The full title is: “Seeing the light: Parallels in Mormon Conversion and De-conversion Stories.”
Rosemary Avance is a non-member and the first non-member to speak at a FAIR conference. She is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania and a scholar of Mormonism.
She wants to understand the plurality of experience of Mormons. She started out with Dan Peterson’s quotation:
Peterson’s First Rule for the Study of Other Religions: “If a substantial number of sane and intelligent people believe something that seems to you utterly without sense, the problem probably lies with you, for not grasping what it is about that belief that a lucid and reasonable person might find plausible and satisfying.”
She said it is important for Mormon scholars to take seriously the perspective of dissenting and former Mormons.
Individuals craft their own definitions of what it means to belong to a Church. Some are what she calls “faithful members.” Others are heterodox (pathway Mormons) or dissenters (escapists).
She has been doing research on Mormon conversion or de-conversion stories. She parallels the testimonies of faithful members with heterodox or dissenting members. She has interviewed dozens of faithful and heterodox and dissenting members.
The internet is increasingly playing a role in the development of religious identity. But the internet is also an uncorrelated space. Church leaders are aware of this. Many heterodox or former Mormons see the internet as their new community (as do some faithful Mormons).
Narrative as a ritual helps create community of faith, especially for faithful Mormons. Dissidents and former Mormons also have their own narratives.
There are three very different approaches to identity. Heterodox Mormons want progressive change but are generally sympathetic to the Church. People set up communities for “learning” and discussing their concerns with the Church. Most people are usually anonymous or use pseudonyms.
Dissenters are more involved with stridently bringing people out of the Church. Some are anonymous on these forums, but others are not.
Heterodox and former Mormons also create testimonies and have cohesive narrative elements.
Faithful people describe the moment they became open to the Church. Dissenters also describe the moment they find a bit of information that create a frenzied effort to seek information that the Church deems “anti-Mormon.” The dissenters always claim they are simply seeking rational information.
Converts “see the light.” Dissenters say “the light comes on.” Converts say they are filled with peace, dissenters say they are filled with anger.
Heterodox Mormons truly do take a middle way. They still have their own formula, however. They usually offer their Mormon bona fides. Then they say they found out some bit of information that disrupts their view of the Church. Heterodox Mormons usually discuss social issues such as political issues or being forced to wear a white shirt.
Heterodox Mormons tend to continue to attend Church on their own terms. They still have their own ritual function.
If faithful Mormons and apologists want to understand the positions of heterodox or critical Mormons, they need to take them seriously and consider their perspectives.