Max Mueller 08192016
Associate Professor Classics and Religious Studies


Max Perry Mueller (PhD, Harvard University) is an associate professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies. He is also a fellow at the Center for Great Plains Studies and teaches in the Department of History, the Honors Program, and the Global Studies program.

Mueller is a theorist and historian of race and religion in American history, with particular interest in Indigenous and African-American religious experiences, epistemologies, and cosmologies. The central animating question of his scholarship is how the act of writing—especially the writing of historical narratives—has affected the creation and contestation of "race" as a category of political and religious division in American history.

His first book, Race and the Making of the Mormon People (The University of North Carolina Press, 2017), examines how the three original American races—"red," "black," and "white"—were constructed as literary projects before these racial categories were read onto bodies of Americans of Native, African, and European descent. Choice described Race and the Making of the Mormon People as an "outstanding analysis of the role of race among Mormons." The book was featured in The Atlantic and Harvard Divinity School Bulletin and has been taught at, among others, Princeton, Harvard, and Stanford Universities. His next book, Wakara's America, will be the first full-length biography of the complex and often paradoxical Ute warrior chief, horse thief, slave trader, settler colonist, one-time Mormon, and Indian resistance leader.

Mueller's research and teaching also connect with his public scholarship. Mueller has written on religion, race, and politics for outlets including Slate, The New Republic, and The Atlantic. He also co-founded Religion & Politics, the online journal of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, whose mission is to bring the best scholarship on religion and American public life to audiences beyond the academy.

Selected publications

Book Projects

Race and the Making of the Mormon People, 1830-1908. The University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

* Winner of John Whitmore Historical Association, Best Documentary Book (2018)

Reviewed in: The Atlantic, Harvard Divinity School Bulletin, Choice, Reading Religion, Church History, Nova Religio, BYU Studies Quarterly, The Journal of Mormon History, Mormon Studies Review, Western History Quarterly, American Historical Review, Utah Historical Quarterly, among others.

Sample quotes from reviews: of Race and the Making of the Mormon People.

“Argues that Mormonism is a quintessentially American religion…. Yet, while the story of race and the LDS Church is similar to other American experiences of race, it’s also distinctive, leaving Mormons to grapple with the legacy of racism and white supremacy in their own way.” --The Atlantic

“Outstanding analysis of the role of race among Mormons.”--Choice

“A mature, meditative, and mighty engagement with a complex topic. Scholars of American religion and race, not to mention those engaged in the academic analysis of Mormonism, will be struggling with his conclusions for quite some time.”--Benjamin Park, The Junto

“Unlike many other works of race and Mormonism, Mueller pushes beyond only understanding white Mormon identities. He explains Mormons sought to create a "distinctly white Mormon race" and then stresses nonwhite Mormon perspectives and experiences. He explores what "white" might mean to African American and Native American Mormons thereby (re) centering the focus of Mormon constructs of race on African Americans, Native Americans, and nonwhite Mormons who influenced the LDS Church and its community.”--Farina King (Dine), author of The Earth Memory Compass: Dine Landscapes and Education in the Twentieth Century

“Argues that the Book of Mormon both reinforced and challenged nineteenth-century Americans' ideas about race--and that it set the stage for how Mormonism would develop in the decades to come.” --Jana Riess, Religion News Service

“Mueller's account is both arresting and insightful. His understanding of Mormon scripture—particularly the Book of Mormon—is thorough and comprehensive. And his contextualization of Mormon racial teachings vis-a-vis broader currents in nineteenth-century America helps readers discern what was unique about Mormon racial teachings.”--BYU Studies Quarterly

“Mueller’s excellent book tells us that race is a story we collectively write about ourselves.”--Association for Mormon Letters

“Ambitious . . . . Advances a thesis with which all future works on Mormonism and race will have to contend.”--Nova Religio

“If the scholarship surrounding the history of Mormonism were a target . . . Max Perry Mueller’s Race and the Making of the Mormon People strikes the center of that target with pinpoint accuracy”.--Western Historical Quarterly

“Engages deeply with the text of the Book of Mormon.”--Juvenile Instructor: A Mormon History Blog

Books in Progress

Wakara’s America: A Native And American History of The West

Editor of Peer-Reviewed Journal

(2015)  Guest co-editor with Gina Colvin. “Mormonism and Race: Beyond the Priesthood Ban,” special issue of Journal of Mormon History (July 2015).

Peer-Reviewed Journal Essays

(2019)  “The ‘Negro Problem,’ the ‘Mormon Problem,’ and the Pursuit of ‘Usefulness’ in the White American Republic.” Church History 88:4 (December 2019), 1–35.

(2015)  “History Lessons: Race and the LDS Church.” Journal of Mormon History (special edition for 50th anniversary of the Mormon History Association) (January 2015): 239-255.

(2013)  “Playing Jane: Re-presenting Black Mormon Memory through Reenacting the Black Mormon Past.” Journal of Africana Religions (October 2013): 513-561. * Won Award for Excellence (2014), Mormon History Association

(2011)  “Changing Portraits of Elect Lady: Emma Smith in the ‘Secular,’ RLDS and LDS Historiography, 1933-2005.” Journal of Mormon History (Spring 2011): 183-214.

Chapters in Edited Volumes

(2019) “When Wakara Wrote Back: The Creation and Contestation of the ‘Paper Indian’ in Early Mormon Utah.” In Essays on American Indian & Mormon History, edited by Jane Hafen and Brenden Rensink, 61-84. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.

(2018) “Religion (and Race) Problems on the Way to the White House: An Analysis of Obama and Romney’s ‘Faith’ Speeches.” In Religion in the Age of Obama, edited by Anthony Pinn and Juan Floyd-Thomas, 19-35. New York: Bloomsbury Press.

 (2016)  “The Pageantry of Protest in Temple Square.” In Out of Obscurity: Mormonism After 1945, edited by Patrick Mason and John Turner, 143-22. New York: Oxford University Press.

 (2015) “Twice-told Tale: Telling Two Histories of Mormon-Black Relations during the 2012 Presidential Election.” In Mormonism and American Politics, edited by Randall Balmer and Jana Reiss, 155-174. New York: Columbia University Press.


PhD, Harvard University

Research interests

  • Race and religion in American History
  • African American history
  • Native American history
  • History of the American West
  • Religion and politics
  • Religion and modernity