We are pleased to present our first installment of “12 Questions,” with sociologist and Mormon Studies scholar extraordinaire Armand Mauss (here is a mini-bio). Thanks to everyone who sent in questions. As you will see, they generated a wide-ranging and thoughtful set of responses. Questions appear below in bold, and Brother Mauss’s responses follow in plain text.
[Click here for part two.]
1. You have spent your academic career largely outside of church-affiliated schools. As a Mormon studies scholar, what are the advantages and disadvantages taking this route from your perspective? How does it inform and/or impede your work in Mormon studies?
The main advantage of working outside of Church sponsorship (academic or otherwise) is that one never has to worry about ecclesiastical pressure to avoid research and writing on topics that might displease “the Brethren”. Of course, if one’s academic specialty is engineering, then that’s not much of a concern, anyway. However, if one works in the humanities or the social sciences, and especially in the field of religion, that is a constant concern. Similarly, at least during the past decade or so, Church employees of all kinds are “strongly discouraged” from participating or publishing in Sunstone or Dialogue, which have been publicly and privately criticized by conservative Church leaders.
The main disadvantage of working outside of Church-sponsored circles is that secular colleagues, especially in academia, have little use for religious studies, so most scholars who teach and write in the major disciplines are expected to earn academic tenure and promotion through their work on topics that are more “trendy,” politically correct, or attractive to government funding agencies. If one can find the time to “do the religion stuff” on the side, that’s OK, but there is not much appreciation for religious studies in general (except, of course, in the relatively few departments or specific programs for Religious Studies). I did my doctoral work under a rare sociologist at Berkeley (Glock) who was interested in religious studies, so I was able to do my dissertation on Mormons and race. However, when I began my university career afterward, I had to spend the first 10 or 15 years establishing my “credentials” in specialties such as deviant behavior (including alcohol and drug use), other social problems, and social/political movements. Only after I had tenure and my final promotion was it “safe” for me to start moving out of those research fields and devote myself increasingly to religious studies generally and to Mormon studies in particular. Until then, I had, of course, always done some scholarly work in religious studies (Mormons and others), but it was always done “on the side.”
As I was finishing my doctoral work (late 1960s), I was ardently “courted” by BYU colleagues for two straight years, but I was never tempted to sign on – not even a little bit. I knew that I would get into trouble in the long-run, if not the short-run, because of my independent intellectual streak, my tendency to question authority, and my abrasive personality (which was much worse when I was younger!). These offenses were far more tolerable in secular academic life, though they caused me a little bit of trouble even there. All in all, I have found a comfortable and independent home on the margin between (on the one hand) unquestioning obedience to ecclesiastical expectations for conformity and office-seeking, and (on the other hand) obeisance to secular liberalism, with ITS OWN demands for conformity and orthodoxy. Neither has ever gotten my unquestioning loyalty, so neither has been able to control me totally, but both networks have nourished and strengthened me. Still, I have tried constantly to give each its due, in both loyalty and service, and to use balance and fairness in my criticisms of both. I have remained active in the Church throughout my life and served in many different callings, including bishopric and high priest leader, but I have understandably never been called as a bishop or as a stake president. If I were to start my adult life over, I think I would manage all of this in about the same way (though I would try to keep the commandments more fully and treat other people more graciously, even when it’s hard!). Implicit in all the above is that I distinguish between my relationship with the Church and my relationship with the Lord, to whom I have always tried to stay close, or at least to return to closeness after occasional periods of wandering.
2. What hitherto neglected topics in Mormon studies would you like to see more scholarly attention devoted to?
Here is just a start :
a. Any work that compares the nature and implications of cultural differences between Mormons in North America and Mormons in other societies of the world – including how these differences affect Church growth, retention, and doctrinal adaptations in various societies.
b. Studies of different “ideological constituencies” in Mormonism (at least American Mormonism) and the behavioral variations among those constituencies (“iron rod” Mormons, “Liahona” Mormons, or any other such labels or categories that might prove empirically valid).
c. The short- and long-term consequences of various forms of “boundary maintenance” in the Church (including, but not limited to, disciplinary councils).
d. A thorough and candid evaluation of the role of CES in LDS Church life, including not only the actual (as contrasted with the ostensible) part it plays in the socialization of LDS youth, but also the power and influence of the CES bureaucracy in LDS doctrine and organizational practice.
e. A thorough and candid evaluation of the cultural, intellectual, and spiritual impact of “correlation” in the Church during the past forty years. Is Mormon culture more emotional and less intellectual these days, or is that just my imagination? I feel that I have been living through a general “dumbing down” of Church culture, both in discourse and in music. If that is a reality, what are the causes and consequences of that development, both in North America and elsewhere?
3. A few T&S readers have suggested that the purpose of General Conference is to establish the proper form of Mormon discourse in ways both large and small. How could General Conference be argued to serve, or not, as a standard for both the way we talk to each other and the things we talk about?
This is another area that could use some systematic research by skilled rhetoricians. I have little to offer here, since I never attend General Conference any more and rarely watch any of it on TV. I have found that it is a much more efficient use of my time to do selective reading of the Conference addresses in the Ensign afterward. The few times that I attended Conference in the Tabernacle during my earlier years were very inspirational experiences, partly because of the venue and partly because of the “uncorrelated” nature of the sermons. LeGrand Richards, who has been gone for many years, was the last of the great apostolic preachers. Today’s bland platitudes do not compare with the spirit-driven exegeses and calls to service that used to be common. Since the Conference talks have been correlated and homogenized, I find them mostly boring and repetitive, and I remain totally uninspired by the “large and spacious building” in which they are now delivered.
4. The Church in the U.S. seems to be navigating two different identities right now. On the one hand, like moderate Protestants, Mormons are well-educated, often embrace scientific discovery and progress, are government and community leaders, etc. On the other hand, like evangelical Christians, Latter-day Saints are often scriptural literalists and also believe it is the last days and that Christ will return to the earth. Can the Church continue to keep these two
identities or will the time come when they have to choose between a respected, Protestant-like image, or a more fundamentalist image?
This question forces me to the immodest position of having to cite my own book, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (University of Illinois Press, 1994), which seems to have been largely overlooked by all but a few specialists. The quandary posed in this question (above) is, indeed, the main issue in my book. Copies are still available very cheaply through Benchmark Books and Amazon. Try it! You’ll like it! My main argument is that oblivion lies at either end of the Protestant continuum, so that the Church should not (and, I believe, will not) choose either but will constantly adjust its message and culture to remain at a point of “optimum tension” on that continuum (i. e. “tension” with the surrounding American culture, which may or may not be “optimum” in relation to other societies). As part of this process, the Church uses a somewhat different emphasis and form of discourse in addressing the outside from what it uses in addressing the Saints inside. In speaking both ways, the Church is not contradicting itself but is “Janus-headed,” for it exemplifies to the outside its “mainstream Christian” aspirations and goals, while emphasizing to the Saints inside that it is special, exceptional, and the “only true and living Church on the face of the earth.” The idea is to “stand for something,” but to emphasize some of the “somethings” to some audiences and others of the “somethings” to other audiences.
5. We have had a few discussions on the “greying” that has been happening in the more established voices of Mormon studies — it seems that fewer young people are involved in Dialogue, Sunstone, and the Journal of Mormon History than used to be. As a member of the Board at Dialogue, and a long-time contributor to the field generally, do you think this is accurate? If so, what do you think this means for the future of Mormon studies?
I concur that the “greying” is a big problem for the future of Mormon Studies. It has been brought about mainly by the collision of two social and intellectual developments : (1) the excesses of some of the intellectuals in the current generation (i. e. the generation after Arrington et al.), most of whom are now in their late 40s and 50s; and (2) the hostility, largely unwarranted, of a few very conservative Church leaders who happened to come to the pinnacle of their power over Church policy just as this post-Arrington generation was maturing and “feeling its oats.” The collision between these two throughout the 1980s and 1990s polarized the intellectuals, most of whom felt that they had to choose between two options in order to avoid the growing dissonance. Some of them (maybe half – who knows?) opted to put their Church loyalties, careers, and/or public images ahead of their intellectual yearnings and independence, feeling that the latter could not justify the disruption and jeopardy to their largely conservative spouses and families, to their aspirations for respectability in the Church, or to their career plans. Others (maybe another approximate half) decided that they could not simply put their doubts or their intellectual quandaries on the shelf, or compartmentalize their religious and intellectual lives. For them, it was just easier to leave the Church altogether, or at least to revert to minimal activity. This polarization has left a relatively small cadre of intellectuals in the middle (“moderates”?), who have been willing to accept a degree of marginality in the Church in order to continue their intellectual quest publicly.
This was the generation of “baby boomers,” which was quite large to start with, so even that “moderate remnant” in the middle has been able to pass on the legacy of the earlier Arrington generation to some extent. Meanwhile, the Arrington generation itself is not only greyer yet, but it is also diminishing rapidly from “natural causes,” since we are now all in our late sixties, seventies, or eighties. If those of us who gathered around Arrington in the 1950s and 1960s can be considered the “first generation,” then the baby boomers are the “second generation,” the one hit hardest by the polarization and split I mentioned above. Attention must now focus on a “third generation” – those now in their 20s and early 30s, which include some of my grandchildren.
I remain optimistic about the next generation. This “third generation” seems to me somewhat more relaxed about their intellectual quests. They feel somewhat less need than their parents felt to choose between the two options I mentioned, partly because they do not expect to suffer the opprobrium or anxiety their parents suffered if they opt out of the Church entirely (many others having by now followed that path with seeming impunity). For the same reason, however, they are less inclined to put up with ecclesiastical and social censure and pressure, which will simply push them out of Church activity more quickly than it pushed out some of their parents; but if they leave, they are less likely than those in the second generation to leave angry. All in all, these youngsters seem to me slower to “get mad and leave,” unless they are actually faced with ultimatums (ultimata?).
At the same time, I think the Church leaders have shown less inclination during the Hinckley years to crack down on dissenters, especially in any public way. It has been enough, for their purposes, to marginalize Dialogue, Sunstone, and the like, and to use informal pressures, “behind the scenes,” to make potential trouble-makers uncomfortable and keep them marginalized (One such device is the still-active “Committee to Strengthen Church Members,” which continues to review Dialogue and Sunstone articles and tapes and report offending passages to Area Presidents, who then pass them along to Stake Presidents, who then “call in” the members for counseling and discussion).
Finally, another reason for my optimism is the emerging academic phenomenon of Mormon Studies Programs. A fledgling variety of such a program was started by Eugene England at UVSC and remains there under the umbrella of a more general Religious Studies Program (which is how other Mormon Studies programs have started). At present, Utah State University has instituted both an endowed chair and a special program in Religious Studies, and it is now in the process of doing the same for Mormon Studies (based on the Arrington Chair there, which will have raised its endowment this year). Perhaps less well known is the new commitment to a Mormon Studies program and endowed chair at the Claremont Graduate School in southern California, which will be operational by Fall of 2005. These new programs will have academic respectability and cannot be controlled by the Church, but they will also offer “cover” for LDS scholars whose legitimate academic research and writing, even if embarrassing to the Church, cannot bring Church discipline without a public relations debacle. I expect most LDS scholars who occupy (or aspire to occupy) chairs or other positions in academic Mormon Studies will themselves be loyal Church members. The difference is that a history of loyalty to the Church has not been enough to keep scholars out of trouble at BYU, but I think it will be enough when they do their work in other academic settings.
6. In your recent, brief comments in the July 2002 Sunstone entitled Seeing the Church as a Human Institution, you noted that large, bureaucratic organizations like the Church operate by supra-individual processes and imperatives. How can the Church avoid any possibly deleterious effects of such tendencies?
I don’t think the Church can avoid such effects altogether. Bureaucracies, like families, are “natural” institutions (i. e. phenomena of nature) that seem to operate largely by processes of their own. In the Church, that is part of the price we pay for “success.” The “kinder, gentler” and more “humane” Church of my youth was also smaller than a million members, and both wards and stakes had enormous autonomy compared to what they enjoy now with centralized “correlation.” Like families, however, bureaucracies are led and operated by individuals – in this case by bureaucrats – who have individual traits, skills, and weaknesses that can either ameliorate or exacerbate the “natural” processes that occur in these institutions. I have noticed during the past decade a growing tendency in the Church to take into account local and individual needs and differences (in wards and stakes). One sign of this is the growing emphasis on the use of councils of various kinds (not just the Ward Council), thanks largely to the leadership of Elder Ballard. Another is the greater public recognition of women and their leadership. So, I think a lot can be done “around the harder edges” of bureaucracies, but ultimately bureaucracies are bureaucracies.
This is a very interesting interview. I don’t feel like I have much content to contribute, but it’s a fascinating read. I never would have thought about some of the things Brother Mauss mentions (such as his explanation of the advantages and disadvantages of working outside of church schools, and his analysis of the “greying” issue).
Not sure if comments are wanted here, judging by the silence. But if I’m way out of line here, somebody just hit delete. . .
Dr. Mauss, thanks for some informative thoughts. I enjoyed reading your takes on Mormon intellectualdom and the future you project for it. However, I was a bit surprised to see your list of possible motives for which some of the boomer generation felt compelled to leave the increasingly marginalized ranks or the Sunstone crowd in the eighties and nineties. You posit that of those who opted out of independent intellectual striving in favor of a more orthodox church life, most were compelled either by wishing not to make things hard for their families, or by concern for reputation and image, or preservation of their careers. This is surprising to me (not having witnessed the era you speak of) because I have always assumed that a large part of this group must have been motivated simply by a belief that church leaders ought to be obeyed.
I wonder, then, if your experience led you to some contrary belief. Of those who left the edgy intellectual circles under subtle pressure from the church hierarchy, were a majority really selling out for superficial, image-related reasons? Surely a desire to stand in good stead with the leaders of the church doesn’t have to be shallow and image-conscious, does it? Couldn’t it be that many of these people wished only to do the right thing, and to them, the right thing was the course suggested by the hierarchy of the Lord’s church?
From your post, you seem not to believe that “orthodoxy” is a good in itself, which is certainly a tenable position. But it seems that there were those, during those years of pressure for the groups you speak of, that felt differently. I guess your rendering of their motives was just a bit jarring for me, and I’d be interested to know whether you wrote these words casually, or were really relating an opinion gained from observing those who decided to stop rocking the boat.
Comments are certainly welcome, Ryan. Brother Mauss indicated to me that he would likely read the comments, but probably would not have time to respond.
I don’t know the answer to the question you raise, but I certainly don’t think that withdrawing from certain Mormon studies circles for the sake of keeping harmony in one’s own family is a “superficial, image-related reason.”
And here’s hoping that Brayden King can get to work on #2! (As soon as he’s tenured, of course.)
Mauss writes, “Some of them…opted to put their Church loyalties, careers, and/or public images ahead of their intellectual yearnings and independence…. Others…decided that they could not simply put their doubts or their intellectual quandaries on the shelf, or compartmentalize their religious and intellectual lives.”
How refreshing! The believer is either fearful of the hierarchy, blindly loyal, ignorant, schizophrenic (aka “compartmentalized”), mercenary, or just “keeping up appearances.” The unbeliever is bold and courageous, risking fame, fortune, friends, and family in his relentless quest for Truth. And, as for the “graying,” it’s not a sign of the spiritual (and, as often as not, intellectual) bankruptcy of the boomer generation pioneers of skepticism; the dubious talent of doubt just skips a generation.
In listing “the excesses of some of the intellectuals in the current generation,” make special note of ham-fisted, self-aggrandizing, Black Hats/White Hats narratives such as the one to which Dr. Mauss just treated us.
You may not have intended this, but your post seems to cross the line between criticizing ideas and people–especially with sarcasm or vitriol–that we don’t permit here at T & S.
While us permabloggers are used to being abused, I am saddened to see this type of thing directed at a guest.
Again, I would think we would expect and welcome criticism of Brother Mauss’s *ideas*, but not his person, and not in such a contentious manner.
For what it’s worth, this semi-permablogger finds Bro. Mauss’ comments non-sarcastically refreshing, both in tone (honest and straightforward) and substance (hopeful). I am encouraged by his view that there is a middle ground that avoids both polar positions, and by his sense that individuals on the “two sides” have reigned in the rhetoric and are moving to rebuild some of the trust and dialogue that was lost in the 80s and early 90s.
“The believer is either fearful of the hierarchy, blindly loyal, ignorant, schizophrenic (aka “compartmentalized”), mercenary, or just “keeping up appearances.” The unbeliever is bold and courageous, risking fame, fortune, friends, and family in his relentless quest for Truth.”
Hmmm…My ear didn’t catch anything like these characterizations in the comments by Mauss. Selective perception at work again?
“Black Hats/White Hats narratives”????????
Doesn’t Mauss clearly express a sense of loss given the dearth of scholars “who have been willing to accept a degree of marginality in the Church in order to continue their intellectual quest publicly”?
If I understand Dr. Mauss’s analysis of the 20 and 30 somethings of Mormon intellectualdom it goes something like this: The current tone of the discussion is less strident because the young simply exit earlier, rather than after a prolonged battle with the institutional church which leaves both sides polarized.
I am skeptical. It is far from clear to me that the costs of exiting Mormonism for young, active Mormons today are significantly lower than they were for their baby boomer fore-bearers. It seems to me that a more likely explanation is that boomer generation intellectuals tended to see their raison d’etre in terms of reform of the establishment a la the civil rights or anti-war movements. I don’t think that the association between intellectual and activist is as tight now as it was thirty years ago when the boomers imbibed their intellectual zietgiest. Lacking a strongly pre-defined narrative of intellectual-as-activist and establishment-as-enemy, I think that we are more likely to simply be nerdy people who are just interested in stuff…
This is a very interesting post. Thanks to Greg for putting it together. I’m going to remember Mauss’s final statement as I teach my complex organizations class next semester: “I think a lot can be done “around the harder edges” of bureaucracies, but ultimately bureaucracies are bureaucracies.”
Does that include people who use phrases like “imbibed their intellectual zeitgeist”? You’re making my head spin. I think I had better go imbibe some water. :)
Kaimi: I think that “imbibed their intellectual zeitgeist” defintely counts as evidence of nerdiness.
But Nate, your nerdiness is mitigated by your initial misspelling of “zeigeist,” just as mine is exacerbated by having pointed this out.
Inflammatory rhetoric aside (not bad, as inflammatory rhetoric goes), I have much the same objection as Ryan Bell or Scott. Is it really true that no intellectuals stayed loyal to the church because they believed it their religious duty to God and the churhc? If so, it must either be that if I were smart enough to be an intellectual I’d somehow realize that all my non-rational emotional/experiential/spiritual ties to the church and the principle of obedience are poppycock, or else it must be that, even given my impoverished education and two-bit intellect I’ve managed to figure out something that’s escaped Mormonism’s best minds. God save Mormonism, if that’s the best we can do. I would prefer to think that some stayed to please God.
Note that I’m not really aiming this polemic at Brother Mauss. As Ryan B. points out, we’re simply not certain if that’s what Brother Mauss meant to imply.
Adam, Ryan, Scott, could it be that Brother Mauss was speaking as a sociologist and looking for more naturalistic explanations? Or that he thought the reason of having a testimony was implicitly understood?
Try not to make people offenders for a word.
I really liked the interview-
like Adam, I dislike the inflamitory rhetoric, but find some persuasiveness in it.
BUT- I think it is overly critical. The question asked Dr. Mauss why HE thought that people left- many of whom he knew.
Further, many who would have been forced, encouraged or just plain asked to change what they were saying were saying things that basically invalidated a belief that one should always just follow church leaders because they are church leaders even when they disagree.
So, we should probably cut Dr. Mauss some slack.
Amen to Kristine’s comment. I based my remarks about this polarization and its consequences on the assumption that it occurred/occurs among people who CARE(D)IN THE FIRST PLACE about testimonies, obedience, etc. None of this matters for people who don’t see a quandary, EITHER because (1) they don’t care that much about the opinions of Church leaders, OR (2) they think everything boils down to blind obedience. Perhaps most of the controversies across ALL generations in the Church from the very beginning have derived from this most BASIC question : How can we know whether pleasing God is the same thing as pleasing “the Brethren” (or, as is more often the case, pleasing a PARTICULAR leader or group of leaders at the stake or general level at a given time). That requires another long discussion, of course, but anyone who thinks that there has always been unanimity among the Brethren, even over the same issue in the same generation, has not studied much LDS history (e. g., what was the REAL policy of “the Brethren” on the use of artificial contraceptives from one generation to the next?). Let us not forget also that there is no such thing as a “principle of obedience” IN THE ABSTRACT. We are enjoined to be obedient TO the Lord, or TO a given person, or TO a given commandment or administrative directive.
What this means can be rather ambiguous in given cases. For example, there has never been, as far as I know, an official injunction against participation in Sunstone, Dialogue, or similar “unsponsored” activities, and a sister organization, the Mormon History Association, has periodically enjoyed the participation even of general authorities of the Church (as in the case of the annual conferences this year and last). Yet many of the Saints seem to have the idea that “the Brethren” want us to avoid “unauthorized” forums or symposiums. I have heard MANY bishops and stake presidents over the years tell their flocks that “obedience” requires us to avoid those things, and on a second-hand basis I have heard that SOME general authorities have privately given the same advice. So, in this case, what constitutes “obedience”? It is at THAT LEVEL of quandary and ambiguity that many of those with intellectual concerns have had to decide which side to choose in that process of polarization about which I spoke. It has had nothing necessarily to do with “orthodoxy” or with keeping the commandments, but much more to do with whether one wants to deal with the quandary or just “bag” the whole thing by moving in one direction or the other.
I have enjoyed the dialogue presented herein. I see both sides of the discussion. Interestingly, though there is a third side from my point of view. I have always been bothered by the statement “Obedience is the first law of Heaven”. It makes me uncomfortable because of our given agency. We are then responsible for the thoughts, actions and non-action of our choosing. Until a few years ago I thought I had to be one side or other of this argument. Not so, we need to know our Father, that is our task. To know His voice. All the minutiae in the middle, that takes time from serving others or seeking Him, is simply just that. Not to reduce the value of any of our thoughts or comments, because it is a good exchange of ideas, but belittling each other for a words sake is wrong. No matter what side of the argument you take.
A couple thoughts, especially since our guest is reading the comments.
First, I think we have more than a simple two pronged breakdown in the categories of church members. I’ve a post about that at http://www.adrr.com/living/ss15.htm but I think there are more than two.
Second, back in the 70s I was involved in what became FARMS, back when it was nothing more than an archive of photocopies of essays about the Temple. I really think that FARMS creates a dynamic and a center for intellectual approaches to the gospel far different from what Skousen and others created.
Part of that is a certain blandness, part of that is a certain level of academic depth as an entryway.
Much of what I saw on the outside was rather facile and centered more on the ability of one to write expressively than intelligently. I still remember Eugene England demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the square-cubed law in a discussion of nuclear weapons. He was glib, but shallow. Since he had “paid his dues” I was told that he deserved more respect than the person on the other side who merely happened to be right.
But I think that you get a different kind of scholar if they start with Nibley and FARMS and move on to more FARMS rather than if they start with Skousen and move on to Arrington. It creates a completely different dynamic.
I can’t speak for Scott, but Ryan and I were not trying to make offenders for a word. We both thought that his remarks could have been interpreted a certain way, along with the other ways that you suggest, and wanted a clarification. Speaking of offenders for a word!
That said, I realize that the web doesn’t lend itself well often to tone, nuance, and subtlety of meaning. I apologize to any, particularly to Brother Mauss, who felt like I came out unprovoked and swinging. I did not mean to hurt or attack or offend. Let good fellowship reign.
Brother Mauss is a busy man. I’d like to thank him for expanding the remarks that puzzled Ryan and I. After his expansion, his position seems sensible, even inevitable.
The unique thing about the oscillation between the Angel and the Beehive is, as Brother Mauss points out, that it is an oscillation between embracing and rejecting American culture and American religion. I wonder very much if the Church abroad will someday get enough weight that it can’t be ignored, and what will happen to the oscillation then? It seems we could either revert to a sort of national churches model, or else that globalization of the church would continue the process of doctrinal simplification, which would trend us towards assimilation here.
I personally appreciate Professor Mauss’ comments about choosing to teach in a non-Church affiliated school. This is an issue that is highly relevant to me. I have always hoped that I could be a bridge from the LDS community to the academic religious studies community and vice versa—not for proselyting (as CES types seem to expect) but for translation, interpretation and dialogue. My concern is that instead of being fully embraced as a member of both communities, I will become a distrusted member of both for some reason. My fear is that I will ultimately “belong” nowhere. I’m always searching for the place where I could teach, study and live authentically both as a committed Latter-day Saint and as an intellectually honest scholar of religion.
Melissa, a thought:
We all know that academic jobs must be taken where found, especially in an area like religious studies. If you did have a choice, might I suggest looking for a moderately conservative, somewhat religious school? This will make you seem less interesting and will make your interactions less bipolar, the poles being conservative, orthodox LDS and liberal secular.
Not sure if I’ve been lumped in with the provocateurs or not, but I hope it’s clear from my post that my question was a sincere one. Thanks for the thoughtful response, Brother Mauss.
One other comment: I found the distinction between one’s relationship with the Church and one’s relationship with the Lord a very helpful one. The idea of this being two separate and distinct relationships is meaningful conceptually and practically. Especially in practice, because once one has them separated in his or her head, one finds that each relationship requires quite different methods for keeping them up. While our relationship with the church will be based on external signifiers– outward proxies for inward righteousness and faith, our relationship with the Lord is purer, not needing to be tranlated by means of symbols and flourishes. In short, any relationship you have with an omniscient being will not be weighed down with various attempts at portraying oneself correctly. He knows what we are, perfectly, and that makes him quite different from the church, which tries, but can’t always know everything about us. While man looketh upon the outward appearance, the church looketh upon the outward ordinances, and the Lord looketh upon the heart.
I agree with Nate that the costs of exiting church membership have not lessened in any measurable way in the last 25 years. The “third” generation simply hasn’t been as activist as our baby boomer predecessors. This isn’t only a Mormon phenomenom. I have heard old 60’s radicals and others like Ralph Nader/Howard Zinn, etc. constantly complain that my generation just wants to stay out of trouble and make money, and thus that we care very little about social justice (whatever that means).
This doesn’t mean, however, that there is a dearth of intellectual curiosity about church origins and doctrines in my generation. Don’t you all think that the ever-expading “bloggernacle” is evidence that a lot of us are still interested in discussing Mormonism with other faithful members outside the convential Sunday school forum? The “greying” phenomenom could just be a migration of interest from traditional mediums (or media for Latin geeks) of discussion such as journals (JMH/Sunstone) and the Sunstone symposium to the internet.
I can’t resist putting in my two-cents worth. First, nice to hear Armand offer his analysis of how one might navigate the choppy waters of Mormon intellectualism. First, I have to remind you readers that Armand has left out a significant part of the story–that is the part played by Mormon feminists whose intellectual journeys constituted more than arm chair theorizing. We were attempting to moderate some tendencies of the bureaurcracy and have an open discussion about how the Church and its men and women would accomodate to modernity especially as it relates to women.
As for the question about the greying of “Mormon Studies”, I offer another interpretation. While I believe Armand is at least partially correct to note that we have some disaffected young people, I also note that the baby boomer generation grew up during a time when the Church was much more separated and distinct from the world. That is, our world was the Church. I see young people today much more in the world and thus concerned with the direction the world is taking. In short, they don’t do Mormon studies because they have other things to do–the world is their campus.
Finally, as one who was once immersed in Mormon studies and is now happily freed from its required orthodoxy (the group itself was split between those demanding liberal orthodoxy and those demanding gospel orthodoxy), I offer another interpretation of what is happening with Mormon studies. I simply found other things to do. Mostly a function of burnout, but also because moderates find little support from either side of the debate, I looked to the younger cohorts and discovered a happy medium. I spend my intellectual time on other sociological questions: gender, family, social change, religion, social movements (wow alot of room for discovery). I engage in activism via state and community political engagement. And every week I sleep peacably through sacrament meeting, not because the meeting is boring mind you, but because at least in my ward I am lulled to sleep by the quiet determined spirituality of those who sit next to me.
Marie, this is a little tangential to the thread, but now that you’ve “delurked,” I’ve got to ask. Last summer, Claudia Bushman opined that the “second-wave” of Mormon feminism is dead–that having failed to make significant gains for Mormon women in terms of their participation in the structure of the church or in theology (especially an expanded discourse about Heavenly Mother), Mormon feminism of the 60s & 70s had essentially failed, and that a new generation would just *quietly* live feminism–earn advanced degrees, find ways of balancing work and family, etc. I think this view is perhaps overly optimistic, that most Mormon women of Gen X and younger have either made peace with the rhetoric about motherhood being the dominant appropriate goal for righteous Mormon women or they have voted with their feet. The “greying” of Exponent II and MWF is partly a result of this polarization and the felt impossibility of change within the church.
What do you think has happened to Mormon feminism, and where and how do you think it might reemerge?
I agree and disagree with Claudia. I don’t think Mormon feminism failed, although it is certainly in a quiet period. Why not say it failed? Because LDS women are graduating from college rather than leaving with only a couple of years of education. Because a much greater number of women are determined to have more equal marriages than in the past. Because depression is no longer stigmatized to the extent it once was. Because when the Scout drive was announced the last time in my Relief Society, the conservative Relief Society President said, “we want to know when you are going to raise money for the girls” and the group–the entire Relief Society–applauded. I don’t think we will ever stop talking about motherhood as women’s primary role because the only social institution today that promotes motherhood is religion. I see the emphasis on family and motherhood in the Church as primarily driven by a reaction to the growing demands on women’s time that is a function of the expansion of a market economy that promotes consumption and needs cheap labor. I know, we always bought into the idea that employment was a means of fulfillment. But the reality is that alot of jobs are just jobs. Most LDS women are employed, but I worry that more and more they are employed in low wage jobs because their husbands don’t make enough money and because they have not enhanced their human capital to participate competitively in the market. Mormon men are having to accomodate at least somewhat to the fact that their wives are employed which means if they value family life that they have to make some sacrifices for family life as well.
I’m waiting for feminism to re-emerge as a reaction to 1) growing wage dependency and the concentration of women in low paying jobs, 2) the sexual exploitation of women in the market and in the media. I have also encouraged my male students to engage in a men’s movement that works to enhance the ability of poor men to compete in the market, to rehabilitate ex-cons, and to engage in activism aimed at changing the educational system that separates the rich boys from the poor boys. By the way, none of them have taken me up on it yet. They just think I am crazy.
So I think we did see some changes as a result of the feminist movement in the Church. By the way, I think the feminist movement in the country is suffering badly as well–distracted by new sexual freedoms, lesbian rights, and abortion rights they have lost their way. Where are the feminists that should be knocking on the doors of producers of shows that entertain us with reality shows of women who are totally transformed by surgery and lipo suction. To the extent that feminism does not address race and class inequalities, I’m thinking it will be pretty ineffective for a while. But I have high hopes for a third wave, just hope it doesn’t take as long to imerge as the second wave did.
By the way, do you suppose the Committe to Strengthen Members monitors posts on this site? Just wondering.:-)
We actually have the software set up so that all comments and posts are directly emailed to church headerquarters where they are eagerly reviewed by a committee of church bureacrats!
I shared some of this post with a friend. This is part of what I got back:
” went to the Sunstone held at Claremont last week. I was surprised at the complete lack of tact during one the “Where have all the Mormon feminists gone?”. They seem to think they are in a room by themselves…and seem completely unaware of why it is not a good idea to set yourself up as the “thinking” member. Most of the session was very good…but there were enough of those unself-conscious throwaway lines like “there are only three choices for LDS women “stay, leave or silence”…but those who stay were characterized as having a supreme need to “belong”. They, of course, had higher motives.
These people continue to amaze me.”
Me again. I really appreciated being reminded by Marie (and indirectly by Kristine’s reference to Claudia) that there is an important feminist chapter in the story of the fate of LDS intellectuals during the past half century. It has always been something that I have watched with more than passing interest, but in which I have never been a direct participant. However, I see a number of parallels between my construction of the GENERAL history of an intellectual movement and Marie’s (and Claudia’s) construction of developments among LDS feminists. I think that ultimately they are part of the same larger story, but with considerably more anguish on the parts of the feminists.
Marie’s case also illustrates two important points: (1) In addition to the two options I mentioned earlier for the polarized intellectuals of the baby boomer generation, there has obviously been a third (and fully reasonable) one for BYU faculty – namely, don’t bail out of the Church but just bail out of Mormon studies (or don’t get into those dangerous waters to start with); also (2) for those who choose that option, there IS life after Mormon studies. Marie has done some great and interesting work since giving up Mormon studies, though I hope that some day she can resume the great work she was also doing earlier in Mormon studies!
Good discussions on feminism. Since the Sunstone West conference, I’ve gotten more interested in looking at it and will probably take in a session or two at the upcoming Process-Relational and Women’s Theologies conference at Claremont.
Two comments from conferences have stayed with me. Margaret Toscano at UVSC noting that girls are continually having to ask if they could insert themselves into that(male)space and Peggy Stack’s comment at Sunstone that women simply didn’t have the time for activism because they were working now. The ramifications of the latter observation are breathtaking. We are left with a movement that literally devoured its young because feminism was and continues to be reactive rather than proactive or progressive. We have failed, as women and as LDS women, in particular, to define ourselves in a way that is consistent with our theology. I suspect process theology, with God as lure is more amenable to this than the secular grappling for power that women have taken on as liberation.
“women simply didn’t have the time for activism because they were working now.”
That is a breathtaking observation.
I would also say, from dealing with younger people with intellectual interests, that the fads of their elders don’t attract them.
FARMS tends to look boring, the other stuff tends to look shallow and self-absorbed.
(I’m not saying that FARMS is boring or that Sunstone is shallow and self-absorbed, just that that is the impression that a lot of what I’d call “kids” seem to get).
There is also a good deal more to being able to have basic literacy than there used to be.
Once upon a time all it took was “coffee house” literacy to be involved. Now it takes a good deal more, and, outside of FARMS, there is no clear path to becoming a literate part of things.
As I’ve said before, it used to be that twelve year olds ran into Skousen and then developed literacy from that base. Not to be too critical of the “thousand year” series, but it does leave a lot to be developed from and it launches into a set of directions.
Now, twelve year olds run into Nibley/FARMS and that launches them into a completely different direction, especially as the “outside” crowd is portrayed, generally, as disaffected and self-absorbed, grey and inactive (not saying any of that is true — used to be in a ward with some that were very active).
But that social melieu creates an entirely different perspective and direction for people with an interest. They end up with FAIR or some similar group rather than Sunstone.
Though, to think about it, I don’t see why FAIR and Sunstone ought not to overlap more, after all, our guest managed to participate in both.
An important side note is the group of LDS intellectuals characterized by the author of the article on the subject in This People. Not that I necessarily think that you gain much from an Ivy League educated individual treating others as psuedo-intellectuals, but the criticism has remained as an important strata in the discussion.
I’ve mentioned before the group of second rate (by Utah standards, even — see, I can commit the same sin of dismissal that others commit) leaning on Elder Oaks in a spiritual matter based on their academic credentials being so superior — and, it seemed, without any regard for his. Of course we all know that Chicago really wasn’t that good and that ABA scholarship doesn’t compare to a good coffee shop level of discourse.
Ok, I’ve been snide. I have in in me.
But seriously, there has been little attention paid to that entire strata of the discussion. And it is important, especially when I compare the credentials of someone like Welch to the other groups.
A very insightful comment, up to “an important side note is the group of LDS intellectuals . . . ” Nothing from there on out made any sense. Is this some sort of Straussian thing, secret knowledge reserved for the cognoscenti?
You might remember This People magazine (it appears to no longer be in print?) from articles such as ” John Welch on Becoming a Gospel Scholar originally in This People magazine” and similar articles.
Back when the “purge” was in the public discourse, an ivy league PhD wrote an essay about how his mother called, concerned about him, given the Church was purging intellectuals.
It was rather dismissive of those who claimed to be purged intellectuals or afraid of being purged as second rate hacks from non-legitimate programs.
I’m not agreeing with the essay, but the thrust of the essay has been repeated over and over again and adds a level to the discussion. Many people hear the name of a “purged intellectual” and think “self absorbed second rate hack” — which is an important reaction, regardless of the truth of the characterization (I’m talking about reactions and stratas to the discussion, not the reality or fiction on which they are based. I still smart from being flamed rather badly for explaining to someone why someone drew a conclusion, one I did not agree with, and having them conclude I was sponsoring the ideas).
“I’ve mentioned before the group of second rate (by Utah standards, even — see, I can commit the same sin of dismissal that others commit) leaning on Elder Oaks in a spiritual matter based on their academic credentials being so superior — and, it seemed, without any regard for his. Of course we all know that Chicago really wasn’t that good and that ABA scholarship doesn’t compare to a good coffee shop level of discourse.”
That is merely a discussion of an attempt I was aware of in the 80s by some “intellectuals” to have a meeting with Elder Oaks to and to lean on him in terms of their feeling that he should listen, heed and follow their advice on a point.
Didn’t mean to be Straussian (of which I often don’t understand the application of the term), nor did I consider any of it secret knowledge — it is the fact that it is not secret knowledge that causes it to have an impact.
Catch you later.
Having a personal relationship with Dr. Mauss and having benefitted from his views and observations in some critical junctures of my lif, I have come to some conclusions with regards to my faith and my intellectualism. They can be summed up in the following two phrases which I’ll offer, if you’ll excuse their cliche nature. First is that your focus determines your reality and second is something that someone much wiser than me told me–Whatever you’re seeking, you’ll find it. In my examinations of things I try to look for as many reasons to believe something as I do to not believe it. This has not always been the case. The temptation has been that if I didn’t like how something sounded to me, I would examine it and try to find reasons why it was wrong. After some profoundly life changing experiences I decided that my identity had become to question for questionings sake instead of using it as a tool to help me find deeper meaning to things. I don’t offer these remarks as an indictment of anybody or their views, but to share my experiences. Dr. Mauss’ article was an interesting read and I enjoyed being prompted to reflect upon my own feelings. Thanks you.