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.
Abstract: This article explores how religious communities actualize the virtual problem of temporality. Analysing two case studies from contemporary America, Mormon Trek re-enactment and a creationist theme park re-creating Noah’s ark, I argue that replication is a strategy for constructing a relationship with time in which a strict past–present divide is collapsed through affective means. This work contributes to comparative studies in the anthropology of religion and temporalizing the past.
Abstract: This paper examines how Utah’s 1947 This Is The Place Monument functioned in two contradictory ways: First, it confirmed the Mormon narrative of their entry into the Salt Lake Valley as a mythic narrative about a chosen people entering into their promised land. Second, it reinforced Mormonism as one among many traditions participating in the civil religion of Utah and the American West. In its exploration of these contradictory impulses, the paper examines the intersections of historical memory and the creation of sacred space.
By: Jon Bialecki (University of Edinburgh)
Liahona is not an ethnographic film. It is not even a documentary, or, at least, a documentary of the standard type. Consisting of images shot on scratchy 16 millimeter film using a hand camera, mixed with a wealth of found footage (much of it originally filmed by the Church of the Latter Day Saints, for either missionary or apologetic purposes), and shot through with decontextualized voice-overs, it is not concerned with clear explication, or at least with granting immediate clarity. Rather, it has more of the sense of a piece of symphonic music, with images or scenes briefly introduced, which are returned to again and again in different ways as the film proceeds. Again and again, we are shown shots of the stark landscape and expansive skies of Northern Utah, both of which are presented as sublime (in the Kantian sense of the word). This landscape is repeatedly juxtaposed with vintage shots of quotidian Mormon life, as well as with views of prominent Mormon temples in the region, scenes from the Days of ’47 Parade down Salt Lake City or the Manti Mormon Miracle Pageant. Some of these scenes are eventually given the necessary context to become readable as the film progresses. Other elements, such as the repeated and unexplained use of characters from the desert alphabet, a column of smoke from a scrub wildfire, or the haunting image of a feathered headdress, worn at either dawn or sunset, shrouded in shadow as it is juxtaposed against the Manti Temple, remain unexplained even at the film’s close. (Similarly, the source of the movie’s title goes unexplained for those not familiar with it). The soundtrack is equally jarring; we shunt between thundering church organs, atonal droning, and acapella renditions of iconic Mormon hymns such as “If You Could Hie to Kolob” and “Called to Serve.” Continue reading
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.
Abstract: Polynesia has a particular place in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The region that heralded the Church’s first overseas missions includes seven of the world’s top ten nations in terms of the proportion of Mormons in the population, and it is home to six Mormon temples. The Polynesian Latter-day Saint population is increasing in both percentage and absolute numbers, and peoples in the Pacific “islands of the sea” continue to play a central role in the Mormon missionary imaginary. This article explores Polynesians in the LDS Church and critically evaluates different theories seeking to explain this growing religious affiliation. Scholars of Mormonism and commentators explain this growth in terms of parallels between Mormonism and indigenous Polynesian traditions, particularly family lineage and ancestry, and theological and ritual affinities. After evaluating these claims in light of scholarly literature and interviews with Latter-day Saints, however, I conclude that other reasons—especially education and other new opportunities—may equally if not more significantly account for the appeal of Mormonism to Polynesians.
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. Early online publication.
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.
While globalization and the European construction increasingly undermine the model of the nation-state in the Mediterranean world, conversions reveal the capacity of religion to disrupt, and unsettle previous understandings of political and social relations. Converts’ claims and practice are often met with the hostility of the state and the public while converts can often be perceived either as traitors or as unconscious and weak tools of foreign manipulation.
Based on first-hand ethnographical research from several countries throughout the Mediterranean region, this book is the first of its kind in studying and analyzing contemporary conversions and their impact on recasting ideas of nationalism and citizenship. In doing so, this interdisciplinary study confronts historical, anthropological, political science and sociological approaches which offers an insight into the national, legal and political challenges of legislating for religious minorities that arise from conversions. Moreover, the specific examination of contemporary religious conversion contributes more widely to debates about the delinking of religion and culture, globalization, and secularism.
1. Evangelicals in the Arab world: the Example of Lebanon; Fatiha Kaoues
2. Purifying the Soul and Healing the Nation, Conversions to Evangelical Protestantism in Algeria; Nadia Marzouki
3. Religious Mobilities in the City: African Migrants and New Christendom in Cairo; Julie Picard
4. Pentecostal Judaism and Ethiopian-Israelis; Don Seeman
5. Ambiguous Conversions: The Selective Adaptation of Religious Cultures in Colonial North Africa; Heather J. Sharkey
6. Converts at work: Confessing a conversion; Loïc Le Pape
7. Being a Black Convert to Judaism in France; Aurélien Mokoko Gampiot
8. Converting to ‘Mormonisms’ in France: a Conversion both Religious and Cultural?; Chrystal Vanel
9. Participating Without Converting, the Case of Muslims Attending St. Anthony’s Church in Istanbul; Benoît Fliche
Abstract: For Latter-day Saints, blood is one important idiom of kinship, and of Christian worship, but not in the ways one might expect. This paper asks how the logic of the resurrected and ‘perfected’ body inhabits both registers, beginning with the surprisingly ‘bloodless’ LDS Sacrament Service. I then explore the paths by which Latter-day Saints navigate meanings of blood kinship in tension, especially attribution to the ‘Abrahamic lineages’. I argue, in agreement with Armand Mauss, that contemporary Mormonism has largely shed racist readings of ‘blood’, but suggest that both lineage and cognatic kinship as mystery remain salient through a ‘reduplicative logic’ which collapses physical inheritance, agency, and revelation. This illuminates both similarities to and differences from conservative American Protestant positions, including understandings of the life of the unborn fetus and the rights and wrongs of stem cell research.