The following was written as an Honors Thesis for the Anthropology program at the University of California, Berkeley in 2014.
As a population, humans have created various systems of classification by way of organizing that which is not easily understood into smaller, more digestible parts. By naming “something mysterious and out of control,” placing identities on people and things, and categorizing by those identities, humans have harnessed the ability to “gain mastery” over something (Luhrmann 45). While certain categorizations have evolved to be effective in organizing characteristics of people, the constructs created are not the most helpful in understanding the limitless ways of being. Maurice Leenhardt and Antonio Damasio have presented two different constructs for understanding, or classifying, a person. These constructs present defined boundaries that make it possible to understand the philosophical person as its own entity separate from other beings.
The notion of spirituality as being distinct from institutionalized religions is highlighted in both Talal Asad’s Reading a Modern Classic: W. C. Smith’s The Meaning and End of Religion and in Courtney Bender’s The New Metaphysicals, Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination. The distinction between religious life and spirituality represents a modern-day aversion to the institutional distortion of the individual’s uniquely transcendental experience. Further, the hope that spirituality should reside within the walls of a religious setting must be forgotten by those who desire a truly individual awakening without the coercive dogmas unnecessarily tied to religion’s doors. While spirituality and religion are thought to work in tandem, the clear divide, and yet unmistakable relationship, between the two presented by Asad and Bender epitomizes the underlying strife of both to seek that which can never fully be understood—the connection with the divine.
The establishment of place has been the defining element of Mormonism throughout its creation, development, struggles, and successes. The birth of Mormonism within the American landscape emerged with the aid of the right prophet—Joseph Smith—and with the right theological foundation and backstory to attract the attentions of those disenfranchised with the available religions of the time.