Peter CovielloOct 12, 2022
Make Yourselves Gods
Mormons and the Unfinished Business of American Secularism
University of Chicago Press 2019
From the perspective of Protestant America, nineteenth-century Mormons were the victims of a peculiar zealotry, a population deranged––socially, sexually, even racially––by the extravagances of belief they called “religion.” Make Yourselves Gods: Mormons and the Unfinished Business of American Secularism (U Chicago Press, 2019), by Dr. Peter Coviello offers a counter-history of early Mormon theology and practice, tracking the Saints from their emergence as a dissident sect to their renunciation of polygamy at century’s end.
Over these turbulent decades, Mormons would appear by turns as heretics, sex-radicals, refugees, anti-imperialists, colonizers, and, eventually, reluctant monogamists and enfranchised citizens. Reading Mormonism through a synthesis of religious history, political theology, native studies, and queer theory, Coviello deftly crafts a new framework for imagining orthodoxy, citizenship, and the fate of the flesh in nineteenth-century America. What emerges is a story about the violence, wild beauty, and extravagant imaginative power of this era of Mormonism—an impassioned book with a keen interest in the racial history of sexuality and the unfinished business of American secularism.
Peter Coviello is professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, specializing in American literature and queer theory. His research considers the entangled histories of intimacy and empire in nineteenth-century America, with particular attention to questions of secularism, biopolitics, and sex. His books include Tomorrow’s Parties: Sex and the Untimely in Nineteenth-Century America (Columbia UP 2013) and Long Players (Penguin 2018, a memoir selected as one of ARTFORUM’s Ten Best Books of 2018. His work has appeared in a range of academic journals as well as magazines and reviews.