American Studies ETDs

Publication Date

8-19-2011

Abstract

The purpose of this dissertation is to address how representations of Mormons in American culture reveal not only key aspects of the history of Mormonism in America but also tell us a great deal about American life and thought since the founding of the religion in 1830 to the present day (2011). Representations are powerful vehicles for creating, shaping, reflecting, and naturalizing society's understanding of religious institutions and revealing cultural concerns and anxieties, and the methodology of this dissertation thus focuses on interdisciplinary analytical critiques of diverse texts to better elucidate the complicated but deeply intertwined history of the Mormon experience in the United States. I have pursued an interdisciplinary line of inquiry that interrogated how the Latter-day Saints have come to form a communal identity and how non-Mormons have understood and represented Mormons as well as the cultural implications of such representations. The findings of this study indicate that throughout their history, Mormons have often been imagined as an Other by producers of cultural texts in such a way that set them apart. Mormons have also portrayed themselves as a distinct people. But even more significant is how these diverse imaginings reflect American cultural beliefs and values. Both LDS and non-LDS Americans throughout history have had their own particular anxieties and concerns, and in many cases used Mormonism to address those issues. Cultural representations of Mormonism are important because they are tied into a larger history and a greater narrative about American hopes and dreams, about citizenship and belonging. The ebb and flow of anti-Mormonism and more positive representations says a great deal about the national character and the politics of belonging in a religiously pluralistic nation. This study untangles the formation of Mormon identity and the story of Mormonism in America by intervening in a dialogue about how the Saints have imagined themselves, and particularly how others have imagined them. The tension seen in pro- and anti-Mormon representations has shaped people's perceptions of the Latter-day Saints and revealed pressing undercurrents in American society. The result of all these Mormon, ex-Mormon, and non-Mormon examples not only gives us an understanding of how Americans imagine Mormons today, but also gives important insights into United States society and culture for the past 181 years.

Language

English

Keywords

Mormons, Mormonism, Representations of Mormonism, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

American Studies

Level of Degree

Doctoral

Department Name

American Studies

First Advisor

Schreiber, Rebecca

First Committee Member (Chair)

Melendez, Gabriel

Second Committee Member

Lubin, Alex

Third Committee Member

Beaman, Lori

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