Eugene England (1933–2001)—one of the most influential and controversial intellectuals in modern Mormonism—lived in the crossfire between religious tradition and reform. This first serious biography, by leading historian Terryl L. Givens, shimmers with the personal tensions felt deeply by England during the turmoil of the late twentieth century. Drawing on unprecedented access to England's personal papers, Givens paints a multifaceted portrait of a devout Latter-day Saint whose precarious position on the edge of church hierarchy was instrumental to his ability to shape the study of modern Mormonism.
A professor of literature at Brigham Young University, England also taught in the Church Educational System. And yet from the sixties on, he set church leaders' teeth on edge as he protested the Vietnam War, decried institutional racism and sexism, and supported Poland's Solidarity movement—all at a time when Latter-day Saints were ultra-patriotic and banned Black ordination. England could also be intemperate, proud of his own rectitude, and neglectful of political realities and relationships, and he was eventually forced from his academic position. His last days, as he suffered from brain cancer, were marked by a spiritual agony that church leaders were unable to help him resolve.
Scholar Givens (Wrestling the Angel) offers a revealing, detailed biography of influential 20th-century Latter-day Saint intellectual and educator England (1933 2001). The author argues England's progressive positions highlight both a Modernist-like crisis in Mormonism and a "Protestantizing Mormonism" (which England opposed) that removed many distinctive features. After serving as a missionary in Samoa in the 1950s alongside his wife Charlotte, England pursued graduate work at Stanford University and upset church leaders by launching Dialogue, a journal open to critical examination of LDS history and practices. England's positions to the left of the increasingly conservative church, especially on racial issues, delayed his dream of teaching at Brigham Young University but he did attain a position there in 1977 with help from influential colleagues. His sometimes inflexible interactions with LDS leaders including controversies around his support of feminism and questioning of theological orthodoxy led to his forced retirement in 1998. Givens leans into England's sincere dedication despite his "obliviousness to clear and loud signals" of leaders' displeasure, and manages to make the complex politics and doctrine of Mormonism accessible for outsiders. This is a solid biography that will illuminate key trends and moments in LDS history for scholars and general readers alike.