A World Religion (Eventually)

At their deepest levels, Mormonism's texts and messages are ripe for the adaptations and permutations constitutive of a true world religion. The Book of Mormon is a rich, expandable text, available in over seventy languages, each one subject to the fine-grained shades of meaning and linguistic associations by which believers make authoritative texts their own. Though routinized at its highest level, the possibility of continuing direct revelation is intoxicating on the level of the individual believer. The genealogical research required for temple work takes Mormons everywhere deeper into their own local histories, not away from them.

As the percentage of non-American Mormons continues to grow, local energies will outpace American, and local Mormonisms will flourish. The Church is far too heavily invested in its international, multi-racial character to persist in restraining such impulses forever, and when the time comes, the hierarchy will bend rather than allow the Church to break. Someday -- bold predictions advise vague timelines -- there will be a sudden, dramatic, and permanent increase in non-American faces in the global Church leadership; a critical mass of non-American missionaries being sent to non-American places; greater autonomy afforded to local Church leaders; and tacit acceptance of local idiosyncrasies in worship . . . and Mormonism will enter a new era as a true world religion. And that will definitely not be boring.

Seth Perry is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His doctoral work has evolved from a particular emphasis in Mormon studies into a dissertation project exploring the role of the Bible and printed Bibles in the creation of new religious authorities in early-national America. His work has appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Journal of Religion, and the Journal of Ecclesiastical History.

8/9/2010 4:00:00 AM
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