Remembering Armand Lind Mauss: 1928-2020

August 1, 2020

In Memoriam: Armand Mauss by Patrick Mason

The academic field of Mormon studies lost one of its greatest pioneers and champions when Armand Lind Mauss passed away. In a field created and dominated over the past half century by American historians, Mauss was Mormon studies’ preeminent social scientist. He authored a number of influential studies late in his career that transformed the way we think about Mormonism, the Mormon people, and—somewhat ironically—Mormonism’s historical development. He was an energetic and generous supporter of some of the key institutions that provide the intellectual and organizational scaffolding for the field. He was a devoted scholar, teacher, friend, mentor, father, and husband, and will be greatly missed.

Armand Mauss was born on 5 June 1928 in Salt Lake City, Utah. When he was still young, his parents moved to California as part of the twentieth-century Mormon diaspora, eventually settling in Oakland, where Armand graduated from high school. Mauss thus grew up as a “California Mormon,” a particular breed described by fellow California Mormon Claudia Bushman as being “more independent . . . less pious, less judgmental, more aware of living in and negotiating with the secular world.” Armand would carry these attributes with him throughout his life straddling both the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the secular academy.

Mauss served a two-year mission for the LDS Church in New England, and proudly spoke of being among the last generation of Mormon missionaries to travel without purse or scrip. Upon his return, he traveled with his family to Japan, where his father had been called as mission president. In 1954 he graduated from Sophia University of Tokyo, a highly regarded Jesuit institution, with a B.A. in History and Asian Studies. He joined the United States Air Force while in Japan, and served four years in military intelligence. It was then that he met the love of his life, Ruth Elinor Hathaway, who hailed from Mormon country in southeastern Idaho and was also stationed in Japan with the Air Force. In their 67 years of marriage, Ruth and Armand raised eight children. During the period of Ruth’s decline for several years before her death, Armand set aside everything else to care for her. When praised for his devotion, he simply shrugged it off as the natural thing for a husband to do: “She took care of me for more than sixty years, so now it’s my turn.”

In 1955 the Mauss family returned to California, where Armand began teaching high school social studies and English while earning an M.A. in History, Asian Studies, and Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. In the ensuing years he worked as an instructor at Diablo Valley College while paying his own way in a doctorate program at UC, which he completed in 1970 with a dissertation entitled “Mormonism and Minorities. In 1967, he accepted a faculty position at Utah State University. Two years later he moved to Washington State University, where he spent thirty years as a widely respected professor of Sociology and Religious Studies until his retirement in 1999.

Working in an era when the field of Mormon studies did not yet exist, most of Mauss’s formal academic career was spent studying social movements, deviant behavior, social problems, and the sociology of religion. All along the way, however, he retained a lively scholarly interest in his own religion, and played a key role in many of the institutions that have made it such a robust field in the twenty-first century. He was a founding member of the Mormon History Association in 1965 and served as its president in 1997-98. He was instrumental in the creation of the Mormon Social Studies Association. He was a longtime subscriber and supporter of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, and served as an active member of its Board of Directors during a decade (ca. 1999-2008) of significant transition and solidification. Having retired to Orange County, he was in the right place at the right time when Claremont Graduate University began considering the possibility of creating an endowed professorship in Mormon studies. Mauss taught the first Mormon studies courses at CGU from 2005-2008, energetically served on the Mormon Studies Council for several years, and was an indispensable part of the establishment and success of the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies.

Mauss was an indefatigable researcher who published dozens of articles and several books in a wide variety of fields. (The complete list of his publications takes up nine single-spaced pages.) His most substantial and lasting professional achievements came as a senior scholar, when he published his two monographs in Mormon studies at the ages of 66 and 75, respectively. The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (1994) and All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (2003), both published by University of Illinois Press, were each instant field-defining classics.

The Angel and the Beehive remains, a quarter century after its initial publication, the preeminent interpretation of Mormonism during the second half of the twentieth-century. Drawing on but also revising important theories in the sociology of religion and new religious movements, Mauss convincingly demonstrated how the culture and leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints swung on a pendulum between exceptionalism and accommodation with the surrounding culture. The conservatism of late-twentieth-century Mormonism can be seen as a “retrenchment” signaling the leadership’s fears of over-assimilation. Mauss published an important sequel and update of his theory in Dialogue (Winter 2011), extending his observations into the twenty-first century, when he saw some (but not all) aspects of retrenchment being rolled back. The Angel and the Beehive is almost certainly one of the ten most important scholarly works ever published on Mormonism, and arguably one of the two most influential theoretical interpretations of the religion (along with Jan Shipps’ Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition).

All Abraham’s Children was the culmination of Mauss’s decades-long study of the historical and contemporary dynamics of Mormonism and race. He had begun researching Mormon attitudes toward racial minorities in the 1960s, and published an important article in Dialogue (Fall 1981) providing the first historical account of the struggle culminating in Spencer W. Kimball’s 1978 revelation ending the LDS Church’s 126-year ban on blacks being ordained to the priesthood or participating in temple ordinances. All Abraham’s Children is a history of the rise and fall of LDS racial mythology about Mormons as literal Israelites, with the derivate implications for traditional LDS teachings about Jews, Native Americans, and black Africans. Mauss’s careful research provided the essential foundation for a new generation of critical studies on Mormonism and race, frankly revisiting the long and often shameful history of Latter-day Saint attitudes toward and treatment of non-white groups and individuals.

No doubt owing to his own experiences in Japan, Mauss was a keen observer and commentator on the internationalization of Mormonism since World War II. Beginning in the 1990s he published several articles in Dialogue on the prospects and challenges attendant to the LDS Church’s spread around the world. As such, as in the areas of sociology and race studies, Mauss was an early and influential contributor to the now-burgeoning subfield of global Mormon studies.

As a parting gift to the field that he loved and had given so much to build, in 2012 Mauss published his intellectual memoir, Shifting Borders and Tattered Passports: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic (University of Utah Press). In his characteristically candid and lucid style, Mauss meticulously documented and insightfully ruminated on his unparalleled experiences over the course of several decades. Shifting Borders is an essential source for anyone interested in the intellectual history of late twentieth and early twenty-first-century Mormonism. Similarly, anyone who has wrestled with the travails of trying to be a Mormon intellectual and intellectual Mormon will find Mauss to be a kindred spirit. Though remaining a devoted and faithful Latter-day Saint throughout his entire life—even a self-described “apologist” for the faith—Mauss never ascended the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and endured multiple run-ins with local leaders acting as voice for more general concerns about his loyalty. For a scholar who had surveyed the “costs of membership” for Latter-day Saints in Europe, Mauss knew better than most what the costs of honest scholarship could be in a community still grappling with a complex historical record, and still learning to understand (let alone embrace) faithful critique.

Armand Mauss. Juanita Brooks. Leonard Arrington. Eugene England. Jan Shipps. Richard and Claudia Bushman. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Those who care both about Mormonism and the life of the mind stand on the shoulders of a generation of giants (some of whom, fortunately, are still with us). In Armand Mauss’s passing, we lose one of these giants, one whose exterior was stern and exacting but whose heart more than filled his large frame. Those of us who knew Armand personally will never forget him, and all of us are in his debt. How will we repay the debt? I think I know what Armand would say: read, think, write, and live honestly. After all, what good is any other way?

A Man of His Time and Place by Claudia Bushman

This originally appeared in Patrick Q. Mason, ed., Directions for Mormon Studies in the Twenty First Century (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016). Republished with permission.

Some many years ago I read The Angel and the Beehive, Armand Mauss’s pathbreaking sociological study of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a story he had conceptualized as the church’s serial magnetic attraction to two opposing forces, the needs to remain true to the Church’s mystical, sensational history and to adapt to the modern world.

When I read the book I was struck by how clearly his model explained the church that I had grown up in and what it had come to be. Changes that had made no sense to me, that I certainly regretted, that I felt had been mistakes, made complete sense in his system. The things that I and others had valued in the church were throwaways as we moved into the promised globalism of the late twentieth century. I did what I had never done before or since. I wrote him a fan letter.

Richard and I had always known Armand and Ruth Mauss, but not well. We have always been aware of them moving in many of the same circles. And I had probably met him long ago when we were much younger, because we come from almost exactly the same world. We are children of Utah’s out migration whose families settled in Northern California. As the Church of the past had attempted to establish Mormon villages in sparsely settled outlands, our little congregations supplied Mormon villages for us in California.

Armand and I didn’t live in Utah but we lived very much in Mormonism, where intensive programs involved us heavily in Zion most of the days of the year. Armand was Utah born, but his parents left the home state when he was very young as part of the great Mormon diaspora between the two World Wars. His family moved to Southern California where the first stake outside the original Deseret plat was founded and then moved on to Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area. My family followed the same trajectory, my father and mother coming as single young people in the 20s, meeting and marrying in Los Angeles, then settling in Oakland where I was born. They later moved to San Francisco across the Bay. But before that my father was bishop of Oakland’s Dimond Ward, an offshoot of the ward where Armand’s father was bishop. His father, the eldest of nine children, and my father, the eldest of ten, both left school early to work, no other options being available. Both of our fathers rose above their beginnings and brought family members along with them. A large part of the education that helped them both to get ahead came from serving Mormon missions and leading LDS congregations.

Armand and I are not Utahns. We have never been Utahns. We are California Mormons. California Mormons, and I am speaking of California Mormons of our time, are more independent than Utah Mormons; they were grateful for the distance that separated them from Salt Lake City. They paid less homage to old Church families. They were less pious, less judgmental, more aware of living in and negotiating with the secular world. Mormons, being rarer away from our prime Zion, clung together. They valued each other more because they were a rarer commodity. They provided a nurturing village for the children.

California Mormons remain cooler in style, bearing less effusive testimonies. They do not stand to sing Oh Ye Mountains High and try to avoid singing it at all. They are loyal and reliable. They are the real Mormon pioneers as all California Mormons know. Didn’t Sam Brannan, the leader of 200 plus Mormons on the Ship Brooklyn, leave New York, sail around the horn, and land in Yerba Buena, later San Francisco, doubling the population, in 1846, a full year before Brigham Young proclaimed the desolate Salt Lake Valley, the place? Had not Brigham Young called the California Mormons “home” at the time of the Utah War, California’s Mormon roots would be more visible. The vestiges are still there. I submit that California Mormons are a distinct and superior subgroup of Mormons proper.

So Armand grew up in a double culture. Church and its multiple activities, the small Mormon community, against the sharp striving of the Californians, people of every nation streaming into the golden state with the hopes of making it big or at least better. Armand saw the opportunities to get ahead that had not been available for his father. He could compare his sharp mind to those of his own peers and be confident that he measured up. He went to good schools with people of all stripes in the very shadow of the great University of California at Berkeley which was blessedly cheap in his day. He could have gone right through those gates. But temporarily leaving secular culture, he chose to go on a mission. As he says.

I was a religious boy despite my rebellious tendencies, and I had been reared in a California Mormon community that had richly nurtured me socially, intellectually, and spiritually. The Oakland Ward, where I had lived for more than the previous decade, had a membership drawn from the working and lower-middle classes, with very few members of greater social status. All were hardworking, earnest, and (for the most part) religiously devout. From amongst them had come my most important ecclesiastical leaders, teachers, and youth counselors – all devoted volunteers, of course. I could not and would not let them down. What a perfect picture of the Mormon Church of the 40s and 50s. Noisy apostates and nay-sayers were generally invisible in those days.

It happened that Armand went to the New England States for his mission, one of the young lieutenants of S. Dilworth Young, the old Boy Scout exec who sent his elders out for months at a time “without purse or scrip.” The mission increased Armand’s native sharpness to deal with difficulties while also putting his Mormon beliefs, which had been unquestioned, under scrutiny compared to the knowledge of the world. From then on he was more careful about the beliefs that he proclaimed. Even while on a mission, he made his own decisions. As he later said,

While still a young adult, I learned to recognize and appreciate the human fallibility in all our leaders, and thus to keep my expectations for their performance quite modest. That attitude has blessed me with a certain immunity against disillusionment, which for many Saints has followed their confrontations with the human failings of leaders from the greatest to the least. My loyalty to the Church as an institution, therefore, has never depended on my assessments of the teachings or behavior of any particular leaders at either the local or the general level.

In his way he kept his distance both from the church he had grown up in and from the university life he was training to join.

It happens that I also left California for New England, some years later, to go to college. One of Armand’s converts, a young man named Lloyd Nobles, commuting into Cambridge for services from faraway Hopkinton, sometimes picked me up on his way in. So our lives cross and cross.

After his mission, instead of enrolling in the University of California, Armand chose adventure and went to Japan where his father had been called to be the Church’s Mission President. During the four and a half years there, from the summer of 1949 to the very end of 1953, he graduated from a Jesuit university, served two and a half years of a fouryear enlistment in the United States Air Force, found a bride, and produced two and a half children. He describes his meeting with Ruth Elinor Hathaway, a petite young blonde from southeastern Idaho also in the Air Force on duty in Tokyo. Conducting a church meeting in 1950, he immediately noticed her “broad, fetching smile, set off by charming dimples.” The relationship deepened, and as the country exploded in spring cherry blossoms, they were married. It was 1951.

What do we make of this trajectory. Here is a smart young man in a hurry who knows where he is going, very much involved in learning and ambitious about getting ahead. He is adventurous and confident with many years of training to go. He is quick on his feet, adjusting to circumstances, and yet very much an LDS young man, he succumbs to dimples and cherry blossoms. He finds eternal love, along with two and a half children in Japan. Was there any concern about beginning a family when he had so much school ahead?

Back to his academic life in 1955, he enrolled as a graduate student at UC-Berkeley in pursuit of a general secondary teaching credential and a Master’s degree in Asian and U. S. history. He had the G. I. Bill to help him, but nevertheless he embarked on a ferocious schedule of school and toil to support his growing clan, he worked as a night watchman and a janitor, and taught in elementary school, high school, and junior college. He could have stopped at any of those places but did not. He not only endured, he persisted, and he prevailed.

Would a young man today, planning an extensive training period toward a doctorate and a modest income as a professor, a young man without a trust fund, have had or chosen to have eight children? This large progeny may well have resulted from the outspoken LDS church beliefs of the times. Birth control was not only discouraged for Church members, it was illegal to even disseminate birth control information until the 1970s. Roe vs. Wade was not decided until 1973. Whatever the reasons, a grand family resulted. It was a heavy load, even for Armand.

So back to UC in 1962, entirely self-supporting. No big fellowships, no support packages. He found it expedient to change his field to sociology where he could study parttime. He expected some adjustments moving from history, but not as many as he found. He had troubles with the sociological concept that truth and reality are socially constructed. What now seems to be merely an inconvenient truth newly challenged his religious faith, but he gradually accepted the “social constructionist way of understanding reality. The double work burden was assuaged by his efficiency in freeing time for his graduate classes. In 1966, when he was ABT¸ all done except for his dissertation, he took a job at Utah State University, where he was, for the only time in his career, surrounded by Mormons at work. Here was a new challenge: dividing the LDS religion from the Mormon individuals with whom he associated, some of high church office and some unfriendly. Even when he worked with Mormons, he had to divide himself from Mormonism. Even in Zion he remained a California Mormon. He soon moved to Washington State University, his primary academic home where he had the more advanced technical support needed to complete the statistical portions of his dissertation.

At the beginning of the second chapter of his autobiography, Mauss identifies himself as an apologist for the LDS Church. That might be a surprise to some after the measured skepticism and coolness of his discourse. His relationships with Church authority have always been distanced and respectful. He is never slavish and wonders if his attitude has kept him from higher church office. But he also admits to tense relationships with sociology colleagues because of his candid, self-promoting, perhaps combative or abrasive style. He has felt tensions in both of his major membership groups. He was, and is, a very tough grader, both at school and at church, of students and colleagues. No sentimentality here.

Still he has played the academic game and won it, winning grants, doing research, publishing in the required journals, ascending to respected senior status, although he has not always found satisfaction in the timely topics that it was wise for him to explore. He wanted to return to religious studies, especially on Mormons. Instead of working together, his two lives had worked in opposition to each other. He worked this divided life toward synthesis which he eventually achieved during the 1980s. He had paid off his apprenticeship to academia and earned the right to do what he wanted. He phased out the professional activities related to deviant behavior, social problems, and alcohol studies and jumped into Mormon Studies with both feet.

He saw strange changes in the Mormon Church in top down requirements that juiced up the priesthood at the expense of the auxiliaries, that emphasized obedience to authority and discouraged independent groups. Gradually, as the strictures of “correlation” became apparent, he continued to observe, searching for a sociological model that would explain what was happening.

He wondered how the Mormon Church could be headed toward secularization and assimilation into the general urban culture while at the same time resisting that assimilation and striving to maintain its distinctive and peculiar traits. He saw that a new generation of conservative leaders was trying to move the Church back toward original beliefs which he called retrenchment. He was finally able to come up with a theoretical explanation for this anomaly. He was able to see the contradictory counterforces operating on the Mormon Church in sociological terms. That’s the conundrum that he was able to explicate so brilliantly. That was the explanation that galvanized readers like me.

Armand’s tenacity and his ability to build and plant where he is located has allowed him to make indelible marks on Mormon thought and on independent Mormon organizations. I have been in a position to see his potent effect on two of these organizations, Dialogue, A Journal of Mormon Thought and the Claremont Graduate University’s Mormon Studies program. I think he is personally responsible for the financial and editorial strength of Dialogue today. He singlehandedly imposed professional standards and fiscal responsibility on several boards and editors, promising a future to a little journal that could very well have cashed out by now. In an emotional meeting with the dying Eugene England, he promised to “save Dialogue,” and with some help from others, he has done it.

He has been the most faithful person in the creation of the Mormon Studies program at Claremont. He has served as professor, advisor, donor, fund-raiser, negotiator, financial watch-dog, and active Mormon Studies Council member. He has served with many other potent leaders who have moved on to other church assignments and I think he is the only one of the original group left standing. Thanks again to his tenacity, many young and older students have had the opportunity to study Mormonism at a traditional school of religion. Many community members have had the chance to experience academic treatments of Mormonism in a context other than church itself.

So he has been a man of considerable gifts who with long labor and discipline has honed those gifts to make serious contributions. His frankness and intensity are not always politic but they give him a formidable authenticity and undeniable authority. The three major books he has written in what would have been his retirement years have all added to the Mormon Studies canon, significantly influencing a generation of students and the future of the discipline. His activities and dedication to organizations which have benefited from his interest and labor will change the conversation for generations to come. He and Ruth have peopled his landscape with their multidinous progeny. They will leave gifts to the future in many forms. And to think that this successful life all results from his being a California Mormon.

Armand, we love you. We admire you. We honor you. 

Anxiously Engaged by Jana Riess

In 2019, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unveiled the first peek at its new global youth program, which will provide activities and instruction for Saints from ages 8 to 18. As I began reading about the new initiative, one thought kept going through my mind: Is this a sign of retrenchment or assimilation?*

The fact that this was my recurring question shows how deeply Armand Mauss’s thesis from The Angel and the Beehive has informed my understanding of Mormonism as a vibrant religion with a particular genius for reinvention. And I’m not the only one. The Angel and the Beehive has for the last quarter century been the single most defining and influential work on the social scientific study of Mormonism, its thesis nimble enough to accommodate—nay, to expect—theological and social change when such change has consigned other theories to the dustbin.

Armand’s memoir, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport, is a remarkable weaving of his observations about large-scale changes in the Church with his personal life, faith, and scholarship. It should be required reading for anyone who is interested in the field of Mormon studies. In it, he describes some of the behind-the-scenes work he helped with through the decades, from petitioning the First Presidency in 1997 to publicly disavow the Church’s former racist folklore to petitioning donors in California and Utah in preparation for the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont. He also reveals what it was like to be a scholar from the 1970s to the 1990s, when many historians and researchers were “called in” to defend their work to stake presidents who had been instructed (first by Elder Mark E. Petersen, and eventually by the shadowy “Committee to Strengthen Church Members”) to investigate the faith and commitment of people associated with publications like Dialogue and Sunstone. Armand was “called in” several times, in a seemingly classic case of leadership roulette, but through it all he kept both his temple recommend and his wits about him.

The book tells a story that will be familiar to many: an idealistic young person loses his enchanted sense that LDS leaders “embody an otherworldly mystique” and instead finds that the Church, like many large bureaucracies, functions in predictably self-protective ways. Yet he does not lose his faith in God or even his faith in that Church, offering it a loyalty that is “long and deep, but . . . not unconditional.” That loyalty, he makes clear, does not depend on having his personal preferences about how the Church should be run:

So it is that I have continued to value my membership in the LDS Church and kingdom and to give it my voluntary loyalty, even when I have believed church policies to be in error in certain respects and even on several occasions when I have felt personally offended. Well into my ninth decade of life, I have felt no more inclination to leave the church than I have felt to leave the nation, though . . . I have become disenchanted or disenthralled. Yet—and this is important—it has been precisely my disenchantment that has inoculated me against disillusionment, because of the concomitant reductions in my expectations.

But his tolerant acceptance of leaders’ flaws and missteps, and gratitude for their service, did not prevent him from pointing out areas where he felt they were wrong. Much of his published work dealt with the historical and theological racism that had plagued Mormonism almost from the beginning, and he also did not hesitate to write about the Church’s sometimes tortured relationship with scholars and intellectuals. These articles (and books, in the case of All Abraham’s Children) drew upon careful research into both history and social science to build his case for the need of enlightened change.

Mauss’s contributions to the field and the Church don’t end with his own published scholarship, but include his handiwork in creating avenues for scholars to explore Mormonism as a fruitful topic for social scientific study. He was one of the founding members of the Mormon Social Science Association, and served as its first vice-president in the late 1970s. For the first 40 years of the MSSA’s existence, Armand has been actively involved in presenting new research and helping to mentor young scholars.

I’ve been lucky enough to be one of those scholars. Since I was trained as a historian and not a social scientist, it was with some trepidation that I told Armand years ago that I was thinking about diving into a large-scale research project about contemporary young Mormons. What became The Next Mormons was possible in no small part because of Armand’s willing assistance with many aspects of the project, as he offered feedback on early drafts of survey questions, donated to the 2016 Kickstarter campaign that funded the national survey, and read and commented on two chapters in progress.

His support for the Kickstarter campaign moved me deeply. Armand emailed me several days before the campaign was scheduled to end and said he was going to wait until the last moment to make his donation—not to keep me in suspense, but to make sure I would raise enough! “I’ve been planning all along to do so, but frankly I have been waiting to see how much you could raise without my contribution, so that I’d know how much I need to contribute to get you over the top,” he wrote. At that time I still needed to raise nearly $5000 more to cover the costs of the national survey. Armand said that he couldn’t manage that entire amount, but he was happy to “cover a big fraction of it” should the eleventh hour find me short of the necessary support.

I remember where I was and what I was doing when I got this message—I was in Illinois to help my brother move into a new apartment, and I actually sat down on the sidewalk for a moment and cried, I felt so grateful. It wasn’t about the money, really; my husband and I had already determined that we would raid our retirement fund if necessary because the project meant so much to me. It was about Armand’s faith in me, his conviction that I could produce scholarship of high quality.

I took several hours to gather my thoughts and try to respond in the most gracious way I could without embarrassing him. I’m not sure I succeeded. To my statement that I was bowled over by his generosity to me, Armand replied with just one phrase: “D & C 58:27.” Which is one of my favorite verses too, and reads:

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness . . .

I’ll never be able to read or hear this scripture again without thinking of that moment, and of Armand’s willingness to be “anxiously engaged” to the benefit of so many. He would be very embarrassed to hear me tell this story, which is why I have waited until now when he can’t protest. But I think people should know about his generosity.

That same generosity of spirit was also apparent when we served together on the Dialogue board. Armand was by that time in his late seventies and early eighties. Plenty of other people look at retirement as a time to enjoy a long-earned respite from work, and a chance to indulge personal interests. (Believe me, I’m not judging.) This was not Armand’s approach. He devoted himself to the journal and the people associated with it. I count myself as tremendously lucky that our years on the board overlapped.

I was greatly saddened last year to hear that Armand was facing the end of his life. I’ve enjoyed corresponding with him since then and was grateful to learn that he was I will miss his keen intellect, vibrant sense of humor, and equally vibrant Hawaiian shirts. God be with him till we meet again.

* The answer, I think, is that it is both. On the one hand, the youth program is a turn toward insularity, as the Saints eschew non-church programs like Scouting in favor of growing their own. On the other hand, its hands-off approach, greater commitment to gender equality, and emphasis on local flexibility are clear signs of assimilation, as the Church adapts itself to meet the needs of a changing world that is no longer impressed by standardization and uniformity.

Theory and Interpretation in Mormon Studies by Richard Bushman

This originally appeared in Patrick Q. Mason, ed., Directions for Mormon Studies in the Twenty First Century (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016). Republished with permission.

Some years ago I said casually but sincerely to Armand that I thought he would go down in Mormon intellectual history as one of the preeminent minds of this generation. I would now amend that statement to say he will be seen as the preeminent theorist of Mormon history. He is the scholar, more than any other, who can instruct Mormons about what it means to theorize. Almost everything I have to say today is meant to explain what I mean by theory, as contrasted, say, to interpretation and so to comment on Armand’s contribution.

I first understood the difference when he and I taught a course together at Claremont. Armand is really the founding father of the Mormon Studies program here. To get the program moving before money was raised for a professorship, he offered to teach single courses gratis. After I was appointed visiting professor, he continued to teach now and then as needed, always willing, always generous. One semester it occurred to me that it might be appealing to teach jointly. I would approach Mormonism historically and he sociologically. Of course he knew all the history too, but I did not know the sociology and so the friction and tension this combination would generate promised to be intellectually useful. The course was approved and we set out to prepare the syllabus. Because I felt a little overburdened that semester, Armand agreed to prepare the first draft. I was astonished at what he pulled together. I discovered that he is a master bibliographer. My syllabi usually list a few class readings and then four or five background items for reference for each day. Armand’s not only called for double or triple the amount of reading but included long lists of books and articles on every conceivable topic. The closer we got to the present the denser and more complex these bibliographies became. Anyone looking for secondary works on modern Mormonism for a syllabus or research could do worse than cultivate the friendship of Armand Mauss. Soon after the course began Armand posed a question to the seminar that I could not comprehend. He asked “what is the natural history of a religious movement.” “Natural history?” What could that mean? The relationship of religion to nature—animals and plants in religious history? Perhaps something to do with creation stories? Only gradually did it dawn on me that he meant that religious movements followed a growth pattern like plants and animals, or perhaps like evolving solar systems. Embedded in their natures were certainly qualities that directed their growth along a certain path, as DNA directs animal growth. Individuals within a species differ in the details of their appearance and function, but they all follow a similar recognizable pattern. They have a natural history and, says Armand, so do religions.

Lying behind Armand’s question was the work of classification that sociologists have been pursuing beginning with Max Weber’s distinction between a church and a sect. This classification system which was elaborated to include the categories of cult and denomination became over time a description of change as well as type. Some of the categories were dynamic, evolving from one form to another. Religions that began as a sect then evolved into a denomination, or started as a cult and became a denomination. Armand had these various categories and their evolutionary patterns in mind when he asked the seminar about the natural history of a religion. He wanted the class to see that religions in many times and places fell into these various groupings and migrated from one to another form as time went by. Of course he was thinking of the cult-denomination distinction when he spoke of Mormonism.

This theoretical underpinning had been greatly elaborated by the group of sociologists that Armand studied with at the University of California at Berkeley, often referred to as the Berkeley Circle, headed by Charles Y. Glock, their chief mentor, and featuring such luminaries as Rodney Stark. These scholars, notably Stark, took on another dimension of sociological theory, the prediction, dominant until the 1970s, that religion was doomed to extinction. Eventually secularism would weaken and then crush active religious faith. Secularization was part of the natural history of religion in modern times. Stark and his colleagues contested this view. They noted that in the late twentieth century this was not happening as predicted. Far from dissipating, religion was reasserting itself, albeit in a new form. The old line religious denominations were faltering, but new religious movements (NRMs) were thriving. A good part of the theoretical work of the Berkeley Circle was to explain how new religions managed to grow in the face of supposedly lethal secular forces.

Mauss entered into this religious ferment because he happened to be at Berkeley for his graduate work and because his Mormon background gave him access to one of the most hardy of the NRMs. Mauss took up the key conception of Stark and company–social tension–and made it work for Mormonism. The Berkeley theorists postulated that successful movements stood apart from society in a state of continuous tension. That was the secret of their success. They were not bland versions of standard orthodoxies, but deviants, distinguished in rather demanding ways from the world around them. Their appeal and their strength came from these strains with the ambient culture. However, if they went too far from social norms, the strain became more than adherents could bear, and the movement declined. Success depended on keeping the strain level at just the right pitch.

Armand was trying to introduce our students into this line of thinking with his natural history question. The question became more and more interesting the more I heard Armand talk. Eventually I realized that sociologists think quite differently about society than historians do—or at least the emphasis is different. Armand could rightly use the term “natural history” because sociologists conceive of society as an organism. Society is actually an organized entity, like a forest or a solar system. Its component parts are all linked together like the cells of a squirrel or the planets whirling around the sun. An investigator can look for regularities in the functions of society just as astronomers find them in the stars or botanists in a forest. Social scientists are scientists not just in the sense of basing conclusions on inquiry, hypothesis, and evidence, but in the sense of looking for the laws of nature—or at least regular patterns.

The historian in me was actually taken aback by this realization even though I probably had known this about sociologists all along. The word that immediately sprang to mind was “reification.” It seemed to me the sociologists were calling something real or natural that actually was a human conception or a label. To my mind it was something like the idea of race, a conception that draws together some qualities but does not actually exist in nature. You can’t find a fixed set of characteristics that rigorously define race. The term only works because people have agreed on how to use it, not because nature has created races. I use the term society all the time, just as I use words like culture or the American mind, but I don’t think society exists out there, a functioning reality like molecules or bears waiting to be investigated. Hence when Armand started talking about the laws of new religious movements as if they were part of natural history I was stunned.

Historians do employ conceptions to explain what happens in society. They look for overarching ideas that bring together events into a pattern, but they speak of interpretation something quite different. Kathleen Flake has interpreted the renewed interest in Joseph Smith after 1900—purchasing the birthplace, erecting a monument—as an attempt to reaffirm the foundations of the Church after polygamy had been abandoned. Matt Bowman speaks of the influence of the American Progressive movement on Church welfare programs in the first decades of the 20th century. Years ago Leonard Arrington interpreted the nineteenth-century emphasis on the Word of Wisdom as Brigham Young’s effort to reduce the drain on currency that resulted from importing tobacco into Utah. These are all historical interpretations. They differ from theory in that they are all historically contingent. They depend on circumstances of the moment—the end of polygamy, rise of Progressivism, Brigham Young’s drive for economic autonomy. They are not rooted in the nature of society but in conditions of a certain time and place. That is the key difference: theory identifies regularities that occur in society time after time. Interpretation looks for regularities at a given time and place. The two seek different ends. One is trying to understand how society works. The other how change over time occurred in one segment of history. One seeks to discover the natural order of the social world. The other doubts that one set of laws governs all societies. For historians virtually everything in society is contingent. There are no governing laws. Historians would be embarrassed to imply that some force outside of history caused an event. You are cheating if you give up the hunt for historical causes and rely on a borrowed generality about human behavior. To historicize means to put events into the chain of historical contingencies. Nothing stands outside the all-encompassing historical reality.

You would think that these divergences in underlying conceptions would drive sociology and history apart, but in fact the opposite is true. Historian are forever borrowing from sociologists, not to contribute to the noble dream of underlying regularity in society but to understand the moment. Marx has been immensely useful to historians. The ideas of class and class struggle have been used by all kinds of historians. I grew up in the heyday of Marxist history in the United States and have spent my life resisting its impositions on historical thought. I thought the Marxian idea of the masses a travesty and a slur. I got to know the masses tracting in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in the 1950s and they were not the faceless, lumpish clay the Marxists made them out to be. I was outraged by the Marxist idea that when laboring people worked for better hours and higher wages rather than an overthrow of capitalism it was a form of false consciousness. It seemed to me the Marxists only wanted to manipulate working people for their own revolutionary ends rather than accepting them as they were.

And yet when I came to write about Joseph Smith I was very aware of his sense of class and of the sorrows of the poor. I was tempted at one point in describing his occasional claims to be the best lawyer and the best doctor in existence to speak of the permanent insult of class. I think he labored under the burden of knowing that he and his people were not respectable, they were not educated, they were not polished. Boasting of his own achievements was a way of mocking the professional pretensions of the educated. One of his enduring wishes was to honor plain people—his social class–and give them dignity. When it came down to understanding Joseph I found myself drawing on the Marxism I had learned in my youth.

Or again when I was seeking to understand the mysterious wonders of Church organization I turned to the Max Weber I had read in college. Who can find a better idea for explaining the evolution of church government than Weber’s routinization of charisma? The term seems to explain change from the early Joseph Smith through the formation of quorums and on to Brigham Young. Mormons who know anything of Church history sense instinctively how the routinization of charisma applies. Joseph was the man of revelatory gifts, the charismatic figure who spoke from heaven and gathered followers on the basis of his revelations—a perfect case study of Weber’s charismatic leader. As the church evolved, we all know, bureaucracy began to form: Priesthood quorums, bishoprics, high councils and First Presidencies, the quorum of the Twelve. Instead of one gifted revelator we had a bureaucracy invested with authority like the offices and boards in a corporation or a government. These officials did not have to have a revelation every week to enlist followers. People complied because they knew authority was vested in the office. When Joseph died, and authority was passed along, it went to the person with office—the President of the Twelve Apostles. Joseph had effected the routinization of charisma in his own lifetime and what is more, brought the Church along with him. When the chips were down they went with Brigham Young, not James J. Strang, the pretender to charismatic power.

Mormons embrace Weber because he works so well in our own history. I have even tried to insert a wrinkle of my own into this Weberian account. I have argued that Joseph’s true genius was to combine charisma and bureaucracy. He not only created an apostolic bureaucracy to succeed his own charismatic leadership. He invested this whole bureaucracy with charismatic power. Bishops not only hold the authority of their office; they are believed to receive revelation in administering the powers of that office. Indeed today the entire church organization from the Deacon’s Quorum President to the head of the Church is told to seek revelation, infusing the whole bureaucratic structure with charisma.

Belief in a structured reality that exists objectively is not limited to social scientists. Literary criticism has an equivalent. Let me give you an extended example. The Franco-Bulgarian critic, Tzvetan Todorov is not a social scientist, but he has the same confidence in the universal regularities of genres in literature as sociologists do in the regularities of society. Literature, he says, is a system. He is persuaded that world literature falls into categories called genres each with common structural characteristics wherever they occur, much like animals can be grouped into species. Todoroz can be thought of as a natural scientist of literature. He is most famous for his explication of the fantastic, a literary form that flourished in the nineteenth century and still turns up in films and stories today. Some of Ingmar Bergman’s films (the Magician, 1958) delved into the wonders of the fantastic as does Kevin Spacey in K-PAX (2001). I was attracted to Todorov because of the obvious applicability of the fantastic to stories of the gold plates.

By the fantastic Todorov does not refer to fairy stories about imaginary creatures with magic powers, or to science fiction where characters armed with fabulous technical powers accomplish impossible feats. On Todorov’s account, stories of the fantastic begin in the world readers know and accept, the ordinary world we all live in. Then gradually the stories introduce happenings that suggest the supernatural—events that could not happen in the world as we know it. But in the story, these happenings are made entirely plausible. The possibility of a natural explanation for the fantastic events is reduced to nearly zero, so much so that the reader hesitates, unsure whether these happenings are real or imaginary. Here is how Todorov puts it:

In a world which is indeed our world, the one we know, a world without devils, sylphides, or vampires, there occurs an event which cannot be explained by the laws of this same familiar world. The person who experiences the event must opt for one of two possible solutions: either he is the victim of an illusion of the senses, or a product of the imagination—and the laws of the world then remain what they are; or else the event has indeed taken place, it is an integral part of reality—but then this reality is controlled by laws unknown to us. Fantastic, 25.

In the moment of hesitation, the question remains up in the air. For a moment the reader wonders if new laws apply, if unnatural or supernatural things do happen. Usually this uncertainty does not last, and resolution is achieved. The author helps the reader decide if the world is actually different than he or she thought. In one outcome, the fantastic turns out to have a rational explanation and the event assumes the form of the merely uncanny. In this case, familiar natural laws still hold. In the second the event has no natural explanation and the story takes on the character of the marvelous. New laws are seen to apply, and the world is changed in that the supernatural is shown to exist. The story is fantastic only while it hovers between these alternatives, that is, so long as the reader—and the story’s hero—hesitates.

The story of the gold plates did not take the form of the fantastic for everyone. Some disbelieved from the beginning, and others, like Joseph Smith’s family, immediately accepted his visions. But for a few the story caused them to pause: Could it be true? Do other laws apply? Lucy and Martin Harris were two of the hesitants. Though they came down on opposite sides at the moment of resolution, for a time they both were uncertain. When most Palmyrans scoffed at Joseph Smith’s tale of the plates, Martin wondered, unsure of what to believe. For a moment the gold plates story was fantastic in the classic sense of Todorov. He took the trouble to interrogate individual members of the Smith family trying to catch them in a contradiction. Would they give themselves away and show they were lying for their brother? The stories proved consistent, and so the suspense continued. For months Martin was unsure, seeking for evidence to either dispel the illusion or to confirm the marvelous. In that time he inhabited the realm of Todorov’s fantastic. His expedition to New York City sought a judgment from a learned man about the characters. Were they authentic or not? A year later, he pled to see the plates more passionately than anyone in hopes of resolving the tension. For a long time, he hesitated, remaining unsure, embroiled in the anxiety of the fantastic.

Lucy Harris was enthralled more briefly than her husband, but more eagerly. Lucy Smith said Martin’s wife began pressing money on her the moment she heard about the plates. On visiting Joseph Smith Lucy Harris insisted that “she was determined to help him publish them.” But she was frustrated by his refusal to show her the plates. After Joseph and Emma moved to Harmony to translate, Lucy Harris came again. In Lucy Smith’s account:

As soon as she arrived there she informed him her object in coming was to see the plates and she would never leave until she had accomplished it. Accordingly without delay she commenced ransacking every nook and corner about the chests trunks cupboards . . . . Not finding them in the house she concluded that Joseph had buried them and the next day she commenced searching out of doors which she continued to do until about two o clock pm.” [Biographical Sketches]

Lucy Harris was no believer, but no skeptic either. She could not decide. She was driven by the anxiety of the fantastic to search the cupboard and hunt for a burial place outside the house. She had to find out, just as any reader of a fantastic story wants to know if supernatural powers are actually at work. Although I do not subscribe to the notion of universal literary genres, Todorov’s exploration of a universal genre with fixed characteristics helped me to comprehend Lucy and Martin Harris’s situation. Like other historians, I am a jackal, living off the big game that literary and social scientists have brought down. On every hand, people like myself who resist the metaphysics of sociology or of scientific literary criticism benefit from the analysis of those who pursue the generalized knowledge we historians think is impossible to find. Weber combed the world for instances of charisma and routinization, looking into Asia and Africa, as well as Europe, searching for universal regularities. Todorov has done the same for fantastic stories. Historian complain that these regularities are an imposition that does an injustice to the particularities, doing what Vincent Wimbush has called cultural violence to these varied peoples. And yet humphing about as we do, we still use the findings of the social scientists to illuminate our own more confined segments of space and time.

I will never forget my first reading of Mircea Eliade’s Myth of the Eternal Return on a plane ride from Boston to Salt Lake City. In the regularities of what Eliade called traditional life across the globe I recognized the very essence of the ceremonies through which I worshipped God in Latter-day Saint temples. The idea of a point where heaven touched earth and all creation began added a dignity and resonance to the endowment and the whole temple idea. Since then Eliade has been discredited for the very reasons I have questioned the sociological quest for social regularities—because he crushes the particulars of actual societies in his quest for the overarching principles of the traditional mind. But diminished as he has been, Eliade still helped me to perceive patterns in temple worship I might never have recognized without him. In other words the search for universal regularities may be beneficial even when wrong-headed. The drive for a natural history of religion compels sociologists to rise to a level of generalization that more earthbound minds never achieve. The results benefit even skeptics like myself.

The conceptions underlying The Angel and the Beehive may come out of an enterprise whose foundations I do not accept but that does not diminish my admiration for and reliance on Armand’s formulation of twentieth-century Mormonism. I am quite sure that the alliance Armand and I forged in our class on Mormon history is destined to live for a long time to come.

 Armand Mauss In Memoriam by Gordon and Gary Shepherd

Most regular Dialogue readers are undoubtedly familiar with many of Armand Mauss’s significant contributions to Dialogue for over 40 years as a contributing author of impactful essays, an influential editorial and advisory board member, and Chair of the Board of Directors during a critical transformational time in Dialogue’s organizational and operational structure in the early 2000s. Most Dialogue readers will also be aware of Armand’s similar organizational and scholarly contributions to the Mormon History Association since its inception in 1965 up to recent times (including serving a term as MHA President in 1997-98).

Fewer of Dialogue’s readers may be familiar with Armand’s foundational contributions to implementing a social science approach in the emerging field of Mormon studies. Armand’s contributions in this regard have overlapped fortuitously with our own careers as academic sociologists with research interests in Mormon studies.

We first met Armand Mauss during a conference of the American Sociological Association in San Francisco in September 1978. For members of the contemporary Mormon Social Science Association (MSSA), this conference was noteworthy as the time and place when plans were first laid to formally institute a scholarly organization for the social scientific study of Mormonism. Along with Glenn M. Vernon, Armand was instrumental in formulating and implementing those plans. At the time, Glenn Vernon was chair of the department of sociology at the University of Utah, and Armand was professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University. We were already well acquainted with Professor Vernon, from whom we had taken graduate level courses at the University of Utah (Vernon, in fact, chaired Gary’s M. A. thesis). Neither one of us, however, was then acquainted with Armand.

Our initial impression of Armand at the planning session in San Francisco proved enduring: He was both knowledgeable and authoritative in his views and articulate in expressing them. He inspired confidence that he was someone with scholarly ability who knew how to manage an organization of scholars. Armand was, in fact, supremely qualified to become the founding vice president and then president of the MSSA (known originally as the Society for the Sociological study of Mormon Life). His early leadership efforts toward building the MSSA into a scholarly society that subsequently has flourished for over 40 years must be recognized as an essential part of Armand’s professional legacy. It is, in fact, no exaggeration to say that MSSA owes its survival and eventual organizational success primarily to Armand’s guidance, prodding, recruiting, and persistent networking with scholars and other professional scholarly bodies with interests in Mormonism, along with his generous personal financial contributions at needed moments.

Over the years, both of us have sustained regular professional and personal contact with Armand. Among other things, he has invited us to contribute articles to special issues of journals which he was guestediting, including, Review of Religious Research in 1984, featuring Rodney Stark’s famously controversial article “The Rise of a New World Faith,” and Dialogue in 1996, with Armand, as special edition editor, presciently asking contributors to address the prospects of “Mormons and Mormonism in the Twenty-First Century.” With regard to this latter theme, the two of us, along with fellow sociologist and MSSA member, Ryan Cragun, were recently invited by Palgrave MacMillan to solicit authors (many of them scholars recently recruited to the ranks of MSSA) for chapters in a proposed handbook on global Mormonism in the twenty-first century.

The first person we consulted with about this proposal was, of course, Armand, who, as always provided wise advice and author recommendations that have shaped our preparation for this proposed book (now slated for publication in 2021). The dedication page of this book will appropriately honor Armand Mauss.

Meanwhile, most important for us professionally, Armand has been an astute reader or reviewer of virtually all the scholarly articles and books we have co-authored on Mormon topics over the past three decades. Whether in perfect agreement or not with all of Armand’s thoughtful and thorough critiques of our work, we have never failed to take advantage of his critical insights, and our writing always has been substantially improved as a result. No contemporary scholar has had greater influence on our own scholarship than Armand Mauss.

In particular, Armand was a very supportive reader of our manuscript, A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism, ultimately published by the University of Utah Press in 1984. In correspondence with us about Kingdom, Armand told us that he himself had been formulating ideas about a book dealing with the conservative transformation of the modern LDS Church. A decade later, Armand—a meticulous scholar—finally published his own long-awaited book: The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (University of Illinois Press, 1994). Subsequently this book has become a contemporary classic, which is cited by virtually everybody doing serious scholarship today on modern Mormonism.

By the time Angel and the Beehive was published, Armand had already served from 1989-1992 as the first Mormon affiliated editor in chief of the internationally renowned Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion (JSSR). Receiving this prestigious appointment meant that Armand had achieved a well-regarded standing among social science scholars of religion. The standing of the Mormon Social Science Association as a professional organization also benefited substantially from Armand’s status in the field, as articles on Mormon topics increasingly were submitted and accepted for publication by JSSR and other reputable social science journals. Not coincidentally, when Armand assumed editorship of its flagship journal in 1989, the MSSA commenced its affiliation as a partner organization with the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Retrospectively, it’s safe to say that no one deserves more credit for helping to legitimize the social science of Mormonism as a recognized field of study than Armand Mauss.

Indeed, it is this last point that is perhaps most reflective of Armand’s cumulative value to Mormon studies, namely the overlapping scope and influence of his organizational, intellectual, and personal involvements in key positions, key relationships, and in key scholarly issues related to the study of Mormonism. Who has cultivated a wider, more significant network of contacts with both Mormon insiders and outsiders, social scientists and non-social scientists, believers and non-believers? Who has stimulated and facilitated a more fruitful cross-fertilization of perspectives, ideas, and understanding of Mormon institutions and their dynamic intersection with the larger world than Armand Mauss?

Thirty years after the publication of A Kingdom Transformed, we decided to attempt an updated, second edition. Again, Armand played a key role. First, it was Armand who stimulated the idea for a second edition by informing us of the development by BYU linguist Mark Davies of an online site entitled Corpus of LDS General Conference Talks, which would allow us to update our statistical analysis of conference talks if we cared to do so. Secondly, Armand was again asked by the University of Utah Press to review our second edition manuscript. In his critique he argued persuasively that we should frame our analysis of the new conference data from 1980-2010 by taking into account his own updated reflections on Angel and the Beehive, published in a 2011 Dialogue article entitled, “Rethinking Retrenchment: Course Corrections in the Ongoing Campaign for Respectability.” That’s exactly what we did and, consequently, produced what we consider to be a meaningful and worthwhile extension of the fist edition of our book.

Both of us have been privileged to offer reviews of Armand’s own work to scholarly audiences. In 2002, Gary was invited to present a paper at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion entitled, “The Contributions of Armand Mauss to Mormon Studies.” In his paper Gary concentrated particular attention on Armand’s major book contributions to Mormon studies, The Angel and the Beehive, and All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (University of Illinois Press, 2003). As a reviewer of this latter book for Illinois Press, Gary had access to Armand’s draft manuscript and was able to provide his audience with a preview of the book, arguing that it might well be considered as Armand’s magnum opus. Similarly, in 2012, Gordon was invited to present a paper at the annual meeting of the SSSR to review Armand’s memoir, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic, that had just been published by the University of Utah Press. In his review, Gordon concluded that Armand’s memoir demonstrates how people may acquire and manage two central identities in frequent tension while maintaining an essential integrity to both. We see in Armand’s memoir an earnest, maturational struggle to reconcile the timeless tension between religious faith and secular learning in such a way that he honors both the LDS tradition and academic social science—two often contending communities in which his religious and professional identities remain steadfastly rooted. Neither one of these identities can, in Armand’s case, be fully understood apart from the other.

While the two of us feel personally close to Armand, we assume our long, professional relationship with him over the years is not particularly unique. The work of uncounted other scholars in Mormon studies has been significantly influenced, either directly or indirectly, by Armand’s writing, organizational leadership, and unflagging commitment to the field and its intellectual standards. This is particularly true for comprehending the emergence of the social scientific study of Mormonism as a reputable field of study during the last two decades of the twentieth-century. Today, Armand Mauss justly deserves recognition as a key founder of this ongoing, scholarly enterprise.


Important Dialogue contributions:

1996: Armand Mauss guest edited the entire Spring 1996 Issue, themed “Mormons and Mormonism in the Twenty-first Century: Prospects and Issues.”

2011: Armand Mauss, “Rethinking Retrenchment: Course Corrections in the Ongoing Campaign for Respectability,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol 44 No. 4 (2011): 1–42.

An excerpt: “All things considered, it seems clear that at least a partial reversal of the late twentieth-century retrenchment process is underway, both in the ecclesiastical culture of Mormonism and in the efforts of the leadership to improve and soften the Mormon public image. These internal and external processes are connected, for they are both driven by an organizational imperative to modify the degree of cultural and political tension that had developed in recent decades. Tension is increased both by Church demands on the membership that seem excessive or “weird” to the outside and by Church policies that seem at odds with the general normative and political consensus—or that challenge powerful interest groups.”

1981: Armand Mauss,  “The Fading of the Pharaoh’s Curse: The Decline and Fall of the Priesthood’s Ban Against Blacks” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol 14 No. 3 (1981): 11–45.

Mauss situates the 1978 revelation on the priesthood in modern American historical context. Everything changed for the Church during the Civil Rights Movement when people both inside and outside the Church were harshly critcizing the priesthood ban. When the world was changing, it looked like the Church was still adherring to the past.


1967: Armand L. Mauss, “Mormonism and the Negro: Faith, Folklore and Civil Rights” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol 2 No. 4 (1967):19–40.

In this historical analysis, Mauss argues that starting in the 1850s, the church started to deny priesthood and temple blessings to anyone who had even a trace of African ancestry.