Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Religion, PhD


School of Religion

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Vincent L. Wimbush

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Richard L. Bushman

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Lori Anne Ferrell

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Armand L. Mauss

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Rights Information

© 2012 Alonzo Huntsman


. . . believe in God, believe also in me . . . --John 14.1

"Authoring Authority" analyzes the ways texts function to generate social cohesion while at the same time advancing the power interests of their authors. The study is a comparative, critical, and interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary excavation of the religion-making efforts of the first-century Christian Apostle Paul and the nineteenth-century Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith.

This comparison defamiliarizes and recharacterizes the heroes and origin-stories of the dominant (and my own) tradition to force important questions about scholarly perspectives, interests and deferences (protection, exceptionalization), self-reflexivity, and politics. The project's critical orientation deploys insights and models from a range of disciplines to "read" these texts, not for exegetical purposes, but for what they signify and how they function in nascent social formations. The texts of these men were presented as if their contents were other than the products of embedded social actors (e.g. "it really is God's word" 1 Thes 2.13) contending for limited resources such as discursive authority and social power. These charismatic narrators harnessed the authority of pre-existing texts and traditions and integrated them with contemporary perspectives and sentiment. Their texts and performances offered a contingent construal of reality as ultimate reality--which served the power needs of their authors and the existential needs of their communities of subscribers.

The dissertation begins with the articulation of an analytical framework appropriate for the critical and comparative academic study of religion. Chapter two contextualizes the lives of these men within cultural settings that provided motivation, made available vocational training and, ultimately provisioned social opportunities for them as adept charismatics. Chapter three directly illuminates the range of techniques embedded in texts, both implicit and explicit, of claiming power and developing a following. The final chapter wrestles with the functional role of deception in social formation and human life.