i’ve been reading benedict anderson’s seminal work on nationalism, imagined communities. and i’m curious how some of its key ideas relate to the community and power structure of mormonism.
anderson argues that the rise of print-capitalism and print-languages gave rise to a completely new perception of nation-ness. according to anderson, prior to print-capitalism states were defined vertically through the king or god figurehead at the top of the social structure. as such their boundaries were porous–easily manipulated by shifting allegiances and marriages between heads of states. post-print-capitalism, vernacular achieved primacy over state languages and, accordingly, created much stronger boundaries. as anderson puts it, you can sleep with anyone, but you can’t read just anyone’s language. as a result of the primacy of vernacular, states became more horizontal in nature, rather than vertical. heads of states became representatives of englishness or germanness and, as such, were seen as more equal to their subjects than previously. and, according to anderson, community shifted from being something experienced in daily life to something imagined on the basis of shared reading–reading specifically of novels and newspapers.
i’m particularly interested in the idea of imagined communities–this notion that a community is perceived based on shared reading. in mormonism, the primacy of the book of mormon lends itself to this interpretation. the community of mormonism is essentially premised on a common reading experience–one that led to a spiritual confirmation of certain truths, which is an experience all mormons are believed to have in common (at least in the minds of most TBMs). but the reality is that we are not truly a community; we are a group of individuals, few of whom have shared actual life experiences (this in spite of the small mormon world; and i believe this is true even at the local level of the ward community), who imagine ourselves a community because of shared reading and worship experiences.
another idea anderson glosses is from a 19th century french sociologist, renan, who suggests that communities have much in commun but also must forget much. i’m interested in what that means for a religious community like mormonism. what is it that we must forget in order to make our community possible?
and to what extent are we part of an imagined community rather than an actual community, even at the local level?
just some kind of scattered food for thought.