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Defining History

One of the difficult challenges faced by modern historians is defining history in terms of a church name that is shared by many different organizations. Several of these churches have experienced the consequences of a confused public who hear about television programs, law suits, and politicians who are all referred to as "Mormons." In an attempt to resolve this confusion, many historians of Mormonism have begun to use a common terminology to describe the movement and its diverse expressions.

Chief among these terms is the phrase, "Latter Day Saint movement" (big-D, no hyphen), which describes all aspects of the restored church and its branches. This phrase is distinct from the phrase "Latter-day Saint" (small-d, hyphen) which refers exclusively to the largest church within the movement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The chart shown on the facing page identifies the Latter Day Saint movement by the encompassing outer box. Several of the significant organizations within the movement are identified by interior boxes, but many, many others have been omitted due to space constraints.

The Mormon History Association (MHA) and the John Whitmer Historical Association (JWHA) are sister associations promoting research into the history of the Latter Day Saint movement by holding conferences, publishing scholarly journals, and presenting awards and scholarships to students and researchers. Although both associations study the early church, each organization's focus changes for research following Joseph's martyrdom in 1844. MHA focuses on the LDS Church while JWHA focuses on the RLDS/Community of Christ and other branches of the Latter Day Saint Movement.

The standard terms presented here will prove a valuable tool as historians, public relations representatives, church leaders, and church members from all the churches step forward to help the general public understand who we are.

Terms Used by Historians to Describe the Broad Latter Day Saint Movement

Encompassing the Restoration and all religious organizations derived therefrom following the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, Jr. Note the use (or lack of use) of dashes and capitalization to help clarify the scope of a term.
Click on the image for a larger view. ©John Whitmer Historical Association. Used with permission.