A recent post from the Summa Theologica blog highlights a note in the latest FARMS review article “The Study of Mormonism: A Growing Interest in Academia” by M. Gerald Bradford, Associate Executive Director of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. Bradford recognizes that there is a general lack of conversation about the ritual aspect of Mormonism in academia:
The experiential, ritual, ethical and legal, and material dimensions of Mormonism all have one thing in common: relatively little attention has been paid to them. These elements need to be integrated with other dimensions of the faith and compared with like characteristics in other religions before the tradition’s structural makeup is fully portrayed. What it means to be a Latter-day Saint is reflected in the experiential and ritual dimensions of the faith every bit as much as in what adherents believe or in the sacred writings they hold dear . . . the study of the ritual or ceremonial dimension of Mormonism, in everyday life and worship, is of vital importance in gaining a better appreciation of the tradition as a whole. This aspect also needs to be studied in comparison with patterned celebrations and formalities manifested in other traditions.
As Aquinas at Summa Theologica points out, not only is there a lack of this type of discussion in academia, but in interfaith discussions and understanding as well:
The ritual and liturgical aspects of another faith tradition are clearly more difficult to understand, in my view, than textual material; if for no other reason that it requires more observation and experience than textual analysis does. Compound this with the fact that, as Bradford points out, little attention has been paid to Mormon ritual and liturgical studies, and we can see all the more need for inquiry and awareness of this area.
The purpose of this blog is to explore, appropriately, such study of ritual and liturgical aspects of the LDS faith, especially as it pertains to the temple experience, for that is where I believe much of the discussion of LDS ritual and ceremonial practices is lacking.
Of course we must tread this path very reverently, for as faithful members of the Church we have covenanted to keep sacred the things of the Lord’s house sacred. But there is much we can talk about the temple, as Elder Packer points out in The Holy Temple, and there is much historical evidence, not directly related to the Church, which supports the LDS practice which we can discuss.
There has been much written and discussed about the more exoteric doctrines and practices of the Church, while ignoring the esoteric ones. This tends to breed ignorance and misunderstanding on the part of many in the public and media who do not understand the purpose of the LDS temple and who therefore view it as strange, secretive, and cultic (as the negative connotations have defined it today). Recently, it was found that many did not understand the difference between LDS meeting houses (chapels) and LDS temples. Ignorance tends to encourage the pursuit of information from whatever source may be available, even from the critics. But such exposé analyses fail to even drop a hint at the historical, archaeological, textual and comparative religious studies which overwhelmingly confirm and validate the LDS temple practice in the world of Christian worship. But who would expect more from those that stake an antagonistic position? Hopefully we will be able to start discussion with those who may be seeking to have a better contextual understanding of the LDS temple from an LDS viewpoint, and show that it does, indeed, fit within Christianity. The Lord has commanded His people to build temples to His name in these last days in preparation for His second coming, and we will obey.