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People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture Hardcover – August 29, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
"Terry L. Givens takes readers on a fascinating tour of the remarkable achievements of Mormon culture; its distinctive contributions to art, literature, music, theater, science, and to the life of the mind. Eventually, one realizes that this is not only a book about Mormon culture, but that it makes a substantial contribution to that culture." --Rodney Stark, author of The Rise of Mormonism
"Terryl Givens provides an elegant introduction to some of the central tenets, practices, and psychic investments of the Mormon faith. Linking Mormon teachings about agency, authority, salvation, and revelation to broader impulses in Christian and American theology and aesthetics, Givens comprehensively explores both the distinctiveness of Mormon cultural production and its continuities with wider religious currents. He describes the contradictions and persistent problems that arise, as they do in all faiths, within the lived experience of Mormonism. An outstanding work of intellectual and cultural studies, People of Paradox represents a creative and singular contribution to the burgeoning scholarship on the Mormon tradition." --Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp, author of Religion and Society in Frontier California
"Givens's proposal that Mormon belief be conceived as a series of paradoxes rather than a set of fixed principles is one of the most significant advances in Mormon thought in a generation. It puts Mormon culture in a brilliant new light. Moreover, by displacing the standard themes from their usual position at center stage and exploring Mormon cultural expression instead, he gives us a fresh, new history of the Latter-day Saints. This book is filled with treasures." --Richard Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
"People of Paradox confirms Terryl Givens's status, if it was ever in question, as the leading mid-career scholar of Mormonism. People of Paradox will likely, for a generation or more, be the statement on Mormon culture with which scholars must wrestle. This well-researched cultural history succeeds brilliantly in what it sets out to do-synthetically identify and explain fundamental issues and trends within Mormon culture. It is even more exceptional as cultural criticism. No summary can adequately convey the elegance of Givens's prose or the subtlety and profundity of his insights. The book is a superb historical introduction and agenda-setting conceptualization of Mormon culture."--Western Historical Quarterly
"This is an impressive work of synthesis that engages a broad secondary literature in discussing each aspect of the Mormon intellectual and artistic heritage. While other scholars have produced excellent studies treating Mormon literature or music or visual arts, Givens is the first to offer a comprehensive survey of key aspects of Latter-day Saint cultural life across the full span of Mormon history. ...The breadth of its coverage, the insightfulness of many of its observations, and the effective use it makes of paradox to provide a richly textured portrait of Mormon intellectual and artistic life make it a solid contribution to the growing field of Mormon studies. It deserves to be widely read and discussed, and its superior literary style insures that enjoyment as well as insight will repay its readers." --American Historical Review
"Givens has accomplished something quite special with this masterful study of Mormon cultural expression: in deriving his discussion of Mormon culture from details of Mormon theology, he suggests a union of the practical and theoretical elements of religious life with a sincerity and seamlessness rarely achieved in academic study." --Choice
Top Customer Reviews
However, this isn't another telling of the history of the church. Givens examines the culture of the church and the various strains within that culture that had their roots in the revelations received by Joseph Smith, the strains of culture brought in by the various groups of immigrant converts, the impact of the various migrations due to persecution, the temporary isolation in the West, and the growing pains of becoming a global church in modernity.
This is an ambitious book that accomplishes the author's aims amazingly well. Givens admits that he has left out material on popular culture and folk expressions that deserve treatment. He also recognizes that some of the Western cultural distinctions of high culture and serious art will have less meaning to an increasing membership outside that cultural heritage.
Givens presents his material in sixteen chapters divided into three parts. Part 1 establishes the "Foundations and Paradoxes in Mormon Cultural Origins".Read more ›
The book mentions paradoxes and I think that they do seem like paradoxes at first blush. However, once you dig in a little more, I think that there is more compatibility than the word paradox implies. A good example is the first chapter: the Iron Rod and the Liahona. An analogy that works for me is to compare life to a football game. The Iron Rod aspect defines what the boundaries of the field of play are and who is on offense and who is on defense along with rules about holding, pass interference. etc. The Liahona aspect is where you get to run any offensive play you want or any defensive alignment you feel is appropriate. Sometimes you are the coach and sometimes you are the player. When you are the coach, you have the responsibility to decide what actions the team should take and when you are the player you have the responsibility to execute your assignment to the best of your ability.Read more ›
Here are some gems that I picked up from the book-
1. To the query about how a strict and somewhat rigid church can be so open to all forms of dancing- "If you can't beat them, supervise them, seems to be the Mormon response."
2. (From a study) "Mormons generally have high expectations for their youth and invest a lot in educating them... These investments pay off in producing Mormon teenagers who are, by sociological standards at least, more religiously serious and articulate than most other religious teenagers in the US."
3. Mormon theology, in contrast with Evangelicals, is much more open to science. That's why BYU can have many programs dedicated to evolution/dinosaurs. Dallin Oaks said, as BYU president, "The bones are there and cannot really be ignored by a major university that is almost literally sitting on top of them."
4. "One paradox of Mormon culture is its rootedness in a rigidly hierarchical, authoritarian church- and yet this church was established in the context of 2 fantastically individualistic phenomena that converged in antebellum America: Western Romanticism & Jacksonian democracy"
5.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This might be the best book on Mormonism I've ever read. On one level it's a book about the cultural history of the Latter-Day Saints, and you'll learn about a great many writers,... Read morePublished 21 months ago by mdromney
Outstanding argument... and one can see this very paradox live and well in the church today.Published 23 months ago by Rod Olson
Terryl Givens is a master of language and of perspective. A courageous scholar who does not shy away from the difficult topics, but gives strong, honest responses. Read morePublished 23 months ago by Adam Brown
Long description of many aspects of Mormon doctrine and culture in great detail. Definitely more detail than I expected, but gave me a good idea of why attitudes are the way they... Read morePublished 24 months ago by jkcook
Much has already been written about the content of this book by other reviewers, so I won't summarise the content in any meaningful way here. Read morePublished on August 13, 2012 by Justin Coulson
Mormons are a people faced with the challenge of living their faith between pardoxical ideals and beliefs. Read morePublished on March 25, 2010 by S. Gunnell
A fantastic book. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about Mormons and Mormonism.Published on August 30, 2008 by Mark F. Hedengren
Finally, someone has put together all of the anomalies inherent in the LDS religion and culture. Well, not all. Read morePublished on June 26, 2008 by Marcus Aurelius