Remembering Armand Mauss and His Work

I’m on the road, and pressed for time, but wanted to leave a brief memory and paean for Armand Mauss, an LDS sociologist, academic, disciple, and wonderful person. Some biography and other memories here from the SLTrib, here from a number of LDS scholars, here from Claremont, where he had been on the Mormon Studies Council.

I served as the MSC student president for two years at CGU, and interacted with Armand there, occasionally sending him a paper to read for his thoughts. He joked that he didn’t buy green bananas anymore because he didn’t know if he’d be around to eat them ripe.

His Angel and the Beehive: the Mormon Struggle with Assimiation remains a classic; Mauss argued that Church growth was achieved with an optimum tension with society/culture. Too similar (assimilation), and there was no reason to join. Too different (retrenchment), and there were perceptions of cultishness. He revisited this later, “Rethinking Retrenchment: Course Corrections in the Ongoing Quest for Respectability” in Dialogue.

He worked on LDS issues of race for a long time, both in academic venues with All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage  and more popularly, speaking at the FAIRMormon Conference in 2003 on the history and interpretation of the priesthood/temple ban. This got published in various places under various titles such as “Dispelling the Curse of Cain: or, How to Explain the Old Priesthood Ban without Looking Ridiculous.” Indeed, Mauss had a testimony published with FAIR and Mormon Scholars Testify in 2010.

He wrote a wonderful piece about how to be a disciple when you don’t quite fit the mold, and received an approving note from Elder Oaks about it.

Other work of his I’ve appreciated— and reread multiple times— includes reflections on temple worship, and a piece about the shifting balance between emotion and intellect in the Church; what is the symbolism at the chapel pulpit, when we have replaced the scriptures there with a Kleenex box? “Feelings, Faith, and Folkways: A Personal Essay on Mormon Popular Culture”

His last book was prefaced by Richard Bushman, who occupies the same kind of groundbreaking LDS academic discipleship, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic

Requiescat in pace, Armand.

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3 thoughts on “Remembering Armand Mauss and His Work

  1. I just read the essay on feelings and have to say that it’s spot on. I also think that recent endeavors like “Saints” are a step – albeit a baby step, but a welcome one – in the right direction toward a more intellectually robust and resilient church.

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  2. I, too, read his essay on feelings and agree that a healthier church would be one that isn’t uptight about frank discussions of our beliefs.

    For example, I’d like to hear someone say in Gospel Doctrine class something like, “I really believe in President Hinckley’s statement that Christ is the ‘central focus’ of our worship. For that reason, I also believe that verse 19 in Section 20 of the Doctrine Covenants, is false doctrine. It says that God the Father is the ‘the only being’ whom we should worship.” (And since I’ve mentioned Section 20, how about a discussion of the fact that the part about Christ being born on April 6 wasn’t even part of the original revelation?)

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  3. In his Alternate Voices piece, he enumerates 10 principles that guided his behavior as a “maverick member.” Two in particular caught my eye.

    In #3, he states the obvious: if you think you can be an “alternate voice” and receive an important leadership calling, you’re delusional. He then explains why: “[s]take and ward leaders, to say nothing of general authorities, rarely call people to powerful positions who are suspected of too much “independent thinking.” Pause and reflect, for a moment, on that statement. What does “too much” mean? That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. We all know it means, “if you want to keep your calling, it’s best not to think outside the box at all.”

    In #9, he advises: “Take advantage of legitimate opportunities [he cites, as an example, a teaching assignment] to express your ‘alternate voices’ and to exercise your free agency in ‘alternate’ ways within the LDS church and culture.” But those who have been installed in leadership positions because they eschew independent thinking will generally not tolerate a teacher who offers a scriptural interpretation or reading of church history that differs from the party line. Nor will they be allowed to speak in church. This I say from personal experience. Cancel culture is alive and well in our church.

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