‘Not To Be Riten’: The Mormon Temple Rite as Oral Canon

The manner in which the LDS Church administers its temple rite constitutes a strategic use of the conventions of an oral tradition in a modern, literate society. Three effects of this strategy are considered. First, refusing to make a text of the rite available and insisting that its specific content not be revealed or otherwise subjected to discursive thought sustains the rite’s canonical authority as immutable truth, notwithstanding its periodic mutation. Secondly, the conventions of oral tradition structure the relationships created by the ritual and constitute a principal means by which the Church’s historic separatism is maintained. Finally, these conventions when applied to the temple rite maximize ritual’s capacity to adapt the canon to the needs of successive generations of the faithful while minimizing skepticism and schism.

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Kathleen Flake, in Journal of Ritual Studies: 9(2) (Summer 1995).