For more than four decades Jan Shipps, now professor emerita at Indiana University—Purdue University at Indianapolis, has been the most reliable source for non-Mormons about Mormonism. Whenever journalists or academics go searching for an explanation of Latter-day Saint theology or try to deconstruct the latest pronouncement coming out of Salt Lake City or understand some cultural or political development in Utah, we call Jan for the inside scoop because she knows the ins and outs, the nooks and crannies, of Mormondom. Chances are very good that she knows the principals as well, and she can leaven her explanation with some pithy aside that provides invaluable insight into one of the most fascinating—and confounding—movements in all of American religious history.
On the face of it, Jan Shipps is an unlikely insider to the machinations of Mormonism. She is devoutly and resolutely Methodist, not Mormon, and she has the unprepossessing demeanor of somebody’s favorite aunt or grandmother, rather than the attitude of a single-minded and relentless sleuth that one might expect from someone who has gained so much inside information about the workings of the Latter-day Saints. But looks can be deceiving, of course, and those who underestimate Shipps do so at their own peril. Her modus operandi is more Columbo than James Bond, but she is an excellent historian, as Sojourner in the Promised Land demonstrates.