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Abstract

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (frequently referred to as Latter-day Saints or Mormons) share with other faiths a desire to celebrate sites significant to their founding. By memorialising religious sacred space, the Church of Jesus Christ has created a desire among many of its more than sixteen million members to retrace the steps of their early faith leaders as pilgrims. As with other religious sites around the world, Latter-day Saint pilgrimage destinations have also become scenes of contestation. Churches that divided from the original movement offer rival interpretations of the its history and beliefs, leading at times to division and discord. Additionally, many of the sites central to the church’s founding are small towns today, magnifying the impact of tens of thousands of seasonal pilgrims on rural communities whose residents often do not share in the story nor want their towns to be transformed by religious tourists. Latter-day Saint pilgrimage has reshaped the identity of these communities as rival faiths and local residents vie over interpretation.

Chief among Latter-day Saint early pilgrimage sites is Nauvoo, Illinois, the faith’s headquarters in the 1840s, burial site of its founder, Joseph Smith, and most visited early historic site. Throughout the twentieth century, the church purchased approximately half of the town, restoring and rebuilding it into a Latter-day Saint version of America’s Colonial Williamsburg. Visitors enter homes, shops, and public buildings, learning from costumed representatives of the church about religious life in a nineteenth-century-themed religious community. Meanwhile, local residents grapple with the influx of thousands of pilgrims and the challenges created by a pilgrimage destination not of their making. This paper serves as a case-study in shared sacred space, exploring the contestation and cooperation that go into the creating of a pilgrimage destination.

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