The Latter-day Saint Talk as an I-Thou Relational Event

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Suspicion of religion is prevalent in modern culture, but many people seem to find meaning and purpose through active participation in a religious community. Is creative growth possible for individuals who adhere to faith traditions? How does the tension between personal autonomy and institutional authority, particularly in a hierarchical church, play out in a way that facilitates opportunity for genuine dialogue? To explore these questions, I focus on a specific practice of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, i.e., the talk. This understudied phenomenon, which involves lay members instructing one another, warrants more attention. I leverage the philosophical hermeneutics of Hans Georg Gadamer, particularly his concept of play [Spiel] to study how the rules of giving talks are set and practiced within the hierarchical structure of the church. I argue that there is space for genuine creativity for participants within these boundaries. To address the experiential possibilities for transcendent religious experience in this space, I rely on Martin Buber’s writings on community to provide a framework for the 'suprasensual' knowledge that can be gained (Buber 2016, 8). Buber argues that transformational relationships are facilitated through community as people move from I-It encounters into I-Thou relations through dialogue. I conceptually analyze talks from the highest-ranking leaders of the church, in addition to four representative talks given by local church members. My study develops a hermeneutic for how to recover a more nuanced understanding of the role of religious organizations as a place where the purported experience of transcendence is mediated through community and in doing so fills a gap in the scholarship of the Latter-day Saints.
Philosophical Hermeneutics, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dialogue, Hans Georg Gadamer, Martin Buber
Stringham, K. F. (2023). The Latter-day Saint talk as an I-Thou relational event (Master's thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from