The Four Discourses of Mormonism

Alain Badiou, an important French philosopher, used a theoretical model of discourses to analyze the epistles of Saint Paul. Joseph Spencer applies Badiou’s reading of Paul to Mormonism to answer the question, “What does it mean to be Mormon?”

Badiou viewed Greek and Jewish thought as a closed circle—Hellenistic discourse as a totalizing universalism, and Jewish discourse as an exception to Greek universalism based on “the prophetic sign, the miracle, [and] election.” Paul’s apostolic discourse broke free from this closed circle, for he was concerned with faith, or fidelity, to a particular event, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Spencer identifies four different but intertwined “Mormon discourses” (or modes of organizing knowledge and experience) that help define Mormon faith. Political discourse, rooted in the Missouri persecutions, is directed toward non-Mormons. Institutional discourse—the discourse of policies and counsel, official declarations, and correlated manuals—is directed toward Church members. Fundamentalist discourse—a mystical discourse of the miraculous, the mysterious, and the unutterable—remains largely unaddressed because Joseph Smith warned, as did Paul, against basing faith on spiritual gifts. The final discourse is evental, a discourse based on fidelity to the founding events of Mormonism. This discourse is universal, directed toward member and nonmember alike. When any one of these is privileged, faith is compromised; a faithful Mormon believes Mormonism’s foundations, is influenced by Spirit, is prepared to defend the faith, and supports the institutional Church.

Purchase this Issue