Reading in Zion: Book Cultures of Mormon Youth, 1869–1890

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Virginia Tech


This thesis examines the feelings of generational anxiety in the Mormon community from 1869 to 1890 and how those feelings intersected with ideas about reading. During this time, older members of the Mormon community in Utah Territory feared how changes in and threats to Mormon society might negatively affect young people's beliefs, abilities, knowledge, and adherence to their parents' religion. Older Mormons recognized a potential ally and enemy in books, newspapers, and other reading materials, which they believed could dramatically shape young people for good or for ill depending on the quality of the material. This thesis argues these older Mormons borrowed many elements from other US literary cultures and repurposed them for distinctly Mormon ends, including achieving theosis (chapter 1), navigating changing dynamics in Mormon families (chapter 2), and building their utopic society, Zion (chapter 3). This research adds to the work of those scholars who have combined the history of Mormonism with book history. It incorporates the voices of everyday Mormons to bring into focus the entire ecosystem of reading for young Mormons by focusing not only on fiction but also on biography, scripture, "Church works," history, and other genres. It examines not only discourse but also institutionalized programs and actions, such as the 1888 MIA Course of Reading (chapter 4), that shaped Mormons' world of reading. Such an examination begins to sharpen our understanding of the relationship of print and religion in America and what reading meant to Mormons.



the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, self-improvement, mutual improvement associations, reading course, course of reading