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Book of Mormon publication site, Grandin Building, Palymyra, N.Y.

Curious about different religions, Communications and Marketing Office student writer Catherine Vogt ’24 decided to take a class on Mormonism. Read about her experience.

This semester I’m taking “Mormonism in America and the World,” taught by Professor of Religious Studies Quincy Newell. I chose this class because I am interested in learning about a religion that is highly stigmatized and controversial. I was also intrigued by how the course explores the public perceptions of Mormonism and how they shape the religion. 

Throughout the semester, we’ve been discussing the creation of the church, Mormon prophet and founder Joseph Smith, church scripture, polygamy in the 19th century, the role of race and sex in the church, and media depictions of Mormons. There are only seven students in the class, all of whom come from different religious backgrounds. Our close-knit class allows us to have compelling group discussions about our thoughts on the readings and whether or not they contradict or are in line with our previous knowledge of Latter-day Saints (LDS). We’ve also gone on four field trips.

Our first excursion was to see the musical The Book of Mormon at the Stanley Theatre in Utica. The musical is not truly an accurate depiction of Mormonism as it pokes fun at LDS missionaries and their beliefs, but it was interesting to see how the church is portrayed in a satirical way.

Other off-campus experiences took place at the Friends of LDS Utica Ward. For our first trip, we joined the church service and then joined a meeting of the Relief Society, an educational women’s organization. There, a classmate and I enjoyed lunch with four LDS women. They were happy to answer our questions about the church and were equally as interested in our lives. Engaging in conversation with these women showed us that while we may hold different beliefs from the LDS, we are still able to learn and bond with each other. Two women of the church presented a play to show how sisters of the church should check up on their fellow sisters to express their gratitude for one another. To my surprise, the lessons instilled were not particularly tied to LDS ideology, but rather about being a good friend in general.

Our second visit to the Utica Ward was on the first Sunday of the month, when members of the community share testimonies detailing experiences that show how they know the Book of Mormon to be true. It was striking to see how emotionally invested and connected to church these members feel, something I had not seen at other religious services. After the service, we attended Sunday School for adults where the group discussed values such as confidence and bravery that are highlighted in the Book of Daniel.

Our final field trip was to Palmyra, N.Y., where the Mormon religion was founded and where Smith grew up. We went inside the log home where he was raised and saw the bed in which Smith received his first visit from the angel Moroni. We also walked through the Sacred Grove where Smith was first visited by the Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It was fascinating to see these sites in real life after learning about the importance of these events within the religion.

In Palmyra, we also visited the Grandin Building where the first copies of the Book of Mormon were published. An LDS missionary, originally from Utah, showed us how the books were printed and bound.  This presentation provided a glimpse of the tedious publishing process in the 19th century that affirmed the hard work that was put into spreading the word of the Mormon Church.

Our last stop was the Whitmer Family Farm. This property is where Smith completed his translation of the Book of Mormon and where he officially declared the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Whitmer house was so small and compact, yet its historical significance to the church could not be greater.

Expand your perspectives

Learning takes place when students encounter new ideas, are exposed to new experiences and opportunities, and interact with people who have different perspectives.

 

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