C. William Campbell wins 2021 Gordon and Gary Shepherd Graduate Student Paper Award

Congratulations to C. William Campbell, winner of the 2021 Gordon and Gary Shepherd Graduate Student Paper Award. This annual competition supports and promotes student research in the social scientific study of Mormon life. The winning paper, “There are never too many miles to travel”: A Case for LDS Temple Attendance as Pilgrimage, was recognized for its excellence and contributions to the field of Mormon Studies.    C. William Campbell is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Victoria.

Read the abstract:

The existing scholarly literature that examines pilgrimage practices amongst members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is limited to pilgrimage to historical sites and Salt Lake City’s Temple Square. Otherwise, the literature states that pilgrimage is not an important aspect of LDS practice. This essay challenges this, arguing that pilgrimage is an integral aspect of regular LDS practice manifest in the form of temple attendance. I draw on official rhetoric, lay understanding, and scripture to make the case that LDS temple attendance constitutes pilgrimage. Furthermore, I draw attention to the way the conceptual tool of pilgrimage can direct the attention of social sciences to the ways Latter-day Saints move across religious landscapes and the impact of those movements.

About the award:

The Gordon and Gary Shepherd Graduate Student Paper Award recognizes and supports the work of graduate students who are doing significant social scientific research in Mormon Studies. It also encourages their active participation in the Mormon Social Science Association (MSSA).

Eligibility and Submission Requirements

To be eligible for the award, individuals must be enrolled as graduate students in a master’s or doctoral program at a certified public or private college or university.

Student papers must address a topic relevant to the scholarly understanding of Mormon life, including either the social, cultural, or religious dimensions of Mormonism. Learn more at mormonsocialscience.org.

In Remembrance of Armand L. Mauss, 1928-2020 | Mormon Social Science Association Pioneer, Patron and Mentor

Armand Mauss, honorary plaque

Armand L. Mauss, MSSA pioneer, patron, and mentor, passed away at his home in Irvine, California August 1, 2020, concluding a long struggle with cancer at age 92. The immediate cause of his death was heart failure.  Armand placed himself in home hospice care just a little over a year ago and survived far longer than initial expectations.  His yearlong vigil was blessed with an absence of pain and retention of a clear mind. He communicated regularly with family, friends, and colleagues through phone calls, emails, and letters, and he  welcomed visitors to his Irvine condo.  During this time Armand maintained a typically detached and pragmatic view of himself and his circumstances. He confronted his dying with equanimity and, although certainly not a conventional believer, did fondly anticipate reuniting with his beloved Ruth, who had passed away a few months prior to Armand’s own entry into hospice care.

Perhaps Armand’s greatest satisfaction during his final year of life derived from his capacity to continue fully engaging in multiple conversations with others.  He stayed current on events religious and political; dispensed sage advice and spot-on suggestions to colleagues working on a wide range of scholarly projects that interested him; and offered assessments of his personal involvements and  encounters with significant people and events over his lifetime that were fascinating and insightful without lapsing into self-aggrandizement. 

Most MSSA members are well aware of Armand’s many signal accomplishments and contributions.  In subsequent days, a number of eulogistic accounts of his life and work will no doubt appear in newspapers, social media, and various scholarly venues.  Our own on-line virtual MSSA conference proceedings in late October will include an Armand Mauss in memoriam session. For those who would like to see immediate summaries of some of Armand’s contributions, we offer below Gary Shepherd’s assessment of Armand’s specific contributions to Mormon Studies  at the 2002 Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) meetings and Gordon Shepherd’s review of Armand’s 2012 autobiography, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic.


October 23-25, 2020 | Westin Convention Center | Pittsburgh, PA

The Mormon Social Science Association (MSSA) invites proposals for individual papers, panels or author meets critics sessions for the 2020 annual conference, held conjointly with the meetings of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Religious Research Association (SSSR). We invite contributions on all topics relevant to the social scientific study of Mormonism, with special interest in those featuring multiculturalism, gender/sexuality, post-colonialism, generational change, and questions of disaffiliation/retention. Proposals should include a paper/panel title, a 250-word abstract, and the names, contact information, and institutional affiliation of all participants.

Submissions Open: January 10, 2020
Submissions Close: April 20, 2020
Decision Notification: April 30, 2020

Please submit proposals to Janna Riess flunkingsainthood@gmail.com and Gordon Shepherd at: gordons@uca.edu

As an interdisciplinary and international association, the MSSA promotes the social scientific study of Mormon­ism and facil­itates communication and collaboration among re­searchers, edu­cators and students. Membership is open to all. We sponsor scholarly conferences, publi­ca­tions, panel discussions, paper sessions, and the biennial Glenn M. Vernon Lecture. Join us today.

Download a printable PDF of the Call for Papers

MSSA Annual Meeting 2018 | Tropicana Hotel | Las Vegas, Nevada | October 26-28

MSSA_SSSR + RRA Speakers_2018 LAS VEGAS 2

Mormon Social Science Association Annual Meeting


Join us for the Annual Meeting of the MSSA, October 26-28, 2018 at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Click on the PDF link above for an “At a Glance” conference line-up.

The MSSA gathering is held annually in conjunction with the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion and the Religious Research Association  (SSSR + RRA). The full program for #SSSR2018LV is available online here.


Call For Papers for the MSSA 2018 Annual Meeting

Individual Papers | Panels | Session
Proposals | Author Meets Critics
October 26-28, 2018
Tropicana Hotel | Las Vegas, Nevada

The Mormon Social Science Association (MSSA)
invites proposals for individual papers, panels or author
meets critics sessions for the 2018 annual conference
held conjointly with the meetings of the Society for the
Scientific Study of Religion and the Religious Research
Association. We invite contributions on all topics relevant
to the social scientific study of Mormonism, with special
interest in those featuring gender, post-colonialism,
queer studies, and critical race studies. Proposals
should include a paper/panel title, a 250-word abstract,
and the names, contact information, and institutional
affiliation of all participants.

Submissions Open: February 20, 2018
Submissions Close: March 31, 2018
Decision Notification: April 30, 2018

CFP 2018_MSSA_Annual Meeting

Please submit proposals to Gordon Shepherd at:

Ask An Expert: Is Mormonism a religious system according to Clifford Geertz?

Q: Is Mormonism a religious system according to Clifford Geertz?

A: Several members of the MSSA replied to this message.

David Knowlton, an anthropologist at Utah Valley University, wrote:

This is not a simple question, although it appears to be so.  A simple, answer, however, acknowledges the complexity while recognizing that Geertz’s focus on systems of symbols, “pervasive, long lasting moods and motivations” and “aura of facticity” were used by Douglas J. Davies in his the Mormon Culture of Salvation to great effect.

Yes, Geertz’s definition can fit Mormonism.

However, a more critical look at the definition, that takes into account problems with the notion of symbols and their formation, power, the difficulty of system, breaks in pervasiveness, and problems with perceptions of facticity as are also found in anthropological work, can also be used to make sense of Mormonism.

The question, however, asks if it is a religious system according to Geertz.  Well, that is more difficult because Geertz is focusing on system as defining religion and not religion as defining system.  Mormonism has system and it functions as a religion.  Despite the analytical concerns here, I would still argue that Geertz’s definition productively fits Mormonism.

Douglas J. Davies also wrote in to recommend that you read his book in which he engages this question at length:

Douglas J. Davies. 2000. The Mormon Culture of Salvation. New York: Routledge.

Ask an Expert: What percentage of Mormons divorce when one spouse leaves the religion?

Q: Do you have any insight on how often a spouse leaving the church leads directly to divorce? I am most interested in the statistic for divorce attributed primarily to the spouse changing their beliefs and controlled for other behaviors that are independent of simply no longer believing or participating.

A: Arland Thornton provided a citation that had a statistic on this.  He found the statistic in a post by Bob McCue:

“And what of my relationship with my wife and children? My wife and I were on the brink of divorce because she could not respect and love me as I am now in the fashion she did the priesthood leader I used to be. I could feel a loss of intimacy – an emptiness and sorrow where her love for me used to be. Something had died between us. Thankfully, she now recognizes the legitimacy of my concerns respecting the Church’s influence in our lives and the importance of ensuring that our children are raised with an understanding that religious matters are not clear-cut. The world is full of shades of grey, and the Church is no different. And while she continues to be an active and faithful member, she respects what I have done and supports me. We made it over the precipice with nothing to spare. I recently became aware of an unpublished master’s degree thesis in anthropology at a Canadian university that surveyed LDS returned missionaries who had gone through something similar to what I have, and found an 80% divorce rate. That does not surprise me given my recent experience.”

Unfortunately, Bob McCue did not note what that unpublished Master’s thesis was, so we don’t have a specific reference on this.

I (Ryan Cragun) did a little more sleuthing on this topic as I was wondering if there might be a dataset that could provide some information on this.  What I found is far from perfect, but may be helpful to you.  The General Social Survey (GSS) asks participants their religious affiliation at the time of the survey (variable = “relig”) and when they were 16 (variable = “relig16”).  If respondents indicated “Mormon” as their religion, that gets coded into separate variables (Mormon at present = 64 in the variable “other”; Mormon at 16 = 64 in the variable “oth16”).  Combining these two variables, it’s possible to isolate individuals who were Mormon at 16 but have since left the religion (there are 186 such individuals in the combined 1972-2014 GSS data set).

Of those 186 individuals, 46 had never married, which means they were never at a risk of divorcing.  Of the remaining 140 who had married, 34 were currently divorced or separated at the time of their participation in the survey, for a divorce/separation percentage of 24%.  Compare that to individuals who were Mormon at 16 and still Mormon at the time of the survey: their divorce/separation percentage was 11%.  In other words, individuals who left the Mormon Church were more than twice as likely to divorce than did those who stayed.

This is somewhat problematic for several reasons.  First, the variable for marital status (“marital”) does not indicate whether the respondents have ever divorced (there is a variable that asks that, but it’s not included in every wave of the survey).  So, it is likely that the percentage of respondents indicating they are currently divorced is lower than the percentage who have ever divorced.  Second, the GSS does not include a variable indicating when people left a religion or switched their religious affiliation.  As a result, we can’t say that those who left the religion did so when they were married.  Third, we don’t know what the cause of divorce or separation was.  The higher rate of divorce among those who left the LDS Church could be due to a number of other factors and not exclusively the result of them having left the LDS Church.

Taking all of the above into account, data from the General Social Survey suggest that about 1 in 4 people who were Mormon at 16 but have since left the religion have divorced or separated from their spouse, versus about 1 in 10 who remained Mormon.

In the interest of looking just a little further into this, I also examined whether marital satisfaction was higher among Mormons married to Mormons (variable in the GSS is “spoth”) versus Mormons married to non-Mormons.  Turns out, marital satisfaction is significantly and substantially higher among Mormons married to other Mormons. Of the 315 Mormons who were married to other Mormons, 71% said their marriage was very happy, 28% said it was pretty happy, just 1.6% said it was not too happy.  Of the 69 Mormons married to non-Mormons, 54% said their marriage was very happy, 36% said it was pretty happy, and 10% said it was not too happy.  Admittedly, these numbers are rather small, but they are sufficient to find that the differences in marital satisfaction are statistically significant (Chi-Square = 17.169, p < .001).  Again, these numbers are not a direct answer to the question since it isn’t clear whether those who are married to non-Mormons are married to people who used to be Mormon or someone who never was Mormon.  Even so, they do indicate that Mormons who are not married to other Mormons have substantially lower marital satisfaction than do Mormons who are married to Mormons, which would likely increase the odds of divorce and separation.

Overall, it does not appear as though there is a readily available citation to answer your question.  However, evidence does seem to suggest that the odds of divorce increase when one member of a couple leaves the LDS Church.