Term end has brought a flurry of research and writing activity, and quite a bit of back-and-forth with my supervisors regarding essay drafts. I chose to write one essay on why polygamous Mormon men in Utah voted for woman suffrage in 1870. (Note: polygamy has not been practiced by my church since 1890, but remnants remain, none more persistent than the belief that we still practice it, or that break-off groups who practice are somehow part of the faith. To call a member of the FLDS "Mormon" is like calling Baptists Catholic - a complete non-sequitor.) It's been a fascinating survey of early belief systems, and why my forebearers practiced something, eventually openly, by which they were universally initially repulsed.
It has also been fascinating to encounter the first hint of bias through the editing process. One of my supervisors is endearing, for, among many things, his affable nature, open and notorious foibles, and dizzying intellect which often is able to anticipate at least two or three thought steps ahead of me. In any event, he has been exceptionally kind to me since my arrival six months ago. In his courtesy, I have often wondered if he was trying to over-compensate for awkwardness he thought I felt about being Mormon in a "heathen" setting. (I'm pretty sure he thinks I have always lived in Utah before moving here and have never encountered a non-Mormon, despite the fact that my resume demonstrates a residence in DC for five years prior to moving to England.) In reviewing my polygamous suffrage essay draft, he made one comment about my reliance on Leonard Arrington's Great Basin Kingdom, published by Harvard (the volume which essentially made Mormon history and Mormon studies a valid topic of academic inquiry). In what my supervisor called his stream-of-conscious written edits and comments, he said I relied heavily on Arrington, and that I needed to provide a bit of bio on Arrington to demonstrate whether he was a "Mormon" historian or a respected historian, as if the two were mutually exclusive.
That comment stuck. So much in England is subtle, but this comment unconsciously revealed that my supervisor thought someone could either be Mormon or respected in academia. Interesting, because in the next breath he praised Richard Bushman, a faithful Mormon and historian at Columbia. I started to perceive through this and verbal comments that he made during our review session that the awkwardness I felt in our interactions perhaps wasn't based on his worry over me, but in this essential dichotomy in his thinking about Mormons: he thought generally that they couldn't be respected historians or academics, and yet I was capable of getting into Oxford and Richard Bushman was a good historian. Perhaps unconsciously, he was struggling with his personal experiences with Mormons and what he believed to be true in the abstract. Perhaps Bushman, and maybe myself, caused friction to his mental constructs. I wondered whether this friction was an element of the awkwardness in the relationship.
As I contemplated this interaction and the dimension it added to my doing well here academically and how that might help my supervisor and others overcome their conscious and unconscious prejudices, I learned of those who encountered more open anti-Mormon prejudice from those who discovered they were friends with a Mormon, me.
From a bigger perspective, if something were really true (and I believe my faith is), it would make sense that there would be opposition on a consistent basis. That prejudice exists is natural. Rather than being offended by it, a more constructive route is to acknowledge its existence as a non-personal phenomenon and commit oneself to being the kind of person whose life contradicts it. Perhaps this is why the Savior tells us that "by their fruits ye shall know them" - it's not only a method to sound judgment, but of being a good emissary for one's church.