Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for the Anthropology of Religion
Of interest to: Students
Primary Theme: Ethics
Secondary Theme: Inclusivity
Who is the stranger in Mormonism? How do Mormons imagine encounters of co-present alterity? How are Mormons imagined as strangers by others? Answering these questions may increase our understanding of how religious groups are interpellated and interpellate others as strangers, understand interpersonal relations through grand cosmological schemes, and how those relations entail ethical entanglements. Georg Simmel argues that “the Stranger” is a kind of intimate other, both “near and far at the same time” (1971: 148). In “the sphere of intimate personal relations” the stranger may be “attractive and meaningful” because they “suggest how factors of repulsion and distance work to create a form of being together, a form of union based on interaction” (Ibid: 145, 144). For Simmel, alterity, repulsion, and distance, as well as “similarity, harmony, and closeness” are constitutive of the “strangeness” of interpersonal relations, or how we become “strange” to one another (Ibid: 148). This strangeness contributes to forms of prejudice, but also affection. By considering this dynamism of Simmel’s model in investigating both the positive and negative aspects of the stranger, this panel argues there are multifarious ways in which Mormons are imagined as and imagine strangers. This variety suggests a complexity in how Mormons think of their ethical engagements and how they are understood as moral subjects. Mormon history suggests long processes of intercultural interactions, including a history of colonization and dispossession of native lands. Intimate others in Mormons can include members of the faith who have been subject to prejudice due to race or ethnicity, gender, sexual, or political identities. This ambivalent dynamic of the stranger includes both the prejudice and affection, directed towards outsiders to the faith who are nonetheless cohabitants of the same environs.
Mormon theologians have long been emphasized the importance of the stranger in their cosmos, but the stranger is also a central element of Mormon folklore. Common Mormon folklore relates stories of divine messengers who regularly intervene in mundane aspects of daily life, as well as demonic forces that remain disturbingly intimate. The spirit visitations of ancestors is a common theme in Mormon folklore, possibly because these visitors defy the image of a wandering ghost, but are instead intimately familiar but ontologically different kinds of beings. This aspect of Mormonism’s focus on phantasmal visitations of familiar ancestors has long drawn comparisons to Spiritualism, which in turn has attracted the further attention of “strangers,” most famously Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This panel seeks to investigate this ambivalent dynamic of the stranger in how Mormons relate to others, both living and the dead, how others relate to Mormons. By answering this basic question of how Mormons ambivalently experience this “being together,” the panel’s presenters seek to better understand how the ethical, political, and phenomenological subject is mutually constitutive of “the stranger.”