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David Howlett

Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion

David Howlett


Wright Hall 212


A specialist in American religions, David Howlett has taught at Kenyon College, Skidmore College, and Bowdoin College. His work highlights how religious minorities participate in the construction of centers and peripheries, manage internal dissent and difference, and develop strategies to distinguish themselves from and proffer critique of more powerful groups.

Howlett’s first book, Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space, is a historical ethnography set in late twentieth-century America that delineates the rival claims, narratives, and practices of multiple Mormon groups at a contested pilgrimage site in Ohio. It was awarded the Best First Book Award from the Mormon History Association. His second book, Mormonism: The Basics, is the only Mormon studies text that provides sustained comparative analysis of the three major traditions within Mormonism, and, as such, illustrates how young religions diversify over time and work out their place within a larger culture.

Howlett’s current research projects analyze the consequences of new network formations within contemporary Mormon denominations. His first project decenters the dominant American-based narrative of Mormonism by documenting late-twentieth-century global exchanges between a small Mormon denomination in America, subsistence-farming highland peoples (adivasis or “indigenous peoples”) in eastern India, and converts from a small Adventist church in the Philippines. In doing so, Howlett asks how small religious groups enlarge their global imaginaries, form transnational social networks, and create new cosmopolitan aspirations, all while remaining marginalized religious minorities in their local cultures. His second project, co-researched with Nancy Ross, offers a history of Mormon women’s ordination movements. In particular, Ross and Howlett investigate how women’s ordination advocates formed new interfaith relationships and transformed their ability to claim power for themselves. Although his scholarship is focused on Mormon studies, Howlett consistently addresses broader themes in the study of religion, e.g. pilgrimage, globalization, indigeneity, conflict, class, race, gender, and authenticity

Selected Publications


Mormonism: The Basics. Co-authored with John-Charles Duffy. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2014.

Articles and Chapters

“Inventing Rupture: Christian Adivasis, Hindu Nationalists, RLDS Americans, and the Valences of Conversion, 1964-1990.” In Missionary Interests: Protestant and Mormon Missions in Comparison, edited by Christopher Jones and David Golding. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, (forthcoming 2024).

Co-authored with Matthew Breay Bolton. “When the Helped Help the Helpers Help: The Global Transformation of Community-Led Development Practices in an American Faith-based NGO.” In Community-Led Development, edited by Elene Cloete and Gunjan Veda. New York: Routledge, forthcoming 2024.

Co-authored with Nancy Ross. “Creating a Feminist Religious Counterpublic: RLDS Feminists and Women’s Ordination Advocacy in America, 1970-1985.” Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation, forthcoming 2024.

Co-authored with Nancy Ross and Kennedy DeVries. “AWARE, Consciousness Raising Groups, and RLDS Feminist Networks, 1969-1985.” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 43.1 (2023): 148-163.

“The RLDS Church, Global Denominations, and Globalization: Why the Study of Denominations Still Matters.” Journal of Mormon History 48, no. 3 (2022): 1–14.

Co-authored with Nancy Ross and Zoe Kruse. “The Women’s Ordination Movement in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints: Historical and Sociological Perspectives.” Mormon Studies Review 9 (2022): 15-26.

“Why Denominations Can Climb Hills: RLDS Conversions in Highland Tribal India and Midwestern America, 1964-2001.” Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture 89, no. 3 (2020): 633-658.

“The Community of Christ (RLDS Church): Structuring Common Differences in the Philippines.” In The Palgrave Handbook of Global Mormonism, edited by R. Gordon Shepherd, A. Gary Shepherd, and Ryan Cragun, 655-676. New York: Palgrave/MacMillan, 2020.

“The Cultural Work of the ‘First Vision Accounts’ Essay.” In The LDS Gospel Topics Essays: A Scholarly Engagement, edited by Matthew L. Harris and Newell Bringhurst, 131-161. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2020.

“Ripe Fields, Plentiful Laborers, Few Jobs: The Prospects and Challenges for Early-Career Mormon Studies Scholars.” Journal of Mormon History 41, no. 1 (2015): 174-183.

“What Does Kashi Have to Do with Salt Lake?: Academic Comparisons, Asian Religions, and Mormonism.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 47, no. 2 (2014): 122-132.

“‘We’re Not the Mormons’: Alterity and Church History in the Community of Christ.” Fides et Historia 45, no. 1 (winter/spring 2013): 101-108.

“Restorationist Studies: The Future of the New Mormon History." Journal of Mormon History 35, no. 3 (2009): 200-204.

“The Bruderhof’s ‘System of Objects’: A Study in Material Culture and Christian Praxis.” Communal Societies 26, no. 2 (2006): 19-42.

“‘The Making of a Steward’: Zion, Ecclesiastical Power, and RLDS Bodies, 1923-1931.” Journal of Mormon History 32, no. 2 (2006): 1-38.

“Zion as Fiction: Gender, Early RLDS Novels, and the Politics of Place.” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal 25 (2005): 93-106.

Book reviews in Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Church History: Christianity and Culture, Nova Religion: The Journal of New and Emergent Religions, German Studies Review, Journal of the Civil War Era, Religious Studies Review, Journal of Religious History, Mormon Studies Review, and Journal of Mormon History.

Office Hours

Spring 2024

Tuesday 1–2 p.m.,
Friday 10–11 a.m.,
and by appointment


Ph.D., The University of Iowa
M.A., University of Missouri-Kansas City
B.S.E., University of Central Missouri

Personal website

Selected Works in Smith ScholarWorks