I finally met someone associated with the private LDS university on the East Coast called Southern Virginia University. Meant to serve as an alternative to Brigham Young’s University, this recently founded institution has come to dominate a small mill-town in rural Virginia. By report, the town, Buena Vista, has the densest geographical wards of any East of the Mississippi, housing a variety of student and married wards, as the vast majority of students, faculty and administrators are involved Latter-day Saints. By report, some local residents have strongly resented the encroachment of the LDS, have staged “secret” town meetings, and have actively sought to have life return to what it was before the Mormons arrived. For those of us who have been wanting more access to the Missouri or Illinois conflicts, this seems an ideal experiment occurring before our very eyes.
I’m preoccupied with my research on death and the body, but it strikes me that this is a ripe field, white and ready to harvest for anthropologists, sociologists, and scholars of lived religion or community identification. Does anyone have additional information about Buena Vista or SVU? Has anyone experienced some of these interactions? What do you think study of these dynamics might tell us about earliest Mormonism, modern Mormonism, and the changes we have undergone? Should current LDS in Buena Vista consult the annals of history to understand how best to interact with critical neighbors? Would lessons learned in BV apply in Utah or other areas of high Mormon population? How about vice versa?
I will note that my informant saw much evidence of cooperation and mutual respect in the town as well; not all local BV residents resent the Mormons. That was true in Missouri and Illinois as well, incidentally.