The ideal of religious freedom is so often celebrated as a timeless and self-evident American ideal, one that early Latter-day Saints among many others immediately claimed as their own. But American ideas about this freedom were constantly contested and reinvented through a vibrant national discourse—let’s call it “religious freedom talk”—that also intersected with racial and imperial politics in U.S. history.
More often than not, religious freedom talk worked to privilege the dominant white Christian population and to support U.S. imperial expansion.
At the same time, a diverse array of minority groups at home and colonized people abroad invoked and reinterpreted this ideal to defend themselves and their ways of life. In so doing they posed sharp challenges to the racial and religious exclusions of American life, but found their own identities and traditions transformed in the process.
In this lecture, Tisa Wenger asks how we can understand the history of Latter-day Saint religious freedom talk within this broad comparative frame.
Wednesday, February 13
Brigham Young University
About the Speaker
Tisa Wenger is Associate Professor of American Religious History in the Divinity School, American Studies, and Religious Studies at Yale University, where she has been teaching for almost ten years. Wenger’s work explores the cultural politics of religious freedom, the religious histories of the American West, and the intersections of race, empire, and religion in U.S. history. Her books are We Have a Religion: The 1920s Pueblo Indian Dance Controversy and American Religious Freedom (University of North Carolina Press, 2009) and Religious Freedom: The Contested History of an American Ideal (University of North Carolina Press, 2017). She lives in Hamden, Connecticut, with her husband Rod Groff and their three children, along with a dog, two cats, a rabbit, five chickens, ten fish, and a sizable vegetable garden.