Thursday, February 12, 2004

My answer to the Historian's query turned out to be too long for the comments section so I just decided to stick it up above. First off, thanks for the link to the article. I hadn't seen that yet. Not the best picture of President Belnap I've seen but overall a very favorable piece.

Secondly, I should point out that this Metaphysical Elder is only headed "behind the Zion the Curtain" because the academic job market put a metaphorical gun to my head and asked me if I was feeling lucky, punk. After having watched the fortunes of my class mates (some of whom have been of the job market for two, three or even four years) my answer was a resounding "no." I took my job at the U. despite the fact that it was in Utah, not because of it. I grew up in NY and have never really felt any great yearnings for the West or Zion or anything like that. Secretly I have always found the whole idea of the "gathering" kind of odd if not misguided (and it reminds me of the Highlander). Its probably just that I grew up among the gentiles and like their company.

All of that being said, I think the bonds of culture might be stronger than people normally suppose. Culture, among other things, changes your subjective views about what things are in your best interest. Thus if you ask any of the folks moving back to Utah why they are doing it I'm sure they will be able to tell you a very logical story (retiring from costly callings, seeing the family more often, going to the temple, going into business with an old friend from BYU, just like the people). Yet the choice would still seem odd (or perhaps under-determined) to the outside observer. I like the people I meet in Toronto, but I'm not moving there anytime soon. Whats the difference?

I would suspect that for a lot of people in our generation marriage is also always lurking in the background. People may come to NY for a short period of time (usually well under 5 years, 2 seems to be more the norm), and very few singles get married here. Nor is there much of an expectation among the transplants that that would be a normal "NY" thing to do. It wasn't the reason they came. I suspect heading back home to get married and raise the family forms a big part of peoples' subjective expectations for themselves. Yet they may not be conscious of all these motivations. The great thing about culture is that it works on autopilot. We don't even have to think about it, yet it informs our world view on almost every question or choice we make. Quite remarkable really.

In this regard my "shared culture" probably played a role in my choice as well. While I have never really cared for Utah, I don't dislike it intensely. Yet pronounced vocal dislike is the general reaction of students and professors in my department. They aren't anti-Mormon mind you (many finds Mormons quite interesting, from a distance). They just perceive Utah (rightly so) as out of their cultural sphere and therefore unthinkable and uncomfortable. Heck, I'm uncomfortable there. I can only imagine what its like for my Jewish friends and professors. In the immortal words of one of my advisors, "I know you are Mormon, and it's a great place to ski, but do you really want to live there!" For most people the answer is a resounding no.

My guess is that the University of Utah and BYU get a lot fewer job applications than say Georgetown or Ohio State for this very reason. In fact I know this to be the case for many departments at BYU and suspect quite strongly that it applies to the U. as well. Everyone in my department applied for the job at Penn., but I was the only one to apply for the job at the U.

When you think about it, this is really quite remarkable given how tight the academic job market is. All of my class mates applied for jobs in the east or south in departments that are not nearly as good as BYU or the U. After all BYU is crammed to gills with well liked, bright up-and-coming types. And the department at the U. is large, has light teaching requirements, and offers a full service PhD program (a great asset no matter where you are). So why didn't my friends and very tallented classmates Amy or Rob apply to these departments? It just never consciously occurred to them to apply to places in Utah, yet they read exactly the same job-listings I did. The possibility remained sub-rationally unthinkable. In the end the probability of me getting a job in Utah was marginally greater than all the other places I wanted to go, and I will be moving there even though I had absolutely no intention of doing so at the start of this process. The siren's song of the Zion is both more subtle and powerful than one might think, but cultural determination always is. Both for what it brings in, and what it keeps out.
ON COMING TO ZION: When I was in my early twenties, I never thought I would go back to Utah. I saw myself as a Mormon who was setting out on a reverse-pioneering mission. I was the only undergraduate at my college who was Mormon and I loved it. However, I was not alone as this NY Post article demonstrates. Perhaps we shouldn't be surpised at the surge in LDS populations in the East (mostly transplants from the Western states) since pioneering is so deeply ingrained in our mentality. However, I am noting a strange turn of events right now. It is nearing the 10 year mark from when I left Utah, and many of my friends from New York and Boston are now either returning to, or going to Utah. Two of the Metaphysical Elders will be there next year, and for the first time I am even thinking about returning, at least for a little while. Many diapora Mormons that I know see it as part of thier 5-10 year plan to return to Utah.
This is not just true of late-twenties/early thirties Mormons either. One of the problems in Boston is that the temple has too few patrons, depsite large stakes. I suspect that the problem is a lack of the right demographic (old people) to sustain hourly-sessions. My guess is that the NYC temple will have the exact same problem. The reason is that many of those who have spent thier adult lives here return to the West when they retire to be closer to family, to get more for their money, and to retire from demanding church callings.
Is this a new trend? Are the bold, community building Mormons from the ninetees going back home to Utah, or is it just a lot of my friends?

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The Antiquarian's post below is quite interesting. I hadn't realized that Quinn was being considered by the U. of U. I also hadn't realized that he had been hired there. Congratulations!

What makes the U. of U. interesting is that the normal town-and-gown tensions that you expect around a university get overlaid with a religious text. I never attended the U. of U. so I freely admitt that my understanding of the culture there is based almost exclusively on hearsay reports. As I understand it, however, it is less a problem of overt anti-Mormonism and more a feeling of being besieged by oddly intense yokels. I suspect that most of the non-Mormon professors at the U. of U. are too ignorant about Mormonism to be anti-Mormon in any meaningful sense.

I wonder to what extent there is a historical shift in the dynamic. Fifty years ago, I think that the U. of U. probably was a big of a magnet for disaffected Mormon intellectuals and anti-Mormon intellectuals. However, I get the feeling that in those days the U. largely drew its faculty from the surrounding community. Today, the academic market is basically national -- and in some fields international -- so that such local issues have less salience.

Of course I could be wrong. I have heard many reports of anti-Mormonism at the U., but I don't know how much to discount them as overly sensitive Mormons and how much to credit them as evidence of real hostility on the part of the faculty.