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date: 25 January 2022

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter teases out the various ways that religion intersects with historical material culture to create “heritage religion.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains a series of “historic sites” across the United States. Like nonreligious historic sites, Latter-day Saint sites use material culture, historic re-enactments, educational videos, and sophisticated media technology to teach visitors about sacred places and histories. However, Latter-day Saint historic sites have the additional mission to spiritually uplift members and convert nonbelievers. By using recently renovated Mormon Battalion Historic site of San Diego as a case study, this chapter illustrates how the secular “heritage industry” and traditional religion merge to become “heritage religion.” Heritage religion is defined as a set of generic religious beliefs, cast into the past, and translated into media and material culture. Through heritage religion, faith communities use the past to make sense out of their present and craft an agenda for the future. “Heritage Religion and the Mormons” illustrates how a specific historic site can be constructed to convince visitors that they can easily understand the past because they share similar values and mutual struggles. Through material culture, history is made familiar and the complexities of interpretation fall away. Through heritage religion, church leaders for the Latter-day Saints can reinforce religious practices that resonate with wider American values and beliefs.

Keywords: Latter-day Saints, Mormon, Mormonism, Mormon Battalion, historic site, San Diego, heritage religion, museum, popular religion

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