Benjamin E. Park at Harvard Book Store


American Zion:
A New History of Mormonism

in conversation with MEGAN KATE NELSON


February 16, 2024
7:00 PM ET


Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138


This event is free; no tickets are required.

Harvard Book Store welcomes BENJAMIN E. PARK—author of Kingdom of Nauvoo—for a discussion of his new book American Zion: A New History of Mormonism. He will be joined in conversation by MEGAN KATE NELSON—award-winning author of Saving Yellowstone and The Three-Cornered War.

About American Zion

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by Joseph Smith in 1830 in the so-called “burned-over district” of upstate New York, which was producing seers and prophets daily. Most of the new creeds flamed out; Smith’s would endure, becoming the most significant homegrown religion in American history. How Mormonism succeeded is the story told by historian Benjamin E. Park in American Zion.

Drawing on sources that have become available only in the last two decades, Park presents a fresh, sweeping account of the Latter-day Saints: from the flight to Utah Territory in 1847 to the public renunciation of polygamy in 1890; from the Mormon leadership’s forging of an alliance with the Republican Party in the wake of the New Deal to the “Mormon moment” of 2012, which saw the premiere of The Book of Mormon musical and the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney; and beyond. In the twentieth century, Park shows, Mormons began to move ever closer to the center of American life, shaping culture, politics, and law along the way.

But Park’s epic isn’t rooted in triumphalism. It turns out that the image of complete obedience to a single, earthly prophet—an image spread by Mormons and non-Mormons alike—is misleading. In fact, Mormonism has always been defined by internal conflict. Joseph Smith’s wife, Emma, inaugurated a legacy of feminist agitation over gender roles. Black believers petitioned for belonging even after a racial policy was instituted in the 1850s that barred them from priesthood ordination and temple ordinances (a restriction that remained in place until 1978). Indigenous and Hispanic saints—the latter represent a large portion of new converts today—have likewise labored to exist within a community that long called them “Lamanites,” a term that reflected White-centered theologies. Today, battles over sexuality and gender have riven the Church anew, as gay and trans saints have launched their own fight for acceptance.

A definitive, character-driven work of history, American Zion is essential to any understanding of the Mormon past, present, and future. But its lessons extend beyond the faith: as Park puts it, the Mormon story is the American story.

Praise for American Zion

"With enviable ease, Benjamin Park somehow manages to pack two centuries of Mormon history into a riveting narrative that is as smart as it is engrossing. Distinguished by its colorful cast of characters, rich historical detail, and elegant analysis, American Zion promises to stand the test of time as the definitive history of Mormonism in America." —Kristin Du Mez, New York Times bestselling author of Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation

"As Ben Park makes abundantly clear in this engaging history, the Mormon faith is fundamentally an American one. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been repeatedly transformed by the cultural wars that have raged in this nation and has, in return, transformed the nation. Deeply researched and deftly written, American Zion is a must read." —Kevin M. Kruse, New York Times bestselling co-author of Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past

"Mormonism is no more a monolith than the country that gave it birth and has shaped the religion throughout its two-century history. In Benjamin Park’s spirited telling we encounter a story full of drama, irony, conflict, and the ongoing search for meaning and community. Readers will discover in American Zion a fascinating history resonant with our current era of cultural contestation." —Patrick Mason, Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture, Utah State University

Masking Policy

Masks are encouraged but not required for this event.

Benjamin E. Park
Benjamin E. Park

Benjamin E. Park

Benjamin E. Park is associate professor of history at Sam Houston State University. The author of American Nationalisms: Conceiving Union in the Age of Revolutions, 1783-1833 and Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier, he has written for the Washington Post, Newsweek, and Houston Chronicle. He lives in Conroe, Texas.

Megan Kate Nelson
Megan Kate Nelson

Megan Kate Nelson

Megan Kate Nelson is a historian and writer, with a BA from Harvard and a PhD in American Studies from the University of Iowa. She is the author of four books, including Saving Yellowstone: Exploration and Preservation in Reconstruction America (Scribner 2022; winner of the 2023 Spur Award for Historical Non-Fiction) and The Three-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fight for the West (Scribner 2020; finalist for the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in History), as well as Ruin Nation (Georgia, 2012) and Trembling Earth (Georgia, 2005).

She writes about the Civil War, the U.S. West, and American culture for The New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Smithsonian Magazine, Slate, and TIME. Before leaving academia to write full-time in 2014, Nelson taught U.S. history and American Studies at Texas Tech University, Cal State Fullerton, Harvard, and Brown. She grew up in Littleton, Colorado, and now lives in Boston with her husband and two cats. 

Photo Credit: Sharona Jacobs

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