I finally dragged myself through to the end of The Mormon Culture of Salvation: Force, Grace and Glory (2000) by Douglas Davies, an English scholar of Mormonism. Odd subtitle, as there was precious little discussion of force, grace, or glory in the book. The author's focus was on Mormonism as a religious system providing an assurance of death transcendence to believers, which didn't turn out as downbeat as one might expect. The last two chapters (weighing Mormonism as a possible world religion) were fairly accessible, but the first six were pretty tough going. An eclectic mix of religious studies and sociology of religion terminology and "models" makes the book feel more like a collection of essays than a book.
In fact, there's so much material that brings in so many diverse ideas that I really have no clue how to make brief comments on the book, so I'll just pick out a couple of ideas. First, in the chapter titled "Domestic, Ward and Temple Mormonism" the author collected observations on how Mormonism deftly incorporates both the priestly and the mystical approaches to religion. In the ward and stake, there are of course priestly leaders but also mystical patriarchs who give individualized patriarchal blessings. In the home, there is ideally a priesthood holder who presides in priest-like fashion over Family Home Evenings and scripture study but who also provides individualized father's blessings to the kids (the mystical side).
Even the temple incorporates the two approaches. The liturgy and religious covenants associated with LDS temples are the priestly side of the experience, but Davies also highlights the individual revelation and personal spiritual experience that most temple attendees hope or even expect to receive in connection with visits to the temple. Likewise, the temple marriage ceremony features both the exercise of priestly powers by the one performing the marriage ordinance and ceremony, but also an entirely unscripted, ad hoc dispensation of patriarchal advice to the patient bride and groom. So there you have it. Mormons: we're priestly; we're mystical.
The chapter on "Power, Charisma and Bureaucracy" was also fairly straightforward. Again, the auther sees a balance in modern Mormonism, this time between the personal side of religious experience and the organizational reality of a hierarchical and bureaucratic church. I'll illustrate by just quoting the first paragraph of the chapter:
Whatever else Mormonism is, it is a complex combination of formal bureaucracy and personal experience set within a dynamic historical process and framed by contemporary ritual practice. The call of obedience to leaders is balanced by a formal exhortation to explore all knowledge. Throughout its history the Mormon Church's bureaucratic dimension has come to provide the corporate framework within which such personal experience is fostered and formed. For some, this confers freedom through religious certainty; for others it counts as authoritarian constraint.
So there you have it. Mormons: we're liberated but we're authoritarian. I also have Davies' Introduction to Mormonism (2003) on my shelf, which is probably more tailored to the general reader but will hopefully incorporate and restate some of the points from this earlier book.