EP 474 – “Kingdom of Nauvoo” – Benjamin E. Park

Benjamin E. Park discusses his new book, Kingdom of Nauvoo, about the rise and fall of Nauvoo as a theocracy that stressed the limits of American democracy.

In this week’s episode, Jared Gillins and I have the opportunity to interview Benjamin E. Park, author of Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier, which explores the evolution of Nauvoo as a city and a religious experiment. 

Nauvoo means many things to many people. To Latter-day Saints in the 1840s, it represented a reprieve, a salvation from the troubles that befell them in Missouri. At first, the locals in Illinois were warm and accommodating toward the Saints. But as the Mormons grew in size and political influence, so too did animosity toward what, to many outsiders, appeared to be a theocracy at odds with American democracy, particularly as the practice of polygamy quietly grew and Nauvoo’s municipal courts shielded Joseph Smith from extradition and other legal action. It is a fascinating take on a landmark period of Latter-day Saint history, made possible by newly available resources.

What lessons do we learn from this period? How do we react to uncomfortable truths about venerated Latter-day Saint leaders? How can we apply this knowledge going forward?

Benjamin E. Park received his BA in English and history from Brigham Young University, a MSc in historical theology from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Divinity, and his MPhil in political thought and PhD in history from the University of Cambridge. 

After serving as the inaugural postdoctoral fellow at the University of Missouri’s Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy, he has been an assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University. His scholarly articles have been published by over a dozen academic journals, including Church History, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Journal of the Early Republic, Early American Studies, and Journal of American Studies, and his popular essays have appeared in national venues ranging from Washington Post to Newsweek. 

He has served on the executive boards for the Mormon History Association and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, and is currently the co-editor of Mormon Studies Review. Park’s first book, American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in the Age of Revolutions, 1783-1833, was published by Cambridge University Press and was a finalist for the Lasky Prize in Political History, and he is the editor of the forthcoming textbook A Companion to American Religious History, published by Wiley-Blackwell. His most recent monograph, Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier, appeared in February with W. W. Norton/Liveright, and has been featured in, among other venues, The New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal.

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