Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Mormons are a religion-based cultural group found in communities throughout the world, but are concentrated in the intermountain region of the western United States. The Mormon religion was founded in New York State in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr., with a millenarian imperative to build the “City of Zion” in preparation for the return of Jesus Christ. Religious persecution forced early adherents to relocate westward several times, and under a new leader, Brigham Young, they finally settled in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah in 1847. The Mormon economic ideal was based on the biblical notions of stewardship and communal ownership; Church-organized cooperatives were a major form of economic and business organization. Mormon pioneer communities remained isolated—intentionally so—but the coming of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 spurred economic expansion of agriculture, mining and commerce, opening up Mormon society to the rest of the nation. Mormons follow Christian beliefs and practices, but also believe in the doctrine of eternal progression in which one continues to perfect oneself in heaven until godhood is attained.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


North America --Southwest and Basin



United States

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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication, and title where necessary.

The Mormons of Utah are the principal focus of this collection, which provides a balance of both historical and ethnographic materials. Two sources are outstanding in their analysis and presentation of a broad range of basic materials: O’Dea (1957) is an account of Mormonism from its inception to the 1950s and includes a study of Mormon values; Arrington (1966) supplies a detailed analysis of nineteenth-century Mormon economic history. Other introductory texts include overviews of the Mormon culture area in the intermountain western United States (Meinig 1965), and of Mormon history and society (May 2001).

Ethnographic studies of Mormon communities include Bradford (1939), Singh (1959), and Vogt and O’Dea (1953); May (1999) provides an ethnohistorical study. Detailed economic geographies include descriptions of irrigation systems by Maass and Anderson (1978) and of agriculture, animal husbandry, and land use by White (1925).

Historical accounts of Mormon communities and settlement patterns are found in Abruzzi (1989), Arrington (1954), Layton (1962), Nelson (1952), Seeman (1938), and Wahlquist (1975). Other historical accounts cover polygamy (Ivins 1972), communalism (Arrington 1972 “Early Mormon communitarianism”; Walker 1999), self-government (Hansen 1972), the educational system (Allen 1999), an experimental alphabet (Ivins 1947), organized recreation (Skidmore 1941), everyday life and experience (Bitton 1973), and early diet (Derr 1999). Examinations of historical periods and events include the historical context and origins of Mormonism (Davis 1972 “The New England origins of Mormonism”; De Pillis 1972), the murder of founding father Joseph Smith (Huntress 1972), nineteenth century anti-Mormon movements (Davis 1972 “Some themes of counter-subversion”), the struggle for statehood (Lamar 1972), crises in Mormon history from its founding to the 1960s (Arrington 1972 “Crisis in identity”), and the impact of 1960s youth and civil rights movements (O’Dea 1972).

The Mormon Church is examined in several articles that look specifically at theology (Davies 1989), the doctrine of “gathering” (Mulder 1972), the early institutionalization of the church (Hartley 1999), church administration (Durham, G. 1942), and church involvement in politics (Williams 1966).

Regarding Mormon social behavior, scholars have focused on kinship (Brasher 1970), courtship and marriage practices (Canning 1956), cousin marriage (Woolf et al. 1956), sexual morality (Hansen 1977; Mauss 1977), sexual education (Cannon, K. 1977), birth control (Bush 1977), midwives (Noall 1942), and childbearing (Stark 1982). Knowlton (1976) considers Mormon accommodations to a multicultural society, while Eriksen (1975) examines Mormon character and psychology. More than one author examines the community and familial relations of fundamentalist, polygamous Mormon sects (Altman and Ginat 1996; Bennion 1998; Jankowiak 2008).

Works that document Mormon art and culture include studies of folklore (Cannon, M. 1945; Fife and Fife1966; Hendricks et al. 1959), folk medicine (Fife 1957; Noall 1959, 1944), folk botany (Anderson 1969), music (Durham, L. 1968), and pioneer fashion (Walkup 1947).

Hill and Allen (1972 “Introduction”) provide an overview of scholarship on the Mormons. Their bibliography (Hill and Allen 1972 “Selected bibliography”) for the edited volume Mormonism and American Culture contains the references cited in the various chapters: Arrington 1972 “Crisis in Identity”, 1972 “Early Mormon communitarianism”; Davis 1972 “The New England origins of Mormonism”, 1972 “Some themes of counter-subversion”; De Pillis 1972; Hansen 1972; Hill and Allen 1972 “Introduction”; Huntress 1972; Ivins 1972; Lamar 1972; Mulder 1972; O’Dea 1972.

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Ian Skoggard

Danites – a clandestine group for defense against outside aggressors, also functioning as an internal secret police force – use "MILITARY ORGANIZATION (701)"

Endowments – initiation ceremonies—use “CONGREGATIONS (794)”

Gifts of the spirits – the power to heal, speak in tongues, and prophecy – use "SACRED OBJECTS AND PLACES (778)"

Irrigation companies – use "CORPORATE ORGANIZATION (473)"

Mutual Improvement Associations (Mutuals) – youth organizations -- use "CONGREGATIONS (794)"; or use "CONGREGATIONS (794)" and "RELIGIOUS DENOMINATIONS (795)"

Perpetual Emigrating Fund – company that sponsored new immigrants to Salt Lake Valley – use "PRIVATE WELFARE AGENCIES (747)"

Sealing ceremony – eternal joining of spouses, or of parents to children – use "NUPTIALS (585)", and/or use "FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS (593)", and/or use "ORGANIZED CEREMONIAL (796)"

Stake – organization similar to a parish or diocese – use "TOWNS (632)" or use "CONGREGATIONS (794)" or use "RELIGIOUS DENOMINATIONS (795)"

Testimony – personal confirmation of faith – as affirmation of religious affiliation, use "CONGREGATIONS (794)" and/or use "RELIGIOUS DENOMINATIONS (795)"; as liturgy, use "RITUAL (788)"; as communion with spirits, use "REVELATION AND DIVINATION (787)"

Tithing, Tithes – use "CONGREGATIONS (794)" and/or use "RELIGIOUS DENOMINATIONS (795)" and/or use "TAXATION AND PUBLIC INCOME (651)"

United Order (United Firm) – communal sect of the LDS Church – use "COOPERATIVE ORGANIZATION (474)"

Ward – basic administrative subdivision of the Mormon Church – use "RELIGIOUS DENOMINATIONS (795)" and/or use "CONGREGATIONS (794)"; or use "RELIGIOUS DENOMINATIONS (795)" and “TOWNS (632)"

Z.C.M.I. (Zion Cooperative Mercantile Institution) – retail cooperatives – use "MERCANTILE BUSINESS (441)" and "COOPERATIVE ORGANIZATION (474)"

Indexing Notes by

Ian Skoggard

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