Mormonism is the principal branch of the Latter Day Saint religious and cultural movement. The movement began with the visions of Joseph Smith, Jr. (Figure 1)in the "burned-over district" of upstate New York during the 1820s. Smith gained a small following in the late 1820s as he was dictating the Book of Mormon, which he said was a translation of words found on a set of golden plates that had been buried near his home in western New York by an indigenous American prophet. On April 6, 1830 Smith organized the religion's first legal church entity, the Church of Christ in western New York. The church rapidly gained followers who viewed Smith as their prophet. The main body of the church moved to Kirtland, Ohio in the early 1830s, then to Missouri in 1838, where the 1838 Mormon War with other Missouri settlers ensued, culminating in the expulsion of adherents from the state. After Missouri, Smith built the city of Nauvoo, Illinois, near which he was assassinated in 1844. After Smith's death, a succession crisis ensued, and a majority voted to accept the Quorum of the Twelve, led by Brigham Young, as the church's leading body. Young then led the congregation westward, eventually settling in Utah near the Great Salt Lake.
Today a vast majority of Mormons are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) while a minority are members of other churches. Some Mormons are also either independent or non-practicing. Utah is the center of Mormon cultural influence and North America has more Mormons than any other continent.
Mormons have developed a strong sense of community that stems from their doctrine and history. During the 1800s Mormon converts tended to gather to a central geographic location. Between 1852 and 1890 many Mormons openly practiced plural marriage, a form of religious polygamy. Mormons dedicate large amounts of time and resources to serving in their church, and many young Mormons choose to serve a full-time proselytizing mission. Mormons have a health code that eschews alcoholic beverages, tobacco, coffee, tea, and other addictive substances. They tend to be very family-oriented, and have strong connections across generations and with extended family. Mormons also follow strict laws of chastity, requiring abstention from sexual relations outside of marriage and strict fidelity within marriage.
Mormons self-identify as Christian, though some of their beliefs differ from mainstream Christianity. Mormons believe in the Bible, as well as other books of scripture, such as the Book of Mormon. They have a unique view of cosmology, and believe that all people are spirit-children of God. Mormons believe that returning to God requires following the example of Jesus Christ, and accepting his atonement through ordinances such as baptism. They believe that Christ's church was restored through Joseph Smith, and is guided by living prophets and apostles. The belief that God speaks to his children and answers their prayers is central to Mormon faith.