Generally speaking, Latter-day Saint knowledge of Church history after 1847 is spotty at best. The reason for this deficit is that most Church members read little LDS history beyond what they get once every four years in Gospel Doctrine class, and, until recently, the curriculum covered little after the Saints’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. Twentieth-century history, in particular, is largely uncharted territory, especially the latter half of the century. A few historians and biographers have tried to correct this deficiency in the past decade or so. The latter portion of Matthew Bowman’s The Mormon People comes to mind, as do David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, by Gregory A. Prince and Wm. Robert Wright; Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, by Edward L. Kimball; the last two sections of Mapping Mormonism: An Atlas of Latter-day Saint History, published by BYU Studies; and a smattering of articles appearing in the Journal of Mormon History and other scholarly venues.
This means that the anthology Out of Obscurity: Mormonism since 1945 should be of interest to many readers who are curious about this period of LDS history. As one of the editors, Patrick Mason, puts it in his introduction, “We need more robust, multifaceted, and analytical accounts of Mormonism in the period of its greatest growth, acceptance, and success as an increasingly global church” (5). This volume definitely succeeds in contributing to that goal. Divided loosely into four parts—“Internationalization,” “Political Culture,” “Gender,” and “Religious Culture”—the book features essays by an impressive roster of scholars on an array of historical topics.
In part 1, Nathan B. Oman explores the international legal experience of the Church and what he calls a “Mormon theology of state.” Taunalyn F. Rutherford then examines questions surrounding the Church’s decision to expand into India.
Part 2, the longest in the anthology, includes essays by Patrick Mason on Ezra Taft Benson and modern conservatism; J. B. Haws on the presidential campaigns of George Romney and his son Mitt; James Dennis Lorusso on LDS media and the Mormon embrace of free enterprise; Max Perry Mueller on protests in and around Temple Square; and Neil J. Young on Mormon political involvement in issues surrounding same-sex marriage (primarily the ERA and Proposition 8).
In part 3, Amanda Hendrix-Komoto addresses modesty, sexuality, and race in the Mormon Pacific, with a specific focus on the Polynesian Cultural Center; Kate Holbrook looks at “Housework: The Problem That Does Have a Name”; Caroline Kline examines the softening and reimagining of Mormon male headship ideologies; and Kristine Haglund discusses the rise and popularity of the “Mormon Mommy Blogs.”
Matthew Bowman begins part 4 with a look at the Evangelical countercult movement and Mormon conservatism, followed by Rebecca de Schweinitz’s essay on the Mormon effort in the 1960s and 1970s to hold onto the “Chosen Generation.” Sara M. Patterson then discusses the sesquicentennial celebrations of the Mormon arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. The final essay in the book is by John Turner, who explores the interplay between the Church, its history, and religious authority, building around a statement by LeGrand Richards to Juanita Brooks: “All the truth does not always need to be told” (323).
There is no central theme to this volume. It is a true anthology, a collection of stand-alone essays on a diverse assortment of topics in LDS history that share one commonality: post–World War II Mormonism. For those who find their knowledge of LDS history in this period lacking, Out of Obscurity provides a sometimes fascinating, though uneven, glimpse of the LDS experience since 1945.