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The Anthropology of Mormonism Essay


Anthropologists are extremely interested in the study of religious beliefs since in this way, one can gain deep-insights into behavioral norms, values, and attitudes of individuals or even the entire communities. The diversity of religious movements existing in the United States has been examined by many researchers who study the development of American culture and identity.

This paper is aimed at examining the peculiarities of Mormonism from an anthropological viewpoint since it can throw light on the distinct experiences of American people during the nineteenth century. It is critical to focus on such issues as the freedom of individuality, self-reliance, and conformity. In order to examine this question, one should pay attention to the myths about the chosen and Christian nation since they affected Mormonism.

Additionally, it is important to discuss this religious movement from a functionalist approach which is often adopted by anthropologists.

Overall, one can argue that Mormonism is a religious movement that can be viewed as the modification of Christian teaching, and it represents such a trend as the Second Great Awakening which had profound implications for many American communities. Moreover, in its origins, Mormonism incorporated the idea of the chosen nation. These are the main details that should be taken into account.

It should be noted that there are several approaches to the anthropological study of religion. This topic is examined by Rebecca Stein and Phillip Stein. For instance, one can mention such methods as evolutionary, functionalist, and Freudian interpretations (Stein and Stein, The Anthropological Study of Religion 22).

They are helpful for understanding the reasons why various communities attach importance to religious faith (Stein and Stein, The Anthropological Study of Religion 22). Moreover, these authors focus on various definitions of such a notion as religion. When speaking about Mormonism, one can choose the functionalist approach that focuses on the role performed by religion.

Furthermore, according to this perspective, religion can be viewed as an “integrative force” that helps an individual to interact with other members of the community (Stein and Stein, The Anthropological Study of Religion 22). One should keep in mind that many of these communities were composed of people who attached importance to individualism and self-reliance which were vital for the ability of a person to achieve success in American society.

In turn, one can say that Mormonism can be viewed as a set of beliefs that made many of these communities more coherent. In this way, people were able to find a common cultural language. Therefore, its influence of American society should not be overlooked. More importantly, it provided a set of guidelines that regulate the interactions between individuals who could represent cultural or ethnic groups.

To a great extent, this religious movement turned out to be a common denominator for people who formed American communities in the nineteenth century. This is one of the aspects that should be singled out because this information throws light on the role of Mormonism and its influence on social relations.

One should also discuss the origins of this religious movement. It is necessary to examine the period of the Second Great Awakening. This question is discussed by Richard Hughes in the chapter The Myth of the Christian nation.

This author argues that during this period, American communities were able to modify Christianity and simplify ethical and behavioral norms that were included in the teachings of Jesus (Hughes The Myth of the Christian nation 78). In turn, Mormonism incorporates some principles of Christianity; however, there are some important deviations.

For example, one can speak about the acceptance of plural marriage which was not tolerated in Judaism and Christianity. To some degree, the absence of this prohibition reflected the need of many people who strived to achieve the freedom of religion (Hughes The Myth of the Christian nation 78). Additionally, Mormonism incorporates some of the beliefs which were originally included in Judaism.

To some degree, this religious movement can be described as an eclectic because it incorporates a set of diverse beliefs that often seem to be incompatible with one another. Therefore, it is possible to argue that Mormonism is a typical example of the Second Great Awakening.

One should take it to account that this period was marked by the rise of various religious denominations, and Mormonism was not perceived as something exceptional. The major peculiarity of Mormonism is that it was more open to a wide range of religious beliefs and cultural practices. This is one of the distinctions that should not be disregarded.

Apart from that, anthropologists pay close attention to such a concept as a myth. This question is also discussed by Rebecca Stein and Phillip Stein. These authors discuss a variety of myths that exist in various cultures. In particular one can speak about flood myths (Stein and Stein, Mythology 48). In many cases, myths enable people to understand the social environment. To some degree, Mormonism is also premised on one of the myths.

For example, researchers focus on the idea of the chosen nation. This question is examined by Richard Hughes. This author speaks the belief that a certain community could have been selected by God (Hughes Mythology 19). This idea was popular among many Puritan communities in America (Hughes Mythology 19). This idea was accepted by many Mormon communities. In many cases, Mormons thought that they had been superior to others.

However, it is vital to remember that this myth was very widespread during the Second Great Awakening. This worldview reflects the belief of many American people that they could finally create a community based on justice and liberty. This is another detail that can be distinguished since it is important for understanding the long-term development of Mormonism and its long-term legacies.

Overall, this discussion suggests that Mormonism can be of great interest to anthropologists who try to understand the factors that shaped American culture. By studying the peculiarities of this religious movement, one can better understand the worldviews and values of American communities which were established in the nineteenth century.

Much attention should be paid to the eclecticism of this religious movement which enabled many to find a common cultural language. The examples that have been provided indicate that Mormonism reflects the experiences which were peculiar to the nineteenth-century Americans who strived for self-reliance and liberty.

Finally, it is possible to say that Mormonism represented the typical trends of the Second Great Awakening which was marked by the emergence of new denominations and religious movements. Finally, Mormonism throws light on the peculiarities of religious faith in the United States. These are the main arguments that can be put forward.

Works Cited

Hughes, Richard. “The Myth of the Chosen Nation.” Ed. Richard Hughes. Myth American lives by. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004.19-45. Print.

—. “The Myth of the Christian Nation.” Ed. Richard Hughes. Myth American lives by. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004. 66-90. Print.

Stein, Rebecca, and Phillip Stein. “Mythology.” Anthropology of Religion, Magic, and Anthropology of Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft. Ed. Phillip Stein and Rebecca Stein. New York: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011. 30-56. Print.

—. “The Anthropological Study of Religion.” Anthropology of Religion, Magic, and Witchcraft. Ed. Phillip Stein and Rebecca Stein. New York: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011. 1-29. Print.

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