Sacred Space Symposium Notes: Steve Olsen, “The Mormon Quest for Zion”

By June 3, 2009

[My last contribution to JI’s attempt to recreate this wonderful symposium]

Steve Olsen, “The Mormon Quest for Zion”

Although not a lawyer, Olsen presented his paper point-by-point as if arguing a case. Further, he used powerpoint to present each point. As such, I think the best way to stay true to his presentation is to post each point that he put up (they are all pretty self-explanatory). These are his thoughts on the development of Mormon thought of “sacred space.”

-Main Concepts in Presentation

1. Foundation of “chosen identity”

2. “Model of” heaven and “model for” society

3. Point of contact between heaven and earth

4. Connects “creation” and “end times”

5. Governed by priesthood

6. Rare in Modern Times

-Sacred Space in Book of Mormon

1. “Promised Land” as principle theme

-the word “land” appears over a thousand times

2. “Promised Land” as covenant and social identity

3. Narrative as sequence of territorial occupations

4. New Jerusalem as capital of millennial Zion

-Joseph Smith’s Spiritual Universe

1. Nature of God

2. Nature of matter; divisions of physical space

3. Destiny of earth

4. Salvation of mankind

-Joseph Smith’s Zion

1. Two Zionic Centers

2. Worldwide networks of Zion, called stakes

3. “Center place” in western Missouri

4. Associated with Eden and Second Coming

5. Cardinal, orthogonal, and centripetal design


-Public zone with temples

-Residential zone with single family dwellings and stewardship

-Agricultural and industrial zone outside of city

-Governed and revealed by priesthood

-Secularizing Influences and the Failure of Zion

1. Land as an economic and political asset; ownership in fee simple

2. Religion as a delimited social institution

3. Democratic governance

4. Primacy of individualistic and materialistic values

5. Widespread moral vices

-Transformation of Sacred Space

1. Modified settlement design

2. Organic settlement process

3. Land ownership in fee simple

4. Civil institutions, diverse citizenry

5. Settlement halted as a religious practice

6. Temples distinguished from surrounding cities

7. Pragmatic influences in temple construction

-Vestiges of Zion

1. Mormon ideology of place is remarkably intact

2. Temples are a core symbol of LDS worship

3. Worthiness standards distinguish “real” LDS

4. Spatial boundaries define LDS congregations

Article filed under Announcements and Events Cultural History


  1. Was there an underlying argument to the paper, or was it a recitation of the diverse ways that Zion has been defined by LDS over the years? I can think of a few possible implications, not the least of which is that there may never have been a coherent definition of Zion at any one moment in church history. It’s not as if these are simple linear diachronic developments here–many of them are synchronic and thus extremely complex.

    Comment by SC Taysom — June 3, 2009 @ 4:59 pm

  2. Was there an underlying argument to the paper, or was it a recitation of the diverse ways that Zion has been defined by LDS over the years?

    The latter.

    Comment by Ben — June 3, 2009 @ 5:28 pm

  3. Ben – Thanks for posting this. If I remember correctly, from a historical context Zion was first revealed as a place, and then later revelations spoke of Zion as a state of being (“pure in heart”). In that context, here is Orson Pratt’s talk about the Redemption of Zion.

    Comment by Greg — June 15, 2009 @ 11:21 am


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