Journal of the Mormon Social Science Association
Journal of the Mormon Social Science Association (JMSSA) is a peer-reviewed academic journal sponsored by the Mormon Social Science Association. Founded in 1979, the MSSA is an interdisciplinary scholarly society promoting the study of social life within the Latter Day Saint movement. Journal of the Mormon Social Science Association publishes original research, synthetic reviews, and theoretical or methodological essays on topics relevant to the Latter Day Saint movement from a social science perspective.
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Introducing Journal of the Mormon Social Science Association
Rick Phillips, University of North Florida
Education, Religious Participation, and Conservatism Among Mormons in the United States
Tim B. Heaton, Brigham Young University
This paper examines the relationship between education and measures of religiosity, family structure, and conservative values comparing members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons or LDS) with the nation using the General Social Surveys from 1972 to 2018. Compared to the country at large, education is more likely to be associated with church attendance, marriage and child-bearing, and conservative values among Mormons. As a result, the LDS Church has a much higher percentage of members who attend church regularly, have been to college, and are conservative. Despite dramatic social change over the last several decades, the differential influence of education persists.
The End of Growth: Fading Prospects for Latter-day Saints Expansion
David G. Stewart, Jr., University of Nevada, Las Vegas
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints faces diminished prospects for growth in the twenty-first century due to both institutional and societal factors. Growth rates in congregations and active membership averaged below one percent annually from 2009–2019.
Fertility, retention of member children, and new conversions have experienced ongoing declines. Institutional decisions that were once adaptive have become liabilities hindering growth and internationalization. The dichotomy between the Mormon “homeland” and the “mission field” has fueled asymmetric information, misaligned incentives, principal-agent problems, and a culture of nonparticipation in personal evangelism by leaders and members. Reforms have sent mixed messages without resolving underlying pathologies.
Societal conditions are decidedly less favorable for LDS growth than in the late twentieth century. The human rights situation has deteriorated worldwide, Christianity is experiencing proportional decline in most world regions, and prospects for mission outreach in unreached nations are dim.
Medium-term growth in active LDS membership and congregations is likely to average below one percent annually. Over longer periods, losses may occur. The faith experiences its brightest prospects in Africa, where it is likely to achieve active growth. The LDS Church has lost its competitive advantages and is likely to continue to underperform its major competitors.
Apocalypse or Zion? How Eschatology Affects Attitudes toward Social Peace among Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Chad Ford, Brigham Young University, Hawaii
Boyd Timothy, University of Washington
Réka Bordás-Simon, Make.Shift
Zach Tilton, Western Michigan University
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) hold differing eschatological views in relation to the role of God and His followers in ushering in the Second Coming of Christ and a thousand years of peace. Some emphasize the human responsibility to create peaceful conditions on earth to usher in Christ’s return (Human Action eschatology), others emphasize the role of Christ in creating peaceful conditions on earth upon His return (Divine Action eschatology), and others view peace as the result of both human and divine action with equal emphasis (Co-participation eschatology). In this study, we compare differences in personal attitudes of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and social peace across these eschatologies. Four hundred and five LDS participants completed the Eschatological Attitudinal Survey (EAS), the Congruence Scale, the Prosocial Personality Battery, and the Social Justice Scale. Participants with a Divine Action eschatology scored higher on measures of intrapersonal peace and lower on measures of social peace. Conversely, participants with a Human Action eschatology scored lower on intrapersonal peace and higher on issues of social peace. By contrast, participants with a Co-participation eschatology were more likely to give equal weight to all three measures of peace: intrapersonal, interpersonal, and social.
An Indian Princess and a Mormon Sacagawea? Decolonizing Memories of Our Grandmothers
Thomas W. Murphy, Edmonds College
Kerrie Sumner Murphy, University of Washington
Jessyca Brigette Murphy, Make.Shift
In two extended Latter-day Saint families, individuals have employed a well-worn settler colonial trope of an Indian princess, as well as a Mormon variation on the legend of Sacagawea, to shape memories about Indigenous women as ancestors. Following larger national trends in the United States and Canada, these Mormons have employed selective memories of Indigenous ancestry as autochthonous legitimation of settler colonial occupation of Indigenous lands. Yet, these case studies stand out in contrast to current literature on racial shifting among self-identified Métis, Abenaki, and Algonquin peoples in Canada and non-federally recognized Cherokee in the United States because members of these Mormon families use stories of Indigenous grandmothers to solidify a white rather than an Indigenous identity. Like racial shifters, however, these families imagine their heritage as more autochthonous than American Indians or First Nations. This paradoxical identity formation is rooted in the peculiar narrative of a sacred text, the Book of Mormon, which represents Israelites (portrayed as white) as the original inhabitants of the Americas, attributes dark skin to a curse for wickedness, and makes legitimate land sovereignty contingent on righteous Christian belief and practice. The scripture imagines a future in which its Indigenous descendants become “white [or pure] and delightsome.” Two centuries of intermarriage of white settler men to Indigenous women have been among the various social means employed by Latter-day Saints to turn American Indians white. These images of an Indian princess and a Mormon Sacagawea are based upon harmful and inaccurate stereotypes that perpetuate settler colonialism.
La Familia versus The Family: Matriarchal Patriarchies in Peruvian Mormonism
Jason Palmer, University of California, Irvine
By sacralizing the Western categories of gender and kinship and by exalting the husband-centric, nuclear version of family, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints not only alienated its transgender and feminist members, but also its Peruvian families. This study employs ethnographic encounters, kinterm linguistics, and home décor analysis to situate the existence of Peruvian Mormon matriarchies in the context of a phallocentric religion that spanned two strikingly different, patriarchal societies: one in the Southern Andes of Peru and the other in the US state of Utah. Thus situated, the article then dwells on the transcribed oral history of Ofelia, a Peruvian single mother who utilized the power of the male-only Mormon priesthood to preside over her household as the acting matriarch. Ofelia’s fealty to patriarchy during the very enactment of forbidden priestesshood brings to the fore the profound contradictions that some Peruvian Mormons in the late 2010s disentangled as they sought to become legible to their church as participants in eternal families.
This study examines the experiences of politically liberal members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a church with a strong conservative lean in its membership in the United States. In interviews, participants were asked about the intersection of their religious and political identities in both internal and external contexts—an individual’s own thoughts and feelings, and interpersonal or social experiences. The findings reflect a general feeling that even if individuals have not experienced stigmatization themselves, they are still aware of the presence of a stigma attached to being a liberal Mormon. Also of note is the way these individuals reconcile the two conflicting identities, as well as the varying levels of conflict—both internal and external—that they experience. Finally, participants expressed ways they believe this issue can be addressed by making the social culture of the Church more accepting of diverse political beliefs. Implications for the theories of Role Conflict, Spiral of Silence, and stigmatization are discussed.
The Anthropology of Mormonism: An Emerging Field
Adam Dunstan, Kenai Peninsula College
Erica Hawvermale, Syracuse University
Recent decades have seen the emergence of a nascent anthropology of Mormonism. We demonstrate how anthropological work on Mormonism has crystallized around a set of themes with significant potential for both anthropology and Mormon social sciences: (1) religious authority, (2) ritual and the body, (3) physical engagement with Church history, (4) globalization, (5) gender and kinship, and (6) disbelief and heterodoxy. We argue that further progress can be achieved by focusing on the diverse individual experiences within Latter Day Saint groups.
Lectures and Symposia
Pulling toward Zion: Mormonism in its Global Dimensions
Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Washington University in St. Louis
This keynote address was delivered on October 25, 2019 at the annual conference of the Mormon Social Science Association, held in St. Louis in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. The Vernon Lecture is the MSSA’s biennial keynote in memory of Glenn M. Vernon, a sociologist at the University of Utah and founder of the MSSA.
Symposium on the Lives and Work of Armand L. Mauss and O. Kendall White
Daryl White, Spelman College
Gary Shepherd, Oakland University
Gordon Shepherd, University of Central Arkansas
David Knowlton, Utah Valley University
On October 24, 2020, the Mormon Social Science Association convened to pay tribute to Armand L. Mauss and O. Kendall White, both of whom passed away in 2020. Mauss and White were influential members of the MSSA and leaders in the social scientific study of Mormonism. This tribute is a symposium comprised of three essays on the life and work of these scholars. In the first essay, Daryl White (emeritus, Spelman College) pays tribute to his late brother, noting how O. Kendall White’s biography and scholarship were intertwined, and chronicling Ken’s influence on the nascent sociological study of Mormonism. In the second essay, Gary Shepherd (Oakland University) and Gordon Shepherd (University of Central Arkansas) recount their four-decade association with Armand L. Mauss and describe the profound impact Armand has had on Mormon studies generally, and the social scientific study of Mormonism in particular. Finally, David Knowlton (Utah Valley University) considers the lives and influence of Mauss and White collectively, reflecting on how their work served as a foundation for the maturing field of Mormon social science.
Richard Bushman’s Biography, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, Assessed from a Sociological Point of View
Gordon Shepherd, University of Central Arkansas
Gary Shepherd, Oakland University
This review of Richard Bushman’s biography of Joseph Smith is framed by three questions: What are the characteristics of a sociological biography? To what extent does Bushman’s book succeed as a sociological biography? And, what more could be done in an effort to write a sociological biography of Joseph Smith? While attempting to reconstruct the subjective meanings and motives of Smith’s thought and actions within the framework of his society and its history, a sociological biography should involve a strictly naturalistic narrative and analysis, focusing attention on the full range of human factors and events that shaped Smith’s religious career, and on the social consequences of his legacy. In addition, a sociological biography of Smith should be guided by a theoretical framework that would allow for meaningful comparisons with the biographies of other religious founders in order to confirm or make theoretical generalizations about the origins of new religions. Several theoretical approaches are suggested in this regard, including a religious rhetoric typology, social construction and contingency theories, and a “sideway history” approach to the study of biography.
Book Review: Palgrave Handbook of Global Mormonism
Philip Jenkins, Baylor University