Davis County native Matthew Bowman is proving that with his recent book, “The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith.” Bowman, who is a member of The Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-day Saints, will speak at the Centerville Branch of the Davis County Library on Aug. 9 at 7 p.m. about his book and why the media has become so interested in the church.
“When Kennedy ran for president, Catholics made up about 25 percent of the American population,” said Bowman. “There was a Catholic family on every block, and most people worked with a few. Mormons, however, only make up 2 percent of the population. So most people know very little about them.”
Random House asked Bowman to write the book based on a recommendation from cultural historian Richard Bushman, who is generally seen as an expert on LDS prophet Joseph Smith. Bowman, who grew up in Woods Cross but did his graduate work at Georgetown, had just finished up his doctoral thesis about early evangelicals in New York City a few months before he was approached.
“When a major publisher says they’ll publish something you write, it’s very difficult to say no,” he said. “But I had a very tight deadline. Luckily, I was familiar with LDS history, so I knew where to start looking.”
The book has been reviewed in the New York Times and the Washington Post, but he’s pleased to be able to come to Davis County and discuss it.
“I worked in the South Branch while I was in high school,” he said. “So this is a nice homecoming for me.”
Though he describes the general reaction from non-LDS people as “bemusement,” he said that he’s gotten angry e-mails from those both in and out of the religion.
“LDS people have offered to send me Books of Mormon,” he said.
Bowman, however, is already plenty familiar with his faith. In addition to getting his doctoral thesis published, he’s also planning a book comparing Mormonism and Catholicism.
“The arcs are very similar,” he said. “Both are perceived non-American religions that become American.”
Bowman teaches religion at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, a small all-male college where he is one of only two Mormons on the faculty. The other is a professor in the political science department, which means the students know very little about the religion.
“Everything they know about Mormonism is from South Park,” Bowman said, adding that it helps make the religion a great study tool. “It’s just unfamiliar enough that we can really look at the nuts and bolts of how a religion works.”
And, hopefully, the motivating force behind it.
“Religion has become unfortunately politicized these days, but I think it’s far more primal than that,” he said. “It’s one of those things that shapes people on such a deep level they don’t even realize they’re being shaped.”