Transatlantic Latter-day Saints: Mormon circulations between America and South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

"Transatlantic Latter-days Saints" is an analysis of Mormonism in South Africa from a history of religions perspective. Contextualizing the Mormon experience in South Africa, the central concern of this dissertation is whether or not the religion's history in the country should be defined as distinctly American. By tracking historical transatlantic circulations, mapping changing territories, and utilizing the comparative strategies of scholars such as Jonathan Z. Smith and David Chidester, this study documents and analyses the changing associations of South African Mormonism with America. In some instances, such as its nineteenth-century practice of polygamy and its twentieth century policies of racial prejudice, Mormonism appears to be more at home in South Africa than in America. In other areas, such as the contributions made by Mormon missionaries during the 1930s in the organization and development of the game of baseball in South Africa, the religion utilized its American heritage to contribute to its advantage as well as to the Americanization of South Africa. While these case studies yield conclusive outcomes, others, such as the historical mapping of the life and legend of Gobo Fango, display the complexity of tracking transatlantic circulations between America and South Africa. This dissertation demonstrates that despite Mormonism's location on the periphery of South Africa and South Africa's peripheral position within Mormonism, the transatlantic circulations that link America, Mormonism, and South Africa raise issues that are often of central concern to both countries and to the religion. By attending to Mormon circulations between America and South Africa, this dissertation develops alternative perspectives on such important areas of study as nineteenthcentury missions, slavery, policies of racial discrimination, and American popular culture.

Includes bibliographical references.