Stretching the Heavens

The Life of Eugene England and the Crisis of Modern Mormonism

By Terryl L. Givens

344 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 14 halftones, notes, index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-6433-0
    Published: August 2021
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-6434-7
    Published: July 2021

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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.

About the Author

Terryl L. Givens is Neal L. Maxwell Senior Fellow at Brigham Young University and Jabez A. Bostwick Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Richmond. Among his books are Wrestling the Angel and Feeding the Flock.
For more information about Terryl L. Givens, visit the Author Page.


"A powerful exploration of how England maintained, on the one hand, devout loyalty to and genuine belief in the institutional church and, on the other hand, an indefatigable commitment to investigation and autonomy."--Benjamin Park, By Common Consent

"Revealing, detailed . . . a solid biography that will illuminate key trends and moments in LDS history for scholars and general readers alike."--Publishers Weekly

"Stretching the Heavens pays tribute to a remarkable scholar and writer, and to a new openness on the part of the institutional church and its culture. It’s an important contribution in understanding the environment in which the church and its members continue to operate and introduces a powerful voice to new generations of aspiring scholars and members at a dynamic time in the church’s history."--Association for Mormon Letters

“A beautifully written and theologically sensitive portrait of one of Mormonism’s finest minds, by another of Mormonism’s finest minds.”—Jana Riess, author of The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church

“Gripping and true, this is a powerful, deeply felt biography of Eugene England—perhaps the most signweawificant figure in Latter-day Saint intellectual life in the second half of the twentieth century. The story of the tensions that wracked the Church is compelling, though often painful. Terryl Givens admires England greatly but is unsparing in identifying his blind spots and weaknesses. This story of an idealist devoted to a traditional faith, even as he struggled with it, is relevant to contemporary battles and will resonate in many faith communities these days.”—Richard Lyman Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling