Guarding Against Spiritual Growth : An Autoethnographic Critique of Mormon Missionary Culture
San Francisco, CA
California Institute of Integral Studies
Ph.D. Philosophy in Philosophy and Religion
Drawing from daily journals I kept as a Mormon missionary, this dissertation is an autoethnographic inquiry into the process of faith transformation. The journals document a lonely and difficult time in my life. Unmotivated to proselytize, I found myself in a spiritual crisis and eventually lost my faith. By the time I returned home, my understanding of spirituality had been transformed and I left the Mormon Church. From this perspective, my mission was in many ways a failure.
At the same time, I respond to my mission experiences from my present perspective as a researcher, creating a second layer to the story. I bring ideas from constructive-developmental theory (Fowler, Kegan, Parks, Perry and others) to reframe and reinterpret my mission story, showing my difficulties to be part of a natural transition from an adolescent faith to an emerging adult faith. From a constructive-developmental perspective, my mission was clearly a success, though certainly a difficult one. The second layer of the story dignifies and redeems the first.
The study also reveals an important dynamic within Mormon missionary culture and, more broadly, the Church itself. My experience makes clear that Mormon missions are structured in a way that effectively guards against faith transformation and works to prevent it from occurring. As a result, the Church retains spiritual authority over returned missionaries at the expense of their own spiritual development. In this way, the dissertation puts forward a critique of the Mormon Church from a constructive-developmental perspective.
The purpose of the inquiry is to contribute to the understanding of the process of faith transformation, particularly in young adults, and to lend my own story to the discussion of how modern social institutions work to thwart spiritual development. My hope is that my story will be helpful to those navigating and seeking to change similar situations.