Monday, November 27, 2006

Day 27: Tell Eve About Serpent

I mentioned the other day that my grad school advisor was in town last week for the American Academy of Religion conference. Talking with Don has led me to wonder if I shouldn't do a follow up on my master's thesis.

Six years ago, I wrote and self-published "Tell Eve About Serpent!": A Qualitative Study of the Effects of Temple Participation in the Lives of Young Mormons. (A copy of my thesis can be found in the stacks and the archives of the Flora Lamson Hewlett Library at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, call number BX8651 .K56 2000.)

The abstract reads as follows:

This thesis is a qualitative study of the effects of temple participation in the lives of young adult Mormons between the ages of 21 and 35 living in the San Francisco-Bay Area. Through interviews with 13 men and women, this study explores these individuals' experiences--including thoughts, feelings, and insights--about participating in temple worship. This study also discusses the role preparation played in each participants' initial endowment experience. A brief history of temples as sacred structures beginning with the Enuma elish flood/creation myth through the Mormon restoration of temple building in the present day, is given.

The chapters were as follows:

Chapter One: Order Out of Chaos
A historical and sociological overview of temples, their origin and meaning, and their reemergence in modern Mormonism.

Chapter Two: Definitions
Definition of extraordinary worship as it relates to corporate versus individual worship, theological stratifications, and constructs of worthy versus unworthy.

Chapter Three: Methodology
Explanation of the use of qualitative methodology in this study.

Chapter Four: "Tell Eve About Serpent!"
Findings and results from participant interviews and literature reviews, including difference in effects of temple participation for men versus women.

Chapter Five: Limitations, Contributions, and Recommendations
Brief explanation of limitations in the study, contributions to the body of scholarly literature in Mormon studies, and recommendations for future studies.

Author's observations on the process of undertaking this study.

Exhaustive list of sources read and/or cited in this study.

Nine appendices, including temples in operation, under construction, and/or announced as of July 1999; Mormon hierarchical line of authority; interview permissions and protocol; etc.


It's been six years now since I filed and published my master's thesis and at least eight years since I interviewed my research subjects. A lot can change in that time and I'm wondering whether a follow up would be useful or of interest? For instance, when I interviewed my subjects, eight were single (never married), one was divorced, and four were married. None of the 13 had children. Almost all were enrolled in college and several were working.

Now, I believe all of my subjects are married and at least half of them have two or more children. All have graduated from college and most are working.

Given the passage of time and changes in marital and/or familial status, it stands to reason that perspectives about and experiences with the temple are vastly different than they were when these folks first participated in my study. Undoubtedly, the effect of temple participation in their lives is also vastly different. Or, at least, so I would surmise. In fact, a follow up study may show that very little has changed in terms of the effects.

The time and effort needed to do a follow up would require many, many hours and no small expense, but I would be especially interested to see what their perceptions are now versus eight years ago. I wonder if Perry Cunningham and his crew at the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City would also be interested?

I also wonder if, given my original findings (i.e. that men have a textbook experience but women come away with more questions than answers), I shouldn't simply focus on women's experiences and assume that men's experiences have remained classic, text book experiences?

On a different subject, I'm starting to develop an interest in religion and the environment/ecology. I'm thinking I might do some exploratory research on the environment in Mormon theology, history, and sociology. The writings of Terry Tempest Williams would serve as a starting point.

So much to ponder...


ticklethepear said...

When I was packing up my stuff I re-read this - wow, how little I knew, and how much I've grown!

Sister Mary Lisa said...

This sounds very interesting, J. I'm thinking it'd be very cool to find out what each of your study participants are doing today, and how they feel about the temple etc. now.

Swizzies said...

I dig your thesis. I think a short follow-up with your original subjects would be REQUIRED! I want to read it first!!

I also think a follow up could be accompanied by a more in-depth look at women's experiences (we worked on a qual study of this nature at the women's research institute at The Why, but it wasn't published, of course).

If you're interested in the topic, there are some really great threads about women and the temple (and feminism - sorta) on Feminist Mormon Housewives, Zelophehad's Daughters, and Times & Seasons. Nice background reading for your work.

Janet M. Kincaid said...

TtP: I just reread parts of my thesis last night, too. I'd be very interested to follow up with folks, I think.

SML: I've stayed in touch with a number of my original subjects, but I'd have to dig around to find a few of the others. I'm most interested in hearing what the one's who have had kids now think. I don't know why I think their perspectives would be most intriguing, but for some reason I do.

Swizzies: Thank you, Di! I'll definitely check out the sources you recommend. I'm leaning toward looking more at women's experiences than men's since they were so unique.

Mary Ellen said...

You go, scholar girl! A follow-up work would be an amazing addition to the field. Plus, YOUR research is actually available to people, which is a huge contribution.

Opus two, opus two!