Guest Post from Jeff Turner: “Nineteenth-century Gathering: A Translocative Opportunity”

By July 3, 2015

[Today we are happy to have the second post in our guest series from UofU-bound-PhD student Jeff Turner. Make sure you didn’t miss his first post last week.]

Mormon-Pioneers-Expelled-from-MissouriIn the first volume of the Mormon Studies Review, Thomas Tweed writes, “in this brief essay I want to discuss Mormon displacement and emplacement, as Twain did, and I want to propose that consideration of these two themes, and others, shows that the Latter-day Saints offer an exceptionally generative case study for translocative history, historical accounts that trace cultural flows across geographical boundaries, and comparative analysis, the justly maligned but still useful strategy of interpreting one tradition in terms of another.”[1] While Tweed spends a significant portion of the essay addressing a comparative approach, he also suggests that missions and migration are two opportunities for a translocative study of Mormonism. In following this vein, we might ask: what might such a study of Mormonism look like?

Historian William Mulder helps point the way here. In regard to nineteenth-century Mormonism, he writes, “in Mormon thinking emigration was practically synonymous with conversion… After baptism by immersion, they said, and the laying on of hands at confirmation, came the baptism of desire, a strange and irresistible longing which ravished them and filled them with a nostalgia for Zion, their common home.”[2] While not universally the case, conversion in nineteenth-century Mormonism generally implied gathering as a second step in the conversion process. Migrating would demonstrate the authenticity of one’s conversion as a true “personal religious change.”

Enter Tweed’s theory of translocation: crossing and dwelling. He describes that “religious crossings can be terrestrial, corporeal, and cosmic: in other words, traditions prescribe and proscribe movement across the landscape, the life cycle, and the ultimate horizon of human life, however that is imagined.”[3] In the case of nineteenth-century conversion and migration, this might suggest that the physical crossing of space entailed a personal crossing of identity. By traveling across a worldly landscape toward a religious destination, a convert could also traverse across personal boundaries from a recent convert to a citizen of Zion. Arrival might indicate dwelling, which Tweed describes as home-making and inhabiting, and which we might interpret as an expression of “successful” conversion.[4]

Individual gathering, in the terms of crossing and dwelling, might serve as a unifying entryway into what Jan Shipps describes as the “sacred space” and “sacred time” that characterized nineteenth-century Mormonism.[5] A citizen would no longer live in a Mormon community among other communities, but instead would find her whole existence encapsulated by Mormonism.

Of course, such an argument would require interpretation of primary sources, which I haven’t done here. Instead, I’d like to suggest some preliminary implications and issues.

A translocative study of early Mormon conversion and migration would suggest that conversion occurs over time and in a variety of religious expressions in addition to and outside of baptism. More largely, such theorizing would highlight a relationship between the personal religious identity change that occurs during conversion and space. However, one danger of utilizing crossing and dwelling in this way would be to unintentionally subvert the legitimacy of Mormon converts who did not migrate to Utah. Would that conversion be of a different kind than the conversion of a Mormon who migrated?

I don’t have answers or conclusions. What exists here is an opportunity for one permutation of a translocative study of nineteenth-century Mormonism. Just some food for thought.

____________________________________________

[1] Thomas A. Tweed, “Beyond “Surreptitious Staring”: Migration, Missions, and the Generativity of Mormonism for the Comparative and Translocative Study of Religion”, Mormon Studies Review, 1 (2014): 19.

[2] William Mulder, Homeward to Zion: the Mormon Migration from Scandinavia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1957; 2000).

[3] Tweed, “Beyond ‘Surreptitious Staring,’” 21. See Thomas A. Tweed, Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), chapter 5.

[4] See Tweed, Crossing and Dwelling, chapter 4.

[5] See Jan Shipps, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985). As a community, Shipps argues that the exodus to Utah served as the entrance and creation of sacred space and time.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


Comments

  1. Very interesting food for thought. Thanks, Jeff. I wonder if we can think of the kind of (re)orientation towards America/Utah that I think church leaders often (consciously or unconsciously) expect from “foreign” members as a kind of translocation, albeit in a modern, metaphoric sense. Any thoughts?

    Comment by Saskia — July 3, 2015 @ 6:00 am

  2. Good question, Saskia. I’ve been wondering a little about this, but don’t have the experience to say anything more than: there’s something happening. I’ve recently heard an international Mormon refer to Utah as Zion in an intentional-but-offhand kind of way, and I wonder what kind of mental reorientation or psychological “translocation” occurs for that to happen. Good question!

    Comment by Jeff T — July 3, 2015 @ 8:35 am

  3. Nice post, Jeff.

    While certainly not the focus of your post, this makes me think of how the way we frame conversion (often tethered to migration) marginalizes the large number of converts who *didn’t* gather. For a majority of people who were baptized in eastern America, their affiliation with the LDS Church was quite different from those who moved to Utah.

    Comment by Ben P — July 3, 2015 @ 9:30 am

  4. Good point, Ben. Maybe that should be the subject of a future post! It’s something I’ve been struggling with in my own research, because, as you note, the relationship and experiences seem to be so different between migrants and non-migrants.

    Comment by Jeff T — July 3, 2015 @ 10:00 am

  5. Great Post, Jeff! And it would serve as a beautiful illustration of Tweed’s (sometimes) slippery conceptualization of crossing and dwelling. Your post helps us bring it down to earth, as it were!

    I agree with Ben’s observation. I’m often struck at how much non-Utah Mormons perform their non-Utahan status even in the meetinghouse on Sunday and do so consciously! I read it as a way for these non-Utah Mormons to distinguish themselves a bit from Utah’s insular “interpretive community”–and perhaps the totalizing conversion experiences that you are describing here. They might accept correlation, but don’t want to be correlated to Utah, if that makes sense.

    Comment by Max — July 4, 2015 @ 4:52 am

  6. Thanks, Max. “They might accept correlation, but don’t want to be correlated to Utah.” This makes a lot of sense to me, and is a good way to think about it, thanks! Good food for thought.

    Comment by Jeff T — July 4, 2015 @ 7:45 am


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