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More than a “Subspecies of American Literature”: Obstacles toward a Transnational Mormon Novel

Abstract

Since the mid-twentieth century, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) has become an increasingly international organization with more than half of its members currently living outside US borders. Still, because of its US origins, strongly centralized Salt Lake City headquarters, and doctrinal traditions that privilege the United States as a Promised Land, Mormonism remains an American church in the eyes of much of the world. This essay explores Mormonism’s struggle to internationalize through the lens of Mormon novels about transnational Mormon experiences. Specifically, it shows how these novels have sometimes embraced and sometimes resisted the hegemonic narrative of US Mormonism in order to understand how these works consider and reconsider long-standing assumptions about the value of the boundaries and central gathering places that have traditionally defined Mormonism’s physical, cultural, and ideological landscapes. Focusing on Margaret Blair Young’s Salvador (1993), Toni Sorenson Brown’s Redemption Road (2005), and Ryan McIlvain’s Elders (2012), this essay also looks at ways Mormon novels imagine transnational utopian spaces that seek to conceptualize a future where Mormonism is less tied to bordered concepts like nation, state, and America, and more open to border crossings. While these utopian spaces are not altogether unproblematic or free of Americentric assumptions, this essay argues that a look at how these novels use these spaces reveals much about the genre’s potential to explore Mormonism’s possibilities as a transnational community and rethink its relationship to its US headquarters.

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