Notes From the UVU Mormon Studies Conference: Day 1, Part 2–Armand Mauss

By November 6, 2009

This will probably be it. I was gonna go through and edit my Quinn notes on Clark, but it’s just rehash of his bio, so if you’ve read that, you’ve got it. If you haven’t read that, you’d be better off reading it than my crappy notes.  Unfortunately I was not able to go today, so I don’t know how it turned out and I will not have notes.

I guess I went into yesterday expecting to get some interesting perspectives of how the outmigration had affected the Church or how being “out” had affected the Church in local areas. Instead, most presenters presented biographical and autobiographical remarks that were anecdotal but not at all analytical, and that was kind of frustrating for me. Again, Johnson’s remarks did present some analytical points, but it also felt like a heroic continuation of the Utah pioneer anthem which didn’t rub me well.

Mauss was the high point, and even then his remarks were more of a critique of Johnson and the materials and only offered some very preliminary thoughts on interpretation. By then I was not really looking forward to Quinn cuz I had a feeling it would just be a set of stories, which indeed it was.

This should not take away from the importance of looking at the concept of the outmigration nor the importance of the collection of data that the Johnsons will donate to the BYU Special Collections. Nor should this be read to reflect negatively in any way on the herculean efforts of Boyd Petersen and Brian Birch to put this conference together. Many thanks to them for their efforts and to Brian in particular for the 1 Day Free Parking sticker that enabled me to escape the visitor lot scott free!

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Armand Mauss

This will be more abstract, less inductive, more deductive to look over what we’ve been hearing and make sense of it in certain categorical terms. I hope you’ll forgive me for misappropriating in the title the passage in the Book of Moses “Zion Has Fled,” cuz if Zion is where the stakes are, then to be sure, Zion has departed, cuz the majority of stakes are not in Utah, nor Missouri or Illinois. Much of the change has been conversion but secondary and also important is the outmigration. The term diaspora used to refer so often to the Jewish experience, might fit the Mormon case better. ½ of World’s Jews now live in Israel only 1/3 of LDS live in ancestral homeland of Utah. Except for two or three passing references I won’t be speaking to my own experience. First, as the eldest son of a family that left Utah for CA in 1931, as a missionary in New England. The mission  boundaries went from Rhode Island to the Upper reaches of Canada, no wards or stakes and few branches.

Some themes in LDS history often overlooked, why is this outmigration so often overlooked? 20th century LDS history in general has received significantly less study. Maybe cuz it’s easier and less political to study the 19th century than the social issues of the 20th. Moving from ones place of origin to elsewhere is so much a part of the American story, that a maybe it’s not so remarkable in the Mormon case especially to those who lived through it, but the project of outmigration carried on by the Johnsons for the last 25 years is very important. Publications in the project have only begun to appear, an article in BYU Studies a few years ago. Based on hundreds of personal interviews who migrated out of Utah in various parts of the first half of the 20th century, should yield information about families and the LDS church to establish and maintain enclaves outside the original heartland. As great as this archive is, it has limitations, I don’t want any of this to downplay the importance of it. But it has limitations and the authors are candid that these don’t provide a representative sample. These successfully survived the transplant and became leading citizens and successful. Much of the work of building the church carried on by many who wouldn’t fit the criteria of the Johnsons used in choosing people to interview. My own father never achieved much worldly success but he became one of the first bishops in the original Oakland ward. To his surprise after WWII, called to preside over the Japanese Mission, basically an apostolic calling that spanned the entire Far East.

As is, the families and people represented are a troubling symbolic significance that may deflect attention from these less prominent Saints…raises questions such as, are we to infer that the prominent are favored by the Lord or by church leaders? Are the devout the ones that find success? Etc. these are interesting questions that stand out …indeed, if we are to get a more textured understanding, we’ll need to know more about the effects on ordinary members as well as the leaders, why in the midst of Babylon did some become stronger and others weaker? Some might be in the different motives for leading the outmigration. The Johnsons speak of economic motivation. Others maybe have wanted to break free of the Mormon heritages. The Lost generation of Mormon Writers, Virginia Sorensen, Whipple, also part of that diaspora. One wonders about the Women in these interviews. We heard some stories of the women in the diaspora, but I wonder about the numbers and the women talked of are honored for their worldly achievements not for what they achieved in the church. How did such women manage the obvious strains in marriage that came from living in two career families. We heard already this morning of a few divorces but one wonders if that was a special concern or problem in that generation of the diaspora. One can appreciate the practical and the necessity of identifying as soon as possible the most historic leaders, but the biases of such selectivity much not be ignored. The Johnsons are probably right when they say the diaspora was the dominant social movement of the LDS in the 20th century, at least the earlier waves were. This study is an important contribution, but will depend on the master narrative chosen by historians, master narrative–the larger frame within which the story is told. So a lot will depend on the master narrative chosen. To take an earlier example, we’re acquainted with the mass migration narrative out of Northern Europe whose influx into Utah and Nauvoo may have saved the church. The familiar narrative is of humble seekers of truth who defy clergy, family, friends, and the elements to gather to Zion. We don’t hear so much about more worldly motives for leaving Europe or of disaffections, etc in arriving to Utah. Such omissions are interesting and understandable. The master narrative is meant to build faith, master narratives exclude as much as they include. Partly because of a similar selectivity, the master narrative that emerges from the outmigration so far in these presentations and in the BYU Studies article is one of energetic and adventurous Mormon men seeking education and economic advancement and found success and are responsible for establishing the church in a hostile and secular nation. Some eventually come back, bringing experience. Meanwhile they were pioneers of a new era, blazing trails. This too is an inspiring master narrative, but hopefully the narrative will be fleshed out to reflect realities like raising the only Mormon family in 50 miles, dealing with teens in a secular society. How to get a building built when planners in Salt Lake don’t know local conditions, or those escaping the grasp of the church, strains between presidents and missionaries wanting to baptize and local leaders wanting to integrate converts. We need a narrative that is less heroic and more realistic. I think these elements appear it will be up tot the narrators to integrate these characters into a better synthesis. Must make allowance for retrospective constructions of autobiographies. The master narrative will then be more useful, can step back and focus less on people and more on processes and then can be used more widely in other diaspora studies and can take broader meaning beyond the times and places of this project. They mention some of this in the BYU Studies Article. But what is not considered is whether the Mormon diasporans fared better than those that left. Generally, those in Utah gained a great deal and reached parity with Episcopalians and other groups. In this presentation I’d like to consider the implications of outmigration for modern LDS history, besides the information in these interviews, much of a more general nature can be inferred about the texture of these families and the congregations in the times that Sunday Schools were becoming branches, branches were becoming wards, and wards were becoming stakes. There is a historical literature of community life in Mormon wards and is a small literature. Also interesting is the sociological literature on social and ecclesiastical life in the Church as it changed in size, education, and respectability. A century ago a model of natural history of development or religious organization proposed. Why sects become respected churches. Rodney Stark used such models in to a more general framework of the religions economy of a society.

A brief digression into this theory before talking about how it applies. In a religious economy, churches are first competing to sell their project. They produce contracts between God and man that are redeemable in the next life. Firms may have worldly benefits, but mostly otherworldly. The more costly the product, the more valuable it is perceived by believers. The religious denominations that make significant demands are the ones that are thriving. Those which are wishy washy and that don’t demand anything are in decline. There is an optimum level of demand–different in diff. cultures. The cost of membership in the church or sect o cult can be recorded as the function of the tension a religion engenders with the culture of the host society. Sects experience high tensions with societies. They seem secretive or bizarre which entails high costs. These are costs that the members are willing to pay as long as they believe in otherworldly rewards. Low tension as Churches have few boundaries, few demands, not so costly or valued. Historical pattern is to begin as sects with truth claims that make for high tension then to reduce tension gradually across generations as members become respected and successful, once seen as dangerous and weird, now domesticated and assimilated. Methodist history fits this as does that of the LDS. That is usually the course of religious bodies since the Reformation. Often it begins at the congregational level. If we think of “mission field” branches as sects and wards as established as churches, the parallels are apparent. Who of us has not lived through or heard of the small LDS branch of recent converts who meet in rented halls where each Sunday before church the cigarette butts have to be swept out, etc. The story of how a branch like that becomes a ward and stakes is the subtext of many of these interviews. Parallels in microcosm. The natural history model by which high tension-high cost new sects eventually become respectable churches with lower tension and lower costs of membership. We can see that happening in a given locale to the LDS community itself.

Richard Bushman has proposed a parallel to this process in his three part developmental sequence at the pioneering level evolve into stable wards in the settlement stage, and complete replications of Utah wards in the entrenchment stage. These are conceptual models that don’t always fit all the facts, but help us fit disparate patterns into more meaningful generalizations. If we take the model with the tension model and with the diaspora, I think we can see how a pioneering branch of the church resembles a new sect and a settled ward an established church.

Bushman’s profiles of each stage were intended as preliminary and sketchy. In my own imagination (and as I’ll articulate here), I’ll round out the nature and texture of social life likely to occur at each stage in LDS congregations.

In the pioneering stage, missionary field branch, tension in the surrounding community fairly high, cuz they don’t belong to a local religious traditional there. No one from that branch has been known for anything but their strange religion.  Local converts and some western families. These western people are often made leaders, this may be resented by the locals. Sometimes out-migrants are less active and that doesn’t add much.

Dependant on missionaries, Sacrament meeting turnout so small sometimes that one of the speakers doesn’t come or no one there to play a piano, hometeaching difficult and falls on to the shoulders of the branch presidency which is on the verge of burnout. Mavericks and eccentrics are tolerated cuz everyone is needed, but participation of women valued, they play very important roles. Teens have most friends outside the church. In some, the relative costs of being an active LDS would seem quite high, so only the most devout are likely to persist. What kind of cost benefit analysis brings Utahns to these situations? As the branch turns to a ward, some growth occurs, mostly from westerners that have moved in. The creation of a ward to stake marks the settlement stage, attendance in sacrament meting reaches 100 or more, a bishop or other member is  involved in the community, there are 2 or 3 men at a time that might make good bishops, enough stability to reduce the power and prestige of women and shut down the eccentrics. The congregation is a critical mass and full program and auxiliaries can be established. In general something approaching a normal profile begins. Some strains between migrants, but all come together to build a building, reduction in cultural tensions, membership seems more normal, loose the highest costs. Many members take pride in being different as Mormons, member missionary work accelerates. Entrenchment stage, resembling Utah wards, Tension is minimal and members are increasingly assimilated and respected, indentify with own stakes and temple and less with Utah, activity falls out. Even the active become more complacent. Membership less costly and a certain amount of free riders can be tolerated. No outside tension, so tension must be maintained within by ignoring mavericks or excommunicating them. Women have less service in the congregation’s life. Cost benefit of a church calling more favorable now. Not to say they are not busy, but more prestige for less sacrifice than the branch pres is in the earliest generations.

Stake presidents defer more to Salt Lake, the entrenched organization  has arrived, resembles more a Christian church than the Mormon sect from whence it came. The circumstances of Mormon way of life changes, from sect to ward to stake.

A few quantitative inferences and how they might be obtained. We don’t think of interview data as quantitative. But you’d be surprised what can be done. It should be possible to get quantitative data, how might one tabulate and manipulate numbers. Labor intensive but can be done. Should be possible to tabulate background variable to see if out migrants came disproportionately from urban or rural parts of Utah. We assume rural migrants. And between then, there were different reasons if it was a Kimball from the E. Side of Salt Lake and a Scandinavian from Sanpete. How were outcomes diff?

Quest for higher education, certainly a major motive for many of them, but how much could be explained by that motivation and how do we tell?  We have a tendency to assume that the out migration is a part of the same story, regularly told even today that advanced education positively seen. Implications, however, more complex.

Whether we are interested in the role of education or something else, good quantitative data important. Why left, with what consequences. Won’t understand until we get more interpretative renderings. They get a good start, finally for the Mormon diaspora to be apart of the history of the Mormon people than always a separate episode future research needed…

Similar questions can be asked about other policies and practices. For example, what adaptations aid in correlation to accommodate these organizations?

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Comments

  1. Thanks, Jared. You’re right that Mauss’s comments are more satisfying.

    Comment by David G. — November 6, 2009 @ 11:54 pm

  2. Thanks for these write-ups.

    I’m glad that these remarks were able to move beyond what appeared to be a series of eulogies for outmigrants from the earlier presentations. We certainly should not discredit the outmigrants for performing the hugely important task of increasing the church’s visibility, giving it a positive image, and providing some good leaders. But there is certainly another side to the story. Growing up in Richmond, Virginia to convert parents, I always felt some level of resentment towards the “outsiders” – it seemed like many were out-of-touch and maybe had a chip on their shoulders. Honestly, I have grown up with guilt for feeling a certain contempt for the pioneers – numerous times a year (or, in the case of 1997, all year) it seems we had meetings which consisted of about 1/3 of the class or congregation singing the praises of their ancestors while the rest had to listen. I know that we all share in this heritage to some extent, but it can become excessive (the church’s curriculum gives me the feeling that there’s not widespread consultation with people outside of Utah in making the lessons). These sorts of differences and feelings of resentment are perhaps best illustrated by the popularity of the Facebook group “in Utah but not of Utah.”

    Just like members in foreign countries, I think that “locals” in the United States appreciate the help, but no one likes feeling like they are being “settled.”

    Another related phenomenon that could be studied is late 20th century inter-marrying between individuals from different regions (particularly via BYU) and how this may have had an impact similar to that of outmigration (but perhaps in a more moderated form).

    Comment by Craig M. — November 7, 2009 @ 11:35 am

  3. Thank you so much, Jared. According to the SL Tribune the Johnsons have a book coming out. Any mention of when or whether it is already out?

    Mauss’s remarks are definitely more interesting and thought-provoking. As I read your notes, the same thought occurred to me that Craig M. points out–it would be interesting to see a study of intermarriage between those of different regions, including the pioneer descendants who marry a convert from a different culture or religious tradition.

    Comment by Phoebe — November 7, 2009 @ 1:20 pm

  4. Thanks David, Craig, and Phoebe. The intermarriage angle is certainly a good one and represents one more of a host of approaches to 20th century LDS history.

    Phoebe, not sure about ETA on the book.

    Comment by Jared T — November 7, 2009 @ 11:42 pm

  5. I’ve thought about my comment above some and have realized I don’t want to be on the record demonstrating such a negative attitude – I want to clarify my comment by saying that outmigrants certainly vary and cannot be lumped together as all acting in a particular way. Furthermore, the resentment sometimes felt by locals may be caused more by personal weakness than any actions of the outmigrants.

    Comment by Craig M. — November 8, 2009 @ 4:07 pm


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