Societies and Organizations
From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Cherrington, David J.
The vitality and relevance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have spawned the formation of a wide assortment of unofficial organizations serving various Church-related interests and needs. Because the Church encompasses a comprehensive belief system about deity and the purpose of life, some members feel an intense need for outlets that allow them to share their personal insights, question ideas, and apply religious beliefs to daily living.
Unofficial organizations have existed since the early years of the Church (for a discussion of many nineteenth-century organizations, see Heinerman; Jenson). Some eventually became official Church programs, such as the Deseret Sunday School Union in 1849, the Mutual Improvement Association in 1875, and the Primary organization in 1878. Publications by these organizations similarly evolved from unofficial to official Church publications: Juvenile Instructor (Sunday School), The Contributor and later the Improvement Era (Mutual Improvement Association), and Children's Friend (Primary).
In recent years, hundreds of unofficial societies and organizations have been created primarily to provide four kinds of activities: They (1) hold regular study groups, usually monthly; (2) meet as professional associations; (3) publish journals and newsletters; or (4) hold annual symposiums or conferences.
The least formal organizations are study groups of neighbors or friends sharing common interests who meet periodically to discuss preselected topics. Although most of these groups have a temporary and unstable life, some have met regularly for many years and have invited scholars or Church leaders to address them. Several professional associations have been formed by members who originally met as special interest groups at professional conferences.
The Society for Early Historic Archaeology (SEHA) was originally chartered with the state of Utah in 1949 as the University Archaeological Society, a nonprofit organization for the purposes of collecting and disseminating information about archaeological research on the scriptures. SEHA distributes a quarterly newsletter, plus papers presented at its annual symposium.
The Mormon History Association was formed in 1965 by both Mormon and non-Mormon historians who wanted an opportunity to share ideas in an atmosphere of openness. The Mormon History Association publishes the MHA Newsletter (quarterly) and the Journal of Mormon History (annually). The journal contains scholarly articles related to Mormon history that have passed an editorial review board. The association holds a three-day conference annually, usually in historically significant locations, such as Nauvoo, Kirtland, Lamoni, Palmyra, Omaha, England, and Salt Lake City. An annual awards banquet honors distinguished scholars who have written about LDS history from the perspective of their discipline. These conferences have attracted many who are not professional historians plus many non-Mormons. The Mormon History Association has facilitated extensive contacts between Latter-day Saint and Reorganized Latter Day Saint scholars that have contributed to the exchange of historically significant original documents.
Among the organizations that restrict their activities to publishing, one of the best known is Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. The title page of this journal states that it is "an independent national quarterly established to express Mormon culture and examine the relevance of religion to secular life." Started in 1966, it is edited by Latter-day Saints whose intent is to bring their faith into dialogue with human experience as a whole and to foster artistic and scholarly achievement based on their cultural heritage.
Exponent II is a quarterly newspaper founded in 1974 to discuss Mormonism and feminism to help LDS women develop their talents.
The Sunstone Foundation was started in 1975 by a group of graduate students at Berkeley, California, who initially issued a quarterly magazine that was later published bimonthly. The purpose of the magazine is to provide a forum for young scholars to express themselves without being restricted by the professional, literary, and academic standards of established journals or Church publications. In 1979 the first annual Sunstone Symposium was held. Selected presentations from the annual symposium have been published in Sunstone and other journals. In addition to full-length articles, Sunstone features poetry, fiction, interviews, opinion columns, book reviews, and discussions of contemporary issues, theology, history, art, and drama.
The Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists (AMCAP) was organized in 1975 to promote fellowship and to enhance personal and professional development of LDS counselors and psychotherapists. AMCAP meets twice annually and publishes a quarterly newsletter and a semiannual journal containing articles on psychotherapy with an LDS emphasis.
The Association of Mormon Letters (AML) was organized in 1976 to promote the writing and study of LDS literature. AML gives awards for outstanding literature and publishes an annual volume of essays on Mormon literature plus a quarterly newsletter.
In 1977, a group of LDS media artists formed an association called ALMA (Associated Latter-day Media Artists), which publishes a bimonthly newsletter and meets monthly to "promote quality media." In 1978, the Society for the Sociological Study of Mormon Life was formed to encourage sociological research on Mormon life.
The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (F.A.R.M.S.), headquartered in Provo, Utah, was organized as a California nonprofit corporation in 1979 to promote, coordinate, finance, and popularly disseminate research on ancient scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon. F.A.R.M.S. publishes books, an annual review of publications on the Book of Mormon, a bimonthly newsletter, reprints, research reports, tapes, videos, and the writings of Hugh W. Nibley and other Mormon and non-Mormon scholars.
The B. H. Roberts Society was established in 1980 as an association "dedicated to the study of timely issues in Mormonism" and sponsors quarterly meetings in Salt Lake City. Similar societies have been formed in Denver, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
A group called Affirmation was founded in 1980 to provide a forum and newsletter for discussing homosexuality.
In 1982, a group of medical practitioners formed Collegium Aesculapium for physicians, medical students, and those in the paramedical professions. This professional association publishes the Journal of Collegium Aesculapium and holds a semiannual conference. The main purpose of the association is to promote service to society and help to the underprivileged.
The Mormon Women's Forum was founded in 1988 to publish a newsletter and discuss women's issues in monthly meetings in various cities.
Several organizations have been formed by people associated with programs and activities of Brigham Young University. For example, in 1975 the BYU Management Society was organized under the auspices of the School of Management, and in 1988 the J. Reuben Clark Law Society was formed at the Law School to enhance the professional careers of their members through educational and professional opportunities. An International Society was organized in 1989, coordinated by the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies at BYU. Many other centers and organizations are funded and operated by the university itself.
Unofficial organizations and their publications may serve at least six important functions for Church members and/or the Church.
First, a few serve ecumenical functions, bringing people of different faiths together in an exchange of ideas and understanding. Increased understanding has reduced ignorance, hostility, and intolerance and has led to greater sharing of ideas, historical documents, and research, especially in relationships fostered by the Mormon History Association.
Second, some unofficial organizations provide increased affiliation and social support for members by allowing them to associate with others whose religious beliefs provide a feeling of kinship. Having a common religious heritage provides a social bond that facilitates friendship and the formation of a social support system. Many monthly study groups are attended primarily for the purpose of association.
Third, unofficial publications provide an opportunity to learn and distribute new insights regarding theology, the scriptures, ancient cultures, historical events, and current practices. Dedicated members wanting to combine their religious beliefs with their professional training have made significant scholarly contributions, and unofficial journals provide outlets for publishing them.
Fourth, the creative efforts of those who contribute to these publications add to the collection of Mormon literature by allowing members to write about life and events from a unique LDS perspective. Some literary articles represent personal expressions of faith and testimony in artistic or scholarly ways that most authors would not choose to use in a monthly testimony meeting.
Fifth, certain publications serve as an outlet where individuals with unorthodox beliefs can share their questions, concerns, and doubts in an open forum where they feel adequate acceptance.
And sixth, for members who feel a need to promote change, publications of such organizations provide a forum where they can take an advocacy position. The targets of change have included the elimination of racism and sexism, the acceptance of altered social practices (such as birth control, dress, and grooming standards), and interpretation of the scriptures or historical events.
Anderson, Edward H. "The Past of Mutual Improvement." IE 1 (Nov. 1897):1-10.
Arrington, Leonard J. "Reflections on the Founding and Purpose of the Mormon History Association, 1965-1983." Journal of Mormon History 10 (1983):91-103.
Bradford, Mary L., ed. Personal Voices: A Celebration of Dialogue. Salt Lake City, 1987.
Heinerman, Joseph. "Early Utah Pioneer Cultural Societies." Utah Historical Quarterly 47 (Winter 1979):70-89, discusses the Universal Scientific Society, the Polysophical Society, the Deseret Theological Institution, the Deseret Dramatic Association, and others.
Jenson, Andrew. Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, e.g., "Daughters of the Utah Pioneers," "Deseret Agricultural and Manufacturing Society," p. 183, "Deseret Pottery Society," p. 188, and "Utah Silk Association," p. 795. Salt Lake City, 1941.
Warner, Cecelia. "A Guide to the Mormon Network." Sunstone 10 (June 1985):42-47.
DAVID J. CHERRINGTON