Mormon meccas: The spiritual transformation of Mormon historical sites from points of interest to sacred space

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Anne E. Mosher


Mormon, Historical sites, Points of interest, Sacred space, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | Geography | History | Religion | Social and Behavioral Sciences | United States History


Although the meanings that places possess are very personal, institutional hierarchies (e.g. governments, corporations, and religious organizations) often attempt to create meaning-filled places. This analysis of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' treatment of its historical sites sheds light on some of the processes by which meaning may be attached to place from the top-down. I have specifically examined the sites in and adjacent to Palmyra, New York, Kirtland, Ohio, and Nauvoo, Illinois.

The LDS Church was cut off from the places central to its early history and development for over fifty years following its nineteenth-century exodus to the American West. The LDS Church reacquired many of these historic properties over the course of the twentieth century and it has played an increasingly active role in the manner in which they are managed and presented to the public.

The Church's interest in its history--and particularly its historical sites--has increased significantly since 1995. Ambitious and costly restorations have commenced, the number of Mormon visitors to these sites has swelled, and, perhaps most significantly, Mormon temples have been constructed at three key historical sites. Interviews, participant observations, and archival records also confirm a subtle process of site sanctification (i.e., the creation of sacred space) at these sites.

As the LDS Church rapidly expands throughout the world, a growing proportion of its membership can no longer claim a personal, familial link to the Church's early history. Mormon leaders, in the face of rapid worldwide growth, are seeking to literally anchor and root the religion in place, creating a hitherto unknown sacred historical geography that all Mormons can feel a part of, thus enhancing a trans-national sense of Mormon identity.


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