Date of Award

5-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management

Committee Member

Dr. Lauren Duffy, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Dr. Gregory Ramshaw

Committee Member

Dr. Dorothy Schmalz

Committee Member

Dr. William Terry

Abstract

Reentry is one of the most difficult and important periods of a traveler’s journey – a time to reflect on and integrate new experiences, identities, and perspectives into life at home. This period is often bittersweet and marked by a host of challenges and symptomology. Religious language and practice may function to alleviate or exacerbate these routine reentry challenges, or introduce a host of new concerns. Situated in the nexus of religion and tourism, the purpose of this critical-constructive qualitative inquiry is to (a) investigate the experiences and discourses of returning missionaries in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and (b) explore how these experiences and discourses influence the well-being and religious commitments of emerging adults. Primary data were collected via interviews with fulltime missionaries (n = 16) who had returned to a southeastern stake of the Church between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2016. Additional data were collected from social media posts; archival membership data; news stories; Church sermons, periodicals, handbooks, curriculum, and multimedia; and scholarly literature crossing a range of disciplines. These additional data points were used to inform discourse analyses and contextualize responses. Review of the literature, coupled with results from multiple layers of analysis (i.e., Willson's approach to narrative analysis, Braun and Clarke's approach to thematic analysis, Gees' building tasks of critical discourse analysis), provide evidence that religious and secular discourses influence reentry via multiple points across the missionary cycle (i.e., recruitment, training, departure, mission, and return) and subsequently alter or anchor their religious identity and commitments. Specifically, feelings of alienation, loss, interpersonal discontent, and anxiety may be a product of or worsened by discourses related to the Significance placed on the mission, the Practice of dating and marriage, Identification as a returned missionary, the Sign Systems that privilege returned missionary knowledge and contributions, the Politics that make priesthood advancement and temple marriage more likely realities for returned missionaries, and the Relationships and Connections sacrificed via the adoption of alternative social discourses that elevate individual autonomy and engage with anti-Mormon ideals. As Church leaders prepare missionaries for and help them respond to the challenges of reentry and the transition to adulthood, they may wish to more intentionally steer the discourse of reentry via Church sermons, trainings, and more proactive social and multimedia campaigns. Church leaders also need to balance organizational goals (i.e., retention) with individual needs (i.e., the well-being of emerging adults). More broadly, reentry scholars and practitioners may wish to look beyond outdated anthropological theories of cross-cultural adjustment (i.e., theory of reverse culture shock, cultural identity theory) to enrich understandings of reentry. For example, evidence from this study indicated that the theory of place attachment, social comparison theory, and human development scholarship may all help explain the challenges and opportunities associated with reentry.

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