LDS History Changed a Nation; Patrick Mason Explains How in Oct. 16 Lecture

The concept of peace is, oddly enough, among the most complex issues we humans face.

And to a young undergraduate in World Civics at Brigham Young University, it seemed exotic and a bit mysterious.

Violence and anger, injustice and war — all were removed from the insular world of the young Patrick Mason, who grew up in a white suburban neighborhood in Sandy, Utah.

Mason’s subsequent journey to understanding the relationship between peace and conflict established his reputation as an acclaimed and respected historian.

Now, newly named to the Leonard J. Arrington Endowed Chair of Mormon History and Culture, Mason brings his scholarship to Utah State University.

On Wednesday, Oct. 16, Mason will present his inaugural address, “The Politics of Mormon History,” at the Russell/Wanlass Performance Hall. The 7:30 p.m. event is free and open to the public. It will be followed by a book signing.

Based in the Department of History’s Religious Studies Program, Mason has received a warm welcome from fellow faculty who are “thrilled to have found such an excellent colleague,” said Tammy Proctor, head of the Department of History.

She said students are anticipating interacting with the renowned historian, who in addition to his continuing scholarship will teach such courses as “Religion, Violence, and Peace” in spring semester.

Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints now disavows violence, its early history contained a good share of conflict. And, it was Mason’s dual interest in LDS history as well as the intersection of peace and violence that led him to this academic specialty.

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His doctoral dissertation, earned at the University of Notre Dame, became the book The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South, published in 2011 by the prestigious Oxford University Press. Mason’s most recent book is what he calls that volume’s “bookend” — Mormonism and Violence: The Battles of Zion (2019, Cambridge University Press).

As the new Arrington Chair, Mason steps into the role formerly held by Philip Barlow, professor of history and a respected historian, who retired in late 2018. At its creation in 2006, the Arrington Chair was the world’s first endowed chair focused solely on secular research of the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The LDS Church, among the very few American-born religions and which subsequently spread from the East Coast to the West, has resulted in countless ramifications on American history itself.

While USU was the first, there is now a total of three endowed chairs of LDS academic studies in the United States. Before his arrival at the Department of History in July, Mason held the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif. The third chair is the Richard Lyman Bushman Chair of Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia.

During Mason’s Oct. 16 lecture, “The Politics of Mormon History,” he’ll explore the question of what historians of religion and the religious community owe each other.

“Mormon history is always political, especially in the state of Utah,” Mason said in an interview. “Even studying Mormon history is controversial in some segments. Should we at a state university be studying Mormonism and Mormon history? I think the answer is obviously yes, but I don't think it's an uncomplicated question or an uncomplicated answer.”

Mason is the author of What is Mormonism? A Student’s Introduction (2017, Routledge), which he wrote when he couldn’t find another classroom text that included Mormon “history, beliefs, culture, its practices and its engagement with politics between the cover of one book,” he said.

However, he’s perhaps best known for his non-academic book Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (2015, Deseret Book).

At a book signing following Mason’s lecture, his books will be available for purchase.

For more information on the event, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/487181521861442/.

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