Polynesia has a particular place in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). The region that heralded the Church’s first overseas missions includes seven of the world’s top ten nations in terms of the proportion of Mormons in the population, and it is home to six Mormon temples. The Polynesian Latter-day Saint population is increasing in both percentage and absolute numbers, and peoples in the Pacific “islands of the sea” continue to play a central role in the Mormon missionary imaginary. This article explores Polynesians in the LDS Church and critically evaluates different theories seeking to explain this growing religious affiliation. Scholars of Mormonism and commentators explain this growth in terms of parallels between Mormonism and indigenous Polynesian traditions, particularly family lineage and ancestry, and theological and ritual affinities. After evaluating these claims in light of scholarly literature and interviews with Latter-day Saints, however, I conclude that other reasons—especially education and other new opportunities—may equally if not more significantly account for the appeal of Mormonism to Polynesians.
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