Abstract. 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.
Daryl White . 2022. “Ken’s Eduction,” Journal of the Mormon Social Science Association 1, no. 1: 235-245.
Shepherd, Gary and Gordon Shepherd . 2022. “Armand Mauss and the Social Scientific Study of Mormonism,” Journal of the Mormon Social Science Association 1, no. 1: 246-250.
Knowlton, David . 2022. “The Masters and the Beehive: Reflections on Kendall White and Armand Mauss,” Journal of the Mormon Social Science Association 1, no. 1: 250-257. https://doi.org/10.54587/JMSSA.0109
Upon receiving the 2007 Scholar Award from the Virginia Social Science Association, Kendall White began his remarks with this brief narrative:
My wife has suggested that instead of beginning with where I am and how I got here that I start my story with my earlier failure as a student who had no interest in academic things from junior high through high school. Having been told by my high school counselor that my tests revealed a strong aptitude for plumbing and no real promise for college, I fortunately did graduate, though admittedly by grace rather than works.
After high school, Ken joined the Coast Guard. Upon returning from a six-month stint in the Bay Area, Ken was called to the New England mission serving the bulk of his time in New Brunswick, Canada and western Massachusetts. He returned primed for higher education. Again in Ken’s words:
I enrolled at the University of Utah where I was thrilled with the intellectual challenges confronting me. I especially found the social sciences, philosophy, and religion intriguing, and I discovered that a broadly defined sociology of religion, which combined historical and philosophical considerations … became my pursuit. Like so many academics who could conceive of no better life than that of a professional student, I concluded that the closest those of us who are not financially privileged can come to the realization of this dream is an academic career. A decision I have never regretted (2008, 111).
As Kendall’s youngest brother, still in high school, I well remember his Introduction to Sociology course and those that followed. I typed and proofread Ken’s papers, drew diagrams, and designed graphs—all the while learning more and more about social issues, sociological theory, and methods. He introduced me to empirical data collection when in 1964 Ray Canning, sociology chair at the time, employed him to collect data from counties in southern Utah. I joined him. We searched through civic records in county seats where, given access, we counted and dated divorces and marriages. Beyond rooms full of ledgers, my visual memory of the trip remains silent—with one exception: the exquisite grandeur of Bryce Canyon dusted by a late winter snow.
In his master’s thesis Ken brought together his religious and sociological studies creating a critique of contemporary Mormon writers whom Ken labelled neo-orthodox by analogy with a well-known group of conservative European neo-orthodox theologians. Writing in the first decades of the twentieth century’s social upheaval, revolution, and devastating world war, neo-orthodox thinkers rejected optimistic theologies such as the social gospel and asserted earlier “orthodox” Protestantism epitomized by Luther and Calvin’s focus on fundamental human depravity. The Mormon writers identified by Ken critiqued the optimistic theologies of early Mormonism by producing theologies that stepped back from much of what Ken regarded as positive aspects of early Mormonism. Ken’s project was twofold: (1) identifying the social conditions underlying these contemporary Mormon writers’ theologies; and (2) revealing ways they rejected early Mormon theological innovations. In short, the work identifies a changing Mormon ideology that moves Mormon thought closer to mainstream Protestantism and explores social conditions underlying these developments. Fully combining his studies in both sociology and philosophy, Ken’s analysis was guided by Thomas F. O’Dea’s systematic sociology of religion and Max Rogers’s assessments of European neo-orthodoxy. What began as a master’s thesis matured into a 1987 book, Mormon Neo-Orthodoxy: A Crisis Theology, that has influenced contemporary Mormon scholarship. Ken’s understanding would be expanded and further refined in his doctoral studies at Vanderbilt University with similar attention to both sociology and religious studies.
Studying principally under organizational sociologist Mayer Zald, Ken used his PhD dissertation to examine the Nashville Housing Authority’s multifaceted adjustments to internal and surrounding pressures. Ken’s only publication that came out of his doctoral work was published in Sociological Analysis and is by far his most theoretical work, “Constituting Norms and the Formal Organization of American Churches.” The article (1) identifies ways ambient environmental and institutional norms form an array of influences that illuminate how complex organizations evolve; (2) applies these to a set of American-born religious organizations; (3) derives hypotheses which he tests in brief exemplary sketches of a handful of diverse American religious organizations; and (4) concludes with seven propositions that could guide further analyses (White 1972). In many ways this framework shaped all of Ken’s subsequent research.
Like so many Mormons, I recall vividly where and when in 1978 my car radio reported the Mormon announcement lifting the ban on Black priesthood ordination and temple access. I soon sent Ken several pages musing on the central question: Why now? Subsequent correspondence led to our first published collaboration. The essay’s project was to identify the array of factors leading up to the decision and to assess their relative impacts. We regarded the decision
as an adaptation to environmental pressures, the logical outcome of organizational practices, and the resolution of internal contradictions. Adverse publicity from the media, pressures from the black community, and threats of successful litigation reflected in environmental hostility; an organization imperative of growth, the quest for respectability, and the internationalization of Mormonism … challenges from Mormon intellectuals and activists, pressures from Black Mormons, and the leadership of the president. … Revelation, as a technique of internal control, ensured the consensus of officials and strengthened Mormon hegemony (O. White and D. White 1980, 231).
Ken persistently pursued open-ended understandings that avoid regarding one feature of an issue as central or determinant—neither institutional nor ideological issues alone, and neither sociologically discerned structures nor individual actors alone—always striving to construct bigpictures of the subject at hand. Armand Mauss critiqued our essay in Sociological Analysis —the journal that would become Sociology of Religion —and our subsequent reply clearly highlights central differences between these two well-regarded sociological scholars of Mormonism. At serious risk of simplifying their divergent approaches, I suggest that Mauss arrives at conclusions by assembling empirical data and building his analysis from the ground up, while Ken begins with a loosely constructed general picture nuanced with available evidence. Ken’s work was fundamentally interpretive. Of course both approaches are inescapably fraught with assumptions that skew conclusions.
Although writing about the priesthood decision began our collaboration, it was not Ken’s first publication on the issue. In 1972 Ken presented a paper at Howard University’s School of Religion titled “The Position of Black People in Contemporary Mormon Theology and Prospects for Change” which was published in The Journal of Religious Thought . It was in this essay that Ken first articulated a model for understanding Mormonism’s fraught racism. A few years later in the same journal he employed boundary maintenance to further explore the racial ban’s evolution and institutional functions. A decade later he returned to Mormon neo-orthodox writings focusing on racial ideology to illustrate theological irrationality and authoritarianism—a theme in most of Ken’s work.
Following several articles about lifting the priesthood/temple ban, our interests turned to oral histories of African American Mormons. In the late 1980s and early 1990s for several summers Ken and I drove from our parents’ home in Salt Lake City down to the Brigham Young University library where Special Collections staff kindly allowed us to read and sometimes copy portions of their archived oral histories of Black Mormons. Together we completed 205 in a few summers. On our rides back to Salt Lake we shared the narratives each had read, discussed aspects sparking our curiosities, and formulated research questions. A series of conference presentations and publications followed addressing conversion narratives, interracial relations, dating challenges, reactions to the priesthood/temple ban, and regional differences. It was in analyzing narratives that I was able to bring my anthropological practices to bear on our collaborations.
Ken investigated the LDS Church’s political involvements in state ratifications of the Equal Rights Amendment. The election of eight women to the Utah legislature—the largest number in Utah history—created the possibility that Utah could ratify the amendment, bolstered by the church’s initial position that ERA was a political and not a moral issue. Then, switching positions, the church engaged in nationwide efforts to influence other legislatures, creating what appeared to be grassroots opposition by women who hid their Mormon affiliation. Ken focused on the Mormons for the ERA movement led by Sonia Johnson. Ken’s access was facilitated by his wife Arlene who was Johnson’s press secretary, a role for which Arlene was excommunicated. Ken concludes the article underscoring
a disturbing simplicity and sense of deception. The simplicity derives from the ideological distinction between moral and political issues that enables Mormon leaders to mobilize institutional resources for political objectives of their own. By declaring an issue political, they avoid responsibility. By declaring it moral, they enter the political arena. Since no criteria beyond their judgment obtain for differentiating moral and political issues, church members are presented with an authoritarianism calling only for obedience (1984, 15).
Over a decade later Ken and I turned attention to queer issues in several conference presentations in which we explored the evolution of General Authorities’ comments on homosexuality. Our papers were never published, with one exception: an article comparing the respective stances of the LDS Church with that of the Community of Christ (a.k.a. the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or RLDS).
Propelled by our earlier work on oral histories, we searched libraries, bookstores, and gay centers for book-length autobiographies by diverse Christian gay activists. At the time we found only a handful, including one by former Mormon bishop Antonio Felix. Our article, focusing on their struggles within (and, for some, expulsion from) their respective denominations, was published as “Queer Christian Confessions” (D. White and O. White 2004).
In the early 1990s my participation in a midtown Atlanta neighborhood church serendipitously presented a window into conflicts resulting in the expulsion of the Virginia Avenue Baptist Church from its city and state Southern Baptist associations. My partner (now my spouse) and I had started attending worship services at the church since it was attracting gay participants and actively presented as “gay friendly.” We found ourselves in a very small congregation with a faithful remnant of older women delighted by the influx of newcomers, most of whom were gay. We witnessed its growth and participated in the congregation’s exodus from Baptist affiliation and entry into the United Church of Christ. I found myself in a situation I felt uniquely able to observe—having written my dissertation on the ways conflicts in Southern Protestant congregations and denominations often resulted in splits—splits that typically occurred along class and other social fault lines. This led to several co-publications.
Ken’s publications often focused on slippery concepts such as the institutional construction of authenticity, charisma, and maintenance of institutional boundaries. In my assessment all of Ken’s work exhibits his fascination with the ever-present and ephemeral spaces between religious organizations and their environments—a space Ken explored endlessly and that I believe he fancied himself occupying. Although one of Ken’s final essays was not included in an homage to his career-long mentor and friend Thomas F. O’Dea and was never published, he was invited to contribute a comprehensive opening essay to the book Revisiting Thomas F. O’Dea’s The Mormons (2008).
While publications were important to Ken, they certainly were not the end-all. He fully enjoyed the research itself along with sharing in presentations at meetings, usually the Southern Sociological and the Southern Anthropology societies and the MSSA. But most important were informal conversations where he could fully express his gregarious impulse with university colleagues, students, and their parents. In these situations it seemed Ken never had enough time to complete his thoughts. Not simply expressing himself, he was always gathering other points of view and rethinking his own. Yet unfortunately he often shied away from participating in voluntary administrative roles in the very organizations that made academic meetings possible. The MSSA is a notable exception.
Ken’s Mormon Identity
It seems both appropriate and necessary to cap this essay by considering Ken’s Mormon identity. After Ken (the oldest of four brothers) was ordained a deacon, our family’s piety notched upward. Dad no longer had his occasional beer. Out-of-town trips now required Ken and later the rest of us to attend local LDS services in order to maintain our 100% attendance records. What never changed was the family’s passion for Coca-Cola.
Ken returned from his mission convinced he wanted to teach in the LDS Institute system. A popular speaker on the stake’s speaking circuit, he imparted wisdom at missionary farewells and at funerals. A grieving aunt once said, “he knew what to say.” Around the house we would kid Ken about his “holy voice.”
Only a few years later two incidents in our ward completely changed his sense of membership in the church. During an elders quorum class studying the New Testament, Ken asked if we were to take literally Jesus’s admonition to the rich man to sell all he had and give it to the poor. A lively discussion exploring the parable’s possible meanings ensued and continued the next Sunday. In the midst of this discussion a visiting high councilman interrupted, affirming that President Henry D. Moyle had achieved his ecclesiastical status without giving his millions to the church—and then declared the class over. Weeks later Ken was escorted to the stake president’s office and lectured about sustaining the authorities. Not long after that, six stake high councilmen attended the quorum meeting. One stated, “When the authorities make a decision the thinking has been done.” The quorum teacher was led away and asked whether he affirmed the leaders or was in agreement with Ken that the LDS general authorities were in a state of apostasy. The teacher was removed, prompting intense discussion of the meanings and uses of sustaining authorities. A subsequent letter from the stake president to the class cautioned against delving into mysteries. A year later, Ken was teaching a Sunday School class when he asked if anyone knew what higher and lower criticism of the Bible entailed. Not knowing, the curious class agreed to discuss the topic for the next three Sundays, after which a second co-teacher was appointed. Ken was later replaced. This was when Ken decided he no longer had a place in the Mormon church. Mormon culture, on the other hand, was a different matter. In his own words,
with the exception of occasional correspondence with Mormon officials, a lingering intellectual and political interest in Mormon affairs, and some nostalgic musings, the church and I parted company, each going separate ways, with neither, I suspect, having any regrets (no date, 8).
I find Ken’s professed “lingering interest” a curious understatement, if not simply unbelievable. What Ken calls an interest, I call devotion. After all, less than 10% of Ken’s career-long scholarly output does not address Mormonism. He definitely saw himself as a cultural Mormon, a distinction vividly illustrated in the following Levi Peterson passage that Ken never tired of quoting:
Excommunication is no reason for withdrawing from Mormonism. I fancy that if I were excommunicated on a weekday, I’d be back sleeping in sacrament meeting on the following Sunday (Peterson 1994, 39).
More than a personal identity, Ken understood cultural Mormonism sociologically, as both a colloquial self-designation and also a group identity formally and informally supported by others and bolstered by certain institutions such as study groups, Dialogue, Sunstone, Signature Books, and of course our Mormon Social Science Association.
It wasn’t until 2015 when LDS general authorities announced restrictions on participation by queer Mormons and their families that Ken decided he must sever his last formal relationship with the church. In a two-page letter to church headquarters on December 15, 2015, he explained his decision in characteristic detail. Ken concludes:
If to believe in same-sex marriage and work to help it become a reality the United States and elsewhere is sufficient to define one an apostate, as you claim, then please place me on that list. As a professional scholar of religion, I have never liked the looseness of the Mormon conception of apostasy nor the cruelness of its practice, especially as I observed it in Utah. However, the rigid black and white choice that you offer makes it easy for me to choose apostasy as you conceive of it. So please excommunicate me.
I will briefly pull back from focusing on Ken as an individual to discuss how his ideas were created and transformed through conversation with others, including books. Ken’s educational ambitions were never his alone. They began in our home, surrounded by relatives, most of whom lived next door or down the lane. In many ways our ward was an extension of our family—one uncle was our bishop, another our stake president. Growing up, our ward, neighborhood, and family appeared virtually the same.
Neither of our parents graduated from high school. None of our aunts and uncles went to college. Yet all of our extended family valued and encouraged us to go to college. When one of my first cousins graduated from college I well remember all my cousins, aunts, and uncles in the University of Utah stadium attending the ceremony.
I emphasize this only to highlight the immediate milieu that shaped our academic accomplishments both in research and in teaching. This included every course I have taught, paper presented, and essay, article, or chapter I’ve published. In all of these Ken was in and with me. And I’m not merely referring to our eventual co-authorship. While advising my first-generation college students at Spelman College I realized that while they are often breaking completely new ground, I was never in that situation. Even though my generation of our extended family was the first to attend college, I and my brother Brent entered each new phase of our educational pursuits—from sophomore at the U to grad school, teaching in small colleges, going up for tenure, chairing departments, and retiring with emeritus status—in our brothers’ wake. I was always in familiar family territory, preceded by brothers and cousins.
Yet how could I overestimate the unacknowledged background to this entire scenario? That background was our particular Mormon upbringing where religious beliefs were discussed and often debated, statements by general authorities were considered and critiqued, and no clear difference obtained between the sacred and the secular. Throughout his entire career Ken continued to carry within him this peculiar milieu. Years earlier, as he was finishing his work as a student at the University of Utah, Ken—along with a cousin, another brother, and myself—joined other like-minded, curious Mormons to frequently discuss topics of concern relating to the church. Often a well-known speaker—such as Lowell Bennion, Max Rogers, Tom O’Dea, or Sterling McMurrin—would join us to discuss a relevant topic. We often met in our living room, occasionally at other sites, and even drove to Provo several times. We fancied ourselves in the worthy Mormon tradition of the Swearing Elders of the 1950s (Blakely 1995). In the midst of this I went on a mission to Northern California. I was later told by a few former companions that I seemed to be on a mission to the missionaries.
This opportunity to summarize and discuss Ken’s academic achievements and contributions has provided me a space and time to meaningfully grieve Ken’s passing, and to review our relationship as developing scholars. In our conversations as students, we were making sense of our own studies, informing each other, arguing (which for me was likely a means of establishing myself as a scholar in my own right), and collectively trying to understand the world around us, including the Mormon world, the emerging civil rights movement, and international politics. I’m sure my choice to major in anthropology was a way of differentiating my studies from Ken’s, yet I was quite aware of the ways Ken’s sociology was shaping even my anthropological studies. The only sociology course I took at the U was Race Relations (taught by David Knowlton’s father). When I began teaching at Spelman College, hired as the lone anthropologist in a sociology department, I discovered how well Ken had prepared me to teach courses in sociology. Of course, it was never just me teaching those classes; it was Ken teaching with me. I’ve never been alone or without a compass in my scholarship.
When I was writing my dissertation about Southern Protestant denominationalism, Ken sent comments on chapters, as did my University of Connecticut advisor Jim Faris. Both encouraged me. Both helped me out of intermittent, sometimes protracted spells of procrastination. Thankfully—blessedly—I now fully embrace Ken’s and other scholars’ ever-presence in my scholarship and life. Which is why not many months ago when Ken passed on, a huge part of me did as well. After 75 years together my future self as writer and scholar appears unfathomable. Yet, whatever my future becomes I know “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that Ken will continue to face it fully with me.
Blakely, Thomas A. 1995. “The Swearing Elders.” January 1, 1995. Sunstone Magazine Podcast. Accessed on December 15, 2020. https://www.sunstonemagazine.com.
Peterson, Levi S. 1994. “The Art of Dissent among the Mormons.” Sunstone 16: 8 (February): 33–39.
White, Daryl and O. Kendall White Jr. 1992. “African American Mormons in the South.” In African Americans in the South: Issues of Race, Class, and Gender , edited by Hans A. Baer and Yvonne Jones, 139–153. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
White, Daryl and O. Kendall White Jr. 1995. “Rational Theology Versus Authoritarian Obedience: Legitimating the Priesthood Ban among African American Mormons.” Virginia Social Science Journal 30 (Winter): 63–74.
White, Daryl and O. Kendall White Jr. 1996. “Charisma, Structure, and Contested Authority: The Social Construction of Authenticity in Mormonism.” In Religion and the Social Order , edited by David G. Bromley and Lewis F. Carter, Vol. 6, 93–112. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
White, Daryl and O. Kendall White Jr. 1999. “Mormonism and Homosexuality: A Historical Overview.” In Anticipating the End: The Experiences of the Nineties , edited by Susan Blair Green, 109–111. Staunton, Virginia: Mary Baldwin College.
White, Daryl and O. Kendall White Jr. 2003. “Issues of Homosexuality in Congregational and Denominational Realignment.” Paper presented at the 65th Annual Meeting of the Association for the Sociology of Religion, Atlanta, Georgia, August 2003.
White, Daryl and O. Kendall White Jr. 2003. “Queer Christian Confessions: Spiritual Autobiographies of Gay Christians.” Culture and Religion 5, no. 2 (July): 203–218.
White, Daryl and O. Kendall White Jr. 2004. “Ecclesiastical Polity and the Challenge of Homosexuality: Two Cases of Divergence within the Mormon Tradition.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 36, no. 4 (December): 67–89.
White, Daryl and O. Kendall White Jr. 2007. “Biblical Inerrancy, Local Church Autonomy, and the Remaking of Southern Baptist Polity.” Virginia Social Science Journal 42:1–17.
White, Owen Kendall Jr. No date. “Church and Community: Personal Reflections on Mormon Intellectual Life.” Personal papers. 8.White, Owen Kendall Jr. 1967. “The Social Psychological Basis of Mormon New-Orthodoxy.” MS thesis, Department of Sociology, University of Utah.
White, Owen Kendall Jr. 1970. “The Transformation of Mormon Theology.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 5, no. 2 (Summer): 9–24.
White, Owen Kendall Jr. 2015. Personal letter to First Presidency, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah. In author’s possession.
White, Owen Kendall Jr. 1984. “Overt and Covert Politics: The Mormon Church’s Anti-ERA Campaign in Virginia.” Virginia Social Science Journal 19:11–16.White, O. Kendall Jr. 1972. “Constituting Norms and the Formal Organization of American Churches.” Sociological Analysis 33 (Summer): 95–109.
White, O. Kendall Jr. 1975. “A Study in the Social Control of Institutions: The Transformation of Local Housing Authority.” PhD dissertation, Department of Sociology, Vanderbilt University.
White, O. Kendall Jr. 1987. Mormon Neo-Orthodoxy: A Crisis Theology. Salt Lake City: Signature Books.White, O. Kendall Jr. 1989. “Mormonism and the Equal Rights Amendment.” Journal of Church and State 31, no. 2 (Spring): 249–267.
White, O. Kendall Jr. 2008. “Thomas F. O’Dea and Mormon Intellectual Life: A Reassessment Fifty Years Later.” In Revisiting Thomas F. O’Dea’s The Mormons: Contemporary Perspectives , edited by Cardell K. Jacobson, John P. Hoffmann and Tim B. Heaton, 21–55. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.
White, O. Kendall Jr. 2008. “Where I Am and How I Got Here: Remarks upon Receiving the 2007 Virginia Social Science Association Scholar in Sociology Award.” Virginia Social Science Journal 43:111–116.
White, O. Kendall Jr. and Daryl White. 1980. “Abandoning an Unpopular Policy: An Analysis of the Decision Granting the Mormon Priesthood to Blacks.” Sociological Analysis 41 (Fall): 231–245.
White, O. Kendall Jr. and Daryl White. 1995. “Integrating Religious and Racial Identities: An Analysis of LDS African American Explanations of the Priesthood Ban.” Review of Religious Research 36, no. 3 (March): 295–311.
White, O. Kendall Jr. and Daryl White. 2000. “Negotiating Cultural and Social Contradictions: Interracial Dating and Marriage among African American Mormons.” Virginia Social Science Journal 35: 85–98.
We knew Armand Mauss for over forty years as a respected colleague, a perceptive critic and strong supporter of our scholarly work, and a close friend. Armand’s formidable mind remained clear and incisive up until the day he died at age 92.
Most Mormon studies scholars today are familiar with Armand Mauss’s significant contributions to Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought for over 40 years as a contributing author of important essays, an influential editorial and advisory board member, and chair of the board of directors during a critical transformational time in Dialogue’s operational structure in the early 2000s. Most Dialogue readers will also be aware of Armand’s similar organizational and scholarly contributions to the Mormon History Association since its inception in 1965 up to more recent times (including serving a term as MHA President in 1997–98), and his contributions to the establishment of the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. But fewer of Dialogue’s readers or historian colleagues may be familiar with Armand’s foundational contributions to implementing a social science approach in the emerging field of Mormon studies. Armand’s contributions in this regard have overlapped fortuitously with our own careers as academic sociologists with research interests in Mormon studies. In what follows, we appreciatively link and personalize our modest contributions to the sociology of Mormonism in connection with Armand’s highly influential friendship and collegial support.
We first met Armand Mauss during a conference of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco in September 1978. For members of the contemporary Mormon Social Science Association (MSSA), this conference was noteworthy as the time and place when plans were first laid to formally institute a scholarly organization for the social scientific study of Mormonism. Along with Glenn M. Vernon, Armand was instrumental in formulating and implementing those plans. At the time, Glenn Vernon was the chair of the department of sociology at the University of Utah, and Armand was a professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University. We were already well acquainted with Professor Vernon, from whom we had taken graduate-level courses at the University of Utah (Vernon, in fact, chaired Gary’s M. A. thesis). Neither one of us, however, was then acquainted with Armand.
Our initial impression of Armand at the planning session in San Francisco proved enduring: He was both knowledgeable and authoritative in his views and articulate in expressing them. He inspired confidence that he was someone with scholarly ability who knew how to manage an organization of scholars. Armand was, in fact, supremely qualified to become the founding vice president and then president of the MSSA (known originally as the Society for the Sociological Study of Mormon Life). His early leadership efforts toward building the MSSA into a scholarly society—especially after Glen Vernon’s untimely death in 1985—that subsequently has flourished for over 40 years must be recognized as an essential part of Armand’s professional legacy. It is, in fact, no exaggeration to say that MSSA owes its survival and eventual organizational success primarily to Armand’s guidance, prodding, recruiting, and persistent networking with scholars and other professional scholarly bodies with interests in Mormonism, along with his generous personal financial contributions at needed moments.
Over the years, we sustained regular professional and personal contact with Armand. Among other things, he invited us to contribute articles to special issues of journals which he was guest-editing, including the Review of Religious Research in 1984, featuring Rodney Stark’s famously controversial article, “The Rise of a New World Faith,” and Dialogue ’s 1996 Spring Issue, with Armand, as special edition editor, presciently asking contributors to address the prospects of “Mormons and Mormonism in the Twenty-first Century.” With regard to this latter theme, the two of us, along with fellow sociologist and MSSA member, Ryan Cragun, were invited by a Palgrave MacMillan editor at the 2018 annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion to solicit authors (many of them current members of the MSSA) for chapters in a proposed handbook on global Mormonism in the twenty-first century. Needless to say, the first person we consulted about this proposal was Armand. As always, Armand provided wise advice and author recommendations, along with subsequent commentaries and suggestions regarding draft chapters we sent him, all of which shaped our preparation of the book, which was published in 2020. Appropriately, the dedication page of Global Mormonism is written to “Armand L. Mauss, respected colleague and distinguished scholar of Mormon Studies.”
Meanwhile, and most important for the two of us professionally, Armand was an astute reader or reviewer of virtually all the scholarly articles and books we have co-authored on Mormon topics over the past three decades. Whether in perfect agreement or not with all of Armand’s thoughtful and thorough critiques of our work, we have never failed to take advantage of his critical insights, and our writing always has been substantially improved as a result. No contemporary scholar has had greater influence on our own scholarship than Armand Mauss.
In particular, Armand was a very supportive reader of our first book, A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism , ultimately published by the University of Utah Press in 1984. In correspondence with us about Kingdom , Armand told us that he also had been formulating ideas about a book dealing with the conservative transformation of the modern LDS Church. A decade later, Armand—a meticulous scholar—finally published his long-awaited book: The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (University of Illinois Press, 1994). Subsequently this book has become a contemporary classic, which is cited by virtually everybody doing serious scholarship today on modern Mormonism.
By the time The Angel and the Beehive was published, Armand had already served from 1989–1992 as the first Mormon-affiliated editor-in-chief of the internationally renowned Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion ( JSSR ). Receiving this prestigious appointment meant that Armand had achieved a well-regarded standing among social science scholars of religion. The standing of the Mormon Social Science Association as a professional organization also benefited substantially from Armand’s status in the field, as articles on Mormon topics increasingly were submitted and accepted for publication by JSSR and other reputable social science journals. Not coincidentally, when Armand assumed editorship of the flagship journal in 1989, the MSSA commenced its affiliation as a partner organization with the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Among other things, Gordon was recruited by Armand as JSSR’s co-book review editor; BYU scholar and former MSSA president Marie Cornwall subsequently served on the SSSR’s executive council and eventually, like Armand, became editor-in-chief of the organization’s journal; and, today, MSSA treasurer Ryan Cragun also serves as SSSR executive secretary.
Retrospectively, it’s safe to say that no one deserves more credit for helping to legitimize the social science of Mormonism as a recognized field of study than Armand Mauss. Indeed, it is this last point that is perhaps most reflective of Armand’s cumulative value to Mormon studies, namely the overlapping scope and influence of his organizational, intellectual, and personal involvements in key positions, relationships, and scholarly issues related to the study of Mormonism. Who has cultivated a wider, more significant network of contacts with both Mormon insiders and outsiders, social scientists and non-social scientists, believers and non-believers? Who has stimulated and facilitated a more fruitful cross-fertilization of perspectives, ideas, and understanding of Mormon institutions and their dynamic intersection with the larger world than Armand Mauss?
Thirty years after the publication of A Kingdom Transformed , we decided to attempt an updated, second edition. Again, Armand played a key role. First, it was Armand who stimulated the idea for a second edition by informing us of the development by BYU linguist Mark Davies of an online site called Corpus of LDS General Conference Talks, which would allow us to update our statistical analysis of conference talks if we cared to do so. Secondly, Armand was again asked by the University of Utah Press to review our second edition manuscript. In his critique he argued persuasively that we should frame our analysis of the new conference data from 1980–2010 by taking into account his own updated reflections on The Angel and the Beehive , published in a 2011 Dialogue article titled, “Rethinking Retrenchment: Course Corrections in the Ongoing Campaign for Respectability.” That’s exactly what we did and, consequently, produced what we consider to be a meaningful and worthwhile extension of the first edition of our book.
Both of us have been privileged to offer reviews of Armand’s own work to scholarly audiences. In 2002, Gary was invited to present a paper at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion titled, “The Contributions of Armand Mauss to Mormon Studies.” In his paper Gary concentrated particular attention on Armand’s major book contributions to Mormon studies, The Angel and the Beehive , and All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (University of Illinois Press, 2003). As a reviewer of this latter book for the University of Illinois Press, Gary had access to Armand’s draft manuscript and was able to provide his audience with a preview of the book, arguing that it might well be considered as Armand’s magnum opus.
Similarly, in 2012, Gordon (along with former MSSA president Rick Phillips and historian Jan Shipps) was invited to present a paper at the annual meeting of the SSSR to review Armand’s memoir, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic , that had just been published by the University of Utah Press. In his review, Gordon concluded that Armand’s memoir demonstrates how people may acquire and manage two central identities in frequent tension while maintaining an essential integrity to both. We see in Armand’s memoir an earnest, maturational struggle to reconcile the timeless tension between religious faith and secular learning in such a way that he honors both the LDS tradition and academic social science—two often contending communities in which his religious and professional identities remained steadfastly rooted. Neither one of these identities can, in Armand’s case, be fully understood apart from the other.
While the two of us felt personally close to Armand, we assume our long, professional relationship with him over the years is not particularly unique. The work of uncounted other scholars in Mormon studies has been significantly influenced, either directly or indirectly, by Armand’s support, writing, organizational leadership, and unflagging commitment to the field and its intellectual standards. This is particularly true for comprehending the emergence of the social scientific study of Mormonism as a reputable field of study during the last two decades of the twentieth century. Today, Armand Mauss justly deserves recognition as one of the pioneer founders of this ongoing, scholarly enterprise and, to date, its most influential practitioner. Thank you, Armand.
The sociology of Mormonism was fortunate in the latest fin de siècle to have its 1960s generation, scholars who created an intriguing body of writing. In particular, the lives and work of two of them are sociologically instructive.
I call them a sixties generation because they were students in universities during the sixties and because the questions that drove them were on the horizon of their experience and becoming conscious and vital within Mormonism at the time (Langer 1996). These scholars made those concerns explicit and part of the sociology of Mormonism as ideas grounded in LDS social experience. We have the task of exploring the Mormonism and the sociology of their times—through them as scholars and as Mormon sociologists living, engaging, and reflecting.
Mauss and White
For this paper, I shall discuss Armand L. Mauss and O. Kendall White though the generation includes many other interesting sociologists.
While having a family life and a series of LDS Church callings, Mauss lived two sequential careers. He was first known as a student of social problems and social movements. Late in his academic life, even though he had worked in the area for his PhD, Mauss turned to the sociology of religion and specifically to the sociology of his native Mormonism where he made major contributions. Mauss joined a central cohort within the sociology of religion. He had an organic relationship with these scholars as a former graduate student of Charles Y. Glock at Berkeley.
O. Kendall White also had a notable career. Besides the sociology of Mormonism, he worked on social and political movements, inequality and race, and on religion in the US South. As a scholar of Mormonism, White developed outside what later became the mainstream of the sociology of religion. His thought emphasized sociopolitical relationships between an expanding state and its society.
Both of these sociologists were born in Salt Lake City, though Mauss was raised as an active, diaspora Mormon in the San Francisco East Bay Area. A distinction between California Mormons and Utah Mormons—as people with different senses of religiosity and of the Church—became grounded in Mauss when his family would visit their Utah relatives. It later played a role in his methodology and carried weight in his analyses.
Both Mauss and White served LDS missions in New England at different times. After his mission, Mauss lived in US-occupied postwar Japan where his father was the LDS mission president. While there, Mauss studied history at the Jesuit Sophia University and obtained his bachelor’s degree. He married Ruth Hathaway who also lived in Japan, joined the military, was in intelligence, and later returned to California with a young family. In the Golden State, Mauss entered Berkeley part-time as a graduate student in history and received an MA with a focus on East Asia. This degree qualified him to work as a high school teacher and later as a community college instructor. An older-than-average graduate student at Berkeley, Mauss switched fields to sociology and completed a PhD.
While still ABD he worked for two years at Utah State University and from there obtained a tenure-track position at Washington State University. In Pullman, he finished writing his dissertation entitled “Mormons and Minorities” and obtained his Berkeley doctorate in 1970. After thirty years as a professor at WSU, Mauss retired in 1999. He then returned to California, though now to the greater Los Angeles area, and joined the Mormon Studies program at Claremont Graduate University.
Mauss’s early experiences and training were molded by his family’s Mormonism including, as he writes piquantly, testing boundaries. His Mormonism was familial and congregational rather than societal. It emphasized the importance of LDS hierarchy, belief, and internal piety, rather than Mormon society and culture. Mauss’s professional formation was informed by the Jesuits, the military, and by national intellectuals at Berkeley, not by Mormon scholars or their questions and thought per se.
Mauss’s Mormonism grew in his family, in his church service as an Institute instructor and in a bishopric, as well as in conversations with fellow LDS graduate students and Mormon officials. In these social spaces, Mauss developed his Mormon intellectuality alongside his professional training even while as a PhD student he began focusing his sociological eye on Latter-day Saint survey responses. While some devout Mormons, including some of his Church leaders, saw him as “suspect” (Lynn England, personal communication, 2020), he remained a devout Mormon throughout his life and gained respect within Mormon scholarly circles for that and for his intellectual independence.
In contrast, White was raised a Latter-day Saint in suburban Salt Lake City. He experienced the complex Mormonism found in that capital of the LDS Church and of the state of Utah. While congregations and the institutional Church were important in his Utah, they were only a part of the Mormon life White knew. Mormonism and society were mostly the same.
White entered the University of Utah and obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees there. At the U he came to know and was trained by a key generation of LDS scholars including ones described as “the first generation of modern Mormon Intellectuals” (Blakeley 1986). A key theme there was what distinguished Mormons from other Americans as a society, a church, and a people—not specifically individuals. As a result, concern about the loss of cosmological distinctiveness deeply informs White’s work.
White begins his book, Mormon Neo-Orthodoxy: A Crisis Theology , with a quote from an even earlier University of Utah intellectual and mentor of White’s teachers, Ephraim E. Ericksen, about the transformation of the Mormon “Kingdom of God” from a physical place with a social order into a metaphysical construct tied to a Church (White 1987). This change was due to decades of Mormon tension with the federal government and American society. Following the incorporation of Utah into the US as a state, Mormons lived a persistent, modernist conflict between “new ideas and old institutions.” From this foundation, after World War II, White continues, Mormon leaders became preoccupied with challenges to beliefs that gave “meaning and purpose to a social order” and not just a Mormon order. During the first half of the twentieth century a dominant Mormon theology came together that corresponded to the economic and social liberalism of American society: a positive and progressive theology of humans and a limited view of God.
White was also influenced by the U of Utah sociologist Lowell Bennion, who was the first to bring Max Weber’s work into English (DiPadova and Brower 1992). Bennion’s Weber, according to DiPadova, is not the same as the Parsonian one dominant in American sociology, and hence, we might add, of Mauss and his professors.
Unlike White, Mauss grew up in a situation where Mormonism was one denomination among others. The bounds of congregational life within the broader society of Oakland and Walnut Grove, California distinguished it sociologically, perhaps more than its theology or internal organization and practices. The LDS Church in northern California was only a small fragment of society. These bounds—as sites of tension—became the first brick in Mauss’s academic edifice.
In addition, for Mauss, institutions and organizations were composed of individual persons and had no substantial reality beyond that, unlike in Utah where the Church as the successor of the Kingdom of God had, and still has, a reality greater than the sum of the individuals who participate in it. In Utah, Mormon society and the institutional Church form the twin pillars of life. They are neither strongly nor clearly separated from each other; nor are there always clear distinctions between religious life and a secular society, despite the challenges of modernity and the diversification of Utah’s social and institutional life.
During his stints as a graduate student at Berkeley, Mauss dedicated himself to his studies and to serving in positions within his ward and the broader, multi-ward community, one that included various stakes. This community is an intermittent and limited Mormon society built on congregational and stake bases as well as personal contacts. It mostly does not have official LDS sanction or organization.
Through Church service, Mauss also experienced the diasporic interface between local congregations and the official Church system of authorities and bureaucracy. As a result, these are foundational in Mauss’s vision of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, rather than the Mormon society and varied intellectuals that configured White’s analysis.
Mauss also came to know a generation of LDS intellectuals in the Bay Area who went on to forge seminal organizations and institutions such as Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought . Later, he became involved with the Mormon History Association and, even later, the Sunstone Foundation. These convoke a national and international group of Mormon thinkers beyond formal LDS Church boundaries and form an important set of extra-Church LDS organizations. Along with the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Mormon Social Science Association, these organizations were where Mauss built himself as a Mormon intellectual and later a scholar of Mormonism.
White left Utah after obtaining a master’s degree in 1967 with a thesis on the social psychology of Mormon theology that became the basis for his 1987 book on Mormon neo-orthodoxy. This new theology, he argued, was a reaction by various prominent Mormon thinkers (especially at Brigham Young University) to midcentury and later modernization. Unlike Mauss, White never returned to live in his home state. He did, however, engage in Mormon intellectual life, especially in groups such as the Society for the Sociological Study of Mormon Life—now the Mormon Social Science Association—as well as with Dialogue and Sunstone.
White obtained his PhD in sociology from Vanderbilt University, located in Nashville, Tennessee, a heart of southern identity and religiosity. There, White came under the influence of national and international sociologists. Mormonism continued to concern him personally and intellectually though his activity in Mormon congregational life had withered. While finishing his PhD with a 1975 dissertation, “A Study in the Social Control of Institutions: Transformation of a Local Housing Authority,” White began teaching at Washington and Lee University (Daryl White, personal communication). White’s day-to-day life took place in Virginia, a very different social space from Utah, though it had issues similar to those he outlined in his discussion on Protestant neo-orthodoxy. Like Mauss, White had other emphases besides Mormonism; however, his career was more integrated, while Mauss’s professional life was bimodal.
White married the noted Mormon feminist Arlene Burraston-White from Ogden, Utah and maintained close personal and intellectual relationships with his brothers: anthropologist Daryl White of Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia; psychologist Brent White, Matton Professor at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky; and Bill Humphrey, who was in management at Xerox and an AIDS activist (Daryl White, personal communication). Three of the brothers lived their adult lives in the American South relatively close to each other. Kendall and Daryl frequently co-authored texts and formed a significant team within the study of Mormonism. They also visited Utah while their mother, Thelma Clark White, still lived.
Not only were White and Mauss in the university during the sixties, the time and the period afterward contributed to their emphases and approaches. The sixties were a significant personal challenge to Mauss given his his self-declared conservatism, his military background, his institutional dedication, and his older age—he turned 40 in 1968. Besides his irritation at the societal shaking, the period lay the second brick of the tension between society and the Church that Mauss describes in his 1994 work, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation .
His approach appears grounded in his own experience as well as in his academic work, especially on the LDS Church’s exclusion of Black men from the LDS priesthood. Mauss discussed the dangers of assimilation to the society in which the LDS Church was enclaved, something that he had seen in the places he had lived. Giving up distinctiveness and becoming like their neighbors, joining another church, or merely ceasing to participate in the congregation were the constant risks facing diaspora Mormons.
However, there is more. At UC-Berkeley and then later in his first professorial job at Utah State University, Mauss ran squarely into the sixties’ roiling of campuses. In response, Mauss grew frustrated and even angered by what he saw as lack of discipline and forethought in the movement and in its questioning of authority. This became daunting for Mauss when students questioned his authority as a professor. It also became vivid when Mauss felt the need to publicly defend Church policies on race since for him the civil rights movement, the student movement, the New Left, and the anti-Vietnam movements were of a piece. Though becoming privately disillusioned, Mauss fought back. He followed a Jesuit model (instead of the available LDS models with the same label). He become a “defender of the faith” while also an analyst of it. Mauss wrote:
Utah has largely been spared the civil turmoil over public policy that has from time to time engulfed campus, community, and conscience itself in the other areas of the United States. … Not so the Utah emigres who settled outside the Great Basin in increasing numbers from 1930 on. For them and their children, being Mormon has always meant having to answer for [Mormonism] regularly in the neighborhood, at school, at work, in politics, on the university campus, and ultimately to oneself … [R]arely … were such encounters with the non-Mormon world actually acrimonious or hostile—rarely, that is, until the rise of the civil rights movement (Mauss 1984).
Mauss distinguished the experience of Latter-day Saints in California from that of Beehive State residents. California Saints lived an existential separation from neighbors and peers and had to answer for Mormonism. He wrote: “Such a predicament … was a blessing in disguise, as [members] were often reminded from the pulpit, for it presented many opportunities to share the faith.” Both the challenge and the sharing made Mormonism a burning boundary marker front and center in these diaspora Mormons’ existence.
This relationship with Mormonism, seared in pluralism and self-defense, was not the experience of most Utahns. There, Mormonism so infused society and social ties that Utah Saints did not experience the challenges of the sixties in the same way, though many still became concerned about the ban on priesthood for those of African descent, as White discusses. In Utah this issue was intertwined with other concerns of modernization (White 1987, 118–123).
The tense and “acrimonious” relations that arose in the sixties for Mauss motivated his thinking on retrenchment, a digging in against the opposition. It would crystalize for him the binary relationship between the LDS Church, a sect, and the outside world as one of dynamic tension with the Church making cyclical responses of accommodation, retrenchment, and accommodation.
White was a decade younger than Mauss and experienced the sixties as a university student in Utah. White was not raised a diaspora Mormon nor did he have a separate life between his undergraduate education and his PhD work. The University of Utah, where White studied, had emerged early in the century as a place of independent thinking about Mormonism and for educating generations of young Mormons. For White, the sixties emphasized a crisis for many Mormons, but he analyzed it as one of growing modernity in Mormon society and increasing American secularity. White appreciated the value of the Mormon ideals with which he was raised, believing they could fit the hope and progressiveness of the sixties. Yet a new generation of LDS intellectuals, mostly at Brigham Young University, was changing them, he felt. They were assimilating Mormon ideas of divinity and humanity to those of fundamentalist Protestantism. White captured the birth of a theology that fit a growing authoritarianism and an increasing turn to the social and political right. During this period and the next decade, many Mormon leaders and members were drawn, along with people of other faiths, into what became known as the Religious Right, to anti-government politics and anti-communism, to a growing national conservatism. White locates twentieth-century Mormonism in the broader social processes of American society rather than in its sectarian status.
Armand L. Mauss and O. Kendall White have left us an important body of sociological work on Mormonism. The structure of their lives helps us to understand their work, while at the same time revealing important portions of Mormon society and religion. We owe them a great debt and best honor them by continuing our scholarship while being cognizant of how approaches stem from situated lives.
Blakely, Thomas. 1986. “The Swearing Elders: The First Generation of Modern Mormon Intellectuals.” Sunstone 53: 8–13.
DiPadova, Laurie Newman and Ralph S. Brower. 1992. “A Piece of Lost History: Max Weber and Lowell L. Bennion.” The American Sociologist 23, no. 3 (Fall): 37–56.
Langer, Suzanne. 1996. Philosophy in a New Key: A Study of Reason, Rite, and Art , third edition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Mauss, Armand L. 1984. “Introduction: Conflict and Commitment in an Age of Civil Turmoil.” In Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church , edited by Lester Bush and Armand L. Mauss. Midvale, Utah, Signature Books.
Mauss, Armand L. 1994. The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation . Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Mauss, Armand L. 2012. Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic . Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.White, O. Kendall. 1987. Mormon Neo-Orthodoxy: A Crisis Theology. Salt Lake City: Signature Books.