Marking Mormon Difference : How Western Perceptions of Islam Defined the 'Mormon Menace'
Journal of Religion and Popular Culture
University of Toronto Press
This article argues that inaccurate perceptions of Muslim and Mormon sexual and political deviance merged to help fuel a sustained anti-Mormon campaign in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. The inflammatory rhetoric of slavery and defilement that anti-Mormon writers deployed to equate the violation of the individual female body in plural marriage with the violation of the social body through Mormon treachery and authoritarianism relied largely on anti-Muslim caricatures for both its venom and its meaning. Only when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraced a model of the church that fit within the framework of American denominationalism did the Mormon menace begin to recede and anti-Muslim vitriol begin to fade from anti-Mormon discourse. This article further contends that the political compromise that allowed Mormonism to survive—indeed, to flourish within the United States—helped demonstrate the boundaries of religious and political freedom not just for Mormons but for all Americans. In this context, the evolution of polemic literature served to mark significant cultural change.