The Language and Tradition of Our Fathers: Some Latter-Day Saint Thoughts on Community and Identity

25 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2019

Date Written: March 12, 2019


This paper was presented as part of a conference on “Faith in a Secular Age” at Brigham Young University focused on the thought of Charles Taylor. As Taylor points out, in modern, secular societies, it is common to experience community as a threat to identity. This sense is driven in large part by common models of the self. Modernity offers us at least three models of the self: the self as a bearer of rights, the self as a fount of authenticity, and the self as a demander of recognition. For my purposes what makes them interesting is that all three of these models define the self in a way that makes community particularly threatening to identity. For all of their truth, these models all suffer from conceptual failures. They do not fully or properly appreciate the role of communities in making identity possible. The Latter-day Saint tradition, I argue, offers a more productive and realistic way of living as individuals in community. My claim isn’t triumphalist. Latter-day Saint thought and scripture do not offer a clear or simple answer to the conundrums of identity and community. The Book of Mormon, however, gives us one potentially useful way of orienting ourselves towards this problem. It suggests two ways in which community constitutes identity. One, which it labels “tradition,” involves a static reception of an identity defined in terms of political resentments. The other, which it labels “language,” sees community as providing resources from which we dynamically fashion identity. The normative divide between these approaches, however, does not break down into a tradition-bad, language-good dichotomy. Rather, for the Book of Mormon the moral fulcrum of our identity lies beyond the self in the demands of Christian charity.

Keywords: Charles Taylor, Community, Identity, Book of Mormon, Mormonism, Emerson, Rousseau, Hegel, Theology

Suggested Citation

Oman, Nathan B., The Language and Tradition of Our Fathers: Some Latter-Day Saint Thoughts on Community and Identity (March 12, 2019). Available at SSRN: or

Nathan B. Oman (Contact Author)

William & Mary Law School ( email )

South Henry Street
P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States


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