Future of Mormonism
Mormonism in the New Century
I see other developments in Mormonism -- at least in its American setting -- that are relatively recent and likely to continue. One of these is the emergence of what might be called different "cultural constituencies." Here I am not referring to the different institutional "branches" of the movement founded by Joseph Smith, for that is another and quite different subject. By "cultural constituencies" I mean the amorphous and somewhat overlapping segments of membership within the LDS Church itself that find, respectively, the principal meaning of their church membership in different forms and degrees of participation. For some members, frequent temple participation provides that special meaning; for others it is found in ordinary ward activities that provide social supports for families and individuals. (This distinction is roughly comparable to Douglas J. Davies's contrast between "ward Mormonism" and "temple Mormonism.") These are not mutually exclusive constituencies, but the temple and related activities occupy far more of the time and energy of the one than of the other.
Yet another constituency would be the intellectuals for whom the main meaning of their LDS association is the production and consumption of sophisticated literature (whether apologetic or critical) on LDS theology, history, or culture. Again, these intellectuals typically participate somewhat in either ward or temple Mormonism (or both), or they might be virtual non-participants in both, but they are intensely involved intellectually with the LDS heritage. Finally, this typology might also include those who think of themselves candidly as only "cultural Mormons," who acknowledge the influence of Mormonism in their upbringing but who no longer find that it provides meaning in their lives.
No doubt other such "constituencies" could be identified as well, including those that are ethnic and nation-based in international Mormonism. The emergence of all these various constituencies is but a consequence and reflection of the growth and spread of Mormonism into diverse populations (American and otherwise) since 1950, thereby breaking down the social and cultural homogeneity that analysts such as O'Dea saw in their time. Indeed, it was this emerging heterogeneity that primarily gave rise, in my opinion, to the institutional retrenchment motif that accompanied it, particularly the "Correlation" aspect.
If I am right about the recent move of the cyclical pendulum away from retrenchment and once again toward assimilation and accommodation, then I would expect the "Correlation" process to be loosened somewhat and adapted to the predicament, which the Church increasingly faces, of trying to retain a rapidly growing membership, at least half of which is lost to defection within the first year. The success of the Church in this effort, between now and the middle of this new century, will depend in large part on whether and how this adaptation takes place, as well as upon the ability of the Church to enhance its public image. Much will depend also on national American developments over which the Church has little or no control, including both domestic and international policies and events. For better or for worse, the Church can never substantially separate itself from its American origins and geopolitical location, so it is fated to "work out its salvation" with that patrimony, both at home and abroad.
Armand L. Mauss retired in 1999 as Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Religious Studies at Washington State University. Since 2005, he has taught courses in Mormon Studies as adjunct faculty in the School of Religion of the Claremont Graduate University. He is author, co-author, or editor of several books, including Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church, with Lester E. Bush (Signature Books, 1984); The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (University of Illinois Press, 1994); and All Abraham's Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (University of Illinois Press, 2003), the latter two of which were awarded best book prizes by the Mormon History Association. He is also author of a hundred or so articles and reviews in professional sociological journals and in the journals of LDS scholarship, including Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought; the Journal of Mormon History, BYU Studies (reviews), and Sunstone Magazine.