Believing History

Essays on Latter-day Saint Belief

Book Notice

Believing History: Essays on Latter-day Saint Belief, by Richard Lyman Bushman and edited by Jed Woodworth and Reid L. Neilson (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004)

Those who enjoyed Richard Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling will be just as pleased with Believing History, a collection of Richard Bushman’s essays on Mormon history and his personal beliefs. The essays in Believing History are not necessarily related, but by reading them together one captures the flavor of both the author’s scholarship and his person. The essays span a period of thirty-two years, beginning in 1969 and ending in 2001. They have all been published previously in books and journals, including some in BYU Studies.

The value of Believing History is that it brings all of the essays—and thus, much of Bushman’s thought—into one place. The book also contains a new afterword by Bushman where, like the first two essays of the book, he identifies himself as a “dialogic historian” who is “fighting on both fronts” (281) of critical scholarship and uncritical belief within Mormon studies. In writing to both skeptics and believers, Bushman shows his desire to not alienate readers from either audience.

In adding structure to the collection of essays, the editors—both of whom have studied under Bushman—have divided the selections into three general categories: (1) Belief, (2) The Book of Mormon and History, and (3) Joseph Smith and Culture. While the essays are categorized as such, their richness defies categorization as Bushman addresses a wide array of historical and social issues including the possibilities for faith among skepticism, the roles of the kingdom and Zion in a world dominated by secular corporatism, the urban landscape created by early Mormons, the rhetorical space created by the language of Joseph Smith’s revelations, and the way that sources closest to the Book of Mormon translation are used or ignored by both believing and non-believing historians.


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