Richard Bushman’s Biography, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Assessed from a Sociological Point of View
Gordon Shepherd, University of Central Arkansas
Gary Shepherd, Oakland University
Abstract. This review of Richard Bushman’s biography of Joseph Smith is framed by three questions: What are the characteristics of a sociological biography? To what extent does Bushman’s book succeed as a sociological biography? And, what more could be done in an effort to write a sociological biography of Joseph Smith? While attempting to reconstruct the subjective meanings and motives of Smith’s thought and actions within the framework of his society and its history, a sociological biography should involve a strictly naturalistic narrative and analysis, focusing attention on the full range of human factors and events that shaped Smith’s religious career, and on the social consequences of his legacy. In addition, a sociological biography of Smith should be guided by a theoretical framework that would allow for meaningful comparisons with the biographies of other religious founders in order to confirm or make theoretical generalizations about the origins of new religions. Several theoretical approaches are suggested in this regard, including a religious rhetoric typology, social construction and contingency theories, and a “sideway history” approach to the study of biography.
Shepherd, Gordon and Gary Shepherd. 2022. “Richard Bushman’s Biography, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Assessed from a Sociological Point of View,” Journal of the Mormon Social Science Association 1, no. 1: 221-233. https://doi.org/10.54587/JMSSA.0110