Review: The Book of Mammon—A Monograph of the Church as Owned Corporation

Anthropologist and emeritus perma David Knowlton returns to BCC to discuss and review Daymon Smith’s recent book. An excerpt from the book can be read here. [Read more…]

Elder Oaks’ Leaves of Grass: “Not a Song of Myself”

Mohammed Ali, in one of the last of the radio series “In This I Believe” spoke to how even now, though beset with Parkinson’s disease and needing his wife to read his essay for him, he is still the “greatest of all time”. A paradigm of self-confidence, Ali’s American swagger and confidence contrasts greatly with Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ similarly paradigmatic reading of C.S. Lewis such that a self itself sets a man up for a fall. [Read more…]

Ideas Post-Copacabana

Two ideas compete for space in this post.  The first is a thought about all those people who are missing when Church claims about membership numbers are compared with censuses like those of Mexico or Chile.  The second is about belonging to the Church as a minority in a non-voluntarist society. [Read more…]

Note on History’s Margins

Front and center today in Bolivia’s electoral decision on whether to accept a new constitution stands a Latter-day Saint, José Luís Exeni.

President of the National Electoral Court, Exeni was raised in the Church. His mother was a long time member and one of the central figures in what was called Rama Cuatro, or Fourth Branch, in La Paz, Bolivia. I vividly remember Exeni when he was a little boy and I served as a missionary in his Branch. I am told he is a returned missionary, although it has been decades since I spoke with him.

Nevertheless, for me, the importance of Exeni’s position in this question of a new constitution, Indian rights in a multinational state, and a new vision of the left is both his legal rulings and the fact that he represents how much Latter-day Saints have been woven into the fabric of Latin American society. In the US we can look to Harry Reid and a host of Latter-day Saints in Washington, but there are also Latter-day Saints in high positions of government in Bolivia, and probably in other Latin American Countries. The LDS Church has gone native.

Pictures at a Demonstration

Last night, thousands of people gathered in the cold across from the Church office building in Salt Lake City for a hastily organized demonstration. While I do not know who organized it or how it came together, I do know that Thursday night text messages flew along networks announcing the rally and march for the next day. One, from a former student who was forwarding it arrived late at night and woke me from my sleep. [Read more…]

Missionaries Withdrawn, Church is Strong

LDS missionaries from the United States and Canada were withdrawn from Bolivia, according to a September 16th press release from the Church as a precautionary measure.   The country has suffered a week of violent conflict between rebels in its lowland, gas and agro-business rich states and its national government.  Apparently backed by the United States, lowland governors promoted the rebellion to obtain greater autonomy, a larger share of taxes from hydrocarbons, and to stop the current agrarian reform from dividing the extremely large estates of the savannahs and jungles. 

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Feasts, Religiosity, and Conference

The streets are filled with people, shoulder to shoulder, Usually only a few people negotiate their path. But today there seems to be no room for even one more person. [Read more…]

Trinkets and Substances of Faith

So I was cleaning out a drawer that had not been opened in a long time. In a back corner, I found a small plastic bag of white stones. I bought this bag in 1985 from a couple of adolescent girls sitting in the doorway of the Basilica of the Virgin of Copacabana in Copacabana, Bolivia while I was doing fieldwork for my Ph.D. Although a chapter in my dissertation is built around the stones, I am amazed I still had that little bag.

The stones were called “Su platita de la virgen” which means “the Virgin’s silver”. Pilgrims to her miraculous shrine were told to buy them, place them with their money, bless both with holy water regularly, and their money would grow.

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Mormon Wrestling

Like two wrestlers, circling each other, the one large and muscular, yet feeling attacked, and the other slight and a bit beleaguered, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Principle Voices threw press releases at each other recently (LDS, Principle Voices). Yesterday, a third party was drawn into the ring when Chad Hardy, the returned missionary creator of the “Men on a Mission” calendar was excommunicated from the Church, according to the Associated Press, for conduct unbecoming a member. Concerned with definition, more than sex, this set of releases has analytical importance for understanding contemporary Mormonism.

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English Classes

Just a brief post. In 1884, Mormon missionaries in Mexico were using English classes as a proselytizing tool. By charging for the classes the missionaries were also able to cover some of their expenses.

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Letters, Worms, and Missions

While reading Helaman Pratt’s Journal of his mission to Mexico in 1884, something struck a resonance within me.  It brought to the surface memories of my own mission and thoughts about the mission experience in general. 

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A Mormon Social Doctrine?

What is the LDS doctrine justifying a shift from seeing moral issues as a matter of individual conscience, and hence merit, to requiring morality as a matter of law? In other words, how does the gospel apply to society?

We have seen in recent decades an increasing involvement of religion within the public sector both in the US and abroad. This includes the rise of the religious right within the US, an increasingly politically engaged Catholicism, an Islam deeply concerned with the structure and organization of global society, and a political Hinduism. They have challenged the simple modernist notions that religion must be separated from the public sphere, especially government, and that religion is in essence private and individual not public and collective. [Read more…]

Moved by the Spirit

Today, I want to explore the concept of spirituality; I find it both deliciously simple and complex. To do so, I post a snippet from a paper I wrote roughly a decade ago. [Read more…]

What is Doctrine?

In celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of President Kimball’s 1978 giving the Priesthood to all worthy males, the Utah press has published extensive articles on Blacks and the Church. Very interesting in their own right, for documenting the growth of the Church in Africa, among African Americans, and Blacks elsewhere, they carry tidbits that speak to other issues. [Read more…]

Gay and Mormon: Such Diversity!

Affirmation is in the news lately. It is standing up and actively using the words Gay and Mormon in public statements that are getting press.

The issue of same-sex marriage and LDS Church involvement with it is a much-ventilated one that I am not going to engage here. [Read more…]

Slow Growth

Pentecostalism is often described as a wild fire because of its rapid growth around the world. As Philip Jenkins noted at MHA even Islam feels the heat of the Pentecostal fire. As a result Latter-day Saints, accustomed to calling their Church the fastest growing religion, are having to rethink their rhetorical strategies.

Mormonism holds a different model of growth from the Pentecostal model. Though much, much slower, it does produce results. While one can ask, with Jenkins, why not let it go to grow as quickly as it can, Latter-day Saint leaders instead ask the question of how to control growth so that it leads to a Church organization that functions with proper lines of authority.

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LDS Wealth

Different religious groups often show affinities with different social sectors. While on the one hand this is not surprising, on the other it challenges the universal ideals contained in the simple injunction to “go unto all the world”. [Read more…]

Missing Knives and Forks

Friday my students and I sat at a set of pushed together tables with Valentin Quispe and his two sons in the pilgrimage town of Copacabana, Bolivia (across the lake from the Apu Inti Elder Rasband discusses.) Some three decades ago, Valentin was a leader in people from his Aymara speaking community’s joining the LDS Church. As a twenty-four year old graduate student of anthropology I found my way to Valentin’s community where he and his family befriended me while I studied ethnographically that watershed event. [Read more…]

The Problem of New Wine

None of us lives context free. We live the gospel in worlds driven by other values and other practices. While the separation from the rest of the world has lots of traction within Christianity, as a means of legitimizing faith, still the things we draw on to emphasize the separation leave much room for context. It is hard to imagine a completely gospel driven society of any size.

Since I am in Peru let me use a Catholic example. [Read more…]

Society’s Salvation

It may not be fashionable, but it is very much on my mind. Tomorrow evening my plane will descend through perennial clouds to land in a chaotic and fragmented, but somehow functional, third world city, Lima, Peru. On the way from the airport I may well go by a walled in area of ancient pyramids; Lima has experienced some ten millennia of human habitation. Near one set of pyramids, in an intriguing continuity, opens the impressive modern campus of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. [Read more…]

… Anyone? (see comment 1)

Do Latter-day Saints have and practice a distinctive sense of the erotic? The question is relevant because anthropologists, such as Gilbert Herdt, have called for a comparative study of erotics. Mormons are, on the one hand, part of host societies while, on the other, they build a sense of separation and distinctiveness from the host society. [Read more…]

On Reading the General Authorities

Reading is an important part of Mormon practice. As is hearing. And speaking. These language forms, in their peculiarity, help create daily Mormonism, although they may not be reflected on often in their specific quality as language practices. Certainly without them, Mormonism would be a very different religion. [Read more…]

Where Have All the Young Women Gone?

President Monson’s call for “the less-active, the offended, the critical, the transgressor” to come back to the fold gained strength in an interview of Sister Elaine Dalton, President of the Young Women. She was asked by the media, according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune “how they [the new Young Women’s presidency] planned to cope with the fact that as many as 80 percent of the single Mormon women between 18 and 30 are no longer active in the LDS Church”. She reportedly responded that she did not know. [Read more…]

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. [Read more…]

Utah’s Divide and Immigration

To comprehend the often-tense divide between Mormons and other people in Utah one must understand that Utah has had different population dynamics than most states.  The issue of the divide is not simply the Church and its place in Utah’s society; it also is a matter of historical demographics. [Read more…]

Utah’s Divides

David Knowlton is an associate professor of Anthropology at Utah Valley University (the institution FKA “UVSC”). He studies religion in Latin America as well as Mormonism in the United States. The ideas in this post were originally presented at the University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College. David will be posting with us for the next couple of weeks.

Some seven years ago the Salt Lake Tribune announced that Utah suffered an “unspoken divide” that split the people of the state into two divergent and often tense life worlds, Mormons and non-Mormons. The division, once spoken, motivated counsel in General Conference and numerous discussion groups in the Salt Lake Valley, yet it still continues. As a result the division is a sociological phenomenon worthy of exploration. It is both more and less than simply a divide of religious membership. [Read more…]