Research

As a scholar, I’m interested in the ways people navigate religious identity in modernity, especially in times of crisis or when confronted with various contingencies that threaten their faith.  I’ve focused most of my attention on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or the Mormons), asking how boundaries for belonging form and who decides what it means to “be” Mormon. I began my research on Mormon identity in 2008, before the “Book of Mormon” musical, the “I’m a Mormon” campaign, or the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney.  Since then, I  watched with bated breath as Mormons came increasingly under public scrutiny during the “Mormon moment”—a “moment” which may suggest important shifts in the modern meaning of Mormon identity.  Today, Mormonism is a fascinating cultural location to explore issues of mediation and identity, thanks to the LDS Church’s investment in social and new media and the use of blogs, Facebook, and Twitter by members actively exploring and negotiating their own religious identities.

 

Details of my ongoing scholarly engagement with Mormon identity can be found in my curriculum vitae.  To summarize, I have presented over a dozen papers at academic conferences on the subject of Mormon identity, including the annual Mormon Studies Conference at Utah Valley University.  I was also invited to present at the 14th annual conference for the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research, where I spoke about Mormon deconversion stories as the first non-Mormon ever to present at the conference.  Additionally, I was quoted in a Philadelphia Tribune article on historical race issues in the Church, and I have published an article in the Journal of Religion and Society on Mormon gender roles and another in the Journal of Media and Religion which explores the parallels in narrative strategies used in Mormons conversion and de-conversion stories.

 

My dissertation research attempts to track the recent pressures and fissures in Mormon identity which occur at the intersection of institutional, media, and interpersonal discourses about what it means to belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Titled “Constructing religion in the digital age: The Internet and modern Mormon identities,” the dissertation argues that digital mediation both problematizes traditional conceptions of Mormon religiosity by broadcasting unorthodox perspectives (e.g., feminist Mormons, gay Mormons, non-believing Mormons, etc.) and simultaneously allows the institution to monitor and respond to these shifts in real time. The LDS Church, for its part, responds to the challenges of the new media landscape by advancing altered institutional narratives that walk a fine line between appeasing advocates for change and a critical public, and maintaining a semblance of continuity and immutability for its largely conservative membership.

 

I plan to continue research into online religious discourse, but with an emphasis on the development of multi-site Evangelical megachurches that rely on digital technologies to cultivate community; and on overlaps between multi-level marketing techniques and Christian rhethoric.  These cultural products blur the lines between religion, gender roles, and religiously sanctioned cultural appropriation and as digital texts offer new venues for research into religious expression.  I am also keenly interested in feminist religious identities, and extending my work in Mormon feminism, plan to explore the ways feminist religionists from various faiths advocate online.