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Theory of Change #019: Matthew Harris on Ezra Taft Benson and Mormon and evangelical extremisms
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Theory of Change #019: Matthew Harris on Ezra Taft Benson and Mormon and evangelical extremisms

The 1960s are famous in the American political memory as a time of leftist revolution. Millions marched against racial segregation and the Vietnam War. Women’s liberation went mainstream, and the fight for lesbian and gay rights began. But the sixties were also a time of counter-revolution, a moment when many of the radical forces that became prominent on January 6th, 2021 really began to gain momentum.

In episode 15 of this program, we talked with historian Angie Maxwell about how fundamentalist white Southerners flooded into Protestant churches and seminaries. But a similar radicalization process happened within Latter-day Saint Mormonism, a religion that has an outsized influence on the politics of Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and some other Western states.

We’ll be talking about all of that today with Matthew L. Harris. He’s a professor at Colorado State University-Pueblo. We’ll be discussing the political evolution of Mormonism, and the many ways in which its major figures fit into the larger stories of American reaction and white Christian fundamentalism.

What I hope will be clear by the end of the episode, is that while Mormonism is often thought of as a sort of obscure a sect that just does its own thing, it’s actually been highly integrated into the development of American right-wing extremism. The core of our discussion today will be around Harris’s excellent book, “Watchman on the Tower Ezra Taft Benson and the Making of the Mormon Right.” And he has several other ones worth checking out including one coming out soon about Mormonism and race.

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Theory of Change is hosted by Matthew Sheffield about larger trends and intersections of politics, religion, media, and technology. It's part of the Flux network, a new content community of podcasters and writers. Please visit us at flux.community to learn more and to tell us about what you're doing. We're constantly growing and learning from the great people we meet.

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