February 5, 2012

Call for Papers: The evolution of Mormonism from sect to Church and from Church to sects

International Conference on Mormonism

The evolution of Mormonism from sect to Church and from Church to sects

Université de Bordeaux 3, 6 et 7 décembre 2012

Maison des Sciences de l’Homme d’Aquitaine

Organized par Bernadette RIGAL-CELLARD with the Master Religions et

Sociétés and CLIMAS (EA 4196), Université Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux 3

In collaboration with:

Carter CHARLES, CLIMAS (Cultures et littératures des mondes anglophones)

Régis DERICQUEBOURG (CNRS : sociétés, religions, laïcités, UMR 85-82, axe religions en ultramodernité

The European Observatory of Religions and Secularism

The 2012 Mormonism conference is the sequel to the first French conference on Mormonism (Bordeaux 2009). It will address the issues arising from its institutional evolution.

The currently admitted typology of religious groups includes, sketchily, the cult, the sect, the denomination, the Church, the movement. All groups will not necessarily move from one level to the next and a number of them may stagnate, willingly or not, or simply disappear. It is the prophetic and organizational qualities of the founder(s) and of the successors that dictate the evolution of the group as much as the social and political surroundings.

Mormonism is one of the most interesting religions to study in this regard for, since its birth in 1830, it has operated constant changes that led its major institution, the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter Day Saints, to move from the status of “sect”—in the sense of a group separating itself from a major tradition to follow a radical prophet—to that of denomination, and then to reach the crowning status of Church, at least in its native land.

If the general history of Mormonism is relatively well documented, it is not the case concerning all the steps it has climbed in less than two centuries, when most of its competitors, born in the same conditions, have not succeeded as well. How has Mormonism gone from the complete separatism of its early decades to an almost complete acceptance at home

and in several foreign countries?

The conference will examine:

– the status of the main institution, the Salt Lake City Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter Day Saints: if the Church type is defined notably by its great inclusivism, a rather liberal discipline, membership mostly through birth into the religion, how can we reconcile the exclusivism, strict discipline, and dependence on proselytism…, of Mormonism with such status? Has Mormonism only reached the denomination level?

– the charismatic and organizational strategies implemented by the founding prophet, Joseph Smith, his immediate successor, the organizer prophet Brigham Young, and the following prophets and presidents in order to bolster membership and obtain official recognition;

– the agents of interaction with the surrounding society and government in the USA; the management of idiosyncrasies: are they blurred or emphasized?

– the modifications of doctrine and/or of rituals to obtain recognition,

– the function played by lobbies and by the media (national or controlled by the group) to boost the normalization of the relationships between the group and the outside.

The beginning of 2012 showing the strength of Mitt Romney’s candidacy for the Republican nomination:

– what strategies does his team rely on to transform his Mormonism into a positive force?

– what impact could his candidacy exert on the relationships between Church and State, religion and politics in the USA?

Moreover, it is obvious that if the changes undergone by Mormonism are mostly visible in its home nation, they also play out in its international branches. The conference will thus address the issue of its status outside the USA:

– the evolving conditions of its recognition by foreign societies and governments;

– public relations and lobbies abroad.

Finally, since in the process of denominationalization, of institutionalization, a heretofore sectarian group can no longer appeal to those who chose it (or would choose it) for its original fire, it falls prey to inner schisms. Mormonism, in fact, did not have to wait for this process to unfold as it begot dissidence in its first decades already (Reorganized Church now Community of Christ as one among several…). The conference will look into the roots of these past and current schisms (such as the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints) and into their consequences:

– are they the result of mere internal power struggles?

– what role do doctrinal and ritual alterations play?

– do these groups maintain institutional and human relations with the Church in Salt Lake?

– does their mere existence exert  pressure,  directly or indirectly, on this institution and force it to evolve, and if so, how does it work?

– what relationships do the schismatic groups entertain among themselves?

– what evolutions have they undergone in the past, and what evolutions

can we predict for them?

Send a 20 line abstract and a short biography before September 15th, 2012 to


No funding can be granted to participants


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