Railroading Religion

Mormons, Tourists, and the Corporate Spirit of the West

By David Walker

352 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 23 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5320-4
    Published: September 2019
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5319-8
    Published: September 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5321-1
    Published: August 2019

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Railroads, tourism, and government bureaucracy combined to create modern religion in the American West, argues David Walker in this innovative study of Mormonism’s ascendency in the railroad era. The center of his story is Corinne, Utah—an end-of-the-track, hell-on-wheels railroad town founded by anti-Mormon businessmen. In the disputes over this town’s frontier survival, Walker discovers intense efforts by a variety of theological, political, and economic interest groups to challenge or secure Mormonism’s standing in the West. Though Corinne’s founders hoped to leverage industrial capital to overthrow Mormon theocracy, the town became the site of a very different dream.

Economic and political victory in the West required the production of knowledge about different religious groups settling in its lands. As ordinary Americans advanced their own theories about Mormondom, they contributed to the rise of religion itself as a category of popular and scholarly imagination. At the same time, new and advantageous railroad-related alliances catalyzed LDS Church officials to build increasingly dynamic religious institutions. Through scrupulous research and wide-ranging theoretical engagement, Walker shows that western railroads did not eradicate or diminish Mormon power. To the contrary, railroad promoters helped establish Mormonism as a normative American religion.

About the Author

David Walker is assistant professor of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

For more information about David Walker, visit the Author Page.


“Theoretically rich and provocatively argued.”-- Benjamin E. Park

“This insightful book will be useful to those interested in railroads and the development of the West as well as those interested in Mormonism.”--CHOICE

“A book that is bursting with creativity, irony, and scholarly flair, Railroading Religion is a brilliant history of the making of railroads and religion in mid- to late nineteenth-century Utah. Unearthing a wealth of letters, journals, scrapbooks, promotional materials, and other sources and placing them in conversation with theorists of religion, technology, and tourism, David Walker finds a new way to tell readers about the constructed meaning of ‘religion’ in America while telling new stories about Mormons and their political and religious antagonists. This is one of the most thoughtful and original books on the history of Mormonism that I have read.”—John G. Turner, author of The Mormon Jesus

"David Walker’s Railroading Religion is a book of intricate and serious pleasures: at once a meticulous archival history of a failed municipal experiment, an ambitious and deeply imagined parsing of Mormonism in the American grain, and a venturesome, transformative effort to rethink the basic questions that animate the study of religion and the secular in modernity.”—Tracy Fessenden, author of Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature

“David Walker’s ‘mainlining’ of Mormonism in relation to the development of the transcontinental railroad is creative and innovative both in how he uses historical sources and how he considers theoretical concerns relating to religion and secularism. Railroading Religion brings together Mormon history, the history of religion in the West, and—pivoting around the intriguing town of Corinne, Utah—the history of railroads and economic development in America more broadly.”– Richard J. Callahan Jr., author of Work and Faith in the Kentucky Coal Fields: Subject to Dust