Tar & Feathers: Agnotology, Dissent, and Queer Mormon History
Keywords:Mormon polygamy, Polyandry, Queer theology, Ignorance, Joseph Smith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, Agnotology
In 2014 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) updated their official website to include information about the polygamy/polyandry practiced by Joseph Smith, their founder and prophet, and his many wives. The admission by the LDS Church reconciles the tension between information that had become readily available online since the 1990s and church-sanctioned narratives that obscured Smith’s polygamy while concurrently focusing on the polygyny of Brigham Young, Smith’s successor. This paper entwines queer theory with Robert Proctor’s concept of agnotology—a term used to describe the epistemology of ignorance, to consider dissent from two interrelated perspectives: 1) how dissent from feminists and historians within the LDS Church challenged (mis)constructions of Mormon history, and; 2) how the Mormon practice of polygamy in the late nineteenth century dissented from Western sexual mores that conflated monogamy with Whiteness, democracy and social progression in the newly formed American Republic.