Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What Is Mormon Studies? VI

Some might think, given the other papers profiled over the past few days, that Mormon Studies is obsessed with sex. This is not necessarily so. Here is one example:
The Cultural Logic of LDS Death-ritualization: Puzzles and Possibilities
This paper was presented at the 2011 AAR meetings. The reader might wonder what is involved in death-ritualization, so the published abstract might provide some clues:
Why didn't Mormons develop funerary rites as components of the esoteric temple ritual that emerged in the 1840s? Such rites would have been a natural development, given the temple's associations with the dead and preparation for the afterlife; and in fact, some elements of LDS practice point in this direction, most notably the custom of clothing the dead in temple robes that are otherwise never worn or displayed outside temples. Historical precedents in LDS ritual allow us to imagine temple-based funerary rites that might have been but weren't, in turn providing foils for a Geertzian reading of the cultural logic of how Mormons do and don't ritualize death. Building on a thesis by Douglas Davies, this paper argues that LDS death-ritualization is separated from the process and occasion of death itself, a fact which suggests a lack of ritual interest in dead bodies or the lived experience of dying.
So now scholars get "to imagine temple-based funerary rites that might have been but weren't." If only things were completely different than they are, they might be very different than they are. While we are at it we might imagine that these hypothetical notions constitute research. We might even imagine that they are scholarship. Does this mean that Mormon Studies is engaged in the production of fiction?