The deeper we venture into Christian history, the more struck we must be at the many different positions that believers have held over time, and how radically these differed from what became the Christian mainstream. Terryl Givens ranges far and wide both within Christianity and outside to show just how very persistent in Western thought has been the notion that our souls existed long before we were born, with all the implications of that belief. His provocative book is rich and often startling.
This is a fascinating, learned and engagingly-written account of an ancient idea--best known from Plato’s Timaeus—that has stubbornly reappeared in thinkers as diverse as Origen, Jakob Boehme, Henry More, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Nicholas Berdyaev. Givens convincingly shows that the idea has persisted because of its power as a theodicy—reconciling the justice of God with a world of pain. Historians and theologians will benefit from Givens’ persuasive account of why Christian orthodoxy, after Augustine’s early vacillation, finally rejected pre-existence: it threatened to shatter the divide between creator and creature, and appeared to diminish the greatness of divine grace by suggesting human potential more than fallenness.
--Gerald R. McDermott
This stimulating and ambitious book arcs across the intellectual and religious heavens from ancient Mesopotamia to contemporary studies of consciousness and memory boundaries. It demonstrates vividly why and how the troubling notion (for westerners) of pre-existence has in fact continually helped to shape our theories of soul and of identity, often in surprising ways. This is the history of a mutating idea at its best.
--Michael J. B. Allen
Givens could make a reader stop and think twice about a joke on a LaffyTaffy wrapper. Imagine what he could do with a concept as deep, rich, and personal as the preexistence of the soul...For a greater appreciation for (and understanding of) the idea of preexistence, this unique book is a must-read.
--Association for Mormon Letters
Taking the Book of Mormon on its own terms, Terryl Givens offers a complex, reverent analysis of a powerful epic history.
--Daniel Walker Howe
For all who need to have an accurate account of what Mormons believe-and they are a faith community that now spans the globe-familiarity with the message of the Book of Mormon is the basic starting point. And there is no better guide to that text than Terryl Givens, a marvelous scholar who has now given us this highly readable and insightful introduction.
--Richard J. Mouw
If you have the slightest interest in the Book of Mormon for any reason you should read this book. Those unfamiliar with the Book of Mormon will find an excellent supplement here. If you are already familiar with the Book of Mormon, this re-introduction will make it seem like you're meeting again for the first time.
--Association of Mormon Letters
People of Paradox confirms Terryl Givens’s status, if it was ever in question, as the leading mid-career scholar of Mormonism. People of Paradox will likely, for a generation or more, be the statement on Mormon culture with which scholars must wrestle. This well-researched cultural history succeeds brilliantly in what it sets out to do—synthetically identify and explain fundamental issues and trends within Mormon culture. It is even more exceptional as cultural criticism. No summary can adequately convey the elegance of Givens’s prose or the subtlety and profundity of his insights. The book is a superb historical introduction and agenda-setting conceptualization of Mormon culture.
-- Western Historical Quarterly
With his fourth book on Mormonism, Givens (By the Hand of Mormon; Viper on the Hearth) earns his place as one of the great LDS scholars of his time. Students of religion, history and culture will find this an authoritative analysis of four fascinating and powerful tensions at the core of Mormonism that feed into its cultural life: authority and radical freedom; searching and certainty; the sacred and the banal; and election versus exile. Sprinkled with photos and illustrations, with topics ranging from the "art missionaries" of Utah who studied in Paris at the turn of the century, to the Mormon dominance in science fiction, this scholarly tome actually lives up to its ambitious subtitle. He convincingly concludes that Joseph Smith has provided Mormonism "with sufficient paradoxes to generate vigorous artistic and intellectual expression for another 200 years."
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Givens's proposal that Mormon belief be conceived as a series of paradoxes rather than a set of fixed principles is one of the most significant advances in Mormon thought in a generation. It puts Mormon culture in a brilliant new light. Moreover, by displacing the standard themes from their usual position at center stage and exploring Mormon cultural expression instead, he gives us a fresh, new history of the Latter-day Saints. This book is filled with treasures.
An outstanding work of intellectual and cultural studies, People of Paradox represents a creative and singular contribution to the burgeoning scholarship on the Mormon tradition.
--Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp
Terryl Givens takes readers on a fascinating tour of the remarkable achievements of Mormon culture; its distinctive contributions to art, literature, music, theater, science, and to the life of the mind. Eventually, one realizes that this is not only a book about Mormon culture, but that it makes a substantial contribution to that culture.
--Rodney Stark, author of The Rise of Mormonism
This is an impressive work of synthesis that engages a broad secondary literature in discussing each aspect of the Mormon intellectual and artistic heritage. While other scholars have produced excellent studies treating Mormon literature or music or visual arts, Givens is the first to offer a comprehensive survey of key aspects of Latter-day Saint cultural life across the full span of Mormon history. ...The breadth of its coverage, the insightfulness of many of its observations, and the effective use it makes of paradox to provide a richly textured portrait of Mormon intellectual and artistic life make it a solid contribution to the growing field of Mormon studies. It deserves to be widely read and discussed, and its superior literary style insures that enjoyment as well as insight will repay its readers.
--American Historical Review
Givens has accomplished something quite special with this masterful study of Mormon cultural expression: in deriving his discussion of Mormon culture from details of Mormon theology, he suggests a union of the practical and theoretical elements of religious life with a sincerity and seamlessness rarely achieved in academic study.
A most sophisticated, yet accessible and comprehensive, single-volume treatment of LDS ideology and practice. Well written and very readable, the book is characterized by a strong narrative style and punctuated by lively statements from devoted practitioners and exasperated onlookers. The book wrestles extraordinarily well with the range and depth of Mormonism’s social and doctrinal complexity. What cannot be found elsewhere is this book’s genuine insight into and almost encyclopedic coverage of LDS belief and practice.
--Journal of Religion
This is an impressive work....[a] fine volume when read by anyone wanting a comprehensive and sometimes-critical look at the Mormon Restoration movement. It deserves a wide readership.
--Association for Mormon Letters
Would this be a good resource for a college class on American religion? The answer is a resounding yes. Givens has done it remarkably well. This is the best introduction to the Church.
--Times and Seasons
It is certainly a closely written, thoughtful . . . book by a devoted scholar.... Provocative reading, whether you happen to be a Mormon or not.
-- New York Times Book Review
Givens is fair-minded, sympathetic, and knows his Mormon history, as well as the history of visionaries.... Givens's surest ground is in folding Joseph Smith in with the religious mystics who claimed immediate and intimate knowledge of the supernatural. The importance of his book lies in its scholarly, unbiased, and disinterested examination of a sacred text.
Outstanding, well-argued, engagingly written . . . admirably dispassionate.
--Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Givens’ treatment of the history of scholarship on the Book of Mormon is simply the best, most judicious and engaging survey available. His handling of all of the evidence surrounding the original discovery and translation of the plates is as clear, judicious, and balanced as one could wish. Above all, this study makes the early acceptance of the Book of Mormon in the popular imagination plausible.
-- Books and Culture/Christianity Today
This is an exceptional study. Terryl Givens has written an important work that increases our understanding of both the Book of Mormon and of Mormonism generally. He demonstrates how a single literary work gave rise to an enduring community, a theology, a religion, and a culture, and helps to explain not only the book's history but also the persisting success of Mormonism as an enduring belief system and worshipping community. By the Hand of Mormon is an achievement of real distinction.
Vastly informative, particularly to the general reader who seeks for insight into this extraordinary work.
Until now, the Book of Mormon has not been on anyone's list of canonical literary works, but it may be added soon as Mormonism assumes the dimensions of a budding world religion. Thus far no one has been able to situate this much-contested work in our intellectual history. Givens does, and offers a striking appraisal of just what the Book of Mormon means to our culture.
--Richard Lyman Bushman
A well-researched and insightful book…He illuminates the phenomena of religious heresy and persecution generally. The book is thoroughly documented, and Givens writes with a graceful style. This is an excellent example of both historical and literary scholarship.
-- American Historical Review
Provocative insights into American culture, LDS identity, nineteenth-century literature, rhetorics of oppression, and religious formation. The narrative is short, subtle, and crisp; Givens rarely wastes a sentence. A work to be read with patience and care. I highly recommend this book.
-- Religious Studies Review
The book is sophisticated, long on analysis…. He has read widely in the vast secondary literature… and produced a study worthy of its prestigious publisher.
-- Church History
Widely researched, theoretically informed, and gracefully written, this work is a model of significant interdisciplinary study.
-- Western American Literature
It could influence American religion studies the same way Bauer’s Orthodoxy and Heresy challenged and changed perceptions. Intelligently conceived,… skillful textual analysis, ... exemplary scholarship…. It illuminates dilemmas and paradoxes central to American religion and culture generally.
-- Journal of Mormon History
A subtlety and sophistication that will delight and enlighten readers. The most detailed and sophisticated study to date of patterns of representation in 19th c anti-Mormonism.
-- BYU Studies
A powerful and compelling thesis…. A great reading experience in thoughtful and independently conceived religious and cultural thinking rare in Mormon studies. Chapter five should become a classic in Mormon Studies.
-- Journal of American Ethnic History
Well-researched and illuminating study…. Gives us a fresh understanding of the process of myth-making…. Locates it arguments in a carefully constructed historical context.
-- Journal of the Early Republic
An impressive achievement.
A remarkably lucid and useful study…. It provides also a valuable paradigm for the study of all religious ‘heresy’
© Terryl L. Givens 2016