Essence of Mormonism missed in Broadway plays, Matthew Bowman says

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 15 2012 9:51 a.m. MST

Although many national stories are portraying Mormons in a lot of different ways, including those in which members of the faith say they are regular people who many know as neighbors and friends across the world, one historian says people are missing the mark in defining Mormonism.

Matthew Bowman, a Mormon with a doctorate in American religious history from Georgetown University, recently authored a book distributed by international publisher Random House Inc., The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith. In an excerpt from the book featured on Slate, Bowman says that "South Park" creators and Tony Kushner brought attention to the Mormon faith with their respective Broadway productions, "The Book of Mormon" musical and "Angels in America."

However, behind the "sweetness" of the portrayals of the naïve missionaries in "The Book of Mormon" and the "detached" Mormon characters in Kushner's production, Bowman says artistic creators incorporating the Mormon faith into their world are missing the essence of the Mormon dichotomy: trying to live normal lives with abnormal beliefs.

"All capture a part of what it may mean to be Mormon in America today, but none quite grasp the multifaceted ways in which Mormons currently define themselves and the strength with which their religion still creates for them a profoundly radical world," Bowman writes. "While the story of Mormonism in America is in many ways the story of the Americanization of a radical religious movement, that radicalism survives, however muted, in the vision of Zion pronounced by Joseph Smith and preserved by modern-day Mormons."

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