Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Explaining Utah

Another thought stemming from going through papers and such relating to my time living in Utah…

As anyone who’s known me for a while (whether online or in Real Life™) can attest, i’m not a fan of pretty much any part of Utah Mormon* culture except for my admiration of raspberry lemonade made with real raspberries, but that’s more a Western thing than a Utah thing anyway.

Anyway, there are definite differences between Mormonism in Utah and Mormonism elsewhere, but what’s important for the moment isn’t what those differences might be, but rather why they exist at all. I suspect that most of the differences stem from two factors:

  1. Utah Mormons are part of a majority subculture.
  2. Utah is located in the Intermountain West.

Factor (1) results in a bit of a normative cultural trend, making appearances highly important. After all, as has been pointed out in some of the work on Mormons done by researchers in the sociology of religion, Utah Mormons don’t need each and every Mormon in the area to make Mormonism work, and therefore there tends to be less tolerance for significant deviation from Mormon orthodoxy and orthopraxy than in places where there is a lower concentration of Mormons—and since orthopraxy is easier to perceive than orthodoxy, that tends to lead to a lot of normative pressure regarding religious externalities.

Factor (2) is important because the Intermountain West tends to be a very socially conservative region of the United States—and under the strong reading of Bowie's Inequality Constant*** (i’ve gotta write a blog post on that thing one day), one would expect Mormons from the Intermountain West (and, therefore, Mormons from Utah) to be more socially conservative than Mormons from, say, Maryland or Ontario or Germany or some other not-as-socially-conservative place.

These working together mean that there’s a strong social pressure toward socially conservative behavior for Utah Mormons, and it’s stronger than places where Mormons are more widely scattered through the local population. (Happily, though, it’s not all blandness.)

* Really, the boundaries of Utah Mormon culture can’t be claimed to be fully coincident with the borders of Utah—southern Idaho, maybe eastern Arizona, other bits of nearby areas are all part of what i’m calling “Utah Mormon” here. Sociologists call the region the “Mormon Dominance Area”, which is more descriptive and precise but has the drawback of not annoying people from Utah, so i’ll stick with the name i’ve used.**

** There is, though, a much more fun label that i use occasionally—the “jello belt”. I only wish i were creative enough that it was original with me.

*** Utah ≠ Mormon, if you’re unfamiliar with it.

1 comment:

Heather the Mama Duk said...

Is it really possible to explain Utah?