Remembering Armand Mauss (1928–2020)

Armand Mauss shown from the waist up speaking at a podium.
Armand Mauss, Professor Emeritus, Washington State University, speaks at the 2013 Claremont Conference in one of his infamous bright patterned shirts.

Armand Mauss, professor emeritus of sociology at WSU, passed away in August 2020. Below, Michael P. Allen (now-retired WSU Sociology professor) and Robin D. Perrin (PhD, ’98), one of Armand’s graduate students and now a sociology professor at Pepperdine University, share some of their personal and treasured memories of Armand.

Armand Mauss: An Appreciation

By Michael P. Allen

A front facing photo of Mike Allen, from the shoulders up. He is looking into the camera.
Mike Allen

Armand and I were colleagues for 27 years, but we were friends for a total of 48 years. It was, admittedly, an unlikely friendship. He was 18 years older than me and we disagreed on almost every major political issue. In retrospect, I think we bonded with one another because we had both been raised in California and shared certain nonconformist inclinations. He was a big man whose sheer bulk was accentuated by his proclivity for wearing bright patterned shirts. Rather than trying to fit in, Armand was quite content to stand out. He was a Mormon through and through but a somewhat unconventional one. For example, it was Armand who first introduced me to French roast coffee. He used to bring back bags of beans for the communal coffee maker from a coffee shop near Pike Street Market called Starbucks. He also liked to listen to classical music while he worked, and he deliberately left his office door open in order to further the musical education of his colleagues. Listening to Bach was the price you had to pay to have a cup of good coffee.

Armand was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area but graduated from a Jesuit university in Japan, where his father was in charge of the Mormon mission. He used to enjoy surprising Japanese students in his classes by joking with them in fluent Japanese. He met his wife, Ruth, while they were both serving in the U.S. Air Force in Japan. His job was to interrogate Japanese prisoners of war who had been released by the Russians after serving as forced laborers for over a decade. Upon returning to California, Armand entered the graduate program at the University of California Berkeley, and he and Ruth began raising a family, which would eventually include eight children. In order to support this burgeoning family, Armand taught at various high schools and junior colleges in the Bay Area. As a consequence, it took him 12 years to finish his doctorate. He came to WSU in 1969 as an associate professor, after teaching at Utah State University for two years.

Armand was an outsider in many ways. He was a libertarian Mormon in a discipline populated largely by liberal agnostics and atheists. Moreover, he deigned to study a religion that many regarded as something akin to a cult. None of this mattered to him. He saw that he had the opportunity to become an influential intellectual voice in a rapidly expanding world religion. Indeed, he used to joke that most people thought that the label “Mormon intellectual” was a contradiction in terms. Over time, he gained widespread recognition for his studies of how the Mormon Church came to grips with the societal changes wrought by the Civil Rights Movement. Although he was a third-generation Mormon, he was never an apologist for the church. Indeed, his writings sometimes provoked church authorities to question his motives. He freely admitted that he had doubts about some church teachings, but he also asserted that those doubts never caused him to question the basic tenets of his faith.

The blue cover of "The Angel and the Beehive".
The first monograph by Armand Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive. Source: UI Press

It is fair to say that Armand was something of a “late bloomer” as an academic. He was 39 years old when he got his first tenure-track position. His early articles on Mormon attitudes toward minorities were based on survey research he conducted for his dissertation under his mentor, Charles Glock. Later, he conducted evaluation research on the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of programs aimed at educating high school students about alcohol abuse. He also gained considerable recognition for his theoretical work on the social construction of social problems by social movements. However, he invariably returned to the study of Mormons. He was 66 years old when he published his first research monograph, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (Illinois, 1994). It gained him international recognition among sociologists of religion and Mormon historians. He published his second monograph, All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (Illinois, 2003), when he was 75 years old.

One of the first things I learned about Armand was that he cared little about material possessions. He and his wife never owned a house and, while they were in Pullman, their only car was a visibly dilapidated station wagon. Armand also had a generous spirit and gave freely of his time and money to various individuals and causes. When one of our graduate students was held in jail for months for refusing to testify before a grand jury, Armand gave money to support the student’s wife and child. Several years before he retired, he began delivering “meals on wheels” to senior citizens, some of whom were younger than him. When he finally retired, he and Ruth moved to Anaheim to be nearer to their children, all of whom had returned to California to live. While in retirement, he helped establish the Mormon Studies Chair at Claremont Graduate University. He spent the last few years caring for Ruth, who suffered from memory loss. Armand was a big man, physically and intellectually, who also happened to have a big heart. And that is what made all the difference.

Michael P. Allen is a professor emeritus in the Department of Sociology at Washington State University. He is also a conjoint professor of sociology at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. He holds a BA from the University of Oregon and a PhD from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He published in the areas of organizational sociology, political sociology and political finance, and cultural sociology. He also published a regression textbook that some graduate students might remember.

Armand Never Let Me Pay

By Robin D. Perrin

A front facing photo of Robin Perrin, from the shoulders up. He is looking into the camera and smiling.
Robin Perrin. Source: Pepperdine University

Fate, luck, God… I never know what to call it. But when I arrived at WSU in the fall of 1984, one of those three, or perhaps some combination of all three, were on my side. My second day on campus I met Cindy Miller, who had attended the same undergraduate university I had, but we had never met (Pepperdine University in Malibu, California). We married a year later. A week or so later I attended a social gathering of graduate students and faculty where I met Professor Armand Mauss. Armand knew who I was, and I knew who he was. A professor of mine at Pepperdine had worked with Armand. From that day forward, Armand Mauss became my mentor.

Armand was the most intellectually gifted scholar with whom I have ever worked. He seemed always to be the smartest person in the room, although he never acted like it. As a teacher he was prepared, passionate, and engaging. As a scholar he was creative and thorough. And, oh my, could that man write!!!! As I like to say, he could “write like the wind.” I remember working with him on a co-authored paper from my master’s thesis. I had struggled for weeks on the paper. Every word was a battle! I finally turned it over to him and, after a couple of days, he turned it back to me, apologizing that, while he thought my first draft was fine, he found it easier to just start from scratch. It took him a couple of days to write a paper that had taken me a month to write. And his was better.

After I graduated from WSU, Armand and I stayed in close contact. Whenever he was in Seattle (my first job was at Seattle Pacific University) he would always call us and take us out to dinner. A nice dinner! And he never let us pay! I would always tell him that one day we would pay.

The last time I saw Armand was in October of 2015, at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. Cindy and I met up with him for breakfast. He was as sharp as ever! He told of his ongoing work at Claremont. He told us about his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And he told us of Ruth’s struggles with dementia. Of course, at the end of the meal he wanted to pay, but I was having none of it. Finally, at long last, I paid for a meal with him!

A couple of years had gone by before I tried to contact Armand. This time my texts and emails went unanswered. When we heard of his passing, both Cindy and I shed tears. He was such an important figure in my life, and in many ways her life as well. I take comfort in knowing that his large and loving family were, I am sure, by his side every step of the way.

Robin D. Perrin is a professor of sociology at Pepperdine University, where he received a BA in 1981. He earned his PhD in Sociology at WSU in 1989. His research interests and publications are in the areas of intimate violence and child maltreatment, deviance theory, social problems, and the sociology of religion. He has co-authored four books on these topics.