Samuel Morris Brown. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Hardbound, 6.5×9.5″. 408 pages.
A compelling new interpretation of early Mormonism, Samuel Brown’s In Heaven as It Is On Earth views this religion through the lens of founder Joseph Smith’s profound preoccupation with the specter of death.
Revisiting historical documents and scripture from this novel perspective, Brown offers new insight into the origin and meaning of some of Mormonism’s earliest beliefs and practices. The world of early Mormonism was besieged by death–infant mortality, violence, and disease were rampant. A prolonged battle with typhoid fever, punctuated by painful surgeries including a threatened leg amputation, and the sudden loss of his beloved brother Alvin cast a long shadow over Smith’s own life. Smith embraced and was deeply influenced by the culture of “holy dying”–with its emphasis on deathbed salvation, melodramatic bereavement, and belief in the Providential nature of untimely death–that sought to cope with the widespread mortality of the period. Seen in this light, Smith’s treasure quest, search for Native origins, distinctive approach to scripture, and belief in a post-mortal community all acquire new meaning, as do early Mormonism’s Masonic-sounding temple rites and novel family system. Taken together, the varied themes of early Mormonism can be interpreted as a campaign to extinguish death forever. By focusing on Mormon conceptions of death, Brown recasts the story of first-generation Mormonism, showing a religious movement and its founder at once vibrant and fragile, intrepid and unsettled, human and otherworldly.
A lively narrative history, In Heaven as It Is on Earth illuminates not only the foundational beliefs of early Mormonism but also the larger issues of family and death in American religious history.
- Draws extensively on historical sources concerning the Mormon concept of death
- Offers insight into the way Joseph Smith’s newly founded church operated in the lives of its founding generation
- Illuminates the meaning of seemingly disparate aspects of the careers of Joseph Smith and the church he founded
“In this groundbreaking and important volume, Brown… delves deeply into the many streams of thought that informed Smith’s formulation of the life hereafter… Emerging at a time of intense religious competition, Smith and his closest associates developed a wonderfully complex belief system that mapped out the next life with clarity and consistency. Brown offers us a masterful look at this intriguing aspect of the Mormon worldview. This is must reading for students of the American religious tradition.”–Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“This is a book purportedly about the dead and the conquest of death in early Mormonism. It is actually much more than that. It traces the development of a large number of Joseph Smith’s most fundamental teachings from the beginning to his death. Brown weaves the most exotic elements of Mormonism-seerstones, new names, hieroglyphs, angels, the Adamic tongue, Masonic catechisms, seals, ritual adoptions-into an illuminating and compelling explication of Joseph Smith’s beliefs about the temple, family, and human salvation.”
—Richard Bushman, Gouverneur Morris Professor Emeritus of History, Columbia University
“Scholars have looked long and hard at the Puritan way of death as well as the development of the funeral industry’s way of death. Working in between those historical domains on early Mormon views and practices of holy dying, Samuel Brown has produced an imaginative, yet gravely serious book-one of obvious consequence for Mormon studies, but also one of broad resonance in American studies.”
—Leigh E. Schmidt, Edward Mallinckrodt University Professor, Washington University in St. Louis
“This is a brilliant work of intellectual and cultural history, in which Brown finds compelling continuities between Joseph Smith’s early supernatural quests and his later ministry. All the while, Brown charts Smith’s death-defying project as one that is both intensely personal and steeped in a rich and wondrous culture of death. Superbly executed.”
—Terryl L. Givens, co-author of Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism
“Brown ably tackles Mormon beliefs about death in a highly readable series of connected essays . . . He has covered the primary sources in depth and unearthed little-used materials to support his argument. Students of American religious history will be interested in this readable book as will a more general readership.” —Library Journal
“[T]his book is one of the most significant Mormon titles to come out in a while . . . an interesting and well-researched version of Mormon history . . . Brown’s work is a major accomplishment and an example of where Mormon historiography is headed.”
–Association of Mormon Letters