Joseph Smith, plural marriage, and kinship

Authored by: Benjamin E. Park

The Routledge Handbook of Mormonism and Gender

Print publication date:  May  2020
Online publication date:  April  2020

Print ISBN: 9780815395218
eBook ISBN: 9781351181600
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter examines the origins and development of polygamy during the lifetime of Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It pieces together the earliest unions, places them within the context of religious and sexual reform in antebellum America, and then elucidates how these developments laid a foundation for Mormon gender relations ever since. Special consideration is given to the concept of “kinship,” or the relationship between believers, either consanguineous or not, as consolidated through elaborate and expanding rituals. Additional attention is paid to the historical environment of early America, in which a democratized society seemed to leave frontier culture unmoored, which left many religious innovators, including Smith, to formulate new social structures in order to retain patriarchal order. The chapter finishes by elucidating how the controversial and covert polygamous practices during the 1840s, especially a revelatory text that Smith dictated in 1843 and was later canonized as LDS scripture, left a lasting legacy that frames how modern Mormons view marriage, gender, and the eternities.

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