Disenchanted Lives

Apostasy and Ex-Mormonism among the Latter-day Saints

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E. Marshall Brooks
  • New Brunswick, NJ: 
    Rutgers University Press
    , August
     2018.
     258 pages.
     $34.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780813592183.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Disenchanted Lives: Apostasy and Ex-Mormonism among the Latter-day Saints by E. Marshall Brooks is an engaging and unique ethnographic study of those who have, for a variety of reasons, left the Mormon faith of their upbringing. It gives voice to the fraught, sometimes traumatic experience of becoming disillusioned with one’s religion while also highlighting the resilience and coping used by those who have had to rebuild their religious worldview. While the text is highly specific to ex-Mormons who live in LDS-dominated Utah and who become non-religious (rather than transitioning to another form of Christianity, for example), it contributes a fresh and grounded theoretical perspective to the larger conversation of secularization and disaffiliation with religion among younger generations.

The book is organized into seven chapters with a longer introduction and shorter conclusion. The first few chapters include some backdrop about the beliefs specific to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; while not enough to serve as an introduction to the tradition by itself, these segments offer enough context that the average reader who is conversant with religion will feel well-versed in the aspects of the faith that differentiate it from other forms of Christianity and which served as friction points for many of the participants in this study. Chapter 4 revolves around the difficulties these ex-Mormons experience in embodied practices after leaving, especially as they explore sex and sexuality detached from particular religious norms; in many ways, this chapter felt rich enough to warrant a deeper dive and could be useful as a stand-alone piece for courses dealing with sexual ethics and religiosity. The remaining chapters tackle the various social aspects of having left Mormonism, from the way members of the LDS church treat ex-Mormons, to the financial and emotional ramifications of separation, to the ways ex-Mormons perform a new, secular identity. Each chapter contains enough sociological theory to feel deep and thoughtful, but combines them with enough narrative framing that the reader stays engaged with the stories and lived experiences that animate the text.

While the author of this book has an anthropological background and teaches in a department of family medicine and population health, the methodology of this book will feel familiar to those who are versed in practical theology and lived religion and operates very effectively as a religious studies text. The author takes the time to situate himself and the framework of this ten-year research study enough that the reader cannot make the mistake of forgetting that they are looking at this complex topic through a particular individual’s lens; this is especially noticeable and relevant later in the book when the author, who is not religious, admits that he does not connect especially well with the ex-Mormons who aim to straddle the line by being socially active in the Mormon world while not believing in the central tenets of the LDS faith, which is sometimes described as being “culturally” Mormon. This honesty affirms what a careful reader may have already noticed—that the descriptions of the “angry” or proudly atheistic ex-Mormon participants can at times seem more sympathetic than those of the cultural ex-Mormons—and keeps them reading critically throughout.

Readers who are more acquainted with other forms of qualitative research may find themselves wishing for a detailed breakdown, or at least a few paragraphs, outlining the number of participants in this study with their demographics. Those specifics, along with more precise information on the types of ex-Mormon group events the author attended, would have made the scope of the research clearer overall. However, this omission may simply be more standard practice in anthropology studies than in tightly bounded qualitative research, and it is understandable that over the course of ten years, the author may have felt that an exhaustive dissection of the methods would have been painstaking to read without adding much value to the text overall.

This book would suit graduate-level studies in religion or social sciences well, but remains accessible and engaging for upper-level undergraduate audiences because of the focus on narrative. Though the particular topic of those who leave the LDS church is fairly niche, the text contributes to the larger matter in religious studies of why people leave faith traditions even after years of investment.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Emily S. Kahm is assistant professor of theology at the College of St. Mary, Omaha.

Date of Review: 
February 16, 2021
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

E. Marshall Brooks is assistant professor, instructor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, School of Medicine, at Virginia Commonwealth University. 

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