Mapping Religious Diversity in Utah (2001)

The state of Utah as currently constituted was founded by a group of sectarian exiles from the then boundaries of the United States in a microcosmic recapitulation of the European settling of the Atlantic Seaboard. Utah has maintained much of its original identity, while incorporating in recent decades an increasingly diverse group of inhabitants. Numerically the state remains predominantly MormonThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon Church, was launched by Joseph Smith (1805-44) who discovered a new revelation, the Book of Mormon, which became, along with the Bible, the “latter day” scripture of the new commu.... According to the 1997 Almanac of The ChurchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... of JesusJesus is the historical figure considered by Christians to be the Christ, the Messiah, whose life and teachings, death and resurrection give clear evidence of God’s love for humankind. Jesus was born shortly before the death of Herod the Great (d. 4 BCE... Christ of Latter-day SaintsSaints are human beings whose lives have displayed extraordinary holiness and devotion. As such they become examples for others. Indeed some of the faithful may understand them to be intermediaries and seek their help in time of need. Roman Catholics and ..., by the end of 1997, there was a total population of 2,038,000 in Utah, 1, 551,000 (76 percent) of whom were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day SaintsThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon Church, was launched by Joseph Smith (1805-44) who discovered a new revelation, the Book of Mormon, which became, along with the Bible, the “latter day” scripture of the new commu... (LDSThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon Church, was launched by Joseph Smith (1805-44) who discovered a new revelation, the Book of Mormon, which became, along with the Bible, the “latter day” scripture of the new commu...). For a broader perspective on the size of the LDS ChurchThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon Church, was launched by Joseph Smith (1805-44) who discovered a new revelation, the Book of Mormon, which became, along with the Bible, the “latter day” scripture of the new commu..., membership data collected by December 31, 2000 indicates a worldwide membership of 11,068,861, with 5,208,827 living within the United States and 5,860,034 living outside the U.S. Fifty-three percent of members are female, and forty-seven male.[1] While the LDS Church is rapidly expanding and becoming increasingly international, church headquarters are in Utah, and to live in Utah means to live among members of the LDS Church.

Perhaps due in part to an early history of intense persecution (including two state civil wars in Missouri and Illinois), members of the LDS Church have historically tended toward insularity. This tendency has contributed to a complex dynamic between LDS practitioners and those who live in predominantly LDS communities but do not belong to the church.

Since becoming President of the LDS Church in 1995, Gordon B. Hinckley has encouraged members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, both on an institutional level and as individuals, to be less insular. As recently as April 2001, at a General Conference broadcast by satellite to church members throughout the world, he said:

“We are not without critics, some of whom are mean and vicious. We have always had them, and I suppose we will have them all through the future. But we shall go forward, returning good for evil, being helpful and kind and generous. I remind you of the teachings of our Lord concerning these matters. You are all acquainted with them. Let us be good people. Let us be friendly people. Let us be neighborly people. Let us be what members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ought to be.”[2]

President Hinckley’s statement reveals both a prevailing impression that MormonsThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the Mormon Church, was launched by Joseph Smith (1805-44) who discovered a new revelation, the Book of Mormon, which became, along with the Bible, the “latter day” scripture of the new commu... are still disliked by many in the world and an exhortation to members not to allow this prejudice to alienate them from people outside of their religious community. In addition to individual efforts to follow President Hinckley’s instructions, institutional attempts to follow his guidance include substantial donations toward the building of non-LDS religious structures in Utah, including $25,000 toward a Hindu templeA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref... under construction near Salt Lake City and $25,000 for an International Society for Krishna ConsciousnessThe International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), often referred to as the Hare Krishna movement, was founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977) who brought his tradition of devotion to Krishna to the United States in 1965. Thi... (ISKCONThe International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), often referred to as the Hare Krishna movement, was founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977) who brought his tradition of devotion to Krishna to the United States in 1965. Thi...) temple that has been nearly completed in Spanish Fork.

There are several important non-LDS groups with communities in Utah. I encountered them during private interviews and visits to religious gatherings in the summer of 2001.

Hindus

Since its beginning in 1994, the Hindu temple in greater Salt Lake City has been in Indra and Neale Neelameggham’s basement at 9859 Dream CircleIn some Pagan traditions, a “circle” refers to the people who gather for a ritual. When standing in a circle, all the participants are able to see each other, with no one member elevated over any other. This practice is often felt to encourage egalita..., South Jordan, UT 84095, (801) 253-3592. The new temple is to be built on a 4,000-square-foot site. A special foundation-laying ceremony was held on Oct. 27, 2001. For current construction reports and schedules of activities see: http://sriganesh.faithweb.com.

One of the first things each Hindu told me about their temple plans was that the LDS Church contributed $25,000 to the building and was instrumental in helping them to find the land. They’ve received higher contributions than that from other donors (many in their own community), but mentioned only the LDS contribution to me as I asked about their temple construction plans. At the time, they did not know that I am a member of the LDS Church. Their tendency to emphasize this fact reveals the importance in Utah of defining one’s relationship with the Mormons.

Indra, who is the temple president, reports that the reason Hinduism“Hindu” was originally a word given by the Greeks, then the Persians, to the land and peoples beyond the Indus or “Sindhu” River. The term “Hinduism” came into common use only in the 19th century to describe a complex and dynamic pattern of li... has lasted 2500 years is because Hindus are very good at adapting to new cultures and communities. By August of 2001, there were approximately 3,000 Hindus along the Wasatch Front, which extends 100 miles long, beginning north of Salt Lake in Ogden and stretching south to Spanish Fork. Indra and her friend, Bama, were two of the first Hindus in the area. Originally they say people came to Utah because of economic opportunity – universities for academics, as well as software and pharmaceutical companies for others. They also mentioned that the cost of living is much lower than in Boston or the Bay Area, and the mountains are beautiful.

ISKCON

The success of Spanish Fork’s Hare KrishnaThe International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), often referred to as the Hare Krishna movement, was founded by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977) who brought his tradition of devotion to Krishna to the United States in 1965. Thi... followers is due in large part to extensive community outreach by Caru Das and Vaibhavi DeviDevi is a common term for goddess. It is used in the Hindu and Jain traditions to refer to female divinites, many of them localized goddesses. In the Hindu tradition, Devi also refers to the Goddess as the Supreme Being., the leaders of the group. For years Caru and Vaibhavi Devi have invited and advertised to the Utah Valley Community when planning festivities for their holy days. By the year 2000, 4,000 people were attending their annual Festival of India Celebration. The Llama festival is another for which they garner impressive attendance.

The Sri Sri Radha KrishnaKrishna is one of the most beloved of Hindu Gods, sometimes called an avatara of Vishnu, but widely worshipped in his own right as the Supreme Lord. The stories of Krishna gather together the ancient and heroic cowherd god of India, the adviser to Arjuna ... Temple is located at 8628 South Main Street Spanish Fork, Utah 84660, (801) 798-3559. Every Sunday people from outside the permanent community (both friends and new-comers) attend services at the temple and enjoy a vegetarian meal with them from 5 to 7 p.m. Many attendees come directly from LDS Church services, still in their “Sunday best” dress. The instructional portion of the Sunday sermon when I attended focused on common beliefs between Hindus and members of other traditions. Caru taught that Krishna is the same as the GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality. of the Old TestamentThe Old Testament is the term Christians often use for the body of writings that comprise the Hebrew Bible which Jews call Tanakh. and the Qu’ran. When discussing a scriptural passage, Caru compared the sentiments therein to teachings of Jesus. At the end of the service, Vaibhavi Devi mentioned that the day before a ward (the term used to refer to an LDS congregation) had spent 5 hours helping them with construction of the temple and encouraged all the Latter-day Saints present to consider helping with construction of the temple for their congregationalThe congregational form of Protestant Christianity has traditionally affirmed the autonomy and authority of the local congregation in calling and ordaining its ministers and organizing its affairs. In the 17th century, the English Puritans introduced cong... service projects. Later Caru told me the temple had been constructed almost entirely by their community of only six and Mormon neighbors. He estimates about 3,000 hours of volunteer time thus far.

The numbers that visit the ISCKON community are astonishing in light of their current membership; there are currently six permanent members of their community. The current temple has been open since June 23, 2001. Caru and Vaibhavi Devi first came to Utah because the airtime they rented from a radio station in San Francisco was too expensive, so in 1982 they purchased a radio station outright in Spanish Fork, Utah. For more information on local festivals and temple construction, visit: www.iskcon.net/utah/.

Bahá’í

The Boomans (pronounced Bowman), a retired Bahá’í couple, have people over to their house every Friday evening to tell them about the Bahá’í faith. Many LDS students from Brigham Young University drive up to see them. There are between 350 and 400 Bahá’í in the state with around 80 in Salt Lake City.

About half of the members in Salt Lake are Persian and left Iran during the post-revolution discrimination under Khomeini. In West Valley there are many Tongan, Hispanic, and Black Bahá’í.

Native AmericanEach of the many Native American nations has its own distinctive life-ways, although there are some widely-shared characteristics. most Native life-ways are primarily transmitted through oral traditions; they are oriented toward living in relation to a sp...

Forrest Cuch works with Tribal Governments and is the official Director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs. According to Forrest, Native American interactions with Mormons historically and currently have had overall a detrimental effect on his people. He labels the most egregious problems now as cultural genocide and institutional racism – his people and history are made to be invisible; they become dehumanized and erased.

Cuch cites as an example the fact that rural schools, where many Native AmericansEach of the many Native American nations has its own distinctive life-ways, although there are some widely-shared characteristics. most Native life-ways are primarily transmitted through oral traditions; they are oriented toward living in relation to a sp... reside, are directed by Latter-day Saints and exert tremendous power and influence on young Native Americans. Students get negative messages in school that their people have no history, are uncivilized, and stand in the way of progress. The answer to their social ills is to join the church. There is currently a 60-80% high school dropout rate and 60-70% rate of unemployment.

Forrest says, “The strongest Indian people (healthiest Indian families) are adaptive – they’ve taken the best from traditional culture and the best from the dominant culture.” Those who participate in the pow wowA powwow is a gathering of dancing, singing, drumming, and socializing that Native Americans generally consider to be more celebration than ceremony. Today they are a central expression of an intertribal Native American identity that complements tribal id... are better educated and employed. They practice traditional culture. Many either belong to the Native American churchThe Native American Church integrates Native American spiritual and ritual traditions involving the sacramental ingestion of hallucinogenic peyote with Christian teachings. Visions are not sought for their own sake, but are searched for the meanings they ... and use peyotePeyote is the popular name of the cactus Lophophora williamsii, which was called peyotl by the Aztec. The hallucinogenic buttons of the cactus are ritually harvested and ingested by various Native peoples of the Americas. The Native American Church combin... in their worship, or they practice high plains spirituality (sweat lodgeThe sweat lodge of Native Americans consists of a lashed structure o. bent poles covered with blankets, hides, or tarps to hold in the heat, which is provided by hot stones brought into the lodge. The prayer offered by those who enter the lodge is accompa..., sun danceThe Sun Dance is a ceremony of purification and renewal widely practiced among Native American Plains tribes. Although the various rites often described by the term differ from one another in many significant ways, they all include a rigorous marathon of ..., and other ceremonies). Sometimes they practice these things in addition to a more formal, organized religion.

There are five main tribes in Utah – 3200 Utes, 8000 Navajo, 800 Paiute, 450 Shoshone, and 300 Goshute. The Goshute tribe has recently received national attention under Leon Bear’s leadership as they agreed to allow nuclear waste to be stored on the Skull Valley reservation. For more information on Native Americans in Utah, visit:
www.dced.state.ut.us/indian/index.html

Falun Gong

Beverly Clark was born and raised in the Mormon faith, but spent 12 years searching for a clearer version of truth after serious illness and a difficult marriage. Beverly understands her quest as a close parallel to the truth seeking of Mormonism’s founding prophetA prophet is one who communicates a divine message or vision, sometimes calling people to repentance or awakening, sometimes predicting future events. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all look to Hebrew prophets, including Abraham and Moses. Muslims believe ....

Inspired by JosephIn the Christian tradition, Joseph is the earthly father of Jesus and husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Smith’s example of going directly to GodThe term god with a small “g” is used to refer to a deity or class of deities whose power is understood to be circumscribed or localized rather than universal, or to refer to a plurality of deities. for guidance, Beverly did the same and was led to Falun Gong. She saw a picture in the newspaper of two Chinese students practicing Falun Gong in Salt Lake’s Liberty Park, and learned that (according to pro-Falun Gong sources) the organization had grown by 100 million members in 7 years. So Beverly decided she needed to investigate in July 1999. Now Beverly is Falun Gong’s greatest advocate in Utah. There are currently 9 regular participants in their community. Several of them are Chinese, and one retains his affiliation with the LDS Church. Every Saturday morning, they exercise together in Liberty Park.

— Kate Holbrook, Pluralism Project Student Affiliate


[1] http://www.lds.org/media2/library/display/0,6021,198-1-168-10,FF.html↩︎

[2] http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-183-1,00.html↩︎