You are Hereby Called: An Ethnographic Study of Mormon Missionaries



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The purpose of this dissertation is to provide an initial examination into Mormon missionaries from an anthropological, and ethnographic, perspective. Through the use of autoethnography, I provide an emic understanding into this parallel culture inside mainstream Mormonism. Employing surveys and personal interviews with former Mormon missionaries, I seek to more fully develop the understanding of the formation of Mormon missionary identity, how Mormons see their missionary service as a life event, and the use of folklore by Mormon missionaries to adapt the Gospel message to new cultures.

The usual demographic indicators?age, sex, ethnicity, or occupation?had no correlation to Mormon missionary identity or how the mission experience is viewed as a life event. However, age was a correlative factor in what type of challenge?cultural or mission?was the most difficult for Mormon missionaries to overcome during their service; the older a returned missionary was the more likely they were to choose a cultural challenge as the most significant problem inside their missionary service.

The trainer/first companion is the most influential person in establishing a Mormon missionaries? identity and contributing to their cultural understanding. Contrary to my expectations about missionaries who serve in their native cultures, the mission president is not the most influential person in forming Mormon missionary identity. The least influential persons on the development of Mormon missionary identity were the district/zone leaders.

In regards to a life event, former Mormon missionaries did conceptualize their missionary experiences as self-contained time. While aspects of a rite of passage/rite of social intensification were present in the answers missionaries gave, the use of terms that denote the mission as being a completely separate place (bubble, missionary world, dream, different life, etc.) permeated my informant?s responses.

Mormon missionaries do not use knowledge of folklore/folk culture to tailor their Gospel message to the cultures they serve in. However, missions that contain areas which are extremely rural or densely urban found missionaries trying new folklore approaches and adapting the message to the people around them suggesting that population density, not culture, drives the incorporation of folklore into missionaries? teaching techniques.