Interview at Religion in American History: Race and the Making of the Mormon People

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Andrea L. Turpin at Religion in American History, about Race and the Making of the Mormon People.

Here is a bit of it.

AT: What led you to write Race and the Making of the Mormon People?  

MPM: I’ve shared a bit of my professional and confessional history elsewhere. Let me just add that I’m an outsider—at least superficially—to experiences of Mormonism and “race.” (To be sure, to say that I haven’t experienced “race” is a sign of my privilege. As I hope my book shows, the power and privilege of “whiteness” is the assumption of its ubiquity and universality.) But the experiences of growing up among Mormons in Wyoming and North Carolina, and later coming of age with family members for whom race and religious marginalization were ever-present realities, informed the way I see the world as a person and as a scholar.

As for Mormonism, other scholars have observed that, like the Jews, the Irish, and the Italians, Latter-day Saints were once racial and religious others who succeeded in becoming “white”—in fact exemplary “white” Americans. In Race and the Making of the Mormon People, I wanted to tell a story about non-white Mormons—in particular, to examine how they set down their own “sacred pasts,” to borrow from Laurie Maffly-Kipp. These sacred pasts have long been excluded in both the official Mormon narrative as well as the narrative that outsiders have imposed upon the Mormon people. And when we examine these narratives, we find a handful of African-American and Native-American Mormons who wrote themselves into the “Mormon archive”—which I conceptualize as the written and oral texts that compose the Mormon people’s collective memory. They did so in order to claim their place among the prophets and pioneers that mark membership in early Mormon history.

AT: You state in your introduction: “History makes theology. But theology makes history, too.” What do you mean by this?

MPM: What I mean directly relates to the question of race in American history. What are the origins of America’s racial (racist) views that seem so impossible to unseat from our collective consciousness and, perhaps more importantly, from our institutions? We know that antebellum Americans often justified divisions between white and black Americans by pointing to their Bibles. Proslavery advocates declared that people of African descent were cursed to be the “servants of servants.” At the same time, enslaved and free African Americans saw themselves as a chosen people, akin to the enslaved Israelites awaiting liberation out of the American Egypt.

Read the rest here.

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