International Journal for the Study of New Religions, Vol 2, No 1 (2011)

Esotericism and the “Coded Word” in Mormonism: The Colonial and Racial Schematics of an Old, New Religion

Clyde R. Forsberg Jr.
Issued Date: 14 Aug 2011


In the history of American popular religion, the Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, have undergone a series of paradigmatic shifts in order to join the Christian mainstream, abandoning such controversial core doctrines and institutions as polygamy and the political kingdom of God. Mormon historians have played an important role in this metamorphosis, employing a version (if not perversion) of the Church-Sect Dichotomy to change the past in order to control the future, arguing, in effect, that founder Joseph Smith Jr’s erstwhile magical beliefs and practices gave way to a more “mature” and bible-based self-understanding which is then said to best describe the religion that he founded in 1830. However, an “esoteric approach” as Faivre and Hanegraaff understand the term has much to offer the study of Mormonism as an old, new religion and the basis for a more even methodological playing field and new interpretation of Mormonism as equally magical (Masonic) and biblical (Evangelical) despite appearances. This article will focus on early Mormonism’s fascination with and employment of ciphers, or “the coded word,” essential to such foundation texts as the Book of Mormon and “Book of Abraham,” as well as the somewhat contradictory, albeit colonial understanding of African character and destiny in these two hermetic works of divine inspiration and social commentary in the Latter-day Saint canonical tradition.

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DOI: 10.1558/ijsnr.v2i1.29

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