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Kayla Rich

ANTH 1010
Final Paper - Ethnography

Throughout this semester I have chosen to study the culture that surrounds the religious group

of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormon religion. This culture has

been growing worldwide and has a very dominant presence in the state of Utah. I do know a little bit

about the sub culture like the terms priesthood, garments, and CTR since living in Utah but I decided to

choose this culture because I wanted to see for myself from an objective viewpoint what they are all

about. The Mormon culture is often in the center of controversy yet also highly esteemed at times as

well. I want to get a better understanding for myself instead of relying on the opinions and experiences

of others.

I honestly didn’t really know what to expect. I felt a little awkward going to the church services

by myself and not knowing anybody. I was a little surprised at how many people would introduce

themselves to me. Usually at the end or beginning of whatever service I was attending I would have

someone who was sitting close to me mention they have not seen me before and ask where I was from.

The first time I went for both sessions of the service and the two hours really felt like a long time. I

decided that I would probably be able to focus more if I went to only one hour for the rest of my


A majority of my observations were at Sunday services. I attended two sacrament meetings, a

Sunday school meeting, and a relief society meeting. I also walked around the temple grounds and

volunteered at a food shelter run by the church. Most of my research was done through observation,

informal interviews, and some participant observation when I volunteered at the shelter. I really wanted

to blend as best I could and experience and observe the culture regularly and not just for the sake of my

assignments. Because of this, I did feel a little awkward and rude to be writing while I spoke with people

so whenever I did have conversations with people, I would write them in my notes later because I didn’t
Kayla Rich
ANTH 1010
Final Paper - Ethnography

want to take away from the moment. In total I spent a little over seven hours with this group over the

span of six different visits.

Their language is a little different from somebody who does not practice Mormonism. In my

observations I have noticed that the terms in which they use to name their different organizations are a

little different such as relief society and the priesthood. They also have words that describe different

services they practice such as tithing and sacrament that others not of the faith may not know. It is clear

that they do not use curse words. Mormons feel it is disrespectful to use colorful language and avoid

crude jokes and terms. I have seen some Mormons make up words to use as sort of placeholders for

inappropriate language. These terms are not exclusive to Mormons but include words such as heck, shiz,

and darn.

A form of paralanguage that is practiced by Mormons is how they control the volume of their

voices. In both instances where I was observing those at the temple as well as those at their Sabbath

worship, I noticed that most spoke in hushed tones. If they were not talking in hushed tones, they

weren’t really talking to one another and just listening to what was happening during the service. I

believe they do this as a way to not distract from the service and show respect.

As far as kinesics, a common non-verbal communication in the Mormon culture is folding your

arms. As I sat in their Sabbath day worship meeting, I observed most people folding their arms. When I

child would start to get a little wiggly, the parent would prompt them so fold their arms. When someone

would get out of their seat to either leave the room or walk up the pulpit, they would fold their arms.

When a prayer was being given, you are to fold your arms and bow your head. Folding your arms in all

these situations demonstrates an attitude of reverence and respect in the Mormon culture.
Kayla Rich
ANTH 1010
Final Paper - Ethnography

Where proxemics is concerned, there doesn’t really seem to be anything out of the ordinary. In

their Sabbath day meeting, which they call the sacrament, you sit you’re your family and there are three

men who sit in front of the congregation on a higher stage behind the pulpit. I believe this shows those

in the congregation that they hold a higher role and will be conducting the meeting.

Priesthood is something I learned as being a powerful word by the way they talked about it. In

the service, the priesthood was mentioned multiple times as a holy power given by God to the men in

the church. With this priesthood, the men of the church are able to do God’s work on earth. This is

something they hold very sacred in the Mormon religion. I would also say, any word about Jesus Christ

as powerful because the Mormons explain that he is the center of their religion. In the service I

attended, Jesus Christ was often mentioned as the head of their church. Because he is so vital to their

religion, they try to handle his various names sacredly. In fact, they actually consider the word God to be

a curse word when used in certain situations.

In the Sunday worship meetings that I have attended, I have noticed many announcements each

time that include someone who is in need of help and followed by a call to help them. This has included

offering a prayer, making a meal, or just simply reaching out to the person who is struggling for

whatever it may be. I have also witnessed in the news that the Mormons are quick to assist and aid

those who are suffering from the destruction of a natural disaster. This seems to be a common way that

Mormons show appreciation towards one another. These acts of service are an example of generalized

reciprocity. It is also common I the LDS church to make donations to help the building of temples and

churches. This donation is not expected and there is no set amount that someone has to donate.

Something else practiced by the Mormons that is similar to these donations is what they call

tithing. This tithing goes towards all sorts of things that are needed for church buildings and to help

needy families in the congregation. Unlike the donations discussed previously, this tithing is set at a
Kayla Rich
ANTH 1010
Final Paper - Ethnography

specified amount of 10% of your monetary earnings and required if you want to be considered as an

active and worthy member of the church. I feel this mostly resembles balanced reciprocity because

there is a set amount expected and you gain a particular worthiness status in return.

Concepts and values of marriage and family are very important to those of the Mormon religion.

A big focal point of their beliefs is that you are with your family for forever and all throughout the

afterlife. In order to obtain the opportunity to be with your family forever, you need to undergo a

sealing ritual in their temple. Because of this, it is highly encouraged that marriages are endogamous to

ensure you are able to attend the temple with someone who is worthy. Temple entry is not allowed to

those who are not baptized in the Mormon religion in addition to a particular degree of worthiness.

Divorce isn’t something that is encouraged but it is accepted and understood in situations that call for it.

One of the conditions in order to be considered worthy is to abstain from premarital sex. Sexual

intimacy before marriage is considered a very serious in the Mormon religion. In order to assist young

adults in refraining from premarital sexual acts, there are rules of modesty and dating established within

the religion. The Mormon religion also condemns sexual relations between same sex couples whether

they are married or not. Their religion believes that God intended marriage to be between man and

woman and anything other than that is a sin and disrespectful to God. Back into the 1800’s, the Mormon

religion practiced polygamy. This is something that is still heavily related to the church however they

acknowledge that it was something practiced a long time ago to ensure everyone was taken care of but

do not endorse it now.

Because marriage is looked at so seriously, it is obvious that families are also considered very

special and sacred in this religion. A lot of the values in the Mormon religion are centered on having a

wholesome family. They abstain from R rated movies and even some PG13 ones that have inappropriate

adult content. They encourage spending as much time together with your family as possible through fun
Kayla Rich
ANTH 1010
Final Paper - Ethnography

activities, family scripture time, or family dinners. At one of the services I attended, a topic of discussion

was the shortening of time spent at church to enable more time for families to be at home together.

Gender roles play a large part in the Mormon religion. In the church, men hold the authority

positions and exercise what is known as the priesthood. This priesthood allows worthy males to

administer blessings to those in need. Woman are caretakers and responsible for teaching their children.

Woman can never be in high church positions such as bishop or the prophet because they do not have

the power of the priesthood. The Mormon Church has classes on Sundays that are specific to boys and

girls. They split them up and the girls learn homemaking skills and the boys learn more about the

responsibility that comes with exercising the priesthood. At church, men and boys wear collared shirts

with a tie and nice dress pants. Most of the older men accompany this attire with a suit jacket. Women

wear dresses or skirts to church that are modest which means they do not show the shoulders or exceed

high above the knee.

In the Mormon religion they believe you are as God has created you and participating in

homosexual acts and transgender alterations is a sin. The church believes that if you have conflicting

feelings concerning your gender identity, it is a trial sent from God that you are to overcome. The church

explains that the real sin comes when you act on these feelings and desires. Therefore it is frowned

against if a man were to dress in women’s dresses and skirts or wear a full face of makeup with done up


There seems to be a pretty even amount of men and women in the Sunday services that I have

attended. I think this is because most of the attendees are married. I was told that there is a separate

ward for those who are single so I am sure I would find more of an unequal number had I attended one

of those congregations. The main meeting of Sunday is conducted by men. The announcements are led

by a man in the bishopric, the sacrament is blessed by men, and then distributed by younger boys. There
Kayla Rich
ANTH 1010
Final Paper - Ethnography

are also meetings for only men and meeting for only women in the church which brings a division of

classes in gender. In these meetings the men learn more about their priesthood power which is only

held by men and the women learn different skills to benefit her in the home and in life in general.

The Church recognizes God and Christ as their main leaders and that they pass down the

communication of their wants and needs for the Church to the Prophet. Decisions for the Church are

made by Christ and passed down through The Prophet to the other leaders in the Church down through

the different organizations in the Church. The Prophet works with a group of men known as the Twelve

Apostles. The Prophet will serve in his position until he passes and then based on seniority, the next

prophet will be chosen from the group of the Twelve Apostles

In the Mormon Church, they divide geographical boundaries to create wards. Your ward is

considered your ward family and these people are who you attend church with and whatever ward you

are in also determines the time of your meeting. Something I noticed that was really interesting to me is

that when I was looking around for different church services to attend, it appeared that the churches

which were located higher on the hill with the bigger and more expensive homes, all had actual names

to identify their wards that meet in the building. When looking at other wards whose geographical

location does not contain houses of great wealth, I noticed that their wards were simply identified by

numbers. Now I cannot say this is the case for the Mormon Church in every area because I was only

looking at Davis County wards but it was an interesting observation that insinuated a type of class


One of the main rituals practiced in the Mormon religion is baptism. In the Church, when

someone has reached the age of eight they are dressed in white and baptized in a special tub of water in

one of the churches. You don’t have to be eight to be baptized. If you learn of the Church later and want

to become a member you can do so no matter how old you are but for children who have grown up in
Kayla Rich
ANTH 1010
Final Paper - Ethnography

the Church, eight is the age in which they are baptized. A man who holds the priesthood gives a blessing

before dunking whomever is being baptized. This is symbolic of wiping away all the sins of the person

previous and giving them a clean slate. Baptism is also a sealant of membership in the Church. You

officially become a member of the Church when you are baptized. After you are baptized you receive

another blessing from multiple priesthood holders in a circle and they bless you with access to the Holy

Spirit. This Holy Spirit will help guide you to do good things.

Another ritual performed by the Mormon Church is called the sacrament and this is done every

Sunday. The sacrament is similar to communion in the Catholic Church. They bless bread which is

symbolic of Jesus’s body and then they bless water which is symbolic of Jesus’s blood and pass it

throughout the congregation. Priesthood holders both bless and distribute the sacrament to the


The Mormon Church does have many temples in which they preform special rituals and

marriage. In order to attend a temple you need to hold a recommend which is given to you by your

bishop after you are deemed worthy. The Mormon Church believes families are forever and will last all

throughout eternity. When someone is married in the temple they are tied together for all of eternity.
Kayla Rich
ANTH 1010
Final Paper - Ethnography

The Church has strong guidelines for modesty. For women, clothes should not be higher than

the knee and their bellies and shoulders should be covered. There are also special under garments that

the members wear which is symbolic of the protection God gives them. CTR rings are something that are

very common for members of the Church to wear. CTR stands for choose the right and wearing the rings

serve as a reminder to those wearing them to make good choices.

In the Mormon Church there are many paintings of Jesus Christ and their prophets all

throughout their meeting houses. It is also very important that they each have at least one picture of

Christ in their homes. The architecture of their meetinghouses most often have a big steeple on the top

of the building.

The sacred temples in the Mormon Church are most often white and have a gold angel at the

top of each temple. The grounds for the meetinghouses and temples are well kept and lush with

different types of plants and flowers. The Mormon Church has their own large choir known as the

Mormon Tabernacle Choir that represents them and sings for different meetings and events. Hymns are
Kayla Rich
ANTH 1010
Final Paper - Ethnography

sung by the choir and the congregation for different events. These hymns detail stories from the

scriptures and other factors relating to serving God and living righteously. The Church also has different

pageants that are performances showing the history of the Church as well as the stories that happen in

the scriptures.

They have specific standards that outline what is appropriate and inappropriate. Those of the

Mormon religion do not listen to music with swear words or inappropriate content. They also do not

swear or use crude language in their day to day language. They also have standards of modesty where

the women do not show their shoulders or much of their leg above the knee. This is based on the belief

that God has created our bodies to be temples and being modest is a way to respect their bodily

temples. Mormons also do not get tattoos for the reason that their body is a temple and women are

only allowed one set of piercings.

Overall, I think I was able to obtain a lot of information about this sub culture and can say I had a

good experience. I appreciate how open the members were with me in sharing their beliefs and

practices. I think something that I would do differently is be more involved and open with the members.

They were so open with me but I often felt shy and embarrassed for asking questions. I also think I

would try and go to more of a variety of events. I found that mainly going to church services produced a

lot of the same material. In one of the meetings, there was an activity announced for young singles that I

think would’ve been a good opportunity for me to go to and get different material. I also wish I would’ve

asked to sit in on one of the younger kids’ Sunday school class because that would have produced a

really cool perspective.

Going into this experiment I had a lot of preconceived notions about the people in the church

and didn’t expect them to be so open or as friendly. I see a lot of controversy about the Mormons and

their beliefs in the news and have had my own experiences with some of the members that gave me the
Kayla Rich
ANTH 1010
Final Paper - Ethnography

impression that were a very exclusive group and not very inclusive. However through my experience I

did not feel that at all. I did not pick up on any hate that was preached regarding certain lifestyles as I

thought there might be. What was probably most interesting to me was Sunday school and relief society

because you got to hear opinions and thoughts of different people instead of being taught out of a book.

It was so interesting to me at how different the comments were from each other. I think that helped me

realize that though there are people that are all part of this sub culture, everyone has different

experiences and ties to it. I was expecting everyone to have the same experiences and opinions. I

believe I have a new respect for this culture and a better understanding of their beliefs.