CFP: Decentered Mormonism: Assessing 180 Years of International Expansion

By October 8, 2018

Thanks to friend of JI, Carter Charles, for sending this:

Following a pattern of itinerant preachers, inherited from the Second Great Awakening context from which their religion emerged, and from New Testament proselytes, Mormon missionaries began as early as June 1830 to go on missions. First, they traveled within the United States and Canada; then, looking beyond North America, they began to take their religion across the world starting with a mission to England as early as 1837.

The expansion of the movement has been such that we have witnessed in 1996 a shift in its numerical center: more than half of its 16 million plus of adherents reside outside of the United States, in the 184 countries and territories where it is taking or has taken roots. With this shift, the movement tends to be more diversified culturally in its most visible leadership bodies, and even more so within this numerical majority. This dynamic of expansion and of numerical decentering is a fascinating research theme to be confronted with the fact that the movement, which is known to be very structured and hierarchical, can also resort at times to a form of theological recenteredness, or of retrenchment, by toughening up its positions on certain issues.

While such retrenchment surely leads to internal tensions in the United States and, to a lesser degree, in other Western cultures, it can also prove to be a source of strength and of attraction elsewhere. As such, expansion tends to be a challenge for the leaders of the movement who have to “think global” while dealing with specific societal issues. The strategies set into motion by the movement to resist fragmentation and maintain cohesion in the United States will interest this conference inasmuch as they can bring to light a differentiated, culturally-sensitive approach in addressing the needs of the new and diversified center of Mormonism.

The aim of this conference is indeed to study Mormonism while it expands and takes roots beyond its original environment and administrative center. We know that some of the local realities the movement has encountered in Brazil, for instance, have weighed significantly to bring about its 1978 decision to open – anew – its priesthood and temple rituals to members of African ancestry. Such a move is one instance, out of many, which go to confirm that far from being ontologically opposed to change, Mormonism does evolve in time and in space. This begs the question as to the extent to which the movement has adapted, can adapt as it encounters new peoples and new cultures, especially in light of the recurrent critique that it is “an American religion”.

While the movement can do nothing about the fact that it originated in the United States, we hope the presentations in the conference will help determine on the one hand whether and to what extent a numerically “decentered” Mormonism also means a de-americanized Mormonism. On the other hand, we expect the communications to help come to an informed opinion on the place of other cultures in the movement, on how expansion contributes to interaction with local, state authorities and the extent of its localization.

Haiti – land of syncretism thanks to the flexibility of Vodooism and where Mormonism is about to mark 40 years of presence with the consecration of a temple – can serve as a starting point to update and enrich existing scholarship and shed light into how converts of different cultures (Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, Asia, etc.) own Mormonism by inscribing it into their everyday lives and shape Mormonism in return.

The conference will run from 22 to 23 March, 2019 in Port-au-Prince, at the National University of Haiti (UEH). We will consider propositions from all disciplines, both from experimented and emerging scholars, especially those who are doing or plan to do advanced research on Mormonism. Depending on resources and needs, some travel assistance may be awarded.

Send paper proposals (300 words) and a short biography by November 30, 2018 to Notifications of final decision will be sent around December 15, 2018.

Papers may be presented in French, in English or in Haitian Creole. It is anticipated that the proceedings will be published in Haiti and in the United States.

Organisateurs / Conference organizers:

Carter Charles, Brigham Young University (USA)

Lewis A. Clorméus, Université d’Etat d’Haïti

Julie K. Allen, Brigham Young Univeristy

Comité scientifique / Scientific Committee:

Carter Charles, Brigham Young University (USA)

Lewis A. Clorméus, Université d’Etat d’Haïti

Julie K. Allen, Brigham Young Univeristy

Bernadette Rigal-Cellard, Université Bordeaux Montaigne

Pierre Vendassi, Centre Emile Durkheim, Bordeaux University

Melissa Inouye, University of Auckland (NZ)

Article filed under Miscellaneous


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