The University of Utah named Paul Reeve its first Simmons Mormon Studies professor.
Through the Tanner Humanities Center, the U launched the Mormon Studies initiative in 2010, which, according to the department, “encourages vibrant, intellectual exploration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its people, values, history, culture and institutions.” The initiative, spearheaded by Professor Robert Goldberg, offers graduate research fellowships. Now, the Tanner Humanities Center is building the program, starting with Reeve.
Reeve, who is a professor of history, teaches courses focused on the western United States, specifically Utah and Mormon history. Reeve is a published author, writing about his research on the Utah-based religion. His most recent work, “Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness,” analyzes the dynamics of race from the beginning of Mormonism to now, with a focus on black, baptized members. The book is decorated with awards, including the Mormon History Association’s Best Book Award, the John Whitmer Historical Association’s Smith-Pettit Best Book Award and the Utah State Historical Society’s Francis Armstrong Madsen Best History Book Award.
“Paul Reeve is a leader in the field of Mormon studies,” said Reid Neilson, an Assistant Church Historian and Recorder for the LDS Church. “His ongoing work on race and ethnicity within Mormonism continues to break new ground and open up fresh fields of inquiry about our religious past. I’m delighted the University of Utah has recognized his many scholarly contributions. More importantly, he is a wonderful human being and delightful colleague to work with.”
Reeve plans to use his new position to continue his research on the LDS faith and its racial complexities. His first project will be a digital database called “A Century of Black Mormons” — a spin-off of his award-winning book.
“Because of the LDS church’s racial policy from the 1850s to 1978, which restricted black male priesthood ordination and black male and female temple admission, public perception, both among Mormons and outsiders, sometimes suggests that there were no black Mormons until after 1978,” Reeve explained. “This digital history project is designed to correct that perception and to recover the names and lives of black Mormons who have been erased from collective Mormon memory. Their lives matter and their names deserve to be known.”
The database will be composed of primary source documents and will be available to the public.
Reeve’s role will be advisory, organizing conferences, such as “Black, White, and Mormon: A Conference on the Evolving Status of Black Saints within the Mormon Fold.” The professorship, funded by the David E. and Melinda K. Simmons Foundation, requires that he serve on the advisory board of the Mormon Studies Graduate Fellowship.
“As I gave book talks across the country to various audiences, people frequently wanted to know how many black Mormons there were,” Reeve said. “No scholar to date has tried to systematically answer that question. The Simmons Professorship will allow me to do just that.”