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Mormonism and McDonald’s

By: Saskia T - May 06, 2013

While doing some background research on global Mormonism, I came across two Dialogue articles: Michael J. Cleverely’s “Mormonism on the Big Mac Standard” by and James B. Allen’s “On Becoming a Universal Church: Some Historical Perspectives.”[1] Discussing “America’s role as a catalyst in the spread of Mormonism” (Allen 19) can be tricky, but whatever conclusion you reach on that regard, it is not hard to see American terms in the transmission of the gospel. Allen describes one cultural misunderstanding, in which a “Mechizedek Priesthood manual exhorts a husband to observe the highest standard of modesty and chastity and to treat his wife with love and respect. But when the instruction is elaborated to include kissing his wife as he leaves the house or returns, it raises a serious problem, for example, in a Japanese home where the children protest, demanding to know why he is “biting” their mother” (27). Allen also describes tension in Latin America, where “Saints … are less enthralled with capitalism than the Americans, who link it with the universal values of personal freedom and work. Capital in these countries is often identified with a protected wealthy upper class and the absence of what we would call free markets” (27). He signals an underlying assumption that “”foreigners” should change culturally but that no such requirement is imposed up on those of the “central Mormon culture.”" (27); obviously a problematic construction if true.

A couple years later, Cleverley wrote an article about the same idea of diversity and similarity in the global LDS Church, stating that correlation standardized “primary materials, temple ceremonies, accounting procedures, wardhouse floorplans, even sacrament meeting format” and “measures of worthiness … whether you are in Finland or South Africa. That is a bit like McDonald’s” (69). However, he tempers that assertion by saying, “differences abound in divers corners of Mormondom. In this church of carefully orchestrated similaries and identities we see diversity” (70). His examples of diversity include old Lutheran hymns in the Finland hymn book, while a ward chorister in South Africa  refused to sing “What Child is This” during Christmas because it wasn’t in the hymnal. Italian Saints might hug and kiss friends of both genders in greeting before sacrament meeting, something Cleverely’s family “never saw … in Springfield, Ohio” (72). One last example comes from a ward in Greece, where American Saints saw no problems with witch and ghost costumes appearing in a ward Halloween party yet “many Greeks and other nationalities were shocked until they caught on to the “American spirit” of the occasion” (72).[2]

Cleverely concludes that “on the Big Mac standard when everything is planned to be the same, small differences stand out” (72).[3] However, these articles were written in the 1990s, and I’d be curious to know if (and how) things have changed. For those of you that have some experience with a more international version of the church, either in wards abroad, on a mission, or at home, what are markers of difference when it comes to global Mormonism?

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[1]  Allen, James B. “On Becoming a Universal Church: Some Historical Perspectives.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 25: 21 (1992), 13-16.
Cleverley, J. Michael. “Mormonism on the Big Mac standard.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29 (1996): 3.

[2] Cleverely ruefully adds that “some investigators never did grasp the “spirit” (72).

[3]And actually, his McDonald’s analogy works surprisingly well, once you take into account that a McDonald’s menu isn’t the same the world over. In the Netherlands, a “McKroket” is served, incorporating a Dutch national snack into an Americanized consumer context. Likewise, in Germany, McDonald’s serves currywurst, along with the more traditional favorites like Big Macs, Happy Meals, and McFlurries. Condiments change as well, in case you were wondering.

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9 Comments

  1. Important thoughts, Saskia. My favorite article on the topic is Philip Jenkins’s Tanner Lecture, “Letting Go,” how the growth of the Church in Africa; truly great stuff.

    Comment by Ben P — May 6, 2013 @ 8:53 am

  2. I don’t have much experience with international Mormonism, but one of the things that stuck out to me when I visited BYU-Hawai’i was how much more relaxed the campus was. I always feel underdressed at BYU-Provo… I don’t think many of the girls there walk out of the house without spending hours on their makeup and hair. As a result, I always dress up on campus when I am at BYU in Utah. I did the same when I was at BYU-Hawaii and felt horribly out-of-place and horribly overdressed.

    Comment by Amanda HK — May 6, 2013 @ 10:25 am

  3. In most of the western US, the congregation rarely speaks back to whomever is giving a talk. We sit quietly until the end when we say “amen.” My nephew has seen some departure from this in south Chicago, where “amen” and “halelujah” in the middle of a talk were not rare at all. In some Hawaii congregations “aloha” get a ready response at the start of a talk. In Hong Kong, every speaker greets the audience (??) and is given a response in unison. Not big things, but they stand out.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — May 6, 2013 @ 3:21 pm

  4. Interesting, I wonder if Cleverely had read and was responding in any way to Golden Arches East (first edition was in 1998, I think), an interesting ethnography of McDonald’s in the Near East which was intended to serve as an interesting example of globalization that is both isomorphic and locally hybridized to varying degrees.

    http://books.google.com/books/about/Golden_arches_east.html?id=Us2SKv7RWJEC

    Comment by Rolf — May 6, 2013 @ 3:51 pm

  5. Anecdotally, I have heard that many Mormon women in certain European countries wear pants to Sacrament meeting on Sunday. I kept thinking about this on the day that many American Mormon women wore pants to church this past December. It makes me wonder what other issues women face in different countries as compared to the US.

    Comment by Natalie R — May 6, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

  6. Rolf: I don’t know anything about either author, but I’d bet that the leap-off point was _The McDonaldization of Society_ by George Ritzer (1993).

    Comment by Edje Jeter — May 6, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

  7. These are great comments, thanks!

    Comment by Saskia T — May 7, 2013 @ 3:09 am

  8. Fascinating!

    Comment by Hunter — May 8, 2013 @ 12:30 am

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