Quest for Refuge and Exiles in a Land of Liberty

MARVIN S. HILL. Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1989.

KENNETH H. WINN. Exiles in a Land of Liberty: Mormons in America, 1830-1846. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.

A current popular movie portrays a scholarly team comprised of a father (a medievalist) and his son (an archaeologist) on a last crusade in quest of the holy grail. This interdisciplinary duo, after a series of epic adventures and a number of life-threatening gyrations, comes within inches of obtaining the mythical cup. Failing in their materialistic quest, the father assures the son that they have received something far greater than the grail itself. They found what every scholar hopes to find—”illumination.”

Similarly, many fine scholars have made the illusive quest in search of early Mormon ideological and social origins. The books and articles in print are legion. The names of the various authors read like a Who’s Who of both American and Mormon history: Alexander, Allen, Arrington, Brodie, Bushman, Cross, Davis, De Voto, De Pillis, Edwards, O’Dea, Quinn, Shipps, and Wood, to cite but a few. Whether in advancing a new thesis or in challenging and revising old ones, each has greatly enriched our understanding of the Mormon movement. This quest is furthered by Marvin Hill’s Quest for Refuge and Kenneth Winn’s Exiles in a Land of Liberty, as they attempt to shed new light on an already impressive body of literature.

There is no doubt that Hill’s work is a significant contribution. Largely an update of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s, it is a serious attempt to place Mormonism within the context of its times. Schooled under Daniel Boorstin, Sidney Mead, and Martin Many, and reacting often to Becket, Beard, Schlesinger, and Hofstader, Hill incorporates within his analysis of Mormonism important elements of both the progressive and consensus traditions: class and political conflict, relativism, and status-anxiety.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 30:1
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