Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2019

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Stewart M. Hoover

Second Advisor

Janice Peck

Third Advisor

Andrew Calabrese

Fourth Advisor

Kathleen Ryan

Fifth Advisor

Deborah Whitehead

Abstract

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been experiencing an information crisis that stems from the rise of the Internet and from digital technologies more broadly. The contemporary speed at which information flows, coupled with the ability that individuals now have to bypass traditional sources of religious authority and engage in horizontal communication and the production of alternative Mormon- themed texts and discourses online has caused LDS leaders to lose some of the control over Church- related discourse that they have customarily enjoyed for nearly 200 years.

As sensitive information about the Church is disseminated into widely-accessible digital forums, and as continual challenges to the Church’s doctrine, authority, and official narratives are mounted by heterodox Mormons, post-Mormons, and LDS critics in online settings, more and more members of the Church, whether intentionally, or not, are encountering this information and experiencing subsequent crises of faith as a result of the dissonance that these encounters often generate. In response to their faith crises, many Mormons have turned to digital communities to find similarly-situated others with whom they can discuss their questions, doubts, and concerns about the Church.

This study utilizes a culturalist approach to examine, through three unique case studies, how orthodox, heterodox, and post-Mormons are finding meaning and constructing and expressing their identities in digital settings in the midst of the information crisis that the LDS Church is experiencing.

The first case study examines orthodox Mormon media practices and identity by looking at how the LDS Church has used media throughout its history to promote the Church and to unify its membership. Using Michael Warner’s public sphere theory, the second case study looks at heterodox Mormon media practices and identity through an examination of the Mormon Stories Podcast Community. The final case study examines how post-Mormons are using satire to find meaning and negotiate identity in the wake of their departures from Mormonism. Taken together, these case studies address important questions about meaning-making, religious identity, and the potential impact of digital technologies on social institutions.

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