Speaking a Silence

There is no nationally available discourse to understand Utah and its region as other major national regions are understood.

In the United States a large and well-developed tradition of debate and discussion has developed around the US South as a distinctive region with its own culture and mores. The South has its literature, its folklore, and its kitsch. It is a strong part of national consciousness.

A similar discussion has grown around the Southwest. It too is a strong part of national consciousness, as is the West. But here I find myself in the situation of Richard Rodriguez who had to explain to a national audience that the West is east of his California. The discourses and discussions used to explain the West, historically and today, were not very useful to understand his California. They are similarly not very useful for comprehending the Mormon Culture Region.

This is the hole in the middle of the Western doughnut, to paraphrase Jan Shipps. As a hole, though, it consists of much more than simply empty space in the middle of the West and defined by the US West.

The only category available to discuss this area is religion, and Mormonism’s existence as a Church. Yet that is inadequate. It does not, among many other things, capture the nuances of unity and immigration that also make the state and region distinctive. This issue is evident in Sunday’s (March 30, 2008) edition of the Salt Lake Tribune. In an extended section it spoke of changes in what it called the Mormon Empire. And yet the key issue for the authors was the decline in relative percentage of the LDS population across this region as well as its loss of regional integration through the Church. The articles do not capture the changing civilizational and societal aspects of the region.

The hole of the Mormon region tends to be claimed by a Mormon history that emphasizes a Church. The Church is doing well and is growing, even in this region. Yet other changes are afoot. They include changes in the secular mission of the Church. But there is more to this region of the country than simply the Church.

To make the situation worse, despite the attempts of The Tribune there is almost an avoidance of the issue, except when Mormonism comes up as in the case of Mitt Romney’s candidacy. This is a doughnut whose hole is squared. It, alone, with its silences does not enable people to have the tools to reasonably comprehend the complex society that is Utah and its region.

When the Church is an issue two structures of feeling seem to canalize conversation. First there is the national stigma around Mormons as somehow illegitimate. We saw this structure of feeling strongly expressed in Mitt Romney’s campaign. There is also a Latter-day Saint persecution complex often expressed today in words like “they do not understand us.” I call these structures of feeling rather than ideologies precisely because of the affect they mobilize. In neither case are the issues completely rational. This dual set of highly charged and emotional structures, when conjoined with the lack of meaningful alternative ways of understanding particularly within Utah, can make conversation on religion or on social differences difficult. The arguing twin structures of feeling tend to canalize discussion.

Nevertheless Utah and its region has a curious and important presence in American history and consciousness. It is distinctive, even if that distinction is seldom grappled with openly as it is for other regions. Traveling the West one can see the reality of this culture region, written into the landscape of its towns and villages. Its Lombardy poplars and distinct urbanism mark the towns founded by Latter-day Saints, even when far from Utah, such as Colonia Juarez in Mexico. Even though the Church was one of the key institutions defining the region, it is not he only issue. Nor is this region simply defined by the dynamics of religious belief and faith, though that is an important part of the story.

The Church, and its people, spawned in this area a distinctive culture, a distinctive folklore—such as the three Lamanite corpus of tales, a distinctive vernacular architecture, but most of all a distinctive society. And that society continues. It includes both people who belong to the Church and people who do not, as well as their conflicts and divides.

For Latter-day Saints, Utah is more than a society and a culture. It is the center of their faith. That symbolism tends to cover everything else. Though the regional social customs and mores influence their lives elsewhere in the US, where the diaspora from this region has gone, the region alone is seldom discussed except through the lens of the Church. That is unfortunate. The issues of Utah’s divide, for example, arguably continue to influence Utahns even when they live far removed from the Wasatch Mountains and even when they are a generation or two distant from the experience itself.

One feels the weight of this national region, even when talking with people who were raised here, but who are not-LDS. I noticed it in Albuquerque, when talking with a librarian who was raised in Salt Lake as part of its Black and “non-Mormon (her words) population. I noticed it when talking to a senior colleague who was raised in a mining camp in Utah that is now a ghost town. She belongs to no religion and has never been Mormon, and yet the region is part of her.

To live in this region is to be drawn into a conversation, of which the Church is part but not the whole. Like all cultures, that conversation has its key themes—such as the Church for good or bad—but it is more than its key themes. It has a language, a history, a set of arguments and quarrels, an architecture and a language. Yet it is almost unspoken.

However, to fully understand the Church, even in Bolivia, I find that I need to understand this region and its weight on Latter-day Saints and other people. Hence I must name the silence and speak the unspoken. Call it Deseret, the Mormon Cultural Region, or simply the Mountain West; it is not the same as the West. It exists within the West but it was a community of farmers and townsmen mostly, not ranchers and cowboys. It extends from Canada to Mexico, so even the notion of the doughnut does not encompass it. For now, though, it is enough to notice the silence and to turn up the volume so it becomes audible, and then perhaps visible and thinkable.

Comments

  1. I’ve lived in southern Utah since 1974. I couldn’t begin to analyze the sociological structure. But the church certainly does dominate.

    On the other hand, many local activists are not LDS. I believe they’re successful because they ignore any religious differences and simply live their lives as they would no matter where they live.

    On the other hand, there’s a definite hierarchy that’s based on church positions.

    Sometimes I’m very grateful that LDS principles (ie family strength, conservatism) are the norm. Sometimes I find it constrictive.

    It’s certainly unique, I think. Although perhaps if you go into, say, Boston, where Catholicism is very strong, you’d find the same sort of sociological dynamic. Or maybe in the south where southern Baptists reign supreme.

    On a slightly different note, I believe it’s far more difficult to be a non-traditional active Mormon than a non-Mormon or an inactive Mormon.

  2. cj douglass says:

    Thanks David. One thing I don’t often hear mentioned is the culture of prophets and polygamy. I’m not talking about Colorado City – while serving a mission in Eastern and Southern Utah, I knew independent couples who would just take on another wife – with no Woodruff mandate to refer to. I also met many a prophet. In fact, in the Vernal Walmart, I met a man claiming a John the Baptist type calling – He claimed to be preparing the way for “a new prophet to be raised up out of the Uintah Basin.” Our prophet was of course “a fraud” and he was called to expose it. How odd, I used to think – but how very appropriate, when you consider the unique history of the region.

  3. Jonathan Green says:

    I dunno, David. It kinda sounds like you start repeating yourself about halfway through.

  4. #3 – Nice, Jonathon, although future commenters won’t know what you mean when David edits the post.

  5. Although I’m not from Utah, my parents were and so I feel the pull. Is it that I direct my attention to SLC every six months? Or that family and mission reunions call every few years? Or that half the people at my local church have lived in the mountain west at some point in their life? Or that in every ward I have ever lived in, (even in Hong Kong) I have found someone to whom I was related through a Utah family? It is in my consciousness.
    It is many things that make Utah unique; Religion, geography & water politics, history & pioneer colonization, community bonding & isolationism, and, of course, paranoia all rolled together. But because it is a doghnut hole, and because few outsiders understand it, it gets lumped together with the West.

  6. I have read articles and statements like this before, decrying our lack of strong cultural resonance within the national community, and have heard others talk about the obvious comparison with the South. Primarily, my interest has been in literature and the arts, but we have little to point to when compared with these other regions.

    The South has so many writers and artists, it’s hard to even attempt a complete list, but I’ll just mention some of the more obvious ones: Faulkner, Mark Twain, John Grisham, spring to mind. All have found national audiences.

    As to Utah/MCR writers, the list is shorter, and notable in that it is more evident in SF than other genre that LDS/MCR writers have found that national audience, with Orson Scott Card as the most obvious example. Others who wrote from a Mountain West or Utah background that did find that national audience almost were islands in the middle of the donut hole, such as Edward Abbey or Bernard DeVoto.

    There is a reticence, a lack of vulnerability, an unwillingness perhaps, to tell our stories truthfully. Regardless of whether or not you think that the “Work and the Glory” and associated Mormon fiction is good or not, it does not find much audience outside of Mormon families. On the other hand, most non-Mormon readers of Card’s SF stories are often surprised to hear that he is Mormon.

    Perhaps it is because of the persecution complex, the constant bruising reminders of our separateness ala Mitt Romney, plus our exclusive claims on authority and the restored gospel that keeps us closed and defensive. And when one of our artists does try to breach the Zion curtain, there is often much misunderstanding from the culture that formed them, and they often feel abandoned. There is also the perception that in order to be successful in the national arts, one has to abandon their culture, so we assign those perceptions to artists like Richard Dutcher or Neil LaBute without perhaps understanding all of the complexities of their artistic decisions.

  7. I disagree.

    I have found that Utah and heavily Mormon areas are very “Western”, Utah is not a doughnut hole in the West.

    Additionally, I think the extent of Mormon influence across the West is diminished by trying to limit it to Utah and Southern Idaho. The West would not be Western without Mormons.

    I think the real problem is that the impact of Mormons on the West is extensive, but Western story and images tends to pretend Mormons don’t exist, or use them as background and window dressing.

    I think this is mainly because trying to explain how Mormons are part of the West is difficult to explain to a non-Westerner- in fact it’s hard to describe when talking to a Westerner, the difference being that a Westerner knows enough that they can fill in the holes and understand you.

    Mormons are very different from most other Westerners, but they are also a part of us- and this extends out even into less Mormon parts of the West.

  8. Cicero,
    I think the doughnut David’s describing here is not an absence but a silence. It’s about discourse, not experience.

  9. david knowlton says:

    First: I am sorry about the repetition in the original post. My mistake; it is the first time I have posted directly. Thank you Jonathan!

    I have a couple of comments. The South as region is a construction that was actively created by its writers, among others. Its identity did not completely precede the literature. The writers created a mythos, and a presence with which southerners interact.

    In Utah, the religious question takes the oxygen from a discussion on literature and art. In fact, there is a distinctive literature of the region. It also takes a distinctive form.

    In the Southwest, much literary and academic production deals with Indians as the essence of the Southwest. Hispanics follow and have had to fight for more than a cartoon version of themselves, as have Indians. Nevertheless, Southwestern literature and art is dominated by the Indian theme. The corpus of writing includes libraries of ethnographies, folklores, and histories of Indian tribes.

    The Mormon corridor’s literature takes a different form. Its strong development is in the discourses and writings of Church leaders and then the almost endless discussions around the Church. The Church, valid and good though it is, takes the oxygen from other arguments and discussions.

    To Cicero; I grew up in New Mexico and West Texas, Southwest and West. Although there are similarities with the rest of the West, there are also differences, as you note. Jan Shipps argument was that Western history, as a field, had not grappled with the reality of Mormons and that Mormon history developed as a different genre, part of a different discussion group. I am arguing that we can extend this issue to understand the complexities of this region. Mormonism is only part of the story. Another part is what it shares, or does not share with the rest of the West.

    Although I think the question of whether greater Deseret is a separate region worthy of conversation, I also do not want to lose my larger point which is one of the absence of discourses to discuss the region other than religion. I do not think that category sufficiently broad to encompass what is going on, whether we are discussing Mormon issues or those of other people who share the region with us.

  10. David,

    I think, though, that religion in the Great Basin/Mountain West/Mormon Cultural Region creates a schismatic environment. You’re either in it, or out of it, and that defines most of the current discourse, unfortunately. In areas like natural history writing, you do have some who have bridged the divide, like Edward Abbey or Terry Tempest Williams.

    But in history and other studies, not so much. I suspect that until or if the region is not dominated by the LDS Church, the discourse will reflect the bipolar nature of the region.

  11. David, a lot of westerns do mention or discuss Mormons but do so in a very superficial and often naive or even pejorative way. I think your point about Hispanic literature – especially New Mexican Hispanic literature is a good parallel for what Mormons should do.

    Right now though Utah seems weird rather than exotic like New Mexico. Further Mormons tend to focus history towards other Mormons. (Despite some superficial missionary oriented outreach in places like Nauvoo) Contrast this with how Sante Fe for instance is marketed.

    Then, regardless of how you think of him, one has to consider the role of folks like Tony Hillerman and the like as well as more high brow highly accepted literature about New Mexico.

  12. David,

    Could you find discourses about Utah in the tourism industry? This might tell you how Utah describe itself to outsiders that it wants to visit.

    Have you thought of asking people to try this student activity that David Wrobel describes? It might tell you how many and what kinds of students imagine Utah as a region and not just a state.

    Do the South and Southwest have easily recognizable regional status because of their connection to national history? The discussion of Indians in the Southwest, it can be argued, has allowed Americans to lay claim to a national heritage. Memories of the Civil War in the South have functioned as a basis for national identity. Maybe part of the reason why Utah’s regional identity is less evident to outsiders is because people are not sure where Utah fits in the national narrative.

    One of the questions that interests me in this discussion is how the sense of community has changed over time in Utah. Maybe the people you know grew up at a time when Utahans knew and spent time with their neighbors. Surely it can be argued that the Church’s move towards a three-hour block of meetings on Sundays eroded some of the sense of community that used to prevail in Mormon towns and neighborhoods. Changes in the economy undoubtedly also have had an impact. People have less free time these days and they seem more likely to move away from home in pursuit of jobs. What might be interesting is to see whether people move in and out of Utah at a higher or lower rate than the surrounding states.

    One possible measure of how Utah’s culture or sense of community has changed over time is to study its public school teachers. I wonder if, back in the 1950s, the vast majority of public school teachers in Utah were born and raised in Utah. They probably played an important role in the socialization of children into Utah’s unique culture. In recent decades, though, economic factors probably changed this. First, Utah’s teacher salaries fell behind that of almost every other state. How did this affect the hiring of teachers in Utah? Did the successful students from Utah that became teachers decide to leave the state in pursuit of higher salaries? Was Utah forced to hire less-qualified teachers, who were from other states, because they could not compete with the salaries offered by other states? Most recently, Utah has had to hire bilingual teachers to serve the increasing numbers of Hispanics in the state. This has presented such a challenge that I understand Utah has recruited in Mexico to fill its need for bilingual teachers. Has Utah reached the point where less than half of its teachers were born and raised in Utah? If so, to what extent has this eroded Utah’s sense of itself as a region?

  13. S.P. Bailey says:

    Great post, David. I know Stegner comes up in the Tribune article, and he has interesting insights along similar lines (defining the West, Mormons as westerners, etc.) I think Stegner (particularly Big Rock Candy Mountain and Recapitulation) are the exception to what kevinf is saying. They actually manage to portray the dough nut hole to a degree.

    As far as literature goes, both Mormons’ persecution complex and outsiders’ stigma are major factors. The former makes it difficult for Mormons to tell and read compelling stories about themselves. The latter makes it unlikely that many outsiders would actually care to read what compelling stories manage to get to told.

    Also, I think you mean to refer to the Three Nephite folklore, right? Not three Lamanites?

  14. StillConfused says:

    Utah is like Colorado.. only weirder.

  15. david knowlton says:

    Great comments (and corrections–sigh. I do mean the three Nephites. (Thanks S.P.) Stegner writes into the doughnut hole, but the gap is still there. As you kind of intimate, the gap, curiously enough, is amplified by debates about what constitutes acceptable “Mormon” literature. I put the word in quotes, because debates about Mormon emphasize the religious angles over the populational and civilizational. Yet the focus on religion probably removes the artistic emphasis from this world–lone and dreary though it may be–to something outside this world. Though the Saints may wish to build Zion, it seems to remain just beyond their grasp.

    Sterling asks such rich questions. The discourses in the tourist industry are good to look at. They seem to portray the state as composed of either natural beauty or the Church. Yet there is so much more to the state, like why water runs down the street, with no cover, one day a week in my Salt Lake City neighborhood. I have not looked at these discourses systematically; you outline a dissertation topic in one question, Sterling. Yet in other areas, I am thinking Ecuador, the ways the country is marketed through a kind of primitivism are shown to be very important for understanding contemporary inequalities. Perhaps the same can be said of Utah in the “primitivism” of Church and natural arches or snow.

    I think you also make a good point, Sterling, on not knowing where or how Utah fits into the national narrative. Most Latter-day Saints do not remember much about the difficulties of the integration of Latter-day Saints into America, what Yorgason calls simply Americanization. Peculiarity inheres in religious practice, rather than local social institutions and customs. The Church is only partially territorialized any more. That is part of the issue. But there is also the lack of meaningful discourses enabling us to talk about the issues, to pose the question of how and where we fit into the national narrative and how and where we do not.

    Like you, I too am interested in how the notion of region and community has changed. You raise good possibilities for exploring the issue through secondary measures. There is also some good history to be done to answer this question. However, your final questions, about Utah’s sense of itself as a region only partially grasps my point. It is not just Utah’s self understanding, but the lack of national discourses on the issue that is hampering.

    On Clark’s point: Hillerman helps interpret New Mexico (btw the American Anthropological Association gave him an award for helping teach outsiders about Navajo culture.) But in that is an issue. New Mexico is not, per se, interpreted by Ulibarri, Anaya, Momaday, etc. to the same degree it is by Hillerman. He has created a marketable and knowable New Mexico. He was preceded by other outsider writers and painters who have romanticized the Southwest. Santa Fe is hyperreal , postmodern, and plastic even though hordes of Anglos throng there to consume it and its reified style. Yet it is also still a living place filled with complexity, such as the feast of the Lady of Guadalupe.

    The South, though, was created differently by its own writers, such as Faulkner. Maybe this insider/outsider dynamic is important.

    I think the Kevin f brings a good point about the polarity brought by the focus on the Church. To me, that in its complexity, take the oxygen from a developed consideration of the region of Deseret. I think that hinders both the self understanding of Latter-day Saints and others in the region.

  16. Yet there is so much more to the state, like why water runs down the street, with no cover, one day a week in my Salt Lake City neighborhood.

    That’s rapidly changing though as many cities try to conserve water. The number of homes that need or use such public irrigation has dwindled. I notice here in Utah county it’s no longer done in many areas.

    Regarding your later point about Hillerman or Sante Fe – I agree on a certain artificiality to both. However it is still more than what Utah has outside of the “ski Utah” slogan. What we need is something public in a fashion like Sante Fe offers or else our own Tony Hillerman writing enjoyable literature that happens to teach about lesser known aspect of our culture.

  17. BTW – I think one of the things that made Hillerman so accessible and informative was precisely because he was an outsider in large measure. I think Utah needs someone who loves Utah but isn’t a “native son” to explain it via literature. One could argue that The Monkey Wrench Gang, while hardly done by a true outsider, still comes closest.

  18. david knowlton says:

    I also think that we insiders need to appreciate that what we have is not simply reducible to the Church. There is much more. That is why a reference to someone like Faulkner is important. But the recognition of our region is not something that only can be done by a literary figure. It also must be accomplished by us.

    This is where I would like to see expanded definitions.

  19. cj doulgass says:

    Interesting conversation I heard the other day about Utah tourism: One of my professors was asking a student about a trip to Utah she was taking. “Ever been to Utah” the prof. asked. “Ya”, was the reply. I waited for the professor to begin the bash-fest of Mormon country but to no avail. “Its so beautiful!” was his enthusiastic reply. I was reminded of Robert Redford’s life long pursuit of conservation in Utah. And although Redford has a rumored animosity with the church, I think he’s done a lot as an insider/outsider to bridge the gap.

  20. I’ve never heard of a Redford animosity to Mormons. His ex-wife and kids are Mormon after all. But he does have an antagonism to Utah County politics and people.

  21. The Great Brain series (including “Papa Married a Mormon”) were great examples of a sympathetic, non-Mormon view of Utah for me during my youth. I was fascinated by the depictions in that series. I would like to see something similar from an adult perspective.

  22. Hole or not, Utah is a rather intriuging sociological melting pot. I have lived in Alabama for ten years, and 90% of the time when I mention Utah as my place of origin I am met with a queer squint in one eye and a cautious, yet so familiar question, “Are you a Mormon?”

    Perhaps it has to do with living in a place synonomous with weeklong revivals and vacation Bible school (VBS for those of you FROM the South), bit in this entire region of the United States I think it may take another century or two for most people to get past the stigmatism of “Mormonism”.

    Perhhaps the LDS population is waning in Utah, especially in the Salt Lake Valley itself. But here Utah shall be wrongfully wed to “polygamy” until perhaps the practice is even brought back.

  23. Ray,

    IF I remember the story right I think the Great Brain went off on a mission to Japan. Like a lot of part member families some became and stayed LDS and others did not.

    You also see the Nordic influence in the book as well. Sven etc.

  24. I think one could easily argue, through qualified research, that independent of Church authority women and men throughout the state, or rather throughout its history, have been deeply connected with the earth. I think of of Terry Tempest William’s “Refuge” and many other accounts I have read in which I see a culture of respect for the environment. A movement that has always existed in Utah, both in and out of the Church.

    From what I have looked into to date, the resistance to certain aspects of modernity has been a cultural identity of the majority of Utahans. Feel free to disagree (as this is a short comment and perhaps vague, ha!), but like I said, I believe the argument should be looked into as one of the many expanding definitions of Utah cultural identity and history.

  25. david knowlton says:

    Ray’s comment about people “stay[ing] LDS and others did not” captures what I see as part of the importance of the regional idea. The Church was only one portion, if the dominant portion, of the settlement and population of this regions. This social process by which families and communities were formed in which most may have been members, to one degree or another, and some not seems important. How can we really understand this area without taking into account those who were either inactive Latter-day Saints or were not Mormon at all.

    The issue of tellurism, a kind of mysticism of the earth (hello Tod), is something that characterizes many mountain people around the world. It certainly is found here in the great basin and interacts in often intriguing ways with the Church and gospel. Write a paper on this Tod. :)

    The issue of modernity and resistance also raises key issues. In Utah County, certainly, resistance to aspects of modernity, such as a “world government” and “rated-r movies” provides a limited culture of resistance while people accept so much of the rest. Nevertheless we need to look empirically at processes of modernization, their acceptance and rejection, among Latter-day Saints and people of the region. I suspect there is a lot of romanticism of resistance, perhaps more than actual resistance.

  26. #1. “On a slightly different note, I believe it’s far more difficult to be a non-traditional active Mormon than a non-Mormon or an inactive Mormon.”

    That has been my life experience. I moved to Utah after graduating high school, after living in Georgia, southern California, New Jersey, Florida, and northern California. Neal A. Maxwell once gave a talk in which he said that the greatest danger to the Church is becoming a culture instead of a religion. I do not believe that most traditional Utah Mormons are capable of understanding that this distinction exists. Ironically, I felt more welcome and accepted for who I was as the only Mormon in a Catholic high school in California than I do on Sunday in Sandy, Utah.

    I am a returned missionary (southern Italy). I was married in the Jordan River Temple, although I am now divorced (I have custody of my kids). And I have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel, of the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. I have a testimony that the priesthood is real. I have a testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that all the presidents of the Church after him have been as well. I have a testimony that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world and that the Church is His.

    But in Utah, this is not enough to be a “real” Mormon–sometimes it is not even relevant, believe it or not. I have noticed this in particular starting to date again after being divorced and starting to date and realizing that I would have an easier time finding LDS girls to date out of state than in Utah (and as a side note, being a single dad in a Utah ward is quite an experience).

    To be a good Mormon in Utah, you have to be a true-believer Republican–in gospel doctrine one Sunday, a comment was actually made that President Bush was inspired to start the war in Iraq (I’m not liberal or a Democrat, FYI). You have to believe that the MPAA is divinely inspired to know what movies you are allowed to watch (the rated-R movie thing–how many people are aware of how movies are rated?). You are allowed to be an a**h**le, but you can’t say the word. The Word of Wisdom means no beer or coffee, but feel free to drown your anxieties in ice cream and Prozac (I’m pretty sure Section 89 says more than just what we should not eat or drink). And while you pay lip service (no pun intended) that sex is beautiful and sacred, we all know from our neo-Victorian attitudes that sex is bad, and any nudity in any context is pornography. (And after all that Prozac and ice cream, who wants to see a bunch of naked Mormons anyway?) And if you have any questions or doubts, you are not supposed to discuss it and study it out in your heart and mind and resolve it–a corollary of the principle that you are supposed to believe in the Book of Mormon without having read it. Denial really is the best policy. And as you and your wife who have as much passion for each other as a rack of yard tools at Wal-Mart drive around in your SUV with your 4-5 kids wandering what why you feel so unfulfilled, until you antidepressants kick in, remember that this is all the Lord’s plan of happiness.

    And this last paragraph is the problem. The significant majority of Mormons in Utah cannot distinguish this last paragraph from “the Church.” And that is why it would be much easier to leave the Church than trying to be active but not a rank-and-file Utah Mormon. But then you might remember an exchange between the Savior and Peter in the Bible (note to Utah Mormons: yes, the Church does in fact believe in the Bible!), when Jesus asks Peter if he is going to leave like others have, and Peter answers, to where will we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.

  27. #26–I said “starting to date” twice, and typed “wandering” instead of “wondering.” Sorry.

  28. And I just noticed another couple of typos, also. Must be the pressure to be perfect that I can’t handle.

  29. I get the point that Mormons are absent from the western discourse, but not Western reality.

    Perhaps this is more due to the fact that both Westerners in general and Mormons in particular tend to believe that actions speak louder than words?

    Westerners don’t feel the need to include someone’s religion in a discussion because who cares?

    We relate to people based on how they act. Thus literary depictions of Western culture is filled with “stock” characters. The loner, the rebel, the kid, the bad man, the drunk- deeper psychological analysis isn’t really a big thing in the West. A man is defined by the way he lives his life- not his professed beliefs or religion, not even his innermost thoughts. Or rather Westerners tend to believe than a man’s innermost thoughts are reflected best in his actions.

    Westerners also tend to be very individualist- so you can’t tell much about a man by his church.

    Considering such a viewpoint- how would storytelling treat something like religion? Surely it’d be something in the background, while the actions of individuals takes the primary focus.

  30. david knowlton says:

    Cicero. Sorry I have been away from this. I was not well. You make very strong points. Part of my argument was that the main languages for speaking about the reality of Utah and its region is religion, or Western reality, both of which are inadequate for speaking to the regions built by Mormons and to the divide in Utah. We need other ways of thinking about the region of Deseret that does not simply subsume it to religion.

    Your points about narrative and about Western diffidence speak to me. The individualism does miss, however, the more collective society of Mormons. Here we need a language that does not fall to either pole of the individualism/collective divide, but is somewhere in the middle to comprehend Mormon society.

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