Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Historical amnesia: Corporate identity and collective memory in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1915–2001
by Mulliken, Kenneth Robert, Ph.D., University of Missouri - Kansas City, 2011, 273; 3454158
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation examines history as an element of collective memory in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) from 1915 to 2001. It analyzes how and why certain collective memories were created and transferred within that religious community, and explores how collective identity within the RLDS community was influenced by a shared version of historical events. It investigates the way in which identity changes when history is deemphasized as an element of corporate identification. This dissertation demonstrates the pervasive effect of modern culture and globalization on a religious institution's perception of its history in the twentieth century, and the changing value of history itself as an aspect of collective identity for that religious community.

This dissertation argues that no historical theory or sociological model, including Maurice Halbwachs' Collective-Memory Model, adequately explains the denominational “historical amnesia” induced by the leadership of the RLDS in the years following 1967. Historical Amnesia in the Post-1960s Era, must be directly linked to events dating from 1915, and the presidential church administration of Frederick Madison Smith, particularly the concept of a literal Zion in Independence, Missouri. The argument asserted in this dissertation is that any version of history, as a facet of collective identity, can become a liability to a religious organization and consequently, over time, should be deemphasized and ignored. This was clearly the case in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Statistical data, in the form of RLDS membership records, financial contributions, budgets and visitor attendance records for church historic sites, hymnal lyric analysis, and historical monograph publication support this assertion. Interviews and various historical documents verify these findings. From 1915 to 2001, the RLDS abandoned their Mormon historical roots, and with guidance from professors at the Saint Paul School of Theology, created a mainstream Christian church. The significance of this finding in the RLDS church is that it may have application to other social organizations in general and religious institutions in particular.

This dissertation concludes that when history is deemphasized as a tool for community cohesion, it must be replaced by some other element or elements of collective association. In the RLDS Church, this was accomplished through emphasis on social interaction, such as conferences, colloquies, seminars, summer camps, and retreats. It was also accomplished through a focus on future collective goals and a shared mission. In 2001, RLDS Historical Amnesia culminated in an institutional name change. The RLDS became Community of Christ. In so doing, the RLDS abandoned their past and created a new organization that was focused on social-interaction (Community) and shared mission (Christ).

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ebersole, Gary
Commitee: Burnett, Cathleen, Herron, John, Potts, Louis, Torres, Theresa
School: University of Missouri - Kansas City
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Missouri
Source: DAI-A 72/07, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religious history, American studies, Organizational behavior
Keywords: Collective memory, Community of Christ, Corporate identity, Missouri, Mormon, RLDS, Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
Publication Number: 3454158
ISBN: 978-1-124-62991-9
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