Russia’s Other “Mormons”: Their Origins and Relationship to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

When Mormon missionaries entered Russia in 1990, they were astonished to hear about “Mormon” settlements already existing in the Samara region. Other evidence of Mormonism appeared: for example, locals used the term “Mormon crosses” to describe a unique style of crucifixes in cemeteries. In this article, the authors delve into the questions of whether or not sects with ties to mainstream Mormonism existed in pre-perestroika Russia or if unrelated groups earned the nickname “Mormon” for living in unusual family arrangements, similar to polygamy. Using data gathered from Latter-day Saint missionaries who served in Russia in the late 1990s as a start, the authors spent the summer of 2000 in Russia searching through archives and interviewing locals, aiming to discover if pre-1990 Latter-day Saint missionaries, the spread of Church literature, or migration could have produced a body of believers in Russia with legitimate ties to the Salt Lake church. The authors conclude that the use of the word “Mormon” is more likely a misnomer. They write, “The borrowing of a term inspired by popular stereotypes of marginal religious groups rather than the clandestine expansion and rediscovery of a lost branch of Latter-day Saint religion best explains the ongoing use of the term Mormon to refer to Russians who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

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