Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp (Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and author of Religion and Society in Frontier California) and Reid L. Neilson (Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Brigham Young University and author and editor of several books, including Taking the Gospel to the Japanese) combine their expertise in this latest volume, Proclamation to the People: Nineteenth-Century Mormonism and the Pacific Basin Frontier. The Pacific Basin extends “from the west coast of the United States and South America, across the Pacific Islands from Hawaii to Tahiti, down to New Zealand and Australia, and up to Japan” (3). Maffly-Kipp and Neilson acknowledge that such a broad stretch of geography cannot be covered in detail in a 350-page book: “A single volume of essays can highlight only a few specific geographical areas and historical moments” (4). However, readers interested in early Mormon history outside of the Intermountain West will find that this book provides unique glimpses into what was happening elsewhere in the world. “The Pacific Basin has been a crucial part of Mormon history for nearly the entire lifespan of the LDS Church” (3), the editors note. The gospel was preached in Australia and Tahiti before the Saints arrived in Utah, and shortly thereafter the work spread to Hawaii.
Proclamation to the People is divided into five sections: the Pacific Basin Frontier, with an introduction surveying the religious history of the entire area; the Americas, which includes essays on San Bernardino, Parley Pratt’s mission to Chile, and Pratt’s relationship with the San Francisco press; Polynesia, which covers both members and missionaries in Polynesia and the Polynesians who settled Iosepa, Utah; the region known as Australasia, which examines the gathering of Australian Saints and missionary work in New Zealand; and Asia, which describes Mormons’ encounters with and perceptions of Asians, both in the Pacific and in Utah.
I especially enjoyed Maffly-Kipp’s essay in which she challenges the dominant narrative of mainly “westward movement, of gradual and inexorable discovery of distant things by people from eastern states.” She argues that all the movements, “northward from Mexico, southward from Canada, and especially eastward from Asia” (22) “have contributed to our present religious climate” (41).
I also appreciated “The Rise and Decline of Mormon San Bernardino” by Edward Leo Lyman, who explains why “the spirit of cooperation and harmony” disappeared and “why the successful Mormon community of San Bernardino disintegrated so rapidly” (51). And those who have served missions may feel more gratitude for the well-defined structure of their missions as they compare their experiences to those in “Mormon Missionary Wives in Nineteenth-century Polynesia.” Carol Cornwall Madsen writes that these missionary wives suffered “ambivalence of church leaders toward female participation in the missionary enterprise and ambiguity in articulating their roles” (142). Finally, I found it fascinating to learn that Charles LeGendre, a French-American advisor to the Japanese government, proposed inviting Utah Mormons to colonize Hokkaido, Japan. Sandra C. Taylor writes that LeGendre “had nothing but praise for . . . social and cultural attributes of the Mormons,” including polygamy (287).
Readers who are interested in the Pacific Basin or worldwide Church history will find much to enjoy in this volume. Proclamation to the People makes a unique contribution in the sense that, until now, most religious studies of this region have examined Catholic and Protestant influences.