In the closing decades of the nineteenth century, college-age
Latter-day Saints began undertaking a remarkable intellectual
pilgrimage to the nation's elite universities, including Harvard,
Columbia, Michigan, Chicago, and Stanford. Thomas W. Simpson
chronicles the academic migration of hundreds of LDS students
from the 1860s through the late 1930s, when church
authority J. Reuben Clark Jr., himself a product of the Columbia
University Law School, gave a reactionary speech about young
Mormons' search for intellectual cultivation. Clark's leadership
helped to set conservative parameters that in large part came to
characterize Mormon intellectual life.
At the outset, Mormon women and men were purposefully dispatched to
such universities to "gather the world's knowledge to Zion."
Simpson, drawing on unpublished diaries, among other materials,
shows how LDS students commonly described American universities as
egalitarian spaces that fostered a personally transformative sense
of freedom to explore provisional reconciliations of Mormon and
American identities and religious and scientific perspectives. On
campus, Simpson argues, Mormon separatism died and a new, modern
Mormonism was born: a Mormonism at home in the United States but at
odds with itself. Fierce battles among Mormon scholars and church
leaders ensued over scientific thought, progressivism, and the
historicity of Mormonism's sacred past. The scars and controversy,
Simpson concludes, linger.