General Introduction

Europe is understood here in its broad continental boundaries, from Iceland to Russia, from the Arctic Ocean to the Mediterranean and Black Sea. It includes fifty states with a population of approximately 800 million people. Various geographic, economic, lingual, and political subdivisions create different entities. The European Union (EU) counts 27 member states with a population of about 447 million. There are vast cultural differences between each country, even between regions within a country.

The first Mormon missionaries arrived in England in 1837. They found a responsive public among religious seekers in the working class. Converts were encouraged to gather to Zion. In the 1850s, the work expanded to more European countries. Protestant countries in the north, Denmark and Sweden in particular, yielded much better results than the predominantly Catholic countries in the south such as France and Italy. Protestants were more used to religious diversity and Scriptural study. They could also more easily accept the argument of a Great Apostasy and the need of a Restoration. Moreover, the appeal to emigrate to the US made that by 1890 some 91,000 members, mainly British and Scandinavian, had emigrated to the intermountain West, laying a genetic foundation that persists till today. In view of the struggling pioneer period in Utah, it is noteworthy that the church in England took care of a new printing of the Book of Mormon, the periodical The Millennial Star, and The Journal of Discourses.

After 1900 missionary work continued, often against stiff opposition fed by religious anti-Mormon publications and by lurid tales about polygamy. The conversion pattern remained: Protestant countries yielded more converts than Catholic ones. The First World War saw Mormon soldiers on both sides of the conflict, but most existing branches endured. After the war, missionary work accelerated. However, in spite of church counsel, emigration to the Mormon West continued to deplete local church units. At the outbreak of the Second World War, all missionaries were withdrawn and local congregations had to survive on their own. Their stories, and from those involved in the war effort, are well documented.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, missionary work proved fairly fruitful, owing to positive attitudes toward the US and to pressuring missionaries and speedy baptisms. Unsurprisingly, massive disaffections followed. Still, in each country stalwart pioneer converts laid the foundation of strong Mormon families, able to provide more and more local leadership and leading to the first stakes and temples.

From the 1970s on, the Church succeeded in establishing a presence in countries behind the Iron Curtain, first through small humanitarian and pedagogical projects. Quiet diplomacy behind the scenes cleared obstacles. In 1985 the Church was able to open a temple in East Germany. Next the collapse of communist regimes allowed to expand missionary work in most post-Soviet countries. However, the initial euphoria did not last when the reinstated national churches, in accord with governments seeking to foster national pride, enacted restrictive legislation to impede the spread of nonindigenous religions. Also, in many European countries anti-cult movements disparaged any unfamiliar sect, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, and Mormonism.

By the turn of the century more non-Europeans than native Europeans were willing to listen to the missionaries’ message—refugees, temporary workers, and international students, in particular from Africa. It makes most local church units multilingual and multicultural. However, that internal diversity is supplanted by the strict conformity to the Church’s worldwide model of uniform organization, meeting formats, and programs.

For the end of 2019, the Church reported 497,436 members in Europe (45 countries listed). It comes to about six Latter-day Saints per 10,000 people. Of those six, less than two are active members.

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Locating Academic Sources

Databases

ProQuest, JSTOR and EBSCO are the most relevant databases for the topics listed below. Queries in Google Scholar would also identify many relevant publications.

Bibliographies

Traditional bibliographies remain valuable for overviews up to their date of publication. Hunter’s bibliography on Mormonism in Europe lists entries up to 2010. [1] Whittaker lists more than 200 publications on Mormon missionary work in Europe alone. [2] The bibliography of studies in Mormon history up to 1997 contains numerous references to Europe.[3]

Research centers at European universities

Many departments of sociology or of religious studies at European universities have interest in minority religions. It is highly advisable to seek cooperation with such centers.

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Topics for Research

The study of Mormonism draws from multiple disciplines and methodologies. Footnotes give examples of quality research dealing with Europe.

Church history per mission or country


Many existing studies are compilations of data from church sources. The focus is often on the travels and experiences of American church authorities and missionaries and on institutional data. Leadership and male perspectives dominate. Church-based primary sources often proceed from a rhetoric of self-affirmation and progress. The historian is thus often dealing with sources written from a skewed perspective.[4] Often missing: how did comparable religious groups fare?

The better publications include social, political, and religious factors and pay more attention to the church members themselves.[5] Other noteworthy books and articles focus on specific regions, church units, or individual Mormons in Europe.[6]

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Interaction with government, other denominations, and society


Religious freedom

How is “religious freedom” interpreted in each country and how have laws and rules evolved with effect on Mormonism?[7]

Recognition

The concept of “recognition” differs from country to country. Church claims to “recognition” deserve more analysis.

Finances

State-church financial relations include tax-exempt status, state subsidies, gift-deductibility for members, and public reporting. Each State has its own regulations, sometimes leading to legal conflicts with the Church.[9]

Humanitarian and educational projects

Which projects in which European countries? To what extent are they also used for missionary purposes?

Formal relation to the State

  • How is the church’s national representation handled in each country, if at all?
  • How have church leaders involved US politicians, diplomats, or other prominent figures to achieve their goals?[8]
  • What are the consequences of the lack of a national church leadership in its dealings with the State?

Similar questions arise about church representation to the European Union.

Public relations and media campaigns

Various public relations initiatives and media campaigns have tried to improve the Church’s image in Europe. How have these been conducted and what are the effects?[10]

Ideological networking and interfaith contacts and exchanges

Are there Mormon allegiances with like-minded organizations or denominations, in particular in “defense of the family,” often with an underlying pro-life and anti-LGBT agenda? How were these ties established and how do they play out?

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Perspectives and perceptions


Doctrinal perspectives and promises

  • The rhetoric of the blood of Israel in Europe became prominent in Mormon missiology. How has it been used over time? To what extent does it still play out?
  • Which prophecies, dedicatory prayers, and promises have leaders uttered over time? What have been their effects on church members?

Mormon views of the world stage

How have church leaders viewed ideologies such as socialism and humanism and events such as revolutions and wars in Europe? How did these views shape church rhetoric?[11]

Ethnocentrism, US perspective, colonization

For some analysts, the US-based church views the rest of the world as a territory for expansion. How do local members experience this Americentrism and their relation to church headquarters?[12]

An American worldwide church?

This topic deals with attitudes and behavior, and the creation of local Mormon identities.[13]

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Missionary work in Europe


Mormonism in a new European religious pluralism

How to situate Mormonism in a changing European religious landscape?

Growth or decline ratios

Mormon data in relation to the overall demography of a country? What do other proselyting groups achieve in similar periods?

Receptivity and conversion dynamics

Which factors make an ethnic group or a social class more or less willing to listen to the church message?[14] How do conversions occur? What are European church guidelines pertaining to Jewish and Muslim candidates for baptism? What are the backgrounds of converts?[15]

Mormonization of the convert

  • Away from the home community: what are the familial and socio-cultural consequences?
  • Towards the Mormon community: how do converts integrate and adopt new behaviors?[20]

Missionary work from the missionaries’ perspective

  • What strategies have missionaries used over time in various locations?
  • How do missionaries explain success or failure of their efforts? What stereotypes of the mission country do they entertain?
  • How do missionaries process the questions and arguments of investigators?
  • What do “mission memoirs,” published years after a mission, reveal?[16]
  • How do missionaries from European countries experience the interaction with missionaries from other countries, in particular with US missionaries?
  • What is the impact of local missionaries?[17]
  • How are US missionaries introduced to the history, art, and intellectual gist of the country they work in?[18]

Missionary work from society’s perspective

How do civil and ecclesiastical entities react to (Mormon) proselytism? How have anti-cult movements dealt with Mormonism?[19]

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Social composition and developments


Demographics

Yearly church leaders release the number of members in every country. Not revealed are other demographic data—birth rates, gender ratios, age averages, marriage and divorce data, the multigenerational increase, and activity rates. Other data pertain to race and ethnicity, in particular due to the influx of non-European converts. What is the repartition over urban and rural areas?

Socio-economic status

How do Mormons in each country compare to the general population as to educational levels, employment status, types of occupation, and income?[21] How do they compare to the Mormon population in general and in the US?

Marriage and family

  • How does dating function?
  • Wedding: how is this handled with non-member family?
  • How many find a US partner and emigrate to the US?
  • What are the rates for mixed marriages (interfaith, international)?[22]
  • How do children in mixed marriages develop their identities?
  • How do singles and divorcees cope in a family-oriented religion? [23]

Social and political attitudes and engagement

  • Are members more “Mormon Europeans” than “European Mormons”?[24] This relates to attitudes toward environment, human rights, patriotism, militarism, gender roles, LGBT issues, abortion, euthanasia, and more.
  • To what extent do converts remain loyal to their original socio- political preferences?
  • To what extent are members engaged in social, educational, cultural, or political organizations and endeavors?
  • How does the strong pro-US stance of many American Mormons, often of Republican signature, and the strong public identification of Mormonism with America, affect Mormons abroad?

To what extent does church membership cause socio-cultural alienation from the host society?

  • How open are members about their membership? Do they experience boundaries of belonging or apply strategies of concealment?[25]
  • How do Mormon children cope socially at school? How do they and their parents handle moral, religious and sexual education?[26]
  • How do Mormon students in higher education fare?[27]

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Mormon life in Europe: internal dynamics


Some seek to explain slow church growth by pointing at external causes such as secularism, lack of religious freedom, opposition, or people’s unwillingness. Internal causes deserve as much attention.

The costs of membership

Mauss discussed how the costs of church membership in Europe are higher than on average in the US.[28] Surveys can measure the assessment of costs and correlate with variables such as service involvement, years of membership, convert or not, family support, and more.

Types of members, stratifications, and transformations

  • Study of degrees of religiosity, scrupulosity, intellectualism, legalism, authoritarianism, leniency, privacy, mental health, and more: to what extent do these traits affect relations and the sphere of a ward or stake?[29]
  • Is there over time a shaping of multigenerational “dynasty families” that intermarry and provide most of the leadership in a “Club Mormon”?[30]
  • How does faith and commitment evolve, both in converts and in “lifers” over time?

Gender topics

  • What is the ratio of women in conversion and in membership?
  • Studies on Mormon women in the US can be replicated or adapted to Mormon women in European countries. They deal with intersectionality, gender role socialization, agency, power distance, religiosity, sexuality, motherhood, modesty, beliefs, and more.[31]
  • For LGBT-issues, do divergent attitudes in European countries also echo among church members?

Disengagement and disaffection

Between 70 and 80 percent of the members are “inactive.” What are its varieties, its causes and consequences? What about return rates?[32]

Multicultural and multiracial congregations

Increasingly Mormon converts are “allochthones” (economic immigrants, temporary workers, refugees, international students …), in particular from Africa. It results in multicultural and multiracial congregations.[33] How does their acculturation proceed?

Emigration to the US

Emigration to “Zion” is one of the most studied topics, in particular from Britain in the nineteenth century.[34] It includes studies on the “Europeanization” of the Utah Territory. How does present-day Mormon emigration to the US continue? What are the consequences, such as leadership loss and brain drain? To what extent do young adults, especially from East European countries, seek to emigrate using church-related channels?[35]

Congregational changes

What is the Impact of reorganizing units (branches, districts, missions, wards, stakes)? With the movement to “Centers of strength,” units are closed and members are assigned to a larger, “consolidated” unit in another city. What are the consequences?

Members on social media

Social media allow members to post and comment. What do these exchanges reveal? To what extent do Mormons in Europe participate in US-based blogs and podcasts?

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Mormonism viewed by Europeans


General introductions and analyses

Since the 1850s Mormonism has drawn the attention of (prominent) European analysts of religion fascinated by the birth of a “new religion.” That academic attention continues to this day.[36]

Accounts of visitors

European travelers’ accounts of Mormons.[37]

Mormonism in literature and film

Documentary and analytical publications on Mormonism in European literature and films.[38] It can include comics and translations of US-based literature.

Mormonism in media and reports

The topic is inexhaustible: Mormonism in newspapers and periodicals, as well as related administrative documents, police reports, and court proceedings, providing data and more context to Mormon history. For the present, what is the effect of both positive and negative media coverage on Mormonism on church members?

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Lingual issues


The EU, with its 27 member states, has 24 official languages. In its broad continental boundaries Europe has about 100 formally recognized languages.

The challenges of cross-lingual and cross-cultural translation

Numerous cultural and semantic problems arise with the translation of doctrinal and ecclesiastical terms.[39]

Missionaries learning languages

Process and challenges?[40] Influence on identity formation and long-term effects on career?

Multilingual units

What are the options? Compelled integration into a unilingual unit? Talks and lessons given in two or more languages? A separate “ethnic” unit?[41] How are cases handled?

Knowledge of English

For members whose mother tongue is not English, what is the effect on Mormon identity of knowing English and having access to much more church-related information?

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Ellen Decoo (MS, BYU) teaches sociology at Salt Lake Community College and Westminster in Salt Lake City. She is finishing a doctorate at the University of Ghent (Belgium) on gender role perception among Mormon women in Belgium.
Wilfried Decoo is professor emeritus of applied linguistics (University of Antwerp and BYU). Besides publications in his field of expertise, he has written on Mormon topics in BYU Studies, Dialogue, and the Journal of Mormon History.

Endnotes


[1]  Michael J. Hunter, “Mormonism in Europe: A Bibliographic Essay” (BYU All Faculty Publications, 2014); republished in Irén E. Annus, David M. Morris, and Kim B.. Östman (eds.), Mormonism in Europe: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (AMERICANA eBooks, 2018).

[2]  David J. Whittaker, “Mormon Missiology: An Introduction and Guide to the Sources,” in Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry, and Andrew H. Hedges (eds.), The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine (Provo: BYU Press, 2000): 459–486.

[3]  James B. Allen, Ronald W. Walker, and David J. Whittaker, Studies in Mormon History, 1830-1997: An Indexed Bibliography; with a Topical Guide to Published Social Science Literature on the Mormons by Armand L. Mauss and Dynette Ivie Reynolds (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000).

[4]  See for more detail Wilfried Decoo, “Issues in Writing European History and in Building the Church in Europe,” Journal of Mormon History 23, no. 1 (1997): 139–176.

[5]  Examples: Raymond M. Kuehne, Mormons as Citizens of a Communist State: A Documentary History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in East Germany, 1945-1990 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2010); James A. Toronto, Eric R. Dursteler, and Michael W. Homer, Mormons in the Piazza: History of the Latter-day Saints in Italy (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2017).

[6]  Examples: Richard L. Jensen, “Mr. Samuelsen Goes to Copenhagen: The First Mormon Member of a National Parliament,” Journal of Mormon History 39, no. 2 (2013): 1–34; Raymond Kuehne, Henry Burkhardt and LDS Realpolitik in Communist East Germany (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2011); Roger P. Minert, Against the Wall: Johann Huber and the First Mormons in Austria (Provo: Religious Studies Center & Deseret Book, 2015); Matthew Lyman Rasmussen, Mormonism and the Making of a British Zion (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2016).

[7]  Example: Hannah Clayson Smith, “Liberté, Egalité et Fraternité at Risk for New Religious Movements in France,” BYU Law Review (2000): 1099–1151.

[8]  Example: Kahlile Mehr, “An LDS International Trio, 1974-97,” Journal of Mormon History 25, no. 2 (1999): 102–120.

[9]  For example, in the UK the claim to tax exemption for temples was denied because they do not qualify as places of “public worship.” The appeal went to the House of Lords in 2007 where it was treated in the context of race and religious discrimination laws, and finally to the European Court of Human Rights which rejected the Church’s viewpoint.

[10] Example: Alan K. Parrish, “Turning the Media Image of the Church in Great Britain, 1922–33,” in Cynthia Doxey, Robert C. Freeman, Richard N. Holzapfel, and Dennis A. Wright (eds.), Regional studies in Latter-day Saint Church history – The British Isles (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2007): 171–192.

[11] Examples: Erik J. Freeman, “’True Christianity’: The Flowering and Fading of Mormonism and Romantic Socialism in Nineteenth-Century France,” Journal of Mormon History 44, no. 2 (2018): 75–103; Craig Livingston, From Above and Below: The Mormon Embrace of Revolution, 1840–1940 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2013).

[12] Example: Walter E. van Beek, “Mormon Europeans or European Mormons? An ‘Afro-European’ View on Religious Colonization,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 38, no. 4 (2005): 3–36. See also D. Michael Quinn,  “LDS ‘Headquarters Culture’ and the Rest of Mormonism: Past and Present,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 34, no. 3/4 (2001): 135–164.

[13] See for more detail Wilfried Decoo, “In Search of Mormon Identity: Mormon Culture, Gospel Culture, and an American Worldwide Church,” International Journal of Mormon Studies 6, no. 1 (2013): 1–53.

[14] Such as in the case of the retornados from Africa to Portugal: Marl L. Grover, “Migration, Social Change, and Mormonism in Portugal,” Journal of Mormon History 21, no. 1 (1995): 65–79. See also Ryan T. Cragun and Ronald Lawson, “The Secular Transition: The Worldwide Growth of Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Seventh-day Adventists,” Sociology of Religion 71, no. 3 (2010): 349–373.

[15] Examples: Malcolm Thorp, “The Religious Backgrounds of Mormon Converts in Britain, 1837–52,” Journal of Mormon History 4 (1977): 51–65; Susan Easton Black, “A Profile of a British Saint 1837–1848,” in Donald Q. Cannon (ed.), Regional Studies in Latter-day Saint History: British Isles (Provo, UT: Department of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, 1990): 103–114.

[16] Examples of memoirs from missions in Europe: Craig Harline, Way Below the Angels: The Pretty Clearly Troubled But Not Even Close to Tragic Confessions of a Real Live Mormon Missionary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014); Roger Terry, Bruder: The Perplexingly Spiritual Life and Not Entirely Unexpected Death of a Mormon Missionary (Salt Lake City, UT: Common Consent Press, 2019).

[17] Example: Ronald E. Bartholomew, “The Role of Local Missionaries in Nineteenth-century England,” in Reid L. Neilson and Fred E. Woods (eds.), Go Ye into All the World: The Growth and Development of Mormon Missionary Work (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2012): 447–470.

[18] An analysis of “mission home pages” and individual missionaries’ pages on social media would reveal the main focus of their interests in the country.


[19] Examples: Julie K. Allen, Danish, But Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity, 1850–1920 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2017); Johnnie Glad, The Mission of Mormonism in Norway 1851-1920: A Study and Analysis of the Reception Process (Bern: Peter Lang, 2006); Kim B. Östman, “Mormons, Civil Authorities and Lutheran Clergy in Finland, 1875–1889,” Scandinavian Journal of History 35, no. 3 (2010): 268–289; Kurt Widmer, Unter Zions Panier: Mormonism and Its Interaction with Germany and Its People, 1840–1990 (Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag, 2013).

[20] Eija Taskinen researched the Mormon socialization process in “Oulun pyhät: Oulun Myöhempien Aikojen Pyhien Jeesuksen Kristuksen Kirkon piirissä tapahtuvan sosialisaatioprosessin tarkastelua” (Master’s thesis, University of Oulu, 1994). Sophie-Hélène Trigeaud studied “Mormonization” in Devenir mormon: La fabrication communautaire de l’individu (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2013).

[21] Example: Christian Euvrard, Socio-Histoire du Mormonisme en France (PhD diss., École Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris, 2008).

[22] Tim Vanhove studied interfaith marriages in couples with one Mormon partner in Belgium. Tim Vanhove, “Religieus gemengde huwelijken bij de Mormonen” (Master’s thesis, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 1999).

[23] Example: Walter E. A. van Beek, “Ethnization and Accommodation: Dutch Mormons in Twenty First-century Europe.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29, no. 1 (1996): 119–138.

[24] Van Beek, “Mormon Europeans,” 28.

[25] Example: Hazel O’Brien, “The Marginality of ‘Irish Mormonism’: Confronting Irish Boundaries of Belonging,” Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religion 21 (2020): 52–75.

[26] Example: Ronan James Head, “The Experience of Mormon Children in English School-Based Religious Education and Collective Worship,” International Journal of Mormon Studies 2 (2009): 197–205.

[27] Example: Craig Lithgow Marshall, “Mormon Student Religiosity and Higher Education” (PhD diss., University of Nottingham, 1996).

[28] Armand L. Mauss, “Can There Be a ‘Second Harvest’?: Controlling the Costs of Latter-day Saint Membership in Europe,” International Journal of Mormon Studies 1 (2008): 1–59.

[29] See G.E. Kawika Allen, Kenneth T. Wang, and Hannah Stokes, “Examining Legalism, Scrupulosity, Family Perfectionism, and Psychological Adjustment among LDS Individuals,” Mental Health, Religion & Culture 18, no. 4 (2015): 246–258.

[30] See Michael McBride, “Club Mormon: Free-riders, Monitoring, and Exclusion in the LDS Church,” Rationality and Society 19, no. 4 (2007): 395–424.

[31] Studies on Mormon women in Europe are few. One example: Carine Decoo-Vanwelkenhuysen, “Mormon Women in Europe: A Look at Gender Norms,” in Kate Holbrook and Matthew B. Bowman (eds.), Women and Mormonism: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives (Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press, 2016): 213–29. Author Ellen Decoo is currently working on a dissertation on gender role perceptions among Momon women in Belgium (University of Ghent).

[32] One research project could involve tracking European families who were featured in Church magazines in years past: How has their development been?

[33] See for a literature overview Brandon C.Martinez, “The Integration of Racial and Ethnic Minorities into White Congregations,” Sociological Inquiry 88, no. 3 (2018): 467–493.

[34] Example: Polly Aird, “Why Did the Scots Convert?” Journal of Mormon History 26, no. 1 (2000): 91–122.

[35] This topic is discussed in an upcoming dissertation about the church in Poland.

[36] Example: Bernadette Rigal-Cellard, La religion des mormons (Paris: Albin Michel, 2012); Massimo Introvigne, Les Mormons (Turnhout: Brepols, 1991).

[37] Example: Michael W. Homer (ed.)., On the Way to Somewhere Else: European Sojourners in the Mormon West, 1834–1930  (Spokane: Arthur H. Clark, 2006).

[38] Example: Sarah Clement Reed, “Mormonism in Nineteenth-Century German Literature: Nation, Family, and Religion on the Frontiers of America and Europe,” (PhD diss., University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2018).

[39] See Daniel H. Olsen and Samuel M. Otterstrom, “Language and the Internationalization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints,” in Stanley D. Brunn and Roland Kehrein (eds.), Handbook of the Changing World Language Map (New York: Springer, 2020): 2799–2823.

[40] Example: Tamah Sherman, “Behaving toward Language in the Mormon Mission: The Czech Case,” International Journal of the Sociology of Language 232 (2015): 33–57. See also Lynne Hansen (ed.), Second Language Acquisition Abroad: The LDS Missionary Experience (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2012); Christopher Bennett Vasquez-Wright, “Language Learner Identity of Mormon Missionaries: Implications for Second Language Pedagogy and Research,” (PhD diss., University of Arizona, 2018).

[41] See Jessie L. Embry, “Ethnic groups and the LDS Church,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 25, no. 4 (1992): 81–96.