Diaspora studies have become increasingly important in recent years. Anthropologists, political activists, theologians, linguists, and others have moved to the diaspora communities for rich research and fascinating studies. LDS scholars and thinkers have not been unaware of this trend and have sought to capitalize on this conceptual framework for making sense of contemporary Mormonism. There is no doubt that there has been a major shift in LDS populations leaving Utah for California, the East Coast, and other places around the world for educational, economic, and marriage reasons. However, I wonder whether this trend is properly understood as diasporic in a similar way to Africans, the archetypical contemporary diasporic community.
A Mormon diaspora properly refers to Utah Mormons and their children. Converts who remain outside of the cultural and geographical centers of Mormonism cannot be considered to be members of a Mormon Diaspora. For this reason and others, it seems that diaspora is not a useful way of thinking about the changing geographical centers of Mormonism. While this might be a helpful concept for understanding the migration of Utah Mormons to other locations, it ultimately cannot be said to describe the character of most congregations around the country.
Further, diaspora communities are typically defined by a sense of alienation, loss, hybridity, and negotiation. I am not sure that these are the best terms to characterize Mormon populations outside of Utah. Perhaps I am wrong, but I suspect that most Mormons who leave Utah are able to integrate rather easily into their new cultural location. Even for those who aren’t, I am still not sure that diaspora is the best way of making sense of this cultural transition.
Finally, one of the useful things about diaspora communities is the multiplicity of identities that one can discover. African diaspora studies demonstrate the rich diversity of transplanted African cultures, the ways they adapt and hybridize surrounding cultures, and the creativity behind their identities. Mormons, however, seem to remain largely homogeneous wherever they go, failing to adapt to the local cultures either because they are already so similar that they can “pass” or because they are so rigid that adaptation is simply not possible. All this leads me to want to abandon diaspora as a useful way for thinking about the shifting centers of Mormon culture. What other concepts might be useful?