculty member here at Utah State University before he became Church Historian. And here at
USU, it's appropriate not only to honor Arrington, but that's very much the spirit in which we're
trying to enter into the study of Mormonism here. So obviously USU was the first place to
establish a Mormon studies position in the secular academy. So the Arrington Church was
established in 2006. Phillip Barlow held it for about a dozen years before I came. And its place is
unique here because we're in the state of Utah and because we're in the Mormon corridor.
But USU really occupies a kind of interesting place within the state of Utah and within the
ecosystem of higher education. For, of course, everyone knows about BYU as the church school
with everything that comes along with that. And then the University of Utah, which is, you
know, the flagship school within Utah's higher education system, has often had a reputation,
whether fair or not, as the “not-BYU” and has–this goes back way back to the 19th century– the
deep conflicts between Mormons and non-Mormons in the state of Utah. USU, you know, we're
kind of tucked up here in Logan and northeastern Utah. We're not on the freeway. We're not kind
of in the major population centers. USU has largely escaped, not entirely, but largely escaped

that very contentious set of debates within Mormon and Utah culture between Mormons and
non-Mormons. And USU, our student body is majority LDS just because of where we are as a
regional state university. That's the population, that demographic that we primarily serve. But it's
always been diverse. We do draw students from all over the region and beyond. The faculty is
very diverse, a lot of them are not from the state of Utah. But it's just not embroiled in essentially
the culture wars that occur here in Utah. So I think there was a lot of wisdom in establishing the
Arrington chair here. It's a little bit more neutral ground than that you find either at BYU or at
the University of Utah. And the whole point here was that the Arrington chair was established
alongside another chair called the Charles Redd chair of Religious Studies. The whole idea was
to establish these two chairs together to create a religious studies program, where we would
study all the religions of the world, but Mormonism would be part of it. Here we are in Utah. So
obviously Mormonism has to be part of the conversation. It would be ludicrous not for it to be
part of the conversation, but that the founders of the chairs wanted to study Mormonism the same
way that we would study Islam or Buddhism or Christianity or any of the other religious
traditions, both critically but sympathetically as well, and with generosity.
And so that's kind of been in the DNA of the Arrington chair, both the person Leonard Arrington
that we honor, but also just the place where we are and our attempt to try to study religion in a
place where everybody knows that religion matters. This is one of the things that my colleagues
in religious studies, all of whom have taught elsewhere, when they came here, they said, “you
know, every other place we taught, we had to fight with our students to convince them that
religion mattered.” You know, they're teaching on the East Coast or wherever. They said, “as
soon as you get to Utah, everybody knows that religion matters, right? That's obvious.” The
question then is how do you engage it? How how do you approach it? And this is where the
skills that we have as religious studies scholars come to play.
NS: Oh, it sounds like a wonderful environment, with a good history and a solid legacy that it's
been established upon. So obviously you and your predecessors in the same role have brought to
Utah State an expertise, whether that's in religious studies or history, in your case both. And it's a
joint appointment in religious studies and history, correct?
PM: Correct. Yeah, the religious studies program is housed within the history department, which
is really congenial for me because I really do feel equally at home and both in both fields. And
so, yeah, that's just the way we're structured here.
NS: Okay. No, that's that's great. So obviously you bring this expertise when it comes to
Mormon studies and the study of Mormonism. What else does the chair or– and I don't want to
misspeak–is there a Mormon studies program?
PM: Only in the loosest notion of that. So there's no there's no formal unit or anything like that
that we call our program. It really is the chair and then any associated activities, anything I do
with it. Although related to but separate from the chair is the Arrington Lecture, which is an

annual event. It's kind of one of the signature events here on campus. This has been going on for
25-30 years and it's housed in the library, but it is also named after Leonard Arrington. So if you
want to talk about kind of all of these activities under the Arrington name, then I guess you can
talk about a program, but again, it's kind of a loose designation.

(00:21:04) Mormon Studies Opportunities at Utah State
NS: That makes sense. So are there other opportunities for students or maybe courses or
conferences, other kinds of events? You mentioned the Arrington Lecture, which is a very
important part of Mormon studies and the conversation broadly. Are there are there courses or
conferences that happen?
PM: Yes. So the main thing on a curricular level is an undergraduate course called “Mormonism
in the American Religious Experience.” So I teach that every spring. I have a colleague, Rebecca
Anderson, who teaches it every fall. It fills every single semester. There's just so much– she
usually has 40 students in the class. I just raised the cap to 100 students in mine, and it still fills
with a waitlist. So this is again, this is the luxury that we're in Utah. And so we have a natural
constituency. Maybe that wouldn't necessarily be true in other places around the country. So
that's the main thing at a curricular level. And that course is just a joy to teach. I love it. Out of
the 100 students that I have in there, of course, I don't ask them anything about their religious
identity, but it becomes apparent in the way that they speak and self-present over the course of
the semester. I'd say that probably 50 to 60% of them are active LDS, many of them freshly
returned missionaries. Another maybe quarter or so are post-Mormon or ex-Mormon with
varying levels and kinds of attitudes and relationships to the institutional church. And then
another quarter or so are people who never have been Mormon, no association with the church,
many of whom are from out of state and landed here and are saying, “Where am I? How do I
understand these people? How do I understand this culture?” And so the course becomes useful
to them in that way. And it is just a joy.
This is where I'm just such a believer in what the secular academy can offer in terms of the study
of religion. Because religion is one of those things that so many people find impossible to talk
about. It's oftentimes quite contentious. People just don't have the skills to do so and it turns into
all kinds of fights and so forth. And our disciplines of religious history and religious studies
have, over the past several decades, come up with a set of tools and methods to be able to talk
about religion in a very productive, constructive way while respecting the beliefs of believers,
but not being beholden to those truth claims and being able to critically examine them. And so
my students just find that course to be kind of an oasis where they can have conversations and
ask questions that they feel like they just don't have a place to do anywhere else in their life. And
so, you know, they're not going to become scholars of Mormonism, most of them. You know, it's
a general education course that are going to go on and do all kinds of other things in their life.

(22:30) But I hope that in that course, really my two goals are to take out some of the fear of
talking about religion. We're talking about Mormonism. But I hope they bring the same kinds of
tools to curiosity about Islam and Catholicism and Judaism and whatever else they encounter in
the world. And then also, again, a set of skills and tools to be able to engage rigorously, but
generously and sympathetically as well, to look at documents, to think about complexity, to think
critically, and to be able to apply those skills more broadly.
So that's a lot of fun. On the graduate level, here at USU, we have a master's degree in history.
We don't have a doctoral program in history and the master's degree is just in history in general.
But obviously, a number of the students, probably a plurality of the students who come to our
program, are interested in Mormon history, either as a primary or secondary interest. And so I
teach a religious history course. So not just Mormon history, but religious history more broadly
to train them on some of the methods and techniques and skills and theories that they need to
study religion academically. But I'm just about to start a new Mormon history course on the
graduate level. I've been doing informal weekly meetings with the students where we just
workshop papers or read articles or something like that. We're just in the process of formalizing
that into an actual course for the graduate students as well. And then we do we host a lot of
extracurricular events, not just for students, but for the general public as well. Speakers and
panels and so forth.
And then we also host conferences here. I think people, because of the dynamics that I described
earlier about, you know, BYU, the University of Utah, some of these other places in Utah,
people have found USU to be a congenial place to have conversations about Mormonism. So
every fall we host the Book of Mormon Studies Association. That's been a terrific partnership.
It's an independent organization, but they just hold their conference here every year. We hosted
the Mormon History Association Conference a couple of years ago. This past year, we hosted the
Association of Mormon Letters. And so I think people see Logan and USU as a nice place to
gather to be able to have these conversations.

(00:26:45) How do you “do Mormon Studies” and “teach Mormon Studies?”
NS: Yeah, it sounds like a great environment, both at those extracurricular graduate levels, but
also like you were saying with that general humanities education for undergraduates, exposing
them to helpful and fruitful ways of discussing religion. It's so important. So on my end thank
you for doing that service, it's so important. So I had two questions that I think are similar, but I
also want to make them specific to Utah State and the work that's being done by students and
yourself there. So the two questions are, one, how do you do Mormon studies, and then how do
you teach Mormon studies? And maybe a way that we could get at that question is by what kinds
of questions are being asked by students that are studying Mormonism at Utah State that you've
advised or in some of the projects that you have or are currently pursuing?

PM: Yeah. No, those are great questions and they are related. One of the things that I firmly
believe, and this comes out of my own training, but I happen to genuinely believe it as well, is
that the best scholars of Mormonism are also expert in other things. They can’t only study
Mormonism all the time. Now, it's turned out just careerwise, at this point, most of my research
and writing is about is about Mormonism. So in some ways that that seems paradoxical, but I
still read very broadly. I teach broadly, I teach lots of other things other than Mormonism. Again,
I was trained mostly on everything other than Mormonism in terms of American religious
history. So certainly in my career, I would say any insight that I've had, any success, I've had
any, you know, the ways that I've been able to think about Mormonism in fruitful ways and
maybe novel ways has been because of my training elsewhere. I know the broader conversations.
I know enough about other religions that it helps me see things or other historical processes or
events and so forth, that it helps me see things in Mormonism that I wouldn't see otherwise. I've
read broadly enough that I have theories and concepts that I can import from other fields and
disciplines to help us understand, help me understand Mormonism.
So my success as a Mormon studies scholar is very much attributable to the fact that I spend a lot
of time intellectually outside of Mormon studies and put those things in conversation. So this is
one of the things I insist on with my students. And that's why in the main graduate course I teach
is religious history, not Mormon history. We're reading widely, I'm giving them a selection of
some of the best scholars and historians. In that course, we focus mostly–again, our master's
program is in history, not religious studies–so we're mostly looking at how historians have
addressed the question, but I do smuggle in some religious studies along the way too, just to help
them think about theories and concepts for how you wrestle with this thing called religion. Now,
if it so happens that you're interested in Mormonism, that a student is, terrific, great. Then we
start talking about the particular field. I get them into the historiography, the sources. One of the
great things about Mormon studies is the primary source material, right? I mean, this is what
attracts so many people to the field. As a historian, it's just like an amazing playground, right?
And what we wouldn't give to have the same kind of source base for the origins of Islam, right?
Or the first two centuries of Christianity. So it's amazing to have as much material as we have to
in terms of the first two centuries of an emergent world religion. It's pretty amazing.
And so that's what I insist on with my students and the ones who are really successful take that to
heart. They see Mormonism as a laboratory. They see Mormonism as a case study. And of
course, they want to pay close attention to the particular topic at hand, but always with broader
questions in mind. Again, Mormon studies, I think, always has an eye on and is in conversation
with the broader academy. So, yes, it may be that Mormonism is your only case study. You may
not be doing comparative work, you may only be working on Mormonism or a Mormon topic,
but you're going to be putting that in context with, you know, these much broader
historiographies and literatures. And so that's that that's how I teach it. That's how I think about
it: Mormonism is just a great laboratory to study history or to study religion.

(00:31:33) Why is Mormonism an attractive field for historians?
NS: That’s a great answer. I would like to go back just briefly to something you mentioned about
the source base for the history of Mormonism, specifically. I think the listeners would be
interested in knowing more. What is it about the history of Mormonism that makes it such an
attractive field for historians and other scholars to go into?
PM: Yeah, it's simply just the historical factor that emerges in the modern period in the age of
print. And so that's one of the things that made the movement successful in the 19th century is
that anybody can have a newspaper in the 19th century. You've got broad literacy for the first
time in world history. So, even lightly educated people like the Smiths and like many other early
Mormon converts are fully literate. And then of course, there's the imperative on the first day of
–literally the first day– that the church comes into existence in the revelation where it says “to
keep a record.” And so Mormonism arises uniquely. This is not true of Islam, of Christianity, of
Hinduism, of Buddhism. You know, these are all religions that emerge in a pre-modern period
where you don't have widespread literacy, you don't have the printing press, you don't have the
kind of mass communication techniques that you do in the modern period. And so it's simply
because of its place in history that from the very beginning, Mormonism leaves this remarkable
historical record in print, but also people's diaries, journals, letters, etc. A good friend of mine,
Collen McDannell, who is a really important Mormon studies scholar as well as originally a
scholar of Catholicism. And she's come over and done a lot of really important work in Mormon
studies. And she told me once, she said, you know, she wrote this incredible book on women in
20th-century Mormonism. And she said, “one of the reasons I could do that is because all these
women left records.” She says, “I've been studying Catholics and Catholic women, you know,
for years. And it's it is so hard to find Catholic women's records, especially in the 19th century
outside of maybe some nuns and some other, you know, kind of formal things. But like ordinary
lay Catholics compared to ordinary lay Mormons who are leaving diaries and letters and all this
kind of stuff?” So that's what makes Mormonism, again–Colleen McDannell doesn't have a dog
in the fight in terms of Mormon truth claims, or somebody like Laurie Maffly-Kipp or Jan
Shipps or Sarah Barringer Gordon or any number of these terrific non-LDS historians. John
Turner! But they come across this incredible source base and they say, “Wow, this gives me an
opportunity to talk about religion, to talk about history in really interesting ways.
NS: Yeah. No, absolutely, thank you for answering that, because I think that's another thing that
people outside of Mormon studies or aren't familiar with how the field has progressed or how it's
evolved over time, they see that it's Mormon studies, it's the study of Mormonism, so it must be
for Mormon scholars, people that identify or affiliate with the institutional Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints or another variety of Mormonism. When in reality the field is just ripe
for the picking for so many people who are interested in so many questions pertaining to to

religion. So that's great. And you've experienced that at Utah State with, I'm assuming, a variety
of faculty and students, as well?
PM: Yeah, exactly. So to see some of the things that the students are able to do here. I have a
master's student who's about to defend her thesis and she's doing a close reading of nineteenth-
century Relief Society minute books. Like this is amazing: ordinary Women on the frontier in
these tiny little newly settled towns have these women's organizations where they are keeping
records of their weekly meetings, just ordinary women. There are not very many other records
like that in nineteenth-century history. I have another graduate student. She's a Ph.D. student at
Baylor right now, Brooke Lefevre, who wrote her master's thesis based on a single woman's
diary, a polygamist wife who struggled with infertility. I mean, this is just an ordinary–this is not
an elite woman, this is not a wealthy woman or highly educated–she's just an ordinary woman.
And so the number of– and you can multiply this, you know, over and over and over again
within Mormon history– that you just don't find the same. Are there documents like that in other
traditions? Yes, but they're much scarcer and generally tend more towards the elite.

NS: Yeah, absolutely. And to that point, it makes sense why Mormon studies, like other related
fields, like religious studies, American studies, or other movements within disciplines like
history, with social history and cultural history, that makes it such an attractive, like you said, a
playground or a laboratory to go and figure those things out in.
(00:37:00) What does Mormon Studies offer the broader academy and what are its
NS: Excellent. So in the little bit of time we have left, I don’t want to take too much of your
time. I just wanted to ask you about what more–and we've already answered part of this, so feel
free to skip over the first part of this–but what does Mormon studies offer the broader academy?
But then maybe what are some of its limitations? We've spoken about how, you know, there are
a lot of pros, a lot of good things to go and explore in Mormonism, but maybe what are some of
its limitations and its other interactions with the broader academy?
PM: Yeah, well, I think that what it has to offer is, we've been talking about that, and it's I mean,
the source base. But Mormonism, especially in the United States–now it gets trickier when we go
outside–but Mormonism has had an outsized influence on American history, proportionate to its
size. Mormons have always been a tiny sliver of the population. But you can tell a lot of really
interesting stories about American history through the lens of Mormonism. That's especially true
in the nineteenth century. But also it's true of the twentieth century. And we're seeing more and
more good work in the twentieth century that shows how Mormonism interacts with the broader
world. For instance, there was a recent book by the scholar Ronit Stahl. She's at Stanford, I think
at Stanford. She wrote a book about the chaplaincy, the history of religious military chaplains,

and she included Mormon chaplains there. And actually it provided a really interesting
counterpoint to some of the other things going on. So this is a scholar not primarily interested in
Mormonism, but by adding Mormons into the story, she's able to able to tell a richer story about
American history and American religion. And we could we could be here all day talking about
examples where that's been the case.
But there are limitations and the primary limitation is simply the size. I mean, Mormons aren't
evangelicals. They aren't Catholics. They haven't been everywhere. They have not, you know,
exerted influence in every sector of society. It's been an overwhelmingly white tradition,
especially in the United States. And then as I mentioned, when you go outside the United States,
the impact and influence of Mormons on those cultures diminishes fairly rapidly just because of
size and historical circumstance. And so I think we're still figuring out a little bit how to tell that
story when it's not about debates over polygamy or when Congress or the Supreme Court are
paying attention, when you don't have armies marching on Utah, you know, and things like that.
You know, the obvious engines of history. How does Mormonism matter, even in a place like
Brazil, where there are now a lot of Mormons? But how does that matter for Brazil, and
Brazilian history, and Brazilian religious studies? Or the Philippines or in a place like Western
Europe where there's a historic presence, but a very marginal presence of Mormons. So I think
we're figuring out how to tell that story. We're figuring out how to tell it in the twentieth century
where it's not just a story of assimilation.
But I think there has to be a certain kind of humility about Mormons. Mormonism as a religion is
so expansive and has a kind of world-conquering mode. And I think there is a sense of that in
Mormon studies, too. Like “we can like we can do it all, right? And everybody should be paying
attention to us and we can change the academy.” I've gotten a little bit more humility in that over
the years, not in the sense that I think Mormonism isn't inherently interesting or that if you're
interested in religion, you wouldn't profit from knowing something about Mormonism. But it's a
big world out there. Mormons are just a little part of it. And so I think we will make our
contributions. We will, you know, continue to do good scholarship. It's a robust field. People
from outside the tradition who come into the field note immediately how robust it is, how
collegial it is, how rigorous it is. And so it is it's an exciting field, but it's just one field. And I
don't think Mormonism can tell you everything you need to know about history, and religion,
and life, and the cosmos. You know, so I think having combining both the ambition and energy
that has driven the field for the past several decades with also a little bit of humility, that in fact,
we're not going to take over the academy, nor should we. We'll just occupy our own place within
it and contribute to larger conversations while we learn from them. I think that might be a good
dynamic moving forward.

(00:42:15) Professor Mason’s Current and Future Projects/Close

NS: Perfect. That was an excellent way to to answer one of the final questions that I had for you,
which was: where do you see Mormon studies going, or what's what's the future of it? And as we
close out, are there any projects that you're working on currently? You mentioned, I think a few,
but any projects that you're working on in Mormon studies that the listeners can look forward to
in the future?
PM: Yeah, well, I've just recently published a book called Proclaim Peace, which is it's kind of
a hybrid Mormon studies–it actually sits very much on the boundary of oriented to the academy
and oriented to the religious community. It's a little bit of a strange book that way, but it's
informed by my peace studies interest. And so it's a theology of nonviolence from the Mormon
tradition. So I continue to be very interested in those kinds of questions and active, and I want to
continue to develop conversations around Mormonism and peacebuilding. But the main
academic project that I'm working on right now is a book about Ezra Taft Benson. Obviously,
the president of the church in the 1980s and early 1990s, but also Secretary of Agriculture under
Dwight Eisenhower, a long-time conservative. And so I'm writing a book about him and trying to
situate him within the broader history of postwar American conservatism.
NS: Excellent. Well, thank you again, Patrick, for joining the podcast today and for sharing a
little bit more about Utah State and the Mormon studies Leonard Arrington chair there in Logan.
Thank you again for your time.
PM: Thank you.
(00:44:02) Outro
NS: I hope you enjoyed this episode of Scholars and Saints. Please be sure to come back to hear
more conversation soon. Music for this episode is provided by Ben Hammington. To hear more,
visit Mormon guitar .com. Thank you so much for listening.

Scholars and Saints Introduction
An Overview of Dr. Mason
Professor Mason's Introduction
Dr. Mason's Academic Background
What is Mormon Studies
Leonard Arrington Chair of Mormon Studies
Mormon Studies Opportunities at Utah State
How do You "do Mormon Studies" and "Teach Mormon Studies?"
Why is Mormon Studies an Attractive Field for Historians?
What does Mormon Studies Offer the Broader Academy and What are its Limitations?
Professor Mason's Current and Future Projects/Conclusion