History of the Mormon Religion


2 minutes

The Mormons are a religious group founded in the early 1800s by a man named Joseph Smith. Another name for Mormons is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and they identify as a Christian religion. The Mormon religion has over 15 million members throughout the world. They are notable as being one of the largest and most well known religions to originate from within the United States.

In a period in the United States during the early 1800s called the Second Great Awakening, protestant Christian groups across the U.S. enrolled millions of new members to their ranks. Joseph Smith became interested in religion during this time, and in 1820, Smith says that he began to receive visions from God. He preached that he began to be visited by angels, who gave him the teachings that were to become known as the Book of Mormon, the sacred text upon which the Mormon religion was based.

Joseph Smith and his followers were often persecuted in these early days of the church. By the late 1840s, tensions between Mormons and other Americans had escalated to violence. Smith himself had been arrested on treason charges and was murdered by a mob in Illinois. Before his death, Smith predicted that the Mormon people would eventually travel to the Western United States and establish their Zion, or holy land, in the Rocky Mountains. After Joseph Smith died in 1844, another Mormon leader named Brigham Young took over and organized Mormons into pioneer bands that travelled from the east and made Smith's prediction come true. Brigham Young brought the Mormons to what was then known as the Utah Territory, where they could live according to their own customs. Brigham Young University, a school owned and operated by the Mormon Church, and the largest religious university in Utah, is named after the Mormon leader Brigham Young.

Conflicts between Mormons and other groups did not die down after they moved to Utah though. As the Mormons expanded missionary efforts and made their controversial practice of polygamy (multiple marriages) more well known, the U.S. government ramped up the tension and created the conditions for the Utah War, a minor conflict between 1857 and 1858 between Mormon settlers and the U.S. government then led by President James Buchanan. The war was resolved through negotiations with the government and over the years, the Mormon religion established itself as a mainstream religion. And Polygamy was, by the end of the 1800s, renounced by the Mormon Church and is no longer practiced by Latter Day Saints members.

Mormonism continued to grow especially in the 20th century after World War II.  Mormons increased their visibility globally by sending Missionaries throughout South America, Europe, and Africa. Notable American Mormons today include Former Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney, Singers Donny and Marie Osmond, Democratic Senator Harry Reid, and writer Stephanie Meyer.

Ani Kington

Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.

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