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Make Yourselves Gods

Mormons and the Unfinished Business of American Secularism

Make Yourselves Gods

Mormons and the Unfinished Business of American Secularism

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 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, Peter 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.

304 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Class 200: New Studies in Religion

History: American History

Religion: American Religions


"This is a book you will want to sit with, think with, mull over, and then read over again . . . . Coviello shows himself to be an astute critic of the contradictions, the potentialities, and the mutability of early Mormonism."

Tisa Wenger | Mormon Studies Review

"Coviello’s Make Yourselves Gods is both a perplexing peculiarity and a restorative revelation to Mormon studies. . . . Bringing with him a stark understanding of queer, gender, sexuality, and race theory, Coviello is able to use Mormonism as a way to expand these studies while also expanding Mormon studies. . . .  In his approach to Mormonism, Coviello rejuvenates Mormon studies by infusing it with a much-needed theoretical apparatus, beckoning a new horizon to Mormon studies—one that casts rays on Mormonism, on academia, on religion, and on the secular project."

Adam McLain | Reading Religion

"Make Yourselves Gods is a record of Coviello’s own conversion—not to Mormonism, but to a belief in the transformative power of belief itself. . . . Coviello breathes newly complex life into the history of nineteenth-century Mormonism."

Kate Stanley | American Literary History

“A challenging and innovative read, Make Yourselves Gods deserves a place on every Mormon studies bookshelf.”

Cristina Rosetti | Journal of Mormon History

Make Yourselves Gods offers us among the best proofs yet of how Mormonism can be mobilized to illuminate issues central to our understanding of American history—cultural, religious, or otherwise. The book is an impressive feat, gracefully written and theoretically illuminating.”

Matthew Bowman | Nova Religio

"[Coviello] has swung the door wide open for further research on queer theory and queer critique that could get to the heart of central tension within religion in general, but especially in Mormon studies. . . . His book shouts resoundingly that Mormon studies is one of the most fascinating studies of religion in the history of the United States and can be used as an example to examine even the biggest ideas in the academy." 

Michael Hubbard MacKay | BYU Studies Quarterly

"Make Yourselves Gods does definitely have something to offer to the perennial science–religion dialogue as it has developed to our time."


"In Make Yourselves Gods, Peter Coviello applies new lenses to our story and, using both the history of American secularism and queer studies, makes several proactive arguments; and he does so at times with a beautiful prose I have meticulously underlined."

Association for Mormon Letters

"In Make Yourself Gods, Coviello pursues queer religious histories in the social inventions, theology, and polygamy of the early Mormon Church. . . . [Make Yourselves Gods] is a work that falls within the rubric of queer studies (along with that of many other fields), while also expanding our field’s purview and encouraging further study into the alignment
of errant religious, gender, and sexual practices and identifications."

GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies

“One of the harbingers of the Mormon studies field’s development has been the increasing number of scholars who have turned their attention to the faith in order to explain broader academic issues. The most recent contribution to this growing trend is Peter Coviello, literature scholar and author of a handful of well-received books, whose Make Yourselves Gods: Mormons and the Unfinished Business of American Secularism was published in the University of Chicago Press’s prestigious Class 200 series. This series, edited by Kathryn Lofton and John Modern, prides itself on being interdisciplinary, innovative, and provocative; Make Yourselves Gods is no different.”

Benjamin Park, author of 'Kingdom of Nauvoo'

“From a reviled set of bad beliefs and practices, Mormonism became a good white American religion by the end of the nineteenth century by redirecting the carnal life of the spirit to the reproduction of the domestic nuclear family. Make Yourselves Gods is at once a revisionist history of Mormonism and a critical engagement with theories of secularism, told with shining clarity in breathless, gorgeous prose.”

Joan Wallach Scott, author of Sex and Secularism

“Full of splendid insight and erudition, Make Yourselves Gods explores the ‘imaginative wildness’ of early Mormon thought in tandem with the orthodoxies of secularism that attempted to suppress and discipline this distinctive cosmology, providing an unprecedented way of thinking about how religion and ‘bad belief’ are vital to American biopolitics.”

Nancy A. Bentley, University of Pennsylvania

“Coviello writes a genealogy of foreclosed intimacies and vexed affiliations, a tale of queer worlds lost or at least winnowed by the wages of U.S. whiteness, citizenship, and territorial recognition. An indispensable intervention in ‘postsecular critique,’ this book contains multitudes.”

Molly McGarry, University of California, Riverside

"Make Yourselves Gods is a creative and important book. It presents a surprising por-
trait of early Mormonism that describes the tradition’s secular drive to normalcy in
terms that will obligate readers to reckon with just how weird normal can be. I recom-
mend it to all scholars of religion."

History of Religions

Table of Contents

Prologue: Winter Quarters

Part One: Axiomatic
1              Introduction: What We Talk about When We Talk about Secularism

Part Two: Joy
2              Endless Felicity: The Radiant Body of Early Mormon Theology
3              Gods in Subjection: Women, Polygamy, and the Eternity of Sex

Part Three: Extermination
4              The Polygamist’s Complexion; or, The Book of Mormon Goes West
5              Wards and Sovereigns: Deviance and Dominion in the Biopolitics of Secularism

Part Four: Theodicy
6              Conclusion: Protohomonationalism



John Whitmer Historical Association: Best Book Award

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