Michael McBride on Religious Free-Riding and the Mormon Church: Prof. Michael McBride – associate professor of economics at the University of California, Irvine – discusses how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day States (known informally as the Mormon Church) is organized to overcome free-rider problems. We begin our podcast with an observation that the LDS Church has maintained a high rate of growth, members show remarkable satisfaction with their church, and how the church relies on a remarkable network of unpaid volunteers serving as clergy and in other organizational positions. Mike then lays out the theory of religious clubs that has been used to explain the growth of strict churches. We then focus the majority of our attention on how the LDS Church is organized and how they overcome the common tendency of individuals to free-ride on the voluntary efforts of other. Perhaps more than most denominations, Mormons have been able to solve this problem and obtain high levels of participation from their members. McBride also notes that some free-riding is actually important for church growth and discusses how the LDS works with “free-riders” to increase their levels of engagement. At the end of the podcast we speculate as to why other denominations haven’t adopted the LDS form of organization. Prof. McBride is also affiliated withUCI’s Center for the Study of Democracy, the Institute for Mathematical Behavioral Sciences and the university’s Religious Studies Program.
Patrick Mason on Anti-Mormonism and Mitt Romney: With Mitt Romney making waves as a presidential candidate frontrunner for the Republican Party, we visit withProf. Patrick Mason – the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Momon Studies at the Claremont Graduate University– to discuss the history of anti-Mormon bigotry in the United States tracing it back to the founding of the faith in the 1820s. We start be examining the diaspora of Mormons westward and into the postbellum South, the latter which is the focus of Prof. Mason’s most recent book. Patrick provides a detailed description of the Cane Creek Massacre, which exemplifies some of the violent hostility faced by Mormons in the 19th century. Our conversation covers Mormon relations with Native Americans and African Americans, and then moves on to cover one of the most controversial aspects of Mormon history — polygamy — which served to animate a great deal of the animosity that the LDS Church faced. Prof. Mason explains the historical aspect of that practice, how it was viewed by non-Mormons, and why it was eventually abandoned by the main church. Tony then raises two interesting questions about why Mormons have become one of the most patriotic segments of American society, and why anti-Mormonism has persisted even though many of the issues that gave rise to bigotry have been resolved for over a century, namely the polygamy question. As to the former question, we speculate about why a persecuted religious minority would strongly embrace the patriotic norms of a nation that once excluded them. The latter question leads us into a discussion of whether lingering bias against Mormons will affect the presidential aspirations of Mitt Romney, and we make comparisons to the cultural obstacles that Catholics and Jews had to overcome to be accepted into the mainstream of American political life.
Allison Pond on Being a Mormon Missionary: What is it like to be a young missionary in a foreign country that is undergoing major religious and legal changes? Allison Pond, an editorial writer at the Deseret News (Utah) and formerly with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, recounts her days as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Russia from 1997 to 1998. Mormons are well-known for their missionizing activity around the world, so we explore the preparation, training, experience, and results of such missionizing work. Allison begins by describing her spiritual upbringing in the LDS Church and reveals that she never thought of mission work until volunteering for a youth program while at BYU. She then discusses the process for being selected as an LDS missionary, which includes an interview with a local bishop. We inquire as to whether her work teaching English in Moscow played a role in her being selected for her to missionize in Russia. Following this, we look at how Mormons, who are mostly young adults at the time, are trained in the Missionary Training Center and what goes on during the first few weeks in the field. We discuss language training as well as preparation for hostile situations. Allison then tells us what it was actually like to be in the field, especially the anxiety she felt on the first day and how this dissipated over time. The typical routine of a missionary is discussed and we also focus on what is like to be a female missionary, considering that roughly 80% of all Mormon missionaries are young men. We then discuss the changing religious scene in Russia and what complications that may have played in the mission trip. Russia, which experienced the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, initially allowed a great degree of religous freedom leading to a rapid influx of foreign religions. By 1997, the Russian Orthodox Church was pushing back with intensified rhetoric against foreign missionaries and with legal changes that made it difficult for such folks to operate. Allison closes with some reflections about what she learned while on her sojourn and provides a bit of “looking back” advice for people considering missionary work, be it for the LDS Church or any other faith.
Lynita Newswander on Mormons in America: What role have Mormons played in shaping America’s national heritage? We examine that question in light of the increased scrutiny that the Latter Day Saints have come under with one of their members in contention for the US presidency. Lynita Newswander discusses her book “LDS in the USA” (co-authored with Lee Trepanier), talking about the difficulties Mormons have had in terms of social acceptance. Our conversation takes us through a range of topics including how Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith may affect his chances at being elected president.You can listen to these at the Research on Religion website, or download them into iTunes. The most recent podcast (the interview with Lynita Newswander) is probably still available through iTunes.