I’m very excited to share that I’ve just had an article published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, a historically and culturally important journal in Mormonism. My article is entitled “The correct [domain] name of the Church: Technology, naming, and legitimacy in the Latter-day Saint tradition.” The title is a riff on Russell Nelson’s use of the phrase “The Correct Name of the Church” when leading a renewed emphasis on the full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints early in his ministry as President of the same church. My addition of “domain” to the phrase also indicates my own focus in the study: To examine how, since 1996, official domain names have played a role in Latter-day Saint leaders’ use of particular names to reinforce the legitimacy of their church (either as a Christian religious body or as the true successor to the 1830 church founded by Joseph Smith Jr.).
This was a fascinating study, and not one that I ever expected to carry out. In 2019, Matt Bowman, Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, invited me to present at CGU’s 2020 Mormon Studies conference. The theme of the conference was Nelson’s distancing the church he led from the name “Mormon” (and other now-undesirable names and acronyms), and Matt knew that I’d done some work at the intersection of social media and Mormon studies, so he asked if I’d take a look at changes to the official Latter-day Saint presence on social media and present on that for the conference. The 2020 edition of the conference ended up being cancelled due to COVID-19, but I was able to present on some of these thoughts at the 2021 virtual edition of the conference. I did speak about social media, but while looking into that subject, I’d also done some poking around into the history of
churchofjesuschrist.org, the domain name that replaced the long-serving
lds.org as part of Nelson’s emphasis on full, official names. Thanks to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, I found that another Christian church had previously owned the domain name. This wasn’t tremendously surprising, but what did surprise me was that the previous owner of a domain name was another Smith-descended church!
This led to a deep dive into the history of Latter-day Saint domain names, the results of which are represented in this article. I’m particularly happy that I was able to publish this because of something that happened while I was doing the work. As I mention in the article, at some point the history of
churchofjesuschrist.org prior to the Latter-day Saint acquisition of the domain name mysteriously disappeared from the Wayback Machine. This led me to supplement my Wayback Machine findings (some of which I’d preserved in screenshots) with archived WHOIS records, but the missing Wayback Machine archives still feel like a blow. Documenting the history of this domain name when others seem to have an interest in concealing the same history strikes me as particularly important, even if it’s just to a technology-focused dabbler in Mormon Studies like me.
Dialogue is generous enough to publish everything (and all of its archives) open access, so you can get a copy of the article through the first link in this post—or by accessing the copy that I’ve archived here on this website.
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