Which aspect of Mormon history needs to be studied through the framework of “lived religion?”

By October 24, 2017

Welcome to a new series at Juvenile Instructor entitled “The Gathering.” In this series of posts, several JI-ers will respond to a single question posed by another JI blogger. If you have a question you’d like to submit, please post it as a comment at the bottom of this post. 

Which aspect of Mormon history needs to be studied through the framework of “lived religon?”

J Stuart: Someone needs to write a dissertation on the “Raids” of the 1880s. There’s so much good scholarship on plural marriage, but little of it addresses how average Mormons’ religious experience changed during that time.How did Mormon religious experience change due to federal pressure? How did it affect those that had family members on the run from federal authorities? Those in prison? This will add previously unexplored dimensions of how polygamy was not just taught and accepted, but a religious experience for Latter-day Saints.

J Stapley: Unsurprisingly, I’m going to say liturgy.  Bur perhaps a more useful response would be to point to Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice.  I still think that there are a lot of great ideas here for Mormon Studies.  From the work on Baptism (and I think Ryan is doing huge work here now), to glossolalia, and to charismatic schism (think everything from Snuffer to Dehlin).

Ryan T: Perhaps surprisingly, I think the history of Mormon theology could really benefit from a ‘lived religion’ perspective. We sometimes forget that Latter-day Saints in earlier periods of the history did not encounter the ‘core’ of Mormon thought that exists in our contemporary moment. The theological edifice of Mormonism had to be constructed, and Latter-day Saints living in the flow of time did not know the end from the beginning. As a result, there are a number of colorful histories not only of theological production, but of theological reception to be written, given that early Mormonism, in particular, was such an intellectually dynamic movement. Baptism for the dead is one case where early Mormons embraced a new schema that they had not foreseen and that transformed the character of their religious experience in powerful ways.

Janiece: I too think there are broad possibilities for “lived religion” within Mormonism. Individual practice will always be distinct from hierarchical declarations. Reflecting my own current project, the concept of scripture itself is interesting. We assume early Mormons accept the Book of Mormon text with the choice to align with Joseph Smith. But was membership in the Church of Christ enough to demonstrate a commitment to the text? Without an established religion or magisterial limits on scripture, how does something become scripture? Wilfred Cantwell Smith argues that a text becomes scripture as adherents gain a relationship with the text–that relationship imbues the text with meaning. While some have argued that early Mormons disregarded the Book of Mormon–that its sign was most important, for the most part, those arguments were based on Church periodicals. Do official periodicals illustrate how an individual develops a relationship with the text? Is the text only used in very specific ways or is there a variety of ways that adherents approach the text?

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. This is a fun idea, J Stuart, and thanks to those who participated. Mormon history is a wide-open field for a “live religion” approach. An area not mentioned above, at least not explicitly, is how non-white Mormons have appropriated the religion and how structures such as race and colonialism have shaped those interactions. I’m especially excited for Quincy Newell’s work on Jane Manning James in this regard.

    Comment by David G. — October 24, 2017 @ 8:45 am


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