For the next several days, the Juvenile Instructor will examine the work of the sociologist Armand Mauss, a pioneering figure in Mormon studies, under the banner of our occasional series “Reassessing the Classics.” For the next three days, several scholars will examine Mauss’s landmark 1994 book THE ANGEL AND THE BEEHIVE: THE MORMON STRUGGLE WITH ASSIMILATION (University of Illinois Press). The first of these went up Monday, October 14. Today, Jana Riess, author of many well-regarded books on Mormonism, including the important THE NEXT MORMONS: HOW MILLENNIALS ARE CHANGING THE LDS CHURCH (Oxford, 2019).
Recently, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unveiled the first peek at its new global youth program, which will provide activities and instruction for Saints from ages 8 to 18. As I have been reading about the new initiative, one thought kept going through my mind: Is this a sign of retrenchment or assimilation?*
The fact that this was my recurring question shows how deeply Armand Mauss’s thesis from The Angel and the Beehive has informed my understanding of Mormonism as a vibrant religion with a particular genius for reinvention. And I’m not the only one. The Angel and the Beehive has for the last quarter century been the single most defining and influential work on the social scientific study of Mormonism, its thesis nimble enough to accommodate—nay, to expect—theological and social change when such change has consigned other theories to the dustbin.
Mauss’s contributions to the field don’t end with his own published work, but include his handiwork in creating avenues for scholars to explore Mormonism as a fruitful topic for social scientific study. He was one of the founding members of the Mormon Social Science Association, and served as its first vice-president in the late 1970s. For the first 40 years of the MSSA’s existence, Armand has been actively involved in presenting new research and helping to mentor young scholars.
I’ve been lucky enough to be one of those scholars. Since I was trained as a historian and not a social scientist, it was with some trepidation that I told Armand years ago that I was thinking about diving into a large-scale research project about contemporary young Mormons. What became The Next Mormons was possible in no small part because of Armand’s willing assistance with many aspects of the project, as he offered feedback on early drafts of survey questions, donated to the Kickstarter campaign that funded the national survey, and read and commented on two chapters in progress.
That same generosity of spirit was also apparent when we served together on the Dialogue board. Armand was by that time in his late seventies and early eighties. Plenty of other people look at retirement as a time to enjoy a long-earned respite from work, and a chance to indulge personal interests. (Believe me, I’m not judging.) This was not Armand’s approach. He devoted himself to the journal and the people associated with it. I count myself as tremendously lucky that our years on the board overlapped.
I’m greatly saddened to hear that Armand is facing the end of his life. I will miss his keen intellect, vibrant sense of humor, and equally vibrant Hawaiian shirts. God be with him till we meet again.
* The answer, I think, is that it is both. On the one hand, the youth program is a turn toward insularity, as the Saints eschew non-church programs like Scouting in favor of growing their own. On the other hand, its hands-off approach, greater commitment to gender equality, and emphasis on local flexibility are clear signs of assimilation, as the Church adapts itself to meet the needs of a changing world that is no longer impressed by standardization and uniformity.