Here’s a taste!
The Book of Mormon was published in 1830, a time in United States history replete with racial struggles and negotiations. In such an environment, this new “gospel of Christ” was inevitably intertwined with the racial and national debates of the era. In his book, Race and the Making of the Mormon People, Max Perry Mueller explores this history through some of Mormonism’s forgotten historical figures—black and Native American Mormon converts—and shows that while creating a theology of Mormon whiteness, The Book of Mormon also, somewhat ironically, enabled avenues for challenging white dominance in both Mormon history and American, history more broadly. On November 20th, 2017, at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Boston, I had the pleasure to meet with Dr. Mueller to discuss his recent book. –Kirsten Boles, Assistant Editor
KB: How did Mormons help shape the concept of race in America, and what role did theology play in this process?
MPM: My book looks at race in America in the early nineteenth century, specifically Mormons as a case offering a unique theology and history. The book also looks towards Mormons as representative of larger issues. One of the tasks of the book is to return to a time in the American past when race was not a secularized concept. Race has become secularized. It’s a box to check on a census form. It’s also an experience of state-sponsored privilege—lighter sentences for cocaine instead of crack. It’s also an experience of state-sponsored racial discrimination, say, for example, African American men and women harassed, or worse, simply for driving down the street. Part of the reason why racial injustice and inequality have been so hard to overcome today is because we have forgotten their theological roots. Even though we don’t remember the theology of race, it operates in our collective consciousness. It operates at the epistemological level of faith. When certain politicians declare crime rates are going up in “inner cities,” despite evidence to the contrary, part of the reason such rhetoric resonates is that ideas of race—in particular the black male body as a site of violence and threat to the whiter wider world— are theological.
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