The Angel and the Beehive is the story of Mormons vacillating between acceptance and rejection of the surrounding American culture. The beehive serves as the symbol of worldly enterprise, including economic, educational, cultural, and political success—the enterprises that help accelerate the process of assimilation. In sharp contrast, the angel represents the otherworldly spiritual dimensions, such as latter-day prophets, redemption of the dead, and proclaiming the faith to all—the dimensions that serve to separate Mormons from Gentiles and make Mormonism distinctive from other religions. The story is about Mormons seeking assimilation into the surrounding culture until the 1960s, then striving for distance when the culture becomes too receptive. They reevaluate their progress, gradually reverse the trend, and rebuild their barriers. Today, Mauss reports, the "angel is alive and well, and the church is anxious for the world to know it."
But this book is more than a story about the Mormons' struggle with the larger culture. As a sociologist, Armand Mauss assesses this struggle using theory and research on the sect-to-church transition. He explains how sectarian tension can increase religious commitment, and eventually he concludes that the LDS Church has defied the standard drift from sect to church by choosing to increase sectarian tension rather than reduce its demands on the faithful. Finally, the book reports on the personal journey of the author. Mauss describes the book as "an effort to help me understand my own changing relationship to the Mormon institutions and people."