International? Peripheries? Global? In search of a name

internationalWhat is an adequate label for the areas outside of the so-called “Church’s center”? If it pertains to non-US countries, “international” is commonly used, but semantically it is flawed because the United States itself belongs to the circle of all nations. “Foreign” and “alien” sound non-inclusive for a church that emphasizes worldwide unity and belonging among its members. As a neutral geographical term, “abroad” fails if one wants to include in the discussion ethnic minorities within the United States. Those have become particularly noteworthy as the Church again allows Mormon wards with a foreign ethnic or lingual identity on American soil, such as Cambodian, Korean, or Russian.[1] Within the United States, thousands of immigrant Mormons, or converted after immigration, represent various cultures, languages, and countries. For decades the Church has been struggling to find optimal ways to accommodate their needs. Recognized American racial and ethnic groups, such as American Indian and African American, form similar groups for specific study. Even the interaction with Native Americans is, ironically, part of a negotiated process with an “outside” group. The same can be said of Hawaiians.[2] It shows the ambiguity and complexity of our boundaries.

Also, the terms “international” (meant as outside the United States), “foreign,” “alien,” and “abroad” proceed from Americentrism. This US-centered vantage point to look at “others” is understandable since church headquarters and the “Mormon cultural region” are in the American West. All Mormon activity in the rest of the world still emanates from its American center. This Mormon Americentrism led Dutch anthropologist van Beek to envision two Mormon spheres, US and non-US, as “colonizer” versus “colonized” and to draw parallels with colonial history in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. For van Beek, the Mormon base in the United States, commonly called “Salt Lake,” is the “domestic” church, while the ecclesiastical areas in other countries are its “colonial” outposts. As these areas mature in leadership and turn into stakes, the relation becomes one from metropolis to satellites, comparable to how colonies gained sovereignty, while still being controlled by the metropolis within the dependencia model. Van Beek words this relation, in more neutral terms, also as one of “homeland headquarters” versus the “international periphery.”[3] That last word, in the plural, is also used by Reid L. Neilson to mark out the distant areas apostle David O. McKay visited during his world tour in the 1920s.[4] It is also used by Paul Reeve in his definition of “Post New Mormon History,” which includes the exploration of “Mormonism’s emergence as a global phenomenon (…) at the ever-changing peripheries as well as at the center.”[5] The BYU Church History Symposium of March 2014 on “Mormonism as a Global Religion” had as one its topics “Center and periphery relations.”

“Peripheries” may have some advantages. It bears no political connotation, while still expressing a tension between the two spheres. It includes anything that is not the center, thus also including divergent situations within the United States.[6] The plural “peripheries” evokes the diversity of that zone—hence also “a periphery” for a specific locale. It is possible to use the word with adjectival value, such as in “church periphery research” or “periphery topics.” The adjective “peripheral” is also usable as it reflects the reality of an ambivalence: peripheral topics not only belong to the geographical periphery, but they are also, at present, still tangential and secondary in the totality of academic publications on Mormonism.

“Global” is another word that has come into use to refer to a worldwide reality. The “Global Mormonism Project” at BYU promises “easy access to information on Mormonism in every region and country of the world, as well as topics of international scope.”[7] A lengthy Washington Post article entitled “The New Face of Global Mormonism” described the spread of this “all-American” faith to other countries.[8] The term has also become common in academic contributions, referring to the international dimension.[9] However, compared to “periphery,” “global” has an almost opposite connotation. The notion of globalization is not intended to discover and respect diversity but to stress cohesion and commonality, as in stating that English is becoming the global language of the world. Merriam-Webster defines globalism as “a national policy of treating the whole world as a proper sphere for political influence,” coming close to imperialism. In that sense “global Mormonism” can be understood as not referring to peripheral diversity, but as creating an integrated, similar “gospel culture,” driven by Church correlation’s motto “reduce and simplify,” to enforce an identical church all over the world. Warrick N. Kear describes the effect of these “reductions and simplifications” on Mormon music since this strictly defined, uniform music must serve “global Mormonism.”[10] The term “global” may evoke immensity, but it also may suggest an impoverishing mass crushing the colorful tapestry of nations and cultures. Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye hopes that such a globalization may be avoided by “glocalization” in international Mormon studies.[11] This topic of the American identity of the global church will continue to inspire studies.[12]

But does any difference ought to be made between center and periphery since the Church is indeed supposed to be the same all over the world, with the members participating in the same worldwide “gospel culture”? Even for the past, is it not sufficient to identify a specific person, group of people, or location as object of study, without the need for a broader term englobing spaced-out situations outside of the center? Perhaps such a hyperonym is needed if Mormon Studies of local peripheries is to extract from these confined areas more “c’s”—comparisons, connections, and common causes and consequences. In other words, research is to connect peripheries.

At this stage all these considerations are, of course, theoretical, because the center is not really defined, except through differences with what is not the center.

Any thoughts on this quandary?

[1]    Jessie L. Embry, “Ethnic Congregations,” chapter 6 in Mormon Wards as Community (Binghamton: Global Academic Publishing, 2001); also Embry, “Ethnic Groups and the LDS Church,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 25, no. 4 (1992): 81–96; “Speaking for Themselves: LDS Ethnic Groups Oral History Project,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 25, no. 4: 99–110.

[2]    Hokulani K. Aikau, A Chosen People, A Promised Land: Mormonism and Race in Hawai‘i (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012); Riley M. Moffat, Fred E. Woods, and Jeffrey N. Walker, Gathering to La‘ie. La‘ie (Hawai‘i: Jonathan Napela Center for Hawaiian and Pacific Island Studies, Brigham Young University Hawai‘i, 2011).

[3]    Walter E. A. van Beek, “Mormon Europeans or European Mormons? An “Afro-European” view on religious colonization,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 38, no. 4 (2005): 3–36.

[4]    Reid L. Neilson in the title of his edition of Hugh J. Cannon, To the Peripheries of Mormondom: The Apostolic Around-the-World Journey of David O. McKay, 1920–1921 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2011).

[5]    W. Paul Reeve, “Post New Mormon History: A Manifesto,” Journal of Mormon History 35, no. 3 (2009), 224.

[6]    In his comparison of “headquarters culture” and “Mormons living elsewhere,” Michael Quinn includes in the latter group all the church members who do not live in the immediate vicinity of church headquarters: “In religious, social, cultural, and psychological terms, church members at LDS headquarters have experienced Mormonism very differently from Mormons living elsewhere. Over time, this made the Mormon majority in headquarters culture “a different breed” from Mormons who lived as minorities.” D. Michael Quinn, “LDS ‘Headquarters Culture’ and the Rest of Mormonism: Past and Present,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 34, no. 3–4 (2001): 137.


[8]    Mary Jordan, “The New Face of Global Mormonism”, The Washington Post, 19 November 2007.

[9]    Reid L. Neilson, ed. Global Mormonism in the 21st Century (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2008); Mikael Rothstein, “Religious Globalisation: A Material Perspective. Assessing the Mormon Temple Institution in terms of Globalisation,” New Religions and Globalization. Empirical, Theoretical, and Methodological Perspectives, ed. Armin W. Geertz and Margit Warburg, 243–260 (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2008); Lawrence A. Young, “Confronting Turbulent Environments: Issues in the Organizational Growth and Globalization of Mormonism, ”Contemporary Mormonism, ed. Marie Cornwall, Tim B. Heaton, and Lawrence A. Young, 43–63 ( Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994).

[10]  Warrick N. Kear, “The LDS Sound World and Global Mormonism,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 34, no. 3 & 4 (2001): 77–93.

[11]  Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, “The Oak and the Banyan: The ‘Glocalization’ of Mormon Studies,” Mormon Studies Review 1 (2014): 70–79.

[12] See for example, Airen Hall, “A World Religion from a Chosen Land: The Competing Identities of the Contemporary Mormon Church,” The Changing World Religion Map: Sacred Places, Identities, Practices and Politics, ed. Stanley D. Brunn, 803–817 (Springer, 2015).


32 comments for “International? Peripheries? Global? In search of a name

  1. A century ago, the vocabulary was “stakes” and “missions,” and the purpose for the labels was mostly administrative: stakes had patriarchs, and fully organized priesthood quorums, and local leadership; missions did not have the full Church organization, and often relied (whether voluntarily or otherwise) on leadership from elsewhere. That language faded when stakes were more widely planted and that particular distinction was less useful.

    What is your present purpose in distinguishing “the center” from “whatever is not the center”? Is it chiefly to emphasize the multicultural, multilingual nature of the modern Church? Or to emphasize the geographic distances, or perhaps the gaps in opportunities for participation in higher councils, or some other cultural or psychological distance? I think the purpose for needing those labels, if there is indeed a need, might dictate which words were used.

  2. The best adjective I would use to describe the church’s scope is ‘universal.’

    President Uchtdorf might have used it before? Don’t remember.
    I would probably just speak about specific regions, on a flock-by-flock basis.

  3. My post is only meant to study a problem of terminology coming from within Mormon Studies. Quite a few Mormons study aspects of the church which they delineate as outside the center’s realm. The yearly conference of the LDS International Society at BYU, the Monday after April General Conference, is a good example of such an endeavor. The Mormon History Association has an award for books and articles dealing with the “international church” (= non US?). There is the “Global Mormonism Project” at BYU, and so on. Church leaders seem to view the “internationalization” of the church, with its many challenges, as something different than the “domestic” concerns. So I wanted to draw the attention on how we now use various words, of which some might be more adequate than others. It’s a semantic exercise, hopefully to make us aware of some of the complexities of, indeed, a “universal” church in which researchers focus on local, national, ethnic, lingual, continental… varieties. But any study needs adequate words to define the realm and the dimension.

  4. Following up to comment #1, from my politically conservative US point of view, it seems to be those leaning politically to the left tend to engage in identity politics, whereas those leaning to the right tend to shun identify politics. And also leaning to the left want special exemptions for the individual groups to be dictated from and protected by the central authority. It seems that the Church already allows for some leeway in how policies are implemented by local authorities. I guess I repeat the question in comment #1. What is the purpose of the labeling? Do you believe that individual needs will be better served by such labeling? If so, how?

    As an aside, as a non-Uthan I always got a kick out of the term “mission field” used by Utahns to refer to everywhere outside of Utah. Perhaps we should revisit its use! :)

  5. I haven’t heard the term “mission field” used in decades, except by people outside of Utah whining about Utahns. I certainly haven’t said it myself, and I’m weary of being scolded for it.

    I think I understand your question better now, Wilfried — you’re looking for a general, all-purpose term, to be used in professional (and maybe ecclesiastical discourse), one that doesn’t privilege one part of the Church or stigmatize any other part, one that recognizes the unity of concerns of the Church as a whole but also respects the flavors of the various parts, but one which also sweeps in anything that is not “center,” defining “center” as what? the COB? Salt Lake City? white, American, socially conservative, family-oriented, middle income, educated, multi-generation Mormon background? (some of those disqualify me, and I live where we hold our stake conferences in the Salt Lake Tabernacle) … That’s a tall order, and one worth thinking about. No answers, but a better understanding of the question.

  6. The issue here seems to be whether we continue to measure difference as difference from Salt Lake City or from white , middle-class Utah culture. With due respect and much love for my American friends, I have no desire to measure my own religious experience or social relationship to the church in relation to the culture of Salt Lake City. In fact, I am very happy to live in a very different place. Notions of periphery and center are always loaded with value judgments. When general authorities visit our stake, they often begin meetings with talk about how different it is here and relate some anecdote that establishes their connection to us. This is often done in a very patronizing way as we are thanked for persevering out in the wilds far away from the promised land. Most of us would, of course have it no other way. Living where we live is not some kind of compromise position. The idea seems to be that we are so far away from the center and so different that there is some kind of necessary preamble to establish a connection when, in fact, the connection that the gospel provides should be more than sufficient common ground. This idea of measuring distance from a central, ideal culture is not unique to America, but it certainly seems to me to be much stronger there and even more so among American Mormons.
    Do Catholics measure their difference from the culture of Vatican City, or even their differences from Italian Catholics? I haven’t seen it.

  7. Again, my post has nothing to do with identity politics, though I understand a quick reading over some sentences might trigger that idea. No, we’re dealing here with a pure terminology issue in the areas of history, sociology, law…. When BYU organizes a conference on “International Mormonism”, does it include ethnic and lingual wards in the U.S.? When a researcher talks about “global Mormonism”, does she mean “universal” Mormonism as an identical worldwide thing, or is the focus on the process of internationalization of Mormonism and its challenges? When a prominent historian like Reid Neilson writes about “the peripheries of Mormondom”, is that by definition outside the U.S. or are there also “peripheries” in the U.S.? Demographers and sociologists compare Utah Mormons with Mormons elsewhere, in the U.S. and outside the U.S. True, one could each time identify geographical areas, but that becomes cumbersome when dealing with multinational and multi-area comparisons.

    What triggered my post was an internal discussion between researchers about a “good term” that would better identify comparisons with “the center” when dealing with Mormon topics in various parts of the world. But that triggers the question how to define “the center”. And in particular we need a term that is “not loaded”.

    I mentioned in my post: “But does any difference ought to be made between center and periphery since the Church is indeed supposed to be the same all over the world, with the members participating in the same worldwide ‘gospel culture’?” So I’m aware of the sensitivities, but it doesn’t solve the semantic issue. My post says in the search for a name: “Perhaps such a hyperonym is needed if Mormon Studies of local peripheries is to extract from these confined areas more “c’s”—comparisons, connections, and common causes and consequences. In other words, research is to connect peripheries.”

    The goal is unity.

  8. This is side track, but still related to the discussion. Jared (6) asked: “Do Catholics measure their difference from the culture of Vatican City, or even their differences from Italian Catholics? I haven’t seen it.”

    Yes, they measure their differences… Among Catholic populations there are vast differences between countries, between ethnic groups, and between urban or rural situations, as to religious identity, forms of devotion, liturgical preferences, and compliance to rules—a diversity unknown in the centralized, correlated Mormon Church. For example, considered in their average conduct, Dutch and Belgian Catholics are very different from their Polish or Irish coreligionists, who, in turn, would be surprised at Catholicism in some regions in Latin America or in Africa. Ask Catholics in Northern Italy what they think of those in Southern Italy… Catholicism in the United States, even taking into account its internal diversity, has become more conservative and principled than in many West European countries. This worldwide diversity is often the result of retention strategies: local Catholic leaders allow Catholicism to adapt to the local religious market situation in order to keep or to regain adherents. The directions can be as varied as re-traditionalization, modernization, or pseudo-indigenization. The literature on these “Catholicisms” is vast. Moreover, in many countries the Catholic “national conference of bishops” is not always in full accord with the Holy See, which may lead to powerful clerical groups with their own Catholic identity, sometimes reinforced by peculiar state-church relations such as in Poland or in some Latin American countries. Some are pretty keen on their independence from Rome.
    (Source: my Dialogue article comparing aspects of Mormonism and Catholicism)

  9. Hi Wilfried
    Thank you for your response to my comment. I am interested in and will read your Dialogue article. I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say. I am well aware of the amazing regional differences among Catholics and have had some interesting personal experiences in this regard. I think those differences are evident and important to Catholics, but don’t think they are as consistently measured from a center in the same way that Mormons measure from Salt Lake City and American culture. My feeling is that our church does not yet allow for or encourage a real diversity of cultural practices within it. To some degree, the Church still has the feel of an American organization (a corporation) with international interests (I’m thinking of white shirts and ties in every country, the standardized musical practices, standardized buildings etc) whereas Catholicism has variations which seem to be more comfortable with their distance (geographic or doctrinal) from the Vatican. I am trying to say that the Italian culture isn’t the measuring stick for all the other groups whereas I definitely have the feeling that Utah culture is held up as a reference for those of us farther away from that center. I see it every week in my own highly diverse ward and stake where a minority of white, English speaking leaders with American roots reinforce Utah cultural norms. I’m not sure that anyone actually has a clear idea of what a ‘gospel culture’ actually looks like as distinct from the American models of behavior we have come to expect when we walk into an LDS meetinghouse anywhere in the world. I notice when senior missionaries from Utah or Idaho show up in our ward that their opinions are much more highly valued and relied up in classes and councils. I remember many occasions serving in a Bishopric where these folks would show up to a ward council and explain to us that we were ‘doing it wrong’.

    On the use of the word periphery or peripheries: This inescapably suggests a hierarchical relationship to me and has an inherently negative connotation. The global label hasn’t bothered me as much, but then you raise the issue of globalism as a political phenomenon and I like it much less. I don’t have a solution. I think the van Beek colonial analysis is correct. As a Canadian, I live in a former British colony but there is very little, if any, of the the colonial mindset present in my generation and none in my children’s generation. The queen is only a face on our money. Within the Candian church it is a different story. In the southern part of the province of Alberta, many communities were actually populated by groups of Mormons sent by Brigham Young in colonial fashion and Mormons in that region maintain very close familial and cultural ties to the US. People keep track of which ancestors came from Utah, who dug the first irrigation ditch etc. As a church, I think most Mormons outside the USA are still very far away from losing the colonized mind. Perhaps recent policy/revelation/doctrine discussions highlight regional differences and point toward future acceptance of diversity within the big tent?

  10. Perhaps the real world. I think the Gospel set in Australian culture would be an improvement. We are having a basket ball competition in our stake because the building comes equipped for basketball, even though basketball is very much a minority sport, not played by average locals. Furthur excluding us from mainstream.

  11. Within the current usage of the words “international” and “Global” it seems that the Church will not fit any of these descriptions. When organizations go “international” they refer to the idea that they do not move their headquarters, from that locale they keep doing the same business, but then in other countries as well. They, then, tend to keep using the same policies as before, slightly adjusting mostly legal policies to fit the nation in which they do buisiness. Their focus remains their strengthening their home-base. “Going Global” adds a complete other dimension. It means a re-think of how to be able to do business world wide. It means moving it’s headquarters to the world-location that makes most sense (usually where their competion moves its seat), It also means to not focus on their home-base, not use the values of any specific locale, but adjust policies, marketing strategies, legal policies, and use local practises and trust local leadership to a very high degree. The objective, here, is to keep the core business the same world wide, whilst enable full flexibility in each location to make it more effective. THis organization works with divisions, and holds division leaders responsible for output, giving them a full mandate for decision making. As is, the Church has not just a central doctrine, but from its original location it prescribes curriculum, its leadership answers to headquarters, and very little of its practises are localized. Moreover, as much as possible all financial proceeds are controlled by headquarters. I think the question Wilfried raises is a valid one. I do not have an answer. I do know this, though, that the gospel is universal. The core values are universal. But in the periferie there are many doctrines, practises, traditions, policies and values that are valid for its home-base, and do not work for many areas in the world. They were not practised by Israel, not by Jesus, and in the future they, too, will change. And they are not core to the gospel, and are, therefore, not universal. We, therefore, I predict, will always clash with local areas where we missionize.

  12. I’m old enough that “stakes” and “missions” still comes to mind. Even though it was already inadequate or misleading even in my childhood, it was common usage. From that point of view, “International” with all of its failings (foreign, alien) is an important move away from the implicit superiority of stake and colonial feel of mission. As for today, I have no useful suggestion. But to add to the difficulty, I hear most of this kind of discussion these days as making the center, however named, the distinctive or special case. As though we’re talking about the center and or versus or contrasted to everything else. For that purpose, as a fairly recent transplant to Utah but not Salt Lake City, I am finding that inter-mountain west U.S., including most of Utah (‘most’ by area, not population), feels like “not center.” To be provocative, I’ve started talking of “center” as a geographical area defined by I-15 north and south from Ogden to Provo, stretching to the east only to the Wasatch mountains and fading out on the west on the way to the Oguirrh mountains, the Great Salt Lake, and desert.

  13. Apologies, Jared (9), for having misunderstood the question. Indeed, I should have elaborated on the question to what extent internal differences within Catholicism “are as consistently measured from a center in the same way that Mormons measure from Salt Lake City and American culture”.

    Fascinating question and I can confirm the comment you added. Just a few brief thoughts, for this is a vast topic. The Catholic and the Mormon church have some obvious similarities (top leader, tree hierarchy, priesthood authority claim, principle of sacraments…), but as to measuring “center versus the rest” the situation is indeed somewhat divergent. The (relatively very small) Mormon church has not only total administrative and hierarchical control of all its units worldwide, but also practical control over what is being done and taught in every congregation worldwide – same meetings, manuals, lessons, etc. General conference and worldwide televised training sessions add to this impact. So yes, “SLC” dictates the norms and molds an (American) “Mormon identity”. See my related article here.

    Quite different is the situation in the Catholic church, with its more than one billion members and the national, regional, and local variances I mentioned in comment 8. But the Vatican and the Curia are still at the center, at least for the Roman Catholic church. And there is “measuring”. Hundreds of books and articles analyze the deviations. I mentioned a few in footnote 8 of my Dialogue article, but a search with key words in academic databases finds hundreds more in all parts of the world. It’s normal that Rome is worried about too much deviation, hence also a lot of research and work for the specialized Congregations of the Curia (in particular Doctrine of the Faith, Divine Worship, Clergy, and Education) to ensure cohesion within certain (pretty broad) margins. But no stringent correlation whatsoever in the Mormon sense.

    In our church the research on the topic of deviation is virtually nonexistent, I assume for lack of interested researchers, for lack of data, and for reluctance at the top to engage in such research (it goes against correlation). Independent studies are rare (Marjorie Newton did excellent work on New Zealand).

    Also interesting is the effect on members. In Mormonism, the uniform, correlated church triggers only occasional individual frustrations in parts of the world (as previous comments illustrate) because local and cultural adaptations are quite impossible. Such frustration is easily dismissed as criticism or as “identity politics” (see comment 4). In the Catholic church, however, there is a fair amount of leeway for popular dynamics to adapt aspects of the national, regional or local parishes to appropriate formats. Moreover, people are free to attend the parish where they feel most comfortable.

    Finally, in your comment you raise another intriguing question: “Perhaps recent policy/revelation/doctrine discussions highlight regional differences and point toward future acceptance of diversity within the big tent?” Who knows?

  14. True Blue (10), astute remark to call it the “real world”. Having lived in Provo for some 15 years in a 100% Mormon neighborhood, I can concur. Wonderful people, indeed, and not of this world. Basketball every day in the week.

    Hans (11), I appreciate your comments on the distinction between “international” and “global” from a business perspective. Within those connotations, the Mormon church expands as “international”, but the Catholic church has achieved, in particular after Vatican II, a more “global” dimension. But “global” has more meanings, and in politics and in ideology it has a connotation with some less desirable facets. So, the search is still on.

    Comet (12), thanks and keep visiting the site!

    ChristianKimball (13), I understand the way you ponder about “the center”. I would add, tongue in cheek, that the real center must be some parts in Provo-Orem. I found Salt Lake (where we live now if not in Belgium) to be a nicely diverse city, Church PR doing its best to welcome outsiders, and City Creek trying to be as worldly as similar areas in other major cities.

    But, coming back to our search for an appropriate term, your mention of the mountain borders surrounding the Mormon center reminded me of the Catholic term of demarcation between the papal center and the rest of the world: “ultramontanes,” i.e. the other side of the mountains (Alps), dividing the rest of the Western world from the papal states. For centuries ultramontanism used to be the (pejorative) term of the more independent Catholic realm against dictatorial papism. As a child in Belgium I remember hearing phrases such as “That Jesuit is a real ultramontane!” or “Beware of ultramontanism. We won’t have it here.” So, in terms of tensions between center and periphery, nothing new under the sun.

  15. Thank you, Wilfried, for bringing this issue up. Terminology is important as the first step towards proper analysis. But it is more than just an academic exercise, as it draws also the attention of members and leaders to some salient characteristics of our church. We are a hard church to classify anyway, like on the continuum cult – sect – denomination – church, and that is right because of the point of gravity in Utah. We are one of the most territorially centered churches around, and according to the Stark & Bainbridge criteria (see below) we are a church in Utah, a denomination in the rest of the US and some countries outside it (in Polynesia, Latin America and some Western European countries), a sect in most other countries, and a cult no longer. Their main criterion is the relationship between church culture and the surrounding culture: the classification runs from complete isolation of the group with the surrounding culture (cult) to identity in culture (church). It works well to classify churches, except in our case, which they recognize. Only the word sect still is tainted, that is a problem.
    So for me, also reading the comments, it is pretty clear that much of my center – periphery analysis, which you are so kind to refer to, still holds, and that is just what can be expected in such a situation of territorial centralization. Including some hierarchy between the two.
    But for our analyses we have not only to try to come to a consensus on the dichotomy (center – peripheries still works for me) but also to some more fine tuning, like for the groups you mention: minorities inside the US, the special place of native Americans, but also between ‘peripheral zones: being a Mormon in Samoa, in the Phillippines and Great Britain, where the church is well established as a denomination, and countries where that is definitely not the case, like Greece, Israel, most ex-Soviet countries, and most African countries.
    Maybe we can do away with tainted terminology – because all terms will be loaded – and run a numerical classification system, which follows the territorial centralization:
    1 Wasatch Front Mormons
    2 Deseret country Mormons (rest of Utah and the Mormon corridor)
    3 The rest of US, including minorities
    4 Countries where the church is a denomination
    5 Countries where the church is considered still a sect
    6 Countries without an LDS presence

    I will be happy to consider mtself a #4 Mormon! But the dichotomy has clearly become too simplistic.

    Walter van Beek

    Rodney Stark, and William Bainbridge. 1987. A theory of Religion, New York: Lang.

  16. As an aside, as a non-Uthan I always got a kick out of the term “mission field” used by Utahns to refer to everywhere outside of Utah.

    When I moved to Florida, most Floridians in our area (most notably the stake president’s family and trickle down from there) proudly wore the badge of “from the mission field” as their way to show how much more faithful and diligent they were, being active members without all the accouterments of Mormon culture on their side. Also to continuously compare activation levels and temple attendance with, of course, the “mission field Mormons” winning every time and “Utah Mormons” being a smear rather than a geographical designator.

    It was only when I began blogging 12+ years ago that I “discovered” that this term was a derogatory term used by Utahns to impugn others. Weird.

  17. P.S. A close relative claims he lives in the “mission field.” True, he does not live in Utah nor in a state adjacent to Utah. He does, however, live in a neighborhood with multiple other Mormons, has a church within walking distance, a temple in the same city, and…wait for it…released time seminary for his kids in a special seminary building near the school. Whatever designations you want to apply to that, I don’t think “mission field” fits very well.

  18. Walter van Beek’s numerical classification invites further subdivision and Alison Moore Smith’s close relative reminds me of one to nominate. A couple of times I have lived in areas outside of regions 1 and 2, where for reasons of history and geography and coincidence there was a concentration of Mormons in a relatively small area. My experiences are typified by one or more fully complemented LDS Wards in a town or region of 20,000 to 30,000 people. A Mormon family across the street, a church within walking distance, a presence in the local schools that made a difference in scheduling. Non-Mormon neighbors who could tell you the name and personality of the town’s current Mormon Bishop. A 2.5 perhaps?

  19. Building on Alison’s and Christian’s comments, I would suggest to look at Walter’s repartition as geo-independent. Instead of “country”, rather “area” or “realm”. For example, a “Wasatch Front realm” (or any other appropriate word) or a “denomination realm” could apply to other areas in the US or abroad. In Belgium, we’re still in the “sect realm”, perhaps even “cult realm” since the church is on the Belgian parliamentary list of potential harmful cults.

    But already abandoning the dichotomy seems like an important step. Thanks, Walter!

  20. Living in Boise (two temples and yet not quite within the Mormon Corridor) or San Diego is a world away from living in, say, Cincinnati (no temple, not very many members). Perhaps a “Western U.S.” category between 2 and 3… Of course, you also have Samoa and Tonga, where Mormons are 20-35% of the population, plus LDS outposts in Canada and possibly elsewhere.

  21. I need to correct myself. Introducing subdivisions, as Walter suggests, is useful, but we still need a hyperonym to identify all that does not belong to the center or what Walter calls the first area. So we cannot abandon the dichotomy as such, which I suggested in comment 20. Considering all the preceding (with also thanks to the latest comments), the best word still seems “peripheries”, with the arguments I mentioned in my post. Within the peripheries we can discern further repartitions according to topics and needs.

    A belated thanks to Tim (21) for adding his nuances to the discussion. Indeed, geography “outside the US” will not suffice to make appropriate distinctions. Samoa, Tonga, and parts of Canada are already “cas à part”.

  22. Nice suggestion, Cameron (23). Thanks! According to the dictionary reference you link to, one definition of “diaspora” is indeed “any religious group living as a minority among people of the prevailing religion.” Good!

    It could work, were it not that in mormonspeak “Diaspora” (capitalized) is already so much tied to “the settling of scattered colonies of Jews outside Palestine after the Babylonian exile”. Generalizing from that prime connotation, Merriam-Webster extends “diaspora” (not capitalized) to
    a) the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an established or ancestral homeland b) people settled far from their ancestral homelands.

    As a matter of fact, “diaspora” has been used in that context for the “Mormon outmigration” from Utah to other parts of the U.S. See Johnson, G. Wesley; Johnson, Marian Ashby, “On the trail of the twentieth-century Mormon outmigration”, BYU Studies 46, no. 1 (2007) 41-83.

    So, because “exile” and “moving away” is already so much part of the Mormon connotation of “diaspora”, I think the term may not square well with most Mormon peripheries where converts were baptized and remained in their homeland.

  23. Agreed Wilfried. #7 works very well too, but it is #7…

    “the spread or dissemination of something originally confined to a local, homogeneous group, as a language or cultural institution”

  24. It is already somewhat common to speak of the diaspora as the spread of people from the center place (Utah) to other U.S. states and those persons (1) seemingly always being chosen for “leadership” positions by dignitaries from the center place or by other locals also part of the diaspora; and (2) always having a perpetual connection (longing for, pining for, this is how we did it there, loyalty there, vacations there, colege for kids there, and eventual return there) to the center place. For example, the saints in any stake in Pennsylvania, for example, can be divided into the locals and the diaspora.

  25. Yes, yes #26. That is good. Diaspora was what I was going to suggest a few days ago. I am from Pennsylvania and I know what you mean. Yes #21. I now live in that category between 2 & 3.

  26. Wait, don’t finish this conversation! So interesting! Even though I am not as informed on many topics as many of you scholarly types, it is my understanding that John Paul II was the first non-Italian Pope in a couple centuries, and this seems to be relevant in the discussion about “Italian” culture-Catholicism.

    I am more informed about Russian Orthodoxy, which is still Orthodox but definitely has its own cultural flavor, compared to Greek Orthodox, for example.

    I like diaspora (there we go, using a Greek word to describe the Jews again) but see the problems there. Maybe we should standardize church properties to include a soccer field (basketball in Australia?!!). Went to church in Australia and NZ in 95, and loved our experiences, in Auckland it as tough to find an English speaking ward, which we loved. Periphery could also be a good choice.

    I wish there was significantly more flexibility in the music department; so many beautiful traditions that are non-Western. Can someone write an Indian hymn?

  27. Thanks all for latest comments, Cameron, ji, Kruiser, eastern Mormon. Yes, John Paul II was the first non-Italian in five centuries. Even today, after so many centuries, the Roman Catholic church hasn’t lost its sensitivity to the difference between “an Italian” pope and a non-Italian one, though the days of Italian popes are becoming rare, thanks to the number of non-Italian cardinals and the policy to move into emeritus state the older cardinals, many of whom are Italians.

    But the difference Catholics make between ultramontanists and non-ultramontanists remains alive inasmuch as ultramontanism is now less a geographical concept but all the more an ideological one. Rome’s Curia is strong and conservative, and even a more liberal pope cannot do much about it. The Polish catholic church is conservative, the Dutch liberal, and so on. So Catholics too have their peripheries, in much more diverse formats than Mormons do. What time will bring is difficult to foresee. In its relation to peripheries, the Catholic church opened the doors to more freedom and diversity at the time of Vatican II, and in that same time frame the Mormon church moved to correlation. The exact opposite direction. It explains the vast differences in the field between Catholics and Mormons around the world. Any Mormon knows what to expect on Sunday in any ward in any country. A Catholic traveler will be in for some surprises.

  28. I fortuitously came upon the Decoo post and comments this evening. Given experiences I’ve had, I particularly resonate with the terms “realm” and diaspora” as suggested in the comments. Mormonism was from its beginnings intended to be global with its initial forays into much of the world in the 1840s and 1850s, and with Joseph Smith indeed famously declaring that “the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear (etc.) ….”(H of C 4:540). Relocated to and incubated in the Mountain West, it has reemerged with an increasing and unmistakably more permanent global presence, leading to the need to identify appropriate terminology with regard to what is transpiring, as addressed by Decoo, van Beek, Inoyue and others. The gospel is universal; a gospel culture not yet so, given parochialisms. Thankfully, there is determined progress in adopting a more global outlook, as witnessed, for example, in the welcome pronouncements of President Uchtdorf, the recognition of Mormon Pioneers in Every Land, and the decentralization by the Church History Department of the collection, preservation and sharing of church history back to local areas. Professor Jehu Hanciles, Tanner Lecturer at the Mormon History Association 2014 Conference in San Antonio, in addressing the challenges of Mormonism to adapt in its increasingly international setting, stated that “faithfulness to core doctrine need not come at the expense of authentic representation or diversity of expression.” (see his address in Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 41:2) Implicit in his formulation, I submit, is the need to recognize and indeed respect diverse cultures within Mormonism.

  29. Thanks, David Brent Smith, for your comment (30). You bring up the related topic of “core” versus “diversity” or of “diverse cultures” within global Mormonism, which is part of our search for an adequate term to define the “diversity” — because a core is still a center and what builds around is still periphery.

    To address the specific issue you bring up. Since the 1970s a number of Americans have pleaded to define “Mormon core doctrine” or “the essentials of the gospel”, around which national or regional mormonisms could then develop. Or a core around which “more individual expressions of faith” would be permissible. I’m afraid it’s wishful thinking, and, moreover, not desirable. Our strong correlated, monolithic church requires a universal, handbook-driven and top-down “gospel culture”. Elder Oaks gave several talks in which he insisted on this identical gospel culture around the world. When the church allows “local cultural expressions” it is limited to folklore on “cultural presentations” for the amusement of American visitors. Not even local music is allowed in a church meeting. Also, it is an illusion to think that any national or regional Mormonism could develop, and it is also undesirable, because (1) such an idea is based on stereotyped representation of nations and regions, and (2) our wards, all over the world, are already very multicultural and multiracial. See my article on this topic here.

    You mention as positive developments “Mormon Pioneers in Every Land, and the decentralization by the Church History Department of the collection, preservation and sharing of church history back to local areas”. That is true, but – sorry to be critical – the efforts to identify pioneers and preserve their history, as well as to preserve documents, are, as far as I have seen, incoherent and irregular, depending on temporary goodwill and on attention by local leaders (and it is usually the least of their concerns). Not to speak of the lack of proper facilities and professional management to preserve such history. Plus, all this only concerns the past and has no effect whatsoever on diversity in the present.

    Back to our topic: “diaspora” is a nice term, but it tends to reflect only the geographical movement (who went from where to where) and does not cover well the internal social varieties, nor does it reflect the world of the converts nor of the second and third generations who never moved to another place. I continue to opt for “peripheries” as general term, with supplemental terms for specific areas and realms.

  30. Beyond this semantic discussion, valuable as it is, there is a linked issue that deserves attention. Rather than sitting on the sidelines lamenting perceived shortcomings of church hierarchy/bureaucracy specific engagements in the international arena (e.g. Wilfried’s view of Church History Department decentralization), there is—I submit—a compelling need for shared responsibility in today’s global church and for each of us to engage, contribute and seek to better connect to and include those on the peripheries. Note for example the engagement of Margaret Blair Young/Darius Gray in Africa; efforts by the Mormon Scholars Foundation to include international participants in their Summer Seminars and mentoring activities; individual LDS member efforts to spearhead humanitarian efforts in Nepal, Mozambique and elsewhere; and the proactive involvement of President Uchtdorf and others in shaping LDS positions on volatile immigration and refugee issues. I submit that many of us can step up efforts to proactively connect, mentor and in effect serve as “nursing fathers and nursing mothers” (as in 2 Nephi 10:9) in furthering the inclusion of Latter-day Saints on the peripheries.

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