Constructing Religion in the Digital Age : The Internet and Modern Mormon Identities
University of Pennsylvania
This dissertation explores the discursive construction of identity among members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormons) in the digital age. Religious identity emerges at the intersection of multiple and often conflicting voices with varying amounts of normative power to speak for and about the group. The polyphony of the internet during this digital age makes it increasingly difficult to identify the boundaries of acceptable belonging within religious groups, particularly traditionally firmly-bounded and authoritarian ones such as the LDS Church, in part because the internet itself provides an unprecedented platform for conflicts and discourses that shift these boundaries. Particularly during the "Mormon moment" in 2012-2013, as media and the public scrutinized the LDS Church, mediated platforms gave voice to competing narratives that challenged traditional notions of what it means to be Mormon. Employing participant observation, in-depth interviews, and discourse analysis, this dissertation uses a case study approach to consider the ways that modern Mormon identities emerge dialogically from multiple, often conflicting sources: normative authorities, faithful members, the secular media, and heterodox and former Mormons. This multi-vocal rendering is a negotiation of structural and agential processes often emerging from internecine conflicts on the internet, and resulting in pressure on the institution to accommodate new forms of Mormon life. In particular, nuanced, highly visible, and wide-ranging communities of heterodox Mormons extend unprecedented challenges to traditional understandings of authority in the LDS context, dismantling views of Mormons as monolithic and providing a window into processes of institutional change.