Courting eternity: LDS Dating, courtship, and celestial marriage in and out of Utah
Hudec, Amy Moff
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This dissertation examines how religious meanings adopted by people and cultures influence the manner in which they perceive everyday reality and how they act within it. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is used as a test case for understanding how doctrine, teachings, and culture affect beliefs and practices. In particular, I identify how the unique doctrine of celestial marriage and beliefs surrounding it establish a normative way of being Mormon. This study is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted in LDS congregations in Utah and New England. It draws upon 70 in-depth interviews with married and unmarried Latter-day Saints and participant observation in church meetings, singles groups, dances, and dinners. My analysis builds upon sociological studies of coupling and the mate-selection process, feminist theory, Mormon scholarship, and on theories of lived religion and agency to explore the distinctive courtship patterns of the Latter-day Saints. My findings indicate that the belief in celestial marriage among Latter-day Saints is instrumental as they "do" gender and religion. The theological mandate to marry, the rigorous guidelines set by the church, and the cultural expectations of the Mormon community combine to influence members' beliefs about relationship formation and to dictate practices in daily life. Most active Latter-day Saints follow the guidelines of the church unquestioningly. They date with purpose and in appropriate ways, they marry in the temple, and they conform to theologically sanctioned gender norms. However, their practices do not always match their beliefs. Those who are not model Mormons may remain within the boundaries as long as they aspire to the ideal. While men and women experience the path to the ideal differently, both are "disciplined agents." Women work to empower themselves by reshaping or reframing doctrine and teachings, while men simultaneously conform to church teachings and subtly resist gender inequalities in the family. Men's efforts to alter gender norms, however, remain limited to the home. The most significant finding of this study is that even when practices are at odds with stated beliefs, the community provides ways to prevent disconfirmation and reinforce its identity and beliefs.