American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

Policing the Borders of Identity at The Mormon Miracle Pageant

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/Popular Culture

First Advisor

Jack Santino


While Mormons were once the "black sheep" of Christianity, engaging in communal economic arrangements, polygamy, and other practices, they have, since the turn of the twentieth century, modernized, Americanized, and "Christianized." While many of their doctrines still cause mainstream Christians to deny them entrance into the Christian fold, Mormons' performance of Christianity mark them as not only Christian, but as perhaps the best Christians. At the annual Mormon Miracle Pageant in Manti, Utah, held to celebrate the origins of the Mormon founding, Evangelical counter-Mormons gather to distribute literature and attempt to dissuade pageant-goers from their Mormonism. The hugeness of the pageant and the smallness of the town displace Christianity as de facto center and make Mormonism the center religion. Cast to the periphery, counter-Mormons must attempt to reassert the centrality of Christianity. Counter-Mormons and Mormons also wrangle over control of terms. These "turf wars" over issues of doctrine are much more about power: who gets to authoritatively speak for Mormonism. Meanwhile, as Mormonism moves Christianward, this creates room for Mormon fundamentalism, as small groups of dissidents lay claim to Joseph Smith's "original" Mormonism. Manti is also the home of the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days, a group that broke away from the Mormon Church in 1994 and considers the mainstream church apostate, offering a challenge to its dominance in this time and place.