This thesis seeks to explore the relationship between Mormon assimilation, exceptionalism, and their endeavors in secular reading by analyzing Out of the Best Books (OOBB), a 1964–71 five-volume reading guide and reading program on secular reading established by the Mormon Church for its women’s organization, the Relief Society. Examining the approaches to secular literature in the OOBB program suggests that Mormons can respond to their competing desires to separate and assimilate by making efforts that fulfill both aspirations simultaneously rather than moving exclusively in one direction. Yet OOBB’s efforts to achieve both objectives did not amount to an entirely seamless navigation of this paradox. The program’s attempts to incorporate texts that might challenge Mormon notions of morality as well as their efforts to introduce world literature and fully address their female audience raised additional tensions particularly relevant to contemporary Mormonism, suggesting the complexity of Mormons navigating this identity paradox both within the context of the OOBB program and today. Furthermore, this examination of OOBB offers a venture at fleshing out the history of Mormon reading, confirming Mormons’ relationship to literature as central to their conception and expression of identity and situating Mormon reading endeavors in the broader context of American reading practices.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Fields, Lauren Ann, "Out of the Best Books: Mormon Assimilation and Exceptionalism Through Secular Reading" (2016). Theses and Dissertations. 5973.
Mormonism, Mormon assimilation, Mormon literature, Relief Society, Great Books