Academic journal article
By Östman, Kim B.
Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought , Vol. 41, No. 2
The study of churches and religiousmovements is especially prone to the issues of bias and selective presentation due to researcher position and organizational politics. Like many other religions, Mormonism as an object of study has not escaped this problem.1
With time, though, there has been a notable change and maturing in the study of Mormonism. Increasing numbers of researchers are now looking for analytical syntheses that are both detached from religious truth claims and based on a wide range of reliable sources and methods, studying Mormonism simply as one religious tradition among others. "Mormon studies" has lately emerged as a nascent academic subdiscipline with a growing body of literature and with institutional developments taking place at various universities.2 That said, however, fundamental considerations related to the academically problematic intersection between faith and scholarship still remain to be satisfactorily solved before the field can develop more fully.3
With respect to geographical concentration and cultural views, it is evident that much of what presently constitutes Mormon studies has so far been conducted from a comparatively narrow North American perspective. Research on Mormonism's history, for instance, has been filtered mostly through a narrative centered on the United States. Mormonism in the rest of the world is, in this discourse, often simply placed under the label "the international church"-as if theUnited States itself were not part of the international as opposed to the domestic in the eyes of an Asian scholar, for example. Social science research on the Church overwhelmingly focuses on the Latter-day Saints in the United States-a one-sided view when considering the rather unique nature of the American religious landscape compared with the rest of the world.
The emphasis on the North American perspective is understandable for many reasons. Mormon headquarters are located in the United States and the movement's foundational events took place there. One must also consider possible language barriers for U.S.-based scholars desiring to study the Mormon experience in other nations. Furthermore, the United States is one of the few countries where Mormonism actually has any meaningful presence on the religious scene, thus justifying larger research efforts.
It could be argued, however, that the U.S.-centric discourse has led Mormon studies into a state of myopia. While much is said among scholars concerning Mormonism as a global religion, or perhaps even as a burgeoning world religion, very little effort is expended on actually studying and analyzing the widely varying and often highly challenging Mormon experience outside the United States. When it is done, the story of Mormonism in non-U.S. nations tends to be studied through the frameworks and activities of American leaders or "gospel heroes."4 The grass-roots experience of non-U.S. Mormons is not usually elevated to a level where it could give input to the broader study of religious experience, and the complexities and implications of a non-U.S. host culture's interaction with Mormonism are seldom analyzed to any greater or meaningful extent. Mormon studies thus, probably unintentionally, tends to follow the model of colonization used by the Mormon Church itself-that is, silencing the colonized in favor of the colonizer.5
The real depths of the worldwide LDS experience will begin to be plumbed and Mormon studies will blossom more fully only when fundamental problems and limitations such as these are widely recognized and overcome. Such a paradigm shift will also enable Mormon studies to broaden its views from details of interest primarily to other Mormons and to bring it into constant dialogue with the various broader scientific disciplines to which it belongs.
With this brief contextualization in place, the rest of my article will seek to answer the call to further transnationalize Mormon studies. …