When we speak of the family in Mormonism, the term can mean many things. There is an idealized Mormon family, the one described in church magazines, General Conference talks, and Mormon public service commercials. There is the family of the Mormon theological tradition, stretching endlessly off into the eternities, bound together with temple ordinances, the forever family of Mormon bumper stickers. There is another family, product of a more speculative bent in Mormon theology, which comes of an eschatological reading of the Abrahamic covenant, and which imputes to a temple-sealed Mormon couple the right to an endless seed, a posterity that they will sire and raise in worlds to come. Yet another concept of family is the heavenly family of which humanity is a part, presided over by a Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. There are other Mormon families, buried in past layers of theology and praxis. Dynastic priestly families, linked together through temple sealings of priesthood leaders to Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets. And there are the storied families of Mormon polygamy, Brigham and Heber and Parley with their multitudes somberly arrayed in compact lines for the photographer, without clear generational demarcations between the faces ranged among aged patriarchs and suckling babes.

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As a regular feature of Religion and American Culture, the editors invite scholars to comment from different perspectives upon an issue or problem central to the study of religion in its American context. This FORUM format is designed to foster the cross- disciplinary study of religion and American culture and to bring to the readers of the journal the latest thoughts of scholars on timely, substantial topics. Contributors to the FORUM are asked to present brief essays or ‘‘thought pieces’’ instead of carefully documented articles.

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Copyright © 2013, University of California Press. This article first appeared in Religion and American Culture: A Journal of Interpretation 23:1 (2013). 1-29.

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