The eminent historian Richard Bushman here reflects on his faith
and the history of his religion. By describing his own struggle to
find a basis for belief in a skeptical world, Bushman poses the
question of how scholars are to write about subjects in which they
are personally invested. Does personal commitment make objectivity
impossible? Bushman explicitly, and at points confessionally,
explains his own commitments and then explores Joseph Smith and the
Book of Mormon from the standpoint of belief.
Joseph Smith cannot be dismissed as a colorful fraud, Bushman
argues, nor seen only as a restorer of religious truth. Entangled
in nineteenth-century Yankee culture -- including the skeptical
Enlightenment -- Smith was nevertheless an original who cut his own
path. And while there are multiple contexts from which to draw an
understanding of Joseph Smith (including magic, seekers, the Second
Great Awakening, communitarianism, restorationism, and more),
Bushman suggests that Smith stood at the cusp of modernity and
presented the possibility of belief in a time of growing
When examined carefully, the Book of Mormon is found to
have intricate subplots and peculiar cultural twists. Bushman
discusses the book's ambivalence toward republican government,
explores the culture of the Lamanites (the enemies of the favored
people), and traces the book's fascination with records,
translation, and history. Yet Believing History also sheds
light on the meaning of Joseph Smith and the Book of
Mormon today. How do we situate Mormonism in American history?
Is Mormonism relevant in the modern world?
Believing History offers many surprises. Believers will
learn that Joseph Smith is more than an icon, and non-believers
will find that Mormonism cannot be summed up with a simple label.
But wherever readers stand on Bushman's arguments, he provides us
with a provocative and open look at a believing historian studying
his own faith.
Subjects: Religion, Sociology, History
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