Excerpt: “I first became interested in research with Latter-day Saints because Mormonism’s famous distinctiveness allowed me to question some of my own discipline’s theoretical claims about what religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is like and how it is supposed to work. When I was asked by the editors of this journal to write a short piece on Mormon anthropology, it seemed to me that two kinds of task were implied: first, to provide some indicative references to the anthropology written about Latter-day Saints, which Ann Taves has said is less familiar to scholars of religion including herself; and second, more broadly, to offer a brief account of what a comparative, plural, and perspective-sensitive approach to Mormonism—now also being called for by scholars in other fields, notably in a key issue of Mormon Studies Review —might look like from the point of view of an anthropologist. Another way of putting this second task would be to ask what the object “Mormonism” might look like from the viewpoint of anthropology and what the object “anthropology” might look like from the viewpoint of Mormonism, and so to begin to imagine the kinds of conversation that could take place between people involved in these two practices.
Christopher James Blythe, 2016. Emma’s Willow: Historical Anxiety, Mormon Pilgrimage and Nauvoo’s Mater Dolorosa, Material Religion 12: 405-432.
Abstract: Religious institutions establish collective identities through the production of a usable past, and thereby provide adherents with a sense of heritage. This article examines how this process functions in a Mormon pilgrimage site, Nauvoo, Illinois, where not one but two competing institutions, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and Community of Christ, have established alternative narratives of identity. I focus on the thousands of (almost exclusively) LDS pilgrims who visit the town each summer. I argue that the presence of multiple interpretations raises significant anxieties for many of these pilgrims. In an attempt to mediate these anxieties a vernacular religious site, a willow tree, is employed to point pilgrims to a Saint figure, Emma Smith, Joseph Smith Jr.’s widow, in order to fortify an alternative narrative existing outside of either official representation of Nauvoo’s past.
Sumerau, J. Edward and Ryan T. Cragun. 2015. “Avoid that pornographic playground”: Teaching pornographic abstinence in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Critical Research on Religion 3(2): 168-188.
Abstract: In recent years, many studies have examined conservative Christian responses to shifting societal attitudes about sexuality. In this article we examine official discourse from the LDS Church found in General Conference talks and the official adult magazine of the Church, Ensign, to better understand how leaders of the religion have taught the members to abstain from the use of pornography. Using a grounded-theory approach, we noted a pattern to the lessons that included four elements: (1) avoiding dangerous associations, (2) taking personal responsibility, (3) maintaining inner purity, and (4) seeking spiritual treatment. This study extends previous research by examining how Mormon leaders taught their followers to interpret and protect themselves from pornography. As such, our analysis demonstrates the elaboration of religious teachings that may facilitate the negative reactions to pornography researchers have observed in survey and outcome-based research on members of conservative religions.