My doctoral dissertation is an autoethnography describing my faith transformation as a Mormon missionary. In it, I put forward a new critique of the Mormon Church and point to a more open-ended form of spirituality.
Drawing from daily journals I kept as a Mormon missionary, this dissertation is an autoethnographic inquiry into the process of faith transformation. The journals document a lonely and difficult time in my life. Unmotivated to proselytize, I found myself in a spiritual crisis and eventually lost my faith. By the time I returned home, my understanding of spirituality had been transformed and I left the Mormon Church.
I respond to my mission experiences from my present perspective as a researcher, creating a second layer to the story. I bring ideas from constructive-developmental theory, including Fowler’s research on stages of faith, to reframe and reinterpret my mission story, showing my difficulties to be part of a natural and sometimes difficult transition to a more mature faith. The second layer of the story dignifies and redeems the first.
The study also reveals an important dynamic within Mormon missionary culture and, more broadly, the Church itself. My experience makes clear that Mormon missions are structured in a way that effectively guards against faith transformation and works to prevent it from occurring. As a result, the Church retains spiritual authority over returned missionaries and other members at the expense of their own spiritual development.