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Title page for ETD etd-08132012-133201

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Halverson, Jared Michael
Author's Email Address jared.m.halverson@vanderbilt.edu
URN etd-08132012-133201
Title "Extravagant Fictions": The Book of Mormon in the Antebellum Popular Imagination
Degree Master of Arts
Department Religion
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Kathleen Flake Committee Chair
James P. Byrd Committee Member
  • Fiction
  • Humor
  • Mormonism
  • Book of Mormon
Date of Defense 2012-08-03
Availability unrestricted
Ever since rumors of a “Golden Bible” began circulating in the late 1820s, the Book of Mormon has occupied a singular place in the American popular imagination. It has been revered as scripture by Latter-day Saints and condemned as imposture by anti-Mormons for nearly two centuries, but what of America’s more moderate majority? Especially in the earliest days of its presence in print, how was the Book of Mormon seen by ordinary Americans, and what do their perceptions reveal about their day?

This study analyzes the place of the Book of Mormon in the antebellum popular imagination as revealed through the lens of humor. A surprising number of the book’s early observers found something unmistakably humorous about its content and story of origin, and assumed that it was a piece of imaginative fiction. In expressing their views of the Mormon scripture, often in comic ways, they revealed much about the social and religious values they espoused, the cultural incongruities with which they were grappling, and the underlying assumptions that were being shaped in part by a uniquely “American” humor. Sounding a natural resonance with many of America’s comic chords, the Book of Mormon quickly achieved a certain cultural currency that was recognized by both humorists and polemicists, who often exploited humor’s rhetorical power. In the process, the Book of Mormon became—and has remained—a “mythic presence in the national imagination.”

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