#155 | An American Religion: Pioneer Prophets & The Colonization Of The West w/ John G. Turner

In this episode, I speak with author and historian of American Religion John G. Turner. We discuss the origins and development of the uniquely American religion The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (or as it is more colloquially referred: the “Mormon Church”), explored in John’s biography of the Church’s influential second president in ‘Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet’ and in his more recent book ‘The Mormon Jesus: A Biography’ which covers the Church’s theological underpinnings and place within the tapestry of American Christianity.

As someone that grew up as a member of the LDS Church (and having left the Church officially years ago), my fascination with the roots of this religion continues to the present day. I can’t shake my interest in examining the roots of religion in the broader sense, and while I’ve explored various topics that point to my interest in this subject, I had not yet given much time yet in discussing the role the LDS Church has played in such topics as: the colonization of the West; the cultural and historical context that gave rise to the cultural and political prominence of the Church in American society; American Exceptionalism and the role it’s played in the development of the theological underpinnings of Mormon faith and cosmology; the antagonistic relationship the Church leadership had with the United States government, primarily in the 19th century under Brigham Young; what recent controversies surrounding the Church and its leadership mean for the future of the organization and its members.

This is where John’s work comes in. His sober and detailed examination of the roots of the LDS Church sheds a light on the personalities of the individuals (Brigham Young and Joseph Smith) that made the most crucial and influential decisions in the history of not only the Church, but also in the westward expansion of the American Project (e.g. Manifest Destiny), as well as the colonization of the North American continent more generally. By understanding the roots of this religion, we can further understand the history of the United States and its expansionist program, as well as the role the Church played in that project. We get into these subjects and more in this episode.

John G. Turner is professor of American Religion at George Mason University, with a special interest in Mormonism, Evangelism, and the history of Colonial New England. John is the author of ‘Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America,’ ‘Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet,’ and ‘The Mormon Jesus: A Biography.’ John is currently next project is a history of Plymouth Colony, scheduled for publication in 2020 (the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower).

Episode Notes:

- Learn more about John and his work at his website: https://johngturner.com

- Purchase ‘Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet’ here: http://bit.ly/BrighamYBio

- Purchase ‘The Mormon Jesus: A Biography’ here: http://bit.ly/MormonJ

- The song featured in this episode is “Battle Hymn of the Republic” by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Source: https://youtu.be/QSiVjlknuSw