Silence, Taboo, and Power: Kramer at UVU, September 19

Title: Keeping the Sacred: Silence, Taboo, and Power in LDS Discourse.

Date: September 19, at 11 am, room 206c of the Sorensen Student Center on the Utah Valley University campus in Orem, Utah.

Description: Much of the ethnographic literature on verbal and discursive taboo focuses on its semantic and cultural content—on what kinds of things, topics, categories, experiences, etc, tend to be subjected to the constraints of socially enforced unmentionability—and on the strategies speakers use for evading, undermining, challenging, and circumventing taboo. Less attention is paid to how taboo (and its evasion) shapes social relationships, differences, and power. Drawing on more recent analytical trends in linguistic anthropology, this paper examines temple language in mormonism—not language within the temple so much as language about the temple (including language about temple language) outside of the temple. By looking closely at the norms governing how mormons do and do not talk about temple worship (and how we talk about those norms), I argue that elliptical talk about the temple and the structured patterns that organize it not only protect its sanctity but help create, sustain, reinforce, and augment its sanctity in a way that safely channels the holiness of the temple out into the sphere of extra-temple LDS worship, makes the sacred gravity of the temple present and palpable outside its walls, and imbues social and ecclesiastical relationships and differences with its power.

Brad Kramer is a candidate in the department of anthropology at the University of Michigan. He holds a masters degree in american history from the University of Utah, and has conducted historical and ethnographic research on various branches of Mormonism. He lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and five children, and is a regular contributor at the LDS blog By Common Consent.


  1. This looks for interesting. Good luck on your presentation Brad.

  2. Bound to be cool.

  3. Cheers, Blake.

  4. David Carlisle says:

    Is this paper going to be available online anywhere?

  5. Makes me wish I was inside Zion’s curtain.

  6. Senile Old Fart says:

    Is the sacred/secret distinction included in your presentation?

  7. The distinction and relationship between the two is pretty central to the analysis, SOF.

  8. Meldrum the Less says:

    “…elliptical talk about the temple…not only protect its sanctity but help create, sustain, reinforce, and augment its sanctity in a way that safely channels the holiness of the temple…”

    It is hazardous to disagree with an article before even reading it, especially one that appears to be as promising as this one. But the same ellipical talk paralyses protective action and more.

    Let me illustrate with one antedotal experience:
    My uncle was the janitor and grounds keeper for one of the temples and we lived close enough to see each other multiple times a week. A rather disturbed lad in my enormous, chaotic ward developed an obsession for stealing keys and entering dark buildings after midnight; schools, churches, movie theaters, buildings at the college, etc. This would later evolved into games of tag and eventually girls were invited to play a kissing game called “flashlight.” He managed to acquire a key to the temple, I don’t know how.

    I went with his gang one night when I was about the age of a deacon to “explore” the temple. We took a rather large dead rattle snake and we thought it was the highest form of hilarity to leave it in the empty drawer of one of those decorative cabinets that seemed to serve no other useful purpose. I was creeped out ranting around the halls of the old castle with its beautiful paintings barely visible by flash light, to the point of refusing to participate in further forays into it. My uncle grumbled later about “damned kids” spray painting obscenties on the wallks inside that he had to repair or arrange for the artists to come and do it. I was too scared to tell him who the likely perpetrators might be. I think if it had been a theatre or a school I would not have felt any reluctance, the kids were twerps and not my friends. If their often exaggerated stories were to be believed, skinny dipping in the baptismal font with drunk girls resulted in one shotgun wedding a few years later.

    To describe the mindset of this activity: I recall a certain attractive college girl, returning to her home after a date, chastely smooching in the car in front of her house. She suggested we go park in the driveway of a church leader and her former school assistant principle. The heightened sense of danger greatly enhanced the excitement and passion of that romantic moment, although we did nothing even close anatomically to being against the LOC. Especially when hgis porch light turned on and we sped away. I can only imagine the frenzy of lust felt during the forbidden violation of being in the baptismal font under circumstances described above. I think I comprehend how violating cultural taboos guarded by secrecy can explode sexual excitement. Without knowing and talking about how things like this can happen, how does anyone hope to stop this nonsense before it gets so far out of control?

    Secrecy may help create sacred space but it also provides cover and jet fuel for monstrous wickedness.

  9. Um…..Ok.

  10. “What does it matter how many lovers you have if none of them gives you the universe?” Jacques Lacan

  11. I would really like to read/see/listen Brad’s presentation. Any chance there is a link to it somewhere?

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