Mormon Culture: What is it?
Mormon culture is simply the culture shared by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But this blog will mostly focus on American Mormon culture because while some aspects of Mormon culture carry over into other places, much of the Mormon culture I’ll be dealing with in this blog has to do with American Mormon culture.
And just like any other culture, it’s more pronounced in places that are more concentrated with people of the group. Without hard data, you can probably guess where Mormon culture is most prevalent: Utah and Idaho. But here’s the hard data anyway:
So what makes up culture? In sociology, there are elements that make up a culture: symbols, language, norms, rituals, artifacts, values.
An example of a symbol is giving a thumbs up, which means “good,” whereas in Australia its meaning is akin to flipping someone off.
In Mormon culture, we have symbols too. For example, why do Mormons like beehives so much? They’re on the doors to the temple, you can buy them on jewelry at Deseret Book, and they’re the theme of Mormon-related businesses (just look up utah beehive stores on Google).
Apparently the symbol comes from the early Saints latching onto the idea of beehives representing hard work and unity, according to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
Branch, stake, sweet spirit, mia maids, eight-cow wife, investigator, vote of thanks, primary voice, companion, tender mercies, extend a calling, home teaching, MRS degree, ox in the mire, Jello. These words and others probably trip you up if you’re not in the know about Mormon culture. LDS Living even put out an article on “12 Funny Mormon Lingo Mix-Ups” to show Mormons have their own language full of jargon.
Here’s some other religious vocabulary from the Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Another fun fact: Back in the day Brigham Young tried to institute the Deseret alphabet as a way to teach people to write English. Sad fact: it didn’t work out. But because people are cool, there’s an online translator. Let the passing of secret notes begin.
Norms are “standards and expectations for behaving,” according to the book Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World. I think the “bad rep” that Mormon culture gets has do with the norms: women as the perfect homemakers, multiple ear piercings as being edgy (and to some rebellious), swearing as a deterrent for marrying someone, and the list goes on.
— Caroline Bliss Larsen (@editor_caro) January 16, 2017
Just search #MormonCulture on Twitter, and you’ll see some more examples.
Since Mormons are obviously a religiously-based culture, there are religious rituals, but there are rituals beyond the religious ones.
Think about a missionary’s experience. When they leave, there’s usually a “going away” talk and an open house type event where people go to the future missionary’s home to wish them good luck. When the missionary comes home from their mission, the ritual people (typically) follow is greeting the missionary at the airport with a welcome sign, followed by a “homecoming” talk the next Sunday.
Sociology professor Armand Mauss said “trek” — where the youth dress up like pioneers and pull handcarts for a couple of days to recreate the experience of pioneer ancestors — is another ritual observance. He said activities like these help the community to “reaffirm one’s allegiance to one’s heritage.”
Boy, do Mormons have artifacts. There’s even a whole museum dedicated to church history.
In Jeffrey R. Holland’s October 2009 General Conference talk, he brought out the Book of Mormon that Hyrum Smith read from just before him and Joseph went to Carthage. (Go to 7:03 in the video.)
Scholar Wilfried Decoo, in his article, Mormon Identity and Culture, also noted Mormons have artifacts like young women’s medallions, CTR-rings, and temple statuettes.
Mormons are known for valuing education (with universities and other schools they’ve set up over the years in other countries), hard work, and families, among other things.
Something interesting I found in my research was a quote from the book, “Directions for Mormon Studies in the Twenty-First Century.” The writer, Claudia Bushman, says she’s a California Mormon and then talks about how her values were different than those of Utah Mormons: “California Mormons were more independent than Utah Mormons; they were grateful for the distance that separated the from Salt Lake City. They paid less homage to old church fails. They were less pious, less judgmental, more aware of living in and negotiating with the secular world.”
It’s interesting to note that even within American Mormon culture, there may be some variation due to geographic location.
So Mormon culture exists, but what are the experiences associated with the culture? You’ll have to keep up with my weekly posts to find out.