American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism featured in Religion News Service

The brilliant author, blogger, and columnist Jana Riess just published an interview with me in her regular column for the Religion News Service. Read the interview — called “When Mormons first went to Harvard…” — here!

Posted in Books, Christianity, Feminism, Gender, Mormonism, Publications on Religion and American Culture, Religion and Politics, Religion and Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My new book shipping now!


simpson book coverMy new book, American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940 (University of North Carolina Press), is shipping now! Stay tuned for news about author events and podcasts!

(The book is available directly from the press through the link above and through a range of online retailers like and

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My first book — available for pre-order at 40% off!

simpson book coverMy very first book, American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940, is now available for pre-order from the University of North Carolina Press at a discount of 40%!

Just click on this link and use discount code 01DAH40

Here are reviews included in the UNC Press catalog:

“An elegant, original contribution and a must-read for anyone interested in American religion and the life of the mind. Thomas W. Simpson’s scholarly heavy lifting–painstakingly tracing the Progressive-era Mormons who passed through American universities–forces a substantial reassessment of previous ‘Americanization’ theses. Simpson decenters polygamy (no mean feat) and places intellectual history and education at the heart of LDS navigation of both modernity and national identity.”
–J. Spencer Fluhman, Brigham Young University

American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism tells an important story of the development of Mormon intellectual life. The risks experienced by young Mormons and church leaders alike as students departed the ‘kingdom’ for education in the early part of the twentieth century is an essential and necessary part of the history of the formation of an educated Mormon community and the creation of a true Mormon intellectual community.”
–Jan Shipps, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis


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“Recovery’s Rhythm and Blues” in Numéro Cinq


View from the Skakavac mountain waterfall, outside Sarajevo

“Recovery’s Rhythm and Blues,” an essay of mine about an unforgettable road trip through Bosnia and Herzegovina with Goran Simić in the summer of 2014, appeared this week in the Canadian literary magazine Numéro Cinq. The essay is here, free and online.

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New Series: Resources for Teaching About Religion, Violence, and Human Rights

booksTo keep “Wayne Street Soul” alive during the academic year, I’m launching a new series of posts on my teaching. I’ve had such an exciting set of conversations with students this spring in seminars on human rights, the Holocaust, and religious diversity in the United States, that I wanted to start compiling and sharing distilled versions of the curriculum.

My hope is that these resources will be of interest to a wide audience; they all relate directly to fundamental questions about diversity and coexistence in the 21st century.

So for starters, here’s a little about day 1 in the course on religious diversity in the U.S. I learned a long time ago how important it is to hit the ground running on day 1 and not lose the whole period to coma-inducing administration. So after brief personal introductions and an introduction to the course, I have students watch Valarie Kaur’s “Oak Creek: In Memoriam,” a nine-minute film about a 2012 shooting in Wisconsin that targeted Sikhs. In an arresting, memorable way, the film brings the central themes of the course — religious diversity, freedom, conflict, and coexistence — to the fore, and it prepares students for a sustained analysis of the long American experiment with religious freedom. I have the students share their responses with the rest of the class (what did you notice? what questions do you have?), and by the end of the period we’ve established and focus and momentum that will extend to the conversations to come.

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5 Films for International Women’s Day

In honor of International Women’s Day, here is a list of the films at the heart of the seminar I just taught on women, gender, and religion in film.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell (Abigail Disney and Gini Reticker, 2008) — a spellbinding documentary about the struggle of Liberia’s Christian and Muslim women to rescue their nation from horrific violence. Part of PBS’s excellent “Women, War, and Peace” documenrary series. Winner, best documentary, Tribeca Film Festival.

Where Do We Go Now? (Nadine Labaki, 2011) — a brilliant, often hysterically funny fable about women who will do whatever it takes to knock sense into their Lebanese village’s warring men. Un Certain Regard, Cannes Film Festival.

Snijeg (Snow) (Aida Begic, 2008) — a gorgeously evocative story of women’s desperation and resilience in the aftermath of war, set in a small eastern Bosnian village in the late 1990s. Winner of the critics’ week grand prize, Cannes Film Festival.

Wadjda (Haifaa Al Mansour, 2013) — the first feature-length film shot in Saudi Arabia, a beautifully textured tale of a ten-year-old girl who wants nothing more than her own bike. Winner of numerous international film awards.

Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski, 2014) — an absorbing and haunting film about cultural identity and memory in post-Holocaust Poland. Oscar winner, best foreign language film.

The films themselves — all of which have captivated me in recent years — generated the idea for this seminar, which has offered my students and me a fresh new way to explore the enduring complexities of religious identity, gender, and power.

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Video and Plenary Lecture: The Global Citizens Youth Summit

This summer I had the distinct pleasure of being a faculty member during the 2015 Global Citizens Youth Summit, organized by Yumi Kuwana and held at Harvard University. The summit gathered 24 youth from around the world, with a curriculum focused on roundtable discussions about global ethics, global leadership, and social change.

A short video about the summit is here, and more information about the summit is here.

Curricular materials I used in class included: the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Jane Elliott’s “A Class Divided” experiment on racial discrimination, and the Agricultural Justice Project’s documentary Hungry for Justice: Spotlight on the South.

The slides and text for my plenary lecture on leadership, “Extending the Table,” are here. In it I offer three portraits and brief case studies of leadership, derived from the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute, and my travels in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It felt like one of the most important talks I’ve given in my career, an articulation of my intellectual and ethical commitments to a group of youth I profoundly admire, and from whom I learned so much in an extraordinary week together.

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